Sunday, March 31, 2019
Are societies devoted to family history old fashioned?
As much as I love point-and-click genealogy, I still love getting together with like-minded fan(atic)s to talk about stuff that means a lot to us. That's why I've always been supportive of local genealogical societies. But lately—and I've been reminded of this, even as I posted about my favorite genealogical conference yesterday—people insist the trend is heading away from gathering as a group with a purpose. That's old fashioned, I hear; nobody wants to take the time to get together to do something that can be done alone in the comfort of one's own home.
Aside from the point that, if it weren't for a team with a vision putting together the programs and infrastructure that enables those lone genealogists to conquer family history brick walls in their pajamas, there are still reasons we need to get together for genealogy.
For one, it gets lonely. What ever happened to that concept that humankind represents social beings? Our most recent research conquest only becomes more exciting when we are able to share the news with someone else—someone, admittedly, who cares, but at least someone who can talk back, cheer, clap, slap us on the back, do the happy dance. Whatever it takes, we need feedback, and when it calls for a cheer-worthy response, the echo chamber of our empty office or bedroom falls short of the victory we want to celebrate.
Besides, it helps to crowdsource our research dilemmas. Yes, we can post those questions online and wait for some stranger in cyberspace to respond. But let me tell you a secret: some of the queries I've posted on genealogical forums in the 1990s have yet to be answered. How much time can you spare for that waiting game? If I bring that question to a society special interest group, I'm meeting with real live people, face to face, who can talk me through the issue. Even if no one has a direct answer, someone is sure to help me think through the problem more clearly. Face to face is an immediate feedback loop that online forums only weakly replicate.
Even education, the strong suit of online webinars, pales when compared to events where people are in attendance. Perhaps it's a habit borne of growing up with television, but when I'm listening to an online class and something comes up in the next room—my next cup of coffee is calling my name, for instance—I find myself getting up, wandering away...and then forgetting about the class which is still spewing out verbiage, whether I'm listening or not. Not the personal touch I'm hoping for.
More than that, people perform better when attentive faces are beaming up at them. Take it from me: I've worked in radio broadcasting as well as participated in amateur stage productions. I'd much rather talk to a live audience than to a microphone in a closet; those people in the audience pull it right out of me. I know I do a better job when I'm teaching my classes because I can see my students' faces. I know when I've hit home and when I've lost them, just by the visual feedback. Instructors—and students—get a second-class performance when it is canned and served up online.
Besides, learning involves asking questions. Though online venues try to replicate that Q&A experience of live events, there is really only so much that the tech side can accommodate with limited time and access. Some questions might be answered, but if it isn't your question, does it really matter? To you?
The idea behind genealogical societies—or any organization—is that a group of people with a common concern join together to gain more access to the benefits they might not otherwise be able to receive on their own. So, we pool our finances (the modest dues of most organizations) to pay for quality speakers to come meet us in person and share their expertise. We set up systems and infrastructure to address the genealogical goals we have in our locale. Some might want a research library, while other groups might want research road trips. Working together, we can achieve goals specific to what works in our own region.
There is, however, nothing more important—at least to me—than to be able to be social about my genealogical research progress. It means so much to be able to tell another understanding member about the latest discovery I've made, or to hear how another member solved a research problem. I get that—and so do a lot of others who have been part of the resurgence of local societies. While we may not gather to print up index books to sell—the bread and butter of those really old fashioned genealogical societies—we may, instead, wish to work towards gathering to set up a computer lab so we can all work together on indexing digitized records, or learn how to use a new genetic genealogy "toy" like DNA Painter or the Leeds Method.
I know there is a wide divergence of opinions on the place of the local genealogical society in twenty first century life, but I'm not sure the issue is whether to still have them. Perhaps the issue is more a case of how to organize our organizations so that they reflect the needs—and resources—of our times.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
With the bloom of Spring comes a multitude of things to look forward to. A splash of color shyly peeking out in the sunlight—finally!—couples with the anticipation of warmer temperatures, fun outdoor events, and eager thoughts of travel.
For the genealogist, those thoughts might also include conferences. After all, it looks like the conference season is upon us. I just returned from a DNA conference, only to catch the buzz about May's NGS conference in Missouri, and then to spot an announcement in social media that registration is now open for the FGS Conference in Washington, D.C.
That conference, by the way, doesn't start until the third week of August, but that doesn't stop the eager early birds from registering early. After all, the early bird gets the worm, er, best pricing. And we all know how pricey conference attendance can get.
That's why I pay close attention to those early bird registration deadlines: they can save you bucks. And for a must-see conference in my area (hint: a much shorter trip than from here to the nation's capital, as enticing as that might seem), I needed to make sure my registration was in order, well before the April 21 deadline for the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree.
Some may question the importance of attending a genealogy conference. After all, with so many resources online, why go through the effort of traveling, putting up with restaurant food (when we are obviously much better cooks, ourselves), or the discomfort of staying in an unfamiliar hotel?
I tend to flip that question on its head. After all, there are all sorts of people who jump at the chance to travel—for such adventurers, the minor inconveniences of lumpy pillows or slow restaurant service pale in comparison to the joys of what is in store along the journey's way. That's pretty much how I feel about the SCGS Jamboree.
But there's one more detail which I find necessary: you can't find as many true-believer genealogy fanatics, if you went to, say, the grocery store (or even the coffee shop) for conversation. Those bright-eyed moments when we found that elusive third great-grandmother's maiden name are best shared with someone who already knows the challenge of our elusive conquests. And, besides local genealogical society meetings, the best place to revel in our genealogical glories is at a genealogy conference.
Of course, the educational value is an added bonus. And SCGS Jamboree assembles an impressive lineup of nationally-recognized speakers in our field. For those with more advanced experience, the Jamboree planners devised ways for registrants to sign up for special workshop sessions. Longer than the customary one-hour conference sessions, these half-day workshops address a variety of topics, from DNA to cemetery or photograph preservation to family history writing or videography to deciphering Old English handwriting.
It's wonderful to sit and contemplate—especially in the sunny proximity of those spring blossoms—all the variety of genealogical learning that can all be had for the choice of attending the SCGS Jamboree, but don't daydream about that for too long. When early bird pricing hits that April 21 brick wall, the price for Jamboree registration goes up another forty bucks for the full double-header event—DNA Day on May 30 and Jamboree from May 31 through June 2. And finding hotel accommodations becomes even more of a headache at that point.
Word on the street is: do it now! (And then be sure to stop and say hi if you see me there!)
Friday, March 29, 2019
The strange disappearance of any mention of the names of the Stockton family in northern Florida, following the 1900 census, did have me stumped. When I went to the DNA conference last weekend, I took that question with me. At a point when I had a chance to talk with conference speaker Kenyatta Berry, I asked her that question. Why would all those people, from three different Stockton families, simultaneously disappear?
Admittedly, in researching family lines, we can run across tragedies spanning entire families. Florida being hurricane country, it isn't hard to imagine a poverty-stricken family seeing their home blown to bits in the gale force winds of such devastation of nature. Or consider the various epidemics occurring throughout our history, sometimes wiping out significant percentages of a town within a matter of months.
While such things do happen, there is another aspect that interjects itself into the history of the south—a darker side to history. While the end of the institution of slavery may have seemed a bright spot, it was followed by the politically unsuccessful Reconstruction era—along with, in its wake, subsequent rioting—and after that, the era of Jim Crow laws. Taking a quick read through the overview of historic events of those time periods can give a clear idea that the south was not a place to be if one looked like a former slave. Economic discrimination in the communities of the south was the least of an African-American family's problems.
When I asked Kenyatta Berry her opinion on why three of the families affiliated with King Stockton might have seemingly disappeared by the early 1900s, she had a few suggestions. First, of course, was that the family might have moved to the north. Better economic opportunity could come with such a move. Another variation on that theme was that the families might have moved from the country to urban areas within the same state, where there might be better offers of work.
The other possibility she mentioned was not as logically sterile. Could there have been a lynching in the area, she asked. While the time period might not have lined up with the dates when I saw the family seemingly scatter, I still had to answer in the affirmative. Yes, at one point, there had been such a tragedy. Perhaps that event was the tip of an iceberg of a societal chill factor, the impetus for the family to leave the area.
Coming to a conclusion on that research problem isn't easy. It could just be a matter of not finding the family mentioned in the records—another possibility I had considered. After all, what if enumerators—taking a head count for the precise reason of providing numbers determining representation in Congress—decided to slight the count for ulterior reasons?
All such conclusions can only be fed by a proper understanding of the context of the history of the time. Of course, it would be nice to find King Stockton's family names in the subsequent census records, but not being able to do so might be just the problem we need. It forces us to have to slow down and be alert to signals the historic narrative is sending us. We can't really understand our ancestors without understanding the times in which they lived. I'm hoping this detour sends us some strong signals to help pick up the story of what became of King Stockton's family.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
You would think, after reviewing all those online resources I've mentioned this week, that all those resources would be sufficient for discovering what we need to know about our King Stockton and his family.
Think again. There's more.
Hidden behind all those glittering online links where we can speed-click our way to easy answers, there is a more old-fashioned way to research the answers we seek. It's a way of books, but it is also a wide world of records behind the brick walls of traditional repositories. Every university, every archival collection, every private museum—and many other organizations, as well—is home to donated collections granted them by the rich and famous, as well as the lesser-known players in history. How to find these treasure troves is key.
I'm still struggling to make sense of how to find my way around this secret world of paper. Many of these collections keep their finding aids behind firewalls, inaccessible to the search engines of Google and other tech giants with prying eyes. Whether there is or isn't a biography on King Stockton—or any other the other members of his extended family—I really couldn't have known, if it weren't mentioned first as a footnote in a journal article, which led me (title of biography in hand) to the university which held that tiny item in its collection.
It's that process, repeated over and over again, that leads us to original sources that sometimes are the only way to find answers, particularly for issues of historical significance. But finding the key clue that leads to answers can be a challenge.
For what it's worth, here are a few of the ways I've found to crash through and find such gems.
Of course, the prime resource for background information on slavery in the United States would be the website of the National Archives. Here, for instance, I found this overview of civil records regarding the history of slavery. The list provides brief details on the record groups available, but doesn't, itself, offer up the actual documents. That, of course, would be yet another step in the process.
A similar repository would be the Library of Congress, which operates a free-of-charge cooperative cataloging program known as NUCMC (often pronounced "nuck-muck"). The acronym stands for the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, and the cataloging records it creates can be found on the Online Computer Library Center's networked libraries' database, WorldCat.
While that may be more than you ever wanted to know about finding stuff in libraries, that's the long explanation for how I found the King Stockton biography at the Rose Library at Emory University. Obviously, I now hope to find much more, especially in the way of background information on slavery, reconstruction, and the years of Jim Crow laws in the south. We can't just research the names, dates, and places of genealogy; sometimes, when we fail to find what we're seeking, we need to delve into the history behind the genealogy.
That, however, is only one way to access material available through libraries. Another resource is to look for keywords through the Digital Public Library of America, where lists like this one on slavery in the state of Florida can lead us toward more background information on our topic.
There is yet another world out there to research. I'm beginning to uncover information on repositories which seem unconnected from each other. Most of these, I stumbled upon, thanks to Cyndi's List. There is, for instance, a list of finding aids on African American genealogy posted at the online library system of Florida Atlantic University. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro hosts the searchable Digital Library on American Slavery. In Austin, the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History provides a searchable online resource where I found several pages of results about slavery.
If these three unrelated universities have searchable collections, there are surely others—universities, museums, archives, and other repositories. To discover each possibility—and then search through their holdings—would take an enormous investment in time. That's why it was encouraging to hear, in Kenyatta Berry's presentations at the Family Tree DNA conference I attended last weekend, that a committee is forming to discuss ways to network the many collections related to the slavery issue in America—a one-stop-shopping approach to allowing researchers to uncover the universe of possibilities as they tackle the historical questions in their niche specialty of this broad topic.
There are more lists and resources than one could imagine. Take, for instance, this website which I never had heard of before. I think I found it thanks to Cyndi's List, but at this point, I have forgotten what led me to their digital door. But searching their wiki for broad categories, I found this list for information on plantations in Florida, and another list for Georgia, as well. Clicking through to each sub-topic in the lists revealed more resources.
Yet another set of resources, as I clicked through from website to website, turns out to be sites devoted to urging participants to share what they have found. One site in particular, The Beyond Kin Project, urges descendants of slaveholders to share what records their ancestors might have kept which reveal identities of enslaved persons. Their website also includes a list of other helpful web pages related to this issue, such as the website, Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery.
With all the resources I've mentioned so far this week, it would seem it is enough information to fill a Ph.D.'s course of study in the American history of slavery. And yet, I am quite sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of all available records out there to access. Knowing how to find such stuff is just the first step. Then you have to read it, absorb it, analyze it, and synthesize it.
Just listing all these possibilities has even exhausted me! Sometimes, when that feeling of chasing myself in circles descends upon me, I find I need to set aside a research project for a while. I've been poking at it from every angle I can think of, and yet, I'm not gaining any advantage. It may be time to do some background reading, and then come at the issue with fresh eyes after a few days' respite.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Sometimes, an innovation is so new that, in our eagerness to try that something new, we forget to watch its progress as it unfolds. Before we know it, that "new" thing has been tried and loved for a year, five years, a decade, a quarter century—before we realize the time has flown by and "new" has become traditional. In its newness, we forgot to track its history.
That may well have been what happened when we saw the launch of innovative genealogical websites with the advent of the Internet. We were so in love with searching through digitized documents that we forgot to notice the passage of time—and how our new toy was evolving with the years.
Such was the case with one search resource many of us may have tried—which, although it has passed twenty five years of service, is still around to be used. That genealogical resource is the website known as Rootsweb. First launched by Brian Leverich and Karen Isaacson in 1993 as the Roots Surname List, it continues to bill itself as "the oldest free online community genealogy research website."
The website became the place for people to freely share their family trees, distribute information to free subscriber-based message lists based on surnames or geographic locations, and find pages filled with a potpourri of information of interest to genealogists. The US GenWeb projects were hosted on the website for free, as were several websites of local genealogical societies.
As you can imagine, too much of a good thing eventually became exactly that: too much. To keep up with costs—and thus not lose a monumental pile of genealogically-significant details—the site (and, of course, its expenses) was eventually taken over by the parent company of Ancestry.com in June, 2000.
From that point, other than the addition of advertising for Ancestry-related offerings, the website continued to operate much the same as it always had; disaster averted. However, in the latter part of 2017, a security breach was discovered, causing host company Ancestry.com to have to shut down Rootsweb "temporarily." Only recently has the content of the original Rootsweb been brought back online, gradually, and in segments. Some of those portions have, in the interim, been redesigned.
So how does a website like Rootsweb help someone like me in my research quandary about finding King Stockton and his freedmen relatives? The reconstituted Rootsweb still provides a searchable array of family trees containing over six million surnames. One of those trees just happens to be for our King Stockton. While the tree has not been updated recently, it does provide some information on another researcher's path of discovery, and includes a way to contact that submitter.
Rootsweb is not only for freely exploring other people's trees. The website includes resources to find and search over thirty thousand genealogical mailing lists kept since the website's inception—decades of searchable conversations about researching surnames and localities—as well as the other sites it hosts. And while Rootsweb's wiki seems pretty puny, it does include a brief entry for the county in question for our quest to uncover more information on King Stockton.
It may come as no surprise that the computer wiz who created Rootsweb didn't stop at the passing of that website into corporate hands. And that is the next list of lists I want to mention in this catalog of other places that might help us learn more about what become of King Stockton. The new website is called Linkpendium, and as its "About" page explains, its goal is to index every genealogy-related website on the Internet.
Indeed, pulling up a list of what Linkpendium had for the entry "Suwannee County, Florida" showed a multi-faceted spread of options. Of course, some of those results are for websites we've already explored—Rootsweb, Cyndi's List, or FamilySearch.org. But there were also new-to-me resources which I could now use to push the knowledge envelope a little farther out. I can also repeat this search process on Linkpendium for broader topics related to slavery or freedmen or life in the specific states of Georgia or Florida.
Beyond such lists of lists as Linkpendium, or the resources hosted on Rootsweb, or even Cyndi's List, there are other online stops to make in seeking to get a broader understanding of what happened, say, during the Civil War follow-up era of Reconstruction, or at the onset of Jim Crow laws. There are a few other possibilities I'd like to mention tomorrow, as well as news I discovered about projects to bring the less accessible items such as letters, diaries, and other manuscript-format records to the forefront in a search like the one we've launched in pursuit of the Stockton family.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
There are people in my beginning genealogy classes who groan at the prospect of actually finding anything on Cyndi's List. Why? Not because it's a skimpy overview of the universe of genealogy. Quite the opposite: it's immense. If it seems hopeless to find a needle in a haystack, just enlarge that haystack exponentially to get the feel of what a search on Cyndi's List feels like to some people.
But we are not "some people." We are fearless researchers.
I've been using Cyndi's List for, well, it seems like decades. And to say that is nearly correct. Cyndi's list of lists started out in 1995 when owner Cyndi Howells put together a short list of genealogy links from her Internet explorations and presented it to her local genealogical society. That list grew—and grew, and grew—from there. Now, there are upwards of 332,000 links spanning over two hundred genealogical research categories contained at www.cyndislist.com.
So, how does something as sprawling as that website help someone like me find what I need to know about the background of the slavery experience King Stockton and his family might have endured? Here's an illustration of the different ways we can configure a search on this topic. If I want to see what links Cyndi's List has found for the subheading of slavery under the heading of African-American, I get a page full of links. I can look through that list of links, and if any one of them looks like information I might want to pursue further, I simply click on that link.
If I alter my search terms only slightly—let's say, to Slavery with a subheading of United States—I would get another set of links to explore. Or if I wanted to explore the topic by regions, I could enter yet another set of search terms—say, African-American and Locality Specific—and explore yet another universe of possible resources.
Admittedly, it must be hard for a one-woman-show like Cyndi's List to keep up with ever-changing URLs and other disruptions in cyberspace. While Cyndi asks her faithful followers to help by reporting broken links, every now and then, a click does not return its hoped-for destination. When that happens, I use the target site's root address and then try to search for the subheading through that website's own directory.
Cyndi's List is not the only list of genealogical resources, though. There are, of course, others. Why else would I tell you we'd take a tour through the possibilities over the next few days? There are other ways to find what we are seeking about the context of slavery in the American south during the life of our King Stockton and his family. We'll check out a few more, tomorrow.
Monday, March 25, 2019
The Internet is an indomitable frontier, a wild and woolly—and ever expanding—universe of knowledge. The only hope of ever taming it comes by arming one's self with finding aids. Search engines, for one, will help locate the answers we seek—but may serve us either for better or for worse, depending on our judicious choice of wording. Beyond that skill of framing the question—and then re-framing it, again and again—much like for archives and other analog repositories, there are finding aids.
For genealogy, several such devices come to mind. There are wikis devoted to such service—for instance, the one I've heard much about this past weekend at a DNA conference: the ISOGG Wiki.
For our intents, stuck as we are in the search for information on the family of one King Stockton of Glynn County, Georgia, and eventually, the northern Florida counties of Suwannee and Saint Johns, we need more generic search help—finding aids that will bring us closer to resources which speak of African Americans in the mid-1800s through the next hundred years.
When, last Friday, reader Lisa mentioned she was "watching to see where else" I would look, stuck as I am with the search for King Stockton, I thought that might be a good idea for a next post. After all, I am the genealogical guinea pig, and this blog is the unfolding of my discoveries (or flounderings) as they occur.
Sometimes, it is easy to assume that everyone else knows what we know. And so, thinking that, we naturally neglect to say it out loud—missing by that very assumption the chance to pass along a tip that might be helpful. Though it may be redundant for others stuck in the same search quandary, at the risk of repeating the obvious, I'd like to take the next few days to backtrack and mention some of the go-to places I've found useful when I'm stuck or wandering around in that daze or malaise of not knowing where to go next.
First, the other wikis. Just like Wikipedia for general knowledge—or specific places like the ISOGG Wiki for questions about genetic genealogy—there are other wikis devoted to genealogy. Primary among them is the FamilySearch wiki. A resource like that, though, can be so immense as to render a search a formidable task. I prefer to enter the FamilySearch wiki through the side door of a Google search, in which I first enter the website name in quotes—"FamilySearch wiki"—and then follow that with the term I'm actually seeking. If that term contains more than one word, I may also delineate that set of words in its own quote marks, as well—"FamilySearch wiki" "American slavery"—before I hit "enter."
Even a search as direct as that brings up multiple choices. Exploring a wiki like this can take hours, depending on how persistent you are. In pulling up such a search, I found there were multiple entries for slavery in general, slavery by country, and then—finally—results concerning African American slavery entries.
Many of the FamilySearch wikis provide background information on the topic being searched, providing a handy context for the material I'm after. Cutting to the chase of the links to get me those coveted genealogical answers may not be the wisest strategy, despite that strong desire to find the "answer" to my quest. Sometimes understanding the backstory can better inform the search from the start.
However, the FamilySearch wiki does provide handy lists of links, too. First, they provide "Quick Guides"—think of these as wiki-lite—which organize the links around brief descriptions of context; one link, for instance, leads you straight to a quick guide to general resources on African American genealogical research.
Some of the pages found while searching the FamilySearch wiki may seem to be redundant, but don't lose patience over that repetition. On this generic page about African American resources, I spotted the statistic that only about fifteen percent of enslaved persons adopted the surname of their most recent master, and while some took the name of an admired historical figure—George Washington or Abraham Lincoln come to mind here—others officially assumed a surname they had been using for years, even if the slave owner had never had any knowledge of that name.
Other pages found under that same generic topic on the FamilySearch wiki—on African American slavery—get right to the point with a list of links on the topic. While many of those links lead to federal records—such as the slave schedules in census records, even to specific census years—another approach is to drill down to the state level, finding, for instance, separate wikis for such resources for the state of Florida.
If that isn't enough material to get a researcher started—Kenyatta Berry recommended, at the conference I attended last weekend, constructing a spread sheet just for comparing facts found in the 1850 slave schedules in comparison with those recorded in the 1860 census—there are, of course, other finding aids to help us seek our research answers, too. Those, however, I'll save for tomorrow. And maybe the day after, as well. There are a lot of ways to find the answers we seek, provided the answers are out there in the ether to begin with.
Sunday, March 24, 2019
I managed to move the unmovable this past week. With a DNA match. On my dad's tree. Yeah, that tree where I had made no progress since halfway back through last year. All it takes for a match is for the right person to show up. Apparently, my journey through the land of no-shows has ended, at least for the moment.
My tree and my match's tree couldn't have been much more different. But there was one single similarity, and that is all that counts. Apparently, she has a Laskoski in her tree. And my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Laskowski. What's a silly little "w" among friends? I'd say it's a keeper.
Just to make sure, of course, I did a little fancy research footwork. My match's Lawrence in New York had the same year of birth and the same year of marriage as my Lorenz. The only problem was that I last saw my Lorenz in a church marriage record in Zerkow, and my match only had a tree going back to the American Lawrence, born in "Germany."
Fortunately, the wives both claimed the same name—but how coincidental could it be that they were both named Anna? That pushed the margin a little too much for comfort, at least for me.
There were other redeeming factors to this match, though. Historically, American enumerators were instructed to give the politically correct designation to any geographic area based on which nation was sovereign in that location at the time the record was written. Thus, in the mid-1880s, when both this "Laskoska" family and my paternal grandmother's family arrived—both in New York, incidentally—the correct designation for their homeland would have been Germany, even though they were ethnically Polish.
Just in case this does turn out to be the way this match and I are related, I'm building out her tree so I can find subsequent death records or any other report of such things as mother's maiden name. So far, the indications have been encouraging. And the stunted growth of that family tree has now given way to the blossoming of eight more names in my father's family tree. It now stands at 524 people. Still small, but I'll take any progress.
Granted, no other trees other than my own mother's line are showing any other growth. I've been concentrating on a cluster of southern research projects on that line, so it's no surprise to learn that her tree has grown by 230 names in the past two weeks. That tree now stands at 17,281 individuals. And I still have a long way to go to trace all the descendants of my fourth great grandparents, just on the McClellan line, let alone all the other branches of my maternal tree.
It's been a joy to find this new match on my father's line—not just because matches on this side of the family are rare, but because it allows me to add more names to this languishing family tree. Hopefully, learning the family stories of this new branch in the tree will serve to mirror the experiences I don't yet know about my own paternal direct line, at least if they mirror the types of experiences my own grandmother might have had as she sailed for America as a child with her two brothers and her mother. Above all, I hope this family was not quite as secretive about their past as my own direct line had been. Now having names and dates, it's a matter of chasing down supporting documentation, but all that will come in good time.
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Every year, I make sure to attend one special conference in Houston. It is a small event for whom only a few—well, especially in comparison to blow-out events like RootsTech—gather. To become part of this gathering, one first needs to serve as a volunteer project administrator for the various citizen-scientist pursuits of genetic genealogy—there are now over ten thousand of them—hosted under the auspices of Family Tree DNA. Upon achieving such a role, then one must be sure to sit at the computer, ready for the split second that registration for the conference opens. This is an event that fills up its limited space quickly.
I look forward to attending this FTDNA project administrator's conference every year. There are always fascinating speakers, and the smaller venue allows for great networking as well as opportunities to speak with others working on similar goals. Just last night, for instance, I had the opportunity to talk with Dana Leeds, originator of the color clustering method to sort DNA matches, now generally referred to as the Leeds Method. Just in time for the DNA class I will be teaching next month for a local organization, she mentioned to me that a genealogist in New Zealand—Fiona Brooker of Memories in Time—had introduced a paper version of Dana's spreadsheet-based method, which I believe my class will find a more comfortable match to their learning style.
Ever since my Southern Research Techniques class at SLIG last January, as you know, I have been engrossed with the research project of finding the biography—and, thus, the life details—of a former slave on the McClellan plantation of my third great-grandfather. But this weekend, I figured I would be setting aside my work on that goal to focus on a different subject: that of genetic genealogy.
As it turns out, that may not be entirely so; one of the featured speakers at today's event will be Kenyatta Berry, expert on researching African roots, keynote speaker at RootsTech 2017, who is mostly known for her work on the PBS program, Genealogy Roadshow.
It is one thing to hear Kenyatta at RootsTech, jostling the crowds with tens of thousands of other participants. It is quite a different experience to walk into a pre-conference reception and realize the comparative increase in accessibility in the more intimate venue of a gathering numbering only two hundred people. I'd love to have a chance to run King Stockton's story by her, and benefit from her take on historical pressures which may be keeping me from locating any of the usual records researchers are accustomed to locating in pursuit of their family's roots.
This afternoon, Kenyatta will be discussing "My DNA Journey: African and European Roots." Perhaps her story will be similar to the one I heard at SLIG last January, when LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson revealed her cross-racial DNA discovery in her presentation at the Monday night colloquiam—the presentation which encouraged me to delve into the story of King Stockton.
There may still be some in the genealogical world who believe there are two camps in family history: those who trust the paper trail, and those who see value in the DNA record. Sometimes, listening to discussion, one could come away thinking there is an either/or dichotomy, as if it is simply adequate to solely research familial ties based on what can be found documented in records. There is more than meets the eye, however—which, in the case of King Stockton, his "mulatto" mother Hester, and their descendants, is obviously true—and such cases may never find a written record of what happened in those people's history. The tools of genetic genealogy, while perhaps not providing a complete answer, can at least lead the way to possible alternative explanations, ones that might not otherwise have been considered.
Friday, March 22, 2019
It seemed like a brilliant tactic: if I couldn't find anything more about King Stockton's history to trace his line back before that brick wall of the Civil War, then try the same move, using a sibling's line.
I've been through almost every one of Frank Stockton's children, and once again, I'm stuck. They all seemed to disappear after the 1885 Florida state census. Only a few could I find in the 1900 census. Then—nothing. So much for bright ideas.
I did discover one tidbit, though: Francis Stockton had married a woman by the name of Sarah. Just as the marriage record for King Stockton had appeared, Francis' wife was listed only by a given name. It took searching through each of their children's lines to find a record which provided a maiden name for Sarah. That I discovered when finding a Social Security application for her son, William Colfax Stockton. Interestingly enough, just like had turned out for King's wife Louvenia, Sarah's maiden name was given as Dean.
Remembering that King Stockton's biography had mentioned about Louvenia that she was the youngest of five sisters, Sarah likely was not sister to Louvenia, despite having that tantalizingly matching maiden name. For one thing, census records agreed that Louvenia was born in 1832, and that Sarah was younger, with a birth year of 1835, inconveniently disrupting that hopeful possibility. But they still could have been cousins.
The aggravating thing about it all is that almost none of the children of Frank and Sarah Stockton could be convincingly located past 1900. It was as if the entire family disappeared. Most likely, it was because, once they became adults, each one of the Stockton children moved out of the area. But where? There seems to be no clear confirmation of where each one went.
Doubts begin to surface. Could it have been that every one of Frank and Sarah Stockton's children died by the time of the early 1900s? Could they have been so poverty-stricken, or their health so poor, as to not live long lives? It hardly seems possible that this would be the case for every one of the family, considering there were at least ten children.
I begin to wonder how accurate government records might have been for freedmen in the south immediately following the Civil War. Could the family have decided to relocate? Or were they just not counted, living in the same place where they always had been?
It's pretty clear that a search like this will have to expand from simply relying on Ancestry.com records. Of course, that should be true for any genealogical quest, but in this case, there may be no alternative but to look elsewhere.
Thursday, March 21, 2019
Sometimes, I just need to take my own advice. Lately, I've been feeling like I'm chasing myself in circles, as far as researching the Stockton family goes. I'm already working on the lines of each of King and Louvenia Stockton's children—and seeing how different the result from actual documents is turning out to be, compared to my reference points from King Stockton's biography. But in a way, I'm still stuck. Perhaps the best thing to do now is see if I can make an end run around the brick wall of 1865 by searching for details on any of King Stockton's possible siblings.
There is one candidate I can spot right away, taken from the 1870 census: another family on the same page as King Stockton in Wellborn, Florida. Much too old to be a child of King and Louvenia—unlike Albert Stockton, who also appeared on the same page of that enumeration—this man could possibly be a brother. But I don't know yet.
It makes sense to follow what I can find on this other Stockton entry for a few reasons. First is the proximity to King Stockton's house. Second, though not necessarily as strong a factor, is the detail that this Stockton man, one year younger than King, was not born in Georgia as King was, but in Florida; this would have been the case for any possible younger siblings of King, as he and his mother were moved from Georgia within the year after his birth.
More intriguing, though, is the fact that this Stockton man happened to name one of his daughters Hester—the name of King's mother.
This Stockton man's name—at least according to the 1870 census—was listed as Francis Stockton. His age, given in the census, was thirty nine, putting his year of birth at approximately 1831. If, in the thinking of the antebellum South, Francis was born to King's mother Hester, then he, too, would likely have been a slave on the McClellan property. Yet in the probate records found after Sidney McClellan's death—providing the listing that included both King and his mother Hester—there was no Francis mentioned.
But there was a Frank. Could Frank have been Francis Stockton? Could he have been another son of Hester and perhaps a brother—or at least half-brother—of King Stockton? I had to take a look to see what I could find about this other possible branch of the Stockton family.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
The trouble with relying on death certificates alone for family history information is that, well, folks are under just a wee bit more stress than usual when government officials pelt them with those prying questions like, "Mother's maiden name?" Is it no wonder that a grieving widow or orphaned daughter might not recall such details at a time like that?
Still, if you are like me, when in researching a particular ancestor, you spot an unexpected name in a death certificate, you immediately snap to and wonder, where did that come from?! And that's exactly my thought when we stumbled upon King Stockton's wife's death certificate Monday. We had already learned from King Stockton's biographer that his wife's maiden name was Louvenia Ann Lewis. Where did that Dean surname come from?
We have to remember that we are operating this search from a handicapped starting point. When King Stockton's marriage was made official back in 1866, his wife was listed with only a given name; there was no surname provided. It was his biography which provided the surname Lewis.
But earlier this week, we saw the name provided on Louvenia's own death certificate: her father's surname was Dean. Where did that come from? Was it just an understandable mistake made by a grief-stricken relative? I wanted to check elsewhere to find corroborating evidence.
One of the drawbacks of only paying attention to what is called a person's direct line is that the eventual brick walls we encounter can sometimes be circumvented by including other family members in our research. If a direct line, for example from King Stockton's son—also named King Stockton—were traced to the father, our King Stockton, and then to his father, we would be following a direct line. If we couldn't move any farther back in the timeline using the three men from this direct line, moving to a sibling, for instance, might yield some more information. It's those siblings and other, indirect, lines of relationship which genealogists call collateral lines.
So it was with the discovery regarding Louvenia's maiden name. If I couldn't find anything from her husband's biography to help determine the validity of the information given on her death certificate, where else could I look?
One solution would be to see where else that woman's maiden name might appear. In this case, I first toyed with the idea that the informant on Louvenia's certificate might have been her daughter Annie—and, if I were a direct descendant of Annie's line, that direct line would be the most reasonable first place to search. If it weren't for the impossible handwriting documenting Annie's last name, as we saw yesterday, coupled with conflicting information from her father's biography, my next step would have been to seek out her own death certificate.
Fortunately, the Stocktons had more than one child. It wasn't long until I located another death certificate—and in the process, discovered that here, too, the listing of the family's children in the biography wasn't entirely accurate. The very next death certificate I found was for Mandy Whittington, who, as her father's biography had mentioned, died in a car wreck in 1925—four years before her father's death in 1929.
I looked on the list I had compiled for the children of King and Louvenia Stockton, and there, based on information drawn from their household in the 1870 census, was their daughter, listed as Manda. In her father's biography, she was identified by her married name as Amanda Williams, along with a note that when she died, she had left two children.
That was not the case, if we work backwards from her death certificate. Apparently, Mandy married a man by the name of John P. Whitington in 1880, and by the time of the 1900 census, she and John certainly had more than the two children mentioned in the biography.
It was also not a surprise to see the informant on her death certificate listed as J. H. Stockton. Mandy's husband had pre-deceased her, and that J. H. Stockton was likely Mandy's brother John, in whose home their parents had been living.
John's response when asked what Mandy's mother's maiden name was? Once again, we have the answer as Dean—in this case, recorded as "Deen," but likely referring to the same surname, whichever way it was spelled.
It is likely, if I could search for the other King children's own death certificates, that I'd find the same answer as the corroboration from this daughter's record. But running into the other discrepancies we've stumbled upon in the process makes me wonder whether it would help to double check the author's listing of all the Stockton children.
Though it was helpful to find this tiny publication on the life of King Stockton, the list as given in the biography doesn't agree with simple records from, for instance, census enumerations—a clear lesson that relying on only one record to verify the facts in a family tree may be a risky decision for those who desire accuracy in their research. And a reminder that records from collateral lines may help to sort out conflicting "facts" uncovered in the process of a reasonable search.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Sometimes, when you lose your way in a research project, it is best to head back home to the starting point. In the case of my pursuit of King Stockton and his family, I could not find any record concerning his wife Louvenia, besides the names given for her parents on her death certificate.
My main question, after discovering what looked like the surname Dean given for Louvenia's father, was whether she was related to Kelly and Minty Dean, the couple who lived only a few homes away from the Stockton family in Wellborn during the 1870s.
Searching for any other families in Suwannee County with the surname Dean brought up zero results. While the handwriting on Louvenia's death certificate prevented me from fully comprehending what her father's given name was, I could decipher the initial few letters—Thad—but could not find anyone with the name Thad Dean in Florida, other than a white man of nearly the same age, who lived over one hundred thirty miles away. True, Louvenia was listed as mixed race in the 1870 census, but there really was no way to support such a coincidental name, even if the handwriting had been crystal clear.
I stumbled around, trying to find any further hints on Louvenia's connection with either the Lewis family—remembering her husband's biographer also claimed the surname Lewis—or the Dean family. My only other usable clue was the signature of the informant on her death certificate. Again, handwriting issues made it difficult to decipher, but the first name was clear enough: Annie.
I knew King and Louvenia Stockton had a daughter whom they named Annie. Born around 1872, she was easily found in the 1880 census in her parents' household, and even in the 1900 census in the home of her older brother John Henry Stockton. From there, I lost track of Annie, although Ancestry.com's hints recommended I consider a cover sheet for an undated marriage record in Columbia County for an A. Stockton and someone named—if I'm reading the handwriting correctly—U. Curington.
That's when I remembered seeing a section in King Stockton's biography mentioning his children's names. I went back to the book to see what was said about Annie. The drawback was that the text mentioned King and Louvenia had "five daughters and four sons," but the listing which followed did not add up to the promised total. Perhaps that is what comes of lacking an editor who would have spotted such omissions.
Then, too, perhaps such a copy editor would have provided a verifiable married name for Annie. What was given in the book was "Annie Cuenson, who has one child."
Cuenson, I found it interesting to note, was a surname which I could find in searches indicating Scandinavian roots and residences in places like Minnesota—but not families of African heritage in the considerably more hot and muggy Florida. Could Cuenson really have been Curington?
More to the point, could either of those surnames have represented the Annie who signed her name as informant on Louvenia's death certificate? What looks like Curintor—if we really use our imagination—may lead us to further clues on King Stockton's family, and especially to the family names associated with his wife Louvenia.
Above: Informant signature from the 1925 death certificate of Louvenia Lewis Stockton, wife of King Stockton of Hastings, Florida; image courtesy FamilySearch.org.
Monday, March 18, 2019
Getting wrapped up in the story of individual family members may seem tedious—or at best, too detail-oriented—but it provides a useful collection of facts which we sometimes find echoed in subsequent discoveries. Such was the case when I wondered about Louvenia, King Stockton's wife.
Louvenia died before her long-lived husband approached one hundred, but as for longevity, she didn't lag behind him very far. Born in 1832, her passing in 1925 put her at a respectable ninety-three before she died.
Remembering that King Stockton's biography had introduced Louvenia as a girl he had met in his early childhood, I knew her name had been listed in the book as Louvenia Ann Lewis. Still unable to figure out just who it was who wrote that booklet on King Stockton's life—the author's name, given as A. L. Lewis, failed to produce any results on Google besides references to Al Lewis, the actor who memorably played the Dracula look-alike "Grandpa" on The Munsters—it took longer than it should have for those identical surnames to slap me in the face. What if Louvenia Lewis was actually related to the Lewis who wrote her husband's biography?
There were other similarities which resulted in that same delayed response. I knew I had to get a look at a copy of the actual document of Louvenia's death record, and not just be satisfied with noting the year of her death from the Florida death index. Once again, hopping over from Ancestry.com to FamilySearch.org did the trick—but in this case, it took scrolling through at least thirty images before I located the one which I was seeking.
Once I found her death certificate, it was obvious that whichever official completed the form had abysmal handwriting. In fact, Louvenia's name was so difficult to decipher that, had her husband's name not been entered, I would have doubted whether I found the right entry.
My main goal in locating this record was to see if Louvenia's parents' names could help me reconstruct her family tree. Remember, I was curious whether A. L. Lewis, the author, would turn out to be a close relative.
Building that Lewis tree was not in the offing for me—at least not immediately. My first discovery, from viewing the cert, was that Louvenia's father was not the one who was a Lewis, but her mother. The name given was—best I could decipher—Mulissia Lewis, whose enigmatic entry for place of birth might vaguely have resembled the abbreviation for Virginia.
It's true I could have attempted to build a tree for someone with a name similar to Melissa, but I got diverted from my original intention with the next piece of information: Louvenia's father's name. Once again, the handwriting hampered me so much from understanding what might have been reported. Best I could tell, the given name was something like Thadits. Thaddeus?
But don't let that hang us up too long. It's the next entry that got me wondering. Louvenia's father's surname was written much more clearly. It was Dean.
If you have been following this recounting of how I first discovered the identity of King Stockton, you'll recall one of the first places I found a mention of his name was in an academic journal discussing a former Florida judge by the name of James Dean.
Yes, you spotted it too, didn't you? Dean.
The article mentioned King Stockton as an early influence in the life of James Dean. It was easy to find the Stockton household and that of James Dean in his parents' home in the 1870 census, back in Wellborn in northern Florida. But the article had only led us to think the connection was solely because of King Stockton's role as a minister in their local church. I'm now wondering whether the relationship was not only because of a church relationship, but also because they were family. Any chance I could find out whether Louvenia's father was related to James Dean's father?
Of course, I still want to see whether the author of King Stockton's biography was a Lewis who was related to Louvenia. But now I also wonder about a thicker network of relationships with this additional layer of connection between Louvenia and the Dean family who lived only five households away from their residence back in 1870s Wellborn, Florida.
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Almost all serious genealogical researchers can agree it is a good thing to select and focus on a research goal. If nothing else, such a tactic keeps people like myself from heading astray down the proverbial rabbit trail.
But only sometimes.
Because it had been a long time since I last checked my DNA matches, in a quiet moment earlier this weekend, I took a peek to see if anything new had surfaced. You know the routine: log in, click on results, watch the numbers ratchet upwards, and then stare at the unfamiliar names of well over three thousand matches. Who are all these people, anyhow?
This time, on Ancestry, I spotted someone who, for me, was a closer match than the usual fourth cousin and beyond. This one claimed to be in the range of third to fourth cousin, but AncestryDNA had temptingly tucked the entry under the heading for third cousin. And then added this emphasis for further bait: "Confidence: extremely high."
With Ancestry's newly-rearranged readout of matches, I could see right away that this match shared at least 138 centiMorgans with me—a considerable number for someone who has typically been left hoping for measurements anything above ten. I took a closer look. Though the match, a woman, had listed herself under enigmatic initials rather than a name, at least her tree didn't include that annoying lock icon. I could look at her tree for myself.
While the tree wasn't particularly robust, it had more than a nuclear family included—over three hundred people, which just might be enough to find a most recent common ancestor in the range of second great grandparent (what we'd need to make any conclusions about a third cousin connection).
As I scanned her tree, I began to get that familiar sinking feeling as I didn't spot any possible surnames to work with—until I realized that, getting fairly liberal with spelling, we might have a connection we could work with.
The connection would be on my dad's side—that mystery side from Poland which has been so hard for me to research. I had, for my paternal grandmother's line, the surname Laskowski; my new DNA match had a surname which read Laskoski. I think we can work with that.
A little quick communication with the match who owns the tree in question, I discovered she doesn't know much more about that surname than I do. But at least she seems open to working on the project together. And a team approach is always encouraging, because not only does it grant a sense of working on a challenge together, but it's fun to bounce ideas and hypotheses off each other. Besides, it's a great way to get to know a new cousin.
Granted, this is not on the beaten path of my laser-focus on the McClellan line and the old South. But maybe just for a tiny bit on the weekends, I can take the detour of working on something for my dad's tree. His is the most neglected of all of the trees I'm constructing, and I know it would pique the interest of several of my other cousins and relatives if they knew there was another lead in the mystery of this particular family line.
Or is this just another case of stumbling off the beaten path and wandering down that research rabbit trail?
Saturday, March 16, 2019
...a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan,explaining the significance ofwriter Umberto Eco's immense personal library
A few days ago, one of our local genealogical society's favorite speakers—Gena Philibert-Ortega—posted an article on her Facebook page. Under her comment—"So true. READ and buy books, people!"—she included a link to an article posted at bigthink.com: "The value of owning more books than you can read."
Besides being one of our society's favorite speakers, Gena is an insightful researcher, so when Gena shares something she considers valuable, I pretty much make sure to check it out. Besides, diving in and reading the entry—which began with a photo of bookcases strangely similar to those in my own living room—how could I not fall in love with such an article?
As you've probably already noticed about me, I have a weakness for books. In fact, my book-buying habit far outpaces my book-reading ability. I'm always owing myself a good read on a lazy afternoon—or another cross-continental flight to catch up on the stuff I've always wanted to read. With Gena's reading recommendation, I was reminded of two things: a book for which I owe myself some serious reading time, and a concept which gives me a name for my book-loving dilemma.
Right away, the Big Think article referred to a book which I happen to have on my own shelf: the twelve year old best-seller by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. The article drew from Taleb's discussion of the immense library of Italian writer and professor Umberto Eco, a mind-staggering collection of thirty thousand volumes, in which was pointed out the difference between a library in which the owner has already read the publications in his collection, and one in which the intent was to someday learn that material.
Taleb's clarification of such a collection, from his book, The Black Swan, includes a warning for those so inclined, as well as offering a label to affix to the affliction.
You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
So, that's what I should call that expanse of shelves stacked double-thick with hardcover books. And only by reading those neglected pages can I convert them from volumes in my antilibrary to entries in my library.
I had, obviously, already attempted that conversion process with Taleb's book, for I had made it far enough into the text to recall, once I saw that Big Think article, having covered it in its original form. However, as that was on page one of Part I of the Black Swan book, it's fairly obvious this item was a stubborn resister, insistent upon remaining in my antilibrary. However, with such a concept which one like myself can't help but fall in love with, I owe it to myself to resume the struggle: conquer the book and graduate it to my library.
With another long-distance flight looming in my near future, I might just have the inspiration to overcome, this time.
Friday, March 15, 2019
One of the basic requisites of genealogy is that we document our research assertions. And yet, in my quest to learn more about the life of King Stockton, one thing I was lacking was any documentation of the end of his life.
His biography billed him as one of those rare human beings who managed to live such a long life as to hit the one hundred year mark—but when? And where?
One of my go-to online research resources, Ancestry.com, could only provide an entry in the Florida Death Index, an online database provided by Ancestry from an index compiled by the state in 1998. The drawback—besides being only an index—was that the listing provided only the year of each person's death. No month, no day.
I, of course, wanted to see the actual document, mainly because I am nosy and want to read all the information listed, not just the details someone else considered to be pertinent.
While Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org often share resources—I'm thinking of digitized documents here—I wasn't sure whether I'd get to see any more by hopping on over to FamilySearch and exploring entries for King Stockton there. However, that has been a useful maneuver for me in the past, so I tried my hand at it for this case, as well.
Usually, when the one website contains a document which the other lacks, I can access it with just one handy click of a mouse. However, while I was fortunate to locate the entry I was seeking for King Stockton, in this case, a note appended above the minimized image warned me,
This record may have come from this image. You may need to look through several surrounding images if it does not appear on this image.
In other words, the collection was sort of browsable, instead of outright searchable. Sometimes, a click on the image does provide the record desired. But in some cases I've experienced, I've had to look through upwards of thirty images "next" to the one offered before I locate the person I've been seeking.
This time, though, the document came up on the first try. There it was: the death certificate for King Stockton.
Several details on the certificate assured me I was looking at the record for the right person. For one thing, the record listed his occupation as "Preacher," which I already knew, from other records, was correct. The record stated his place of birth was Georgia, and that his father's name was also King Stockton—although the elder man's place of birth, disappointingly, was listed as "unknown."
As for the younger King Stockton's date of birth, all that was entered was the number, "100"—his given age. For cause of death was listed, "General debility" along with the explanation, "old + feeble with no known disease."
"No known disease" finally caught up with him on June 21, 1929. By then, his wife had already departed—hers was another death certificate I was seeking—and he likely outlived some of his children, as well. The handwriting on the certificate was difficult to read, making it a challenge to decipher the signature of the informant. For reasons that would take too long to explain in a single paragraph, I wondered whether the name was Lillian, and whether that person was one and the same with King Stockton's granddaughter who was listed as Lilly in the 1900 census.
The death certificate showed that King Stockton died in the town of Hastings, Florida, an unincorporated farming village near Saint Augustine.
I had always wondered where King Stockton had been buried, since the family had moved on from their earlier residence in Suwannee County, so I was surprised to learn, from the death certificate, where he was buried. While the information didn't provide the name of a specific cemetery, it did show the name of the undertaker in nearby Palatka. And for place of burial, the location was back in Wellborn, the town where King Stockton had spent the years of his childhood and much of his adult years of freedom, as well.
But in which cemetery? There is only one burial entry in Find A Grave for the surname Stockton in all of Wellborn, and it isn't for King Stockton. If Wellborn was where King Stockton was finally laid to rest, it was either in a grave not yet memorialized on Find A Grave, or somewhere without any marker.
Wondering where he was actually buried reminded me of that photograph my aunt had once showed me of the McClellan Cemetery—of a plaque which is no longer standing at the cemetery. Perhaps there is more missing at that burial location than we might realize, as it had been horribly vandalized in the latter part of the past century.
Bouncing from one website to another in searching for information on King Stockton showed me that I could repeat the process to look for his wife, as well, for her story also needed to be fleshed out with further details. If no death certificate was available at Ancestry.com for Louvenia, then perhaps FamilySearch could come through for me once again.
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Resources to help researchers access the many names and details from operations of the Freedmen's Bureau may be a welcome aid, but I wasn't perusing this overview for merely academic reasons; I want to find out what became of King Stockton's parents—both King Stockton senior and Hester McClellan. As far as I could tell from the junior King Stockton's biography, his father had been left in Georgia, long before the Civil War. But even Hester—whom we could trace from the Tison plantation in Glynn County, Georgia, to the McClellan property in Suwannee County, Florida, and for whom her son had confirmed her surname taken was McClellan—had seemed to disappear after the war.
What does an online researcher do when offered a box to fill in with a name and the invitation to click here? I took that Freedmen's Bureau record set out for a test drive, of course.
Sadly, the records already available on the discoverfreedmen.org website did not lead me to any results for the name King Stockton. Nor could I find anything for Hester. But I did come up with a result for McClellan in Florida.
Lest you think it was a lead to help resolve the question of what became of our Hester, think again. Remember, the Freedmen's Bureau originally was set up to handle a variety of post-Civil War issues. Among them was the provision of education for former slaves for whom the basic skills of reading and writing—to say nothing of higher education—had been denied. And in the north Florida county of Jefferson—two counties to the west of Suwannee County, the place of King Stockton's lifelong servitude at the McClellan plantation—this website served up four documents which included the surname McClellan.
The records all were associated with a school in Jefferson County called Vaclause. Apparently, for each month of operation, the head of the school—in this case, often the lone teacher remaining to continue teaching the students—was required by the state superintendent of schools to complete the "Teacher's Monthly School Report."
The one-page questionnaire included several routine questions one would expect of such a bureaucracy. Total enrollment for the month. Enrollment for the previous month. Number of advanced readers, compared to number who can only handle "easy lessons."
There were, however, several questions which revealed the time frame of the report. Items like "number of white students" or "number free before the war" combined with requests to specify whether the school was "supported wholly by the Freedmen."
I found three such reports in the Discover Freedmen website filed for this school in Jefferson County. All came up as search results for the keyword McClellan. But there was nothing mentioned anywhere in the records for Hester McClellan, the name we had learned was King Stockton's mother's name.
Puzzled, I took a closer look to see just how these school reports connected with a McClellan surname. In each report, the name of the school—Vaclause—was followed by the name of the teacher. In each instance, the teacher was someone by the name of H. Y. McClellan.
Now, you have to realize that the focus of my research since last summer has been on the extended McClellan family. Not only because I am trying to verify just how I connect with other DNA matches, but also because I wanted to do a specific project for my class in southern research techniques at last January's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I have been in the process of mapping out each descendant's line from the couple, Charles and Elizabeth McClellan of South Carolina—the Florida territory settlers who were the parents of my George Edmund McClellan.
So when I saw that name listed in those school reports—H. Y. McClellan—I thought that looked like a familiar moniker. Checking my McClellan tree, sure enough, there he was: Henry Young McClellan, son of Charles and Elizabeth and thus a brother to my George Edmund McClellan. This Henry Y. McClellan was a resident of Jefferson County, Florida, from at least the 1840 census onward. And double checking the 1870 census, the closest government record to the date of his completion of those school reports, he did give his occupation as school teacher.
Apparently, his was the writing and the signature on the reports. Reading between the lines made for some speculations as to how tenuous his position as teacher there might have been. Questions like "State the public sentiment toward Colored Schools" makes me wonder whether people in his position faced any public or political backlash for serving in that capacity. (His answer: "As far as I can learn, it is favorable.")
A plaintive request wrapping up Henry McClellan's report for November of 1868 makes me wonder about the future of the school. Indeed, not only funding for the school itself, but for the Freedmen's Bureau in general, was in jeopardy with political pressures from southern representatives in Congress. Teacher McClellan's comment and request and the close of his November 1868 report:
I find the children studious and easily controled [sic] and to learn well and would like you to visit us before closing.
Whether H. Y. McClellan was granted his request on behalf of his thirty students, I can't tell. By his own report, the school was not supported by any "Educational Society" nor the local school board, but derived its support entirely from contributions by the Freedmen's Bureau. By the very next year, the Bureau had lost most of its funding, and by 1872, Congress failed to renew the required authorizing legislation, essentially putting the Bureau on the chopping block.
I wish there were some way to search further for the history of the school, especially to determine whether other sources of funding were secured, but with so many variations of the spelling of the school name itself, my quest has so far yielded me no results at all. But for that one moment, the surprise of realizing my one search hit actually yielded a name from my family I was familiar with gave me that rare feeling of the micro of my family history connecting with the macro of our nation's story.
Above: Sections of the teacher's report sent by Henry Young McClellan, both cover page and comment at the end of the report, are courtesy FamilySearch.org via search at discoverfreedmen.org.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The Freedmen's Bureau—officially known, at the time of its formation, as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands—was originally an agency of the United States Department of War set up to help those "destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen" in the aftermath of the Civil War. While that mission encompassed providing assistance for not only the former slaves but also displaced and impoverished whites in the South, the original intent soon refocused on the burgeoning needs created as the freedmen attempted adapting to a new life.
Within the agency's jurisdiction came such responsibilities as relief efforts, education, health care, employment issues, and pension provisions for soldiers and sailors. Of most importance—at least to us as researchers of family history—was expansion of the Bureau's efforts to help African Americans locate family members from whom they had become separated during the war.
While we may not be able to fully comprehend the level of upheaval encountered in southern quarters after the Civil War, what we can appreciate is the amount of paperwork generated in such an endeavor. The wide variety of records amassed by such a far-reaching jurisdiction over the course of its operation from 1865 through 1872 can yield family historians and others a gold mine of information—if we are able to search through the overwhelming volume of records. Search is the key.
As it turns out, there are several resources for delving into the depth of the Freedmen's Bureau records. Primary among them is the federal repository for all United States governmental records, the National Archives and Records Administration. Not only did the National Archives collect the federal records, but recall that much of the Freedmen's Bureau was focused on work through field offices in various southern states. That set of records, as well, are microfilmed and available through NARA.
But...microfilm. Hardly an expeditious way to hone in on the surnames we are seeking in this online research era. We have learned to expect faster and cleaner work with accurate results. We have been spoiled by Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
Fortunately, The Freedmen's Bureau Project has taken on that challenge. A collaborative effort between FamilySearch International, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum, the main names in the records have been indexed.
Indexing, however, is just a start. The Freedmen's Bureau Transcription Project seeks to transcribe, word for word, every single document, yielding a keyword-searchable collection. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has partnered with the Smithsonian's Transcription Center to launch the "largest crowdsourcing initiative ever sponsored by the Smithsonian." While several projects are close to completion, several are still only thirty six percent complete—or much less. These sites are actively recruiting more volunteers willing to help complete the task.
As the results are made available—the roll out, in its completion, is scheduled to be released in two phases—we will begin to experience the yield of a complete search process. In the meantime, I tried my hand at one website to see if I could find anything on our King Stockton or his family in Florida—just in case Hester McClellan wanted to locate King's father back in Georgia. While the results didn't lead me to what I had hoped for, it did reveal some surprising information.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
To research the stories of post-Civil War freedmen like King Stockton, I first went to my go-to website for genealogical orientation: the wiki at FamilySearch.org. Just entering the term "slave" brought up a widespread list that was more than adequate for starting such research. In fact, it was overwhelming.
One reason I had chosen such a generic term for that wiki search was that I wanted to locate an online resource for the Slave Narratives that was searchable. I already knew about the Work Projects Administration's Federal Writers' Project—actually entitled Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1938—but in the way it is set out at the Library of Congress, the best I could find was a description of each volume plus an entry stating "includes narratives by." Even though the Florida volume included interviews conducted in Live Oak, Lake City, and Monticello—towns in the vicinity of the McClellan plantation on which King Stockton and his family were once enslaved—the listing of people participating was long, and not particularly in alphabetical order.
Looking through the Georgia volume including the part of the alphabet which would include the Stockton family did not pinpoint any stories by Stocktons or about McClellans. Did that comment, "includes narratives by" imply that there were others besides those names listed? It could be a tedious task—though doubtless informative in a general manner—to read through each volume in search of those two surnames.
Trusting that other online repositories such as Internet Archive prided themselves on digitizing everything about everyone—at least if the material was now in the public domain—I googled the Slave Narratives title to see where else I could find the volumes. Sure enough, I found the answer: Project Gutenberg, hosted by Internet Archives.
The best answer, if I wanted a searchable resource for their file of The Slave Narratives, would be to download the material and then search through it on my own computer. The downside to that brilliant deduction is there are a lot of files from The Slave Narratives. Besides, the dates of the narratives—1936 through 1938—meant they post-dated our King Stockton's life span, as he died in 1929.
So...I backpedaled and went in search of another major resource I knew of. Perhaps this one would allow me to search by name through its digitized images. There is so much data out there, but finding the right details is the key. Without search, it's a slog.
Monday, March 11, 2019
If you can't find the family you are searching for, perhaps you can join the other people searching for the family you are searching for. That, of course, has been the operative theory behind those pre-Internet queries printed in genealogical society newsletters of the 1900s, and, more recently, the burgeoning online genealogy forums and Facebook groups. But even before that, people have put their collective muscle together through networks to help them find their missing relatives and friends.
Similar to what the Irish did in seeking their missing immigrant relatives through the Boston Pilot newspaper's column "Missing Friends" from 1831 through 1921—now a searchable database at Ancestry.com as well as published in a multi-volume set—former slaves sought to locate their missing relatives through letters published in southern newspapers. And, like the Boston College project to preserve the "Missing Friends" columns, one project launched by the graduate students of the history department at Villanova University is working to do the same with the wide variety of newspaper ads placed by former slaves in search of their family members.
Called "Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery," the searchable website enables genealogists and other researchers to see for themselves the pleas for help in reconnecting family groups torn apart by slavery. I first learned about this data collection through a lecture presented by genealogist Tony Burroughs at the 2018 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Since I knew I would be launching this research project about the unnamed former slave associated with my mother's McClellan family, I thought this could possibly be a useful resource for my quest. Even if it didn't resolve my research problem—it couldn't, at the time, as I didn't even know the man's name—the collection, which is browsable, was an excellent tutorial on the plight of such families, post-civil war.
If nothing else, I hoped it would lead me to any information on just what became of the rest of King Stockton's family. For one thing, his namesake father had never shown up in any records I could find, other than as a mention in King Stockton's biography. Then, even though we know his mother, Hester McClellan, had been sent from Glynn County, Georgia, to Wellborn, Florida, there was still the question about what happened to her following the civil war. And in the bigger picture, surely there were siblings of King Stockton; where did they end up after the war?
With that, it's time to launch out into the general resources available online for those seeking their ancestors among the emancipated slaves of the 1870s and beyond.