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.


  1. Very interesting. I am leaning toward an epidemic of some sort, too.

    1. It does seem to make sense, but of course there might be other possible causes. Keeping in mind Florida was more of a frontier state than their neighbors, there might have been dangers in travel or other unanticipated hazards (from our modern point of view). But I'm leaving that possibility open, at least until I find a more convincing record. Well, at this point, any record would be a nice add...

  2. An interesting avenue to explore. Now I'm wondering now if Minnesota had a TB epidemic around 1895 as 2 of my great-grandparents died of that within months of each other.

    1. That might be a possibility, Sara. I do know that TB was an issue for my Chicago family lines about that same time. It's something to check out for local timelines of health issues.


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