Thursday, August 2, 2018
At the start of the story, Captain George Edmund McClellan died on October 19, 1866. That may sound more like the end of a story than a beginning, but in our case, what we need to discover is what happened after George McClellan left his family in Wellborn, Florida.
By that date in October, George was survived by his seven children from his first wife, Sidnah, who had predeceased him by six years. The oldest of those children—his daughter Julia—was by then thirty three years of age and just married to her second husband, the father of her firstborn daughter. The youngest of George's children, at the point of his death, was my second great grandfather, William H. McClellan., who was then just twenty one.
With the exception of George's eldest son John and his youngest daughter Virginia, all the other (by now adult) children from his first marriage were still living at home.
Home, however, had a revised definition with George's decision, six months after the passing of his wife Sidnah, to marry again. Predictably, by the time George drew up his will, two months prior to his passing, he opted to appoint this second wife as executrix.
Finding the will, 152 years after it was drawn up, itself was a challenge. As I live on the opposite side of the country from George's territorial homestead in Florida, I had to rely on online resources to glean the information I needed. And yet, just as we saw when trying to locate the legal documents after Drucilla Charles' passing, the digitized records from Suwannee County seem somewhat haphazardly organized in the online resources I used to find them. Just searching, on the Ancestry.com site subsection for wills, brought up two separate links, neither of which was the one I stumbled upon when finding Sidnah McClellan's "shaky leaf" hint. That hint, as it turned out, was actually the probate file for George, six years after Sidnah's passing.
One of those files was actually a link to a transcription—another document which frustratingly seemed to start mid-sentence.
The probate file was over one hundred pages in length. That turned out to be profitable reading, thanks to the advice of one genealogist I recently heard. The lecturer was popular conference speaker Michael Lacopo, whom readers may have first discovered, as I had, through his outrageous blog documenting his research journey in seeking the truth on his adoptee mother's origins.
The conference session I had attended at this year's Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree was Michael Lacopo's presentation on wills. His advice, in a nutshell: be brave and read all the fine print; you'll be surprised at what you can discover.
Taking that advice to heart, I read every name on every scrap of paper included in George McClellan's probate file. I can't exactly call that a labor of love but it did turn out to be a productive exercise. If I hadn't done so, I wouldn't have uncovered what I believe was the cause of a century-long family resentment over what happened while that probate case slowly ground to a halt.
The will—once I found the original handwritten record filed in the Suwannee County court records—seemed simple enough. A hand-drawn diagram of the McClellan property outlined which sections were to go to which child, and which were to be left for Celestia and "her" children (presumably referring to George's children by his second wife, as opposed to the children of the first wife).
That, at least, involved the property at Wellborn, where the family lived. There was another plot of land referred to in the will, however, which George called "my Piney Mount Land." That, part and parcel, was reserved for "my wife and her children," the same phrase he had used in dividing out the land in Wellborn.
There was more designated for that "wife and her children," it turns out, including "the new building on my place" and George's "growing crops" and most of his stock of cattle.
George's will was signed in the presence of three witnesses—John J. Taylor, William P. Bethea, and Jesse F. McLeran (there's that McLeran surname again!)—on the twenty fifth of August, 1866.
That, however, wasn't the end of the matter. For starters, the will was quickly amended by a codicil on September third mentioning the one McClellan son who had not been named in the rest of the will, which gives us a hint as to the first of many causes for familial grudges nurtured in the process of executing this will.