It might seem a reasonable question to ask: why didn't you just look up Drucilla's own probate file? If you've been researching your genealogy for long, you already know the answer: things never go as simply as we'd expect.
Such was the case with Drucilla Charles, widowed wife of Thomas Hughs Hines and mother of his two daughters whom we last saw after her second marriage to Melburn Odum and birth of his daughter Mabel. Even though Drucilla was only sister of my third great grandfather, she was of particular interest to me because she was my key to lead to the previous generation of that pioneer Charles family in northern territorial Florida. Other than Drucilla—well, at least until after the 1860 census—all the other members of my Charles family seemed to have met with untimely deaths.
Those Charles family siblings included another sister—one with the rather plain name of Mary A.—who had become legendary because of her supposed demise after having run out of the house without wearing the stipulated red scarf which would be the signal for the neighboring tribesmen to refrain from shooting her. And yet, when I went looking for Drucilla's family after her most recent appearance in the 1860 census, all I could find was Drucilla's children and a woman named Mary A. McLeran.
And then, yesterday, I accidentally stumbled upon Drucilla's probate file—and the small detail that the administratrix of her case was none other than this same Mary A. McLeran. That was the detail I spotted on the last page of the probate folder. I had a lot of reading ahead of me. (Well, technically, behind me, because the first page I read was the last page of the file...got that?)
It would have been simple to just do a search for Drucilla in the Ancestry collection labeled Florida Wills and Probate Records, except for one thing: the very first page in the folder was labeled "Lucilla Odum," not Drucilla Odum. And, computers being the literal entities that they are, they search, well, literally. Whoever had indexed that file never looked inside to see whether that detail was accurate—and how would I have known it was mislabeled?
I didn't discover that until I had finished reading most of the folder. I discovered, for one thing, that Drucilla had died on March 3, 1866, in Suwannee County, Florida. I also learned that she died without a will, which turned out to be an advantageous event for me, though it probably made life difficult for the guardian of her orphaned daughters. It was on account of this very detail that someone had to go before the local judge and declare that Drucilla had passed intestate, and indicate willingness to serve as administrator of the estate.
Appointment of such a person is not done haphazardly, of course, and in Drucilla's case, this particular person needed to state the reason why she should be considered an appropriate candidate for this position. That detail I found buried about midway through the stack, as I worked my way back through the file from that last page referring to Mary A. McLeran as administratrix.
It can be wearying work, reading through the boring repetition of a legal document. In this case, though, it was well worth the tedium, for this is what I found:
Probate Court, Suwannee County:
In the matter of the Estate of Drusilla Odum deceased -
On the application of Mary Ann McLeran who applies as sister and next of kin for letters of administration on the estate of said deceased...
There, in one sentence, buried in the midst of pages and pages of inventories, notes of debts, requests for money for the orphaned daughters, and administrative difficulties, was the smoking gun telling me that Drucilla's sister, Mary A. Charles of the legendary red scarf, had become one and the same with the Mary A. McLeran who served as guardian of Drucilla's children after her passing.
While it makes sense that she was indeed tied to Drucilla's family, Mary leaves us with more unanswered questions. For one thing, I can't find any record of her marriage to the unidentified McLeran. Nor can I find any trace of Mary, herself, after Drucilla's children have grown.
Furthermore, in those few records in which I can find Mary A. McLeran, she is tagged with a birth year of 1834, not the 1828 of the unmarried Mary A. Charles in her mother's household in 1850. Yet, the timing doesn't seem possible to allow a scenario of a first Mary A. Charles dying young, as the legend of the red scarf has it, then being replaced by a second daughter born after the demise of the first. If it were so, it would have been the second Mary A. Charles who would have shown up in that 1850 census, the one with the 1834 birth, not the 1828 birth.
I'm still on the search to find any traces of Mary A. McLeran, of course, and also to figure out how she ties in with the McLeran family. Remember, too, that the oldest McLeran burial in the local cemetery had led me to a connection with the Tison family, another surname in this family group in Suwannee County, so I'm going to keep drilling away at these surname connections in that small town of Wellborn, Florida.
In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to take a detour to touch on the story of that other administratrix who, not long after Drucilla died, tried to skip town with the money of her husband's estate. I'll be prowling around in the hundred-plus pages of George Edmund McClellan's probate file to see just what it was that triggered a family's resentment which echoed down through the next one hundred years, even to the mid 1960s.
Above: Image from the files of Drucilla Charles Odum's probate case in Suwannee County, Florida, courtesy Ancestry.com.