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.

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