Friday, March 5, 2021

A Walk Through Madison's Memories


Cemeteries give us a chiseled record of the micro-history of a specific place, if we care to wander the silent walkways between headstones and let their epitaphs give us pause to consider.

Since there were so many Townsend families among the early settlers in Madison County, Florida, rather than continue to spin my wheels in the frustration of not identifying the parents of Delaney Townsend, I thought slowing the research pace to virtually wander through and read the headstones might be informative. First, I checked Find A Grave to gather a listing of all cemeteries in Madison County—of which there are nearly one hundred. Then, I followed up with a second search, requesting all burials in Madison County containing the surname Townsend. From that start, I hoped the photographs the website features would help tell the story to me.

We already had gleaned the names of the main Townsend households resident in Madison County in 1850, so I knew to keep an eye out for Samuel (age fifty six), Allen (age forty nine), Benjamin (age thirty seven) and Israel (age twenty seven). While my search for the parents of my third great-grandmother Delaney would have been made immensely easier if I could find a token bidding me slip her name within any of those four Townsend men's households, I also recalled that there were other young adults living there in households other than their parents. Delaney's case may have been similar to theirs.

The now-familiar Townsend names did appear on Madison County's headstones. I struggled with Benjamin's headstone, asserting that he was born in Madison County—while that 1850 census reported his birthplace as South Carolina. Likewise, Joseph's record at Find A Grave indicated a birth in Georgia, though I recognize that it wasn't the headstone itself reporting that detail, but the entry of a volunteer.

Still, I look toward these headstones for clues of where the Townsends of Florida may have originated—any hint to point me toward the generation preceding my Delaney. Allen himself, likely father of both Joseph and Benjamin, had a headstone which seemed to give me exactly what I was looking for—although the marker itself looks far more recent than the 1880 date of death it proclaims for the one whom it is memorializing.

According to Allen Townsend's headstone, while he died in Madison County, Florida, on May 10, 1880, he had been born on November 21, 1801, in Marlboro County, South Carolina.

Here, at last, was an indication of just where, in South Carolina, those Townsends might have originated. Of course, that doesn't mean every Townsend household I located in Florida in the 1850 census came from that same South Carolina location. At the least, it pointed a finger.

The trouble with this, though—and you knew there would be a catch here—is there are several assertions floating out there in the genealogical ether, stating that the Townsends of Madison County, Florida, came from one specific Townsend family in Marlboro County, South Carolina. I've already seen that.

What I haven't yet seen is any documentation to support that assertion. And documentation is what I am—still—seeking.

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