Thursday, February 28, 2019

Childhood Sweethearts


It was in his early childhood that he met little Louvenia Ann Lewis, the youngest of five sisters, and at that time they pledged themselves to each other. When they grew up they married...

If it were not set within the contextual background of the era of slavery in the deep south, King Stockton's explanation of how he and his future wife got together might have sounded sugar-coated. The thought of childhood sweethearts makes everyone just go, "Awwwww..."

Life in the south was not quite as straightforward for the enslaved as it was for other lovers. As the National Archive's Prologue magazine noted, "Slave marriages had neither legal standing nor protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners."  A quick check of other publications through the last three decades—everywhere from academic articles to pop virtual magazines to letters to the editor of The New York Times—mirrors that constraint.

It was clear that King and Louvenia formalized their marriage bond in 1866. It was also obvious that, by the time of the 1870 census, theirs was a robust family including offspring well over the age of four. The 1866 date was a formality symbolizing a relationship entered into long before the date of that county record.

Building a tree for King Stockton and his childhood love—including the Stockton family's nine children mentioned in his biography—is a goal to achieve, and it will likely be completed with diligence and an eye to detail and proper documentation. But the real challenge in King Stockton's story will be to trace his line back past his parents to the previous generations, requiring a jump from his childhood home in Wellborn, Florida, to the location of his parents' enslavement.

Thankfully, the nexus is his mother and father. While King Stockton's father's name is mentioned in his biography, not much else is provided. However, enough is known about his mother—or at least shared in oral history passed down through my family—to better guide us in the search for her origin.

Sometimes, the goals in genealogy may seem too impossible to overcome—especially in the case of those once enslaved—and the quest seems hopeless. Still, if those who know slivers of that history could partner to piece together those disparate shards of the story, it might at some point enable those with no hope of knowing their past to actually catch a glimmer of that hidden story.

I'm hoping, with King Stockton's lineage, to at least chip away at those mystery generations for one little bit of the way.



Above: Marriage record of King Stockton and "Lovenia" from Suwannee County, Florida, on "July the 4th" in 1866; image courtesy FamilySearch.org

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Problem with Generic Terms


While reading about the several massacres reported in the King Stockton biography may be alarming to those of us previously unaware of that northern Florida territorial history, there is one problem with the recounting of that history: the usage of the general term, "Indians."

Reading through the various histories of pre-territorial Florida, there are mentions of several different indigenous people groups. Sometimes, their fortunes seemed to rise and fall with the ebb and flow of the various European powers claiming dominance in the area. At the time of the earliest European settlement in what was later to become northern Florida and southeastern Georgia, the predominant native population was known as the Timucua. Organized into clusters of villages, these people spoke a dialect unlike any other in the southeast region.

As had happened to native populations throughout the eastern seaboard of North America, introduction of diseases from European settlers rapidly decreased the Timucuan population. During the time of Spanish colonization of the area, their population shriveled to only about one thousand members of this people group. The Spanish sought to replenish local populations in the area by introducing other tribes, such as the Yamasee, into the areas vacated by the dwindling population of the Timucua.

When Spanish rule of Florida was transferred to the British, the last of those remaining Timucua moved with the Spanish to Cuba—or perhaps joined themselves to other Native tribes.

Of course, this recounting of the history of Native populations before the 1800s is simplified. Strife between different tribes, between specific tribes against settlers—whether Spanish or English—or strife incited by one European colonizer against a rival European government through bargains with various Native groups, peppered the history with ever-shifting alliances, thus influencing the decreasing numbers of Native populations by the 1800s.

With the incidents recounted in the King Stockton story, however, we talk about the Seminole wars. Not Timucuan, not Yamasee—who were these people?

A history of the area posted on the Suwannee County website posits:
Creek Indians moving from Alabama in the late 1700s as white settlers forced them off their ancestral property intermarried with runaway slaves and the few Timucua Indians that may have remained. Their descendants became the Seminole people.

Another theory was that the defeated Yamasee eventually joined with the Seminole—as possibly other tribes from more northern origins did, too. Whatever their true origin, the Seminole were fingered as the enemy for three separate sets of battles against settlers in what was to become Florida, ranging from 1816 until 1858. These Seminole were likely the perpetrators of the massacre accounts preserved in the King Stockton biography.

Of course, each side has its own viewpoint and explanation for the struggles that ensued with the arrival of European settlers. The lost lives mentioned in the Stockton accounts were indeed tragic losses as fallout from that clash of cultures. While ours may not be the history of one of those people groups, they, too, suffered losses. Those other losses, though not our story to pass down to our descendants, comprise the story that might be shared by survivors from the other side of the struggle. And at this removed point in history, there may be some of us whose heritage grants us stories from both sides of those same struggles.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

No Dates, Only Names


Matching the recollections of King Stockton with actual details in records is proving to be a challenge, though several accounts definitely link to documents we can still access. The King Stockton biography, written toward the end of a long life begun in 1830, does provide the names; it just doesn't provide the dates. Preserving these families' stories will likely take deeper delving than I am prepared to do right now.

It was interesting to read in the Echoes of the Past history of Suwannee County that
the early settlers were chiefly concerned with building homes, raising crops and families, and keeping a sharp lookout for marauding Indians.

Despite the Seminole War, in the area of Florida which eventually became Suwannee County, Echoes of the Past estimated there were twenty three families living there by 1840. An available muster roll from organization of the local militia under George E. McClellan was dated November 28, 1840, so perhaps that becomes an indication of residents' response when these massacres had occurred.

Not mentioned in the Echoes history of these early massacres was that of the Sykes family. However, according to King Stockton's biography,
The Sykes plantation was only four miles from the McClellan plantation. When the Indians attacked the house there were several men and women there, and all were killed but one woman, who slipped out, and ran four miles to the next plantation and told what was happening.

Though the page containing names of the Columbia County residents—for that was the previous jurisdiction for the land which eventually became Suwannee County—does not indicate the date the Florida territorial census was recorded for 1840, generally, the enumeration began on June 1, 1840, and completed reports had to be submitted by November 1, 1840.

Bearing this in mind, and not having any indication of when, exactly, these attacks occurred, it is difficult to know whether victims' names would have shown up in the 1840 census. However, I tried my hand at locating any families in that record by that surname of Sykes.

There was one sole listing of a head of household, originally indexed at Ancestry.com as "Arthar Lykes," which may actually have been for the Sykes family.


The entry, incidentally, was placed three lines above that for the George E. McClellan household—possibly supporting the King Stockton narrative of relative proximity between properties.

This household appeared to be small—one male in his forties, one in his sixties, and one woman in her fifties, hardly the "several men and women" described by King Stockton. However, when you take into account that plantations were generally worked by enslaved individuals—and flip the census page to the next set of tallying marks—that number increases by several more, relatively younger individuals. This increases the household by two teenaged boys, one man in his twenties, another perhaps as old as his early thirties, plus one woman between the ages of twenty four and thirty five.

It's my guess it was that woman who made the desperate run for help. And I wouldn't be surprised if the place she headed—four miles away—was to the McClellan property. It is very likely that King Stockton, though himself still a boy, was there to witness the scene of her arrival as it unfolded.

Looking for any sign of the family in the next census, was it any surprise that I found no listing of the Arthur Sykes family? Whether for lack of a more competent speller—or more legible penmanship—or for sheer lack of will to put up with any more tragedy, there was not one sign of Arthur Sykes in Columbia County, Florida.

Still, I wonder whatever became of the one woman who fled the horrific scene of the Sykes massacre, desperately seeking help, and in the process, saving her own life to tell others of what happened. Perhaps she, as well, has descendants who remember their ancestor's oral history of those early days of settling what was then a very wild Florida.


Above: Excerpt from the 1840 census for Columbia County in territorial Florida, showing the name Arthur Sykes; image courtesy Ancestry.com.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Wiped Out"


Sometimes, the only way we find mention of our ancestors may be through material written about other people's families. Such may be the case—if ever so brief—with the booklet about the life of a former slave named King Stockton. While the stories of King Stockton's life may have been preserved in this brief biography, along with his story come his recollections of others who lived in the frontier community where he grew up.

Among the unfortunate families mentioned in the King Stockton biography as having been "wiped out" during attacks by local tribes during the early years of territorial Florida settlement were four surnames. They are given by the writer, A. L. Lewis, as Peterson, Clemmon, Sykes, and Tilley.

"Tilley," as we've already discovered, turned out to be spelled Tullis—at least in the 1840 census for Columbia County, the designation at that time for the land that eventually became part of Suwannee County in northern Florida. With that spelling change in mind, I thought it might be helpful to see whether any of the other names could be corroborated by either local histories or by the actual documents themselves. Of course, knowing both handwriting issues and spelling issues over the decades of the 1800s, it is no surprise to see multiple renderings—but it is still helpful to see what the consensus might have been, over the years and through multiple records, for each family's surname.

One of those surnames was indeed repeated in other local histories: that of the Clemmon family. This family apparently settled by one of the forts which had been set up by the United States Army, precisely because of concerns for the safety of the increasing number of settlers in the area. The fort, established in Suwannee Springs in what was later to become Suwannee County, is said to have kept records of the raids after each occurred.

While the King Stockton narrative only mentioned the Clemmon family by name, another—from Echoes of the Past—included more detail. There, the name was rendered as Clemons, and the book explained that "the Clemons family left the fort to settle in an area five miles southeast of what is now Live Oak." Having settled his family on the new property, Mr. Clemons returned to the fort to gather the rest of his belongings. While he was away, the attack occurred in which his entire family was massacred.

Unfortunately, the narrative in both the King Stockton biography and the Echoes of the Past version do not include anything but the surname of the head of the family. However, in looking up the 1840 census record for territorial Florida, there were two possible listings for this Clemmon or Clemons family in Columbia County, the county of record at that time—two, at least, if you grant liberties for creative spelling.

One of those entries was for the household of one William J. Clemments, which included one man between the ages of thirty and thirty nine, one woman between twenty and twenty nine, and three younger females around fifteen, ten, and under five.

The other possible entry might have been the 1840 household of John W. Clemments with a similar head count, but having two younger males and one younger female. This household, incidentally, was close to that of George McClellan's brother, Andrew McClellan, which might have explained why King Stockton—as a slave at the George McClellan property—would have been aware of this tragedy. On the other hand, the William Clemments family would have been more vulnerable to attack in the absence of the head of that household.

Of course, all that is conjecture without any actual reporting on the identity of the victims. Plus, if the attack occurred before 1840, there might have been no name left for the census enumerator to record. Or perhaps that explains the additional adult male listed in the John W. Clemments household—a widower staying in the household of his brother.

I couldn't help but take a peek to see what could be found in the 1850 census for anyone with that surname—whether Clemon, Clemmon, or even Clemments. I could find a John W. Clements and wife Sarah in the 1850 census, with three children under the age of ten. Perhaps this was the unfortunate widower, having remarried, now raising a second family, as there were no older children reported in this household.

The only William I could find in the 1850 census was one of two minor children of that same surname in the household of one Samuel and Mary Barber—possibly children of Mary Barber from a previous marriage, or perhaps the Barbers served as guardians owing to a different relationship.

Sometimes, those early reports yield very little information, other than the fact that something horrible has happened, setting everyone else in a state of alarm. Perhaps accessing the actual reports supposedly kept at the fort might reveal better details—if any such report has been preserved, rather than simply being alluded to. After all, there were no newspapers in the vicinity at the time to rely on. What else would there be to provide a glimpse of what life was like for those early settlers other than such reports as the one shared by King Stockton in his modest biography?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Building a Tree for King Stockton


I promised myself last summer that I'd focus on my mother's southern roots for my next research project. The reason was clear: I was registered for a week-long intensive class on that very topic, and I didn't want to show up on Day One of that class, being as ignorant of the topic as I was at that point.

All has gone well with said research goals until I hit an unexpected connection: a DNA test indicating that I had some relatives I didn't even know about. That, as you've realized if you've been following my pursuit of King Stockton and his family, has beckoned me to jump into a new branch of that research project: finding just how King Stockton, my new DNA cousin and myself connect.

We have our theories, of course, but our goal is to find supporting documentation—or, if not outright declaration of the fact, at least corroborating evidence.

All that to say, if you have been expecting my research numbers to keep up their stellar pace, post SLIG studies, think again. It's been hard trying to start from someone else and work towards the present, especially on a family that is unknown to me. In the past two weeks, I've managed to build a tree of forty one people. Not very impressive, but at least it's a start.

In the meantime, you know the usual drill. I didn't add any names or records to my father's tree nor my father-in-law's tree. Score for them still remains at 516 and 1,514, respectively. Ditto my mother-in-law's tree, much as I can't wait to get back to some easy researching in the home of her roots, Perry County. Her tree is still holding at 15,989.

As for my mother's tree, I only managed to add forty eight new names to her records, to bring up the total there to 16,876.

I keep vacillating between adding the King Stockton tree to my regular, biweekly stats—or whether to see that more as a temporary exploration. I've set up the tree as one of King Stockton and his descendants—though obviously, I'll need to push back another generation or so to find the nexus connecting me and my DNA cousin. All that will take time, and possible come with a few twists of its own before I'm done filling in all the blanks.

To add to the mix, while looking over my most recent added DNA cousins, I found someone else with that Stockton surname—making me wonder whether I had found another descendant of that tree. The more I think about it, the more likely it will be that I'll track my progress on this tree for a while, as well. Any of those descendants might show up as a DNA match to me, and it's nice to be prepared to see how we all fit in this one big tree of humanity.

In the meantime, as I work away in the background, building what I can find of the King Stockton family tree, we'll continue tomorrow, exploring the man's own narrative about his life experiences as a child, growing up in the territorial frontier of a very wild and forsaken Florida.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Now Indexing: Manhattan Birth Records


I took a spin through the good ol' days in the place of my birth—only, it was one hundred years before I crashed the scene. This was my chance to help fellow New Yorkers find their ancestors' birth records at FamilySearch.org.

Today's record sets were fairly simple. Other than having the appearance of being the fuzzy carbon copy of typewritten index cards, the entries were straightforward, making this an easy project to squeeze into a busy day. I did run into a few cards which outright made me weepy—and not just because they contained a surname connected to my father's family (Lawless). The digitized versions were just so blurry, I could barely make out whether those numbers stood for a "3" or a "5," for example. But I muddled through, nonetheless.

Besides the record-breaking speed with which I completed my batches of Manhattan birth records, I did come by some additional good news on the indexing front. Our genealogy society has long wanted to team-tackle some indexing projects—particularly those which represent record sets from our own locale. We've set up a team online at FamilySearch.org, but before we got started, I had one additional requirement: I wanted a computer training room where our members could all gather together, first for training and review in what's new in online indexing at FamilySearch, and then so that we could have the camaraderie of working together as a team.

Well, this week has finally brought us one step closer to this goal. We have now been granted the use of a lovely library computer lab in one of the centrally-located cities in our county. But for tidying up some scheduling issues and getting the official word out, we are all set to go. Soon, instead of all of us working alone in our own corners at home, we can come together to cheer each other on while we work on a project together. Can't wait until the team gets together and busts through some indexing records!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Research Tip: Go Lax on Spelling Demands


It's wonderful to get one's hands on a biography about one's ancestor, but sometimes frustrating when the narrative—thrilling as it may have been—does not seem to line up with reality. What I've discovered, in banging my head against that brick wall, is to be much less rigid in my expectations about mere details like spelling. Or dates. Apparently, we do not live in a century with such laid-back acceptance of approximations.

Try as I might, I had been unable to find any verification of the family mentioned in the King Stockton booklet as having been "wiped out" by native tribes in the area where he had grown up in northern Florida. In particular, I couldn't find any record of the family labeled as that of "Richard Tilley."

Granted, I already had prepared myself to make that exception for creative spelling. But looking for "Tilly" didn't help much in this case.

It wasn't until I pulled out some of the area history books collected during my recent trip to Florida that I ran across a similar story.

You likely remember how the story goes, since I mentioned it just last Monday: at the "Tilley" plantation, Richard's wife was carrying her baby in her arms as she returned from "the lot." She was attacked, and left as presumably dead—though she wasn't...yet.

While I was visiting the Suwannee Valley Genealogical Society library, I asked about acquiring one of the local books, Echoes of the Past: A History of Suwannee County 1858 - 2000. Though it had been published by the Southern Heritage Press back in 2000, it wasn't exactly a book to easily come by at this point. But I got a copy.

Reading through the opening chapter, it only took a short matter of time to spot the following on the fourth page:
In 1841, Indians massacred the wife and four children of Dick Tillis while he was helping neighbors roll logs. Rescuers found one child, Jimmy, still alive, although he had been shot with an arrow.

Tillis? I wouldn't have spotted that on my own—though maybe the judicious use of a wildcard symbol might have surfaced that for me. After all, there weren't many people living in the vicinity at that point in Florida territorial history. It wouldn't have taken long to slog through a list of male heads of household in, say, the 1840 census.

However, trying my hand at that very exercise—well, at least the part about checking the 1840 census—still wouldn't have yielded much without considering a wild card. A very wild card.

Our unfortunate territorial settler Richard could be found in the 1840 census, alright—listed as Tullis. Not quite the Tilley we were first seeking.


As for the mention of his surviving son, Jimmy was indeed alive and still living in Columbia County (predecessor to Suwannee County), along with his father. Richard, as you may have realized, had been off rolling logs when his family was attacked. By the time of the 1850 census, he had apparently remarried, with several children of this second marriage, along with the much-older Jimmy, showing in the record.

Encouragingly, some of the other names of unfortunate families who suffered in similar attacks could also be verified through cross-checking with other records. We'll take a look at some of those other stories from the King Stockton booklet next Monday.


Above: Richard "Tullis" shown in an excerpt from the 1840 census for territorial Florida, specific to Columbia County, from which Suwannee County was later carved; image courtesy Ancestry.com.



Thursday, February 21, 2019

War Stories From a Front Seat


It seems like we are reading an eyewitness account of the Seminole Wars when we look at the descriptions found in the booklet about the life of King Stockton—until we realize that not all of the names mentioned seem to lead to corroborating historic accounts of the time period. At first, that might lead some to dismiss what was written in A. L. Lewis' biography of King Stockton, but immersing oneself in the recounting of the time period leads to a different conclusion: perhaps this was a report from the point of view of one local person, embedded in a mosaic of multiple wide-ranging atrocities inflicted by both sides of a complex series of conflicts.

King Stockton was likely born in 1830. Coupling that with the time period of the second Seminole war1835 to 1842—lets us realize that this turmoil occurred during the early lifetime of a boy, from five to twelve years of age. While it is true that Native attacks on settlers in northern Florida did come as close as four miles from the plantation where he lived, it is unlikely that he would be aware of news of battles raging throughout the rest of the Florida peninsula, especially when only a child.

I did, however, search through several reports on the personnel involved among the United States' military leaders. King Stockton had mentioned a Captain Martin preceding his recounting of the Alston-Read duel. In addition, he told of an Ebenezer Jinks,
sent to Florida to try to adjust the situation with the Indians. He brought several hundred men with him and a retinue of servants. But he did not know how to handle the situation, so accomplished practically nothing.

Following that, the biography mentions "one Varnedoe" whose coming to Florida "gradually brought peace," but just as had happened when I tried to determine the identity of the Ebenezer Jinks he had mentioned, I am unable to determine who that "Varnedoe" might have been—though there was a Captain Leander Lewis Varnedoe from the South, who subsequently fought in the Civil War.

Since a third Seminole War followed somewhat after the second—occurring much later, from 1855 to 1858—that would have been when King Stockton was by then an adult. Perhaps some of the names were ones he remembered from that later conflict. Still, the skirmishes of this series of wars were wide-ranging across the peninsula. Some of the earlier events occurring close to home in northern Florida might have been the setting for the names recalled in this biography, just on account of the geographic closeness to home. In addition, the sheer number of troops lost over the stretch of three sets of wars gives indication of just how many commanding officers and ranking positions would have been involved across all locations and time periods, thus pointing out the difficulty of ascertaining just who any of these military leaders might have been.

What was interesting in this recounting, though, was any absence of mention about one man close to home for King Stockton—that of the master of the very plantation on which he lived. George McClellan was cited, in some history reports, as having organized the first militia for the territory of Florida, a muster roll at the end of November in 1840 showing a company of ninety six men under his command. While this was a local militia, rather than the U.S. troops being sent in for territorial protection, McClellan would have been a name familiar to King Stockton, at least in his earlier years. Determining just how it was that Stockton recalled those specific names and not others might reveal something about the connections and his position in his later years. Those whom he regularly talked to as an adult would be more likely to shape his recollection of the news from earlier days, and thus, the names he recalled for his biographer toward the end of his life.

Still, mention in the Stockton biography of some of the names of victims of local massacres did align with other reports of those events sparking the formation of the militia, as well as the plea for help from the federal government during that era. Let's look next at what can be corroborated about the stories of those families whose lost lives demanded such a response.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Austin? Or Alston?


The whole story about Florida Militia Brigadier General Leigh Read and his murder by the brother of a man he had killed in a duel was something I stumbled upon while reading through the booklet on the life of King Stockton. In that biography, a briefing on the events of the second Seminole war had wandered from its stated topic to include the infamous Alston-Read duel, leading me, of course, to wonder just how that connected with either the Seminoles or King Stockton's life in 1840s Wellborn, Florida.

Nevertheless, a story is a story, and when anyone says "story," I jump to follow the trail.

There was one peculiarity about the Stockton recounting of that event I want to revisit today: how the actual name of the slain politician (Augustus Alston) and his avenging brother (Willis Alston) might have become misrepresented in the King Stockton narrative. Of course, we could just write it off as a glitch of transcription. After all, it wasn't King Stockton himself writing the story, but A. L. Lewis; perhaps the scribe heard the name incorrectly. Or, perhaps King Stockton himself had misunderstood the names, a likely scenario when we realize that the events themselves occurred during Stockton's childhood.

There may have been another explanation, however. I ran across a suggestion of a much different scenario while searching for more information on just who the Willis "Austin" of Stockton's recollection might have been. The conjecture was explored in a forum on a longstanding website devoted to researching African ancestry in the Americas. That website, AfriGeneas, has been online in one form or another since the days of Bulletin Board Services. While AfriGeneas now has a more modern social presence at Facebook, the many posts over decades still preserved on their forums can be informative for those working on the puzzles of their African-American roots.

The one post I found pertinent to the Austin-Alston question was submitted by an AfriGeneas member in 2006. While only offered as conjecture, it seems to have been an informed guess by someone who had spent much time considering the topic. In her comments, this AfriGeneas member sought to explain the connections between some of her Austin ancestors, enslaved on the plantation of one J. J. Williams in Leon County, Florida, and how she had traced these families through records subsequently located from the Freedmen's Bureau.

Some of those former slaves—now with the surname Austin—apparently had noted in their bureau records that they had come to Florida with Augustus Alston. This is where you can see the plot thicken. Alston was subsequently shot by Read—as we discovered yesterday—but this left his widow in charge of a very large plantation with many slaves and much debt. Here, the writer of the AfriGeneas post delves into the genealogy of that widowed slaveholder to demonstrate her connection to the J. J. Williams plantation in Leon County, and thus the likely reason why so many Alston slaves ended up working the fields for the Williams plantation.

In all that explanation of how the Alston slaves ended up on Williams property, the writer refers back to Augustus Alston and inserts the note, "which is where I believe the Austin slaves derived their surname."

Of course, that is mere conjecture, though I'd take that as an educated guess by someone who has done her due diligence in researching the matter. However, taking this from the perspective of King Stockton, who was born not quite ten years before the first Alston duel, and who spent his life in the next county to the east in a politically astute household, he might have grown up knowing some of the families who eventually took that surname "Austin" (rather than Alston). Perhaps knowing the association between those freedmen and their former slaveholder, he might have assumed all had been called by the same surname: Austin.

While that doesn't directly inform me about King Stockton's own life—or even that of his own years of being enslaved on the McClellan property—the recounting does remind me to be fluid in handling research clues involving names from that era. Names heard—for instance, Reed versus Read, or even Reid, who served as governor during that turbulent time—aren't always recorded with consistent spelling. Hundred year old eyewitnesses sometimes recall things differently than they might have, eighty years prior. And even the most well-intentioned and careful writers sometimes get details wrong.

Armed with that reminder, we'll move on, tomorrow, to explore some of the other names recalled by King Stockton, this time concerning the military leaders mentioned from the period of the second Seminole war.



Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Who Shot Whom?



Just as I hoped, finding the biography of King Stockton, the once-enslaved boy on the McClellan plantation in Wellborn, Florida, has become an opportunity for me to explore the pressing issues shaping the lives of my ancestors in territorial Florida. While the King Stockton story may be disappointingly brief, its encapsulated vignettes open up the possibility for in-depth exploration, if only by virtue of the many names mentioned in the text.

Not that all the names were entirely accurately reported. We have to remember that King, coming to Florida from the Tison property in southern coastal Georgia as an infant, experienced as a young boy much of what he later reported to his biographer, A. L. Lewis. It is no surprise that some of the names offered in the booklet were not quite what they should have been.

Take, for instance, the portion of the book describing the incidents leading up to the second Seminole War. In the midst of describing the raids and retaliations of that era in Florida history, the narrative diverts to mention some of the foibles hampering military action. Though the text names some of the military leaders called to battle there—providing me an excellent chance, by their names, to seek further recordings of their movements and actual battles—it gives me names which produce no research trail. With what I'm supplied in the book, I immediately smash into a research brick wall.

Here, for example, is one passage in the King Stockton book, nestled up against sentences in a paragraph concerning battles in the second Seminole War:
General Lee Reed then came to try to subdue the Indians, but he had an enemy, Willis Austin, with whom he fought a duel. Austin was killed by Reed, so [Austin's] brother killed General Reed. Austin's brother fled to Texas, but the spirit of being a bully was in him, and in a short time he had killed six men. He was finally tied to a stake and shot to death.

While the brutality of that passage can't be avoided, what we also can't neglect is pursuit of a correct version of that history. But alas, no mention of any General Lee Reed that I could find. Nor was there any result when I searched the name of a Captain Martin, mentioned earlier in that same paragraph in the Stockton booklet. It wasn't until I searched for anyone named Willis Austin from that time period that a winding research path led me to the actual story—and opened my eyes to just what was facing my third great-grandfather in the midst of his own political aspirations.

Keep in mind, as we explore this story in the next few days, that a broader understanding of local history—including the social, cultural, psychological, and political pressures of the time period—will help us more fully understand what kind of people our ancestors once were. I had always known, for instance, that my third great-grandfather was one of the signers of the first Florida constitution—and that that document, in being duly transported to Washington, D.C., in the process of requesting admission for Florida as a state in the union, had been mysteriously "lost." Just that episode, in and of itself, tells me there is far more to that story than has been offered to the general public.

As for "General Lee Reed" and "Willis Austin," it turns out theirs was a story which filled the newspapers of that time period—and makes me appreciate more fully just why my ancestor might have thought better of continuing his political activity.

I first found evidence of a "General Lee Reed" in the testimony of a Mr. Douglas, reported in the Legislative Blue Book for 1917, compiled by Pat Murphy. According to that Mr. Douglas,
"At that time," said he, "there was a worse feud raging here in Florida than ever at any time; there was more bloodshed and violence than I ever wished to see again. It grew up between the Democratic and Whig parties, and led to the assassination of General Lee Reed in the streets of Tallahassee by a man of the name of Willis Alston."

Wait! Alston? But I thought it was Austin.

There may be a reason for that slight shift in surnames—and not simply one on account of mispronunciation—but we'll explore that explanation tomorrow. As the testimony went on to explain,
"Alston belonged to the Whig party and Reed belonged to the Democratic party, and they were both turbulent, violent men. At that time it was a very common thing for a man to shoot another in Tallahassee and almost anywhere else in Florida."

So, who might this Alston have been? As it turns out, it was not Willis Alston who initiated the furor. The difficulties started with another Alston, by the name of Augustus. It was this son of a cotton planter in Leon County, Florida—Robert West Alston—who had originally challenged another man to a duel. That man, George Taliaferro Ward, fared rather poorly in the contest, though at least he lived to tell of it.

Apparently, dueling was rampant in Florida during that time period. Several newspapers in recent decades have recounted the many duels from the state's history, with one noting,
those in office were expected to be fearless. They often settled their disputes and differences in the old-fashioned way by provoking an enemy then engaging in a duel.

Talk about the good ol' days...

Disputes of honor or politics were thus settled with dueling pistols. Thus the reigning party leader—the Whig party's Augustus Alston—felt obliged to address an issue with his political opponent, Florida Militia Brigadier General and Democrat, Leigh Read.

This, of course, was not the first time such challenges had surfaced in Florida politics, especially in regards to one particular Leigh Read. Another Whig party leader, by the name of William Treadwell, had been miffed during a recent campaign, by "insults" attributed to General Read—thus, the challenge publicly placed in the local newspaper. Read had ignored that public taunt, but unfortunately was unable to resist a subsequent challenge by another Whig, Augustus Alston.

A date was set for the event, December 12, 1839. Ironically, the place set for their meeting was outside the state line in Georgia, as territorial law made it illegal to engage in such activities in Florida.

It was not, as King Stockton's recounting had it, Willis Alston who was killed by Leigh Read, but his brother, Augustus, who had originally been killed. As legend has it, Augustus' mourning sisters dug the offending bullet out of their dead brother's body and sent it to their brother, who at the time was living in Texas. Willis did indeed understand the message implied by his sisters and returned to Florida, though it took a series of attempts before he successfully dispatched the "murderer" of his brother. Fleeing back to Texas, Willis Alston eventually met his own demise by similarly violent means.

That, as it turns out, was not one of the stories shared with the McClellan children by my grandmother's Aunt Fannie, as you can imagine. Learning of it, thanks to that brief mention in the biography of King Stockton, opens my eyes to the nastiness of politics in the nascent state of Florida—and the irreconcilable differences between the powers behind two opposing political parties. Small wonder my McClellan ancestor sought a less exposed role in local politics than he could have. Even larger wonder he didn't get caught up in the political hysteria of the dueling factions of his day.



Above: Insert in a 1839 Tallahassee newspaper, provided by a volunteer at the Find A Grave memorial for General Leigh Read.

  

  

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stories...and the Storytellers


Finding the booklet which tells the story of King Stockton, the unnamed slave whom I remembered hearing about since my childhood, gives me a chance to see those stories from a different perspective. Some of those stories I remember seem now, from a "wiser" adult perspective, to be almost incredible, so it helps to examine them from the point of view of another's life experience.

For descendants of the George Edmund McClellan family, those stories were mostly preserved, thanks to one relative: the woman our family called Aunt Fannie. I've written about Aunt Fannie before, though it has been over three years ago. Since, at the end of my Florida research trip, we had the opportunity to visit a rehabbed version of Aunt Fannie's cabin on the old McClellan property, it is probably a good time to re-introduce the storyteller of the McClellan family's tales now.

Aunt Fannie was actually my maternal grandmother's aunt. I never met her, though if my family had ever traveled south to visit Florida, I could have; she died five years shy of her century mark. Aunt Fannie was legendary for the stories she told, mostly about the early years of McClellan family history as pioneer settlers in northern Florida.

Those stories, though, I only remembered by virtue of hearing my own mother repeat them. I was well beyond childhood when I discovered, thanks to a nascent but thriving Internet-based genealogy community, that some distant McClellan cousins had published a book on the family's history. They were Joe and Bonney McClellan, who in 1994 had published Kissin' Cousins. To my surprise—although I don't know why I would be so surprised—I discovered, within the covers of their book, the Aunt Fannie stories I remembered from my childhood.

One story, in particular, had always stood out to me. It was the tale of northern Florida life in the early 1830s, when settlers on that frontier needed to guard their personal safety from the threat of marauding tribes of Native Americans. Aunt Fannie had told of a series of raids in which soldiers, following the signs of carnage, had come upon yet another scene, only to find the raiders had
gone to a home some miles away. The man's oldest son had gone to Jacksonville for supplies. The Indians scalped the balance of the family except the six month old baby, which they brained on a tree.

That was how the story was repeated in the Kissin' Cousins book—pretty much how I remember hearing it as a child. When I posted that quote in my blog twenty years later, I received a comment from a reader, urging me to get in touch with her. As it turned out, she was a great-granddaughter of Aunt Fannie, and she wanted to send me a recording of Aunt Fannie actually telling the story in her own voice—which I did, receiving that treasure just a few years ago.

Now, with the A. L. Lewis recounting of King Stockton's life—the booklet recently sent to me, thanks to the Rose Library at Emory University—I see yet another tale from that era. This time, it was recounted from the viewpoint of a little slave boy, sent by his master from the field back to the house on an errand. According to this account, shared by King Stockton, as told to A. L. Lewis,
The Indians were hiding in the woods intending to kill him, but he stopped to call another boy, and the Indians, growing tired of waiting, went on to another plantation, Richard Tilley's, shot his wife down as she was coming from the lot with her baby in her arms, then stabbed her, and left her for dead. She was not dead, however, and managed to call her sister. They found her with the spear still in her back. It was pulled out, and they carried her in the house, but she lived only a few days.

The interesting thing about this recounting of that time period in northern Florida was that King Stockton reported names of some of the families which were "wiped out." The biography named the Petersons, the Clemmons and the Sykes families, all presumably from Columbia County, the region from which Suwannee County eventually was carved.

While the story according to King Stockton wasn't exactly as I remember the Aunt Fannie stories, it does point to one observation: no matter the particulars of names or injuries, that was the life faced by settlers to the area, whether of European or African heritage.

This recounting, however, delved into more detail than might have been suitable for young ears. It came with several other names listed, tempting me to see what can be verified through additional research—something to save for tomorrow, of course.



Above: The well, as it still stands, in front of Aunt Fannie's cabin on the old McClellan property near Wellborn, Florida.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Off the Shelf: Connected


It may not be a surprise to learn, after reading my stories about the connections between my McClellan family and that of King Stockton or even the links between members of my genealogy society's board, that my recent amazement over connections has been influenced by a book about that very subject.

This month, I've been focusing on a book published ten years ago, but which is just as pertinent to application today as it was in 2009. Written by two scientists—Nicholas Christakis is a Harvard professor while James Fowler is at the University of California at San Diego—Connected is a book which explores the impact of our social networks.

Exploring just how "humans come together to accomplish what they could not do on their own," Christakis and Fowler weave together stories as disparate as the way we vote, or what is more likely  to influence us to lose weight, or what makes us select our purchases—forget that, even what sucks some people into mass hysteria. With fascinating case by case and study by study analysis, the authors seek out the "fundamental rules that governed both the formation and the operation of social networks."

The take-away: "The key to understanding people is understanding the ties between them."

Genealogists have long prided themselves on studying the ties between people. The only difference is, we study dead people. Christakis and Fowler seek what makes the connections between living people tick.

Before you make the decision to dismiss this as a necessary read, consider one thing: even the pursuit of dead ancestors requires an interface with the living. We talk to relatives—even the recalcitrant ex-in-laws who otherwise refuse to divulge any information on the long-gone parents on that side of the family. Or the petulant Aunt Flossie, who holds all the family photos from our maternal grandparents, but is miffed that we didn't come to call last Groundhog Day.

Even in our day-to-day research efforts, we need to cajole DNA matches to respond to our emails. Or distant cousins to help us find that missing obituary from their hometown newspaper. We need to come together as local genealogical societies to preserve the historic records of our county's past, or partner with similar organizations to accomplish what our genealogical group could not achieve on its own. We hope to influence politicians to properly house our archives, fund our historical museums, preserve our library systems. Almost everything we do as researchers builds on what others before us have done collectively. And we need to keep that ball rolling, by being astute in our own partnerships.

More than that, though, is the knowledge of how to apply that understanding from the present time to the historic eras in which our ancestors once lived. They, too, can be understood by the "ties between them."

If you are one of those folks who winks at brush-of-butterfly-wing wishful thinking, Connected will re-ignite your faith in the science of connection by a strong suit of scientific studies about the strength of "weak" ties. Yes, a smile when you don't feel like smiling can apparently launch a chain reaction of happiness. We change each other, one little touch at a time.

The power of "The Three Degrees Rule" described in Connected harnesses the strength of the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, to influence and change our small circles of acquaintances—much like that F.A.N. Club we genealogists so often rely on to learn more about our ancestors. If that circle of associates could influence the type of people our forebears once became, just think what it is doing in our own time. It has certainly gotten me thinking. And I'm seeing the possibilities.



 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Networks of Life


Last Monday was our local genealogical society's board meeting. As president, I've wanted to change our usual agenda to allow for more strategic planning and team building, and less humdrum reporting of the past. So, for this first meeting of the new year, I tried something different. Before we launched into officer and committee reports, I invited everyone to participate in a getting-to-know-you discussion with one question:
How did you first get started researching your genealogy?

While we certainly didn't need any formal introductions—most of our board members have served in one capacity or another for at least a few years—it was surprising to see how little we knew about what drew each of us to the core of our organization's raison d'ĂȘtre. It was time to get social and share.

One board member volunteered to go first. She had a simple answer. She started researching her family's history mainly because of her high school friend—someone who just happened to also be sitting at the table for this very meeting.

That moved the discussion to this second respondent, who shared how she had started researching, amidst comments of "I didn't know you two were friends since high school!"

A third board member also credited this second person, and mentioned his most recent research gems, among them the DNA match discovery of a half sister to one of his close relatives, complete with travels for the two families to meet up, after all those years.

The discussion moved to a fourth board member, who had started her research journey years before, following her marriage. She shared challenges of researching recent immigrants, which comments led to a fifth board member sharing her story of how she had traced her own immigrant ancestors by traveling to their country of origin.

That board member, in turn, has been a friend of mine since we both worked together at the same agency following college graduation—and yet, she hadn't even known that I was involved in the genealogical society until after she made her decision to join the group. We ended up joining the board as total newbies right after becoming part of the society—she as secretary, and I as newsletter editor.

She, as it turned out, had just started her genealogy journey right after retiring from the work world, while another board member had been involved in genealogy research ever since she lost her dad at a young age.

The one thread tying most of the story together—as the details unfolded concerning each of our journeys—was the connections between each of us. Like a winding chain, one person knew another, who influenced another, who connected with the next person—something we hadn't realized before taking the time to ask how each of us got started.

Of course, the hope in this kind of simple, team-building exercise is to create space for each of us to get to know each other better—and thus, hopefully, begin working more closely and effectively together—but the exercise came with some unexpected benefits and surprises. While we soon moved on to the business items at hand, we emerged with a slightly different sense of who each of us are, individually, and possibly a clearer idea of what each of us brings to the table to benefit the greater whole of the board and the organization.

The one main take-away that surprised me, though, was the connection. I knew almost every board member's story, myself—mostly because I try to meet with each officer individually over coffee—but even I hadn't seen how important those unseen connections between us were. For someone who has spent nearly a lifetime sketching out the intricacies of pedigree charts, I was surprised I missed that. We may not be related to each other—no surprise cousin surname or DNA matches yet—but we are connected. Like Elizabeth Shown Mills' F.A.N. Club—of friends, associates, and neighbors—we are intertwined in each other's lives. We influence each other through our connections.

As board members of a local genealogical society, we need to be aware of that nearly-invisible dynamic. Bringing in new members to our fold may not be so much an effort of coaxing strangers to attend our meetings, or take our free-to-the-public workshops, as it may be that friends and friends-of-friends are influenced by the projects in which we take delight. People try new activities or go to new places more often because of someone they know, than simply because they saw a poster or heard a public service announcement. It's the interpersonal connection—no matter how slight—which draws them in.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Clues by Association


If one of the ways we can uncover those aggravating hidden details about our family history is by examining our ancestors' friends, associates, and neighbors, those associated with King Stockton surely give us an intriguing picture.

While there is very little that can be discovered about King Stockton through a search of online resources, we've already learned that he had been a key influence in the young life of future attorney and judge, James Dean. Once I located the actual booklet of King Stockton's life, I then had another clue about someone who considered the man worthy of remembrance: the author of the seven page biography.

While I have yet to confirm his true identity, the author of the Stockton biography—listing himself as A. L. Lewis—may have also been a significant figure in the African American community in northern Florida. If you followed the link located by reader Per Larsson in yesterday's comments, those initials may have stood for Abraham Lincoln Lewis, businessman and philanthropist in the Jacksonville area.

Reading such biographies of the associates of King Stockton gives me pause to consider: though living a mostly unsung life, this man's character led him to interface with others for whom he became an inspiration and, likely, a mentor. While this little booklet about King Stockton's life does not, for the most part, recount his own accomplishments, seeing the fingerprints of these silent associations makes me wish all the more that someone had given voice to such details.

There are, however, other aspects of his saga that were mentioned. Mostly, these were tales from the man's childhood, growing up in pioneer settlements in territorial Florida during the years of the Seminole Wars. Enough names from that local history were mentioned that I'd like to take the detour of researching those accounts to verify what happened.

Then, too, was the page listing King's wife, Louvenia, and the names of his children—prompting me to go the genealogist's route and sketch out a pedigree chart to help keep everyone straight in my mind. With its digital home set up on Ancestry.com, I'll have easy access to documentation to follow the family trail through a few more generations of descendants. After all, at least one of them has turned out to be a DNA match to me, so I may as well learn a little bit more about these relatives I never knew I had.

There is, however, one other task I want to take care of, in relating this story of the unnamed slave's story from my childhood memories. It necessitates my going through my aunt's belongings to find a specific photograph, though, before I can tell you that story—and such rummaging through old storage bins can sometimes be a haphazard endeavor. If I can manage to produce the photo I'm seeking—I'll give myself the weekend to find it—I'll be able to share one more vignette about the connection between the family of King Stockton and that of George and Sidney Tison McClellan. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Asking and Receiving


So, now I have it: the book about King Stockton. Well, make that a booklet. According to the entry at the only library in the world which has it, the item I've been seeking is actually only seven pages in length. Seven unnumbered pages, according to the official entry.

For whatever reason the Rose Library—keeper of manuscripts and rare books at Atlanta's Emory University—deemed it important to include King Stockton's life story among their holdings, I'm not sure. I am, however, unspeakably grateful. Those mere seven pages hold the power of connection—that intangible sense of awe at reconnecting with one's ancestral past.

Receiving an answer to my request was much easier than I had expected. Some special collections archives are quite restrictive as to whom they allow to access their holdings. Closed stacks, advance appointments, waiting periods, and even researcher credentials requirements serve to keep the hoi polloi at bay. I may have a master's degree, but I certainly hold no Ph.D.; all I could do was hope for the best. And wait.

The wait, it turned out, was no more than a few hours. I entered my request into their online form right after the library's closing on Tuesday evening. Through the wonders of three time zones' difference—and the diligence of professional staff—by the time I awoke on Wednesday morning, I not only had a response from the reference coordinator, but a digitized file containing the full contents of the booklet, itself.

The file contained several items I had hoped for. Of course, the main thing I was looking for was any indication that this King Stockton was the same man as the one I was seeking. There were enough details—including some Aunt Fanny-esque stories—to assure me I was on the right track. The bonus was the names of King's children, plus his parents' names, his date and location of birth, and—best of all—a photograph of both King and his wife, Louvenia.

There were, however, enough additional names and details to make me realize that, like many research ventures, the more I learned, the more I needed to research. With every eyewitness account, we see a different perspective; now, I need to chase after these newer names and stories to verify them, as well.

One other thing, though, came with this discovery of the booklet: it wasn't written by King Stockton, himself. It was a story about him. Though I now know the author was listed as A. L. Lewis, I have no clue just who that person was. Family member? Ministerial associate? Community member? Even that question leads to a new research task, as more information generates more questions. We'll start exploring those details tomorrow.

 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

It Pays to Read the Footnotes


Not every piece of writing we pick up for a casual afternoon's read is slathered in footnotes, of course, but for those scholarly tomes in which we occasionally find ourselves lost while seeking dead relatives, footnotes or endnotes are the preferred mode of bestowing credit. We ignore them at our own loss.

It was in the pursuit of the only online link which contained the phrase, "King Stockton," that I ran into the sole mention of the man I believe to be the former slave from the McClellan plantation in Wellborn, Florida. Granted, it was not much of a lead: the entry referenced in my Google search barely gave the man the nod of a full sentence in a thirty three page journal article. One sentence turned out to be enough.

As it was, the article did provide more than just that one key sentence. It gave me a sense of Wellborn in the early years following the Civil War—the friends, associates and neighbors who not only were connected to the subject of the journal article, but to King Stockton, as well.

But what would Mintie and Kelly Dean and their son James—focus of that journal article—have to tell me about King Stockton? James Dean's story certainly didn't help me determine whether King Stockton was indeed the nameless man I was seeking from my childhood memories.

The mention of those names in the journal did help me connect the James Dean in that Florida Historical Quarterly article with the James Dean of Wellborn in the 1870 census—which then led me to notice that, as a child, he did live only five households away from that of King Stockton and his family.

As for the Summer 2008 article's intent, its title sums it up: "The Pioneer African American Jurist Who Almost Became a Bishop: Florida's Judge James Dean, 1858-1914."

The second page of the article mentioned the influences on James Dean's early years, among them King Stockton. The last paragraph simply stated,
The Dean family belonged in the post-Civil War era to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. This connection likely first arose thanks to King Stockton, a local AME minister who filled Wellborn-area religious needs in the absence of a regularly organized church and who lived in close proximity to the Deans.

That last paragraph—with the blip of a mention about King Stockton—wrapped itself around the footnotes on the bottom of page 17 and continued for seven more lines, dropping several other names, on page 18. It was only at the end of that lengthy paragraph on the subsequent page that I spotted another footnote. Not sure whether the footnote referred to the last name mentioned in that final sentence, or somehow included all the previous ones as well, I was inclined to just skip the formalities of slogging through the footnotes at the bottom of the page.

It's a good thing I didn't. There, in a footnote stretching over ten lines of its own, was a source for what surely had been the original mention of King Stockton's name. The title in that footnote promised a biography of the man, enough to cause me to grab my mouse and snip the title. From there, my hunt changed from "Who was King Stockton?" to "who has that book?"

Now, my search has moved from a nameless man liberated from slavery in 1865 to a potential Wellborn neighbor to the specific title of a book about his life. I never in all my life would have dreamed I'd finally discover all that detail. When I first heard the story as a child, all I knew was that there was this unnamed book about a nameless man.

I've learned, however, not to get too elated over small victories. As it turned out, according to WorldCat.org, there is only one library in the whole wide world which contains a copy of that book. Hint: it isn't anywhere close to where I live.

The process of genealogical research may be more a marathon than a sprint. It sometimes turns out to be one in which each step can demand agonizing effort. It's feast or famine; hurry up and wait. Now, I have to polish up my credentials as a researcher, and present myself for consideration: will I be deemed worthy enough to divulge the contents of that rare-books-and-manuscripts collection's holdings?

I asked. And am waiting. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Exploring King's
Friends, Associates, and Neighbors


When unable to find the missing vital details on an ancestor's life, the next best approach is to rely on what can be discovered via the folks consistently surrounding the target ancestor.

This research technique has been called by various names. Some refer to collateral research, meaning the inclusion of all siblings in researching the generation of the target ancestor. Others advocate what they call cluster genealogy, including everyone in the cluster formed around the target ancestor, whether family or not—sometimes involving a search spanning multiple generations.

Overall, though, the most commonly used moniker for such research efforts seems to be a term whose creation was credited to preeminent American genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills. That, of course, is the acronym of the F.A.N. Club: the research circle which includes Friends, Associates, and Neighbors.

In our search to learn more about the man I recall from stories my mother told me as a child, now that we've settled upon a possible name for him—King Stockton—I'm discovering there isn't much to be found. Never mind that the family legend is that, after slavery, he returned home to give my second great grandfather the written story of his life. I have no idea what such a book might have been called, and I certainly can't find any book with the name King Stockton listed for the author.

A possible next step would be to explore the path leading to the clusters of people around King Stockton, his life's timeline, and his neighborhoods. While I started such an exploration before leaving for my Florida research trip, I still have quite a bit more work to do to complete that effort. So let's pick up on that path, beginning today.

As I've already mentioned, I was able to locate King Stockton and his family in Wellborn, Florida, in the 1870 census. In his own household were listed his wife Lovenia, and children Manda, King, Catherine, Ella, Robert and Sweeter.

In addition to his own household, though, we can see his closest neighbor was also surnamed Stockton. Twenty year old Albert Stockton and his wife Tyra lived with their three year old daughter Mariah and infant daughter Martha. Because of Albert's age in comparison to King's, it is possible that Albert could have been King's son. Another nearby household was comprised of thirty nine year old Francis Stockton, his wife Sarah, and children James, Dora, Hester, Missouri, Colfax, and Sallie. (Note all households in the 1870 census record for Wellborn, Florida, for these families had the surname spelled "Stocton.")

All these Stockton families may well be closely related. Wellborn was a small town—still is—and the proximity of the three families' homes within this small town makes it even more likely that there is a close familial connection.

Add to that the spotting of the name Hester—an important name in that it might reveal another family connection, though that is a part of the story yet to be discussed—in the household of Francis Stockton, and I feel even more convinced of the close connection of these three neighboring families.

Yet it is not in the households containing the same surname that I find my first lead in discovering more about who King Stockton was. It was in the name of another neighboring family. That, as it turned out, was the family of forty two year old Kelly Dean, his wife Mintie, and their only child listed in the household, James. It was because of the listing of this small family that I found the only other reference to King Stockton in the vast online universe of information we researchers regularly roam, known as the Internet.

But you know how it goes: I'll have to get to that story tomorrow. 


Monday, February 11, 2019

Don't Forget King


One of the projects associated with my recent trip to explore family roots in northern Florida was that of the story of King Stockton. This was a project long in the making, mostly because I lacked any clue as to how to identify the man. Just recently, I've had some leads as to the possibility that his name was King Stockton. Now that I'm home from my research trip to Florida, I'm eager to resume the search for his family history.

I mentioned yesterday that I needed, first, to attend to one portion of my biweekly tallying duties, before continuing any report on what I've been discovering about this man named King. There's an additional reason for wanting to complete that tally, despite the temptation to just call it a night when I arrived home from Florida: the part I was missing was my biweekly DNA match tally. Something has popped up on the DNA side of my count which I want to explore further. But first, the numbers.

Since I've been tracking trees for not only my mother and father but also for my husband's parents, I keep track of DNA matches for both myself and my husband. Now that the holiday sales results are finally showing themselves in an uptick in matches, I thought it would be informative to see how that impacted my counts.

There was, as it turned out, a slight uptick in matches for this biweekly period, though not as many as I hoped. My match counts advanced by twelve on 23andMe, by thirty eight at FamilyTreeDNA, and by a whopping 344 at MyHeritage. That brings my totals to 1,119 at 23andMe and 3,513 at FamilyTreeDNA. The count at MyHeritage just blows me away: I'm now at 7,088 matches.

In a similar pattern, my husband's results have also jumped up by thirteen at 23andMe, by twenty three at FamilyTreeDNA, and by 318 at MyHeritage. In addition, while I can't view a tally for increased number of matches at Ancestry.com (it just reads "1000+" for fourth cousins and closer), my husband's match count went up by twenty five. His respective totals are now 1,072 at 23andMe, 2,219 at FamilyTreeDNA, 5,360 at MyHeritage, and 753 at AncestryDNA.

The increases in matches during this post-holiday season don't seem to be as extravagant as those from the previous year. I hope that doesn't mean the wave has crested; I'm still waiting for that silver-bullet match which will bring answers to all my burning genealogical questions.

Still, while I may not have discovered the links I was hoping for—but who knows, they might show up with this next DNA sale for Valentine's Day—I did stumble upon something which, in retrospect, was not as surprising as it seemed at first. It turns out that, buried among all the DNA test results for the thousands of matches I've already accumulated—far too many for me to catch up with—was one particular connection pertinent to the research subject at hand right now: I may be related to King Stockton.

The discovery came unexpectedly. I was looking for someone—anyone—who might have posted a family tree for the man my family knew as King. There weren't too many trees online which involved the same geographic and time parameters as the King I was seeking, but there was, at least, just one such tree.

It only takes one, as you may well know from your own experience. This tree appeared to be well researched, and seemed to be cataloguing records concerning the right man. I decided to click through to send the researcher a message on Ancestry.com.

Ancestry has this handy device on their website in which, if you are trying to contact another subscriber and each of you has already taken a DNA test at that company, the website will notify you of the potential connection. As soon as I clicked through to email this tree's researcher, that is the notification I received. In Ancestry's estimation, we are anywhere from fifth to eighth cousin.

Thankfully, this researcher was gracious enough to respond to my message, and we have been comparing notes ever since. Of course, during my travels last week, I was hampered in that I couldn't, simultaneously, research documents online while gabbing with relatives in real life. But even then, thanks to my mother's cousin, I gleaned some family stories which may help determine more about this man named King Stockton who once was, oddly enough, both enslaved by and on friendly terms with the very family that I had traveled to northern Florida to research.

Thus, a story I remember from my childhood now becomes a research project filled with oral traditions but not very much of a paper trail with which to verify those details. On the other hand, I now have the privilege of working together with another experienced, long-term family history researcher, with whom I hope to —someday—piece together as reasonable a history of his life as possible.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

At Journey's End, New Tasks Emerging


Home again. It's been a productive research trip, although one which was very different from the usual tour through libraries or archives. To interview family members, explore the old homestead, or even traipse through family burial grounds takes a different kind of time than scrolling through microfilms or even reading listings in book form.

These are the research formats which take time to unfold. Conversations will meander over their natural course and interviewees take time to warm to the subject—let alone the interviewer. I may not have retrieved volumes of documents in this past week's research journey to northern Florida, land of my grandmother's roots, but I did return with loads of material.

All that material needs to be transformed into usable formats, the type where I can refer back to my notes and recreate the episodes when I gleaned the information for the first time. Some of that information is simply waiting to be harvested from my memory and ensconced on paper—before I forget the details I traveled so far to obtain.

In the meantime, it's been two weeks since I last checked up on my research progress on the four family trees I've been building. Don't be surprised that absolutely nothing has happened on the trees for my father, my mother-in-law, or my father-in-law. Remember, this past half year has been devoted to focusing on my mother's southern roots, thanks to preparation for the research course I took at SLIG this past January, and this very trip I've just completed.

Even progress on my own mother's tree slowed while I was out, driving through Suwannee County in search of more details on just what unfolded in my McClellan and related lines, in and about Wellborn. Not surprisingly, I was only able to add sixty nine names to my mother's family tree to bring that tree's tally up to 16,828.

Every single one of those names was added in the past week, thanks to a visit to the Suwannee Valley Genealogical Society library, where I met another McClellan descendant—from a line I wasn't even aware existed. Now that I and my distant cousin—fifth, to be exact—have compared notes, I'm documenting my way from this other researcher's progenitor down to the present. All told, I'm sure I'll add much more than just the sixty nine names I've found this week. These things, however, take time to prove their position on the McClellan tree—something which I not only enjoy doing, but which makes for a satisfying finish to a productive week of research.

With such a late arrival home last night—er, make that this morning—I'll continue the portion of my normal count which focuses on DNA testing progress tomorrow. Traveling across a continent can take time; factor in the three hour time difference, and it makes for a very long day, indeed. But that's not the only reason I'm postponing the count on my DNA test progress. As it turns out—and quite timely, as well—in the midst of my research trip, I've made one particularly pertinent discovery about one of my DNA matches.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Power of Stories Repeated


Every now and then, I read things written by someone having absolutely nothing to do with genealogy, and yet—no surprise here—what I read leads back to thoughts about family history. Such was the case when, trying to catch up on my emails yesterday, I read a two-week-old blog post by marketing guru Seth Godin.

If you know anything about marketing, you may realize that successful selling is really about successful storytelling. Perhaps that was why, in one of his pithy daily posts, Mr. Godin remarked, "Forgotten stories have little power."

He went on to confirm the reverse: "Repeating stories (to ourselves and others)...makes those stories more powerful."

Thinking of the power of stories repeated reminded me of an old New York Times article by author Bruce Feiler. In "The Stories That Bind Us," published back in March, 2013, Mr. Feiler asserted that the best thing parents can do for their children is to "develop a strong family narrative." He cited a psychologist's observation that "the ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges."

That psychologist's observation, in working with children with learning disabilities, led researchers to develop a series of questions which they dubbed the "Do You Know?" scale—what people sometimes called the "20 Questions."

As one of the researchers, Robyn Fivush, later observed in an article she wrote for Psychology Today, "It is not knowledge of these specific facts [the answers to the twenty questions] that is important—it is the process of families sharing stories about their lives that is important."

Dr. Fivush urged families to "begin a family tradition of sharing the stories of our lives."

Her colleague in the research project, Marshall Duke—whose psychologist wife it was who had made the initial observation prompting him to develop the hypothesis—emphasized the same point: "Simply knowing the answers to questions will not produce the good outcomes" realized through their research. You cannot make your kids study for the "Do You Know?" test. Rather, "It is not the content of what is known that is the critical factor, but the process by which these things came to be known."

Because the twenty questions "test knowledge of things that children could not possibly have learned first hand"—in other words, details of the family's history before the children were even born, or were too young to personally remember—they would have had to receive it through person-to-person interaction, mainly through stories shared. Sharing stories takes time. And connects people.

Today is my last day in Florida, the land of my roots (well, at least the land of my grandmother's roots). It's likely all I'll be able to accomplish today will be to pack the bags and get us checked out of our hotel and into the airport shuttle.

Still, I can't help but think of one last episode on this epic family history research expedition. Like an encore to a wonderful performance, my mother's cousin—tour guide extraordinaire for our time, earlier this week, through the little town in northern Florida where my grandmother's family once lived—came back to visit me, once more.

After we had parted ways in Wellborn—she and her husband a day earlier than I and my long-suffering partner—the two of us had returned to visit my husband's sister and brother-in-law, relatively new year-round residents in Florida. From there, it was on to Orlando for business meetings for my better half.

Before we could even get to our next stop, this cousin had arrived home, still savoring thoughts of our wonderful visit to the land of our roots. I was hardly on the road when I got a message from her: "Call me right away." She had been thinking of all the family treasures she had received from my grandmother which she now wanted to pass on to me.

Underlying this thought process was the concern that someone would continue passing along the stories of our family's experiences over the generations. As we've seen all too clearly during our visit—and here, as I post my experience regarding the search for King Stockton—there are oral histories which have never found their way into print. There is no other way to preserve them than to insure that someone keeps the story alive for the next generation.

I had already known some of those unwritten stories. The story my mother told me, for instance, about the former slave who had had his story written in a book, was only something she told me. I have yet to find that book, but because of what I've been told, I know there was this certain man who did this certain thing. I want to pursue that story because I want to preserve that story.

But my mom's cousin had more of such stories to tell me. We talked almost constantly for the mere twenty four hours we were together, she telling me things that likely have not been written down anywhere—back when it happened, for the reason that it would meet with social censure, and recently, because we are at a loss for how to verify those "old stories."

With this in mind, she made arrangements to make the two-hour-long drive back to rendezvous with me at my hotel, bearing items which she dared not trust to the postal service. Her treasures included photo albums—thankfully with some pictures labeled—and various documents indicating the stepping stones of life's accomplishments.

No one in her immediate family was interested in these—besides, they weren't of her direct line, but materials concerning her aunt, who was my grandmother—and she knew I was keenly motivated to preserve such items.

She did, however, present them with one more question: was my daughter also taking an interest in these family stories? For, if she wasn't, who else could these family stories be passed down to? After all, it's in the repeating of these family stories that they provide strength. Remember, as Seth Godin observed, "Forgotten stories have little power."

It's in the stories remembered—and, thus, treasured—that we pass along the strength the next generation needs to grow and endure, despite adversity.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Yanking a Few More Bricks
Out of the Proverbial Brick Wall


Sometimes, a research journey can unearth momentous discoveries. Other times, well, a few more chinks chipped out of the genealogical brick wall still help.

This time, the chips are falling from around the brick labeled Mary Charles McLeran. I've been stuck on the details of her life. I don't have a date of death for her, a dilemma since she was also the subject of a local legend, that of Mary of the Red Scarf.

Granted, she may not be one and the same as Ruben and Rebecca Charles' daughter Mary, reputedly shot by angered Native Americans who mistakenly took her for yet another one of those settlers encroaching upon their land. Still, red scarf or not, I have been able to locate a Mary, daughter of Ruben and Rebecca, who was very much alive, well into adulthood.

While this Mary outlasted not only her pioneer parents in the early days of northern Florida settlement but also her husband and only daughter, I still lacked some details about her life. Mainly, I wanted to know what became of her in her later years. Since I couldn't find any trace of her after the 1880 census—and even that entry I had doubts about—I needed to examine records to see if perhaps she had remarried.

This past week's visit to Suwannee County put some of my doubts to rest. Not entirely, of course, but I'm closer to gaining a resolution on her life's story.

Mary's story is not a happy one. With her father dying young by about 1835, and her mother in the 1850s—both meeting a violent end, according to local legends—Mary had married William T. McLeran, member of another local family whose surname subsequently had become well known in the area. Even Mary's marriage date is in doubt, because I have yet to find any documentation of that event; with some counties in the area lacking local records until long after that date, I may never find such a document.

I'm fairly sure the date of her marriage was before 1859, for that was the date of birth for her first and only child, a daughter she named Fannie. The second reason I feel that was a reasonable guess for date of her marriage was that her husband unexpectedly died the very next year, on May 29, 1860.

William McLeran's death in May was quickly followed by Fannie's, in June of that same year. After that, we can find the bereft Mary subsequently losing her sister Drucilla and caring for Drucilla's two surviving daughters, as well as temporarily caring for the children of her deceased brother Andrew.

I managed to find, among the records I thumbed through in the basement of the Suwannee County courthouse last week, a petition by the widow Mary McLeran to have her two nieces apprenticed to her for training in "housewifery."



From the date of that petition—though entered farther down the page, it was hard to read, possibly stating February 28, 1861—until the next time I found mention of Mary, it was far beyond the entry in the 1870 census which was the last date of which I had been most certain.

Now, it turns out, there were several letters written concerning the estate of Mary McLeran. While I can't yet determine the exact date of her passing, what I could glean from the various messages was that when Mary died, she had been left in a destitute state. I'm not sure why the nieces she had raised were not in a position to assist her, nor any of the few remaining more distant relatives. It just made me sad, in my visit to the courthouse two days ago, to discover the letter from an attorney to the local sheriff about her property.

Dear Sir:-
     Replying to your letter reference to the condemnation proceedings against the old of house of Mrs. McLeran, now deceased. The house is absolutely worthless and I suppose the best thing that can be done is to let any one tear it down who will do it for the wood, or let the city do it. I am working on the matter I spoke to you about the day that I came to Live Oak.
       Yours truly,
       [signed] M. M. Scarborough, Jr.

The date on the letter—a clue I could have used to determine Mary's actual date of death—was rather enigmatic: October 24 of what year? I checked another letter regarding the same issue—what to do with the "worthless" property the widow McLaren had left behind. The date there on an "Administrator's Notice" was given as July 11, 1899. Poor Mary had undoubtedly passed away before that point, but a reasonable approximation could be given as the year of 1899, or possibly early in the winter of the preceding year.

Staking my claim on a few extra numbers in an ancestor's vital stats is hardly satisfactory in the wake of a story as intriguing—and yet so tragic—as Mary's must have been. Just in these scant details, I feel for her in the continual plight of her life's story. While hers seems to be a life lived in the gaps—before documentation was widespread in the pioneer settlements of territorial Florida, at the establishment of a new county, or resident in other counties with less carefully-held records—surely, there was much more that could have been told, if anyone had valued the story that would have been her life's tale.


Above pictures of documents retrieved and photographed by the author on February 6, 2019, at the Suwannee County Courthouse, Live Oak, Florida. 
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