Sunday, February 3, 2019
The Party is Still On !
I may be in Florida right now to research my McClellan roots, but for a while, I was beginning to wonder whether I'd be able to accomplish what I traveled here to do. You see, this is not the usual family history research trip, the type of visit to discern just what our ancestors were like by viewing a dim recording of their life, transcribed onto paperwork of the era. I was hoping to meet some real people—the kind who could tell real stories about my kin. Florida-style stories. But something at last minute—something out of my control—almost derailed those plans.
When a research trip is looming in the near future, it's time to make sure all the connections are arranged, the interview appointments are set, the finding aids are scoured for just the right source documents. If a researcher does all the prep work well, it almost seems as if all that is left to do is show up and pull the items from the right shelf in the right repository. And read.
There really is more to it than just that, of course. A researcher really doesn't know what will be found, buried deep within that to-do list. Many times, finding one document leads to the uncertainty of locating another one. Searches can turn up surprises. And the unexpected can lead to a pile of additional—though welcome—work. After all, we're here to make discoveries, and discoveries don't necessarily come with guarantees.
That, however, is the type of research trip dedicated to tracking the family history paper trail. In my case, part of my original hope for this week's research journey had been to receive a personal tour through some of the very properties and homes where my McClellan ancestors lived, starting back when Florida wasn't the name of a state, but the designation for a territory.
Being that the McClellan home was near a rather small town—Wellborn, even now, boasts a population of less than three thousand people—it isn't hard to imagine that it is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and may possibly also be related to everyone else. In fact, many of the names of the folks telling stories about Wellborn and Suwannee County history—the type of stories I've found online and in the local newspaper—are names I recall entering in my family tree database. I already know how they are related to me; I just don't know them, personally.
Enter a cousin who had already done the legwork of reconnecting with our roots in Wellborn. This cousin has visited the town, stayed in the old family home, talked with cousins too distant to even recall the reason they are called "kin."
For years now, she has wanted to take me up there, to show me around and introduce me to the town—especially to those residents who can still tell stories about times long gone when some of the McClellans and related families were alive, instead of just mere names on pieces of paper. That was what I was hoping for this week. That was the type of activity I foresaw filling up much of the research time on this limited first visit.
And then, winter happened. And my volunteer personal tour guide caught the usual wintertime illnesses. It looked like my maiden voyage to the place of my Florida roots was going to turn into a dry, paper-chase type of visit instead of what we had hoped. With that in mind, I drew up my backup plan, checked record locations and maps and possible research spots to contact ahead of time to check hours, research requirements, and all the protocol a researcher would do for archives visits.
It wasn't until I had been in Florida a few days that I got the message that this cousin has recovered and is able to make the trip up north to Wellborn to meet me there. I'm still glad to have that backup plan—after all, I will be in the neighborhood, so why not fold those plans into the schedule, too?—but knowing how people from my southern roots were so fond of just sitting and talking, I also know to set aside plenty of time for visiting and getting to know folks from the town where my third great-grandfather and his descendants once lived. Stories, after all, do take time to unfold. And Wellborn is a place for storytellers.