Monday, January 25, 2021

The Perpetual Question Machine


When it comes to asking endless questions, as an example, you may have in mind the quintessential two year old. You tell the little darling something, and the cherub responds, "Why?" You give a well-reasoned answer that any adult would find sufficient, and the little dear retorts, "Why?" If you haven't yet realized you've already swallowed the bait, perhaps you'll begin a third statement, only to be shortchanged again by the persistent, "Why?"

That's not quite what I have in mind. But close. Introduce a little variety into the wording, mix in some context, and you have grist for the question mill: the skill to fuel the perpetual question machine, and the tool I advocate as a necessity for genealogical research of the brick-wall kind.

Case in point: my never-ending quest to discover more about the former enslaved man, King Stockton, who apparently had some friends in high places. Having failed at discovering much about his life, other than the few stories captured in a booklet written by Florida businessman A. L. Lewis, I decided upon a research course to target King Stockton's "FAN Club"—his friends, associates, and neighbors.

We learned, in the process, that not far from King Stockton's Florida home in the 1870 census lived a young boy by the name of James Dean. Though Dean happened to also be the surname listed as father on King Stockton's wife's death certificate, at this point, I can't even say yet that James Dean was "kin" to Louvenia Stockton. But I can say, thanks to a mere sentence inserted in a thirty-four page article on Judge James Dean in the Florida Historical Quarterly of Summer 2008, that King Stockton was listed as a local African Methodist Episcopal minister "who filled Wellborn-area religious needs in the absence of a regularly-organized church." Apparently, he made an impression on young James Dean.

It was at the other end of James Dean's life that I picked up another cause to ask more questions about him. Yes, he was the state of Florida's first African American jurist. Yes, he also became prominent in the course of his nearly-lifelong affiliation with the A.M.E. Church. But it was a statement at the end of that same thirty-four page article in the Florida Historical Quarterly that pulled me up short and made me ask another volley of questions.

I had been at a lack to find an actual obituary for the man, though the Quarterly reported his date of death as December 19, 1914. According to the Quarterly article, he died in Jacksonville, where he had spent much of his life, though the article also mentioned that James Dean always considered Wellborn his home. Not surprisingly, though his well-attended funeral was held at the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Jacksonville, the Quarterly noted that James Dean was to be buried back in Wellborn, "by the side of relatives in the family burial ground."

Where that family burial ground was, though, the article did not specify. 

Enter next iteration of that barrage of questions.

Of course, I know where I'd look for burials in Wellborn. My family—and quite a few of Wellborn's population—was buried on a little corner of the original McClellan property, near McClellan Lake, at the McClellan cemetery. You get the idea.

But this was 1914, and African Americans didn't just get buried in places like that. There would have been a different location in that same tiny town where those with African heritage would have been buried. But where? There was no way to tell, just based on the name of the cemetery.

Putting Find A Grave through its paces by examining a listing of every cemetery in Wellborn—remember, this is a rural community in which the entire county contained barely nineteen thousand population at the time—didn't prove helpful. 

Taking a step further back and seeking any burials in the entire county for the surname Dean led to some hits, but it didn't take too long to examine the results and realize one thing: none of those deceased would have been African American. Remember, this was the South in 1914. It didn't matter that we were seeking the remains of a former judge. Even though there was a Dean family cemetery in Suwannee County, Wellborn's home, it became obvious that this was the final resting place for some pre-Civil War Dean family members, a clue that, once again, we wouldn't have found the judge included in these burials.

It did, though, inspire a few more questions. The first question, of course, is: just where was Judge James Dean actually buried in Wellborn, if not in any of the cemetery listings I could find? After all, if he was buried with his family, this would be my opportunity to discover just who some of those family members were. But following that obvious pursuit, it also prompted me to wonder just what became of those other Deans I had found in this search for King Stockton's FAN Club. Would James Dean have been buried with his father, Kelly? What about Minta, or Minty, Dean, his mother? Pushing even farther, would Louvenia King's father, the supposed Thaddeus Dean, have been buried in the same cemetery? In finding that cemetery, wherever it was, would I find the door opened to many questions—or just stumble upon even more questions?

More than that, though, is the question of whether there was any connection between the Deans of the Dean family cemetery I had already found and, perhaps, a slave-owning Dean family from which Kelly and Minta Dean might have been emancipated.

As you can surmise, asking research questions may lead to answers—but they often lead only to further questions.

Fortunately, despite this tailspin, this morning begins the second week of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where the very class which will help equip me to delve further into those many questions will be my week-long focus. While I'm churning out these endless research questions to lead me to a fuller understanding of the former slave known as King Stockton, I'm looking to the team of instructors whom I'll be learning from this week to help me through this research quandary.

While the perpetual question machine that I've turned into, thanks to the discipline of genealogy, may be cranking out vast numbers of questions right now, I'm looking forward to discovering some targeted resources to lead me, finally, to some answers. And a deeper understanding of the milieu of life in the south for the friends, associates, and neighbors of a man born into slavery in a land of the free.      

1 comment:

  1. I hope you find answers! The cemetery is such an intriguing clue.


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