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 others—those with what we would tend to call more humble origins—there 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 line—the Charles family, for instance—the 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 googling—and re-googling—the 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 place—it was the place names which were doing the changing.
All together, these approaches can, indeed, flesh out the story of our lesser-known ancestors—but 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.