Sunday, July 22, 2018

Growing Pains

It's the middle of the summer. Our local society, as we often put it, "goes dark" during the months of July and August. So...what did we do last week? Host a special seminar right in the middle of our vacation.

Granted, we had a special opportunity handed to us: one of our favorite speakersGena Philibert-Ortegaplanned to be in the area, so we snagged her for a "double header" of two workshop presentations in one morning. (If you're in northern California, don't count on squeezing in to her sold-out presentation today for the California Genealogical Society. If you hurry, though, maybe you can get in on her speaking tour's last stop in Marin County on Thursday, July 26.)

That event successfully completed doesn't mean we can get back to vacation mode. Summer will be gone in a blink, and we will be back to monthly meetings, special interest groups, and our volunteer services of teaching workshops to beginners and offering one-to-one research coaching at our genealogical reference section in our downtown library. Add to that our board's dream: to offer special seminars on a regular basis to reach out to those from our community's many ethnic heritages to encourage them to delve into their own roots, toolike our plans for a workshop on researching Japanese-American ancestry.

Someone recently asked me if our group is growing. That's a hard question to answer. I think the situation was best framed by our former research coordinator, who took the long view with a foundational explanation in his presentation celebrating our sixtieth anniversary in 2012.

In his presentation, he reminded us that, at one pointlong before the advent of online research resources like or FamilySearch.orgour local society was thriving. We were a busy group of volunteers, finding and replicating local records of genealogical significance and publishing them in books which we sold far and wide. Once that material could be accessed by the click of a mouse, our reason for being seemingly vanished.

In charting that year-over-year membership change for his presentation, his PowerPoint graph clearly showed a radical drop in membership at about the point at which Ancestry took off. Not much after that, our local book sales income drastically reduced, as well. In order to survive, we had to make changes.

Simply put, we needed to re-invent ourselves. This has been a gradual process, involving many approaches, as we reach out to a community of avocational genealogists who appreciate the need to gather together in support of each other's research progress.

As for that questionare we growing?the answer is, yes, again...gradually. And differently. We are not the same group we were in the early 1990s or before. And we have more growing yet to do. Where once it was fine for members to meet in each of our homes in a round-robin effort to make space for our activities, we now need a place outside our members' houses to call our home. Where once we were simply an informal group of people working for the common good of the family history community, we've had to become official and obtain legal status as a nonprofit entity. Where once we were operating as a group of friends, we now need to run this organization like a business.

Sometimes, I feel like we are not up to that. I know that's how I feel when I'm struck by the realization that, just like any business, we need to have operated in such a way as to get our own credit rating. Who would have thought that looking for ancestors needed to be a business proposition? But we areif we need to continue operating in today's nonprofit world.

We are leaders in our community, working to create opportunities for our members to advance their own ability to research their heritage. But when we are making a place for othersand a possibility for otherswe need to learn how to step up to the next level. And that, for individuals or organizations, is called growth. It stretches us. And sometimes, that hurts.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Now Indexing: Naturalization Records

It's back to New York State and the naturalization records of that state's Southern District for me. Yep, it may seem like I'm altruistic in this volunteer effort to index digitized records at, but it's really on account of selfish reasons that I zoom in to work on New York records. I have roots in that New York City arearoots with no documentation that I can find of arrival from elsewhere.

Don't think I'm going all Native on you. I know my paternal roots originate on another continent. It's just that I'm having difficulty tracing their migratory movements. I'm waiting for the day those magic documents get digitized and indexed so they are findable by online search engines.

Actually, I don't do well just waiting. I wait by taking action. And indexing records at is the best way for me to cope with that research impatience. So, once a month, I stop by their website's indexing page to look for another available project working on anything having to do with the port of New York.

This time, I worked on two batches of records. While all the subjects of these records came in through a city in the state of New York, some came from Canada via Buffalo while others came from Russia through the port in New York City. I indexed a dancer from Montreal, a woman returning to the U.S. from Saskatoon, a couple from the island of Antigua in what was then called the British West Indies, and a man and wife plus four of their children from Russia.

Seeing that family with the four children made me wonder just how the indexers decide on which details will be recorded. Husbands and wives are indexed, according to instructions provided, but there is no field to enter the information on the children. What if a researcher only knows the name of the childsay a great-grandparent for whom knowledge of his parents' names would be a gift? At this point, my mantra about always look at the document rings true; otherwise, this valuable information would be missed. Still, if the child's name was all that would lead a researcher to find the document, the link to discovery is lost by such a process.

Even so, I like to continue this effort. I figure if I only do a small amount but stick to it every month, I will have made a helpful contribution in the long run, while not exhausting myself enough to drop out in the early stages. It's a selfish project I'm engaged in, true, but it is a slow and steady contribution that will eventually benefit others, as well.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Exploring Research Dilemmas
by Wandering Around

When it comes to my mother's southern roots, the research dilemmaor at least one of themis finding a way to connect my third great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Charles, with the previous generation. When a direct path isn't evident between the generation I knowthat would be Andrew Jackson Charles' daughter Emilyand the generation that draws a complete blank, it's time to strike out in every direction.

I'm not even sure how I first stumbled across Andrew Jackson Charles' name. Someoneone of those helpful volunteers who sometimes are right, but sometimes are wrongentered a note on my second great grandmother's Find A Grave memorial that she was daughter of Andrew Jackson Charles and Delaney Rosella Townsend.

Shethat would be the future Emily McClellan, wife of William Henry McClellanwas born April 24, 1849, according to the dates engraved on her headstone. That, of course, meant I could look her up in the 1850 census and see what I could find about her parents.

Sure enough, there was an Emma residing in the household of one Andrew J. Charles, although she was listed as a child of two years of age, not the toddler we would have expected. Along with his (presumed) wife, listed as Lania, there were two other children: six year old Benjamin and four year old Francis.

All would go swimmingly in this research journey if only we could replicate that household ten years later. But unfortunately, neither Andrew nor Delaney were anywhere to be found in 1860.

What I did find, in that 1860 census, was "Emma" Charles along with a brother and a sister, in the household of Melburn and Drucilla Odum. Along with the Odums' infant daughter Mabel, though, there were several other children, presenting a number of differing surnames. There was an Emma whose last name was Hines, along with her sister Mary. Of special interest in my research situation, there were also two teenagers by the surname Charles, along with my Emma Charles, who at this point had appropriately aged to be eleven in 1860.

It took a lot of document wrangling to uncover the connection between the Odums, the Hines, and the Charles children. Drucilla, apparently, was a widow when she married Melburn Odum. Emma and Mary Hines were her two daughters by her 1852 marriage to Thomas Hughs Hinesmaking the girls half-sisters of Mabel Odum. As for the Charles children, they were likely in the Odum household because of some familial obligation. I guessed it was either because the Charles children were related to the Odum line or Drucilla was, herself, a Charles.

Discovering the Charles-Hines marriage, it turned out to be the latter, giving me one more key to unlock the mystery of the previous generation. Now, instead of looking for the unnamed parents of Andrew Jackson Charles, I was on a mission to uncover the parents of Andrew and Drucilla.

Because I knew that history of a Charles family in the area of my maternal roots in north Florida, of course I felt there might be a likelihood of such a connection. But googling for the history of the specific Charles family whose name was bestowed to the Charles Spring we mentioned yesterday did not bring up anything more interesting than a river guide's blog on Charles Spring and the historic Bellamy Road. Interesting diversion, but not enough to provide traction to my own adventure.

Switching to a different approach, I visited to see what I could find on Andrew and Delaney there. A handwritten document issued in Madison County by the Territory of Florida verified their marriage in 1841, but was not the type of duty-bound governmental document which would include useful details like parents' names. Name of the groom, name of the bridetake that and consider myself lucky to have found even that much on the territorial frontier.

While I was at that website, though, I fell to the temptation to see if anyone was researching that line. FamilySearch, after all, hosts a tree-building program. Although I don't, at this point, use the FamilySearch tree myself, I couldn't help taking a peek.

Sure enough, there he was in the FamilySearch tree, Andrew Jackson Charles, with enough detail to assure me this was the right individual. But when I took a step backwards in time to see if his parents were listed, all I found was a blank. I am, evidently, not the only one stumped by this line.

That didn't conclude my business on that website, however. I went back to the full listing of hits for my search on Andrew Charles and noticed one unusual entry tucked away among the results from my search on Andrew's name and dates.

One thing I had previously noticed about Andrew and the sister I discoveredDrucilla, later the wife of Melburn Odum in the 1860 censuswas the disparity in their ages. Andrew was likely born in 1814, while Drucilla was born twelve years later. A whole host of other children could have fit into a time gap that wide. Perhaps I could find some others.

That unusual entry I found in the search results happened to point to another Charles living in the same region. Her name was Mary Charles and she was even younger than Drucilla Charles. Here was the link to her entry in the 1850 census. I'm not sure why her entry came up when I was specifically searching for Andrew Charles, but this was a clue worth following. I'm a nosy type and researching by wandering around is not beyond me.

What was absolutely tantalizing about this 1850 census entry was that not only Mary Charles was mentionedremember the Mary who ran out to meet the arriving stagecoach without grabbing her red scarf?but the 1850 Charles household included two other significant names. One was that of Drucilla herself. The other was the head of household: a woman by the name of Rebecca.

Granted, census records in that time period did not indicate relationships. But chances are fairly good that there was some sort of connection between that Rebecca Charles of the trading post and ferry at Charles Spring, Mary Charleswhom we've already seen listed as her daughter, at least in the legendary senseand the Drucilla whom I've lately learned was my Andrew J. Charles' sister.

Of course, this Rebecca could have been their aunt, doing just as Drucilla later had done, in taking in her nieces and nephew after her brother Andrew died. Still, this does give me a clue that there is some sort of relationship between these people, even if I can't yet declare them to all be children of the legendary Ruben and Rebecca Charles.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Never Forget the Red Scarf

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 suchlegenduntil 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 yeartime of the 1860 censusthe 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 asthis is a clueCharles 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. Howeverand this is the legendary stipulationthe 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

Zeroing in on the Great and the Small

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 othersthose with what we would tend to call more humble originsthere 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 linethe Charles family, for instancethe 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 googlingand re-googlingthe 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 placeit was the place names which were doing the changing.

All together, these approaches can, indeed, flesh out the story of our lesser-known ancestorsbut 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

Getting Tactical: the McClellan Lines

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 recordsunless, 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 Sidneywith her surname sometimes rendered Tyson, and at other times spelling it Tisonto 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 resourcesnamely, the Suwannee County website itself, as well as a brief summary of their history on the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce websiteI 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 Floridano 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 Tysonor Tisonfamily. 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 isno worries; neither did Ithink 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

Taking the South: the Strategy

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 regionfrom 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 weeksome with gracious answers returned, some with nothing but silencethis is certainly no way to scale a mountain the size of my match lists. I've used some tools at and DNAGedcomhey, I've even dabbled with DNA Painterbut 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 Virginiabut 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 materialand help me figure out just how all those mystery DNA matches connect.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...