Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sorting Out the Marys

If Reuben and Rebecca Charles' daughter Mary had met her demise in a moment of impetuous forgetfulness, running out to meet the incoming stagecoach without her signature red scarf, it would be no surprise that we can't find her in any records after the 1850 census. There, alone, could we find her in the home of her widowed mother Rebeccaat least, we can presume the Rebecca there was her mother, as the census that year doesn't state that for a fact.

However, by the time of the 1860 census, we can find neither Rebecca nor her daughter Mary. Rebecca was supposedly shot while standing on her front porch; according to her headstone in the Charles family cemetery in Luraville, Florida, she died on January 25, 1852.

In that same cemetery is a small marker commemorating Rebecca's daughter Mary. However, though it gives a year of birth1828it leaves a question mark for the year of her death.

Of course, it could be possible that, after losing both her parents, Maryif she survivedmight have chosen to marry. That possibility prompts me to keep my eyes open for any possible Mary of the right age, in the right region, who might have finished life with a different surname.

When a Mary did pop up in a family's household in later years, that same question would pop into my mind: could this be Mary Charles?

Tracing the rest of the Charles familyReuben and Rebecca's children Drucilla, Andrew, and ReubenI brought each line as far as I could go with census, marriage and death records. On the younger Reuben's line, I followed him through his marriage to Mary VanZant, and the birth of their son, Garrett VanZant Charles. But then Reuben died in 1878, leaving Mary, by the time of the 1880 census, to provide for household expenses by serving as a music teacher while son Garrettby then in his twentiesobtained work as a telegraph operator.

By the time of the next available census record in 1900, Garrett was also gone, having passed away in 1890. Where was Mary?

I may, from time to time, get irritated by those ubiquitous shaky-leaf hints at Ancestry, some of which seem to lead to disconnected realities, but in the case of this Mary, Ancestry's hint led me to a place where I'd otherwise never have found her. A Mary Charles, listed as aunt, was living in the household of Matthew and Fannie Scarborough in Lake City, Florida. She was listed as a widow, and mother of only one child who had already died. This Mary's place of birth didn't seem to agreeit was given as Florida while I had already seen documents stating she was born in Georgianor did the exact year of birth.

Curiosity got the best of me, however, and I had to see why Ancestry had decided that I'd be interested in this particular Aunt Mary. I had to check out just who this Scarborough family might have been.

Finding the answer led me back quite a way to another messy puzzle in my family tree. Perhaps you remember my orphaned second great grandmother, whose parents Andrew J. and Delaney Charles seemed to have disappeared inexplicably, some time before 1860. Andrew, remember, was big brother to the younger Reuben Charles, deceased husband to our Aunt Mary.

Besides my second great grandmother, in Andrew and Delaney's family, the 1850 census had listed two sons. Their names were given as Benjamin and Francis. I have yet to find the slightest trace of either of them.

Further complicating my research is the small detail of a gender changeat least that's what seemed to be indicated in the 1860 census, where my orphaned Emma seemed to be living with two other Charles children named Rupert and Fannie. Since the years of birth seemed to be fairly close to my Benjamin and Francis, my only guess was that the son Francis of 1850 was really the daughter Fannie of 1860.

Fast forward to the 1900 census and the household of Matthew Scarborough, where Aunt Mary was now living as a sixty-five year old widow. Matthew's wife, as you'll notice, was named Fannie. If that Fannie was really Andrew's "son" Francis, then the wife of Andrew's brother Reuben would indeed be rightfully called aunt by that Fannie.

Of course, there is the possibility that Matthew also had an aunt named Mary. But that she would likewise have been married to a Charles man is doubtfulthough I will take a look to rule that out.

What this discovery did for me was to resolve the dilemma of what had become of the "son" Francis, as well as open up a new line of descent for me to trace. Hopefully, that line will lead to new DNA matches, now that I've identified another line in my family tree. And it certainly has illustrated for me the importance of tracing the entire timeline of even those who marry into my family lines. If I hadn't done so for this Mary, widow of my third great grandfather's younger brother, I would have missed that opportunity.

There was, however, another Mary who popped up in another Charles family household, making me wonder, all over again, about that Mary of the Red Scarf.


  1. Good job! In New England at least Fannie is a pretty common nickname for Frances

    1. I think that is pretty widespread, Kat--at least for the woman's name Frances. What threw me was the previous census listing "Francis" as a male. While I have run across the rare "Frannie" as a boy's nickname for Francis, I just didn't expect that to be the case here. Goes to show: never be too sure the census is always right!

  2. Very interesting post. Have you written about your research process before? Are you keeping a log as you go? My research sessions are like a pinball game - follow a hint, make a paper note, go to another record, make a paper note (often a different paper), etc. I have piles of paper notes (some made it into my genealogy program) and a reluctance to create more. I also have a Francis who turned into a Fannie from one census to another. Now I am wondering if the census taker heard the name Francis or Frances and just assumed the gender was male in the earlier census. Thanks - you always provide me food for thought in your blog posts.

    1. Good point about the research log, Janet. I know many have made that a key help in their research progress. Rather than keeping a separate notebook for that purpose, I have tried to incorporate the concept into my work by documenting where I find each fact included on an ancestor's timeline. That way, if I need to backtrack, or if something later doesn't look quite right, I know where the original assertion came from.

      In this case, this is new research territory for me. I was stuck on the Francis/Fannie discrepancy quite a while ago, and left it for more productive endeavors on other lines. Southern research, unfortunately, has just not been my favorite topic, and I have neglected this part of my family for far too long. Besides, I doubt I would have made that discovery if I hadn't come about it from that other approach--seeing the other Mary. While that makes it a "stumble upon" occasion, it allowed me to view it with fresh eyes...then go back and connect all the dots to the tree I had neglected so long ago. A plus on two counts.

      Yes, those census enumerators were likely prone to mistakes, just like the rest of us. That's why I feel even better when any fact I include in my tree is backed up by not one but two different resources. You just never know who got the story right.


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