Saturday, January 26, 2019

Planning for R & R

It's the weekend, but don't think it's time to kick back and relax. I'm talking about a different kind of R & R. In no time at all, I'll be flying my way to Florida. Now is the time to pull out all the stops and plan for Research and Reconnaissance.

Granted, in searching for the identity of this one enslaved person from mid-1800s Wellborn, Florida, I'm missing one key item: the man's name. That may become a major set-back. However, getting on site can do wonders for a research plan. Going local, interfacing with the people who have lived in the area—and believe me, this is a small, rural area—can usher in a perspective not accessible via online channels.

There are, for instance, people in my McClellan line whom I've only met virtually, thanks to our mutual DNA test results. I've never had the chance to visit with them, face to face, though we have exchanged emails and shared tidbits about our respective parts of the extended family. Maybe someday soon, I'll get to meet them. But even if I don't—after all, how many of your fourth cousins still live where their third-great-grandparents once resided?—at least we can continue the conversation by email. As you'll see next week, that has been one source of direction for this project, already.

Thankfully, there still are people in Wellborn who are descendants of the folks in my various family lines from the 1850s. And I'm currently in a letter-writing and phone-calling campaign to make contact with them, just in case they would be up for a visit to chat about local history, with a cousin connection thrown in for good measure.

Of course, the records from that era will help immensely, and I've already made plans to head to the county seat, Live Oak, to look for records and maps. Wherever the old property was, I'd love to walk that ground—as long as it is still permissible. I'll need to confirm who the current owner is, so I can make those arrangements. And being in town where the courthouse and other official buildings still stand will help orient me to the place where my ancestors once took care of business.

Researching in Live Oak will present a difficult juxtaposition between what may seem like my naive and simplistic desire to learn more about a man who was once, undeniably, enslaved by my own ancestors, and the stark history of the very setting for one of Florida's tragic lynchings. Whether that civil rights violation will have reverberations which still impact residents there today, causing understandable reticence about discussing a search like mine, I don't know. Obviously, I'll be circumspect upon the opportunity for any conversation about the issue of my research topic.

There is, always, that retrospective question: why pursue this story? That man, whoever he was, wasn't a part of my family, as far as "blood" is concerned. Then, again, he was a part of the family, in psychological connections, if nothing else. Whatever the bond was between this unnamed person and my second great-grandfather, they kept in touch. In whatever way it was, their connection had a quality to it that has lasted, now, for generations.

That's a long time to remember someone whose name I never knew.


  1. That's a beautiful explanation of WHY you are pursuing this story. And the explanation of HOW you are doing it will be helpful to me as I try to learn more about my letter-writing family from the 1860's. I am a rank amateur at this work :-) I find that as I search for information, blogs by historians and genealogists are as helpful as books, maybe more when it comes to obscure names from the past.

    1. Bit by bit, Lisa, I'll try to unfold the how of the matter, as well. I'm glad you are finding blog posts to be helpful. There are a lot of us out there, researching all sorts of family stories. You will find many of us have ascribed to the philosophy of learn as you go. You are in good company.

  2. I can't wait to hear about your on-the-ground visit to the area.

    1. Kathy, I expect it will be quite the experience. I have never been there to Wellborn, though I've heard so many stories about the place. I hadn't even set foot in any part of Florida until just a few years ago.


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