An Omaha, Neb. man with the unforgettable name of James Bond got to see what was inside a particular wooden barrel only after his father died. When he was growing up, all he knew about the barrel was that he wasn’t to touch it.

The secrets inside turned out to be the Civil War history of his family’s Yankee ancestors — and some of them had direct connections to the big events of the day. Sgt. Maj. John Curtis received the Medal of Honor for his bravery in capturing two prisoners during the Battle of Baton Rouge, La. Bond’s great-grandfather Frederick Curtis escaped from a POW camp. Elliott Curtis saw John Wilkes Booth in a restaurant two days before President Abraham Lincoln was killed and noted that he appeared nervous and was fiddling with his fork. When the co-conspirators were hanged, Elliott Curtis was put on guard duty that day, and wrote, “Justice has been done when they swung off into eternity.”

And there is so much more in the diaries and letters. Reporter Michael Kelly of has written a detailed story about the secrets uncovered in the barrel.