Monday, March 8, 2021

Paper Trail: Step One


There comes a time when the diligent family historian will face a research dilemma. In my case, this month's project to discover the origin of my third great-grandmother, Delaney Townsend Charles, was set to tackle such a problem: Delaney and her husband, Andrew Charles, seemed to disappear from view sometime after their cameo appearance in the 1850 census.

Their children resurfaced somehow, but without their parents. By 1860, Benjamin (and/or Rupert), Francis (or Fannie), and Emma Charles appeared in the household of their paternal aunt Drucilla and her second husband, Melburn Odum in the now-defunct New River County (now Bradford County), not far from where their parents' household had been in 1850 Madison County, Florida.

Of course, if the demise of the Charles couple had occurred at a later date, I could have pulled up a death record in hopes of discovering Delaney's parents' names. But I don't even have the luxury of verifying the date, or the cause, or even the location of their (likely tragic) end. Thus, my end run around this record-keeper's roadblock by seeking out other possible Townsend relatives where Delaney was last seen in Madison County.

In the meantime, it was vital that I retrace my steps in another direction. I mean, what if Delaney wasn't a Townsend, after all? Other than family assertions that that was the case, I had no record from an impartial source.

Since I descend from Delaney's youngest daughter, Emma, my first step was to retrieve a death record for my second great-grandmother. That required going through some genealogical steps which I haven't had to do for a long time, considering all the digitization benefits we researchers are now blessed to have. I actually sent away for Emma Charles McClellan's death certificate.

The document arrived last week, with almost no surprises. Emma died nearly twenty five years after her husband, William Henry McClellan, but it was a surprise to see the reporting party wasn't a close relative. However, the informant, D. E. McDonald, was a name already entered into my family tree, thankfully: Emma's husband's niece's husband.

While only a genealogist might be able to swallow that relationship without wincing, it did cause me to wonder about reporting accuracy. After all, would you expect your niece's husband to have your spouse's middle name on the tip of his tongue?

And so it was that, in the rush of paperwork following the death of a loved one, David Edward McDonald was deputized to complete the necessary reporting duties after widow Emma Charles McClellan departed this life, late on the evening of April 11, 1940. Thus, we are given her middle name as Rosalee, not the impossibly-spelled "Rosezella" of her headstone. And the particulars on her parents' names are less than we could have hoped.

However, while giving the birth locations as only the name of the state—Florida—and omitting anything but the surnames, we do receive the coveted confirmation that Emma's father was indeed from the Charles family. And her mother, albeit announced with a slight misspelling, was delivered to us as a "Townscend."

At least now, we have tangible confirmation—well, if Mr. McDonald got that detail correct—that when we look for Emma's mother Delaney, we are indeed seeking information on the Townsend line. That one solid toe-hold, as we'll see tomorrow, was enough encouragement to try the leap into yet more undocumented and messy assertions about this family, once we follow another of last week's clues back to Marlboro County, South Carolina.


  1. Replies
    1. When I remember that, if it were not for COVID, I'd be on my way to Florida right now, I suppose I can be content with finding a few tidbits online ;)


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