Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Slipped Through the Cracks
When finding someone of note while researching one's family history, it would supposedly be a discovery to put proudly on display. After all, there are countless genealogy enthusiasts out there, more than happy to trumpet their connection to Charlemagne. Or the royal family. Any royal family.
When I stumbled upon the details of just who E. C. Rowell was in Florida state history, of course I was interested. But I wasn't exactly sure he belonged to my family.
There were reasons for this. Not anything solid, like documentation, of course. That would be too straightforward. It was just a gut feeling—a hunch that something didn't seem to line up right, at least from what I could find at the time.
Even with E. C. Rowell's connection to state politics, and despite my mother's stories about our McClellan family's keen interest in politics, that wasn't enough to assure me of the connection. Yes, I did find my grandmother's Aunt Fannie—a McClellan who married a Rowell—conveniently listed in a Rowell household in the right Florida county (Sumter). But something just wasn't lining up right.
By the time of the 1920 census, Fannie McClellan—now Rowell—would have been thirty eight years of age. By contrast, the Fannie in the O. C. Rowell household was listed as being thirty. Granted, people do tend to hedge on their age when they feel the need; if she were older than her husband, perhaps in that time period, that would have provided enough incentive. But that wasn't my main concern.
Along with Fannie in the O. C. Rowell household were—as I've already mentioned—two boys: five year old E. C., and four year old "Harris." Together, they presented a believable package: the dad, being thirty two, his wife at thirty, with two young boys. What could possibly be the problem with that?
For every mention I had seen, in the past, of Fannie Rowell, she always did show up with two sons. The problem was that those two sons had vastly different names than the two in the 1920 Rowell household: Norman and Justin.
Norman, in fact, was born in 1920. And yet, he was missing from this 1920 census.
This is where data may have fallen in the proverbial cracks. Norman was born in June—in Sumter County, in fact—but it just so happened the 1920 census was enumerated in January, months before Norman would have made his premiere on the stage of life.
Rather than be a satisfactory explanation for why my information wasn't jibing with government records, it was only the start of signs of problems. If we trace the records forward through the decades, we can find Fannie and her two sons—Norman was joined by brother Justin in September, 1922—but they were never listed with the elusive Mr. Rowell. In fact, the 1930 census showed Fannie and those two boys—no sign of E. C. or "Harris"—back in Wellborn in her oldest brother's household; for the 1940 census, the same family grouping appeared, still in Wellborn, under the roof of Fannie's widowed mother, Emma McClellan.
In fact, in both censuses, Fannie declared herself to be a widow. If that was so, where were the two oldest boys—the four and five year old listed with Fannie in that 1920 census? Had they died also?
Taking a look at the McClellan family cemetery—actually, a sizeable place with nearly two hundred burials—while I can find Fannie buried there, along with Norman and Justin and each son's wife, there is no sign of the elusive Mr. Rowell, Fannie's husband. Nor those two boys from the 1920 census.
To verify—or at least disprove—my unfounded hunch, my usual tactic would be to follow the two older boys' documentation forward to a point where I could locate a death certificate. Or, barring that option, rewind history until I could find an earlier record of the intact family constellation.
The only problem, in this case, was that the boys showing in the 1920 Rowell household were too young to have been found in the previous census record. Neither would I have found Fannie in the Rowell household in the 1910 census—she was clearly listed as a single woman, still living in the home of her parents. Without access to a birth record for either E. C. (and who knows what those initials might have stood for) or his unfindable brother "Harris," I had no way to resolve that hunch.
Unless, that is, I could make the effort a presumptive close and look for a marriage record for "O. C." and someone else as his wife.
But to do that, I first needed to figure out just who "O. C." might be.