Friday, May 24, 2019

Mary Ann

There was one peculiar clause inserted into the last will and testament of Job Tison of Glynn County, Georgia. After designating what was to become of all his property—as well as all his slaves, since he was a plantation owner—specifying how it should be divided up among his widow and their seven remaining children, plus the two grandchildren from his by-then deceased daughter, Job Tison added one final note. Based on the research experiences which have occurred since I began delving into my southern roots earlier this year at SLIG, seeing a note like this could only serve to make me wonder.

You see, the one slave—Hester—who went with Job's daughter Sidney as she, a newlywed as of September 25 of 1830, followed her husband George Edmund "McClelland" to a new residence in Wellborn, Florida, was apparently of a mixed race heritage. So was Hester's son, King Stockton, according to the 1870 census. Where did the "white" come from?

That very question was what propelled me, earlier this year, to seek out stories of similar situations, starting with what is perhaps the best-known of such histories, the saga of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. I am still in pursuit of the answer to my question about how widespread such tacit agreements actually were in the antebellum south. To be specific, I am wondering just whom Hester might have fingered as her father.

And here in Job Tison's will is a line which causes me to wonder once again. Of course, in this case, both Hester and Mary Ann, whoever she was, were by then adults, and there is no way to determine whether the two women were related to each other. But it was plain to see from the McClellan family's treatment of Hester that she held a privileged position within the ranks of that household's slaves. And now we see it was likewise, in the Tison family, for Mary Ann.

The wording in Job Tison's will put it thus:
My Negro Woman named Mary Ann and her future increase I wish left undivided until my youngest Child shall become of age.

Job's youngest child was Theresa Elizabeth Tison, born in September of 1820, less than four years before her father died. Waiting until Theresa became "of age" meant Mary Ann "and her increase" would remain as a family unit until at least late in the year 1841.

Indeed, the Tison family seemed intent upon keeping their father's will as the distributions were made from Job's estate. When oldest son Aaron received his portion in October, 1828, he signed a statement indicating he had received from his mother, executrix of the estate,
the sum of ten dollars in full of all demands against [the] estate of Job Tison Excepting of Mary Ann and her increase from eighteen hundred and twenty four.

Again, when his sister Melinda received her "full share" on May 25, 1830, her note likewise included that same wording "excepting" the required stipulation of "Mary an [sic] and her increase from the year of eighteen hundred and twenty four."

And so it went. Further on in the probate file for Job Tison came another such note, this time from the next daughter, Susan—by this point, a widow with an infant son of her own—dated October 17, 1830. Her receipt acknowledging her "full proportion" also included those same obligatory words about "Mary Ann and her increase."

As I work my way through each document filed in Job Tison's probate file, I'll likely uncover similarly-worded receipts from the rest of his children. And yet, as careful as each heir was to note the specific stipulation for Mary Ann and her "increase," not a word of explanation is provided for this unusual directive.

Or, to restate that more realistically, just as in Jefferson's case with Sally Hemings, there probably was a word of explanation going around among his neighbors and associates. It's just that no one was likely to write down such local gossip for the benefit of outsiders six generations later.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Estate of Job Tison, Late

One thin sheet of paper, insufficient to prevent the ink from bleeding through to the other side, contained the three columns listing all the "several goods and chattel" belonging to the estate of Job Tison. It was drawn up and presented by the appointed appraisers to the court at Glynn County, Georgia, on October 25, 1824.

While there were plenty of entries for jugs, jars, pots, and even a waffle iron, the main point of interest—both for us and, apparently, for the appraisers, who gave this category top listing on the flimsy page—were the names and values of the persons once enslaved on the Tison plantation. Eighteen in all, their names were given as John, Jack, Sam, Harry, Jim, Rose, Caty, Mary, Mary Ann, Charlotte, Amy, Phoebe, Hannah, George, "Alick," Moses, Dick, and Anak.

None of those names in the inventory had appeared in Job Tison's will, which had called out specifically certain slaves intended for individual children. This, perhaps, provides an answer to my question yesterday about how many slaves in total Job had held. I tend to think—though not yet having made my way through the entire (and messy) probate file—that there might have been more slaves than were provided in this listing. Still, adding yesterday's thirteen names to the eighteen here, the total amounts to more than the twenty five slaves indicated in the 1820 census. Hopefully, the rest of the probate documentation will provide the missing names.

We can't, however, presume that all those named in this inventory were to be summarily sold. Some of those names I already recognize from other communications in the probate file. One, in particular, was mentioned repeatedly as each Tison child signed a note indicating receipt of his or her portion of the father's estate. That one slave was Mary Ann. Whether I can discern what the story was behind the particular care taken to remember Job Tison's request by calling her out in his will is yet to be seen, but that there was a story to be known is a hint too broad to ignore.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Thankful for Online Transcriptions

Seeking the document which recorded the last will of Job "Tyson" was a challenge I presumed would have to be put off until I could make the cross-country trip to Glynn County, Georgia. Thankfully, though, we get a temporary reprieve in the form of two online sites containing transcriptions of his will.

One, which was shared by the researcher who is also puzzling through our mutual McClellan/Tison DNA connection, led me to the US GenWeb site, where a transcription of Job Tison's will had been included in the text files for the state of Georgia. The other, thanks to a tip from Google, re-introduced to me a prodigious collection of online transcriptions from Glynn County I had totally forgotten about over the years: the work of Amy Hedrick at There, among many other resources of which I'm availing myself during this particular phase of Tison research, I found an additional transcription of Job's will—this one much more readable.

While I've mentioned the details of the Tison will earlier this year while trying to determine the connection for King Stockton between my McClellan line and that of Job Tison, my purpose in revisiting this document now is to follow the indication of which of his slaves were sent to which family. Additionally, I want to follow the unusual notes included along with the usual designations.

Of course, just looking at this wording presents the awkward—at least to the modern mind—sense of not only the concept of one person owning another, but being able to direct that person's future well-being, including the splitting asunder of family connections. My main curiosity, in engaging in this exercise, is to follow what became of the woman named Hester—within the subsequent six years to have become pregnant by an as-yet-unnamed partner with the son she named King, at about the same time she left Georgia to follow her mistress to her married life as Mrs. George McClellan in Wellborn, Florida. But I am also wondering whether any of the other enslaved persons actually moved to Florida along with Hester.

To track the ultimate outcome of these transactions will mean not only listing the determination given in Job Tison's will—which I'll cover momentarily—but following that will through the many subsequent years in which Job's wife, Sidnah, acting as executrix while constrained by the minor ages of Job's heirs, finally put that will into action. Some of that requisite business was not completely attended to until after Sidnah's own death in 1855, when her son took up the responsibility of completing those arrangements.

Yesterday, I named Job Tison's children—all of them, at the point in February, 1824, when he drew up his will, being underage. Today, let's look at which of the enslaved population at the Tison plantation were designated to each of the named Tison children, once they came of age. I'll begin with the oldest, and follow the order of the will's transcription.

Before getting to that, though, Job mentioned in his will that he intended to "lend" his property to his wife until "at her death" it would be passed to his "four youngest children," Susan, William, John, and Theresa. This not only included the Tison land but the enslaved "property" as well. Until Sidnah died in 1855, then, the four named slaves—Tom, Judy, Ned, and Maria—were to be considered hers.

Job's oldest, son Aaron, was to receive a man named Ben. Next oldest, my third great-grandmother Sidney, was to receive Hester, confirming what I had suspected from family stories of her later years, and explaining why, upon Sidney's death in 1860, she, though a married woman, held "property" of her own which required the legal instrument of a will to distribute.

The next Tison child, Melinda, was to receive "Phillis," of whom there were subsequent notations in Job Tison's probate file. Her younger sister Susan was to receive a woman named Clarissa. For the next Tison child, a son named William, the designated slave was to be Peter, and for William's younger brother John, the slave inherited was to be Joe. Finally, the youngest child, daughter Theresa, was to receive a slave named Lydia.

Those were not the only descendants mentioned in Job Tison's will. He also intended to take care of two grandchildren, whose particular mention—without any explanation as to their parents' names—indicate that Job may have had another daughter who predeceased him. While I cannot find any record of such a daughter's marriage in the Glynn County marriage transcripts, the search now will be on to determine just who Eliza Carter and Job Carter might have been—and, of course, to track what became of the slaves, Patty and Frank, willed to each of them, respectively.

That, according to the transcript, named the enslaved persons claimed by Job Tison at the point of preparing his will in 1824: Tom, Judy, Ned, Maria, Ben, Hester, Phillis, Clarissa, Peter, Joe, Lydia, Patty, and Frank—thirteen persons in all. But it did not compare as conveniently with the twenty five enslaved persons accounted for in the 1820 census entry for Job Tison's household, leaving me to wonder whether any of the unnamed slaves had been sold to satisfy debts—or if the chosen individuals signified merely "favorite" slaves or any sort of family grouping.

There were, in the will itself, as well as among the subsequently-listed papers in the probate file, some other indications of possible family groupings which need to be mentioned. We'll take a look at that, tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Look at the Tisons

Job Tison died in Glynn County, Georgia, in 1824—thankfully, after leaving a will dated in that same year. In that will, he named his wife, Sidnah Sheffield Tison, daughter of Revolutionary War patriot West Sheffield, as executrix. By the date of his will, Job Tison's eldest son Aaron was months shy of attaining twenty one years of age, and my third great-grandmother, Sidney, was three years behind him. That left the rest of the family—sixteen year old Melinda, thirteen year old Susan, twelve year old William, seven year old John, and four year old Theresa—fatherless at rather young ages.

That, perhaps, might have been the impetus for their mother's remarriage after only twenty months of widowhood. According to the transcription of a badly obliterated copy of the original marriage record, on 29 October 1825, forty nine year old Sidnah Sheffield Tison became the wife of Michael Peck. Whether he also became the Tison children's guardian I have yet to verify. In fact, there is very little I can find on the man, and by the time of the 1850 census, he is out of the picture, leaving Sidnah listed in a household of one. By 1855, Sidnah was gone, too.

The Tison family—with their surname alternately given in some records as Tyson—did not originate in Georgia. A number of histories assert that Job Tison came from Pitt County, North Carolina. One record tantalizingly indicated that a land grant was issued to "Joab" Tison in Pitt County on November 26, 1793, including the notation, "On S. side of Tar River"—the river running just north of the county seat of Greenville. However, since a reprint of a local Glynn County history mentioned that Job Tison and his family likely arrived in the state of Georgia around 1785, the land grant mentioned may have involved another Tison relative.

Whenever the Tisons arrived in Georgia, they eventually established a popular hostelry along the post road in Glynn County. Job Tison named this property Coleridge, and apparently the building, though no longer standing, was for a long time considered the oldest structure in the area. The site of the popular old stage coach stop is now indicated by a historical marker. Apparently, also near that spot, Job Tison and various members of his family were interred in a family burial ground on the property, though I have yet to discover any record of it.

Leaving behind a thriving business, the fifty three year old Job Tison might have been expected to provide lengthy directions on what to do with a long list of financial holdings and obligations. That, in turn, would provide us with a snapshot of that juncture in his life. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what his will contained, and what we can read into those few lines of instruction.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Getting Back to Job

It's been a long, winding trail since returning from my research trip to Florida last February. Since that point, a key focus has been the search for information on a book about the man I eventually learned was named King Stockton. More to the point, I wanted to find out more about his mother, though all I knew about her was that her name was Hester.

Hester and her infant son had moved from Glynn County, Georgia, along with my third great-grandmother, Sidney Tison, about the point at which Sidney married George McClellan. Finding an exact timeline for Hester is challenging, because we are talking about enslaved people deprived of not only their freedom but also the dignity of a full name and the expected types of documentation in which we could trace that name. But not only is any material on Hester or her son King—only known publicly by that full name after he became a freedman at the close of the Civil War—not available, I can find no record on the marriage record of the McClellans, either. Thus, at this point, I have no way to date their arrival in Florida from Georgia.

I can only presume that Hester and King came from the Tison property in Georgia—presume, that is, until I can sift through the long and messy probate file for Sidney's father's estate. Job Tison had died several years before his daughter Sidney married George and moved to Florida. At the point of Job Tison's death, he left only one son who had just that year attained legal age; all the rest of his seven children were still minors.

After Job's death in 1824, his widow—Sidnah, for whom daughter Sidney was named—was appointed executrix, but within eighteen months, she had remarried. For whatever reason—and I can understand the difficulty of such a situation—Sidnah did not move quickly on handling the financial matters related to the Job Tison estate, so that, at her own death, apparently intestate in 1855, her responsibilities fell the lot, as administrator, of her third son, John Mason Berrien Tison, by then an attorney, himself.

In the volume of handwritten receipts, appraisals, and other legal communications spanning the years from 1824 through the late 1850s in settling Job Tison's estate, there were several mentions of enslaved persons. These records, for the most part, provided only first names, though there were a few details about relationships and stipulations. In no part of the record—so far—can I find any mention of Hester, the African woman who accompanied Sidney Tison as she left her home to become the wife of George McClellan in Florida.

Still, this calls for a closer look at the record—and while we are in the process, we owe it to the possible descendants of those many named enslaved persons to record what can be noted on the ones whose names were provided. To make the process a little less confusing, we should also look at the players involved, and a bit of background history on Job Tison, his wife Sidnah, and the unexpected discovery of an earlier mention of a tie between the Tison family and the McClellans before the latter family moved from their original home in South Carolina to their new property in the territory of Florida in the 1820s. Perhaps in this second pass through the records, some more helpful details will surface to lead us to a reasonable explanation of Hester's situation before she left Georgia.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Where Does the Time Fly?

There is a saying we overuse, but can't help ourselves in doing so, since it describes exactly how the phenomenon feels: Time flies. And we can't. How do we keep up?

In the last two weeks—you know it's time for my bi-weekly reckoning—I thought I was diligently attacking the empty spaces in my family trees, when it turns out that I hardly kept pace at all with what I had accomplished in the previous two weeks. Not that I maintain this tallying practice to use the scoresheet as a whip for those weeks in which I fall behind, but when the hurrier I go, the behinder I get, I become concerned.

In the past two weeks, for instance, I didn't add one single additional name to my father's tree. Nor my father-in-law's tree. Not even my mother-in-law's tree budged upwards.

Of course, that is not unusual; I've been focusing on one research project, and barring any unforeseen deaths in the other lines, I tend to leave those other trees alone when I'm on a mission. For the past ten months, that mission has been to complete the descendant lines of my McClellan—and now also Broyles—families. The main purpose is to facilitate connecting the dots on those DNA matches whose names I don't recognize, and that goal has sometimes facilitated placing my DNA matches on the right family branch.

But when the research seems to claim a decent amount of my time each week, and yet I have little to show for it, I wonder why. Taking a look back, I think I can spot a few reasons why simply counting names does not give the full picture of where the research effort goes. Here's my take—admittedly a thumbnail sketch of the idea right now—on why quantifying genealogical research does not always help measure the quality of the process.

The main thing is the number of people in a genealogical database tells nothing of the documentation supporting any of the assertions about those people. The types of documents I attach to an individual's profile do not allow a casual observer to see how easily each item was found. The extent to which any such given document has tentacles—my way of saying a document verifying one person also connects me with others in the family—cannot be assessed on the surface. For instance, one record—say, a census record—may have taken me hours to locate because the census enumerator was a lousy speller or had terrible handwriting, but then might have revealed that, in that family's unanticipated move from their home state to this location since the last census, the head of household was now the father of three sets of twins, while another record, found instantaneously, showed the childless head of household had just lost his wife since the last census. One record added more individual profiles, but took much more time to locate than the other. Just counting the increase in names doesn't give a full accounting of the time expended per unit change.

What I think happened in the past two weeks of research was that many of the families I was working on happened to either dedicate their life solely to their professional or military pursuits, or remain childless for other, unexplained reasons. For instance, I spent time researching a number of women who went to college—unusual for women in that era of the late 1800s and early 1900s—and dedicated the remainder of their life to serving in education. Likewise, I discovered a couple career military men who either never married, or married late in life after years of international service and never had children. For records like these, I couldn't, with the click of a census record, add a wife and ten children as I had been able to do in other family lines. The work was slower and more tedious, even though the records weren't unusually hard to find.

Sometimes, too, the slower rate of success may be due to hidden factors, like the wife who was married twice though only the first marriage shows in any records I could find. In cases like these, reading between the lines can be a challenge, especially if the surname turns out to be a common one. There is always that question: is this the same person as the one with the same name whom I've been researching, or a different person who just happens to have the same name and similar circumstances? In the past two weeks, I've spent a lot of time on surnames like Baker and Smith, cause to put the research brakes on and proceed slowly.

Still, I'll celebrate the 214 additional names I was able to add to my mother's family tree in the past two weeks. Her tree now stands at 18,253 individuals, along with 16,186 for my mother-in-law's tree, 538 for my father's tree, and 1,518 for my father-in-law's tree. All together, that represents years—no, decades—of research, chipping away at the process bit by individual profiled bit. It certainly didn't start out that way. Each tree started with just the one person who became the home person for the trees that grew to those sizes.

So it wasn't really that time flies, after all, but that the week was filled with more challenging research issues than previous weeks. Keeping that in perspective helps protect the research enthusiasm from deflating, which in turn provides the encouragement to continue pursuing those goals.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Back to Milling About

I've hit that spot again: what I've called—thanks to a cue from a sympathetic college professor during my sleep-deprived years pursuing a master's degree while working full time—the "milling about" stage of research. I'm stuck on my last project, but not quite ready to make a complete break and move on to a fresh assignment. So I find myself wandering in circles, looking for clues...any clues.

On the one hand, I've got several pages of end notes to plow through in the Jefferson's Daughters book, including some leads on further reading about my specific relational question about enslaved women and their too-amorous masters. I was thinking specifically of my situation in Florida, where my McClellan line settled, or possibly tracing the history back another generation to Georgia and my Tison line. Either way, all indications were that Sidney Tison McClellan's personal assistant Hester may well have been her relative; now, I need to figure out just how that might have been.

That's where a note in the Jefferson's Daughters book caught my eye. Specifically citing "prominent white Floridians," the book's author had traced that comment back to an entry in a book by Jane Landers entitled Black Society in Spanish Florida. But when I look at the reviews for that book, itself, the time period studied was during the Spanish colonial period—mostly, long before the time the McClellans settled in northern Florida. And looking further to other resources mentioned on that topic, they were mostly specific to 1700s Virginia, the era of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings—too early and the wrong side of the region for my McClellan situation. Still, I may give a read to the suggested Joshua Rothman book on the Virginia examples, Notorious in the Neighborhood.

It's not so much the facts I'm after, but the attitude. I'm looking for the cultural mores. And that is hard to sift through, as much as I want to be able to comprehend—though certainly not agree with—the mindset of the era. Understanding the mindset helps a researcher follow the reasoning, the decisions, the subsequent events in the timeline of our ancestors' lives.

That sort of discovery doesn't come easily. It can't be forced. It certainly isn't something one can obtain instantaneously with a few keystrokes on a Google search. It only maybe comes by sifting through the lines, one by one—and then, reading very carefully between them to see what was left unspoken but most certainly still there to be discerned.

In the meantime, my mind is racing to decide on a next research step. Harvesting the research suggestions from a 425 page book doesn't occur quickly. The answer can be languishing on the far end of the universe of possible resources; while it's up to me to find it, I can't guarantee that quest will happen quickly.

And so, the question becomes: what's next? I believe there are two possibilities. One is to examine all the DNA match results that point to such a liaison, and compare notes on families to see whether there was, indeed, a McClellan or Tison connection. Another approach is to pursue more records on the Georgia side of the equation, starting with Sidney Tison's father.

Depending on which approach can be facilitated the quickest while reaching from a far distance—after all, I have no plans to fly to Georgia any time soon—will determine which course I can take next.

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