In July 1865, Elias Barker, a 27-year-old private in the 7th Regiment of the Union Army, received his honorable discharge and returned to his home in West Virginia.

Shortly afterward, Barker, a farmer, packed up in search of better fortune and moved to Ohio.

Barker probably never knew that in 1866 the West Virginia legislature awarded him a medal to honor his service to the Union during the Civil War.

Not until two weeks ago, 119 years late, was the medal finally bestowed upon Barker's great-granddaughter, Doris Barker Marshok of West Springfield.

"I don't think that he had any idea about the medal, to tell you the truth. Our family feels like we're now the caretakers of it," Marshok said, holding the bronze medal, which has Barker's name inscribed on one side.

The medal and its ribbon were delivered to Marshok in their original box.

The receipt of the medal was the climax of months of investigation by Marshok, who pored over family records and reams of documents at the National Archives.

"I was looking for any way I could to make a link" to prove the relationship, Marshok said.

Eventually, she gathered sufficient evidence to convince the West Virginia Department of Culture and History that she was the rightful recipient of the medal.

After receiving Marshok's request, the state waited six months to see if any more convincing claims for the medal were submitted, then gave her the medal, said Frederick Armstrong, an official with the West Virginia Archives.

Armstrong said that after the Civil War, West Virginia, which was formed from the state of Virginia after a bitter split over choosing sides in the conflict, issued medals to its 26,000 Union veterans.

About half of the medals went unclaimed at the time, most likely because veterans were not aware of them or were unable to travel there to pick them up.

"Many of them seem to have hung around for a long time," Armstrong said.

He added that, although many medals were claimed over the years, more than 4,000 remain with the state.

Last year, Armstrong published an article in a West Virginia promotional magazine to advertise the remaining medals and the fact that they could be claimed.

Marshok's husband John, an Army lieutenant colonel and a Civil War buff, discussed the possibility that her great-grandfather's medal had gone unclaimed.

Armstrong said that people interested in claiming a medal need not necessarily provide the rigorous documentation that the Marshoks did.

"We've had some people map out a fairly distant chart to show the relation," Armstrong said. "Still, that's better than us keeping it."

Marshok said she is happy that she persevered in the task of digging into her family's past.

"It became a hobby . . . . Before I got into this, all I knew was the man's name," she said.

"One bit of information led to another."

Marshok said that she was able to trace the steps of her great-grandfather, who served as a guard on Union supply lines, through all four years of the war.

She also came to realize that history is not as ancient as it sometimes seems.

"It sounds like, when you say the Civil War, that should be five 'greats' back," she said. "But, for me, it was only my great-grandfather."

Several Northern states issued similar medals to their veterans after the Civil War, according to David E. Shenkman, vice president of the national office of the Token and Medal Society. But Shenkman said he knows of no states other than West Virginia that have kept the unclaimed medals in their archives.

The Marshoks have decided that Barker's medal eventually will be passed on to Daniel James Marshok, 12, because he is named after his grandfather, who was the grandson of Elias Barker.

"I really feel good about it," said Daniel, a student at West Springfield Elementary School. "I'll take good care of it."