Thursday, July 19, 2018
Red has always been an eye-catching color, and my maternal ancestors always seemed to be on the cutting edge of life, so perhaps that's why a certain story about the Charles family in northern Florida caught my eye. This story probably borders on legend, but it may involve some of my ancestors, even though I haven't found my way back that far in my family history. I'll share the story here as such—legend—until I can figure out a way to determine it was otherwise.
Yesterday, I mentioned that I am descended from the Charles family of Suwannee County in northern Florida. Although I can't yet determine the exact relationship between my third great-grandparents, Andrew and Delaney Townsend Charles, and the Charles family in this legend, considering the size of the region at that point in Florida history, there is a good chance there is a connection.
In my family, Andrew and Delaney's daughter, Emma, married William Henry McClellan, son of the same George Edmund McClellan who had been one of the signers of the original Florida state constitution. This Emma and her two brothers were apparently orphaned, as their parents each dropped out of the scene at about the same time, around 1860.
That same year—time of the 1860 census—the eleven year old Emma could be found in the household of Melburn and Drucilla Odum. After all these years of researching family history, it was only in the last few months that I figured out that Drucilla was sister of Emma's father, Andrew Charles.
Drucilla, as it turns out, is the one who will likely connect me with the more historic branch of the Charles family, the legendary Ruben and Rebecca Charles.
Ruben and Rebecca, it turns out, were originally settlers in this northern Florida region long before not only statehood, but also the years as a territorial possession of the United States. Apparently, during the waning years of the Spanish occupation of the area, Ruben and Rebecca Charles set up a trading post somewhere to the west of Saint Augustine.
In the course of their business, Ruben and Rebecca became friendly with some of the native people living further inland and established a long-lasting relationship with them. This was preceding the United States' 1821 purchase of Florida from Spain.
Eventually, the U.S. government decided to establish forts in the area, and built a military road stretching from Saint Augustine to Pensacola, which became known as the Bellamy Road. Astute businessman Ruben Charles was quick to establish a new business location along that stagecoach route and in 1824, built a trading post and ferry near the place now known as—this is a clue—Charles Springs.
Ruben and Rebecca Charles, still friends with the local tribe, nevertheless got caught in the inevitable tensions brought about by increasing numbers of American settlers and military personnel entering the region. As hostilities increased and communities in the area were attacked and burned, as the legend goes, the Charles' community was never attacked. However—and this is the legendary stipulation—the native tribe's leadership stipulated that they would never attack the Charles family as long as they wore a red scarf to signify who they were.
Though Ruben Charles may have died around 1840, this arrangement was still honored for all the members of the Charles family. As long as they were wearing that red scarf, the agreement would be honored.
One day, according to the legend, as the stagecoach was approaching to make its customary stop at the Charles' trading post, their daughter Mary rushed out to meet it, forgetting to wear her red scarf and she was mistakenly killed.
Though that event may border more on legend than history, it was not the only time tragedy struck the Charles family. In 1852, Rebecca Charles was shot while standing on her front porch. This, however, might not have been due to forgetfulness about that necessary red scarf; the Charles family's friendliness with the native population may itself have been the cause behind her death. In the recounting I found on the incident, the insinuation was that perhaps it was another white settler who had brought about her death, rather than any member of the inland tribe.
Eventually, political maneuvering and military action made way for an environment in which the red scarf no longer was needed. The Charles family continued to operate the ferry until about 1875, a much different era than the years in which their fledgling business was started.
While it is thrilling to discover that one's ancestors are the key figures in a local legend, I can't yet definitively claim that connection. I'm still stuck at the generation of Andrew and Drucilla Charles, brother and sister, who were children of an unnamed Charles man in northern Florida. While stories are fascinating, it is grunt work of a genealogical kind that will enable me to confirm that connection.
And that, as it turns out, isn't often as fascinating as those legends.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Before even starting on this research project to learn more about my southern roots, I knew there would be some easy targets. My third great grandfather George Edmund McClellan, for instance, was one of the signers on the original Florida state constitution. My chances of finding any records of the part he played in early statehood formation will be higher than those chances for any of the lesser-known of my relatives. It will make sense to look for the McClellan name in archives and manuscript collections, for instance, just because of that history.
But for the others—those with what we would tend to call more humble origins—there may still be opportunities to find their story. It's a strange dichotomy, when searching for these lesser-known family members. On the one hand, it's likely such people on the frontier wouldn't be immortalized through documents or other records; there just weren't any notable accomplishments beckoning the general public to remember them. On the other hand, these people's mere status as pioneers sometimes elevated their stature to a more visible plane.
In cases such as the family names which married into my McClellan line—the Charles family, for instance—the status of early adopter or early arrival helps keep their names in mind, at least in dusty, dry history accounts.
Those, however, often are tucked away in local collections, some of which, from across the continent, may seem invisible to strangers. This is where cultivating relationships with local librarians and archivists, as well as local historical and genealogical societies, becomes useful.
But sometimes, it's just the luck of the draw. A good run through Google hits may reveal nuggets I'd never suspect to find, like the mention of the Charles family's early position in northern Florida. A reporter for a local newspaper wrote a series on the area's history, which subsequently was re-edited for inclusion in the Suwannee County website. There I caught a glimpse of that Charles surname in the recounting of northern Florida's territorial history.
Whether that original Charles family settling in the area is linked to my own Charles relations, I haven't fully documented yet, but you know I'm working on that project now. Still, related or not, it's an interesting story, and I'll take the time tomorrow to share it.
Ancestors or not, this experience points up the value of googling—and re-googling—the search terms I am seeking, even for those un-famous ancestors not likely to be included in history books.
Besides that, it reinforces the need to have at least a basic idea of local history during the time period I'm studying. And it also points to the value of having historic maps on hand to help guide a researcher through those ever-morphing county boundaries. Oftentimes, the people we're seeking, back in those early days, had the locations in which they lived change on a regular basis, when the truth of the matter was that they stayed put in one single place—it was the place names which were doing the changing.
All together, these approaches can, indeed, flesh out the story of our lesser-known ancestors—but I'm still glad that a pioneer status may invoke a sort of rule of first mentions, when it comes to recovering my family's history, especially for the little guys.
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
If I'm going to conquer the many lines constituting my as-yet-unknown southern families, this will require delving into the details. My drawback, at this point, is being able to research in great detail, as so much of what documentation is needed is regarding pioneer settlers. Not too many pioneers kept records—unless, of course, they survived to brag about their conquests afterwards. Some of those folks in my roots, apparently, did not.
Beginning today, I'll catalog the surnames I need to pursue, and what little I know about them. Who knows? Maybe a distant relative will grab some of this cousin bait and agree to collaborate on research.
For beginners, let's take a look at my mother's McClellan line. All I know about this family is what I learned through my maternal grandmother, who was a McClellan, herself. This family had roots in Florida since at least 1833, when my third great grandparents had a baby girl born somewhere in the land that eventually became the state of Florida.
That was the family of George Edmund McClellan and his wife, Sidney Tyson. They, collectively, formed the brick wall that has had me stymied at this position ever since I began researching their line. I have seen other researchers mention that George was born in the Barnwell District of South Carolina, but have failed to replicate such research results, myself. Likewise, others have noted George's wife Sidney—with her surname sometimes rendered Tyson, and at other times spelling it Tison—to have come from either Pitt County, North Carolina, or Glynn County, Georgia.
What I can be sure of, so far, is the McClellans' location, once they arrived in Florida. That, no matter how the county boundary lines changed over the years, was essentially in or near a speck on the map known as Wellborn. Pre-dating the formation of the state of Florida, the McClellans' land saw its governmental jurisdiction fluctuate from territorial to statehood (George Edmund being a member of those writing the original Florida constitution), and the county of Suwannee get carved from Columbia County.
Thanks to some online resources—namely, the Suwannee County website itself, as well as a brief summary of their history on the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce website—I can see where part of my McClellan forebears' story fits in the narrative.
But nothing I've found, to this point, explains what brought the McClellans to where they settled in northern Florida—no matter whether it was from North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia. And this is what I mean to untangle as I prepare for my class in southern research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy next January.
Of course, the story of the McClellans will need to include that of George's wife, and the story of the Tyson—or Tison—family. Job Tison, George Edmund McClellan's father-in-law, has left a smattering of records stretching back to the late 1700s, indicating his presence in Pitt County, North Carolina, a new research field for me. (If you don't know where Pitt County is—no worries; neither did I—think Greenville. However, at the time Job Tison resided there, it was a county of a mere eight thousand people.)
The McClellan saga will need to expand to include the story of one of George's daughters-in-law, Emma Charles, daughter of Andrew Jackson Charles and Delaney Townsend whose early demise left Emma and her two brothers orphans. A twist of fate like that leaves me with many questions about their roots, as well.
In a more modern part of this research predicament, a large number of my DNA matches seem to have southern roots, as well, telling me that pushing back those brick walls to an earlier generation may help me finger the most recent common ancestors I share with these many mystery cousins. One by one, I'm addressing those farthest reaches of my McClellan lines and documenting my way back to the present. It's grunt work, to be sure, but hopefully, it will open doors to identifying the links with a good number of DNA matches.
Monday, July 16, 2018
When devising a research plan, I'm accustomed to limited perspectives. "Research the Kelly line" or "get ready for that research trip to Fort Wayne" are typical, short-range plans I come up with.
In tackling my southern roots, especially in preparation for the SLIG class on southern research I'll be attending next January, I've got to expand my horizons. Why? In my case, it's not just a matter of researching one surname, or one line out of many. Thanks to my mother's family history, every line leads to a root in the south. Her paternal line involved a migration trek through colonial Virginia to settle in Tennessee, with a possible link to North Carolina, as well. Her maternal lines were in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and elsewhere, also stretching back to colonial times.
It's one thing to learn how to expertly research a state. But in this case, we're talking about learning how to research an entire region—from the northern border of Maryland to the islands at the southern end of Florida, and from the tip of Cape Hatteras all the way to the endless domain of Texas.
That's a lot of learning.
The funny thing is, I've got kin in almost all of those places. And some of those folks have been making it pretty hard for me to find them.
It takes a plan to outfox those recalcitrant ancestors. And a strategy to step up my game from its status quo level of progress. For the past few years, my plan (other than for specific research trips) has been to move through all the branches of my family tree and add about one hundred documented ancestors or their collateral lines per week. Granted, now that process will be revised to focus specifically on only my maternal southern lines until I complete next January's class. But I need to do more than just "focus." I need some specific details to guide me.
A typical approach I've taken has been to regularly review my DNA matches to ascertain which family line can claim these hundreds of matches. While I've been contacting about one to two matches per week—some with gracious answers returned, some with nothing but silence—this is certainly no way to scale a mountain the size of my match lists. I've used some tools at GEDmatch.com and DNAGedcom—hey, I've even dabbled with DNA Painter—but I need to bite the bullet and learn how to master Genome Mate Pro.
Also, for the next six months, I need to organize a spreadsheet with all DNA match information, including notes from contacts, and which matches can be corresponded to which family lines. I think it would be great to just pull up a report of all the DNA matches across testing companies, for, say, my McClellan line. There is so much time frittered away, simply going back to look up one detail from one company, then jumping to details from another company. Streamlining the process, across all testing repositories, will help conserve time.
Most of all, though, my strategy needs to include the basic tactic of pushing each southern family line back as far in time as I can go through online resources. For families whose roots reach back to the 1600s here, it does me no good to stop at an ancestor living in the 1800s. There are still many lines I've not attended to, since stopping for lack of progress on their research when I last reviewed them ten years ago. So much has changed in online access to records in just the past year or so that it pays to review all these abandoned research lines to probe for fresh access to documentation. That will need to have its own plan for systematic review.
So, who am I looking for? I've got the Davis and Laws lines in Tennessee, both of which have me stuck in the early 1800s. I've got the Tilson line in Tennessee, which I know came from Mayflower origins in Massachusetts via Virginia—but how? I've got the Boothe line, also in Tennessee, from Nansemond County in Virginia, where I'm also stuck in the early 1800s. Likewise the Rileys, another early Tennessee family, supposedly from North Carolina in the late 1700s.
My maternal grandmother's Florida roots don't make life any easier. I've got McClellan, Charles, Tison and Sheffield who supposedly arrived there from North Carolina and Georgia, but how? I have yet to find out.
Many of these families are rich in history yet difficult to find, thanks to their status as early interlopers on the American frontier. My hope is that, with the many additions to online resources in the past few years, a fresh look at each of these lines will yield promising results. And for those mysteries still remaining, well, isn't that why I'm taking that research class at SLIG? One way or another, at the end of this campaign, these research strategies should yield me some helpful material—and help me figure out just how all those mystery DNA matches connect.
Sunday, July 15, 2018
When I decided, at my bi-weekly tally two weeks ago, that my next project focus needs to be on my southern maternal lines, I realized that would mean setting aside research on the other lines I'm working on. Of course, whenever those rare DNA test matches pop up on other family lines, I'll do what it takes to note any newly-discovered lines on my father's tree or my in-laws' trees. But from here on out until the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy class I'm taking in January, I may as well devote myself to working on the family line which relates to the southern research class I'm taking there.
So let's see how well I stuck to my plan in the past two weeks. When I started in this new direction, back at the beginning of the month, I had 13,732 in my mother's tree. Now, I have 188 more names—and supporting documentation—added to that tree. That's almost twice the increase I had gained over the past two-week sequence.
However, I couldn't quite let go of researching my mother-in-law's line, particularly because that is where most of my husband's DNA matches turn out to be. So, with a little incidental sprucing-up over the past two weeks, I still managed to add 140 documented names to her tree, as well. That tree, by the way, now has a total of 15,667 ancestors and relatives.
The hardest part about taking this new research approach is that absolutely nothing is happening on either my father's tree or my father-in-law's tree. Each one gained a big fat zero over the past two weeks. I'm not comfortable seeing those two lines languish, but unless a targeted research issue pops up—say, a promising connection via DNA test matches—I'll just have to set those two trees aside for a season.
As far as those DNA matches go, they seem to be in the doldrums, themselves, making me wish for a sale to perk up those languishing match numbers. I may have 3,182 matches at FTDNA, 995 at 23andMe, and an unbelievable 4,899 at MyHeritage, but for the most part, those represent distant connections or already-documented relationships. I'm still yearning for that magical moment when a match shows up whose line provides the answer to one of those intractable research puzzles. Don't we all.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
Sometimes, when I pull a book down off a shelf at my home, it's a volume which has been gathering dust for a long, long time. Other times, like today, it's a recent addition to my book-hoarding collection.
I'm not sure exactly how I stumbled upon this book by the prolific Dr. Jonathan Oates, but I suspect I first saw it at the book seller's exhibit during break time at SLIG one year. Or perhaps a fellow blogger mentioned it online. In either case, I put it on my wish list at Amazon, and a certain thoughtful someone in my family decided to make it a Christmas gift.
Fast forward to July, when I began wondering just how—and when—I could write up the outrageous story of the international crime spree of my distant cousin, John Syme Hogue, the "yeggman." That's when I remembered the reason that certain book seemed like such a good idea to read.
The book, Tracing Villains and Their Victims, provides a guide to researching one's black sheep ancestors, which is exactly what I intend to pursue in more detail than when I first posted the story of my distant cousin. There is, however, a caveat to the usefulness of this book—something I hadn't, at first, noticed. Jonathan Oates, the Ealing Borough Archivist and Local History Librarian, happens to specialize in a region far removed from that of the black sheep in my family: London, England.
Despite that drawback, the book still provides many useful resources, not only for England, but in guiding the reader through any legal system related to the British heritage. Thus, my criminal cousin, caught for his deeds in Canada, faced a judicial system, a hundred years ago, much like that of its parent nation, the primary focus of Oates' book.
Not only that, but in other research projects—for instance, reading the petty court reports for my husband's ancestors in County Kerry, Ireland, or the sentence of "transportation" for another Irish relative—I find the guidance offered in the Oates book to be helpful. The impact of the British legal system reached across the globe. Those now in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as well as the United States can better understand our ancestors' plight at the hands of the British judicial system of the past centuries through the reading of this guide.
The key is understanding the history of the development of that judicial system. That helps us understand what our ancestors—both law abiding and law-evading—experienced. As with understanding any type of history, learning the specific details of one given time and place will paint a clearer picture of what our own ancestors expected as day-to-day risks and protections.
Of course, for those notorious ancestors that sometimes pop up in our research, a book such as Oates' can help illuminate the process by guiding us to the documents we seem to crave in our quest to fill in the blanks on these people's lives. In John Syme Hogue's case, once I'm ready to delve into the court proceedings in both Manitoba and Ontario, I'm sure I'll need a handy guide through this international—to me—system of law and order.
Friday, July 13, 2018
The end of a project always creates an unwieldy vacuum. What's next? There are so many directions in which to head, making the choice difficult. But a choice does need to be made.
While I'm waiting for the green light on our next photo-hunting trip to the hills, I have some family research projects to work on. The big item on this agenda is to take a good look at my deep south ancestors, where a number of research projects have been hiding. Granted, it's a challenge to do on-site research when your ancestors lived in South Carolina or Florida or Tennessee and when the researcher happens to currently live in California, but I will eventually cross that bridge to get some hands-on work done.
In the meantime, I do have a class coming up next January at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy which will focus on that very topic: researching southern roots. I need to go back and pull up the main stories I want to pursue, so I can arm myself with questions once the first day of class opens. I haven't really delved into that side of my family, so there certainly is work to be done before class starts.
Regardless of these good intentions, I will probably not jump right in to that line of research quite yet. Why? Because a tempting offer just came calling with its Siren Internet call: there's free access to all the records at the New England Historic Genealogical Society website from this very moment onwards to next Tuesday. I'd like to insert only until Tuesday, July 17, but I suppose I should be grateful.
I suppose I can also claim that, in taking up the American Ancestors offer, I will really be doing the very work that I need to do, leading up to that SLIG class next January: my Tennessee Tilson line is, after all, rooted in the early years of colonial New England. As in, Mayflower colonial. And taking up the NEHGS offer of free access gives me a chance to peek at the Mayflower Society Silver Books to see what they have written on Ruth Bartlett, my fifth generation Mayflower-descendant ancestor.
Of course, I can't really help it if I find myself wandering off into other records...