Sunday, September 13, 2015

An Old Woman's Many Children

As things go in today's world, having raised nine children would be an uncommon occurrence. But at the turn of the century—that century, the one beginning with the 1900 census—William and Emily McClellan were not uncommon in the size of their household.

By the time of that 1900 census, my great grandfather, Rupert Charles McClellan, was already out of the home, as was his older brother Frank. Younger brother William Robert McClellan was also missing, although for much sadder reasons—for an as-yet undiscovered reason, he died in August of that same year.

As for the other six—Philip, Asenah, Fannie, Emily, George and Norman—they still called the McClellan property in rural Suwannee County, Florida, home. This, however, would not be unusual. After all, Norman—the baby of the family—was barely six years of age when the enumerator stopped by the house on June 5, 1900. His oldest brother at home, in contrast, was twenty four.

No one left that home for at least another ten years—until Philip took for his bride Annie Hogan on May 14, 1911, following sister Emily's June 2, 1910 marriage to Clifton Price Bullard.

The stories of each of the McClellan children were as different as one child is from another. While oldest brother Frank apparently never married at all, younger sister Asenah Julia married a widower and raised his ten children, apparently never having any of her own. George Sterling McClellan became a physician, marrying Novice Ruth Collier after he established his practice.

Only the baby of the family, Norman Delaney McClellan, seemed to follow the path of any of his siblings—and that was the unfortunate early demise of his older brother William, for Norman, too, died a young death, just before his seventeenth birthday in 1911. It wasn't long after that his father followed suit, leaving widow Emily to raise the remainder of the children in the McClellan family alone.

There is, of course, one more sibling I've yet to mention: Rupert's sister Fannie Belle. Born in 1882—the sixth child of William and Emily—she was someone the family always referred to as Aunt Fannie Rowell. She was the one who made sure to share the family stories, some of which made their way down to my generation with at least some shred based in reality.

But I never really knew anything about Aunt Fannie. Why she was Fannie Rowell instead of Fannie McClellan, I never knew. Once I started genealogical research on this family, years ago, I could see that she had a couple sons—but she always seemed to live at or near the McClellan home. There was never any mention of who the mysterious Rowell was who gave her the surname we all knew her by.

After years of researching every branch of my family tree but hers, I finally returned to see what could be found, using today's newer resources. With the many digital files accessible online today, and the rapid-fire recovery of records which would once have taken the snail's pace of a stamped, self-addressed envelope's cross-country journey, there was quite a bit more to discover.

Yet, even with those tools literally at my fingertips, the first clue I stumbled over—just as I was preparing to leave for my Florida trip last month—had me puzzled. The names I found and the dates that claimed to belong to them didn't seem to add up.

More than that, one detail led to a Find A Grave photo of a headstone, upon which were inscribed the words, "Mr. Speaker."

Even if this led to someone not related to my McClellan family, this was a research trail I couldn't resist following.

Above: "On the San Sebastian River, Florida," oil on canvas circa 1883, by American artist Martin Johnson Heade; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 


  1. I am curious about Fannie too...that name is one that is stuck back in the 1880's...not one you hear at all anymore:)

    1. Well, there were certainly plenty of them using that name back then!

  2. Given I had 2-3 "honorary" grandmothers and aunts - that weren't family members (but dear friends of family) I'd wonder if Fannie was the same.

    1. She may well have been that way, Iggy, for some in her hometown. Every time I heard family mention her, it was with fondness and respect. But in our family's case, I do know she was a blood relative.


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