Sometimes, you can discover quite a bit about your ancestors by searching through newspaper archives. Indexed collections make it quite handy to pull up stray articles about people in your family tree—or, at least, people with the same names as those in your tree.
I've made mention before of running across situations where our family member's name was the same as someone well-known. Take Emmett Kelly, for instance—creator of the beloved clown, Weary Willie—who, though buried in the same small town in Indiana as our family's Emmett Kelly, appears to have no relationship whatsoever to our Indiana Kellys.
Then too, though not regarding famous people, finding a sign of an unusual family name—in our case, a street sign bearing the same name as one of our ancestral surnames, Ijams—certainly can make a genealogical researcher perk up and pay attention.
So when I was working on a specific person on my matrilineal line, in that never-ending quest to find the nexus with my mystery DNA cousin, and ran across several newspaper articles about someone of the same name who lost his position because he had criticized President Franklin D. Roosevelt, naturally I had to chase down that rabbit trail.
Here's how it all unfolded. I had started work on the descendants of Lucy Hannah Taliaferro Taylor, sister of my direct ancestor, Sarah Ann Taliaferro Broyles. I had worked my way down Lucy's line to the generation that would have been fourth cousins to my mother. One person in that line, Ann Amelia Heyward, had married someone by the name of Monroe Johnson Hagood.
Because it seemed I had hit a roadblock with this family, I wanted to research a bit more about this woman's husband in hopes of finding a newspaper article—hopefully an obituary—to give me a better picture of who his descendants might have been.
Now, when I run across names as common as Johnson, I groan. In this case, however, I thought I'd have better results because that Johnson was sandwiched between the much less common given name Monroe and the surname Hagood. Still, progress was hampered when I realized some documents listed him as using an initial for his first name. In some cases, he apparently dropped that first initial entirely and simply went by "Johnson Hagood."
For research purposes, that meant having to search for all three versions of the man's name: Monroe Johnson Hagood, M. Johnson Hagood, and Johnson Hagood.
That's where the difficulty came in. Apparently, there was another man by the name of Johnson Hagood, and he had done something sufficient to cause a media furor, for his name was showing up in search results for several newspapers across the country.
I tried resisting the temptation to follow the siren call of that rabbit trail. I had a pretty good feeling this might not be my Johnson Hagood. But then, I thought I'd take the short cut to the punch line, and in googling his name, discovered there wasn't just one Johnson Hagood, but at least two. And I still wasn't sure either of them was mine.
That's when I discovered there was a stadium named after him.
That was too much. I had to succumb. The rabbit trail won.
The stadium—Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, home of The Citadel Bulldogs—was named for a Confederate States Army brigadier general (and, coincidentally, graduate, class of 1847) who subsequently became governor of South Carolina.
That was not my man. More to the point, that was not only not my genealogical research target, but not even my rabbit trail target, the one who upset FDR and had his name plastered in all the newspapers, back in 1936.
That Johnson Hagood, as it turned out, was a graduate of West Point, not The Citadel. A brigadier general, he served in France during World War I. Best I can tell, he was not the son, nor the grandson, of the other Johnson Hagood. He did, however, name a son after himself, as did the governor's son. In fact, there were quite a few other Johnson Hagoods out there, according to online searches.
I had a feeling all these Johnson Hagoods had to be related somehow. Not to mention—what about my (M.) Johnson Hagood?
As luck would have it—or, more specifically, the serendipitous Internet Archive—there was a way to figure out these connections. The General, himself, had written a book—which he called Meet Your Grandfather: A Sketch-book of the Hagood-Tobin Family—in which he detailed the connection between all these men with that same name, Johnson Hagood.
He started out, in this privately-published volume issued in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1946, to outline the various lines intertwined with the Hagood family—"also spelt Haguewood"—starting with the earliest ancestor he could determine: William Hagood.
In the actual genealogy, beginning on page 109, that same William Hagood was said to have been born in Virginia to English parents, and to have married by 1770. By 1775, he had moved his family to South Carolina. His first son was named Johnson Hagood—Johnson being his wife's maiden name.
From this Johnson Hagood apparently came the inspiration for numerous namesakes, judging from the many times the name has been echoed down through the generations of the family—including, as it turned out, the very Monroe Johnson Hagood who married Taliaferro descendant, Ann Amelia Heyward.
Starting with that same, original Johnson Hagood, the line went something like this: Johnson Hagood's son Edwin Augustus Hagood had five sons, including Thomas B. Hagood,
who with his four brothers fought so gallantly under the Confederate flag, had seven grandsons and one great grandson fighting under the Stars and Stripes in the two World Wars. One of these, Lieut. Col. Monroe Johnson Hagood, served with distinction in China.
With so many men claiming the same name in this family, could this have been the right Monroe Johnson Hagood? It's possible there are yet others with that name—after all, he, himself, had a son and a grandson named after him, so why not others?—but I've located passenger lists indicating his title to be exactly that. His Find A Grave entry agrees.
In the end, unlike many rabbit trails I've stumbled down in the past, this one brought me full circle back to my point of departure. Monroe Johnson Hagood did turn out to be related to at least one of the men named Johnson Hagood.
Though I haven't yet located any evidence including or dismissing the other Johnson Hagood, it's likely he, too, was part of this line. After jogging down this one rabbit trail excursion, I'd say I've had sufficient genealogical diversion to bypass any further pursuit of other temptations—for today, at least.
Above: "Hare," 1502 watercolor by German Renaissance painter, Albrecht Dürer; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.