Ruby or Ruth? That is only the beginning of research woes as I begin to piece together the trail back through my ancestry. The woman whom I called my grandmother evidently had an alias—not for any sinister reason; she just preferred a more thoroughly modern, perhaps more thoroughly northern, sounding name.
Born to a Floridian father yet arriving in a backwoods Tennessee setting may have complicated the birth records chase. My grandmother’s father, Rupert Charles McClellan, came from a family long resident in Florida. It was her mother, the former Sarah Ann Broyles, who had arrived there from out of state. And when it came time for the arrival of her firstborn, Sarah Ann returned home for the occasion.
In such a situation, young mothers-to-be often wish to be near their own mother during this new life experience. In Sarah Ann’s case, however, her mother had died many years previously. A trip home to be with mother meant reliance on a step-mother, instead.
Or perhaps she chose this circumstance because her own father was a doctor. That might have been enough to inspire confidence in this young mother to exchange the rural setting of the McClellan homestead for the rural setting in which she was raised.
For whatever reason, Sarah Ann Broyles McClellan found herself in a place which, only a year later, was designated in census records not even with any town name, but only as “Civil District 6” of Washington County, Tennessee.
Meanwhile, just down the road a piece—and into the next county—another woman had recently given birth to twins. Martha Cassandra Boothe Davis named them Rovy M. and Roby Jake. Though one died in infancy, the other grew to become my maternal grandfather.
Roby Jake also experienced several iterations of his given name—the one originally inscribed in the Davis family Bible. His middle name, Jake, seemed to become the working name for a while, although Jack later became the preferred substitute. A distant cousin researching the Boothe line once told me he had heard the name to actually be Jackson, though I’ve never seen any evidence of that. He mentioned that he had also seen the name sometimes spelled Robie.
Now there’s a mind bender: Robie ultimately ends up marrying Rubie. That alone would be enough of an incentive to initiate a self-imposed name change!
I’m sure there was more to it, though, than a scenario like that. Perhaps it was wearying, as others in my family have discovered, to exist as a middle-name-is-working-name person in a first-name-functionary’s world. Think of the umpteenth time the census taker insists on “and what is your middle initial” after giving your name as “Jack.” I could see the reversal as an easy capitulation. After all, it’s just for a government functionary. It’s not for life.
And then what happens? Generations and generations of family history researchers dutifully report the gospel truth of his name in perpetuity as “Jack R.”
With help like that, who needs to pay good money to legally arrange a name change?