Monday, September 14, 2015


With this article, consider yourself warned: genealogical research is rife with temptations and distractions. This is one of those opportunities to be snared by such divertissement.

In documenting the family tree of my maternal grandmother, I not only wanted to span the generations of my direct ancestors in the McClellan line, but I decided to round out the study with a listing of all of the siblings in each generation—and then, for DNA testing's sake, all their descendants as well.

Of those peopling the generation of my great grandfather, Rupert Charles McClellan, most have been faceless names. There was one, however, who stood out: my maternal grandmother's Aunt Fannie. Always mentioned as Fannie Rowell—not McClellan—she nonetheless never confused my child's mind into placing her in the wrong family constellation. Though I never met her, I knew, even in childhood, who she was.

Aunt Fannie was the one who always had the riveting family stories. Born in 1882, she seemed destined to someday make the century mark—though she fell five years shy of it at her passing in 1977. With a lifespan of that size, naturally she could have garnered some significant tales of the changing of the times—from a relatively isolated life in rural times of the nineteenth century, through such modern developments as the household use of electricity or the spread of the telephone, she witnessed the turn of the century, two world wars and all the upheaval and progress ensuing in their wake.

Yet it was her stories of lifetimes before her own that made their mark in my childhood memories, for Aunt Fannie must have been an informal repository of the sort that we now might dub the "Keeper of the Family Stuff." Passed down through her letters were harrowing tales of barely escaping Indian raids in the then-frontier settlements of what is now northern Florida.

Though I had heard these stories from my own mother, I see others had been party to her recountings of family history, for in their published McClellan genealogy, Kissin' Cousins, Joe and Bonney McClellan shared an excerpt from a distant cousin's recollections of these same stories.

Apparently, when Aunt Fannie's grandparents had first moved to Florida in 1827, it was indeed an incursion upon Native American territory and, despite what political machinations might have been transpiring in American and Spanish diplomacy of the era, the boots-on-the-ground take on the matter was one of trespassing. According to Aunt Fannie, "When they [the McClellans] moved on this place, it was a wild country, no near neighbors." Naturally, "aggressions" were bound to occur.

Indeed, they did. Despite it being by then only the early 1830s, the McClellan home had become a stagecoach stop. According to Aunt Fannie, the McClellans
built another new home as they took in transient people from the stage coach trading from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. They had plenty of stables built and horse lots to take care of the horses. They would come from Tallahassee then all the passengers would spend the night in Captain McClellan's home, then the stage would come from Jacksonville and passengers and horses would spend the night.

Yet in the midst of all this concourse, raids occurred. Aunt Fannie told of instances when, working in the fields, the settlers would be attacked, jump in their carts and hope the speed of their horses would save them. Just as we discovered when reading about the frontier settlers around Fort Wayne when researching my husband's Ijams and Jackson lines, settlers had a system in which families could retreat to the nearby fort for protection in such raids. In this case, it was to White Springs, where soldiers were stationed.

Much as the settlers in Indiana had also realized, the soldiers didn't always arrive on the scene of the raid in time. In one case, they got there only to find the raiders
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.

Hearing stories like these in my childhood made for wide-eyed wonder—to think how close our family was to having been wiped out entirely! It made no sense when I tried to contemplate how—why?—one family would be entirely gone, yet the destruction be halted just one house shy of where another family lived, unscathed. Those were the kinds of stories a child would never forget.

Yet, I never gave much thought as to the teller of those tales—who she was and why, as a McClellan daughter, she was always called Fannie Rowell, but was never mentioned in conjunction with a husband. There was never any offering of young widowhood or any other device which would make a satisfactory explanation.

Of course, once I was equipped to do genealogical research for myself, I began grasping the tools that would provide me the answer to that question. Still, the explanation came only gradually. It was easy to find Fannie in her parents' home in the 1900 census—one of the nine children raised by William and Emma McClellan in Wellborn, Florida. Even (thanks to subscription services such as when I was able to access the 1910 census, I could see Fannie Belle there—with the still-single woman's age adjusted to a demure twenty six—in her parents' household.

It wasn't until spurred on by my opportunity to visit Florida last month that I located any census entry under the surname by which I had always known her: Rowell. Even then, the listing was confusing. Though it finally included Fannie's husband—for once, he was actually in the same household as she—his name was indexed at both and as "O. C. Rowell."

If it hadn't been for searching via Fannie's own married name—and being truly grateful for having discovered the initial for her middle name, as there were many Fannie Rowells from which to choose—I wouldn't have found any possibilities at all. Still, did it have to lead to an answer which contained only those aggravating two initials?!

I did have an out, however: there were two sons listed in the household. One, happily, did not show up with that frustrating Southern device of the near-anonymous initials; he was indexed as Harris B. Rowell.

Try as I might with the name Harris B. Rowell, I found nothing helpful. That meant attempting to discover something with the other name. Fated once again to search for a name containing only initials instead of a given name, I tried my hand at googling the phrase, isolated by quote marks: "E. C. Rowell."

Almost immediately, I came up with this result from Find A Grave: a headstone upon which was engraved the epithet, "Mr. Speaker."

How dense I was. Because my daughter was a high school debater, that was my instant first thought: a fellow forensics enthusiast. Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized there might be something more to this story.

And there was. Continuing down the trail of multiple Google hits for the phrase, I was about to become educated on the political career of one influential Florida resident—as well as become ensnared in the genealogical puzzle of whose son belonged to whom.

Oh. There was one more discovery. I found out what "E. C." actually stood for. But that came only as the anti-climactic conclusion to the rest of the story.

Above: Photograph of E. C. Rowell, courtesy of Florida Memory, the State Archives of Florida.      


  1. Those are some great stories Fannie told...too bad there aren't more family historians:)

    1. ...or at least better ways to save--and share--those family stories. I bet there were a lot of Aunt Fannie's letters circulating out there. Who knows where they are now.

  2. I'm glad I didn't live back then.

    And I really groan out loud when I see someone ID'ed by initials!

  3. Jacqi - Please contact me at I found your blog quite by mistake. Fannie Belle McClellan Rowell is my Great-Grandmother. I would very much like to speak with you. Thanks!


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