Friday, May 31, 2019

The Trouble With Genealogy Conferences

I just spent an entire day—and a good portion of the evening, too—focused on genetic genealogy yesterday at the Southern California Genealogical Society's DNA Day at Jamboree. While that sounds like paradise for many of us deeply involved in family history pursuits, a ride up the elevator to my room for a brief break before the dinner presentation made me wake up to the fact that sitting and listening can be hard work.

I had just spent the entire day paying rapt attention to the likes of Blaine Bettinger, Tim Janzen, Kitty Cooper, and Diahan Southard talk about the latest developments in genetic genealogy, and I had yet to hear Blaine's after-dinner talk on "The Promise and Peril of DNA Testing for Genealogy." Conversation with fellow conference attendees in that elevator ride was comparatively puny. We were all tired.

On the flip side, nothing can inspire a person to roll up her figurative sleeves and dig into the work more than listening to talks like these—which leaves me with a problem. I'd much rather just sit at my keyboard and do the grunt work of figuring out these multiple thousands of DNA matches linked to the various kits I administer than to just be a passive chair-warmer. Even a chair warmer listening to such luminaries in the field. But if we don't stop to listen to the voice of inspiration—let alone the cataloging of latest developments and their useful application—we run out of steam to keep that inspiration engine running.

We need the inspiration. But we can't spare the time.

It's a delicate balancing act, this attempt to stoke those fires of inspiration just enough to keep up the forward momentum without consuming every last available minute for research. I sure don't have an answer, though I sorely wanted to chuck the dinner plans and just look for clues about my latest tantalizing close matches. Just think: because of MyHeritage's latest developments, I may have actually isolated a match leading to my "orphaned" paternal grandfather's mystery family, and over at AncestryDNA, my husband just landed a match to his Ireland-to-Canada Tully family. You know where my mind is wandering when I say I'd just rather sit at my computer and do the work.

But I can't. I'm in Burbank, attending a genetic genealogy conference. You know, where I've paid good money to get inspired to get back to work.

It would be so nice to be able to spout the kind of platitudes that glow with work-life balance, etc., etc., but I can't. I wish I could invent the 25-hour day—forget that, why stop at 25?—but that wouldn't be possible.

And yet, I know if I don't get out there and rub shoulders with others enthused about this same subject, eventually, my motor—my motivation—will run down. We all need to refuel from time to time, and conferences can be one of the best ways to achieve that inspiration. While we go through the process of sitting and listening, though, it might be helpful to create an action plan to jump on that inspiration, once back home and ready to get to work. I know I'll have a sizable list to conquer in the aftermath of Jamboree. Now, all I'll need to do is convert some more hours out of thin air.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

It's a Birthday Bash — And I'll be There!

Today is the start of the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree 2019. Since this genealogy Jamboree has been happening like clockwork every year since 1969, that makes this year's event Jamboree's golden anniversary.

There's a lot to celebrate in this fiftieth birthday bash in Burbank, California. For starters, this is not just one conference, but a double-header, with the one-day Genetic Genealogy conference held today, followed by the three-day Jamboree, beginning tomorrow and going through the weekend.

The list of participating speakers is, as always, stellar—including widely respected names from across the United States and Canada. If you can't tell already, I always eagerly await Jamboree; it's one of the highlights of my genealogical year.

While Jamboree is conveniently situated a mere six hour drive from my home—unlike most of the other tempting genealogical gatherings—I realize that may not be the case for others. However, the good news is that many of the Jamboree sessions from both conferences are live-streamed for those who want to watch from home. The Genetic Genealogy conference sessions may be accessed by registering for the entire day ($99) or by registering for any of the five live-streamed sessions at $20 each. For the main Jamboree event, thanks to the generous underwriting of, all twelve available sessions may be viewed for free, by registering here. And, for those watching in person at the Burbank event and those watching from the comfort of their own home, the glue that keeps us all connected is the social media hashtags bookmarking attendee commentary as the weekend rolls along.

Whether I see you face to face at Jamboree's Fiftieth birthday bash, or via the back channels on social media, I hope you will find a way to be part of the celebration.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Little Theresa Comes of Age

When Job Tison died in 1824, his was not particularly the death of one of Glynn County's elders. He was fifty three. Not old but, arguably, not young, either—except that he left, upon his departure, a daughter who was not yet four years of age.

It was upon this daughter—Theresa Elizabeth—that the completion of one particular detail of her father's will awaited direction. Upon Theresa's arrival at the age of majority, one specifically named enslaved person—Mary Ann—was no longer to be permitted to remain "undivided" from "her future increase." Presumably, that meant Mary Ann, whoever she was, could now be separated from any of her children, and likely sold so that the complete distribution of the Tison estate could finally be accomplished.

For whatever reason, that action was not forthcoming from the executrix—Theresa's mother, now remarried and known as Sidnah Peck—which prompted Theresa to take the matter to court.

Theresa, by the point at which she attained the age of twenty one, was herself a married woman. Though I have yet to locate any documentation of the wedding, by 1841, Theresa had signed her petition to the Court of Ordinary as Theresa E. Mumford, and indicated within the petition that she had "intermarried" with one Sylvester Mumford. By December of that same year, she was to give birth to her oldest child, a daughter whom she named Ocenna. She—perhaps through the urging of her husband—may well have had reason to view her petition as "being to the interest of all the heirs of said estate."

Job Tison's probate file was filled with other indications that his executrix was not attending to business with any alacrity. Even after Sidnah Sheffield Tison Peck's death in 1855, it wasn't until 1859 that her son John Tison, assuming the role of administrator of the estate, finally petitioned the court for permission to sell, among other items, all the slaves still affiliated with the Job Tison estate.

Whether that list of enslaved individuals included Mary Ann—or her "increase," whoever that might have been—is yet to be seen. With so many pages of information on the estate—over thirty pages in Job Tison's file, plus the follow-up embedded in his son John Tison's own probate records—it will take a lot of bleary-eyed deciphering of handwritten documents to determine which was the final version of the many appraisals filed away in these records.

Above: Theresa Tison Mumford's signature, as affixed to her 1841 petition to the Court of Ordinary of Glynn County, Georgia, requesting final distribution of the personal estate of her deceased father, Job Tison; image courtesy


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Excepting Mary Ann

As I work my way through the pages preserved in Job Tison's probate file in Glynn County, Georgia, I'm keeping my eye on any further wording echoing the Tison will's stipulation about "Mary Ann and her future increase," Whatever Job Tison meant by that wording, he wanted that to be "left undivided" until his youngest daughter came of age.

How hard it is for us, researching our ancestors from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, to understand the context in which such phrases are used. We certainly do not think in terms of the American culture of early 1800s southern life. The very thought of owning another person seems foreign to us—let alone any customary business arrangements linked to such a transaction.

Thus, we are left to our presumptions—unless someone from that time period had the foresight to spell it all out for us. Such gifts of cultural translation are rare.

I presumed that Mary Ann was a slave, considered property of the Tison estate. Thus, any child she was about to have would also become property of that same estate. That was the lot of the enslaved, generation after generation. I presumed that, for whatever reason, Job Tison did not want Mary Ann to be separated from the child she was about to have—as could well have happened, given the customary treatment of slaves about to be sold—and for whatever reason, he wished to grant this mother-to-be a reprieve for the seventeen years between the point of Job's death and his youngest daughter's twenty-first birthday.

My main question, therefore, was: what was so special about that child? And what made that child's mother so unique that she was singled out in the wording of the Tison will?

What is interesting about making presumptions is that one presumption can be as likely as another. Thus it was that reader Lisa posed the question, "Does that mean that the signers of the statements expected to share in the profits from a future sale" of Mary Ann and her "increase"? In other words, was Job Tison providing his heirs with investment guidance in his will?

A plausible explanation, just as reasonable as any assumption I might have made. Of course, the best way to arrive at the correct conclusion would be to examine the rest of the documents in the probate file—which will take quite a bit longer to do. Also, a thorough search for any supporting documentation—or, in its absence, contextual explanations provided through local illustrations of what was customary in that time and place for such circumstances—would be important.

All that will come in due time. However, though it is drawn from a different place (the state of Virginia) and a slightly earlier time period (the close of the 1700s), there is another example which prompts me to wonder about the Job Tison stipulation. It is the story of Thomas Jefferson and his liaison, well after the death of his wife, with the slave Sally Hemings.

The story, as I understand it through reading Jefferson's Daughters recently, is that Sally Hemings had been sent to accompany Jefferson's younger daughter across the Atlantic to live with Jefferson during the years he served as an American diplomat in Paris. While in France—a place in which slavery was not, technically, legal—Sally realized she could easily have left the Jefferson household, could have declared in court her intent to no longer be a slave, and the French court would have upheld her contention. Somehow, during those years in Paris, Jefferson may have already begun discussing a continuing relationship with Hemings, and in an agreement with her, persuaded her to return with him to Virginia, once his business in France was concluded.

In that agreement, among other details, Hemings had stipulated that each of her future children with him were to be freed upon their coming of age.

While the Hemings saga is not likely to be what Job Tison had in mind in his own will, the fact of such a relationship and agreement gives us an example of what certainly was an unusually cordial relationship between a slave-holder and the enslaved. While such stories are more likely to include violence, rape, and other deplorable mistreatments, there apparently were also some instances which included other arrangements. While I certainly have no resources pointing to such a possibility, there had to have been some reason for such a stipulation in the Tison will. I doubt it was there just because, on his deathbed, he felt like being nice. Mary Ann was not just some "lucky winner."

Then, too, I am aware that some of the slaves from the Tison plantation were counted, in future census enumerations, as mixed race. Specifically, they were commonly acknowledged to have "white" ancestry in their heritage. Where would that parentage have come from? We already know that Hester, the Tison slave bequeathed to Job's daughter Sidney, was considered biracial, as was her son, King Stockton. While Hester certainly wasn't singled out for any special mention in the Tison will, hers might have been, in the coming years after his death, a story similar to Mary Ann's.

All those thoughts, at this point, are merely presumptions. And one presumption is likely to be just as reasonable as any other. Who knows? Perhaps the tradition, back then, was to withhold sale of a slave until timing provided a better increase to the "investment." Perhaps, unlike either of our presumptions, there was another reason for the specific wording of the stipulation about Mary Ann. Perhaps we will someday uncover an explanation in the volume of papers in the Tison probate file. Or perhaps we will not.

Monday, May 27, 2019

When it's Time to Remember

Today is a day to commemorate the sacrifice of those who, in service to their country, gave the supreme sacrifice of their own life. In the United States, where I live, it is a national holiday. Headstones across the country, representing the fallen of our armed services, will be specially marked in remembrance. In some cemeteries, this will be accomplished with much fanfare. In smaller locations, family members will do what they can to decorate headstones, clean grave sites, care for the wear of time on grave markers, and pay their respects.

Though my husband's family has had several members who have served in the military, we have not ever experienced such loss. We do, however, hold a deep respect for those who have, in the line of duty, persevered to the point of losing their own life. Though words and actions, and the sentiments which inspire those tokens, may mean much, they can never bring back those lost lives. The extent of such a finality provides the gravitas due a day like today.

I cannot conceive of the immense burden of being a family member left behind after such a loss. I've seen photos of bereaved spouses and family members, including children too young to even comprehend the loss they suffer; pictures like that tear at the heart. In addition to the fallen family member, they, too, need to be commemorated for the loss they bear—and continue to bear throughout the rest of their lives.

Above: Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico; photograph courtesy Allen Wheatley of

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Summer: a Focus on Story

As somber a remembrance as tomorrow's holiday is meant to be, people can't help themselves; they see Memorial Day as the official start of summer vacation. For many—at least those in warmer climates such as my adopted home state of California—the school year is over, the graduation party has already wrecked the back yard (or at least emptied parents' pockets), and the beach (or pool or lake) beckons. For many, this weekend kicks off the dream of a long, wonderful summer.

Somehow, I'm not usually among that crowd. A lifelong vegetable gardener—at least until the ground got so much farther away from me than it used to be—summer meant a growing time. I need those wonderful sunshiny days to translate into productive effort, whether harvesting tomatoes right before making the dinner salad, or finding another way to make or create.

That, as always, has included expanding my mental pursuits, and summer is filled with hopes of accomplishing intellectual pursuits. Among them, of course, has always been a stack of books just crying out to be read.

This year will—hopefully—be no different. I have several books which have been languishing on my bookshelves and deserve immediate attention. The interesting thing is that most of these books all center around one specific theme: the concept of Story.

I've long been fascinated with the roll that Story plays in our lives, our interactions, our relationships and connections. It is the glue that holds an invisible entity together. If you want someone to pay attention to what you have to say, wrap it in the garb of a story and presto, you have rapt listeners.

I've always known that—watched skilled speakers who keep their audience attentive, analyzing their use of Story—but I've been wanting to know that even more. I've assembled several books which delve into that topic, but...well, they are still sitting on my to-do list. They are books still waiting to be read.

This week, I made a decision. I made a date with myself to carve out time to read a little bit each day this summer. Not a lot, you see, because that would become an enormous obligation which I would then end up abandoning because of the unreasonable time commitment. But an hour a day, out in the beautiful weather? I can do this.

So I made a date with myself. I will be going out for a cup of coffee each afternoon—well, until the sunshine gets too unbearable (summer temperatures around here can get well over one hundred degrees), when I'll do mornings—and I'll be bringing my book along for company. Hopefully, I'll convince a companion—either my husband (who has his own stack of unread books to conquer) or my teacher daughter, once her school duties are completely behind her—and we can read together. Perhaps we can even discuss what we've read, or swap books if the reading grass gets greener on the other side. The main point, though, is to isolate not only a time, but a specific place away from our usual surroundings, where the more mundane details of life can't beguile us back to those never-ending chores. Think of it as our own private book club.

For this summer, I'm hoping those many books on Story—its significance, its mesmerizing effect—will help hone those story-telling skills we all need, so we can more effectively take the wraps off from around the biographies of the insignificant lives we've been researching. Those stories need to be told. The better we can tell them, the more people will listen.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Sharing Stories to Make a Difference

I'm not sure what I was expecting, launching the Memorial Day weekend by attending a funeral. Though the person whose memorial I attended was not a close relative, he was a member of the community worthy of recognition, and I wanted to be there to pay my last respects.

Events like that can easily serve to turn one's own thoughts to personal mortality, and from there to meditations on the meaning of life...and perhaps ruminations on how well one's own life might have measured up, should it be we who were being eulogized instead of the dearly departed. In such a melancholy turn of mind, my husband and I found ourselves continuing such a conversation over dinner that afternoon, sharing life stories and those hard-won nuggets of wisdom that often are appreciated by others to whom they might accidentally be passed along.

Life isn't always easy for people, and some people have had a rockier start than others. That, however, cannot always be judged by current appearances, a lesson reflected upon by those sitting at our dinner table. The conversation brought to mind the difficult childhood my husband and his siblings experienced while their father grappled with what likely was the aftereffects of emotional trauma from his service during the second World War.

Though Frank Stevens certainly did not offer the ultimate sacrifice during those war years, a part of him never did return home when the war was over. That loss became a lifelong affliction, eventually costing him his life within two decades of his return home.

Following that personal evolution through the letters Frank wrote home during his years in the Navy revealed, at the start, a fun-loving, buoyant spirit, but by the time he returned to his home in Chicago after the war was over, his own father passed away from heart trouble. In many ways, life for Frank took a downward spiral from that point until his death in 1966.

Those for whom that event hit hardest—his own immediate family—each suffered the loss differently. In my husband's case, that loss was seen through a five year old's eyes, leaving a lifelong impact. While a tragedy like that can become a topic one never wishes to talk about—at least in public—in his case, that five year old's pain grew up to become the empathetic mentor's encouragement to others in a new generation suffering agonies of their own. He has learned to become willing to tell that painful story.

Sharing that story once again at the dinner table yesterday gave one more chance to encourage another hurting person to perhaps consider how one's own story, bravely shared, can make a difference for others. It isn't an easy offering, and the words may stumble out at first, but people who are hurting can recognize the sound of someone else who knows what it's like. Sharing one's story is like granting permission to let the pretenses down and get to the words that can bring relief. And, hopefully, healing.

With all the pain that is in the world, hopefully the brave offering of sharing a story will transform those humble tokens into words of encouragement that bring strength to others. At the funeral I attended yesterday, I certainly heard such a story of an overcomer. We can expect eulogies to be like that, of course, but that insignificant detail of funerals makes me wonder how many other such stories of overcomers are represented by all the rest of the headstones in our cemeteries. How much better if we found a way to share those stories before the words can no longer be our own.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Mary Ann

There was one peculiar clause inserted into the last will and testament of Job Tison of Glynn County, Georgia. After designating what was to become of all his property—as well as all his slaves, since he was a plantation owner—specifying how it should be divided up among his widow and their seven remaining children, plus the two grandchildren from his by-then deceased daughter, Job Tison added one final note. Based on the research experiences which have occurred since I began delving into my southern roots earlier this year at SLIG, seeing a note like this could only serve to make me wonder.

You see, the one slave—Hester—who went with Job's daughter Sidney as she, a newlywed as of September 25 of 1830, followed her husband George Edmund "McClelland" to a new residence in Wellborn, Florida, was apparently of a mixed race heritage. So was Hester's son, King Stockton, according to the 1870 census. Where did the "white" come from?

That very question was what propelled me, earlier this year, to seek out stories of similar situations, starting with what is perhaps the best-known of such histories, the saga of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. I am still in pursuit of the answer to my question about how widespread such tacit agreements actually were in the antebellum south. To be specific, I am wondering just whom Hester might have fingered as her father.

And here in Job Tison's will is a line which causes me to wonder once again. Of course, in this case, both Hester and Mary Ann, whoever she was, were by then adults, and there is no way to determine whether the two women were related to each other. But it was plain to see from the McClellan family's treatment of Hester that she held a privileged position within the ranks of that household's slaves. And now we see it was likewise, in the Tison family, for Mary Ann.

The wording in Job Tison's will put it thus:
My Negro Woman named Mary Ann and her future increase I wish left undivided until my youngest Child shall become of age.

Job's youngest child was Theresa Elizabeth Tison, born in September of 1820, less than four years before her father died. Waiting until Theresa became "of age" meant Mary Ann "and her increase" would remain as a family unit until at least late in the year 1841.

Indeed, the Tison family seemed intent upon keeping their father's will as the distributions were made from Job's estate. When oldest son Aaron received his portion in October, 1828, he signed a statement indicating he had received from his mother, executrix of the estate,
the sum of ten dollars in full of all demands against [the] estate of Job Tison Excepting of Mary Ann and her increase from eighteen hundred and twenty four.

Again, when his sister Melinda received her "full share" on May 25, 1830, her note likewise included that same wording "excepting" the required stipulation of "Mary an [sic] and her increase from the year of eighteen hundred and twenty four."

And so it went. Further on in the probate file for Job Tison came another such note, this time from the next daughter, Susan—by this point, a widow with an infant son of her own—dated October 17, 1830. Her receipt acknowledging her "full proportion" also included those same obligatory words about "Mary Ann and her increase."

As I work my way through each document filed in Job Tison's probate file, I'll likely uncover similarly-worded receipts from the rest of his children. And yet, as careful as each heir was to note the specific stipulation for Mary Ann and her "increase," not a word of explanation is provided for this unusual directive.

Or, to restate that more realistically, just as in Jefferson's case with Sally Hemings, there probably was a word of explanation going around among his neighbors and associates. It's just that no one was likely to write down such local gossip for the benefit of outsiders six generations later.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Estate of Job Tison, Late

One thin sheet of paper, insufficient to prevent the ink from bleeding through to the other side, contained the three columns listing all the "several goods and chattel" belonging to the estate of Job Tison. It was drawn up and presented by the appointed appraisers to the court at Glynn County, Georgia, on October 25, 1824.

While there were plenty of entries for jugs, jars, pots, and even a waffle iron, the main point of interest—both for us and, apparently, for the appraisers, who gave this category top listing on the flimsy page—were the names and values of the persons once enslaved on the Tison plantation. Eighteen in all, their names were given as John, Jack, Sam, Harry, Jim, Rose, Caty, Mary, Mary Ann, Charlotte, Amy, Phoebe, Hannah, George, "Alick," Moses, Dick, and Anak.

None of those names in the inventory had appeared in Job Tison's will, which had called out specifically certain slaves intended for individual children. This, perhaps, provides an answer to my question yesterday about how many slaves in total Job had held. I tend to think—though not yet having made my way through the entire (and messy) probate file—that there might have been more slaves than were provided in this listing. Still, adding yesterday's thirteen names to the eighteen here, the total amounts to more than the twenty five slaves indicated in the 1820 census. Hopefully, the rest of the probate documentation will provide the missing names.

We can't, however, presume that all those named in this inventory were to be summarily sold. Some of those names I already recognize from other communications in the probate file. One, in particular, was mentioned repeatedly as each Tison child signed a note indicating receipt of his or her portion of the father's estate. That one slave was Mary Ann. Whether I can discern what the story was behind the particular care taken to remember Job Tison's request by calling her out in his will is yet to be seen, but that there was a story to be known is a hint too broad to ignore.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Thankful for Online Transcriptions

Seeking the document which recorded the last will of Job "Tyson" was a challenge I presumed would have to be put off until I could make the cross-country trip to Glynn County, Georgia. Thankfully, though, we get a temporary reprieve in the form of two online sites containing transcriptions of his will.

One, which was shared by the researcher who is also puzzling through our mutual McClellan/Tison DNA connection, led me to the US GenWeb site, where a transcription of Job Tison's will had been included in the text files for the state of Georgia. The other, thanks to a tip from Google, re-introduced to me a prodigious collection of online transcriptions from Glynn County I had totally forgotten about over the years: the work of Amy Hedrick at There, among many other resources of which I'm availing myself during this particular phase of Tison research, I found an additional transcription of Job's will—this one much more readable.

While I've mentioned the details of the Tison will earlier this year while trying to determine the connection for King Stockton between my McClellan line and that of Job Tison, my purpose in revisiting this document now is to follow the indication of which of his slaves were sent to which family. Additionally, I want to follow the unusual notes included along with the usual designations.

Of course, just looking at this wording presents the awkward—at least to the modern mind—sense of not only the concept of one person owning another, but being able to direct that person's future well-being, including the splitting asunder of family connections. My main curiosity, in engaging in this exercise, is to follow what became of the woman named Hester—within the subsequent six years to have become pregnant by an as-yet-unnamed partner with the son she named King, at about the same time she left Georgia to follow her mistress to her married life as Mrs. George McClellan in Wellborn, Florida. But I am also wondering whether any of the other enslaved persons actually moved to Florida along with Hester.

To track the ultimate outcome of these transactions will mean not only listing the determination given in Job Tison's will—which I'll cover momentarily—but following that will through the many subsequent years in which Job's wife, Sidnah, acting as executrix while constrained by the minor ages of Job's heirs, finally put that will into action. Some of that requisite business was not completely attended to until after Sidnah's own death in 1855, when her son took up the responsibility of completing those arrangements.

Yesterday, I named Job Tison's children—all of them, at the point in February, 1824, when he drew up his will, being underage. Today, let's look at which of the enslaved population at the Tison plantation were designated to each of the named Tison children, once they came of age. I'll begin with the oldest, and follow the order of the will's transcription.

Before getting to that, though, Job mentioned in his will that he intended to "lend" his property to his wife until "at her death" it would be passed to his "four youngest children," Susan, William, John, and Theresa. This not only included the Tison land but the enslaved "property" as well. Until Sidnah died in 1855, then, the four named slaves—Tom, Judy, Ned, and Maria—were to be considered hers.

Job's oldest, son Aaron, was to receive a man named Ben. Next oldest, my third great-grandmother Sidney, was to receive Hester, confirming what I had suspected from family stories of her later years, and explaining why, upon Sidney's death in 1860, she, though a married woman, held "property" of her own which required the legal instrument of a will to distribute.

The next Tison child, Melinda, was to receive "Phillis," of whom there were subsequent notations in Job Tison's probate file. Her younger sister Susan was to receive a woman named Clarissa. For the next Tison child, a son named William, the designated slave was to be Peter, and for William's younger brother John, the slave inherited was to be Joe. Finally, the youngest child, daughter Theresa, was to receive a slave named Lydia.

Those were not the only descendants mentioned in Job Tison's will. He also intended to take care of two grandchildren, whose particular mention—without any explanation as to their parents' names—indicate that Job may have had another daughter who predeceased him. While I cannot find any record of such a daughter's marriage in the Glynn County marriage transcripts, the search now will be on to determine just who Eliza Carter and Job Carter might have been—and, of course, to track what became of the slaves, Patty and Frank, willed to each of them, respectively.

That, according to the transcript, named the enslaved persons claimed by Job Tison at the point of preparing his will in 1824: Tom, Judy, Ned, Maria, Ben, Hester, Phillis, Clarissa, Peter, Joe, Lydia, Patty, and Frank—thirteen persons in all. But it did not compare as conveniently with the twenty five enslaved persons accounted for in the 1820 census entry for Job Tison's household, leaving me to wonder whether any of the unnamed slaves had been sold to satisfy debts—or if the chosen individuals signified merely "favorite" slaves or any sort of family grouping.

There were, in the will itself, as well as among the subsequently-listed papers in the probate file, some other indications of possible family groupings which need to be mentioned. We'll take a look at that, tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Look at the Tisons

Job Tison died in Glynn County, Georgia, in 1824—thankfully, after leaving a will dated in that same year. In that will, he named his wife, Sidnah Sheffield Tison, daughter of Revolutionary War patriot West Sheffield, as executrix. By the date of his will, Job Tison's eldest son Aaron was months shy of attaining twenty one years of age, and my third great-grandmother, Sidney, was three years behind him. That left the rest of the family—sixteen year old Melinda, thirteen year old Susan, twelve year old William, seven year old John, and four year old Theresa—fatherless at rather young ages.

That, perhaps, might have been the impetus for their mother's remarriage after only twenty months of widowhood. According to the transcription of a badly obliterated copy of the original marriage record, on 29 October 1825, forty nine year old Sidnah Sheffield Tison became the wife of Michael Peck. Whether he also became the Tison children's guardian I have yet to verify. In fact, there is very little I can find on the man, and by the time of the 1850 census, he is out of the picture, leaving Sidnah listed in a household of one. By 1855, Sidnah was gone, too.

The Tison family—with their surname alternately given in some records as Tyson—did not originate in Georgia. A number of histories assert that Job Tison came from Pitt County, North Carolina. One record tantalizingly indicated that a land grant was issued to "Joab" Tison in Pitt County on November 26, 1793, including the notation, "On S. side of Tar River"—the river running just north of the county seat of Greenville. However, since a reprint of a local Glynn County history mentioned that Job Tison and his family likely arrived in the state of Georgia around 1785, the land grant mentioned may have involved another Tison relative.

Whenever the Tisons arrived in Georgia, they eventually established a popular hostelry along the post road in Glynn County. Job Tison named this property Coleridge, and apparently the building, though no longer standing, was for a long time considered the oldest structure in the area. The site of the popular old stage coach stop is now indicated by a historical marker. Apparently, also near that spot, Job Tison and various members of his family were interred in a family burial ground on the property, though I have yet to discover any record of it.

Leaving behind a thriving business, the fifty three year old Job Tison might have been expected to provide lengthy directions on what to do with a long list of financial holdings and obligations. That, in turn, would provide us with a snapshot of that juncture in his life. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what his will contained, and what we can read into those few lines of instruction.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Getting Back to Job

It's been a long, winding trail since returning from my research trip to Florida last February. Since that point, a key focus has been the search for information on a book about the man I eventually learned was named King Stockton. More to the point, I wanted to find out more about his mother, though all I knew about her was that her name was Hester.

Hester and her infant son had moved from Glynn County, Georgia, along with my third great-grandmother, Sidney Tison, about the point at which Sidney married George McClellan. Finding an exact timeline for Hester is challenging, because we are talking about enslaved people deprived of not only their freedom but also the dignity of a full name and the expected types of documentation in which we could trace that name. But not only is any material on Hester or her son King—only known publicly by that full name after he became a freedman at the close of the Civil War—not available, I can find no record on the marriage record of the McClellans, either. Thus, at this point, I have no way to date their arrival in Florida from Georgia.

I can only presume that Hester and King came from the Tison property in Georgia—presume, that is, until I can sift through the long and messy probate file for Sidney's father's estate. Job Tison had died several years before his daughter Sidney married George and moved to Florida. At the point of Job Tison's death, he left only one son who had just that year attained legal age; all the rest of his seven children were still minors.

After Job's death in 1824, his widow—Sidnah, for whom daughter Sidney was named—was appointed executrix, but within eighteen months, she had remarried. For whatever reason—and I can understand the difficulty of such a situation—Sidnah did not move quickly on handling the financial matters related to the Job Tison estate, so that, at her own death, apparently intestate in 1855, her responsibilities fell the lot, as administrator, of her third son, John Mason Berrien Tison, by then an attorney, himself.

In the volume of handwritten receipts, appraisals, and other legal communications spanning the years from 1824 through the late 1850s in settling Job Tison's estate, there were several mentions of enslaved persons. These records, for the most part, provided only first names, though there were a few details about relationships and stipulations. In no part of the record—so far—can I find any mention of Hester, the African woman who accompanied Sidney Tison as she left her home to become the wife of George McClellan in Florida.

Still, this calls for a closer look at the record—and while we are in the process, we owe it to the possible descendants of those many named enslaved persons to record what can be noted on the ones whose names were provided. To make the process a little less confusing, we should also look at the players involved, and a bit of background history on Job Tison, his wife Sidnah, and the unexpected discovery of an earlier mention of a tie between the Tison family and the McClellans before the latter family moved from their original home in South Carolina to their new property in the territory of Florida in the 1820s. Perhaps in this second pass through the records, some more helpful details will surface to lead us to a reasonable explanation of Hester's situation before she left Georgia.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Where Does the Time Fly?

There is a saying we overuse, but can't help ourselves in doing so, since it describes exactly how the phenomenon feels: Time flies. And we can't. How do we keep up?

In the last two weeks—you know it's time for my bi-weekly reckoning—I thought I was diligently attacking the empty spaces in my family trees, when it turns out that I hardly kept pace at all with what I had accomplished in the previous two weeks. Not that I maintain this tallying practice to use the scoresheet as a whip for those weeks in which I fall behind, but when the hurrier I go, the behinder I get, I become concerned.

In the past two weeks, for instance, I didn't add one single additional name to my father's tree. Nor my father-in-law's tree. Not even my mother-in-law's tree budged upwards.

Of course, that is not unusual; I've been focusing on one research project, and barring any unforeseen deaths in the other lines, I tend to leave those other trees alone when I'm on a mission. For the past ten months, that mission has been to complete the descendant lines of my McClellan—and now also Broyles—families. The main purpose is to facilitate connecting the dots on those DNA matches whose names I don't recognize, and that goal has sometimes facilitated placing my DNA matches on the right family branch.

But when the research seems to claim a decent amount of my time each week, and yet I have little to show for it, I wonder why. Taking a look back, I think I can spot a few reasons why simply counting names does not give the full picture of where the research effort goes. Here's my take—admittedly a thumbnail sketch of the idea right now—on why quantifying genealogical research does not always help measure the quality of the process.

The main thing is the number of people in a genealogical database tells nothing of the documentation supporting any of the assertions about those people. The types of documents I attach to an individual's profile do not allow a casual observer to see how easily each item was found. The extent to which any such given document has tentacles—my way of saying a document verifying one person also connects me with others in the family—cannot be assessed on the surface. For instance, one record—say, a census record—may have taken me hours to locate because the census enumerator was a lousy speller or had terrible handwriting, but then might have revealed that, in that family's unanticipated move from their home state to this location since the last census, the head of household was now the father of three sets of twins, while another record, found instantaneously, showed the childless head of household had just lost his wife since the last census. One record added more individual profiles, but took much more time to locate than the other. Just counting the increase in names doesn't give a full accounting of the time expended per unit change.

What I think happened in the past two weeks of research was that many of the families I was working on happened to either dedicate their life solely to their professional or military pursuits, or remain childless for other, unexplained reasons. For instance, I spent time researching a number of women who went to college—unusual for women in that era of the late 1800s and early 1900s—and dedicated the remainder of their life to serving in education. Likewise, I discovered a couple career military men who either never married, or married late in life after years of international service and never had children. For records like these, I couldn't, with the click of a census record, add a wife and ten children as I had been able to do in other family lines. The work was slower and more tedious, even though the records weren't unusually hard to find.

Sometimes, too, the slower rate of success may be due to hidden factors, like the wife who was married twice though only the first marriage shows in any records I could find. In cases like these, reading between the lines can be a challenge, especially if the surname turns out to be a common one. There is always that question: is this the same person as the one with the same name whom I've been researching, or a different person who just happens to have the same name and similar circumstances? In the past two weeks, I've spent a lot of time on surnames like Baker and Smith, cause to put the research brakes on and proceed slowly.

Still, I'll celebrate the 214 additional names I was able to add to my mother's family tree in the past two weeks. Her tree now stands at 18,253 individuals, along with 16,186 for my mother-in-law's tree, 538 for my father's tree, and 1,518 for my father-in-law's tree. All together, that represents years—no, decades—of research, chipping away at the process bit by individual profiled bit. It certainly didn't start out that way. Each tree started with just the one person who became the home person for the trees that grew to those sizes.

So it wasn't really that time flies, after all, but that the week was filled with more challenging research issues than previous weeks. Keeping that in perspective helps protect the research enthusiasm from deflating, which in turn provides the encouragement to continue pursuing those goals.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Back to Milling About

I've hit that spot again: what I've called—thanks to a cue from a sympathetic college professor during my sleep-deprived years pursuing a master's degree while working full time—the "milling about" stage of research. I'm stuck on my last project, but not quite ready to make a complete break and move on to a fresh assignment. So I find myself wandering in circles, looking for clues...any clues.

On the one hand, I've got several pages of end notes to plow through in the Jefferson's Daughters book, including some leads on further reading about my specific relational question about enslaved women and their too-amorous masters. I was thinking specifically of my situation in Florida, where my McClellan line settled, or possibly tracing the history back another generation to Georgia and my Tison line. Either way, all indications were that Sidney Tison McClellan's personal assistant Hester may well have been her relative; now, I need to figure out just how that might have been.

That's where a note in the Jefferson's Daughters book caught my eye. Specifically citing "prominent white Floridians," the book's author had traced that comment back to an entry in a book by Jane Landers entitled Black Society in Spanish Florida. But when I look at the reviews for that book, itself, the time period studied was during the Spanish colonial period—mostly, long before the time the McClellans settled in northern Florida. And looking further to other resources mentioned on that topic, they were mostly specific to 1700s Virginia, the era of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings—too early and the wrong side of the region for my McClellan situation. Still, I may give a read to the suggested Joshua Rothman book on the Virginia examples, Notorious in the Neighborhood.

It's not so much the facts I'm after, but the attitude. I'm looking for the cultural mores. And that is hard to sift through, as much as I want to be able to comprehend—though certainly not agree with—the mindset of the era. Understanding the mindset helps a researcher follow the reasoning, the decisions, the subsequent events in the timeline of our ancestors' lives.

That sort of discovery doesn't come easily. It can't be forced. It certainly isn't something one can obtain instantaneously with a few keystrokes on a Google search. It only maybe comes by sifting through the lines, one by one—and then, reading very carefully between them to see what was left unspoken but most certainly still there to be discerned.

In the meantime, my mind is racing to decide on a next research step. Harvesting the research suggestions from a 425 page book doesn't occur quickly. The answer can be languishing on the far end of the universe of possible resources; while it's up to me to find it, I can't guarantee that quest will happen quickly.

And so, the question becomes: what's next? I believe there are two possibilities. One is to examine all the DNA match results that point to such a liaison, and compare notes on families to see whether there was, indeed, a McClellan or Tison connection. Another approach is to pursue more records on the Georgia side of the equation, starting with Sidney Tison's father.

Depending on which approach can be facilitated the quickest while reaching from a far distance—after all, I have no plans to fly to Georgia any time soon—will determine which course I can take next.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Meanwhile, Back to the Other Jefferson

Let us leave behind us the upheaval in the wake of the escaping Jefferson Davis, erstwhile president of the Confederacy, and return to our consideration of another Jefferson. It's been a while since I last mentioned wanting to read about Thomas Jefferson. And in the month since I last brought up the subject, I've been steadily plowing through the book, Jefferson's Daughters.

My goal in reading the book—to spy between the lines and ferret out specific attitudes in the south in a bygone era—has been amply rewarded with a list of further reading. It's the daisy chain of footnotes leading me ever closer to—but not quite yet arrived at—my answer.

I am, however, still not finished with the book, despite starting my reading in earnest on a flight to Houston back in March. Yet in its pages, the author grapples with how the Jefferson-Hemings liaison came about, how Jefferson's family viewed the situation, how his neighbors saw it, and how the same practice was widespread, not only in Virginia, but throughout the south—calling out, specifically, the version practiced in Florida, the source of my own questioning.

While I'm not ready, yet, to say much on how that practice may have unfolded among my own ancestors, that it did happen, we already know; we have DNA results to inform us of that fact. On the one hand, the genetic genealogy angle leads to comparison of notes and matches and genealogies. But it's the other hand I want to examine much more closely. It's the psychology behind the situation that keeps me asking questions. For that, I'll likely have a lot more reading before I can see clearly what the case was, in the nearly invisible personal events of two hundred years ago. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Comprehending Context in Genealogy

It's been quite an experience, looking at excerpts from the diaries, memoirs, and letters recording the aftermath of the Civil War. As one reader, Kathy, remarked, "I never learned about these kinds of events in my history classes." True, these details, while huge in the eyes of the people enduring them, represent only a small portion of the wide expanse of both world and even national history, and it is not surprising that we don't often hear reports such as these.

In addition to sheer curiosity over that time period in American history, I had another reason for lingering over these details of the past couple weeks. I would never have discovered them, had I not been in pursuit of the day-to-day history of specific members of my ancestry. Having discovered that my third great-grandparents, Ozey and Sarah Taliaferro Broyles, had at one time lived in a home which is not only still standing, but beautifully restored and serving as a museum, I wanted to know more. Handily, the historic foundation supporting the Ashtabula restoration happened to sell a book—and though it is long out of print, I found a used copy and purchased it.

It seems every little bit we wrestle from the silence of our family history becomes a stepping stone allowing us yet another tiny step forward. The book, once I received it and started reading, turned out to mention several other resources for the local history of Pendleton, South Carolina. One by one, I am assembling a personal library of out-of-print diaries and memoirs of the contemporaries of my third great-grandparents as I find the resources cited in the Ashtabula book.

I am also learning the value of Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and other repositories of free books in the public domain, for that is my first stop when a note in the Ashtabula book gives me the name of such out-of-print volumes. And when it is not a book format I'm seeking, I try for manuscripts at the National Union Catalog of Manuscripts, or entries at state archives, or even putting Google search through its paces to see what can be found. And I learn to read footnotes.

It's these hidden resources from bygone ages—letters, diaries, newspaper entries, unpublished manuscripts, memoirs—that provide the day-to-day details of life in our ancestors' village that bring those forebears to life, even if I can't locate those stodgy old documents which verify their existence. These are the kind of resources which reinforce the mantra about seeking out the "FAN Club"—the friends, associates and neighbors of our ancestors. When our ancestors' neighbor writes the book on "Our Village," who do you think that neighbor will be talking about?

For my part, the daily nitty-gritty of my third great-grandparents' lives which I can't discern from their death certificate—or even from their probate records—I can find in abundance, if I can locate a book or even a letter from that same time period in that same tiny village.

More than that, if I am fortunate enough to uncover such rich resources, I can learn about the turn of events sandwiched in, locally, between the major upheavals in life that we call history. I can learn about the Civil War from the history books. Likewise about Reconstruction. But who knew that there was such angst among my third great-grandparents' neighbors, even before the Reconstruction era officially began and life became so radically different for my southern ancestors? These little vignettes help bring clarity to attitudes held broadly among people from specific regions, and may possibly even explain why people chose to make the changes in their lives that they did. The context provided by these old resources helps us to understand our ancestors, not just recite the dates linked to their major life stages.

Resources like these that we've reviewed in the past couple weeks are among the tools sometimes neglected by family history researchers. Accessing old newspapers often requires a subscription, adding cost, or at least the know-how to seek out the free resources and serendipity to have ancestors living in the very towns where their newspapers subsequently can be accessed for free.

Likewise—perhaps even more challenging—the quest to find hundred-year-old books on local history, particularly of a personal nature like published collections of letters or journals can be off-putting. But the effort to find these items affords us the very peek into our ancestors' lives that we crave. What we can find in these personal treasures are the very glimpses of those people now long gone that put their lives in context for us. With tools like these, we can, indeed, begin to recreate the lives of the men and women peopling the generations of our personal past. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What Spared Pendleton

In all the uproar in the chase to apprehend the escaping Confederate president Jefferson Davis and all the supposed gold in his retinue, the town of Anderson was hit pretty hard, as well as the countryside surrounding Pendleton. But the village itself, strangely, had been spared.

Once again, we can piece together the story behind that situation through memoirs and diaries kept of that May 1865 time of trouble. Dr. John B. Adger, the minister whose book, My Life and Times, we've already discussed, set the stage thus:
There came through our neighborhood a large number of Federal troops, said to be five thousand men.... A company of them came to [our village] and Mr. James Hunter, the intendant of our little town, walked out, having a sword by his side, and had a conference with their captain. What passed between them I never heard, but I believe they had got information that we had a body of troops in our village, and so turned off to the left, and moved towards Anderson Courthouse.

The thought of coming face to face with troops of the enemy, freshly following the official surrender and end of the Civil War, may not have been what the Union commanders wanted to have added to their record. Perhaps that is why they chose not to press such an encounter, though that seems a simplistic explanation.

While that became a positive outcome for the spared town of Pendleton—considering the plundering which occurred around the rest of the county following the federal troops' May 1 arrival—what turned out to be so exquisite about this turn of events was the discoveries, afterwards, of just what might have been preventing any unfortunate entanglements.

Returning to John Adger's explanation, we find that
These said troops of ours were a small body of very old men, and some fifty lads, one of them my son John, about fifteen years old, armed with some small and very inferior shotguns. They had been patrolling around Pendleton for some time, searching for deserters, and known as "Home Guards," under the command of Captain Jones.

Not an imposing force, to say the least. Even the Reverend had to comment, "How they happened to miss the Federals, when passing around Pendleton, I cannot tell."

Captain Jones' guard, however, also made it into the diary of Floride Clemson, the young woman we've discussed who, at that time, had returned to the south to visit her grandmother, Mrs. John C. Calhoun, in Pendleton. Her recollections of that May 1 episode, recounted in her published diary, A Rebel Came Home, bring us a more youthful perspective.
Well, the Yankees got to within a mile of here...but did not enter the village as they took it into their head that we had a large force here from hearing and seeing Jone's men wherever they went. In truth there were not more than 75 or 50 fighting men mostly boys of between 16 and 17, but they rushed about so wildly scouting and making a fuss, that the impression got abroad that there were over a thousand; but I will not laugh for under heaven, they saved us from the horrors of a sack such as fell to the lot of poor Anderson where over a thousand of Stoneman's raiders made their headquarters three or four days.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

All that Gold — and the "Banju" too

They took poor Grandmother, locked her up, showed her a rope and warned her to give up the gold.

While the episodes of Union cavalry showing up, after the Civil War was declared over, to terrorize the residents of the countryside around Anderson County on May 1, 1865, varied depending on the location, the residents outside the town of Pendleton certainly didn't have it as hard as did those living in the town of Anderson.

In a letter written by Caroline Ravenel, a war refugee staying at a home in Anderson, she mentioned the nerve-wracking detail above—particularly disconcerting, considering "Grandmother" didn't have any gold to give. This letter was printed in a volume called Mason Smith Family Letters, but there were several other such accounts of that day around Anderson, including one in which a man, badly mistreated, gave up the gold he had been safekeeping for someone else, only to be pestered by a late-arriving second set of soldiers, who, thankfully, settled for taking his "banju."

Anderson itself, if you remember, was where my third great-grandparents Ozey and Sarah Taliaferro Broyles had moved their family in 1851 after those fourteen idyllic years residing at Ashtabula. Now, at the close of the war, they were living right in the path of oncoming Union soldiers on a mission to intercept the supposedly massive stash of gold from the Confederate Treasury.

By that time, since Dr. Ozey R. Broyles' son Charles had been serving in the Confederate Army, his wife and family were also refugees, living on a farm close to the railroad near Anderson. During the day, Charles' children went into the town of Anderson to attend school, as did many other refugees from Charleston and other cities.

If the refugees in Anderson had heard the news of General Lee's surrender by that point in May—after all, news from up north traveled rather slowly back then—I can't tell. But to hear Charles' daughter Laura Broyles retell the story in some notes, years later for the Ashtabula book, it was easy to see this was a memory firmly implanted in that schoolgirl's mind.

As she recalled,
Late one afternoon the news came like wildfire that the Yankees by the thousands were marching into Anderson. We were all terrified and clung to our mother.

With Charles Broyles still away on military service, it was twelve year old Laura, her younger sister, and their three brothers, who were staying with their mother on Dr. Broyles' farm along the railroad track outside town. Laura continued,
Just about sunset the passenger train came by and at the same time this long line of bluecoats came galloping along the highway in full sight of our house. They began firing into the train and it stopped. They took all the money and watches of passengers and left them to get to Anderson as best they could.

That was not the end of it. The rampage continued, as the soldiers continued on to Anderson, itself. There, they took ammunition, jewelry, watches, and any other valuables from the homes in town, and
in a day or two they went into all the country around Anderson in groups of fifteen or twenty and took everything they could find. They came to our house, and pulled open every dresser drawer and took whatever they wanted, while my mother stood quietly by and could do nothing.

Still, for all these stories—and the indelible imprint they left on the young minds of the children who witnessed this sudden twist of fate in Anderson—the nearby town of Pendleton, itself, seemed to have been left unscathed. While that detail may have seemed peculiar, when everyone compared notes afterwards, it seems there may have been an unexpected reason for the safe haven the residents of Pendleton may have been granted.

Monday, May 13, 2019

At Rivoli

Not unlike other southern families living in the area surrounding Pendleton in Anderson County, South Carolina, diarist Clarissa Adger Bowen had connections with relatives living nearby. In a nearby Adger estate called Rivoli, after the close of the Civil War at the start of May in 1865, Clarissa's father, Robert Adger, was confronted by a number of men, under a captain and a lieutenant, who came riding up to his home. After first getting all the firearms on the property, they demanded he give them "the public treasury."

Puzzled, Mr. Adger asked what they meant by "the public treasury," to which he received the brusque reply: "I mean the treasury of the Confederate States which you have in your keeping."

Of course, denying such a thing would get a suspect nowhere, and the Adger man was informed that he had "$18,000,000 belonging to the Confederate Government" buried under his house.

From that point, the Captain began interrogations, asking first for Robert's name, and then, to that answer, adding yet another surprising response: "You have three brothers up here?" No, only two, but that answer didn't matter: "You are the man then. You need not deny it for I have positive information as to the exact spot."

What more could be said than, "Go and find it. My man will go and get his axe and the boys will come in and dig down as deep as you wish."

Unable to find any sign of such riches, the Captain and his sixty men searched the rest of the home, though assuring its owner that they weren't seeking "private property." Though they searched every "suspicious" looking container—one black trunk, once unlocked, revealed that its coveted cache was nothing more than "flannel petticoats"—the Union men finally rode away.

But not for long. Despite the captain's promise that they weren't searching for private property, a group of his men apparently broke away from their detail, returned to the Adger household, and demanded jewelry and other personal possessions. The entire episode was detailed in a letter written to Clarissa by her younger sister Minnie, and included in the Ashtabula book.

Apparently, that same type of story—well, perhaps other than those demands for the eighteen million missing dollars of the Confederate Treasury—was repeated all over the region. These cavalry men, under the command of General George Stoneman, were the ones who besmirched his reputation, but he, himself, was not actually in the area. The responsibility for command rested upon Bvt. Brigadier General William J. Palmer, who was in the area on May first, but was subsequently located, only a few days later, in Athens, Georgia.

On May 6, due to reports of the behavior of the soldiers under his command, Palmer wrote:
The reason I recommend that [the] brigades be immediately recalled to East Tennessee is because their officers for the most part have lost all control over their men. A large number of men and some of the officers devote themselves exclusively to pillaging and destroying property. General Brown appears to have given them carte blanche in South Carolina, and they are now so entirely destitute of discipline that it cannot be restored in the field.

That, however, would not erase the uproar occurring at the beginning of May in the countryside surrounding Pendleton, nor the worse impact that hit the nearby town of Anderson, where the Broyles family had settled after leaving Ashtabula.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Double Duty:
Mother's Day and Mom's Birthday

If you have a mom who was a May baby, perhaps you've found yourself in the same predicament I've experienced: sometimes, Mother's Day fell on the same day as my mom's birthday. A double-header, perhaps those baseball fans might have called the event, once the hapless baby girl grew up, married, and had children of her own. It's not quite as egregious as being the baby born on Christmas Day, perhaps, but every year, that holiday hazard kept us scurrying to check our calendars to strategize on gift-giving.

This year, for instance—if my mother were still with us—we would have had a double celebration, for today would have been her birthday as well. Though I'm not sure I would have followed the suggestions making the rounds in Gena Philibert-Ortega's recent article on the GenealogyBank blog—my mother was far from the typical mom—I did recently stumble upon a reminder of something to do to keep her memory alive.

In her article, Gena quoted from one professional genealogist who discussed what to do when your mom did not provide those "rare occasions where an ancestor left a diary." Among other details—my mom was not the avid cook so many remember from their childhood, leaving food preferences a non-starter for any getting-to-know-you family discussions—she just happened to be one of those "rare occasions" of the maternal diarist. I actually have a stack of journal entries—and had forgotten about them. They were tucked away with some genealogical notes from years ago, likely when life got in the way of my determined goal of transcribing her writings.

Perhaps, since I have no way to wish her a happy birthday now—let alone the dual wishes of a happy Mother's Day—getting back to the task of transcribing her work would be an adequate alternate. She did, after all, have an interesting—though incredibly different—life.

Photographs, above, from the portfolio collection held privately by the author.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Off the Shelf: Will it Fly?

Don't worry: I'm not suffering anxiety over any upcoming transcontinental flights. Nor will I have the luxury of catching up on my reading while on such a trip. Though I've lots of books amassed regarding my recent excursion into the history of post-Civil War era South Carolina Upcountry, my reading feature for this month won't even touch on that pile of most excellent selections. You see, I've yet to catch up on a book sitting on my nightstand for, oh, maybe a year or so. I truly serve as devoted follower of the concept of the antilibrary: my eyes are bigger than my reading capacity. (Perhaps I do need more upcoming transcontinental flights!)

Pat Flynn's slim volume Will it Fly? offers readers a promise of a technique to test our brainy new ideas in the harsh theater of reality—without losing our shirts. Flynn patterns his concept after the simplicity of teaching his young son how to make and fly paper airplanes: hypothesize, but test results, and check out why the successes could fly, and why the failures flopped.

I could see that when I first learned of the author's unfortunate experience during the economic downturn of 2008—when he, as a recent college graduate who had just obtained his dream job at a leading architectural firm, was laid off. Times like that, anyone who can learns to tap dance as fast as they can. Before that point hit, Flynn had been toying with an online business idea, and he put it to the test. Fortunately, the idea worked enough to more than meet his financial needs—but some of his subsequent ideas either needed revision, or plain old didn't work. That's where the paper airplane analogy takes flight. This book is his explanation of enduring that School of Hard Knocks, offering the tried and true about his test flight escapades to spare others the cost of business failures.

Granted, our family runs a business, and we can always use inspiration as we examine how to better offer our services. But as I read through the book, I started envisioning applications which aren't strictly in the business domain. Anyone who comes up with a new project idea for a nonprofit organization—think Genealogical Society, for instance—could use a primer in testing it out in the real world. "Will it fly?" should be a question we ask as we grapple with everything from boosting membership to meeting community research needs to addressing the imperative to reach out to a younger generation of family history enthusiasts with vastly different research—and associating—requirements than their parents or grandparents who currently fill the membership rolls.

I particularly like his concept of letting those fresh ideas flow from who we are—not forcing an unnatural match between the do-er and the doing of the business. We, as organizations such as our genealogical societies, need to recognize "who we are" just as much as do the individuals for whom that sage advice was originally penned. As our local organization seeks to institute new approaches to serve our community—and potential new constituencies—we can certainly take these observations to heart as well as our contemporaries in the business world.

Friday, May 10, 2019

After the Armistice

To piece together the story of what happened in Anderson County, South Carolina, that tumultuous May 1, 1865, the perspective is best gained by relying on multiple accounts. Apparently, at least one local resident of the area was aware of where the escaping Jefferson Davis had passed that night. Dr. John B. Adger, local minister and uncle of Clarissa Adger Bowen whose diary represents the main portion of the Ashtabula book I've referred to, prepared his own written version of the episode in his memoir, My Life and Times.
When President Davis and his Cabinet found it necessary to quit Richmond, their course carried them through the Piedmont portion of South Carolina, but they did not come by Pendleton. One night they lodged at Abbeville with my friend, Mr. Thomas C. Perrin, in that spacious and magnificent mansion which was shortly afterwards destroyed by fire.

That, however, did not prevent the amassing of Federal troops in Anderson County in anticipation of the Confederate cabinet's supposed arrival in that area. Clarissa made notes of one experience of her husband, Orsamus Allan Bowen—whom she referred to in her diary simply as "O"—when meeting up with the Union officer and his three men approaching their property at Ashtabula that May 1, he asked, "What does this mean?"
"We are Yankees," was the reply. "Are you the owner of this place?"
"I am and to what command do you belong?"
"To Stoneman's."
"And this is your way of observing the armistice?" O. demanded.

The Union men proceeded to the Ashtabula stables after telling Bowen that "we are only retaliating" for a Tennessee incident, and made off with some of their horses. Bowen, meanwhile, ran inside, warning his wife and family to take refuge in Clarissa's room. Afterwards, she reflected that "we had but a short time to quiet ourselves and prepare for our trial." Sure enough, more soldiers returned, stealing what they could find—jewelry, firearms, and money, though items of clothing and food "were not despised."

In the aftermath, as Clarissa recognized,
We are yet in too much confusion to know what is taken and what is left. Only thank God, no blood was shed and O. was not taken prisoner. It was all as sudden as a clap of thunder—all over in three hours time.... Tonight we are quiet but Oh, so worn out and exhausted and so intensely anxious for the dear ones at Rivoli [her family members living in a nearby residence].

That was her experience, living in the country outside the town of Pendleton. As we'll soon see, the stories were much the same—if not worse—at other homes in the area, including Rivoli, the residence of her parents and younger siblings.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Different Kind of May Day

Ashtabula May 1, 1865...This morning all seemed beautiful and quiet and with hearts cheered by rumors of a speedy and honorable peace, we sat together working. At 12 o'clock I went to dress, expecting some of our cousins to dine with us, when a large body of men passing attracted my attention. After thirty or forty passed, four men, one of them an officer, galloped in and demanded where the stables were. Rushing down they immediately seized Bill and Nena...                                                                         ~from the diary of Clarissa Adger Bowen

The old Pendleton District, nestled in the northwestern corner of South Carolina in what is now Anderson County, snug against the Blue Ridge Mountains, had been a safe haven during most of the Civil War. Refugees from the turmoil of battles in the larger cities of South Carolina had sought out shelter there, particularly if fortunate enough to have family—or even acquaintances—there. A Broyles relative, years later, mentioned that the nearby town of Anderson was also "full of refugees from Charleston." Some, perhaps, also saw the region's relative isolation as assurance of safekeeping of their valuables during unpredictable war years.

What these secluded southerners could not possibly have foreseen was the avalanche of events that brought their secret hideaway out into the open.

Before General Lee had surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had made their way south. Carried along with them was what was said to be $500,000 in gold from the Confederate Treasury.

Meanwhile, one by one, and only gradually over the following days and weeks, the Confederate generals followed suit, agreeing, as had Robert E. Lee, to terms of surrender to the Union, including General Joseph Johnston who surrendered to General Sherman in North Carolina on April 26.

"Not so fast" may have been the reaction of United States Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who, within hours of that surrender, wired another of his Union generals, George Thomas in Tennessee,
The bankers have information today that Jeff Davis' specie is moving south as fast as possible.... Take measures to intercept the rebel chiefs and their plunder. The specie is estimated at $6,000,000 to $13,000,000...spare no exertion to stop Davis and his plunder.

General Thomas immediately ordered Major General George Stoneman of the Cavalry:
If you can possibly get three brigades of cavalry together, send them across the mountains into South Carolina to the westward of Charlotte and toward Anderson. They may possible catch Jeff Davis, or some of the treasure. They say he is making off with from $2,000,000 to $5,000,000."

Stoneman, in turn, wired General Davis Tillson with directions to have his brigades sent across the Saluda River and to "follow down this river to Belton or Anderson"—although this time, the money mentioned again grew to "$5,000,000 or $6,000,000."

By April 29, the troops were ready to march. On May 1, internal dialog between officers indicated they had scoped out the likely escape route for the fleeing Confederate president and cabinet, possibly through Abbeville, maybe through Anderson, and eventually across the river to Georgia—perhaps, even, following the stage road to Carnesville which went directly through Pendleton.

May first being what it always has been, at the home of General Cliff Reed, children were merrily dancing around the May pole when news of the approaching cavalry caused "nurses" to snatch up their charges and run for the seclusion of their homes.

That same May Day afternoon, Anderson resident Caroline Ravenel was giving music lessons at her home when she heard pistol shots. Rushing to a window to see the cause of the commotion, she spotted a neighbor "driving as if for his life." Others in the street, saying a soldier had fired at them, ran into the house; they locked the door and closed the blinds, but to no avail. Soldiers broke in, taking watches and anything else they could find, ordering the occupants to "give up the gold."

To complicate matters, in town at Anderson, the soldiers stumbled upon a large cache of liquor, which was immediately consumed, and the rush for "gold" took on dangerous overtones. Many stories, such as the one about "Uncle Henry," thrice hung to the "bedstead" with a noose around his neck so that only his toes could touch the ground while being demanded to give up his gold, appeared not only in the Ashtabula book, but in other recountings of the post-surrender May Day, as well, as one after another local citizen was accosted in the push to reclaim "the gold"—or, if not Jefferson Davis' stash, any gold that could be had.

As for the deposed Davis himself, wherever he stayed that night, his possible nearness to Anderson instigated the uproar of what may have been "up to five thousand men" of Union troops, but he still remained undetected. It wasn't until May tenth, when he had penetrated deep into Georgia, that Davis was apprehended in Irwinville.

In the meantime, though Anderson had been assaulted, for some reason, the town of Pendleton itself escaped the brunt of the attack. Ashtabula's new owners, the Adger family, however, weren't so fortunate. Nor, for that matter, were the Broyleses in their new home in Anderson.   

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Eight on the Eighth

Today, it's May 8, 2019. Eight years ago on this same day, I clicked the "publish" button on my first blog post here at A Family Tapestry. My intention was to share my genealogical research journey with anyone who cared to join me—with hopes, of course, to stumble upon a few distant cousins in the process. More than that, though, I needed a place to share the decades of fascinating family discoveries I had collected. Even more so, a place to share the journey, itself—the experiences of both success and disappointment while continuing to pursue the story of generations of family.

Along the way with those successes and disappointments, I recognized not just the value of learning by doing, but also the value of learning by observing the mistakes of others. I researched as I wrote; I had no clue, ahead of time, whether the research direction I chose would actually lead to a real answer. If something didn't work for me, it still could be helpful to share that observation with others. That's when I saw myself serving as what I call "the genealogical guinea pig." I'd try anything, as long as it sounded like it might work. After all, what do we have to lose when pounding our heads against those research brick walls?

While that was the process underlying the creation of those daily blog posts, the content also opened my eyes to a necessary element: that we, in pursuit of our family history, serve as preservers of the history of the common man. While there may be some of us who descend from kings and monumental figures of history, most of us find ourselves telling the stories of lives of much lesser significance. Unlike the broad sweep of macro history, ours is the telling of a micro-history. And thus, in the daily process of blogging these past eight years, I've also come to see myself as a biographer of insignificant lives.

Not that I say that disparagingly; these are stories which also must be preserved. We can learn much about the ambience of the moment by absorbing the impressions preserved by the friends, associates and neighbors of ancestors whom only we would care to follow. The mosaic of their stories blend with the combined discoveries opened to us in our modern era with tools that enable research prowess inconceivable in prior generations.

Even in the past eight years in which I've shared these 2,923 posts, so much has changed. The readers who once added to the nearly 700,000 page views clocked since May 8, 2011, may no longer linger over my documented research struggles—though I still recall them fondly for their encouragement through comments and suggestions, and their own contributions as they created their own blogs.

The genea-blogging community has always been a collegial community; we thrive on each other's input. As much as I hope I have encouraged others, there are many bloggers along the way whose influence has shaped my own work. To these mentors, trailblazers, and blogging peers I owe much over the past eight years. May those for whom blogging represented a season in their life continue to hold for us a place of warm remembrance, and may those who remain, tapping away furiously, hunched over their keyboards, continue to work in this same cooperative spirit.

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