Saturday, September 12, 2015
Paying Attention to the Details
When you know you have an interesting ancestor in your roots, it sometimes is hard to exercise that due diligence to equitably research every other relative along the way up that branch of the family tree. So it is with the McClellan line, where everyone who knows the family history wants to jump straight back to George E. McClellan, Florida pioneer and politician—the one with all the stories.
Since I am researching my great grandfather's line—the forebears of Rupert Charles McClellan—I need to resist that temptation and linger a while on the details about his own father, William Henry McClellan, and his mother, Emma Charles.
Putting my second great grandfather in his place in history means realizing his life spanned a great divide in American saga: the Civil War. Or, as he and sympathizers on his side of the conflict might rather have put it, the War of Northern Aggression.
Born in 1845, William McClellan's arrival seemed timed to thrust him, in the prime of life, into the midst of an emotionally-fraught era of history. But since, in our review of his life's history, we are working our way backwards in time—as any genealogist would do—we'll start his story at the end.
Just as William McClellan had started his life in that out-of-the-way rural spot in northern Florida, so he ended it in 1914, on the family's property near Wellborn. Like everyone else, he was a farmer—albeit one with $1000 of real property and $200 of personal property at the start of married life in 1870. Not bad for a start in those days.
Just after the close of war—and, presumably, his return home from service—William married Emma Charles, the orphaned daughter of another long-standing local family. Obtaining license to marry "Miss Emma" from the Suwannee County courthouse in Live Oak on September 16, 1867, William exchanged vows with his bride in a ceremony the following October 23—as noted in a record not filed until the following February 28.
Though William McClellan died in 1914, his wife—and mother of his nine children—outlasted him significantly, not passing away until April 11, 1940. Putting that in perspective, Emma died only three years before her son Rupert did—and well after my own mother was born, making me wonder whether my mother had known Emma, herself. I've heard stories of Rupert's wife—my mother's favorite of her two grandmothers—but little of Rupert. I remember, from my childhood, her vague mentions of a great grandmother, but now that I've discovered Emma Charles was orphaned before her marriage, her status seems to meld with that of Rupert's mother-in-law, also an orphan from a young age. These are undoubtedly those moments that make us wish we had thought to ask more questions much earlier.
Above: Image of marriage license issued by Suwannee County, Florida, to William H. McClellan and Emma Charles on September 16, 1867; courtesy FamilySearch.org.
© Copyright 2011 – 2023 by Jacqi Stevens at 2:46:00 AM
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I feel the same way. If I had only asked these questions when such and such was alive. Oh well. I suppose things happen as they were meant to be.ReplyDelete
On the other hand, I find as I get older, I seem to have developed the sense of how to ask questions. Things that once seemed to simply be part of the fabric of life now stand out to me as anomalies which demand further explanation--in great detail.Delete
Perhaps the very opposite of the three-year-old's perpetual "Why?" it certainly would have been a handy skill to have naturally unfolded from that "Why?" stage of young life.
As you say, Andrea, oh well...perhaps that arrested development of the question-asking stage was indeed meant to be. It at least gets us thinking more--puzzling more--about what, exactly, did happen in our families, all those years ago!
I can appreciate the temptation. Bet your ancestor didn't think much of George B.ReplyDelete
No kidding! ;)Delete
We always wish we could have/should have asked more questions.ReplyDelete
I hear that refrain so many times while talking to family members, or when teaching genealogy classes. We never think of asking those questions when we can--it's only afterwards...Delete
And then when similar stories are told about different people, you begin to wonder: Did I remember that wrong? Did they hear it wrong?ReplyDelete
Yes! That's exactly the case here: I'm wondering if I got that "orphan child" story wrong. And I was so smug about figuring out the explanation about orphan Mary Rainey....now come to find out, she wasn't the only one!Delete
Oral tradition is prone to mistakes. I could have asked my grandparents a bunch of questions too - especially my mother's father. My father's side of the family would have yielded little (the family squabble of my great grandparents era meant no one talked to each other).ReplyDelete
That deafening family silence over long-gone unforgiveables may be unfortunate, but there are some research roadblocks that you and I and a bunch of other genealogy researchers have found some ways around.Delete
Sometimes, when we discover the true story, we wonder what on earth they were so offended about. Other times, it certainly helps broaden our understanding and empathy for the decisions our ancestors faced.