Monday, July 30, 2018

A Wild Ride Through the Probate Files

I don't know what your opinion is of those ubiquitous shaky-leaf hints at Ancestry, but for the most part, the ones I've seen are usually spot onexcept for the one I want to tell you about today. It was wrongtotally wrong in that it pinpointed the word "wife" in a document and assumed the word referred to the woman I was seeking. That womanSidnah Tison, somehow related to the Tison family connected with the Mary A. McLeran I was trying to findwas the recently deceased wife of George Edmund McClellan of Wellborn, Florida, and, according to that shaky-leaf hint, supposedly the one mentioned in George's probate records.

About one hundred pages into his probate file, I realized the wife referred to in the records was not Sidnahshe predeceased George by about six yearsbut George's second wife. This second wifeher name was Celestiahad been appointed administratrix of George's estate, but before completing her duty had remarried and was in the process of skipping town with the money from George's estate, hence the reason for such a large probate file. That, however, is a story for another day.

All that to say, shaky-leaf hint or not, the wife referred to in George's filesat least in the first hundred pageswas not Sidnah Tison McClellan.

To say I was somewhat annoyed at being led down such a verbose path is an understatement, and I'd like to say it didn't affect me in the least, but...well, yes, I took out my frustration by grumbling about the insignificant detail of page one of the McClellan file starting with what looked like a continuation page of the appraisal.

Where was the actual will?

The Ancestry file was clearly marked to show that that was the first page of the McClellan file, but it also was obvious that the first page was not the beginning of the story. Admittedly, I was a bit obsessive about insisting that I find the first page of George's file, but that not only powered my way through those first hundred pages of dull, dry reading; it was what made me decide to look in the other files nearby to try and find what was not, obviously, filed in its proper place.

So I flipped back one page to the preceding file and started scanning for anything that would tie in with my missing McClellan paper. It didn't take long for my eyes to light on a name that made me stop in my tracks.

Remember, I'm looking through one-hundred-fifty year old records from a small town in the early years of Florida statehood. What I found seems only to reconfirm my hunch that this town was a place where everyone not only knew everyone else, but might have beenor becomerelated to everyone else. The name that popped up in the file preceding George McClellan's was that of Drucilla Charles.

Drucilla, if you remember from last week, was part of the pioneering Charles family in that region, predating Florida statehoodthe family of Reuben and Rebecca Charles, traders with the native tribes west of Saint Augustine since the days of Spanish rule in the region. Drucilla was also sister of the disappearing Mary A. Charles, the young girl of the legend of the red scarf. It was supposedly this Mary A. Charles who impetuously ran out to meet an arriving stagecoach while forgetting to don her signature red scarf which would protect her from attack by the neighboring natives. Learning that Drucilla, my ancestor Emma McClellan's dad Andrew, and this impetuous Mary A. Charles were siblings was what helped me connect my line to that of Suwannee County's pioneering Charles family in the first place.

While I have yet to buy in to the legend of Mary of the Red Scarf, the story of Drucilla's own life has a few pegs on which to hang the truth of her story. Drucilla was the Charles daughter who was widowed in the early years of her first marriage. Within ten years of that first marriage, this mother of two had married a second time and had a daughter by that second husband. All of that, however, is inferred by details left in the 1860 census. Other than Drucilla's first marriage, I have so far been unable to locate any documents confirming her second marriage, the birth of her three children, or the death of either of her husbandsor of Drucilla, for that matter.

Since then, though, I have had a hard time trying to piece together all these loose ends of the Charles family's story. Although I find Drucilla's daughters, along with the orphaned children of her brother Andrew, together under the care of someone named Mary A. McLeranthe Mary A. obviously catching my eyein the 1870 census, it seems there are no further traces of these Charles siblings.

And then I get stuck researching an entirely different family line from the same small town in north Floridathat of my McClellansand in struggling over lost paperwork there, I stumble upon Drucilla once again.

This particular record I stumble upon happens to be in regards to Drucilla's own probate file. At least now I have an approximate date of her death. But what I see in this last page of her probate file gives me an idea I might find out much more about Drucilla if I take the time to review her entire case folder. Above the line which explains that the page is in regards to the estate of "Drucilla Odom, deceased," is the note naming the administratrix: Mary A. McLeran.

Mary A. McLeran Administratrix
In Acct: with Est. of Drucilla Odom deceased

Above: Entry on last page of probate file of Drucilla (Charles) Odom from Suwannee County, Florida; image courtesy


  1. Interesting! Can't wait to hear what you might have found. I spend most of my time lost in the wrong records. But I do find some good stories!

    1. I've learned to not let myself get aggravated when I discover I'm in the "wrong" records, Miss Merry. I cannot say how many discoveries I've made while stumbling around where stuff wasn't supposed to be. And don't those good stories make all the difference?!


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