Friday, March 22, 2019

Some Good Ideas can Become Messy

It seemed like a brilliant tactic: if I couldn't find anything more about King Stockton's history to trace his line back before that brick wall of the Civil War, then try the same move, using a sibling's line.

I've been through almost every one of Frank Stockton's children, and once again, I'm stuck. They all seemed to disappear after the 1885 Florida state census. Only a few could I find in the 1900 census. Then—nothing. So much for bright ideas.

I did discover one tidbit, though: Francis Stockton had married a woman by the name of Sarah. Just as the marriage record for King Stockton had appeared, Francis' wife was listed only by a given name. It took searching through each of their children's lines to find a record which provided a maiden name for Sarah. That I discovered when finding a Social Security application for her son, William Colfax Stockton. Interestingly enough, just like had turned out for King's wife Louvenia, Sarah's maiden name was given as Dean.

Remembering that King Stockton's biography had mentioned about Louvenia that she was the youngest of five sisters, Sarah likely was not sister to Louvenia, despite having that tantalizingly matching maiden name. For one thing, census records agreed that Louvenia was born in 1832, and that Sarah was younger, with a birth year of 1835, inconveniently disrupting that hopeful possibility. But they still could have been cousins.

The aggravating thing about it all is that almost none of the children of Frank and Sarah Stockton could be convincingly located past 1900. It was as if the entire family disappeared. Most likely, it was because, once they became adults, each one of the Stockton children moved out of the area. But where? There seems to be no clear confirmation of where each one went.

Doubts begin to surface. Could it have been that every one of Frank and Sarah Stockton's children died by the time of the early 1900s? Could they have been so poverty-stricken, or their health so poor, as to not live long lives? It hardly seems possible that this would be the case for every one of the family, considering there were at least ten children.

I begin to wonder how accurate government records might have been for freedmen in the south immediately following the Civil War. Could the family have decided to relocate? Or were they just not counted, living in the same place where they always had been?

It's pretty clear that a search like this will have to expand from simply relying on records. Of course, that should be true for any genealogical quest, but in this case, there may be no alternative but to look elsewhere.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Sideways Maneuver

Sometimes, I just need to take my own advice. Lately, I've been feeling like I'm chasing myself in circles, as far as researching the Stockton family goes. I'm already working on the lines of each of King and Louvenia Stockton's children—and seeing how different the result from actual documents is turning out to be, compared to my reference points from King Stockton's biography. But in a way, I'm still stuck. Perhaps the best thing to do now is see if I can make an end run around the brick wall of 1865 by searching for details on any of King Stockton's possible siblings.

There is one candidate I can spot right away, taken from the 1870 census: another family on the same page as King Stockton in Wellborn, Florida. Much too old to be a child of King and Louvenia—unlike Albert Stockton, who also appeared on the same page of that enumeration—this man could possibly be a brother. But I don't know yet.

It makes sense to follow what I can find on this other Stockton entry for a few reasons. First is the proximity to King Stockton's house. Second, though not necessarily as strong a factor, is the detail that this Stockton man, one year younger than King, was not born in Georgia as King was, but in Florida; this would have been the case for any possible younger siblings of King, as he and his mother were moved from Georgia within the year after his birth.

More intriguing, though, is the fact that this Stockton man happened to name one of his daughters Hester—the name of King's mother.

This Stockton man's name—at least according to the 1870 census—was listed as Francis Stockton. His age, given in the census, was thirty nine, putting his year of birth at approximately 1831. If, in the thinking of the antebellum South, Francis was born to King's mother Hester, then he, too, would likely have been a slave on the McClellan property. Yet in the probate records found after Sidney McClellan's death—providing the listing that included both King and his mother Hester—there was no Francis mentioned.

But there was a Frank. Could Frank have been Francis Stockton? Could he have been another son of Hester and perhaps a brother—or at least half-brother—of King Stockton? I had to take a look to see what I could find about this other possible branch of the Stockton family.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Collateral Corroboration

The trouble with relying on death certificates alone for family history information is that, well, folks are under just a wee bit more stress than usual when government officials pelt them with those prying questions like, "Mother's maiden name?" Is it no wonder that a grieving widow or orphaned daughter might not recall such details at a time like that?

Still, if you are like me, when in researching a particular ancestor, you spot an unexpected name in a death certificate, you immediately snap to and wonder, where did that come from?! And that's exactly my thought when we stumbled upon King Stockton's wife's death certificate Monday. We had already learned from King Stockton's biographer that his wife's maiden name was Louvenia Ann Lewis. Where did that Dean surname come from?

We have to remember that we are operating this search from a handicapped starting point. When King Stockton's marriage was made official back in 1866, his wife was listed with only a given name; there was no surname provided. It was his biography which provided the surname Lewis.

But earlier this week, we saw the name provided on Louvenia's own death certificate: her father's surname was Dean. Where did that come from? Was it just an understandable mistake made by a grief-stricken relative? I wanted to check elsewhere to find corroborating evidence.

One of the drawbacks of only paying attention to what is called a person's direct line is that the eventual brick walls we encounter can sometimes be circumvented by including other family members in our research. If a direct line, for example from King Stockton's son—also named King Stockton—were traced to the father, our King Stockton, and then to his father, we would be following a direct line. If we couldn't move any farther back in the timeline using the three men from this direct line, moving to a sibling, for instance, might yield some more information. It's those siblings and other, indirect, lines of relationship which genealogists call collateral lines.

So it was with the discovery regarding Louvenia's maiden name. If I couldn't find anything from her husband's biography to help determine the validity of the information given on her death certificate, where else could I look?

One solution would be to see where else that woman's maiden name might appear. In this case, I first toyed with the idea that the informant on Louvenia's certificate might have been her daughter Annie—and, if I were a direct descendant of Annie's line, that direct line would be the most reasonable first place to search. If it weren't for the impossible handwriting documenting Annie's last name, as we saw yesterday, coupled with conflicting information from her father's biography, my next step would have been to seek out her own death certificate.

Fortunately, the Stocktons had more than one child. It wasn't long until I located another death certificate—and in the process, discovered that here, too, the listing of the family's children in the biography wasn't entirely accurate. The very next death certificate I found was for Mandy Whittington, who, as her father's biography had mentioned, died in a car wreck in 1925—four years before her father's death in 1929.

I looked on the list I had compiled for the children of King and Louvenia Stockton, and there, based on information drawn from their household in the 1870 census, was their daughter, listed as Manda. In her father's biography, she was identified by her married name as Amanda Williams, along with a note that when she died, she had left two children.

That was not the case, if we work backwards from her death certificate. Apparently, Mandy married a man by the name of John P. Whitington in 1880, and by the time of the 1900 census, she and John certainly had more than the two children mentioned in the biography.

It was also not a surprise to see the informant on her death certificate listed as J. H. Stockton. Mandy's husband had pre-deceased her, and that J. H. Stockton was likely Mandy's brother John, in whose home their parents had been living.

John's response when asked what Mandy's mother's maiden name was? Once again, we have the answer as Dean—in this case, recorded as "Deen," but likely referring to the same surname, whichever way it was spelled.

It is likely, if I could search for the other King children's own death certificates, that I'd find the same answer as the corroboration from this daughter's record. But running into the other discrepancies we've stumbled upon in the process makes me wonder whether it would help to double check the author's listing of all the Stockton children.

Though it was helpful to find this tiny publication on the life of King Stockton, the list as given in the biography doesn't agree with simple records from, for instance, census enumerations—a clear lesson that relying on only one record to verify the facts in a family tree may be a risky decision for those who desire accuracy in their research. And a reminder that records from collateral lines may help to sort out conflicting "facts" uncovered in the process of a reasonable search.   

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Back to the Book

Sometimes, when you lose your way in a research project, it is best to head back home to the starting point. In the case of my pursuit of King Stockton and his family, I could not find any record concerning his wife Louvenia, besides the names given for her parents on her death certificate.

My main question, after discovering what looked like the surname Dean given for Louvenia's father, was whether she was related to Kelly and Minty Dean, the couple who lived only a few homes away from the Stockton family in Wellborn during the 1870s.

Searching for any other families in Suwannee County with the surname Dean brought up zero results. While the handwriting on Louvenia's death certificate prevented me from fully comprehending what her father's given name was, I could decipher the initial few letters—Thad—but could not find anyone with the name Thad Dean in Florida, other than a white man of nearly the same age, who lived over one hundred thirty miles away. True, Louvenia was listed as mixed race in the 1870 census, but there really was no way to support such a coincidental name, even if the handwriting had been crystal clear.

I stumbled around, trying to find any further hints on Louvenia's connection with either the Lewis family—remembering her husband's biographer also claimed the surname Lewis—or the Dean family. My only other usable clue was the signature of the informant on her death certificate. Again, handwriting issues made it difficult to decipher, but the first name was clear enough: Annie.

I knew King and Louvenia Stockton had a daughter whom they named Annie. Born around 1872, she was easily found in the 1880 census in her parents' household, and even in the 1900 census in the home of her older brother John Henry Stockton. From there, I lost track of Annie, although's hints recommended I consider a cover sheet for an undated marriage record in Columbia County for an A. Stockton and someone named—if I'm reading the handwriting correctly—U. Curington.

That's when I remembered seeing a section in King Stockton's biography mentioning his children's names. I went back to the book to see what was said about Annie. The drawback was that the text mentioned King and Louvenia had "five daughters and four sons," but the listing which followed did not add up to the promised total. Perhaps that is what comes of lacking an editor who would have spotted such omissions.

Then, too, perhaps such a copy editor would have provided a verifiable married name for Annie. What was given in the book was "Annie Cuenson, who has one child."

Cuenson, I found it interesting to note, was a surname which I could find in searches indicating Scandinavian roots and residences in places like Minnesota—but not families of African heritage in the considerably more hot and muggy Florida. Could Cuenson really have been Curington?

More to the point, could either of those surnames have represented the Annie who signed her name as informant on Louvenia's death certificate? What looks like Curintor—if we really use our imagination—may lead us to further clues on King Stockton's family, and especially to the family names associated with his wife Louvenia.

Above: Informant signature from the 1925 death certificate of Louvenia Lewis Stockton, wife of King Stockton of Hastings, Florida; image courtesy

Monday, March 18, 2019

Noticing Details

Getting wrapped up in the story of individual family members may seem tedious—or at best, too detail-oriented—but it provides a useful collection of facts which we sometimes find echoed in subsequent discoveries. Such was the case when I wondered about Louvenia, King Stockton's wife.

Louvenia died before her long-lived husband approached one hundred, but as for longevity, she didn't lag behind him very far. Born in 1832, her passing in 1925 put her at a respectable ninety-three before she died.

Remembering that King Stockton's biography had introduced Louvenia as a girl he had met in his early childhood, I knew her name had been listed in the book as Louvenia Ann Lewis. Still unable to figure out just who it was who wrote that booklet on King Stockton's life—the author's name, given as A. L. Lewis, failed to produce any results on Google besides references to Al Lewis, the actor who memorably played the Dracula look-alike "Grandpa" on The Munsters—it took longer than it should have for those identical surnames to slap me in the face. What if Louvenia Lewis was actually related to the Lewis who wrote her husband's biography?

There were other similarities which resulted in that same delayed response. I knew I had to get a look at a copy of the actual document of Louvenia's death record, and not just be satisfied with noting the year of her death from the Florida death index. Once again, hopping over from to did the trick—but in this case, it took scrolling through at least thirty images before I located the one which I was seeking.

Once I found her death certificate, it was obvious that whichever official completed the form had abysmal handwriting. In fact, Louvenia's name was so difficult to decipher that, had her husband's name not been entered, I would have doubted whether I found the right entry.

My main goal in locating this record was to see if Louvenia's parents' names could help me reconstruct her family tree. Remember, I was curious whether A. L. Lewis, the author, would turn out to be a close relative.

Building that Lewis tree was not in the offing for me—at least not immediately. My first discovery, from viewing the cert, was that Louvenia's father was not the one who was a Lewis, but her mother. The name given was—best I could decipher—Mulissia Lewis, whose enigmatic entry for place of birth might vaguely have resembled the abbreviation for Virginia.

It's true I could have attempted to build a tree for someone with a name similar to Melissa, but I got diverted from my original intention with the next piece of information: Louvenia's father's name. Once again, the handwriting hampered me so much from understanding what might have been reported. Best I could tell, the given name was something like Thadits. Thaddeus?

But don't let that hang us up too long. It's the next entry that got me wondering. Louvenia's father's surname was written much more clearly. It was Dean.

If you have been following this recounting of how I first discovered the identity of King Stockton, you'll recall one of the first places I found a mention of his name was in an academic journal discussing a former Florida judge by the name of James Dean.

Yes, you spotted it too, didn't you? Dean.

The article mentioned King Stockton as an early influence in the life of James Dean. It was easy to find the Stockton household and that of James Dean in his parents' home in the 1870 census, back in Wellborn in northern Florida. But the article had only led us to think the connection was solely because of King Stockton's role as a minister in their local church. I'm now wondering whether the relationship was not only because of a church relationship, but also because they were family. Any chance I could find out whether Louvenia's father was related to James Dean's father?

Of course, I still want to see whether the author of King Stockton's biography was a Lewis who was related to Louvenia. But now I also wonder about a thicker network of relationships with this additional layer of connection between Louvenia and the Dean family who lived only five households away from their residence back in 1870s Wellborn, Florida.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Off the Track

Almost all serious genealogical researchers can agree it is a good thing to select and focus on a research goal. If nothing else, such a tactic keeps people like myself from heading astray down the proverbial rabbit trail.

But only sometimes.

Because it had been a long time since I last checked my DNA matches, in a quiet moment earlier this weekend, I took a peek to see if anything new had surfaced. You know the routine: log in, click on results, watch the numbers ratchet upwards, and then stare at the unfamiliar names of well over three thousand matches. Who are all these people, anyhow?

This time, on Ancestry, I spotted someone who, for me, was a closer match than the usual fourth cousin and beyond. This one claimed to be in the range of third to fourth cousin, but AncestryDNA had temptingly tucked the entry under the heading for third cousin. And then added this emphasis for further bait: "Confidence: extremely high."

With Ancestry's newly-rearranged readout of matches, I could see right away that this match shared at least 138 centiMorgans with me—a considerable number for someone who has typically been left hoping for measurements anything above ten. I took a closer look. Though the match, a woman, had listed herself under enigmatic initials rather than a name, at least her tree didn't include that annoying lock icon. I could look at her tree for myself.

While the tree wasn't particularly robust, it had more than a nuclear family included—over three hundred people, which just might be enough to find a most recent common ancestor in the range of second great grandparent (what we'd need to make any conclusions about a third cousin connection).

As I scanned her tree, I began to get that familiar sinking feeling as I didn't spot any possible surnames to work with—until I realized that, getting fairly liberal with spelling, we might have a connection we could work with.

The connection would be on my dad's side—that mystery side from Poland which has been so hard for me to research. I had, for my paternal grandmother's line, the surname Laskowski; my new DNA match had a surname which read Laskoski. I think we can work with that.

A little quick communication with the match who owns the tree in question, I discovered she doesn't know much more about that surname than I do. But at least she seems open to working on the project together. And a team approach is always encouraging, because not only does it grant a sense of working on a challenge together, but it's fun to bounce ideas and hypotheses off each other. Besides, it's a great way to get to know a new cousin.

Granted, this is not on the beaten path of my laser-focus on the McClellan line and the old South. But maybe just for a tiny bit on the weekends, I can take the detour of working on something for my dad's tree. His is the most neglected of all of the trees I'm constructing, and I know it would pique the interest of several of my other cousins and relatives if they knew there was another lead in the mystery of this particular family line.

Or is this just another case of stumbling off the beaten path and wandering down that research rabbit trail?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Off the (Antilibrary) Shelf:
The Black Swan

...a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan,
explaining the significance of 
writer Umberto Eco's immense personal library

A few days ago, one of our local genealogical society's favorite speakers—Gena Philibert-Ortega—posted an article on her Facebook page. Under her comment—"So true. READ and buy books, people!"—she included a link to an article posted at "The value of owning more books than you can read."

Besides being one of our society's favorite speakers, Gena is an insightful researcher, so when Gena shares something she considers valuable, I pretty much make sure to check it out. Besides, diving in and reading the entry—which began with a photo of bookcases strangely similar to those in my own living room—how could I not fall in love with such an article?

As you've probably already noticed about me, I have a weakness for books. In fact, my book-buying habit far outpaces my book-reading ability. I'm always owing myself a good read on a lazy afternoon—or another cross-continental flight to catch up on the stuff I've always wanted to read. With Gena's reading recommendation, I was reminded of two things: a book for which I owe myself some serious reading time, and a concept which gives me a name for my book-loving dilemma.

Right away, the Big Think article referred to a book which I happen to have on my own shelf: the twelve year old best-seller by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. The article drew from Taleb's discussion of the immense library of Italian writer and professor Umberto Eco, a mind-staggering collection of thirty thousand volumes, in which was pointed out the difference between a library in which the owner has already read the publications in his collection, and one in which the intent was to someday learn that material.

Taleb's clarification of such a collection, from his book, The Black Swan, includes a warning for those so inclined, as well as offering a label to affix to the affliction.
You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

So, that's what I should call that expanse of shelves stacked double-thick with hardcover books. And only by reading those neglected pages can I convert them from volumes in my antilibrary to entries in my library. 

I had, obviously, already attempted that conversion process with Taleb's book, for I had made it far enough into the text to recall, once I saw that Big Think article, having covered it in its original form. However, as that was on page one of Part I of the Black Swan book, it's fairly obvious this item was a stubborn resister, insistent upon remaining in my antilibrary. However, with such a concept which one like myself can't help but fall in love with, I owe it to myself to resume the struggle: conquer the book and graduate it to my library. 

With another long-distance flight looming in my near future, I might just have the inspiration to overcome, this time. 

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