Thursday, August 16, 2018
Whatever Became of the Children
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.