It's fairly safe to say that, for those of us who have spent decades researching our family history, it comes as quite a surprise to discover entire branches of our pedigree of which we previously had no inkling. In the case of my third great-grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, I thought I had the rundown pat—until I began unearthing signs of the cause of already-known family animosities.
It has taken quite a bit of concentration to read through George McClellan's will and the hundred-plus pages of his probate case. Reading microfilmed copy of handwritten documents is enough to send one's eyes crossing, true, but it was the content that really opened my eyes to the root of comments I still hear my McClellan relatives echo today.
Other than the selection of his second wife as executrix of his will, on face value, it wouldn't seem like there was much to dispute. A hand-drawn map of how the McClellan property was to be divided seemed straightforward. Though the second McClellan wife and "her children" seemed to get quite a bit of the well-to-do McClellan's properties, George's wife Celestia was, after all, mother of two young children, for whose welfare their father understandably wished to provide adequately. His other children, by then, were all adults, and though the majority of them were unmarried women, that would surely change in the near future.
My first surprise, then, was finding that there was no mention in George's will of his oldest son, John. His other children were mentioned by name—"Julia, Ellen, Clifford, Bell, Virginia and William"—but not John. The children of George's second marriage to Celestia Relief Holman were also not mentioned by name. John, however, was not son of this second wife, but of the first, Sidnah Tison McClellan.
There was, however, a codicil to George's will which supposedly mentioned this missing son. I say supposedly because there is one frustrating detail: it doesn't mention the name as John, but enters a different name. The codicil, witnessed on the third of September, 1866, was drawn up barely six weeks before George's passing.
The codicil served to explain why George did not include this son in his will. Apparently, George had previously advanced money so his son could buy property. As it turns out, there was a record for a John W. McClellan who purchased just under one hundred twenty acres of land in Suwannee County in early 1857. If his age as given in the 1850 census was accurate, that would mean John had made this transaction at twenty years of age—quite a young age to acquire so much property on his own.
The only problem with this codicil is that it didn't name the son as John W. McClellan, but as "my son Webb." Perhaps that could have been explained as the name represented by John's middle initial, but I needed more support than a mere conjecture, so I went looking to find any more records of George's son John.
Lacking any success in my search, I then went searching for any results under the name Webb McClellan.
The dearth of documentation led me to notice one other puzzling indication. In talking about his son, George had made reference to "his children three in number" and to the mother of those children. A statement like that would lead one to consider the possibility that, by 1866, George's son John had already passed away.
But was John one and the same with Webb? And if he—whoever he was—had already died, why couldn't I find any record of his wife and those three children?
CodicileHaving previously advanced money for my son Webb for the purpose of buying Lands I set aside said amt to his children three in number and their mother in lieu of any other Legacy belonging to my Estate. Signed in presence of Geo. E. McClellan, Suwannee County, State of Florida, Sept 3d 1866.