Monday, August 13, 2018
While there certainly were several McClellan descendants, back in 1800s Suwannee County, Florida, who were upset with the settling of George McClellan's will, not much at all was said about his second wife, Celestia Relief Holman McClellan—other than that she almost skipped town without properly distributing the proceeds of his estate.
But who was Celestia, and how did she end up marrying the recently-widowed George McClellan? It was hard to find any detail on her, perhaps because their marriage was in 1861 and his passing was in 1867. With those dates falling in the cracks between two census years, not much was recorded about the couple that we can find now—other than that lengthy probate record.
Compounding the problem was the fact that, not long after George's passing, Celestia quickly married the town doctor, John Grant. We can, fortunately, find Celestia in the 1870 census, along with her two surviving McClellan children from her previous marriage, plus Celestia and John's newborn son DeSoto.
The census revealed that Celestia was born in Michigan, far from either Florida or the other southern states where the McClellans' residents typically originated. How she ended up meeting the widowed George becomes even more of a puzzle with that twist in the details. Could it have been a mistaken entry?
No, as it turns out. While I couldn't find any record of Celestia in the census preceding her marriage to George in 1861—barely half a year after the 1860 census was taken—it was pretty evident that hers was a name which got mangled in records on a regular basis.
Stepping back yet another decade, in hopes that hers was just one of those entries which disappeared from the 1860 enumeration, I was faced with the opposite problem. Incredibly, there was not only one Celestia Holman, but two: one in Chautauqua, New York, and one in Macomb County, Michigan.
A tie-breaker to resolve that dilemma might have been the discovery that someone named Celestia R. Holman was listed in the Oberlin College yearbook for both 1853 and 1854. Next to each student's name was an entry indicating city of residence. For Celestia, the location was listed as "Mt. Clemens, Mich."
Not being familiar with the geo-political divisions for the state of Michigan, I had to look that one up. You'll be glad, as I was, to realize Mount Clemens is located in Macomb County, thus identifying which of the two 1850 census records might have more likely been our Celestia.
Still, that really only assures us that the Oberlin student in Ohio and the Michigan resident were one and the same. It doesn't yet confirm that those two identities were our Celestia Relief Holman who married widower George Edmund McClellan in Florida. And actually, we'd need a lot of explaining to understand just how it came to be that a Celestia like this might have ended up so far from Ohio—to say nothing of Michigan—marrying a Florida man.
Besides, taking a good look at that 1850 census in Michigan, it doesn't even reveal to us Celestia's parents' names, for Celestia was living in the household of a couple named Rhodolphus and Aurilla Richards. If nothing else, it shows us that Celestia came with a story, even before the episode in which we met her in Florida after the death of her husband.
Above: Excerpt from the digitized image of the Oberlin College catalog for academic year 1852-1853, showing Celestia's entry and residence in "Mt. Clemmens, Mich." Image courtesy Ancestry.com.