Monday, January 28, 2019
Enter Haystack, Search for Needle
Why is it that, in genealogical research, the original search concept sounds so fascinating, but the actual act of jumping right into it becomes so daunting? Here I am, in the midst of the hunt for the unnamed man who, as a former slave, grew up with my second great-grandfather, eventually formed a friendship prompting the man, in later years, to travel back to the homestead and gift my ancestor with a copy of his life story. And all that stands between us and the goal of finding the answer is a considerable amount of grunt work. Whatever would keep us from getting right to it?!
In this search, I'm stymied in any attempt, pre-Civil War, to search for this man's name in digitized records. For that, I'll have to hope some documents containing the name will be among papers stored in a Florida repository. However, as personal effects of everyday folk seldom make for archival-quality ephemera, I doubt I'll stumble upon such a gem at any local historical society, museum or library.
My best bet, at least for starters, is to look at the records I can access from a distance—documents such as the 1870 census—and see if there are any possibilities. Even with that plan, though, I hit a stumbling block: the head of the household—my third great-grandfather, George E. McClellan—was no longer alive by the time of the 1870 census. Neither was my third great-grandmother, Sydney Tison McClellan, who predeceased her husband in 1860.
While some of George's children were still living in their hometown of Wellborn, Florida, at the time of that 1870 census, I'd first need to get a sense of who belonged in the neighborhood where the McClellans once lived in 1860. Remember, Wellborn was not an official geographic designation at the time—the 1860 census just stated the name of the county, leaving blank the line for city location, though the 1870 census did label the "post office" as "Welborn." So we need to have a way to get our bearings from the one record to the next.
Looking at the 1860 census at the entry for George McClellan—where his family's entry spans two pages—from the top of the first page to the end of the next, the surnames we can glean were Powell, Smith, McInnis, Carver, Stancil, Speir, Wilson, Millican, Lang, Carter, Keith, Turner and Mills. Those will be the names we can use to orient ourselves, once we get to the 1870 census.
At least, that's what we hope to find. Actually getting there, we can only look for the entries of the children George and Sydney left behind. Spanning the pages between George's daughter Virginia, who married Philip Lowe, and her sister Isabel, not quite yet married to Benjamin Worrell but serving as a school teacher, I find my second great grandfather William and his bride Emma and toddler son Frank, but not one of those surnames from the previous census. I can only hope this is the same vicinity where they had lived, ten years prior, and begin to catalog all the families of the presumably once enslaved neighbors in the vicinity.
Assuming William's childhood companion was a boy of approximately the same age, I'd be looking for an African-American of about twenty five years of age. The badly faded pages, though, didn't want to give up their secrets, and I can't be sure of the details I'm reading. Spanning the two pages of the 1870 census record where the McClellan siblings lived, I see surnames of black families reading Heading, Mobley, Williams, Antney (sounding vaguely like a Brooklyn rendition of the name Anthony), Gillard, Murdock, and Bailey. The only catch? Not a one of the men was near twenty five years of age.
© Copyright 2011 – 2023 by Jacqi Stevens at 2:46:00 AM
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You know this already but I'd give that 25 yrs a wide berth allowing for enumerator error or informant error.ReplyDelete
Oh, absolutely, Wendy! You and I have both seen some wild statements given about ages in records. Still, at that point, and given that each of them was relatively young--when small age differences can seem much larger--I'm not sure I want to push that berth wide open, just yet.Delete
Question: were those surnames listed in the 1860 Census the names of white families only? I believe that in SC, slave names were not recorded in 1860, just ages and gender. Is that true across the South? And if that was the case in Florida, how are you hoping to use the 1860 names to locate a former slave? Thanks - I hope I'm not asking questions that are so basic the answers should be obvious :-)ReplyDelete
No problem, Lisa. I've always considered myself the Genealogy Guinea Pig, so let's just take this as my test case for your benefit.Delete
In answer to your question, the 1860 census, as you surmised, would only list names of white families. The enslaved were listed in "Slave Schedules" just as you mentioned: by age and gender, as well as "race" (identifying B for Black, and M or Mu for Mulatto).
I used the 1860 census to get a sense of just who was living in the same neighborhood, for comparison with the 1870 census, as my ancestor was no longer living, himself, at the time of the later census. I wanted to make sure I had the right area. If all the McClellan children had moved to a different neighborhood--though the freed slaves stayed in the same place--I would have no way of knowing whether I was looking in the right place. I was using white family surnames simply as place markers...although, in the end, that didn't seem to help, anyhow.
That all makes sense. I wish you all success in your hunt for the book. Whether or not it still exists, you will for sure uncover many other treasures along the way.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Lisa! I'm eager to see the conclusion of all this search.Delete
One thing I neglected to mention, in answering your previous question, is that if you follow the highlighted links embedded in each of my posts, you may be able to see the specific source documents I'm referencing (although some of them will require a subscription to Ancestry or other sites to view). That way, you can see for yourself what record sets and specifics I'm using to figure out this puzzle.