When pieces are missing from the documentation of your family's story, then what? We learn to read between the lines.
I'm struggling with connecting the dots between my third great-grandmother in Florida, Delaney Townsend Charles, and her Townsend roots back in South Carolina. There are plenty of assertions that her parents were John and Keziah Hays Townsend of Marlboro County, but there are scant references to any paper trail which would confirm such statements.
Still, given what we've got—right now, I'm reading between the typewritten lines of Annie Florence Kinney's D.A.R. membership application, which inexplicably details Delaney's tangential line to her own Kinney lineage—there may be some stray comments which prove helpful.
The main research issues are lack of any death record, probate record, or other final words on the death of Delaney or her husband, Andrew J. Charles, and lack of much of the same for Delaney's supposed father. We can find Delaney and Andrew and their children in the 1850 census, living in Madison County in northern Florida. By 1860, all we can find are their children—living in someone else's household.
That household, as we've already seen, was headed by the second husband of Andrew Charles' sister Drucilla, so theoretically, there should be some documentation specifying the guardianship arrangement that surely was established. But without documentation, we are only guessing.
The assumption is easy to make that some great misfortune befell the couple, causing their death and leaving their children orphaned. Although that leaves us a wide gap of time for our conjecture—anywhere from the date the 1850 census was taken to just before any mortality schedule would be drawn up for the 1860 census—the diligent approach would be to scour any available records, not only in the location of their 1850 residence, but including the counties lying between Madison and the home of their children's guardian in 1860.
In the meantime, there are some aspects of usefulness to the quandary of re-reading and re-reading the same sorry details we've already collected. Take, for instance, this passage, gleaned first from a website featuring the Townsend genealogy and then from the source document referenced in that website, a copy of Annie Florence Kinney's D.A.R. application (note brackets indicate handwritten correction entered in the original application):
After the death of Andrew Jackson Charles, Mr. Light Townsend ([grand]father of John R. of Blenheim) went to Fla. and brought his two nieces back to Marlboro County with him and reared them in his home.
In providing this explanation, applicant Annie Florence Kinney provides us a clue as to what became of my second great-grandmother's parents. It's a small clue, of course, but it helps paint a scenario of how events unfolded.
Note the narrative states, "After the death of Andrew," not "after the death of Andrew and Delaney." The text is intimating that Delaney died before her husband—possibly from causes unrelated to Andrew's own death. Continuing this examination further, as there seems to be confusion over how many sons Delaney had, this scenario might have intimated that Delaney could have died following childbirth, possibly of that second, unexplained son mentioned in the same D.A.R. application.
Of course, nothing explains—yet—just why the death of the second parent prompted the relatives of the first parent to come claim the children. Nor does that help us understand why those relatives, living a greater distance from the Charles children, superseded the guardianship claims of the nearby relatives, who also lived in northern Florida.
Another clue to help pinpoint a timeline of these unfortunate events might be that Andrew Charles' sister—Drucilla, the one who, after her second marriage, did take in the Charles orphans—could have been otherwise occupied with her own tragedy at the time of Andrew's death. Drucilla's last daughter with her first husband was born in January of 1858, and her next child, with the second husband, was born in April of 1860, hinting at the possibility that she would not be in a position to take in three additional relatives any time around 1857 until the time of their actual arrival before June 22, 1860.
Still, dissecting the wording on a D.A.R. application only fuels our conjectures about what did actually happen. To know for sure, we'd need to see documentation—the very thing we are now lacking. Though a solidly constructed proof argument can work wonders, that only stands if we can weave a web of reasoning with enough indisputable data points to connect the dots logically. At this point, those dots are too few and far between to draw up the argument that the patriot John Townsend was Delaney's father.