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.