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 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...


  1. YAY! I am so glad to read this. I have needed to call a hiatus in my research for the last few months. But just today I am ready to pick it up again, and now I see this - confirmation, I am sure. I feel like the 90-pound weakling who suddenly hears the strongest boy in the school is going to fight on his side.

    The editors of Emmala Reed's Journals did a very good job with their notes about Miss Fannie Smith. Emmala, after all, knew much more about her than poor Tally Simpson. Here are the notes I have gathered so far: her father was William B. Smith, a Charleston banker who took his family to stay in Pendleton. I think I see them in the 1860 Census as being in the Pickens district; but most of my notes are taken from the Emmala Reed book.

    Fannie had a sister, Helen, who was as much a flirt as Fannie was. Before Helen chose a husband, she trifled with the affections of Tom Broyles.

    Emmala wrote withering comments about Fannie's eventual wedding with Hazel Heyward, a high-society boy from Charleston. Apparently Emmala put it down to an impoverished old blue-blood family needing an influx of money from the banker William Smith. She also was scornful that Fannie was older than Hazel. (Emmala says by 6 months, though the 1870 and 1880 Census put it at 2 years). Hazel and Fannie are shown in the 1880 Census as living in Charleston, with 6 children. But the 1900 (Yemassee) Census shows Hazel as widowed.

    The notes I have jotted down from my cache of letters are like this: she lived in Anderson some of the time (that is where Henry Jeffers or his sister Annie would go to visit her). Miss Fannie made Henry a cap, and his mother seemed pleased about that. Henry often wrote to Sister Annie, tasking her with conveying his regards, or an enclosed note, to Fannie. He asks such things as, "Do you think I have a chance?" Henry finally concluded, perhaps in a face-saving move, that Fannie is too much of a flirt and that is a character trait that never ends well.

    Jacqi, I look forward to seeing what you can gather about the upcountry heartbreaker, the "Fair Unknown"!

    1. Oh, wonderful, Lisa! I am glad to hear you are back at your research! Yes, it will be interesting to see what can be discovered about our "Fair Unknown." Curiosity is definitely overtaking me, so you see, her reputation has reached out farther still in beguiling us to take up this pursuit.

      Thanks for the notes you supplied. Yes, the footnotes will be helpful, as well as the information you've gleaned from your own ancestor's letters. I'm curious to know just what the dynamics were that elevated her to such a status in her community of young people--and, of course, what the rest of the story was for such a confirmed flirt.

  2. Thanks for the stories about Fannie, Lisa! Meanwhile I have been going down my own rabbit hole. A mere search of a family name in a newspaper archive for my area brought up a young woman who was arrested for running a house of ill repute! Searching further - I discovered a few run ins with the law for public disturbances; the house was apparently well known to the local law enforcement. The incident that did her in was allowing a young, married mother to carry on with her "on the side" sea captain boyfriend in one of the rooms. A room with an unventilated stove which caused the deaths of both occupants. The building owner and the hostess were both sent to prison. And as far as I can figure out, this woman is absolutely no relation to any of my family. I did find all the detailed news stories fascinating, though.

    1. Oh my goodness! Miss Merry, your story tops all. Glad she's not your gr-gr auntie!

    2. Some of these stories that can be found in old newspapers just take the prize, don't they, Miss Merry?! As Lisa mentioned, I'm glad she didn't turn out to be your relative, but what a story, indeed!


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