Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Florida Crackers


Depending on whom you consult, the term Florida Cracker may refer to immigrants from as early as colonial times to more recent arrivals—well, make that around Civil War times—in Florida. The point of the term is to delineate those who were pioneer settlers, generally of European heritage, in the region which eventually became Florida. Many of those immigrants were North American colonizers who moved south from the Carolinas and Georgia, some of whom were Scots-Irish, Irish, or English by ancestry, often moving along the frontier regions of each of those states before arriving in Florida.

Among Floridians, the term is sometimes used simply to denote that their family has been in Florida for many generations. Of course, genealogists—not about to lose an opportunity to chart such relationships—have come up with designations to honor such pioneer residents, and the Florida State Genealogical Society has made their database of "Florida Pioneers" publicly available on their website. Not surprisingly, some Townsend family members—such as the one I mentioned the other day, Allen Townsend, possible brother of my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend Charles—have been recognized in that category of early settlers to territorial Florida.

When the Townsends came to north Florida during its territorial years, they were among many others who had followed that same migration pattern—moving from South Carolina through Georgia, then eventually across the state line into the northern region of what eventually became Florida. Perhaps the fact that in 1860 a map maker issued a map featuring the counties of Florida, strangely juxtaposed with the state of South Carolina, is no surprise.

Though my family line which leads back through the generations to Delaney Townsend has not been confirmed to the specific identity of her parents—my third research goal for this year—this past month has clarified several possible connections to other Townsend settlers in the area around Madison County. Between my Townsend line and the Charles line she married into—plus the McClellan line of her daughter Emma's husband—I certainly have a number of eligible ancestors to document through the Florida State Genealogical Society's pioneer program. Guess that makes me a "Florida Cracker," too.

Now that the month has come to a close, we'll move on in April to another research goal for 2021. This time, we'll move from my mother's ancestors to my mother-in-law's roots and revisit a challenge from last year which also was left uncompleted. While we put the mystery of Delaney's Townsend roots on hold in Florida and South Carolina, we'll move on to another set of early settlers in the south: the Carrolls in colonial Virginia.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Clues from Collateral Lines


At this point in my search for the origin of my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend, the lack of actual documentation has led me to seriously eye any possible sources. Since the presumed parents of Delaney—John and Keziah Townsend of Marlboro County, South Carolina—had at least thirteen children, looking at collateral lines gave me plenty of options for snooping around.

Besides that overarching research question—wondering why I couldn't find any documentation linking John and Delaney—there are two other key questions. The first involves the reasons why so many of John Townsend's children left their home in South Carolina to settle in Florida. And, like a second shoe dropping, my follow up question reversed the direction of that migration pattern: why, after Delaney's passing, did her daughters move from their native Florida to South Carolina—but not stay?

I took some time wandering through all the details I could find on the other Townsend descendants who moved to Madison County, Florida. In a long file including transcriptions from documents concerning John Townsend's oldest son, Jesse, I believe I found one clue to why he left his home state.

From the Burval website on the Townsend family, sure enough, I found at least one reason why Jesse, if not his brothers, chose to leave South Carolina. The reason was embedded in a long-winded interrogation before the Southern Claims Commission in 1876, when one Jesse Townsend of Duval County, Florida, appealed to be reimbursed for property "taken from or furnished by" him during the Civil War. Apparently, when the Union Army was in the vicinity, they somehow acquired sixteen head of cattle from Townsend, for which he was now seeking reimbursement.

Of course, before he could reach a settlement in this case, he and several witnesses had to be interrogated. A Townsend researcher had transcribed the responses to that session, which information was subsequently included in the Burval website under the entry for Jesse Townsend, son of John—in other words, possibly my Delaney's older brother Jesse.

At the end of page fifteen of the transcription, carrying on to the following page, an acquaintance of Jesse Townsend, testifying on his behalf, had been asked about Jesse's loyalty to the Union cause. After all, Jesse was born in South Carolina, site of the rallying cry for secession, and by the time of the war, had long been living even farther south in Florida. 

The interrogators questioned this witness about Jesse's political leanings during the war, and the man's opinion of why Jesse might have seen things that way. In response, the witness explained:

He [Jesse] was from South Carolina and had to leave there on account of his opposition to nullification...he hates South Carolina most heartily.

Nullification? Not keeping up on my South Carolina history, I had to head to Google for that one. Apparently, the 1833 passage of the Ordinance of Nullification was South Carolina's rebuttal to the institution of earlier federal tariffs, and led to a crisis which nearly came to a showdown with federal troops.

Perhaps that was what prompted Jesse to leave his childhood home and community. However, the Burval site introduces a second reason: perhaps Jesse moved first to Georgia to be close to his uncle in Liberty County, where he settled in time for the 1820 census. Eventually, he moved to Lowndes County, Georgia, like his brothers, but instead of then crossing the state line directly into Madison County, he moved eventually to Duval County in Florida.

Besides the information gleaned from the Burval website on Jesse Townsend, there was another brother whose story provided some clues for my search. This brother, unlike the others in his family, did not move to Florida, but stayed on in Marlboro County, South Carolina, where he eventually became rather successful.

In this brother's story—Light Townsend, son of John—we see a few clues regarding his difference from his siblings. There is a note in the Burval website regarding a report from another Townsend researcher, which mentioned that unlike the others in his family, only Light Townsend "left a family Bible with full records." Interestingly, that same researcher noted that Light was "the only one who left a will."

Perhaps that is why my quest to obtain a copy of John Townsend's will still leaves me empty-handed.

Without documentation, all I'm left with is circumstantial evidence and what is essentially the hearsay from close relatives. Recalling that there are some people whose oral family "history" includes such gems as the myth of the Cherokee "princess," I wince to think the only way I can connect this ancestor of mine to her forebears is through reports by her distant relatives. But perhaps I can take courage in the realization that some earlier recollections are corroborated by members of other branches of the family.

Take this observation written in an unpublished manuscript, Townsends of Marlboro, by researcher Marie Townsend Butler, quoted in the Burval website entry for Light Townsend.

When Light lived at what is now the Cousins farm, he had two nephews from Florida living with him. They were sons of his brother, John and his wife, Vicie, who had died. One of the boys was trained as a surveyor and his Uncle Light gave him a horse and $100 when he returned to Florida.

Sound familiar? Light Townsend was the same man who was said, in the D.A.R. application of Annie Florence Kinney, to have brought Delaney's two daughters home with him after they were orphaned upon their father's death. Perhaps, given this description from the Townsend manuscript on the Burval site, Emma and Fannie Charles didn't go to South Carolina before living with their Aunt Drucilla in Florida, but after the point we found them in the 1860 census.

Two of his sister Delaney's daughters came to Blenheim to live with him after their father died. They were Emma and Fannie Charles, and were living with the family when eighteen of Sherman's men came to the plantation house during their march through the Cheraw area.

The passage later notes, "For many year these sisters were the connecting link between the Marlboro family and their Florida relatives."

While I don't have specific government-verified documents to demonstrate the connection between my Delaney Townsend Charles and her parents and siblings, there are these other, personally-written records. In some ways, they help piece together the family saga—such anecdotes as the tale of Sherman's men providing a timeline—and in other ways, they corroborate what other individuals had asserted. With enough independently drawn up sources—family letters, lineage society applications, and other incidental statements—it could be possible to draw up an argument supporting the assertion that Delaney's father might well have been John Townsend of Marlboro County, South Carolina.

Still, I'd like to see more of those snippets of information for myself. Letting the rest of the family tell the story is one way to lead me to those resources.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Stops Along the Way


It's time to check out what life was like in 1840s territorial Florida. More specifically, this is my chance to see just who my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend, might have been living with in Florida before her March 8, 1841, marriage to Andrew Jackson Charles. After all, a single woman didn't typically travel alone from her home—in Delaney's case, well over four hundred miles away in Marlboro County, South Carolina. Surely by the time of her marriage, she was already resident in the early years of what was then the United States territory of Florida.

As it turned out, by 1840, there were several other Townsends living in Madison County, the same place in territorial Florida where Delaney ended up marrying Andrew Charles. Whether they were her brothers, I can't yet tell. Remember, I'm still holding out for actual documentation to support the oft-repeated assertion that Delaney was daughter of John and Keziah Townsend of Marlboro County, South Carolina. However, keep in mind that some of these Madison County Townsends had descendants who have shown up in my DNA match list.

Others have reported that several sons of John and Keziah Townsend did migrate to Florida during its territorial years—Allen Townsend, for one. With that possibility, I looked page by page through the 1840 territorial census to see if somehow, I could tease out the numbers to spot Delaney hidden away in any of the Madison County Townsend households.

Remember that, unlike the more recent census records in which every resident would be listed by name, the 1840 census, as well as those of earlier decades, listed only the head of household by name. The rest of the home's residents were delineated by marks under brackets divided by gender and age groupings.

Relying on Delaney's sole entry in the 1850 census, I extrapolated an estimate for her year of birth—circa 1816. I also banked on Delaney's arrival in Florida by the time of the 1840 census, since her marriage in 1841 was early in the year. With that thought, I began paging through the territorial census for 1840, looking at each Townsend household to see if I could find any eligible females entered under the age of thirty, but at least twenty years old.

There were several Townsend men listed in that 1840 census. Page six included Allen, David, and James. Page twelve displayed John. Page sixteen was Benjamin's entry, and page eighteen featured "Capt. J." Townsend—surely Jesse.

Despite the several choices, keeping in mind that some of those Townsend men were already married to women who fit Delaney's same age category, I could not find any household which included room for a visiting, soon-to-be married Delaney. Where was she?

That is when I took a closer look at the history of the Florida territory during those years prior to statehood, and the narratives written up on the family histories of some of the sons of John and Keziah Townsend who migrated to Florida.

Turns out, there were stops along the way before these brothers settled in Madison County, Florida. Allen Townsend, for instance, moved in the mid 1820s with his young family plus three of his brothers to a place then called Irwin County, Georgia. Not long after that point, a new county was carved out of Irwin County and dubbed Lowndes County. The Townsend brothers and their families, after leaving their home in South Carolina, first settled in that south Georgia county.

It so happened that, as the Florida territory began opening up to settlers, it was a matter of a little more than forty miles to travel from the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia, to the county seat of Madison County, Florida—closer even than that, if one were simply crossing the state line from the one county to the other.

While tracing those Townsend migrations, I still couldn't find any sign of Delaney in their households, but I did discover some other helpful information. Among other details, by reading through several documents on the Townsend collateral lines, I gleaned some hints as to just why so many of the Townsend men—including John Townsend's oldest son—chose to leave their home state to settle near the uncertainties of territorial Florida.   

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Saturation Point


In past years, now would be the time when folks like me would get ready for upcoming genealogical conferences. Early bird deadlines loomed for big draws like the National Genealogical Society's conference in May, only to be followed by the conference offered by the former Federation of Genealogical Societies, and a choice of many state events, as well.

The pandemic has changed all that. But rather than shriveling a thriving conference season, we've actually seen attendance opportunities explode. Following last year's hard decision points when, hoping right up to the last minute for the situation to improve, organizations had to pivot and switch to online programming, we now have become used to the webinar option, even for venues as large as RootsTech.

There's a fallout to that abundance. When registrants can sign up for a conference and then revel in the opportunities of choosing to view everything available, we approach a change of meeting dynamics.

For one thing, being greedy, I've signed up to watch far more sessions than I turned out actually watching. Something tugs at me when I end up essentially walking away from presentations I theoretically paid to watch. Yes, I know it's the conference that was the package deal, not the sessions I chose but ended up not watching. I just can't handle missing out. The weird reverse psychology turns out to be the thought: why sign up if I'm not going to follow through? I really need to be present to benefit. I won't participate as fully, watching from home. This past year, I've learned that about myself.

On the other hand, there is such a proliferation of genealogical material available online now that the thought might be, why offer anything more? The "market" is saturated. How can an organization like a local genealogical society compete with the program development muscle of international businesses, plus national conferences and multiple state programs, as well? Besides, there are only twenty four hours in any given day; there is only so much training a budding genealogist can absorb every day. The willing learner is saturated with too many opportunities.

With a dynamic like that, I wonder whether there will be a shakeout in the genealogical world. I'm not sure it will be experienced quite the same on the business side as it will in the small, nonprofit side of the equation. While yes, a local genealogical society can also produce monthly meetings online, with such a wide spectrum of programming choices, it is most certain that some entities will be shaken loose. 

And yet, that is not the primary platform upon which local societies were originally founded. We may all—large or small—be currently existing on the same bandwidth, but eventually life will return to something closer to normal, or at least face-to-face. Then what? Will that future still include local organizations dedicated to the support of our community's genealogists? Or will they have fallen by the wayside in the metric of spiraling demands on each organization to continue producing bigger and better online programming?

Of course, the local genealogical society never signed up to be part of this race. The current reality of the pandemic restricts ability to gather together for in-person meetings, thrusting us into the same online arena in which larger organizations already have the muscle to excel. The key, however, is not to attempt to compete on that same playing field—a field rapidly approaching that saturation point of programming—but to look for the inflection point at which we, though not the larger entities, can specialize in meeting local needs. That is, after all, the trajectory we were originally intended to pursue in the genealogical community.  

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Still Zooming Along


After I closed our genealogical society's monthly meeting this month, a thought came to me. It was one year ago this same month when, for the first time in our sixty nine year history, we had to cancel our general membership meeting on account of a statewide lockdown due to the threat of a new, deadly disease. As much as we wanted to meet, we couldn't. Besides, no matter how much we looked forward to hearing the featured speaker, who wanted to take the risk?

Since that point, it has been twelve months of a very different type of get-together: a virtual one. It didn't take long to get over that missed meeting hiccup and learn to adjust to a new reality. We learned to convene meetings online and, more to the point, we learned how to help each other attend such meetings.

We learned to Zoom. Together.

In the path of all this rapid adjustment, we learned a few things about ourselves. First, we learned that, no matter how "seasoned," we can still learn new tricks. Along with that, we learned how to be kinder, gentler—or at least more patient—in helping each other get back to being with the group. We became more supportive of each other as we weathered the trials inherent in the upset of our normal routine. We even had better opportunities to put names to faces and get to know each other more in a virtual setting.

Although there were some speakers who wished to have their scheduled presentation put on hold until we could meet face to face, even they learned to adapt to the new circumstances. In many ways, as we look back over the year, our society has enjoyed a wider range of speakers and topics than we might have had access to, if limited by those who were willing to drive to our city to meet with us in person.

Perhaps as a by-product of meeting limitations, our board was willing to extend themselves and increase the number of society meetings each month. We re-introduced our Special Interest Group meetings as online events and added a new, discussion-style meeting each month, along with continuing our regular monthly evening event featuring speakers presenting on a wide variety of topics regarding genealogy.

The only downside was the acquired aversion to the threat of "Zoom bombing." Not that we had ever had such an experience, but members were vocal in their warnings about what they had heard from friends of friends. Despite never being on the receiving end of any such unpleasant rants, we found ourselves closing ranks: sending meeting links to only our own members. Gone were the open-door policies of freely welcoming in any visitor who wanted to see what we were all about.

That one policy change could have cost us in membership. After all, not everyone is as fanatical about their family history as some of the rest of us; members come and go as genealogy wanes as a season in their life. Surely, that policy would eventually come around to hurt us in the membership count.

And yet, strangely enough, another dynamic stepped up to mitigate that threat. Now that they could, our members who had moved away from the area—working members who had retired, or those who had lost a spouse or moved closer to their now-adult children—could now show up every month to join us in our meetings. Our monthly meetings became more like a big reunion of past members, glad to check in once a month with old friends.

In addition, those avid genealogists from across the nation whose ancestors had once lived in our area now realized that they, too, could join in the events of our society—even if they, themselves, had never lived in or near our city. The introduction of attendees from so many diverse places makes for a lively gathering leading up to the monthly business meeting. Granted, it's not quite to the level of the buzz of the social gathering before or after those now long-gone face to face meetings, but we're learning to adapt. For some whose health required their strict isolation this past year, it was the closest they had come to social contact in a long time; you could tell those members really looked forward to each month's online event.

If you asked me, a year ago, whether members in the typical genealogical society would take to such technology-assisted remote events, I certainly would have had my doubts. And yes, we have some faithful members now who haven't been able to fully attend meetings for a variety of (mostly computer-based) reasons. But for so many others, the level of engagement has certainly become infectious. Some have commented that they'd like to see the online component continue, even if we are all cleared to return to face-to-face meetings.

What began as a desperate attempt to make up for what we had lost has turned into a bonus that our genealogical society has unexpectedly gained. After a year of co-existing with Covid, we're still Zooming along. And likely to keep at it for years to come.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Brainy Idea Meets Bright Shiny Object


It has been twenty six days of serious searching, and I am still no more enlightened than when I started my latest research project. I am not any less "stuck" on the puzzle of my third great-grandmother's parents than I was at the beginning of this month. Try what may seem reasonable, I haven't been able to locate any confirming documentation demonstrating that the oft-affirmed John Townsend of Marlboro County, South Carolina, was indeed father of my Delaney Townsend Charles. On the other hand, neither have I been able to locate any records pointing to someone else as her father.

Since the earliest record I have found which specifically named Delaney Townsend is her 1841 marriage record in Madison County, Florida, the thought has struck me that it seemed odd, given the time period and the territorial status of the land at that time, for a single woman from South Carolina to be on her own, hunting for a husband well over four hundred miles from her (supposed) parents' home.

What if Delaney Townsend's parents weren't John and Keziah Townsend? The elder Townsends were said to have had several sons who had migrated to northern Florida to acquire land, including two—Allen and Benjamin—whose descendants are my DNA matches at Though lack of satisfactory documentation causes me to hesitate at assuming John was my ancestral root, there are plenty of resources to trace the lines forward from either Allen or Benjamin.

That, then, became my brainy idea of what to do next: to at least examine the documented lines leading from those Townsend DNA matches to the specific Madison County, Florida, Townsends. Mainly, the idea is to examine any historical references which could shed any light on why Delaney might have gone to Florida with any of these other Townsend men. Whether her parents remained back in South Carolina—or turned out to actually be one of the Townsends who settled in northern Florida—at least I could access reliable documentation to lead me back to that Townsend generation.

First step was to head to my DNA match list at to look up all my matches whose tree contained the surname Townsend.

That's about as far as I got. What I saw there transfixed me. I'm a sucker for Bright Shiny Objects. And I saw one.

I had first read about this change at last week, when I perused Randy Seaver's "Best of" column on his blog, Genea-Musings. There, leading off last week's list, was an article appearing in Memories in Time, the blog of New Zealand genealogist Fiona Brooker. The article detailed an update for's DNA match listings.

I read the article through, but though it appeared back on March 15, the appearance of the panel announcing the change, posted on Fiona's blog, did not look familiar to me.

Not until last night, at least, when I got my Brainy Idea to pursue the other Townsend families who were Delaney's neighbors in northern Florida. First thing I did was pull up my DNA match list to search for matches with the surname Townsend in their tree.

Actually, I should say I tried to pull up that match list. Before I could get to the spot I wanted, I was confronted with a card looking much the same as the one in Fiona's blog.


Clicking through, I found that I did have that Ancestry update, after all. It just got to New Zealand sooner than it arrived in California.

Everything looked so different that, rather than stay focused on my current research mission, I had to take a look around. I noticed several additions besides the heralded ability to "select multiple matches to add to groups." 

For one thing, the shared genetic material is now given in two formats: centiMorgan measurement and percentage. Matches' trees, where available on, are now either called "public linked tree" or "private linked tree." Most convenient of all: any notes I've made on a particular match can now be seen directly under that person's entry on the match list. No more hunting for where I parked a note to myself on a specific individual. And to the far right of that same bar is the edit pencil which, when clicked, allows the quick addition to, or removal from, the designated family groups I've already set up.

The tabs at the top of the match page seem to remain the same as before, which is fine for me. Too much re-arranging of the "furniture" on a web page causes too much down time while the weary eyes seek whatever became of favorite features. No problem with this change: the items now added to the match entries speed the process of organizing my matches, while the familiarity of the tabs in the header keep me grounded in the functionality I already have come to appreciate.

And with that bedazzled moment of oooh-ahh over the Bright Shiny Object, I'll now be back to delving into those Townsend neighbors of the single, marriageable Delaney. Now, it's back to 1840s Florida territory, wondering just what brought that single woman four hundred miles from home at a time like that.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Still Grinding Away


I'm still on a month-long genealogical wrestling match, er, mission to find the parents of my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend. She, living in Florida along with her husband Andrew Charles, disappeared from sight—well, at least governmental sight in census records—sometime between the 1850 census and the one taken ten years later.

Yes, in a way, I am still grinding away at this problem in the background, making genealogical sausage. The boring stuff I promised I wouldn't detail—at least, not too much—here in posts.

Turns out, even though "browsing" through microfilmed probate records may sound tedious, the process has a rhythm to it. After reading up on what's available at the wiki—and spotting (with dread) the locked icon which signifies a film which usually is only available for viewing at the Family History Library (a place inaccessible during these pandemic times), I clicked through to see what would happen with my collection of choice.

Somewhat like a very surprised Alice in Wonderland, I discovered those iron gates opened to me of their own accord. Apparently, in the midst of my searching, the lock icon had been removed. Now, all I have to do is "browse" through 654,824 images to find my guy, John Townsend, the supposed father of Delaney Townsend Charles.

That record set with the 654,824 images is held in the file called "South Carolina Probate Records, Files and Loose Papers, 1732-1964." See? Simple.

Actually, the process is not as overwhelming as it sounds. First, I select the county of interest. Since John Townsend—the name indicated by so many others who have researched this family line including my Delaney—lived in Marlboro County, South Carolina, and actually was buried there in 1843, that, obviously, was my first choice, though I may also have to search in any other county where he might have owned property.

The next step—after reading up on what to expect in the collection—was to head first for the file labeled "Index to Estate Papers." That began the hunt-and-peck method: locate the "T" section by picking a landing spot within the "tiles" in this mosaic of thumbnail sketches of digitized pages from the microfilm. Then, when I landed on the right letter of the alphabet, I realized I overshot my goal, landing well into the 1900s—the date range for this collection being 1732 through 1964—and I had to backtrack, page by page, opening up each thumbnail picture to enlarge the page.

When I finally arrived at the page containing both the right alpha character and the closest date range—the first entry on the index page began with the year 1795—I read through all the surnames entered. There were, encouragingly, several Townsends entered on that page. Unfortunately, none of them was John Townsend. In fact, the dates in the margin of the index jumped from 1835 to 1846, skipping right over the year of John Townsend's supposed death.

Remembering my search through the wills for a different branch of my family—for a man whose estate took over twenty years to settle—I made sure to page through to check on later dates, just in case John's will showed up in a later entry. No luck. 

I also recalled that sometimes, a wife might inherit property from her husband, which then might require a separate will, and looked for Keziah Townsend's name in later entries (she died in 1858). No sightings.

You know I'll be checking on this further, in case there was a filing system I've yet to gain the knack of exploring. In addition, though John and Keziah were buried in Marlboro County, if they spent their later years living in a different county, perhaps their property went through probate in a different location. There is certainly more to explore before I cry "uncle" over this genealogical wrestling match.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

About D N A


While documentation demonstrates the legal links between family members, DNA becomes that intangible token of connectivity between a far more extended web of family.

While I struggle, for instance, to get my hands on a document—any document—showing the parents of my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend Charles, I am already buried under an avalanche of DNA matches saying it is indeed so that Delaney was daughter of John and Keziah Hays Townsend.

At least it seems like that is what it's saying.

Of course, one possibility for the eighty seven other subscribers who show up on my Thru-Lines listing for Delaney's father is that they, too, have all copied the same unproven name into their own tree. Yeah, our DNA might be showing us that we are all related, but that doesn't mean the most recent common ancestor who started this whole deal had to have been John Townsend. That's one risk of copying family trees—online or off.

On the other hand, I have great faith in what a DNA test can show us about our relatives. Of course, the more distant the relationship, the less reliable the signal. In fact, there are some family relationships—generally, more distant than third cousin—where the DNA test route may show you nothing. It doesn't mean that person is not family; it just means that the genetic material from the distant ancestor you have in common with that relative got passed down to you, but not to your fourth cousin.

Let's take a look at the dynamics of comparing DNA with other Ancestry subscribers who claim John Townsend in their tree—or whatever other mystery Townsend the ancestor might have been. If Delaney was my third great-grandmother, searching for DNA to point to her parents requires me to seek descendants of my fourth great-grandparents who share DNA with me. That means, if we are talking a straight-across relationship, we are seeking fifth cousins.

Hmmm...with just this thumbnail sketch of the possibilities, it would be a slim chance to find that I and anyone else share that small an amount of genetic material. But let's take a look at what the possibilities are. 

First, let's consult with Blaine Bettinger's Shared centiMorgan Project, handily shared in an interactive format on the website DNA Painter. Blaine Bettinger gathered the data from more than sixty thousand submissions to examine genetic measurements by type of relationship. For instance, he gleaned the centiMorgan measurement for all submissions containing relationships of fifth cousin and came up with a chart like this:


The first number directly under the label for the type of relationship specified—in this case, 5C signifies fifth cousin—shows the average number of centiMorgans for that specific relationship. However, to give an idea of the range of possible measurements, the third line provides the smallest given count—in this case, zero, as at this distant relationship, not all fifth cousins will inherit the specific ancestor's genetic material—and the second number in that same line provides the largest amount seen for this relationship within the collected data set.

Gleaning the results from this collection of data tells me a few important clues. The first is that, no matter who Delaney's father turns out to be, there is a good possibility that I and any other given distant Townsend relative may share absolutely not one smidgeon of genetic material. On the other hand, there is a chance that two Townsend fifth cousins could share as much as 117 centiMorgans, a substantial amount. But the long and short of it is that several Townsend fifth cousin matches will see a result hovering around twenty five centiMorgans.

Of course, that is considering I and a DNA match happen to be related at the simple level of fifth cousin. My family tends to have what some call long generations—in other words, the number of years between generations is higher than the average span. If a match happens to come from a family with shorter generational spans, the relationship might be, say, fifth cousins once removed. Or more.

With each additional distance between DNA matches, the average centiMorgan count decreases—and the likelihood that no genetic material is shared at all also increases.

All that to say, looking for a DNA match whose data can lead me to the answer I seek—who is Delaney's father, for instance—becomes a more difficult search, the farther removed the relationship becomes.

And yet, I have no other option through DNA testing, for seeking a closer cousin means comparing notes with someone for whom I already have documentation concerning the relationship. On this thin illusion of a relationship I hover between the smallest slices of chromosomal material—and yet, I have well over eighty examples of how I may share DNA with other Townsend descendants.

If, that is, their family tree is well documented and correct. And there's the rub: any contemporaneous record listing the children of John—or the parents of Delaney—is, so far, still out of my grasp.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

About Documentation


Face it: when it comes to tracing a person's lineage, that simply cannot be done convincingly without the use of solid documentation. Documentation demonstrates legal connections—not just identifying who a person was, but how that person was connected to the generation beforehand. Whether through a demonstration of rights of inheritance via a marriage record or a will, or establishment and maintenance of property rights through deeds or property tax records, legal records—those documents we seek—help us trace our lineage back through the generations.

It may seem I'm picky, hearing my rants about lack of documentation linking my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend Charles, to her parents' generation. Why not simply grab onto the assertions written by countless others researching this same line? Surely someone knew what they were talking about.

While in the past, lineage societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution may have accepted as "documentation" items which no longer are considered satisfactory demonstrations of relationship, today's standards may seem much more stringent. That, actually, is a good thing. That paper trail helps others check our work, establish that the reasoning is sound, and that our research has not led us down a mistaken line through faulty conclusions.

The degree of diligence in using documents to establish lines of relationship may seem overwhelming to some, until we get used to that way of thinking. It may, for instance, seem over the top to insist on discovering the year of publication of the family Bible into which all the Townsend dates of birth, marriage, or death were entered. But if that Bible had been printed after the fact of some of those dates, it would not be demonstrating that the record was created at the time of the actual occurrence, but at a later date.

Who's to say the scribe's memory was correct? Who's to say the date was not copied into the Bible incorrectly? While such errors may be made at the time of the event itself, as well, the point is that, when done at the time of the event, the entry is made for the purpose of memorializing the event—not for drawing up a list with the ulterior motive of qualifying oneself for a coveted designation.

The trouble with documentation is that some documents from the early 1800s—or before—may simply not survive the test of time. Some paperwork poorly tended simply disintegrates, given the ravages of time, weather, the gnawing of critters—not to mention the havoc of war, courthouse fires, or outright mismanagement of records (don't even get me started on jurisdictions which decide to simply toss the records outright).

While that may turn out to be the situation for the parents of Delaney Townsend, wife of Andrew J. Charles, the beauty of documentation is that sometimes, the lack of one type of record may possibly be substituted by a collection of other records. Missing a person in a census record? A collection of tax records may demonstrate that person's continued existence in a specific county, for instance.

At this point, the key documents missing from my search for Delaney are two-fold: not only do I still need some documentation demonstrating Delaney's link to her parents back in South Carolina, but I also need to find records demonstrating what became of her husband's property and the determination of who should care for her children after her death, upon Andrew Charles' passing.

To have not one but several documents missing—and in at least two different jurisdictions, as well—seems odd. But that strange coincidence may actually be pointing out one other factor: that we have come to rely all too heavily on the recent ease of computerized search efforts using digitized documents. 

As much as systems like or may make it seem, not everything is at our fingertips, and we are certainly far from having the entire world's historic documentation digitized. While we are not quite at the stage yet where it is possible to travel again to places where we can access records in person, a complete search may involve writing for records—something far more akin to what genealogical research used to look like before the convenience of computerized record retrieval.

And yet, this is the search we confront when we want to demonstrate a chain of events tying people together from different generations. Documents become a tangible way to display these connections, but they aren't the only way. There is one other demonstration we as genealogists may now use—the record sealed in the core essence of our being: DNA.

Monday, March 22, 2021



When pieces are missing from the documentation of your family's story, then what? We learn to read between the lines.

I'm struggling with connecting the dots between my third great-grandmother in Florida, Delaney Townsend Charles, and her Townsend roots back in South Carolina. There are plenty of assertions that her parents were John and Keziah Hays Townsend of Marlboro County, but there are scant references to any paper trail which would confirm such statements.

Still, given what we've got—right now, I'm reading between the typewritten lines of Annie Florence Kinney's D.A.R. membership application, which inexplicably details Delaney's tangential line to her own Kinney lineage—there may be some stray comments which prove helpful.

The main research issues are lack of any death record, probate record, or other final words on the death of Delaney or her husband, Andrew J. Charles, and lack of much of the same for Delaney's supposed father. We can find Delaney and Andrew and their children in the 1850 census, living in Madison County in northern Florida. By 1860, all we can find are their children—living in someone else's household.

That household, as we've already seen, was headed by the second husband of Andrew Charles' sister Drucilla, so theoretically, there should be some documentation specifying the guardianship arrangement that surely was established. But without documentation, we are only guessing.

The assumption is easy to make that some great misfortune befell the couple, causing their death and leaving their children orphaned. Although that leaves us a wide gap of time for our conjecture—anywhere from the date the 1850 census was taken to just before any mortality schedule would be drawn up for the 1860 census—the diligent approach would be to scour any available records, not only in the location of their 1850 residence, but including the counties lying between Madison and the home of their children's guardian in 1860.

In the meantime, there are some aspects of usefulness to the quandary of re-reading and re-reading the same sorry details we've already collected. Take, for instance, this passage, gleaned first from a website featuring the Townsend genealogy and then from the source document referenced in that website, a copy of Annie Florence Kinney's D.A.R. application (note brackets indicate handwritten correction entered in the original application):

After the death of Andrew Jackson Charles, Mr. Light Townsend ([grand]father of John R. of Blenheim) went to Fla. and brought his two nieces back to Marlboro County with him and reared them in his home.

In providing this explanation, applicant Annie Florence Kinney provides us a clue as to what became of my second great-grandmother's parents. It's a small clue, of course, but it helps paint a scenario of how events unfolded.

Note the narrative states, "After the death of Andrew," not "after the death of Andrew and Delaney." The text is intimating that Delaney died before her husband—possibly from causes unrelated to Andrew's own death. Continuing this examination further, as there seems to be confusion over how many sons Delaney had, this scenario might have intimated that Delaney could have died following childbirth, possibly of that second, unexplained son mentioned in the same D.A.R. application.

Of course, nothing explains—yet—just why the death of the second parent prompted the relatives of the first parent to come claim the children. Nor does that help us understand why those relatives, living a greater distance from the Charles children, superseded the guardianship claims of the nearby relatives, who also lived in northern Florida.

Another clue to help pinpoint a timeline of these unfortunate events might be that Andrew Charles' sister—Drucilla, the one who, after her second marriage, did take in the Charles orphans—could have been otherwise occupied with her own tragedy at the time of Andrew's death. Drucilla's last daughter with her first husband was born in January of 1858, and her next child, with the second husband, was born in April of 1860, hinting at the possibility that she would not be in a position to take in three additional relatives any time around 1857 until the time of their actual arrival before June 22, 1860.

Still, dissecting the wording on a D.A.R. application only fuels our conjectures about what did actually happen. To know for sure, we'd need to see documentation—the very thing we are now lacking. Though a solidly constructed proof argument can work wonders, that only stands if we can weave a web of reasoning with enough indisputable data points to connect the dots logically. At this point, those dots are too few and far between to draw up the argument that the patriot John Townsend was Delaney's father.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Spring Cleaning the Family Tree


Family history research seems to take on an ebb and flow. Right now, taking a cue from signs of approaching spring, it seems the task is mostly about managing growth, as all branches of that family tree are sprouting new buds. Keeping in mind that my tree is different than most—I'm growing it from the roots to the shoots, tracing all the descendants of my ancestors to use as a guide in sorting my DNA matches—that makes for an expansive tree. There is always some detail needing a family tree arborist's intervention.

And so I work on, moving from one ancestral line to another, until I've gone as far as an autosomal DNA test could reasonably be expected to reach—to about the sixth cousin level, I've decided, on each line. From the point of the last two week's work, that means my own family tree has grown by 138 names to its current size of 25,441 individuals. That's a lot of cousins—plus enough iterations of great-grandparents to reach back to the early 1800s.

It's pretty much the same story for my in-laws' lines. Despite my husband's tree only growing by thirty five documented names during that same time period, his family tree now has 20,210 individuals. 

I find myself alternating between trees, so the next two weeks will see me concentrate again on my husband's tree, focusing on the branches there which will help determine just how his DNA matches connect to the rest of his family.

Sometimes, those more distant DNA cousins seem to be the greater challenge. That was my primary motivation to begin this research process when I first delved into DNA testing. It seems most results came back as fourth cousins—or even more distant. "Who are these people?" I'd keep asking myself.

And yet, despite the greater challenge to fit each match into the right branch on that family tree, when I can figure out the right connection, that small victory comes with some helpful realizations. Sometimes, I've missed an entire branch of the tree, owing to an overlooked sibling in a distant generation. Or I've been short-sighted about the possibility of more than one marriage, leading to children of a different surname that I didn't realize belonged to my family line. Some of these family lines seem to have been invisible, until I checked the documentation more clearly.

The real challenge of spring cleaning the family tree, though, comes in sorting out the DNA matches. While the rate has slowed markedly at which new matches get added to our accounts—we've tested at all five DNA companies, and have seen that trend across the board—there still are thousands of names to sort. Working to organize those mystery matches by "buckets"—first separating the paternal matches from the maternal ones, then trying to split them into groups by grandparents' surnames, then even further—can seem as tedious as spring cleaning, but the end result is a clearer vision of at least where some of the matches belong.  

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Off the Shelf: The Lost Family


The first time I heard about Libby Copeland's book, The Lost Family, was before its publication date a year ago. Somehow, I had stumbled upon an article she had written on the same topic, direct to consumer DNA testing—likely a preview of the upcoming book. I had meant to read the book ever since—along with an entire antilibrary of additional fascinating topics awaiting me. You know me.

When the author's name appeared in the advanced promotions for this year's RootsTech Connect, that little twinge of recollection prompted me to get with it and open the cover. After all, I have a voracious appetite for anything written on the use of DNA tests for genealogy—even if, as the author puts it, that includes discovery of the "disruptive fact" which may lurk within such tests.

Libby Copeland, a seasoned journalist—and, as she puts it on her own website, editor and "cultural spelunker"—has spent an entire career writing for some of the most recognized American periodicals, not to mention her years as staff writer for the Washington Post.

In The Lost Family, Copeland muses about "seekers" and "DNA junkies" and the other usuals who make up the cast of likely test-takers, then juxtaposes them with a third category, a far more unsuspecting cast of participants.

They test because they got a kit as a gift for Christmas—and then Easter dinner becomes awkward, because the test has revealed something strange.

These—at least, some of them—make up a group of test-takers who "have DNA results they'd rather not have seen." With that understanding, the author embarked on a search for people who, as seekers, are "grappling with essential questions about identity." Interviewing "hundreds" of them, Copeland arrived at the feeling that we are "embarking on a vast social experiment, the full implications of which we can't yet know."

Scary. At least, if you haven't yet attempted that possibly-fatal DNA test.

The book is a compilation of stories of seekers who did take that step, and came to regret the decision—lives "irrevocably changed," according to the book's cover. Those stories pull the reader in—more so than due to the book's promise that it was "gripping and masterfully told"—perhaps because we recognize in ourselves the same yearning to know more about who we are.

For those of us who already are entwined in the pursuit of genetic genealogy—whether blissfully free of any upsetting surprises, or deliberately chasing the explanation for surprises we'd learned prior to the advent of DNA tests—the book is a necessary read. It provides a useful overview of the rapid growth of genetic genealogy in all its permutations while connecting the dots between seemingly disparate developments tangential to the science, all woven together by the threads of the stories of seekers whose lives have been disrupted by the unexpected.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Yes, She Was Listed


First, let's get to the punchline: yes, my third great-grandmother Delaney Townsend Charles was included in the listing of "Children of Revolutionary Ancestor" in the D.A.R. application of one descendant of patriot John Townsend. The unfortunate difficulty with that application, though, is that it might seem unclear just how Delaney's connection was verified.

The 1948 application of Annie Florence Kinney for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution linked her, generation by generation, to John Townsend by providing various documents for the required verification. On a page in the 1948 D.A.R. application labeled "References for Lineage," the instructions stated,

Proofs for line of descent are wills, administrations, deeds, church, Bible, census and pension records, tombstones, histories, genealogies, old newspapers, etc.

For the most part, Ms. Kinney provided certified lists from two family Bibles (a Kinney family Bible and a Townsend family Bible), as well as citing the will for John Townsend's son (Light), the 1850 census, and the unfortunately vague J. A. W. Thomas' entry on the Townsend family in A History of Marlboro County. The Townsend family Bible, despite sounding like a promising source, was printed in 1839, missing the mark for being a contemporaneous record for births dating back to the earlier part of that century. Likewise, the Light Townsend will wouldn't necessarily provide us a resource for identifying his siblings. 

Nevertheless, in Ms. Kinney's D.A.R. application, on that same page, under "References for Lineage," was a second section labeled "Children of Revolutionary Ancestor." Ms. Kinney had provided the names, dates of birth, and—sometimes—name of spouse for the thirteen children of John and Keziah Hays Townsend. In order, they were:

  • Jessie
  • James A.
  • John
  • Light
  • Joel Wilson
  • Allen
  • Arpie
  • David
  • Fereba
  • Benjamin
  • Isham
  • Delaney Rosella
  • Hester Ann

Underneath that typewritten list of names was the handwritten statement, "children check are from Bible + Cemetery records sent by applicant."

Delaney's name was not checked.

Enclosed with the supplemental records accompanying the D.A.R. application was a section headlined, "Proof of children of John and Keziah Townsend: with births, marriage." The beauty of having a digitized copy of that actual typewritten document is that by viewing the document on my computer (rather than as a printed form), I can enlarge it to see the sometimes difficult to decipher handwritten notes inserted between the typewritten lines.

Thus, here we have the difference between the version I previously wrote about, as it was found in another Townsend researcher's website, and the version updated with the inserted comments as they likely were intended to read.

First, the transcription:

Delaney was the Aunt of Mr. John R. Tow[n]send of Blenheim. Delaney Rosella Townsend married Andrew Jackson Charles.... The daughters of Mrs. Delaney Rosella Townsend Charles were Emma and Fanny and she also had two sons. After the death of Andrew Jackson Charles, Mr. Light Townsend (father of John R. of Blenheim) went to Fla. and brought his two nieces back to Marlboro County with him and reared them in his home.

What was added by hand to the original typed document is now added in bold:

Delaney was the great Aunt of Mr. John R. Tow[n]send of Blenheim....

That, of course, puts the relationship in clearer perspective—and causes me to wonder what other errors were not corrected.

There were more notes of interest. (This time, I'll include the handwritten corrections in the text, again indicating the additions by boldface.)

Names, births and to whom married when known were sent to Mr. John R. Townsend, Blenheim, S. C. (a direct descendant of John Townsend, Revolutionary soldier) (and grandson of Light) by the granddaughter of Delaney Rosella Townsend, Mrs. Fannie Rowell, Welbourne, Fla.

This was the same section in which the applicant explained,

After the death of Andrew Jackson Charles, Mr. Light Townsend (grandfather of John R. of Blenheim) went to Fla. and brought his two nieces back to Marlboro County with him and reared them in his home. They were Emma and Fanny.

After that point, the applicant explained that Emma and Fanny returned to Florida and were married. Emma's husband is referred to only by his surname, McClellan. The text then explains that Fannie Rowell was Emma's daughter.

Dissecting this unclear passage—let alone the reason for its inclusion—may make it seem to indicate a less than stellar source of verification. The narrative seems to indicate that the names, along with dates of birth and marriage details, were actually supplied to John R. Townsend by Fannie Rowell.

Keeping in mind that John R. Townsend was Light Townsend's grandson—and thus the patriot's great-grandson—and that Fannie Rowell was born at the end of 1882, long after her grandmother Delaney's departure, it seems less than reliable to accept the one feeding the other dates gleaned not by documentation, but by oral report. It is not the entry in a family Bible which makes the record certifiable, but the contemporaneous entry of the details—in other words, entered at the time of each occurrence—which lends it authenticity.

While I still haven't been able to locate a will for John Townsend, and now also feel shrouded in doubt over the reliability of the listing of his children in the post-1838 Townsend family Bible, the wording provides some food for thought regarding other details about Delaney and her husband, Andrew Charles. After all, there is no denying there was some connection between the two families. Let's take a deeper dive next week into what the wording on this application might have tangentially revealed to us.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Meet the Applicant


If I can't, by myself, find the documentation I'm seeking to connect my third great-grandmother to her parents, perhaps I can benefit from the research of others—taking great care, of course, to ensure that every assertion is referenced appropriately before I accept it. But first, before we examine the paperwork, let's meet the D.A.R. applicant whose membership request I'm now inspecting so closely.

During the fall of 1948, Annie Florence Kinney began assembling the many documents required to verify her connection to Revolutionary War patriot John Townsend for her application to join the lineage society. The line of descent was clearly laid out in the copy of her application I purchased through the national organization's website.

Annie, who was born in 1907—and has subsequently died in 1995 in the same South Carolina county where her ancestor once lived—was the daughter of Townsend descendant John Frank Kinney. He, in turn, was son of William Frank Kinney and Annie Townsend

Now, we see the trail opening up clearly to the patriot ancestor. That Annie Townsend was daughter of Light Townsend, born in 1798, who in turn was son of the patriot, John Townsend. The patriot himself was born about 1760 and died in Marlboro County, South Carolina, in 1843.

In assembling her application for membership to the Daughters of the American Revolution, Annie Florence Kinney used several sources to verify the names and dates connecting her with her second great-grandfather, the patriot John Townsend. Though at the time, no one had access to photocopying equipment, sources were verified through a system of sworn statements given in the presence of a notary public or, in some cases, a statement signed by a judge of probate for Marlboro County (who just happened to have the same name as the applicant's father).

Many of the records used to verify Ms. Kinney's application were typewritten transcriptions. Typewriting being typewriting, such was prone to, um, typographical errors. For instance, in one section of the application, "Children of Revolutionary Ancestor," my own third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend Charles, was listed—but with her year of birth given as 1915, not only one hundred years after her actual birth, but certainly long after she had died, as well.

While I am grateful for the nineteen pages of Annie Florence Kinney's application and attached supplemental statements, embedded within the file were several details which were enough, added up, to leave me still in doubt. But let's save those details for tomorrow—as well as the listing of all those many children of that Revolutionary Ancestor, John Townsend of Marlboro County, South Carolina.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Checking References


Anyone who has dabbled in genealogy at length will stumble upon the imperative to support family assertions with references to actual documentation. In the case of chasing after my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend Charles, and her possible parentage, I am still sorely lacking said references—and yet it seems everyone asserts that Delaney's parents were indeed John and Keziah Hayes Townsend.

One particular document has been given as "proof" of that connection. We've already seen that statement posted on another online resource, citing the claims of another family member whom I know of all too well. That document was the D.A.R. application of one particular Townsend descendant named Annie Florence Kinney. The claims included in that application were said to originate from my maternal grandmother's own Aunt Fannie.

Although some people may not be aware of this, it is possible to purchase a copy of such D.A.R. applications—as long as the application's details will not violate the privacy of any living person (generally considered to be any material that is not less than one hundred years old). In fact, such purchase orders can be placed online at the national D.A.R. website and received almost instantaneously as a digital document.

There are, of course, restrictions to such a process. For one, the national Daughters of the American Revolution, as an organization, claims copyright protection on any such materials downloaded through this purchasing process. Furthermore, on its instructions prior to purchasing any download of materials, the organization states that it

prohibits the posting of images of DAR application papers and supplemental application papers online in any form by anyone.

Specifically, the D.A.R. prohibits the posting, online, of any images obtained through this purchase process—which is why you won't see me sharing any images of the original documents. In addition, the organization noted that, prior to widely available access to photocopying services, applicants would often request that the documentation they submitted in the process of verifying their eligibility to join the D.A.R. be returned to them following the application process—thus leaving many applications stripped of the very documents someone like myself might be seeking. Surprisingly, the revoking of that previous courtesy did not occur, in some cases, until as late as 1984.

The application I was pursuing was one submitted in 1948, so chances were high that I might not find anything more than the actual form Annie Florence Kinney completed at that date. However, since the D.A.R. offers the option to purchase both the copy of the completed application form and the "supplemental" form, they do provide notice of how many records might be included in the supplemental form. In Annie case, it was noted that there were thirteen additional items included.

Thus, in as much time as it might take for a computer to blink its eye, I had a downloadable copy of each of two documents:  Annie Florence Kinney's D.A.R. application for membership, and the packet of her supplemental information. Tomorrow—and certainly without sharing any images of documents—we'll discuss what I could find within that treasure trove.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

When Sorrows Multiply


When, in wandering the path leading backwards through the generations, we encounter an impassible roadblock, it sometimes works to step to the side, rather than stubbornly press against the immovable. Thus, when I couldn't make any research progress on Delaney Townsend, wife of Andrew Charles of Madison County, Florida, I searched for a bigger picture.

Perhaps this can be dubbed genealogy-by-poking-around. Collateral lines may provide an escape route by enabling the researcher to do an end-run around the point of no answers. But it seems so very uncertain. Nondescript. Vague. Perhaps even mis-directed.

Call it what you may, I started looking at all the siblings I could find for the Charles couple. Of course, in Delaney's case, I have yet to determine who she might have been related to among the many Townsend families in Madison County. But I did already know quite a few details about Andrew Charles' side of the family, so that's where I began my exploration.

Andrew likely had many more siblings than I've been able to find, but that was no problem: I started with what I did know. Andrew, son of Reuben and Rebecca Charles, had at least two sisters of interest for our purposes today: Drucilla and Mary Ann.

Drucilla was the sister who eventually took in her brother Andrew's orphaned children Benjamin, Fanny, and Emma. We can see that was so, at least in 1860, from her household's entry in that year's census, under her husband's name, Melburn Odum. What also became clear from that enumeration: the household was home to children with three different surnames. There was Drucilla's daughter Mabel Odum, apparently a newborn at the time the census was taken. Then, the three Charles children of Drucilla's brother Andrew. And a set of Hines children: Emma and Mary.

As it turns out, Drucilla was mother of the Hines children, as well, whose father was Thomas Hughs Hines. Though the 1860 census gave daughter Mary's age as five, the 1870 census indicated she was likely born in 1858, not 1855—helping to pin an estimated date for her father's passing before her mother's subsequent marriage to Melburn Odum by 1859.

As for the other Charles sibling, we've discussed Mary Ann Charles in the past. She was the one who may have been the subject of the Charles legend of the red scarf. Hers, too, was a life story of multiplied sorrows. She had married William McLeran of neighboring Suwannee County and, no sooner than giving birth to their daughter Fannie, lost both husband and daughter within months of each other.

It was in reviewing these sad details that the ton of bricks finally hit me: why were all these people dying around the same time? Drucilla Charles' first husband Thomas Hines had to have died barely two years before 1860. Mary Ann's husband died at the end of May, 1860. Though I can find no burial information for their daughter, she died less than a month after her father, according to Mary Ann's appeal to the Suwannee County court requesting appointment as administratrix of her daughter's inherited property.

Although the best I can do in estimating the dates of death of my original research focus, Delaney Townsend and her husband Andrew Charles, is to circle a span of time stretching nearly a decade—after 1850 but before 1860—I'm beginning to wonder what might have been going on in northern Florida, leading up to those several deaths in the extended family in such a brief time period. Could there have been a widespread cause resulting in many deaths—especially deaths not documented in a readily-available form?

Taking that question to the search engines, I ran across one list of epidemics in the United States, but it didn't include any details involving the decade leading up to 1860. Although one article indicated the nineteenth century was a transformational period in medical history, we do need to remember that Florida, unlike the rest of the eastern seaboard of that time period, was still very much a frontier. In addition, Florida's near-tropical weather combined with ample water sources could have yielded conditions ripe for illnesses such as malaria.

There was, however, one other list of epidemics which seemed to provide an answer. A worldwide timeline of epidemics indicated an influenza epidemic in both Europe and the Americas from 1857 through 1859. Could that have been the cause of the family's many losses?

Whatever the case, besides Mary McLaren's husband and daughter, plus Drucilla's first husband, Delaney and Andrew Charles disappeared from view without a sign that I can find—so far. Of course, understanding the possible turmoil swirling around these families may help me understand the risks they faced, but it doesn't tell me the answer to my research goal of discovering Delaney's parents. We'll have to turn to yet another consideration in our continuing exploration.

Monday, March 15, 2021

On Guardians


There are certain set procedures with which a family historian is most familiar, mainly by reason of frequent use. To go through the process to find a death record or a census entry, most of us experience no problems. We know the routine. But to find any record of court-appointed guardianships may be a different issue.

Guardianships, according to the Florida courts website—hopefully the repository of the very document I am seeking—involve court-appointed "surrogate decision-makers" who act on behalf of minors for personal and/or financial decisions.

In the case of Emma, Frances, and Benjamin Charles, minors left without their parents some time before 1860, someone needed to attend to their care. Not just because of their ages—barely emerging into their teenage years—but because of their parents' financial condition, there surely was a paper trail to indicate how to properly oversee the transfer of property as well as parental care. The challenge: how to find a document outlining such a plan.

For one thing, each state has its own procedures to follow for the recording and filing of such documents. Beyond that—and here, especially, is the rub—each state has its own policy for how to preserve such records from centuries past. The question becomes one of access, especially if we are fortunate enough to discover that the records in question happen to have been digitized and made available at repositories in addition to the county courthouse.

So here I sit, stuck in California in the midst of a pandemic, right at the time when I would otherwise have been visiting Florida and looking up records on what became of my third great-grandmother Delaney Townsend Charles. More to the point, since I'm wondering what became of her children when she and her husband disappeared from sight before the 1860 census, I'd be thinking about what legal procedures might have taken place to assure continued care for her three orphaned children.

Surely, someone would have drawn up records designating who the guardian was to be—especially considering that Delaney's husband, Andrew Charles, had claimed real estate in the Madison County, Florida, 1850 census valued at four thousand dollars. Considering a Townsend family member's claim that Delaney's brother had taken in the children—and a contradicting record in the 1860 census showed Delaney's sister-in-law and her husband to be the ones actually housing the children—it was time to look for some court documentation to provide directions on who would be responsible for the orphans.

Time to look for those guardianship records. However, when we, as family historians, repeat such searches only infrequently, it helps to have guidance, such as the FamilySearch Wiki for finding general records in Florida—even more so for drilling down to the specific state's probate records or other court records. Of course, there are sometimes other resources for finding court cases, though none will be so thorough as the county's (or state's) own archiving system for local records.

In the end, having the current limitation on travel, I resorted to the FamilySearch catalog, checking the box for online resources only. Fortunately, there was indeed a collection of Letters of Guardianship for Madison County, the last place where I found Delaney and Andrew Charles in 1850. Unfortunately, the microfilmed collection was browse-only—worse, buried behind mortgage records. But I did find the index for the specific guardianship court cases.

Once locating the indexed names, the first stumbling block was discovering that the alphabetical listing was not for the surname of the minors, but for the guardian. That left open three possible choices. Any record filed on behalf of the Charles orphans could have been drawn up by Light Townsend, Delaney's brother. Or they could have been filed by the husband of Andrew Charles' sister Drucilla.

That led to a secondary problem, because I don't yet know the date—or dates—of Andrew and Delaney's passing. You see, Drucilla was married to Thomas Hughs Hines up until about 1858, and to Melburn Odum from about that year onward. Depending on when Drucilla's brother and his wife died, the guardianship papers could have been drawn up listing Thomas Hines, or Melburn Odum.

While there were no guardianship entries for Townsend or Odum, there was one line entered for a man by the name of Hines. However, no matter how abysmal the handwriting of the court clerk, it would take more imagination than I could muster to morph the given name of that Hines gentleman into Thomas, leaving me with a null set for my search efforts.

Of course, given that the Odums lived in a different county by the time of the 1860 census, it is possible that the guardianship records could have been filed—or amended—in that county, rather than in the 1850 home of the now-deceased Charles couple. There are far too many other details which could impact that legal process, leading me through a guessing game to determine where to pick up this cold trail. In the meantime, that doesn't mean all other research possibilities have dried up. There's always another resource to help lead us to answers, even with our mystery ancestors.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Now Indexing :
Something a Machine Started


It's been my habit every month to do my part to "give back" by volunteering to index digitized records at Believe me, I'm not alone; there are "hundreds of thousands" of folks around the world helping with this ongoing project. The problem is, there is an avalanche of nearly forty million records being digitized each year, through over three hundred cameras operated by FamilySearch in fifty countries around the world. It's hard to keep up, even with hundreds of thousands of indexing volunteers.

That pace, incidentally, is accelerating: just last month, FamilySearch reported having indexed thirty four million records from around the world. That, in part, is the result of a new approach to converting pictures of records into readable—and thus searchable—documents through indexing. Instead of approaching the task entirely by hand, FamilySearch is now employing not only the newer Optical Character Recognition systems, but combining that with machine learning and artificial intelligence to extend that character recognition capability to handwritten documents, as well. A demonstration of how that process works was provided at last month's RootsTech Connect, where you can actually upload a sample from your own ancestor's letters to see a demonstration.

For the greater part of history, the types of documents we have relied on to verify our family history were handwritten. Developing a system—even if it still needs the intervention of humans double-checking computer work—will yield far faster results than we've ever seen before this point. This is indeed encouraging news.

But what is it like today, when I sign in to my FamilySearch account to index records? I've been watching the choices available as indexing projects, and the list seems to be much shorter than I remember it in previous years. 

For this month, of the few projects in English in my home country, I found one on passenger lists arriving in the port of New York City, and decided to work there, remembering how helpful those lists were in my recent project to trace my godmother's father, a career seaman. 

Other than reading the step-by-step instructions and spotting the warning that the scanned records would be faint or hard to read—oh, my eyes!—there was little to do but move through the brief steps on a short batch of records.

Once completed, I could see why this indexing batch might not have been read by computers: the scans were faint, dark, and poorly focused. While computers may be speeding up the overall progress of transforming digitized documents into searchable records, the few remaining images they can't handle will take a disproportionate amount of an indexer's time.

Overall, while the news of this computerized progress is great, I may have to re-evaluate my usefulness to the program, if for nothing else than my eyes' inability to decipher the rejects those brainy computers can't handle.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Reviewing RootsTech


For some people, once is enough. For others, it's never enough. 

That's the perennial argument at our book-lovers' home. On my part, as much as I love to absorb every word of the books I read, once I've passed that way, I don't want to squander my time by re-reading what I've already conquered. So many books, so little time.

On the other hand, both my husband and my daughter savor the experience of fiction, and can thrill at the author's craft by revisiting the same pages over and over. Once is never enough for them. When it comes to movies and other visual formats, "reruns" is no despised phrase; the second—and third, and fourth—time is just as good as the first. Maybe even better.

Perhaps that is why I was ambivalent about attending this year's RootsTech Connect. I knew I'd never be able to sit through the entire proceedings online; I do, after all, have a life which cannot easily be put on hold. That, for example, is why SLIG in person at their hotel enclave in Salt Lake City works for me—it's the hideaway factor—but by video conference was a less than stellar week.

Still, for this year's RootsTech, there was one tempting offer: the RootsTech Connect videos would continue to be available to watch. Any of them. Any time I wished. Knowing that, I changed my mind and registered.

And then, a funny thing happened: I found myself wanting to watch some of those videos again. Don't get me wrong; I'm still a one-take person. I took voluminous notes on the sessions I did watch during the conference. But then, setting the session aside, later, I'd find my mind wandering back to the topics which were discussed by those presenters. And wanting to revisit the topic.

Maybe it's the dialog that launched in my head, thanks to the inspiration of the very usable material at RootsTech. Now I'm glad it will be there for me to go back and review, whenever I wish, for the next year. Not only that, but when I share with others what I've heard in specific presentations, I can refer them to the specific link, and they can register for a free account and watch the same session, too. It makes for wonderful dialog with others I know here at home who are working on the same research issues.

I'm not sure whether collaboration was what the RootsTech planners had in mind by making those hundreds of sessions available for the rest of the year, but that's what I call a beneficial unintended consequence.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Oh, to be Remembered — Accurately


Applications for lineage societies can be informative—if, of course, they can be accessed and reviewed by other researchers. For the most part, lineage society applications are straightforward, whether establishing eligibility for local "First Families" programs or for national entities such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. Names, dates of significant life occurrences, and relationships tying together the generations from the applicant to the key ancestor should all be laid out clearly.

Not so for one particular D.A.R. application of a previous century. This I discovered indirectly while scouring for clues as to the origin of my third great-grandmother Delaney Townsend Charles, who disappeared from documentary sight by the time of the 1860 census.

Given Delaney Townsend was born long after the Revolutionary War, of course she, herself, would not be listed among the D.A.R. Patriot listings. But there was a possibility that someone like herself, born around 1816, might have a father or grandfather whose name might appear in such records.

It was a curious discovery to see included in the D.A.R. application of one descendant of Patriot John Townsend—the supposed father, also, of my third great-grandmother—not just the expected lineage of this applicant's direct line, but additional information on other lines, as well. While I have yet to send away for my own copy of this application, the wording of the application of Townsend descendant Annie Florence Kinney apparently includes a mention of Delaney.

According to page 86 of the Townsend genealogy, compiled by Joe Burval, which I mentioned yesterday, here's the note regarding Delaney's line:

Delaney was the Aunt of Mr. John R. Townsend of Blenheim. Delaney Rosella Townsend married Andrew Jackson Charles.... The daughters of Mrs. Delaney Rosella Townsend Charles were Emma and Fanny and she also had two sons. After the death of Andrew Jackson Charles, Mr. Light Townsend (father of John R. of Blenheim) went to Fla. and brought his two nieces back to Marlboro County with him and reared them in his home.

Confusing? Yes. Ms. Kinney's direct line? No. 

Why this applicant chose to include that information in her own D.A.R. application, I'm not sure. Perhaps viewing the complete application may shed some light. That the narrative is specific to our Delaney, I can definitely affirm, for the description went on to name the two daughters—"Emma and Fanny"—and to specify Emma's married name (McClellan), plus a reference to one of her daughters, whom I've previously discussed.

Considering this reporting party made her application to D.A.R. in 1949, she was somewhat removed from the time period in question for Delaney. Not to mention, this was a woman who likely was born in 1907 or 1908. How she could personally confirm any details about her great-grandfather's supposed sister—then include it in her own application for D.A.R. membership—seems a detail which begs explanation.

Still, if it was a family recollection borne out by oral tradition, it does bring up some curious details. For one, the mention of "two sons" rather than the appearance of a different one in each of the two census records in which the Charles children are found—one showing the son as Benjamin, the other as Rupert—gives pause for the astute researcher to consider.

The other, concerning Light Townsend's role as guardian of the orphaned Charles daughters (but not the son), cries out for verification via guardianship records. If nothing else, it points to the need for an explanation as to why a paternal aunt, rather than a maternal uncle, turned out to be the one taking in the orphans—if, indeed, a Townsend relative from South Carolina was ever in the picture for these children at all.


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