Following the paper trail on an American ancestor can be simple...as long as that relative doesn't move any more often than once every ten years, and only does so on or after the date of the 1850 census.
The question now, in trying to determine my fourth great-grandfather's roots, is: where did Charles McClellan come from to arrive in Camden County, Georgia, by 1817? Many researchers who have their trees posted online say he came from South Carolina. Some even assert he came from the Barnwell District of South Carolina.
Me? I'd like to see the paperwork.
Riding on this encounter with actual documentation is the possibility of uncovering clues as to the origin of Charles McClellan's wife—also a point of conjecture sans documentation in many of those same trees.
For today, we'll launch into a simple fact-checking endeavor, but keep in mind, this search is still hampered by one significant detail: I've yet to locate any records confirming the parent-child relationship between Charles and several of the McClellan neighbors we've located in either the northern portion of territorial Florida in the 1830s or his former home in Camden County, Georgia.
Let's presume the names which have shown up in various early Florida records represent sons of Charles McClellan and trace their lines forward to discover their own report as to where they were born. In order to do that, we need to find the McClellan men who, first of all, lived until at least 1850, and also continued to live in that northern Florida region where we first stumbled upon them. After all, there were ample options for finding McClellan men all over the nation with names as common as the given names we've rounded up: names like Andrew, Henry, Samuel, and Charles.
In addition, we have the benefit of discovering two of Charles' daughters. One, Adeline, was found by virtue of having her name specifically listed in her father's will. The other, though not mentioned in his will—same as these other possible siblings—we found thanks to her marriage record in Georgia, same county where her father had obtained land in 1817, and also to her subsequent appearance in census records providing housing for her two youngest McClellan siblings.
So where do these McClellans report their birthplace as being?
Margaret McClellan Stephens, the oldest daughter, was born in 1805 and died in 1882, giving us a long lifespan with ample places to pull up her entry in census records. In each of the enumerations in which I found her—for 1850, 1860, and 1880—she declared South Carolina to be the location of her birth.
Charles' oldest son, named in his will as George McClellan, was born in 1808, but died in 1866, limiting our ability to track his reports through census records. However, in both the 1850 and 1860 census, he declared his place of birth to be South Carolina.
The next three McClellan men are, at this point for me, still conjectures. They lived in the same area of territorial Florida in the 1830s, and some were even mentioned in the administration papers for yet another McClellan—William, who died too young to be included in the 1850 census. We can still plot their dates and places of birth, in case they do turn out to be Charles' sons.
Andrew, born in 1810, could be found in all the census enumerations leading up to his 1880 death, except for 1870. In the 1850 and 1860 enumerations, he gave his birthplace as South Carolina. In the 1880 census, on the eve of his death when he was living in the household of his Georgia-born son-in-law, someone reported his place of birth not as South Carolina, but Georgia.
Henry, born five years after Andrew, had a mixed bag for his birthplace results as well. According to the 1850 census, Henry was born in Georgia, but all subsequent enumerations—he died in 1892—showed his birthplace as South Carolina.
Charles D. McClellan, last of the McClellans for whom I don't have solid documentation of parentage, was born in 1819. To complicate matters, he died before 1860, leaving us with only one report of his birthplace, the 1850 census, where he reported being a native of Georgia.
The next child, Samuel, was one of the two minor children Charles mentioned in his will. Born in 1822, he too died early, in 1867, leaving us only one census from which to glean his birth report. Unsurprisingly, the listing indicated Georgia. And baby Adeline? While still living in her older sister Margaret's home in 1850, the record indicated she, too, was born in Georgia, as did the 1860 census, and even the 1900 census, when Adeline moved to Texas and was boarding in the home of Margaret's daughter. But even considering all those agreeing records, the 1870 census interjects a conflicting report of a Florida birth.
With that survey, we can discern a somewhat blurry line of demarcation between life in Florida, life in Georgia, and life somewhere beyond in South Carolina. It's not surprising to see the wobbling report of Henry's birth vacillating between South Carolina and Georgia; after all, the land record for Charles was dated May of 1817. Depending on whether Henry remembered his age correctly, he could have been born right before or right after the move from one state to the other.
Though Henry's reports don't give us a bright line to indicate the year Charles and his family might have arrived in Georgia, I suspect Andrew's 1810 birth was more solidly in South Carolina. The next question, of course, is: assuming these were indeed all of Charles McClellan's children, can we use that as a guidepost to follow the McClellan family back to South Carolina. If so, just where in South Carolina would they have lived? More importantly, can we find convincing documentation to indicate the exact location?