Sunday, October 13, 2019
Off the Shelf—and on to a Rabbit Trail
Sometimes, a book is a quick read, and sometimes, it deserves much more of our attention. When it comes to books which, as an added benefit, include information on the everyday life details of our own ancestors, I take my time reading. With notebook and pen.
Considering that, you may not find it surprising to learn I am still wading through one of the books recommended to me by a reader (Lisa) here at A Family Tapestry. Whether accompanying me on flights to genealogy conferences or on trips to my favorite coffee shop hideaway in town, the book of Civil War letters written home by my first cousins four times removed, Dick and "Tally" Simpson, has been my constant reading companion.
And I am still not done—footnotes, you know.
With about one hundred pages to go in the book, Far, Far From Home, a thought struck me. I am now on the chapter in which Tally, still at the war front during the winter lull in fighting, writes home to a trusted aunt and his sister, for their confidential advice on "a topic which interests me." That topic, in case you couldn't guess, was gathering intel on young ladies of interest back home in Pendleton, South Carolina. Tally, who recently received word that his own brother had married, was looking ahead to a time when he, too, would no longer be so far separated from his home, his family, and his future dreams.
Not long into this chapter, I ran into a name which was familiar because of its significance in another book about Pendleton which I recently read, A Faithful Heart. That name was of the town's apparent charmer, Fannie Smith. I may not be related to this Fannie Smith, but with her name brought up in glowing terms here in Tally Simpson's letters, along with those several mentions in Emmala Reed's journal—and, as Lisa had mentioned in a comment, included in glowing terms in her own ancestor's writings, as well—I began to wonder just who she might have been.
Having discovered this alternate resource of books to help fill in the blanks about the place and time period of my ancestors' lives, I've since rediscovered the wealth of material to access online. We use FamilySearch.org all the time to look up digitized records, but did you know that same website can become your portal to a world of digitized books, especially family history volumes? I'm not sure I'd attempt looking for any titles including mention of Fannie Smith, but for the more unusual names in my family tree, I've certainly made it my habit to stop at this URL to look up potential resources.
Besides the online access through FamilySearch, I will sometimes search online for a surname—or even a specific book title I've spotted in a footnote—plus add the name of a specific repository, such as Internet Archive, or HathiTrust. I'm not too sure I'll ferret out the specifics on this particular Fannie Smith, but this technique has worked for me when I wanted to find other public domain books about Pendleton.
Of course, I could always try my hand at building a family tree for Fannie. All I need to do is find her in a census record, or other listing of refugees settling in Pendleton during the early years of the Civil War. That was the initiating occurrence which brought Miss Fannie front and center on the stage of local social life in Pendleton. The more I read about her, the more I'm curious as to just who she was.
Yes, I'm tempted: do some research on Miss Fannie Smith to see what I can discover about the life of this young woman who turned so many heads. With all the technological access and availability of databases, it certainly is possible, even if she wasn't one of my ancestors.
If only her name weren't Smith...