Friday, August 31, 2018
If the notes on the back of an undated cabinet card tell us that the subject of the picture lived at 93rd and Turner, I'd go check it out in other documents—wouldn't you?
Thankfully, we already know the picture of Rachel Webb—the woman whose photograph I found in an antique store in Sonora, California—was taken in Chicago. That little detail comes in handy when we realize the clerk's penciled in note about her address—93rd and Turner—doesn't include a city designation.
Next step? Check out any other way we can to find confirmation that Rachel Webb lived on 93rd and Turner in Chicago. Since we don't know the date of the cabinet card for sure (though we can presume it was taken in the late 1800s), and since we don't know the name of Rachel's husband for a cross-check in a city directory, the safest approach is to first consult a census record.
While census records don't tell us everything, they did provide addresses on their records from 1880 onward. However, we have no idea whether Rachel and her unnamed husband lived in Chicago for the long term, or whether they were recent arrivals—or, making this exercise even more difficult, just in town for a visit with friends or relatives.
Taking the address entry on face value, though, I decided to presume the address was that of the Webb residence. While a lot can happen in the twenty years between the 1880 census and the next available enumeration in 1900, I took a gamble on pulling up the 1900 census first.
That, as it turned out, was enough to provide our answer. Rachel and her family were listed at 9240 Turner Avenue. (A close look at the full page of the 1900 census reveals the clear entry of the street name.)
Since I'm not familiar with Chicago geography, I went next to Google Maps to see where that address falls in its current surroundings. As you'll see in this map inset, 92nd Street curves around to eventually become Turner Avenue, and the Webbs' address is close to the corner of 93rd Street.
The 1900 census, as well as the 1910 record, show that Rachel lived with her husband, Francis, and their daughter Clara. The 1900 census revealed that Rachel was born in November of 1836, somewhere in the nearby state of Indiana. Her husband was only months older than his wife, declaring his birth in Ohio to have occurred in January of 1836. The couple had been married for forty five years, and of their five children, all five were still reported as living.
Along with Francis and Rachel, the Webbs' forty three year old daughter Clara was living at that address. Of the three, only Francis had been employed—as a carpenter, but working for only four months out of the past year. Neither Rachel nor their adult daughter listed any occupation. Considering the time period and the age of Clara's parents, that was not unusual.
With this small confirmation that the Rachel Webb in the photograph—living at 93rd and Turner—was the same as Rachel, wife of Francis Webb in the 1900 census, we now have a toe-hold from which to spring into other documentation to learn more about Rachel's life and family.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
When I am on one of my photo rescuing missions, I don't pick just any abandoned pictures for a project. A photo suitable for rescuing needs to contain enough clues to lead me to a conclusion—and to find a candidate not only descended from the photo's subject, but one who is willing to receive the item.
Not that I insist solely on rescuing cabinet cards containing both first and last names. I've managed to return an entire photo album to a family living over six thousand miles away from the antique shop where I first found the collection—and all I had to start with were three first names: Iris, Ruby, and Penrose. (Admittedly, Penrose was an exceptionally strong clue, despite lacking a last name. Perhaps the name of the kennel of their blue-ribbon winning West Highland White Terrier might have tipped the hat in my favor.)
The most successful candidates for a return trip home, one hundred years after the fact, seem to be ones with at least one fact about their name, coupled with another detail about the person. That second detail, for instance, could be a location, like that of the studio taking the picture. In a way, I am "triangulating" (if you can call it that) the details on the photo to help me zero in on the correct individual.
In the case of Rachel Webb, the woman with the intense gaze whom we met yesterday, I was fortunate in that not only did I have the woman's full name—well, at least her married name—but I had two other details to combine with that record. For one thing, the imprint of the studio let me know not only the business name, but the street address and the city of its proprietor. Besides that, on the reverse of the photograph, someone had penciled in the customer's address, and yet another someone with a different handwriting had inserted what I presume was meant to be the woman's maiden name.
Thanks to the photographer's shortcut to linking products with customers, we now know that Rachel Webb—whoever she was—happened to live at 93rd and Turner. Since the photograph was taken in Chicago, I went online to see if I could find anyone by that name in any records that could reveal her address.
Fortunately for us, there was indeed a woman by that name, living near that location, which allows us to move quickly to our next step. We'll begin, tomorrow, looking through street maps and census records to see what we can learn about Mrs. Rachel Webb of the neighborhood by 93rd and Turner in Chicago.
Above: Reverse of the hundred-year-old photograph of Mrs. Rachel Webb of Chicago; photograph currently in possession of author until returned to a direct descendant family member.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Now that I've returned from our family's trip to Chicago—and that significant detour to Fort Wayne for the FGS conference—it's high time to pull out that latest stash of old photos from my most recent trip to Gold Country. After all, it's been almost three weeks since my travel partner and genealogy mentor, Sheri Fenley, joined me to brave the smoke of distant forest fires to head to the hills of Sonora, California, where antique shops with ample stores of old photos beckoned.
The picture I have selected to launch this latest series of rescue stories just happens to be one from Chicago. And no, I didn't find the thing in Chicago. The photo caught my eye, right as I stepped in the shop at Antiques Etc., back home in California—2,076 miles from its origin in Chicago.
Something about the gaze of the subject I found nearly arresting, and I knew right away I needed to learn more about the woman's story. Besides, each abandoned photograph I rescue from its discarded position has a secondary story of its own to tell: just how it arrived from its distant origin to end up for sale in a store in the foothills of northern California.
For now, just say hello to Rachel Webb. I think you'll agree there is something arresting about those eyes. As for her story—and why those eyes seem to haunt me so much—we'll have to wait on that discovery, whatever it might be. We'll begin, tomorrow, to see if we can uncover more of Rachel's story.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
After a delightful time visiting Chicago family—and squeezing in a trip to family stomping grounds in Fort Wayne for the FGS conference—it is finally time to take our leave and head home. It's the travel effort that almost makes me think twice about these family safaris, for the unpredictable is sure to pop up. But here we go.
It wasn't lost upon me just how sensitized we become to tokens of our family's history when we begin to delve deeply into the details. The streets of Fort Wayne seemed to call to us that these were the very places where John Kelly Stevens' footsteps fell as he walked his beat for the Fort Wayne police force, one hundred years ago.
It was worth it to take the time to detour to places where tokens of that history might be obtained for future inquisitive family members. While I was hot on the trail of the people I needed to meet—and learn from—at the FGS conference, my husband was on the phone, looking for any way to obtain relics of his great grandfather's tenure in the city we were visiting.
Yes, as it turned out...
Where John Kelly Stevens and his coworkers reported for duty every morning.
The building as it stands today, home of the Allen County-Fort Wayne History Center and museum, including a display of the county jail in the basement. It just looks like a magnificent old building today. Who would have known the stories it held, a century ago, if we hadn't looked to find the details in old photographs and newspaper reports?
It's the same for the other cities I've visited, especially when I'm looking for old photographs to rescue. There are signs of our history all around us—we just need to know how to connect with those old insignia on buildings, the old faces in photographs, the old streets and the people they were named for. A walk down the streets of any city of any tenure by default contain the relics of the history of the families who built the place they called home.
Above: Closeup of the insert above of the Fort Wayne Police Department, circa 1921, standing in front of what is now the Fort Wayne History Center. John Kelly Stevens is in the middle of the five men, and third from the left in the full picture above. Photo of the old city hall building as it stands now, courtesy of Chris Stevens.
Monday, August 27, 2018
It's been a while since I last puzzled over my Florida ancestors—almost a week, it turns out, thanks to an intermission to attend the FGS Conference in Fort Wayne. What better place, though, to seek answers to my genealogical brick walls. Considering that Fort Wayne is home to the country's largest public collection of genealogical material, I couldn't just go there to spend my days in a convention center; I made sure to walk across the street to the site of that treasure trove during the evenings.
Of course, I planned ahead. No sense spending time while on location to look up research material. I wanted to hit the ground running when I arrived in Fort Wayne. My secret strategy: locate the call numbers ahead of time, using the Allen County Public Library's online catalog.
I had noticed that another researcher had found an entry on the potential father of my George Edmund McClellan, thanks to a hint announcing that fact at Ancestry. Another researcher had taken the time to transcribe an entry from a book, regarding a man named Charles McClellan of the Barnwell District in South Carolina, who had moved to Georgia, and then to territorial Florida.
Not one to simply copy what others have shared, I wanted to take a look at the source of that transcription, which, in this case, was a book originally published in 1957. A date that late, unfortunately, eliminated any possibility of finding the digitized text at a public domain resource like Internet Archive. While WorldCat told me a copy of the multi-volume set could be had for a mere fifty mile drive to the California Genealogical Society and Library in Oakland, I knew once I arrived in Fort Wayne, it would be even more accessible with a simple walk across the street from my hotel room.
What I was looking for was volume three of the collection known as Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia by Folks Huxford. There, on page 225, was a brief biography of the Reverend Charles McClellan. Though it was barely a page in length, the entry covered a listing of his children, as well as the mention of his origin and his occupation. This, perhaps, will help link me to documentation to support an old family story that one of my maternal grandmother's ancestors was a Methodist circuit rider; lacking the man's name, I was at a loss as to whose name to search in what I understand is a robust collection housed somewhere on behalf of the Methodist Church. It would be a thrill, indeed, to discover a journal kept by such a trailblazing preacher.
While I was in the neighborhood—both figuratively, in researching my South Carolina, Georgia and Florida roots, as well as literally, in the second-floor genealogical department of the Allen County Public Library—I took the liberty of researching all the associated surnames to the McClellan family constellation. After all, there was a whole library shelf of material related to that county in Georgia where I first located mention of Charles McClellan. I looked for the Tisons and the Charles family, and the Sheffields, finding mention of Revolutionary War soldiers to keep me busy with supplemental DAR applications for months.
That, as exciting as it sounds, was not my purpose in perusing those pages in Allen County's genealogy center. My goal, remember, was to figure out just how my Tison line came from Pitt County, North Carolina, and settled, eventually, in Florida—and how, having discovered my Mary Ann Charles who married William McLeran, she somehow had a mother-in-law who turned out to be a Tison.
Like a bowl of tangled spaghetti, these surnames seem to have twisted together with each other. My Tisons from North Carolina somehow connected with my Charleses from Florida and my McClellans from South Carolina and Georgia. They are so intertwined that I can't figure out how they actually made the connection. Perhaps they were not related lines, after all. But something tells me to keep looking further, thus leading me down a very long path of discovery of the bigger story of each family.
Hopefully, at some point, I'll discover the actual connection.
Sunday, August 26, 2018
I had decided, once I signed up for that SLIG class in southern research last July, to focus exclusively on my mother's southern roots from that point until I took off for class next January in Salt Lake City. That didn't last long, though, once we arrived in Chicago last weekend on our way to the FGS conference in Fort Wayne.
Chicago time is cousin-visiting time, at least for the Stevens family. I realized our official family tree on Ancestry.com didn't include kids and grandkids of our Stevens cousins, so this was my moment to rectify that oversight.
Not that I didn't also work on my mother's tree, but after spending a few weeks reading through probate files on my McClellan and related lines ahead of time for traveling to the conference, I didn't expect to have made much headway in this biweekly period. That's the main reason for counting names to track progress. It helps me not get discouraged when I think I haven't made any progress.
So...how did it go, this busy past two weeks? Not much different than expected. I managed to add 119 to my mother's family tree, despite traveling and slogging through long-winded probate files. Now, the count on her tree is at 14,505.
While there was absolutely no improvement on either my father's or my mother-in-law's tree, there was that little addition to my father-in-law's tree while we visited family in Chicago. Opening up my laptop and adding the names as each cousin gave them to me, I managed to add twenty three names of cousins' children and grandchildren, so now the Stevens tree includes 1,513 people.
On the other side of the equation, where I count the increase in DNA matches, I'm hoping to break out of the lackluster results with the new matches soon to be generated from this latest of sales. Now that the bulge in DNA matches has subsided from the Father's Day sale, I'm hoping activity will rev up again with results from summer sales. Family Tree DNA closes out its sales on August 31 and MyHeritageDNA launches its Labor Day sale through September 3. Nothing on the horizon for either AncestryDNA nor 23andMe—which was notably absent from the exhibit hall at the FGS conference, now that the genealogy industry is merely chump change in the face of the $300 million deal just signed with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline.
It would be nice to find some additional close DNA matches, true, and sales do generate that possibility, but my main focus will always be on the paper chase, so my goal will be to continue the research work to verify each new name's place in each branch of our family trees. That means keeping on with bite-sized goals and biweekly checks on progress. There's nothing magic about this approach. Slow and steady work is what is most likely to produce results in the long run.
Saturday, August 25, 2018
It sure was hard, yesterday, pulling out of the driveway at the FGS conference hotel after three wonderful days learning from and meeting some stellar genealogists and industry leaders. Thanks to a fluke in scheduling—if it weren't for this discovery, I wouldn't have been able to find a hotel room so close to the convention center at all—I was able to secure lodging nearby, but only for all the days of the conference except Saturday's sessions. Thus, I had no recourse but to leave Friday. Hey, I'll take what I can get.
Still, I was able to take in the morning keynote session aptly delivered by Steve Rockwood of FamilySearch. Echoing the "Connect. Belong" theme he introduced at this year's RootsTech, he inspired yet another audience yesterday morning in Fort Wayne. Encouraging us to remember the feeling when we first discovering anything personal about an ancestor, Rockwood urged us to transfer that experience to others, finding a way to allow others—as individuals—to feel that same sense of wonder, themselves.
I certainly was open to that experience, myself. I couldn't bring myself to simply drive away from Fort Wayne without another look at the tokens of family history our Stevens family shared with the downtown streets where we spent the past few days. My husband's great-grandfather, John Kelly Stevens, had walked those streets on a daily basis on his beat as a career-long member of the Fort Wayne Police Department.
This week, while I attended the FGS conference, my husband re-visited the local historical society, housed in the old city hall where the basement once served as the jail. Now, converted to a museum, the halls included photographs of the police force of that era, including a picture of our John Kelly Stevens. Yes, there he was, his picture hanging on the wall with those of his coworkers.
We spent time, before leaving Fort Wayne yesterday, driving past all the family's old homes—buildings which, by now, have stood for over one hundred years. We drove out to the Catholic Cemetery to spend time at the graves of our Stevens and Kelly ancestors, gently brushing the dust and growth from the old headstones to barely make out the outline of names of those documented in our family history.
Today will undoubtedly hold productive sessions for those who have remained to attend the final day of the Fort Wayne conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. I, however, am now in Chicago, another city playing a role in our family's history. In a few days, I'll be back home in California, ready to apply all the wealth of information and productive conversations that took place during those few days in Fort Wayne. It's been a wonderful opportunity—for connection, for research, for learning—but now, it's time to get back to work.
Photograph above: John Kelly Stevens, from a portrait of the members of the Fort Wayne Police Department circa 1911.
Friday, August 24, 2018
There's a lot of talking that can be done in a genealogical conference exhibit hall. If you thought that venue was merely for purchasing all your genealogical supplies, think again. Here at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Fort Wayne, this year's event boasts over eighty different exhibitors. Some are big, like Ancestry or MyHeritage, and some are small but fascinating, like The Tapestree by Elk Meadow Designs, which makes hand crafted copper family trees paired with miniaturized photo framed charms. Almost all are focused specifically on the passion of the conference attendees: genealogy.
It took a lot for me to get over my duty-bound sense of obligation to attend each and every session offered during the conference, but I think I am over that, now. I had a trial run last May at the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree. There, however, classes were interspersed with half-hour-long breaks, affording one a moment to make a quick dash into the exhibit hall for a specific purchase. Here at FGS, you're lucky to be spared a brief fifteen minute respite.
And so, in order to conduct any business of substance, I simply had to let go of my compulsion to be present and accounted for at each learning session scheduled for the day. Now that the exhibit hall was officially opened, yesterday—after the morning DNA Big Reveal hosted by Judy Russell and Blaine Bettinger with four local media celebrities—I ended up parking myself at booth after booth until I had fully made the rounds.
I discussed indexing partnerships with representatives at the FamilySearch booth, learned about exciting product developments at the Family Tree Maker booth, asked some questions about the First Families of Ohio program at the OGS booth (no, I still haven't sent in that application), got to talk to Josh Taylor at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society booth, heaped compliments on one of my favorite conference speakers (Diahan Southard) at Your DNA Guide, and said hi to Janet Hovorka of Family Chartmasters. Somehow, I even managed to buy an economics book for my daughter (yes, she said she wanted it).
Yes. As this year's keynote themes pointed out, the value of story in family history is a compelling force. Yet, how can we adequately tell our family's story without understanding the underlying culture and history which blend to make our ancestors who they were? Thus, Maia's Books of Columbus, Ohio—one of the FGS exhibitors—added to the mix by selling books about a broad range of historical and cultural topics, as did the African American Genealogical Society of Fort Wayne.
Due to an unfortunate quirk in hotel reservations (no room within decent walking distance was available for the duration of the conference), today is my last day at FGS2018. Granted, I wish I could wring out every learning opportunity of the week by staying until the convention center doors were bolted shut for the night, but after one last dash to The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library, we'll be driving out of Fort Wayne at midday to return to family in Chicago.
And yet, we still can't just leave this place without taking one last look at the tokens of our family history in this city—something we will certainly squeeze in to the agenda before the day is over.
Above: History is all around us—even on the walls of the building across the street from the new, modern hotel where I'm staying in Fort Wayne. Detail from the side of the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana, built in 1928. Photograph courtesy Chris Stevens.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
It isn't every conference that has a keynote not just once, but once every day. Setting the tone for each day of the FGS conference "On the Three Rivers" in Fort Wayne this week, genealogy luminaries like Scott Fisher, Judy Russell, Blaine Bettinger and Steve Rockwood set the bar high with their thought pieces. And we get left to process what we can do about such high octane inspiration.
Moving from yesterday's sessions focused on the business of running genealogical societies, we now delve into the meat of family history pursuits. In that, the FGS conference seems like every other large genealogy event—only, perhaps, more oriented to the research needs of the north-central midwest states. Lots of German here, as well as Scandinavian specialties, with a focus on the states contiguous to the host venue.
Unfortunately, my research interests aren't necessarily aligned with this year's educational offerings. Not to worry, though. I have the most excellent out: immediate access, during almost all my waking hours, of the nation's number one public genealogical research library. The Allen County Public Library, with it's Genealogy Center, kindly offered to provide conference attendees with extended hours.
When I say almost all my waking hours, I am not kidding. With a wave of my official conference badge, I can enter the library from its morning opening up through its special closing time of eleven at night—just about the time a wise researcher would call it quits when faced with a start time, the next morning, of eight o'clock.
I wasn't sure there is such a time as eight a.m. But evidently, that is when all good FGS members are to report for today's keynote. Today, in a Big Reveal style session, morning hosts Judy Russell and Blaine Bettinger will explain the test results of four media personalities from the Fort Wayne area who recently agreed to submit DNA tests to AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage for today's program. Taking the program from there, each of the broadcasters will then be treated to a Who Do You Think You Are styled overview of their family history research results, provided by staff from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.
After that event, and the grand opening of the exhibit hall which is to follow the morning session, I'll likely cruise the hallways, looking for people I've been meaning to connect with during this week. And after that? Other than for a few sessions of note, in my case, the pull of the library may well win the day.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
If you are an obsessed genealogy fanatic, you may think of Fort Wayne as home of the largest public library collection of genealogical material on the North American continent. That, in fact, is true: the genealogy center at the Allen County Public Library takes that accolade, topped only by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the largest private holding of such reference material—in the world, in fact.
But for now, the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library is across the street from where I'm headed today: the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. I'm here in Fort Wayne to attend the 2018 conference, "On the Three Rivers—Past, Present and Future."
Today, the opening day, is dedicated to those involved in the operation of local genealogical societies. I've wanted to attend an FGS conference ever since volunteering for a board position for our local genealogical society, but given that I'm from California and most FGS conferences are far removed from possible day-trip destinations, I had to await a good opportunity. Now that I've been elected president of our local society, I thought this would be the occasion to merit such a dream trip—and one with a double-header, given the proximity to such a respected research library.
The keynote topic this morning held a particular significance to me, given my penchant for searching out the stories embedded in our families' histories. Scott Fisher, of genealogy radio talk show Extreme Genes podcasts, presents the keynote "The Importance of Story: Tangible Tales of Impact." That won't be the last time that note will be hit in this four day conference.
The day includes sessions by David Rencher and Ed Donakey of FamilySearch, D. Joshua Taylor of PBS' Genealogy Roadshow and currently president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Rorey Cathcart, Amy Johnson Crow, and Judy Russell. In addition to sessions on society management, group leadership, the FGS vision for the future, and societies' critical role in records preservation, the evening will wrap up with a networking reception.
While I've looked over the list of conference attendees—and, to my dismay, realized I saw no familiar names except those of "famous" genies among the speakers and exhibitors (hi, Peg Ivanyo of SLIG!)—I'm in the right place to not only bump into new friends with the same love of family history, but also to ply fellow attendees with questions about how other local societies accomplish their mission in their communities. That, in itself, will be an excellent learning opportunity.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Finding that little McLeran detail tucked away in the digitized probate files of Suwannee County helped push me one step closer to uncovering the connection between the McLeran line and my Tison family. True, in a small town, it should come as no surprise that families have intermarried, but I was frustrated to not be able to find the explanation for how the two families did, indeed, relate.
Mary McLeran' note in her husband's file moved me beyond that mystery. Now I knew his name: William T. McLeran. And since he died intestate and the court had named both Mary, his wife, and Jesse, his brother, as administrators of the estate, it was fairly easy, from that point on, to piece together that McLeran family tree.
The litany goes something like this: Jesse and William were sons of Nevin McLeran of North Carolina who died in nearby Columbia County, Florida, in 1852. Nevin McLeran's wife was Rebecca Tison, who died only a few years after he did, in the same Florida County.
Granted, I have yet to find out just who Rebecca's parents were. That, most likely, will take more of that slow and tedious exercise of reading through probate files—if, indeed, there are any digitized copies made available online, as I'm still hampered by geographic location from just stopping in at the local courthouse. But it does illustrate one reality about doing family history research: you do it one step at a time. Each step reveals just enough of a clue to advance your progress one move closer to the next question.
And so we proceed from there. Next quest: to find Rebecca McLeran's connection to the Tison family. My hunch is that it will be somehow connected to my Tison ancestor in the same county, George Edmund McClellan's first wife, Sidnah Tison. It's just a matter of determining how close a connection that will be.
Monday, August 20, 2018
It's been a slow mosey through the probate records of Suwannee County in search of details concerning my Florida roots. Reading every single page of a hundred-page-long probate file, if not expeditious, can at least be informative. Because the place in question—the town of Wellborn—was a small and, apparently, close-knit community, I couldn't help but stumble over names I knew from family history while I was reading the file for someone else.
It always helps to tie up loose ends. While it was gratifying—though disappointing—to learn of the root of the rift between my McClellan ancestors and the family of their step-mother, I had entered into this search with other questions, too.
Remember Mary of the Red Scarf? While I can safely say that my Charles family brick wall has tumbled down and admitted me to the secrets of another two generations, I still have been left with some questions. Prime among them is just how the Charles family—or was it the McLeran family?—connected with another line of mine from Suwannee County: the Tisons.
If you remember, I had been searching through local cemeteries to discover the identity of one Mary who kept showing up in records having to do with my Charles family descendants. I was able to confirm that she was Mrs. Mary McLeran, but what was her maiden name? True, I eventually discovered she was the missing Mary Charles—of the family of the stagecoach legend—but then, that created a new question: who was Mary's husband? And, being a McLeran, could his identity help me determine how the McLeran line connected with the Tison line?
Page by page, scrolling through the digitized Suwannee County probate records, my eyes happened to take in the details from a rather perfunctory letter. At the bottom of the one-page note was affixed the now-familiar signature of Mary A. McLeran.
It was the text of the letter that allowed me to proceed with finding my answer.
To the Hon. Joshua Caraway, Judge of Probates for the County of Suwannee and State of Florida.
You will please take notice that as widow of William T. McLaren deceased, I have elected to take a child's part of the estate of my deceased husband, the said William T. McLaren, deceased, in lieu of dower, as authorized by the provisions of the Act of February 8th, 1838, and desire that this my election be filed and entered of record in your court.
May 10th 1861
Mary A. McLeran
Image of Mary A. McLeran's letter to the probate judge of Suwannee County, Florida, courtesy Ancestry.com.
Sunday, August 19, 2018
It was while on a mission to find something else that my husband uncovered a photo he had long been missing. He remembered it clearly enough, but the part that wasn't so clear was its exact location. Thankfully, not only was the item found, but now scanned, labeled, stored and shared. Since it's a weekend—and my time, traditionally, to wander from my weekday topics—I thought I'd share this unusual piece of family history with you.
Those who have been following A Family Tapestry for a few years may remember the story I told of my father-in-law, Frank Stevens. From the point at which the Pearl Harbor bombing galvanized so many young men and women to action and service in our country's military, I took Frank's story from his early years in Chicago when, at age seventeen, he enlisted in the Navy, all the way through his military career to the point at which, by then retired from the Air Force in the mid-1960s, he tragically lost his life in a vehicle collision.
During part of his years of service—by this time, in the Air Force—he and his family lived on Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The family estimates the time of the photo (below) was some time between 1957 and 1963. It's a photo of Frank preparing to ride what the family called "the G sled"—a device utilized at the Holloman High Speed Test Track.
The only trouble with that estimate—well, if you can trust the Wikipedia write-up on the topic—is that the last of the volunteer human test subjects to ride the sled was in December, 1954. That, likely, was on December 10, when the director, Col. John P. Stapp, achieved 632 miles per hour, the highest known acceleration voluntarily encountered by a human test subject.
No matter when, exactly, Frank Stevens rode the G sled at Holloman AFB, we certainly have a photo commemorating the event—our family's small part to help develop the U. S. space program.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
I've spent the last week away from home, while my husband attended an annual conference on behalf of our family business. The conference is held at Disneyland, which may help explain why, though the whole family doesn't necessarily attend the conference, we do come along for the ride.
Since I can't escape noticing details about history—the history of anything, as long as I'm involved with it—I couldn't help but reflect upon the few facts I picked up, last week, about the evolution of both Disneyland and its mainstay, Mickey Mouse.
It wasn't lost on me that Mickey Mouse's hit debut appearance happened to be when my mother was barely three years of age, making Mickey a prime possibility in the sphere of entertainment options during her growing-up years. Yet, I never heard mention of her awareness, as a child, of that phenomenon. At this point—Mickey is nearing ninety years of age this coming November 18—the Mouse is ubiquitous, but back in the late 1920s, though he may have enjoyed success through such groundbreaking creations as Steamboat Willie, the diffusion of one of the first of Walt Disney's entertainment innovations spread too slowly to catch up with at least that one little girl growing up in midwestern America on the eve of the Depression years.
Likewise, as I watched the streams of people flooding through the main gates at the Disneyland park, I found it just as curious to realize that the flagship theme park itself originated in just enough time to have been accessible during those same early childhood years in my own life. While I had heard about Disneyland in far-off southern California, at that time, I was growing up in New York—far too great a distance for our financially-challenged family to avail ourselves of such a dream vacation. And so, there was never a nexus between my family and the dream destination for what seemed to be every other kid in America.
Now, of course, Disneyland is a far cry from what it was in those early years of its creation—even, in fact, from its metamorphosis during my college years, when I was finally able to come see the place for myself. Today, we think nothing of plunking down the exorbitant bucket loads of cash it takes to do Disneyland—to say nothing of including the park hopper option to its partner attraction, the Disney California Adventure Park—a luxury impossible to imagine during my mother's childhood, or even mine.
It always fascinates me to juxtapose family history with that of the current events of an ancestor's lifetime. Yes, it puts our forebears' life experiences in perspective, true, but it also gives me an idea of how little those things that loom large in our own culture hardly seemed to make a dent in the daily lives of the ones who peopled our family tree.
Above: Metalwork detail from a garden outside the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland; photo courtesy Claire Stevens.
Friday, August 17, 2018
When I teach genealogy workshops, I often have a class member come in who eventually realizes she is about to face researching a part of her family's story with which she is not comfortable reviewing. When we begin our quest to discover our family history, it seems we have a positive mindset, perhaps with dreams of discovering famous—or at least rich!—ancestors or stories of adventure or travel from far-flung places.
It is only later that that "oh, yeah" sense of dread hits some of us—that remembrance of the episodes in our family history we'd rather had never happened.
For some, those dark episodes are distant memories—say, of our grandparents' struggles—but for others the pain is buried just below the surface. I'm not sure why people don't think of those scenarios when they leap to learn about their family's history, but eventually, they do recall, and struggle with the realization of what they know lies ahead for them.
It's then that they face a decision: they either have to abandon their goal of researching their family history—at least for that line—or choose to reconcile themselves with some unfortunate details. There are some cases in which that latter course of action might even need a coach or professional help to walk through that haunting memory lane—I'm thinking of cases of abuse or abandonment, for instance—but in less extreme situations, there are still difficulties ahead before grappling with a course of action leading toward reconciliation.
I've always seen genealogy as a trigger for this path toward reconciliation. I saw that firsthand, as I worked on my first husband's family tree and heard his stories of how his maternal grandmother cut off his mom and her children, right after the death of his dad. It was painful, and from that moment on through the ensuing decades, not a word was exchanged between households despite the fact that he and his sister grew up only a block away from his grandmother's home. It was only when he was well into adulthood—and well after I had started researching his family story—that he made up his mind to try and open up lines of communication with her again.
This is not an easy step to take when the separation is that extreme. Yet it can be a healing one—even if the other party refuses to budge from their position of isolation. There is a balm in forgiveness, in letting go, in moving beyond a frozen point in life, even if it must be a one-sided journey.
Having begun researching my mother's southern roots, I'm realizing there is much to reconcile myself over, as well. Of course, it is nothing as immediate as having one's own grandparent refuse further contact, but it is a source of discomfort, just as well. As much as I am amazed at how long the grudges over Celestia Holman McClellan Grant Rice were clung to, I realize that genealogy is, once again, beckoning my family toward reconciliation.
Though it isn't the pain of not being able to speak to the relative I can see from my home's front window, hurts from the long past still echo through the ages. I noted with sadness the struggles Celestia's family must have gone through, in the following two generations—or in that next generation that might have been, had any of the grandchildren had children of their own to pass along her family line.
In this case, as far as I can tell, there is no one now alive with whom to reconcile past hurts, whereas, in my former husband's case, there was. While he first took care to ask his own mother's permission before initiating contact—he didn't want to hurt her, or have his attempts misinterpreted—he did go ahead and have that difficult phone conversation. That awkward moment led to a visit with his grandmother, after twenty years, and then a reuniting of the families. I still have the gifts his grandmother gave me during that first visit, tokens to help me remember the value of reconciliation. Considering that grandmother only lived another ten years or so, it was an important time to make a difficult move.
Many of us will, in our research, run across details that will alert us to difficulties that occurred in our family's history. We all have family members who once suffered difficult circumstances, or perhaps even caused them for others in the family. For some of those events, the time is long past any chance of reconciliation for the parties involved. Even so, for those of us who are mindful in our research when we uncover such details, there is a spirit of reconciliation that we can bring along with us in our journey to understand what our family members went through. While I don't know whether it is possible to forgive on someone else's behalf, we can, at least, learn enough from their mistakes to inform, for ourselves, a better choice toward a more healthful path.
One of the ways we can respect our forebears is to appreciate what they are teaching us. It's not an easy path to take, for those of us who stumble upon our ancestors' foibles, but sometimes, it's the best way.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
The words in George McClellan's will sounded so removed from the situation when he labeled the children he had in common with his second wife as "her children." It was as if he wanted to give the impression that Celestia's children were those she brought into the 1861 marriage with the Florida man. And yet, he was sure to make provision for them in his will, as well as for the widow of his five and a half years' second marriage.
Granted, the youngest of those children was born barely six weeks before her father's death on October 19, 1866. This daughter, named Celestia after her mother, joined her older brother, George Edmund McClellan, named after his father. A third child, Celestia's oldest, had died in 1863 in infancy. Despite any impression left by George's choosing of that particular phrase in his will, "her children," we can look back on the records of the time and see clearly that those were McClellan children, too.
When the widowed Celestia finally made her break from the inhospitable Wellborn, Florida, where George's children from his first marriage had undoubtedly made life in that small town unbearable for her, she brought the two youngest McClellan children with her, along with their half-brother from her subsequent marriage to John Grant. This, coupled with Celestia's somewhat unusual name, made it fairly easy to trace her whereabouts after that unfortunate Florida episode in her life.
So we see that, by the time of the 1880 census, Celestia McClellan Grant was indeed situated in Indiana, along with the by-then sixteen year old son George McClellan and his fourteen year old sister Celestia. Twenty years from that point, however, the two McClellan children had surely left home. What became of them then?
Since they, just as much as the children of George's first wife Sidnah Tison, were McClellan descendants, I wanted to know what became of this missing—and often maligned—part of my family. Besides, we now have the know-how to trace those loose ends, so that's exactly what I did.
George, as it turned out, was the easier of the two McClellan children to trace. Within ten years of that 1880 census, he had found a wife in Macomb County, Michigan—no doubt through connections with his maternal grandmother or an aunt or uncle back in Celestia's hometown. The younger George McClellan's bride was Sarah Millicent Axtell, daughter of Ephraim and Fannie Morris Axtell.
By the time of the 1900 census, George had returned to Warsaw, Indiana, with his wife and children, which, by the time of the 1910 census, included two sons and three daughters.
Though George died in Warsaw, Indiana, on the last day of 1928—with his wife following in 1939—I was able to trace most of his children through to their own passing in the latter part of the twentieth century. Most stayed in Indiana—one even remaining in Warsaw—and one moved back to Michigan. One I couldn't locate in later life.
Celestia's daughter, also named Celestia, somehow found her way back from Indiana to Florida. Though I had difficulty finding her after she left her mother's home, by the time of the 1910 census, she was married to a doctor named Urban Sinclair Bird and was residing in Tampa. She had married him when she was in her forties, and the census indicated that she had no children, so I presume there wasn't any previous marriage, though I can locate no record to confirm or deny that.
Though no relation of mine, the elder Celestia's youngest child—DeSoto Grant—had at least two children and ultimately ended up in California, not far from where I live. He died in 1944.
George and Celestia, the children of George and Celestia, became an omitted part of the McClellan family, their mother Celestia's legacy as that second wife who left town—thankfully—with "her children." I can't help but wonder whether any of Celestia's grandchildren ever knew the story of her few years in Wellborn, her interaction with the Suwannee County probate judges, or the estate that she—and "her children"—once inherited.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
There are some times when we think we have identified details about the right person in our family tree—but not enough to be sure beyond a doubt that we have figured out the right connection. So it was with George Edmund McClellan's frustrating widow Celestia, the one who nearly took the money and ran, after his passing in Wellborn, Florida, in 1866.
You'd think a name like Celestia R. Holman would be rare enough to not suffer the genealogist's plague of two possible candidates for the same identity. Yet, trying to discover just where George's widow originated, I ran into not one, but two Celestia Holmans of about the same age. One showed up in the 1850 census in Chautauqua County, New York. The other one was living in the household of someone named Rhodolphus Richards in Macomb County, Michigan.
If you think a name as unusual as Rhodolphus Richards would merit a fast pass to my answer, think again. Rhodolphus was about as difficult to find in other records as was Celestia.
There was one other detail that piqued my curiosity. Rhodolphus, it turned out, had a wife named Aurilla. And, as we had already observed from Celestia's 1904 death certificate, Celestia's mother happened to be named Orrilla.
What were the chances? Could Aurilla Richards be Orrilla Grover? Looking at that 1850 census, Aurilla Richards was forty six years of age, a quite reasonable twenty nine years older than Celestia.
There was another reason I thought this scenario might be possible—and no, it wasn't mere wishful thinking. In researching Celestia's stated parents, I discovered her father, Levi Sawyer Holman, had died young, in 1834. Certainly, his equally young widow would need to marry again.
Researching further, I discovered the origin of Celestia's middle name—Relief—which she no doubt received, thanks to her paternal grandmother, Relief Sawyer.
Finding an online source for marriage records of the time—and then hoping they contained the appropriate information on the bride's former name—was a nice thought, but an impractical task, considering not only the many possible spelling permutations involved in an Aurilla Holman/Rhodolphus Richards marriage, but also the lack of knowledge of which state in which to locate the marriage records. After all, if Aurilla Richards was really Orrilla Grover, she could have married her husband in any of the states leading to Michigan from their origin in New England.
Where there isn't a direct route to our answer, there are side roads leading to more clues. One, for instance, involved one of the Richards children also listed in that 1850 census, the Richards' six year old daughter, also named Aurilla. It turns out, the younger Aurilla married well, earning both her husband as well as herself a brief biography in one of those local history books. The biography chose to use the spelling of Orrilla, and listed her parents as Rodolphus and Orrilla, encasing the name Holman in parentheses as if to indicate it was the elder Orrilla's maiden name.
But if that left enough doubt in the air, thankfully another discovery helped quell concerns. When Orrilla Richards died in 1894 at the age of ninety, her headstone helpfully included this information:
Orrilla Grover Richards
Oct. 4, 1803—Mar. 5, 1894
Underneath her entry was that of her second husband, Rodolphus S. Richards, confirming for us the connection between Celestia's mother and this Orrilla Richards.
While I am not sure how a fairly successful farmer in Michigan would have the means to send his step-daughter to the first college in the country to accept women as students—let alone have the connections to marry off said step-daughter to a well-to-do widower in Florida—at least now I know how Celestia connected to the place she called home as a girl. Whether we ever uncover the story of how she met George McClellan in Florida, I don't know, but at least we now have a clue what drew her back to the midwest from the disaster following her married years in Florida.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Delving further into the story of the second wife of George McClellan—the one who almost made off with his property after he died—we learn that Celestia did, indeed, head to Indiana, just as her step-children had suspected.
I had to check out what became of Celestia after her stint as executrix of her husband's will, mainly because trying to figure out where she came from turned out to be a fruitless effort. Sometimes, the clues we find in an ancestor's future provide us a glimpse into what people knew about her past, and that, indeed, became the case in Celestia's story.
While she was untangling all the business arrangements in the McClellan properties during the early 1870s, she did remain in Wellborn, Florida, home of George's many children from his first marriage. We learned, of course, that we now had to trace her whereabouts using her new married name of Grant.
Along with those clues to help us trace Celestia's whereabouts, we also had some other help. Not only had Celestia given birth to three of George's children—two of whom were still living—we now were able to add the name of her one child with Dr. Grant, her second husband: DeSoto Grant.
It was by the time of the 1880 census that we find Celestia has finally made it to Indiana. How soon after the final fees had been paid in the probate case back in Suwannee County, Florida, I can't say, but the 1880 census revealed that she arrived at her intended destination.
Reported as "Celestra" R. Grant by an enumerator with an abysmal hand, Celestia had settled in Warsaw, Indiana, where she was, by 1880, working as a teacher. With her were her sixteen year old son named after his by-then long-deceased father, George Edmund McClellan, and her daughter whose name we learn was also Celestia. In addition, their half-brother DeSoto was also in the household, though his surname was so mangled that if I hadn't already learned what it was, it would be a challenge to decipher.
The 1880 census also provided another clue: it confirmed that Celestia was born in Michigan, adding one more convincing argument to the idea that the Celestia R. Holman in the 1850 census in Macomb County, Michigan, was likely our Celestia.
Tracing Celestia through to the next census added one more twist: she apparently married one more time. This time, her husband was Ira A. Rice, and the date of their wedding was October 16, 1894.
This little detail came in handy for one other reason: not long after this, Celestia was laid to rest in her adopted home in Warsaw, Indiana. This, I would have had trouble finding, if I hadn't realized she had married one last time. Finding the death record, thanks to learning of that Rice surname, I could see that her son, George McClellan, had provided her parents' names and her place of birth. Her October 20, 1904, death led to her burial under the name Celestia Rice in the Oakwood Cemetery in Warsaw, Indiana.
Her death certificate told me her parents' names were Levi Holman of New Hampshire and Orrilla Grover of New York. While that doesn't exactly match the details given in the 1880 census—both parents born in Vermont—the aftermath of a loved one's passing is seldom the time for accurate reporting of such mundane details.
What those details did get me wondering was whether the "Orrilla" Grover Holman of Celestia's death certificate might have had anything to do with the Aurilla in the Richards family where we found Celestia residing in 1850.
Monday, August 13, 2018
While there certainly were several McClellan descendants, back in 1800s Suwannee County, Florida, who were upset with the settling of George McClellan's will, not much at all was said about his second wife, Celestia Relief Holman McClellan—other than that she almost skipped town without properly distributing the proceeds of his estate.
But who was Celestia, and how did she end up marrying the recently-widowed George McClellan? It was hard to find any detail on her, perhaps because their marriage was in 1861 and his passing was in 1867. With those dates falling in the cracks between two census years, not much was recorded about the couple that we can find now—other than that lengthy probate record.
Compounding the problem was the fact that, not long after George's passing, Celestia quickly married the town doctor, John Grant. We can, fortunately, find Celestia in the 1870 census, along with her two surviving McClellan children from her previous marriage, plus Celestia and John's newborn son DeSoto.
The census revealed that Celestia was born in Michigan, far from either Florida or the other southern states where the McClellans' residents typically originated. How she ended up meeting the widowed George becomes even more of a puzzle with that twist in the details. Could it have been a mistaken entry?
No, as it turns out. While I couldn't find any record of Celestia in the census preceding her marriage to George in 1861—barely half a year after the 1860 census was taken—it was pretty evident that hers was a name which got mangled in records on a regular basis.
Stepping back yet another decade, in hopes that hers was just one of those entries which disappeared from the 1860 enumeration, I was faced with the opposite problem. Incredibly, there was not only one Celestia Holman, but two: one in Chautauqua, New York, and one in Macomb County, Michigan.
A tie-breaker to resolve that dilemma might have been the discovery that someone named Celestia R. Holman was listed in the Oberlin College yearbook for both 1853 and 1854. Next to each student's name was an entry indicating city of residence. For Celestia, the location was listed as "Mt. Clemens, Mich."
Not being familiar with the geo-political divisions for the state of Michigan, I had to look that one up. You'll be glad, as I was, to realize Mount Clemens is located in Macomb County, thus identifying which of the two 1850 census records might have more likely been our Celestia.
Still, that really only assures us that the Oberlin student in Ohio and the Michigan resident were one and the same. It doesn't yet confirm that those two identities were our Celestia Relief Holman who married widower George Edmund McClellan in Florida. And actually, we'd need a lot of explaining to understand just how it came to be that a Celestia like this might have ended up so far from Ohio—to say nothing of Michigan—marrying a Florida man.
Besides, taking a good look at that 1850 census in Michigan, it doesn't even reveal to us Celestia's parents' names, for Celestia was living in the household of a couple named Rhodolphus and Aurilla Richards. If nothing else, it shows us that Celestia came with a story, even before the episode in which we met her in Florida after the death of her husband.
Above: Excerpt from the digitized image of the Oberlin College catalog for academic year 1852-1853, showing Celestia's entry and residence in "Mt. Clemmens, Mich." Image courtesy Ancestry.com.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Now that I've been discovering long-forgotten details of my McClellan family in Wellborn, Florida, I've started making a habit of reading through all the wills I could find in Suwannee County. You'd be surprised at what I've been finding, just by being patient enough to read every page, not just of the wills, but of the probate records, as well. Especially when it comes to a small town peopled by extended family members, the names I'm seeking seem to pop up in the oddest places.
One thing I learned in the process, browsing through all the probate files in Suwannee County, was that the records of those who died intestate also made for productive reading. Don't let the absence of a will deter you in scouring those legal papers for your ancestors who died intestate. While there won't necessarily be one handy record listing the name of all your ancestor's descendants, there may be some gems tucked in the folder—as long as you are willing to take the time and look.
I'll discuss this more in the coming week, but for now—since this is the time for my bi-weekly progress report—let's just say that what I wasn't able to add in quantity of names I made up for in quality of depth of understanding.
Yes, reading through hundred-page probate files can cause research progress to come grinding to a halt—if all I'm doing is counting names in a database, that is. And while I certainly do more than just that, I generally try to keep tabs by those counts. It will be no surprise, then, that the rate of increase wasn't stellar, this time around.
In my mother's tree, the one I've been focusing on since signing up for the SLIG Southern research class next January, I added only 107 names to total 14,386 in her database. In the previous two-week sequence, I had added over three times as many names. But last time, I wasn't slogging through wills, trying to extract those minute but important details such as maiden names and deceased spouses' given names. It's the little things that count—at least, that's the way it's been this time.
I did, however, add a name to one other database. This was an exception to my research rule, simply owing to a special occasion: the birth of my cousin's grandbaby. How could I not take the time to enter that precious arrival into the record?! And then, in the process, I realized I was missing another one of her grandchildren, so I got to add a bonus name to the record. So, for now, my father's tree stands at 514, an increase of two names.
My other trees—the one for my mother-in-law and the one for my father-in-law's Irish roots—have stayed frozen in time with their counts at 15,667 and 1,490, respectively.
With my focus on the wills and probate records in Suwannee County in the past two weeks, I haven't even taken a peek at my DNA results. I had to take just one look this weekend, though, if for nothing else than to keep a record.
Having done that, though, makes me glad August is another DNA test sale month. I could use some fresh numbers here, as my match increases have slowed to a trickle. After the bump in numbers following the Father's Day sales, this past two weeks have brought only a few distant cousins into the picture.
One additional point to brighten that DNA picture: I'm hoping that finding new branches of the McClellan line, as my understanding of who belongs in the extended family crystallizes, will be an accelerating process with each new leaf pinned in its proper place on the tree.
That, however, will have to take second place to my current goal of reading through all the probate files I can find online for the McClellan home in 1800s Florida.
Saturday, August 11, 2018
It's been high time we headed to the hills again in search of abandoned family photographs to rescue. My intrepid travel partner, Sheri Fenley, and I had planned to hit the road in the middle of July—a plan that would have at least allowed us to avoid the August smoke of numerous California forest fires—but unpreventable circumstances demanded a rescheduling of our trip.
At long last, this week was the right time to head to Sonora, up in the foothills of northern California once known as Gold Rush country. Learning from past experience, I contacted the most promising antique shops ahead of time to insure they would be open and have old photographs in stock. There is something so laid back about people living in those foothill towns that one can never be sure a business establishment will actually be open during business hours. At least, that was our experience during our last expedition, when we drove up to Sutter Creek and Jackson.
This time, we were headed south—to a place known as the "Queen of the Southern Mines." Sonora, county seat of a jurisdiction whose name is nearly unpronounceable to non-Californians—Tuolumne—is a city of barely five thousand people. Its main street, South Washington Street, is predictably filled with the type of shops tourists find delightful. It's a snap antique stores would thrive there.
It comes as no surprise, then, to see I had my choice of shopping targets. With several stores to choose from, I still couldn't let that sway my intention to only go to those places which would be open when we got there. After all, it's a ninety minute drive, one way, from my home to Sonora.
I did my homework and contacted the antique shops in the area that I found through online searches. Two stores promised me they had antique photographs for sale. One, temptingly, had not only antiques—including photos—but an old fashioned ice cream parlor. Ice cream being my non-genealogical weakness, I decided to make that my first stop for lunch and first pick on shopping.
The store was scheduled to open at eleven. We arrived about ten minutes after that, managed to find parking close by so we wouldn't have to walk far in the all-pervasive smoke and haze, and marched right up to the front door.
It was closed.
Yes, it was after eleven o'clock, but this is the northern California foothills. But this was also us, two hungry travelers looking for a place to eat. We crossed the street and wandered in the direction of the second antique shop on our itinerary.
Good thing we did. That shop—Antiques Et Cetera—proved to be just the place for my project. I was delighted to discover proprietor Sheryl Breaux and her assistant Terri had numerous specimens of old photographs on hand. Seeing the beautifully framed wedding photos from bygone eras, mounted on the walls of the shop, nearly made me cry over the thought that where they really belonged was on a wall in a descendant's home.
But that's why we were there, isn't it? Not that I could afford to spring for those elaborately framed pictures, but the cabinet cards and post cards certainly filled the bill. (I didn't see any carte de visite specimens on this trip.)
What was key to the purchase was whether the photo included any details about the subject of the picture. I need enough clues to return a photo to the family of its now-departed subject. And in the case of this Sonora antique shop, there were several such photographs to be had.
Looking ahead at A Family Tapestry, I'll wrap up the story of my McClellan clan during the next week. And then, we'll start unfolding the stories hidden within the photographs I've found in Sonora. Hopefully, we'll run across a few interesting stories along the way.
Friday, August 10, 2018
It may have been sheer curiosity which coerced me into reading every single one of the hundred-plus pages of George Edmund McClellan's probate records, but it was curiosity driven by a reason: George was my third great grandfather. That, granted, should have been a relationship so removed that I'd expect to know nothing of the man. On the contrary, what happened after his passing in 1866 is still remarked upon by McClellan relatives in Florida to this day. I owed it to myself to uncover the reasons for such family resentment.
Of course, I'm a long way from piecing together the complete story of how George's second wife and executrix, Celestia Relief Holman McClellan Grant, wrapped up her business in settling the McClellan estate. But I'm beginning to get an idea of what happened.
If nothing else, I have—through the pages and pages of records, receipts and miscellaneous scraps of paper—gotten the picture that not only did Celestia make property decisions which rankled George's orphaned children, but she evidently wore out the officials in the Suwannee County courts, as well.
Since the case had dragged on for so long, I thumbed through the folder to see the most recent date I could find on any of the records. George had died on October 19, 1866, which precipitated the probate process. The most recent dates I could locate were in the early 1870s. One would presume Celestia had wrapped up her business as executrix by that point and moved on—likely to Indiana, as she had stated, although given her proclivities, one could never be too sure.
Tucked among those receipts in the McClellan file was an odd note, dated September 29, 1873. On one side, it read, reasonably enough,
Received 1872 of Celestia R. Grant, Executrix of the Estate of George E. McClellan deceased, twenty dollars ($20) costs and fees in said estate in probate office at Live Oak Fla.
This Sept. 29th 1873 John W. Rice
Ex. County Judge Suwannee County Fla.
The case had gone on and on so long that it overran the judge's own term of office. While I'm sure a collective sigh of relief was heaved when the final fees were paid and Mrs. Grant had swept out of town—in haste, no doubt—I find the note scrawled on the reverse of this receipt to be an amusing footnote to the episode.
The within is given in lieu of the original filed or mislaid or lost = not known which.
Sworn to + subscribed before me Sept. 29 1873
The note was countersigned by the then-current county judge, John W. Rice's successor, George R. Thralls, who seemed quite willing to play this small part in enabling the last bit to be swept into place—in whatever way possible—following the whirlwind of the personal drama that was Celestia.
Of course, I can't be satisfied with leaving the story sit pat in Florida. If Celestia was headed for Indiana, I'd have to follow her there, as well. After all, she did have three children by my third great grandfather—two of whom were still living at the time of her Florida exodus. I need to follow the trail, not only to see what became of Celestia Relief Holman and "her children"—as George had put it in his will—but to see if I can discover anything more about the woman. After all, I have no idea where she came from before her 1861 marriage to George McClellan in Florida. She wasn't a Florida native. What brought her to town?
Images above from Suwannee County, Florida, Probate records, courtesy Ancestry.com.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
A probate file can be full of all sorts of unexpected details. Mostly, in the case of the deceased George Edmund McClellan, details on the value and sales of his various northern Florida properties were the items most disputed, along with complaints by his various heirs about how George's executrix—his now-remarried widow, Celestia R. Grant—was going about the business of settling his debts.
Besides the rumor that the executrix was planning to skip town with the estate's proceeds undistributed, the letters in the McClellan file revealed insinuations that Celestia was indulging in pleasure trips to various Florida cities, for instance, and billing the cost to the estate.
All told, the entire situation of having someone's unfinished business dumped in her lap must have been a trying experience. The constant complaining by family members surely did not help.
Celestia seemed always to be in a rush, breezing in and out of the picture, leaving whirlwinds of complaints in her wake. In one undated letter, for instance, she began with,
Hon. Judge Rice, I am in great haste and cannot wait your return. Mrs.[?] told me I would find the list of articles desired to be sold at your office and...
Somewhere in the timeline between George's passing in 1866 and the settling of his case years later, Celestia's husband, Dr. John Grant, must also have died. I can find no record of that, nor location of his burial, but letters from George McClellan's probate file lead me to make that conclusion.
Among many other receipts in the McClellan file was one from W. M. Ives, attorney for the plaintiff, acknowledging receipt of "payment in part" in a suit against Celestia. The plaintiff, incidentally, was Mary A. McLeran—the Mary of the Red Scarf—who, as a widow in her own right, had had George McClellan provide appraisal services in the settling of her own husband's estate, back in 1860. This, once again, cements the concept of the intertwined relationships evident in the small community of Wellborn, Florida.
Attached with that receipt from attorney Ives was a note from Celestia. Once again, it was written in a hurry, undated, and opening with a curt salutation,
Judge J. W. Rice,
Sir. I arranged the Mrs. McLeran debt with Col. Ives. I enclose you the receipt...
After adding several mundane details, the letter, seeming to have been written on a mere scrap of paper, continued on the reverse:
I will leave this in Live Oak as I pass through en route to Indiana, Please send me a copy of all this year's returns as soon as you get them fixed up. Also make out your fees when you know what they are,
Celestia R. Grant.
Images from the Suwannee County, Florida, probate file of George Edmund McClellan, courtesy Ancestry.com.