Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Other Other Woman


Trying to locate the full name of someone accustomed to representing himself in public only by his initials can be frustrating. But it is possible—at least, if the person's initials do, in fact, stand for something.

I generally have all sorts of tricks up my sleeves for flushing out stubborn records—and believe me, I tried them, bouncing between databases at FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. I tried uncovering death records by leaving blanks in the search terms for the individual, adding only surnames for both the father and mother. I tried assuming that there might have been a mistake in the indexing for that 1920 census with the Rowell family intact in one household—after all, the entry for dad as "O. C." was rather unclear.



In the hopes that perhaps—on the theory that fathers generally tend to name their sons after themselves—the father's name should actually have read "E. C.," I tried searching for just that father-son duo in the census records. No results.

Desperate, I turned to the various marriage record collections available online for the state of Florida. Perhaps the solemnity of marriage might inspire the formality of a full name there.

So I went looking for Miss Fannie Belle McClellan's marriage record to Mr. Whoever-he-was Rowell. I knew it had to be in there somewhere, between the 1910 census (when she was still living with her parents) and the 1920 census, when the couple and two sons were listed together in Sumter County.

It was there that I made not one, but two discoveries. Well, actually three.

First was the groom's full name. And yes, those initials for the dad should have been exactly what they were for the son: E. C. Apparently, they stood for Elisha Cleveland.



Yes. Use the initials.

The second discovery was that Fannie McClellan and E. C. Rowell were married in Fannie's hometown in Suwannee County on July 27, 1919. Since the sons in the 1920 census were born before that date, that meant this matrimonial ceremony was number two for the groom.

Finding Mr. Rowell's actual given name opened up quite a few other confirmations. For instance, his World War I draft registration card—where it showed that, if not handsome, at least he was tall and dark—revealed that he was born in Fair Bluff, South Carolina, on October 30, 1887. Curiously, for the 1917 document, he declared himself responsible for the care of "mother + two children," yet claimed he was single. I guess that "mother" was meant literally.

Knowing his name also led me to his whereabouts for the 1930 census, showing his residence still in Sumter County. With his two oldest boys—"Harris" turned out to be Horace—he also turned up in various Florida state census records.

But those records also turned up one other detail. Not only was there a first bride—mother of the oldest two sons was Edna Collier of Sumter County—but there was also a third bride, Flossie Urquhart, over twenty years his junior and mother of his youngest son, Jack.

Somewhere, Fannie and her two sons were sandwiched in the middle—at least from the point of the 1920 census until the unclear indication in the 1930 census that her husband might have remarried by 1924. While E. C. Rowell, senior, undoubtedly went on with his life—subsequently divorcing Flossie in 1932—I have yet to locate him in the 1940 census, nor Flossie and her son Jack, either. While there is a "Jackie" Rowell buried in the same cemetery as Elisha Cleveland Rowell, I haven't been able to determine whether that was one and the same as Jack.

Delving into these details so starkly exposed as we finger old governmental documents, it somehow sterilizes the turmoil through which people dragged their lives. Yet perhaps, having now seen all this, it is easier to understand why, with her two sons with her for all those years she played the "widow" back at her childhood home, not a word was passed down concerning how, exactly, things turned out the way they did for the woman known by generations as the family's story-teller, Aunt Fannie.


Above: Record of the Rowell household in the 1920 census courtesy of Ancestry.com and record of the Suwannee County marriage license courtesy of FamilySearch.org.

7 comments:

  1. Well Well. I actually wondered the other day whether "O.C." could be "E.C." but failed to say it. I had no worries that you had considered it too. Isn't it funny how when you finally pick the lock, all this stuff comes tumbling out so easily, and you wonder why it was so difficult before.

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    1. It does take some poking around, doesn't it? Sometimes, stuff tumbles out, as you said, Wendy. But sometimes, it doesn't. You never know until you get looking.

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  2. E. C. was one of those love them and leave them guys. I am certain it was easier for Fannie to say she was a widow than a divorcee:)

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    1. This was just one of those instances that has taught me, in genealogical research, when there is deafening silence about something unusual, to take a look around.

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  3. I have generation after generation of grass widows in my family. It makes me suspect there was a drinking problem among the men since it still continued to my grandfather and grandmother. My mother stuck it out. I did not.

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    1. That's an insightful observation, T. Since this isn't a really close part of my extended family, I wouldn't know by personal association. But given that this man's eldest son was a politician, I imagine perusing some newspapers from that time period might reveal some clues--if there are any such signs there to be had. On the other hand, the younger generation didn't seem to be plagued with the same relationship problems.

      However, for other family lines, that's a good point to watch for warning signs, repeated generation after generation. There is so much to learn about our family history by learning to read between the lines.

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  4. I won't give my opinion of politicians - but E.C. seems to be "one of them."

    :)

    Probably because they called him "Clevey" or something as a child.

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