Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Details of a Slower Exploration


While it sometimes helps to speed read through some historical documents—as I did yesterday in gaining a summary of all Townsend families residing in Florida's Madison County in 1850—it also suits our purposes to apply the brakes once in a while. Sometimes, we move too fast, and need to slow down to gain a sense of important details.

In trying to form an idea of just who, among all the Townsends from South Carolina settling in Madison County, might have been related to my third great-grandmother Delaney Townsend Charles, I certainly gleaned a list of households from the 1850 census. There were four groupings of what possibly could be families—remember, in the 1850 census, we don't gain the benefit of listings of relationships—plus five additional people with Townsend surnames who lived in other households.

Let's take a brief overview of what could be found, thanks to that 1850 census.

First, I found the household of Samuel Townsend, age fifty six, and his supposed wife, Edia. Her age was reported as forty six, making me rule out the possibility that this couple might have been parents of my Delaney. The three others in the household ranged from twenty six to three years of age, also causing me to wonder whether Edia was a second wife. The entire household, incidentally, reported that they were born in South Carolina, effectively setting the date of their arrival in Florida as after 1847.

Just under the ages of the first Townsend couple were Allen and Sarah Townsend. Likely, this was also a husband and wife, reporting their ages as forty nine and forty eight, respectively. This household included six additional people with the same surname, ranging in ages from twenty three year old Joseph to ten year old Josephine, the only child among this household not born in South Carolina. If we can rely on the report outlining this grouping, Allen and Sarah arrived in territorial Florida by 1840.

Another Townsend household was that of Benjamin and Jane, with Jane being the only outlier not born in South Carolina or Florida. While Benjamin reported his age as thirty seven, Jane—possibly a Suggs, due to the presence of a young man by the name of Noah Suggs in the same household—was supposedly only twenty four. With four children listed from ages nine through three—all born in Florida—I doubt her reported age (or will look for a previous wife's death before 1850). Thus, this Townsend family arrived in Florida before 1841, if we can depend on those listed ages.

An even younger Townsend family, that of Israel and Julia Ann, provided yet another couple born in South Carolina. Israel was twenty seven, Julia twenty three. The five children in their household were all under the age of seven, indicating that this family arrived in Florida in time for eldest child Samuel's birth in 1844.

In addition to these four Townsend households, there were five additional individuals bearing the surname Townsend, scattered through three additional households of other names. Twenty seven year old John Townsend from South Carolina, for instance, resided in the home of one Daniel Livingston, a carriage maker, from whom I suspect John was learning the trade. Perhaps Francis Townsend, also in that household, was John's younger brother. In the household of a seventy five year old woman from South Carolina named Mary Hearn, there were yet two other Townsend young men, Joseph and William, ages twenty and seventeen. And not far from the Livingston household, in the home of Lawrence and Harriet Ferrel was a four year old child named Permelia Townsend.

All this speculation, of course, hinges on whether the reports to the census enumerator were correct. And sure enough, in cross checking with other records, I ended up thinking the census must have been a mess. Between perusing the marriage records preserved in Madison County for those early territorial years, and checking what I could find on the burials of these Townsends born before 1850, not every assertion of South Carolina birth stood the test.

In the meantime, I ran across some headstone photographs which may help—or make things even messier. We'll see whether the clues gleaned there will help or hinder our floundering search.



  1. Those census takers! I know they did the best they could. I think that confusion in training and general illiteracy, as well as know it all neighbors have made census records very interesting. Not in a good way.

    1. I like how you put that, Miss Merry: "very interesting." That very issue about census records is why I prefer to rely on several decades' worth of census records to track a family. Only in this case, we don't have that luxury, since Delaney and her husband disappeared before the 1860 census, and the 1840 census just gives a shadow of a possibility, not a clear picture.


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