Thursday, March 31, 2022

Reassessing Research Goals


Perhaps I am unlike other family history researchers. I need to set an end date to my research goals, rather than doggedly persisting in the face of continued failure. I learned long ago that though the documents I need may not be available to answer my questions today, someday in the future, they will surface. What works best for me now is to set one research goal per month—thus, my Twelve Most Wanted for any given year—and wrap up at the end of the month with a to-do list for when I revisit the goal in future years.

In the case of my goal for March—to glean any clues I can find indicating the roots of my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan—while I didn't achieve all I hoped to discover, I did make progress. I located some plausible records bolstering what I had assumed was his migration pathway from his early years in South Carolina to his final years in territorial Florida. I also identified a possible brother who may have moved with Charles from South Carolina to Camden County, Georgia—but no farther.

I missed the mark, however, in being able to document names of either of Charles' parents, or even discover a tentative location for Charles' childhood home. Furthermore, some aspects of Charles' life, passed down to me as family tradition, I was unable to confirm, though I did try. For instance, tradition has it that Charles was a Methodist minister, at least by the time he arrived in Georgia. Though I tried contacting the archivist at a repository of Methodist ministerial records, I have yet to receive a reply. That is one lead I still need to pursue.

I am also aware that there are many others whose publicly-posted family trees include my Charles McClellan. Many of them claim a name for Charles' father. Seeing those as possible trailblazers, I will certainly examine any documentation provided in such trees—if there is any listed. The problem, however, is that not all researchers agree on the identity of his parents, causing me to further doubt such resources.

For the next time I pick up the question of Charles McClellan's roots, I will need to mount that learning curve of geopolitical boundary changes in South Carolina, plus reports of likely immigration pathways for South Carolina settlers of the early and mid-1700s. This McClellan line has been reported by family tradition to be Scottish. We all know how fallible oral tradition can be, but I've also learned to pay attention to such tales; sometimes they contain an element of truth. It didn't escape my attention to learn that among other people groups, South Carolina received its fair share of travelers from Scotland in those early years of settlement.

A final addition to my research to-do list is to seek out more material providing background details on the development of colonial South Carolina and the history of its early statehood. Journal articles and other scholarly works can harbor the most useful details, even in those "boring" footnotes. Pursuing such material is one way to benefit from the findings of other researchers.

With the upcoming month—barring any lapses into Bright Shiny Object Syndrome with the release of the 1950 U. S. Census—I'll switch my research focus away from my mother's colonial roots to the lines of my mother-in-law. Tomorrow, we'll explore the focus for April's Twelve Most Wanted ancestor and the methodology to use in pursuit of yet another ancestor. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

1950? I'm Stuck in 1790!


In a matter of just a few hours, the contents of the 1950 U.S. Census enumeration will be revealed—well, at least the name index—for any and all to inspect. There is quite a bit of buzz crescendoing as we approach the day that record is made public. Many of us know personally some of the people whose names will appear in that census, if not our own names, as well.

Absorbing the information from a record such as this census comes with some assumptions. We know, for instance, the basic geographic outlay of the country being surveyed. We personally are acquainted with the individuals whose names we will race to find, when the bell goes off at the starting gate on April 1. We understand the function and purpose of census records, and expect to see an outlay much the same as what we observed after the 1940 census was released. We are able to skillfully use this resource because we are familiar with the underlying assumptions which went into the creation of the record set.

Government documents from, say, a previous century may not have as their underlying principles the same assumptions we rely on to navigate census records from the mid-1900s. That, I suspect, is one of the factors applying the brakes to my research progress in seeking my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan. That search is not merely a matter of pulling up a specific census record and searching for a particular name. Where this McClellan family might have lived in South Carolina is a question compounded by the history of geopolitical boundaries and governmental responsibilities. Backtracking far enough, it also bridges the dividing line of newly-formed American state and British colony.

Simply put, to find an ancestor from that time period in that area—South Carolina—requires mounting the steep learning curve of discovering who was in charge and how they preferred to organize their records.

On a lark—mainly because my research goal is facing an end-of-month deadline—I decided to strike out into the nether regions of time and explore which McClellans, if any, I could find in the 1790 census. After all, I was able to find both Charles McClellan and a possible brother, Andrew, in the 1800 census. What could occur with the passing of a mere decade?

For one thing, such a search required exploration where I possessed no solid evidence. If Charles were born around 1775, as some estimates claimed, he would not be of age to be listed as head of household in 1790. Neither would Andrew, who we discover from later records was likely born a couple years before Charles. Thus, I'd be looking for a McClellan man whose name and age I didn't know.

That obstacle hardly compares with the next one: between the time of the 1800 census and the previous one in 1790, South Carolina had undergone quite a revision of their county organization. This, we began to notice when discussing the details yesterday. Even if the senior McClellan had stayed put in the same location in which we had found Charles and Andrew in 1800, the "county" in which he'd have been recorded might not possess the same label. Then, too, the family home could have been located in yet another region of the state—a detail I have no way of knowing, yet.

To examine the possibilities, I pulled up the search function at, selected "Census and Voter Lists" and entered only the surname, McClellan. I narrowed the results to show only South Carolina and the 1790 census, and up came ten possibilities, including some of the spelling variations I had previously encountered in other searches: McClelland, McLellan, even variations omitting the prefix "Mc."

Of those ten search results, the counties in which they were located spread across the state: Newberry, Union, or York. And then, there was the one outlier, for an Archibald McLellan, located in Saint James Santee, under the jurisdiction of Charleston.

I checked back to the geographic details I had researched yesterday, remembering I had seen a "Santee" something mentioned then...but no, it was Saint Matthew parish. And yet, looking up the reference at the wiki, I found this entry within the details for Saint James Santee, concerning another parish carved from Saint James Santee parish:

...created in 1721 from the northwest part of St. James Santee Parish, a part of Craven County.

Craven County? That was a new reference for me. I wanted to find the location for this county, but discovered it is no longer in existence. Absorbed by various counties around Charleston by the late 1800s, the original Craven County, one of three original counties established in 1682, had a long history of being reshaped before its demise.

I mention Craven County only because of another discovery in this foray into early McClellan records in South Carolina. Thanks to the South Carolina Archives website shared by reader Charles Purvis, I had explored spelling variations for the surname, and discovered documents ranging from 1736 through 1769 for one Andrew McClelland. As you might have guessed, his land was situated in Craven County. And yet, by 1790, there was no listing for an Andrew McClelland in the census. Could there have been a connection between the later Archibald McClellan and this earlier Andrew? Could Andrew have died before the 1790 census was taken?

These are all questions I intend to explore. In addition, you can be sure I will search for the wills of each of these McClellan men listed in the 1790 census, in case any of them mention a son named either Charles or Andrew. But before I can adequately progress further, it is obvious that I'll need to get a grip on the ever-changing parish, county, and district boundaries in South Carolina.

With the end of the month now approaching, I'll need to draw up a research plan for future work on the generation preceding my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan. We'll draw up that plan tomorrow, then move on to April's research goal—if, that is, I can resist the temptation of that April 1 rabbit hole, the release of the 1950 census.


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

When the Borders Keep Shifting


When reaching far back through time to trace our ancestors through generations, it sometimes dawns on the researcher that we have begun to chase them in circles. That, at least, is how I'm feeling now while in pursuit of my fourth great-grandfather's roots.

We've managed to push our way back, in mostly a straight line of migration, from territorial Florida in the late 1820s to Camden County, Georgia, and then to South Carolina. But then, the questions begin. Where to find these McClellans in South Carolina: was it Orangeburgh District? Or Barnwell District? And even if we could find documents showing the presence of a Charles McClellan—and his possible brother Andrew—in the 1800 census, where were any other documents?

Worse, chasing in pursuit of those subsequent questions tied me in even further knots when I found the following note at the website called, regarding Barnwell District:

Originally called Winton County, formed in 1785 as one of the four counties created from the old overarching Orangeburgh District. Within the Barnwell County Court House archives are the original court records of Winton County, dated to 1786.

Winton County? What was this? Could McClellan documents be buried in those old Winton County records within the Barnwell County courthouse? As it turned out, Winton County was in existence from 1785 though 1791. That would be good to know, since I'm now trying to locate Charles and Andrew McClellan—or at least their parents' family—in the 1790 census.

Not so fast, it turns out. Almost as quickly as I discovered the existence of Winton County, its place in my research to-do list vanished: more info from the Carolana website revealed that the first United States census in 1790 contained "no reference" to Winton County. Scratch that lead.

Whether my McClellans ever lived there or not, it seems Winton County as a geopolitical entity was a mess. It was never surveyed. Further, records during that time period were not kept at the county level, but within parishes. And those parishes referred to subdivisions of England's Anglican Church.

Judging from an old map of South Carolina parishes, the parish which should be of most interest would be that of Saint Matthew, which was created in Orangeburgh District in 1768. What records are still available from that location seem minimal.

While running in circles, trying to chase the geopolitical boundary changes in late 1700s South Carolina may seem exhausting, it is still important to understand the underlying basis for how and where records are kept, if we seek to find evidence of our ancestors' presence in that specific location. As one section of the South Carolina government website once noted

Because records are arranged under the county of origin or the county inheriting the record, understanding the development of counties is important.

That became quite evident when I attempted one other approach to locating my McClellan ancestors: a leap into the unknown by pulling up the name of every McClellan head of household reported in the country's first census in 1790. At first glance, it seemed there was nothing helpful—but let's take some time tomorrow to investigate that a bit closer. I warn you, though: once again, we'll confront a dizzying litany of jurisdictional changes.



Monday, March 28, 2022

"My Trusty Friend Charles McClellan"


Charles McClellan may have been my fourth great-grandfather, but in his time he was apparently trusted friend to many in the communities in which he lived. As I trace signs of his whereabouts from his final home in territorial Florida through his 1820s residence in Camden County, Georgia, I now find records that point to him—possibly—in South Carolina.

We've already watched Charles and his relative Andrew McClellan arrive in southeastern Georgia from South Carolina, and have spotted what might have been the two McClellans in the 1800 census in Orangeburgh District in South Carolina. But here is where the going gets tangled: at that very juncture in 1800s South Carolina. The reason: geopolitical changes in that very region of the state.

According to some genealogical guides, Orangeburgh District—the place where I found Charles and Andrew in the 1800 census—in that same year had given up some of its territory for the formation of a new district, called Barnwell District. One report noted that Barnwell District was actually carved from Orangeburgh District in 1797, but the change didn't become effective until 1800. Yet another source indicated that all South Carolina districts' establishment became effective on New Year's day of 1800

If that is so, was Charles McClellan living in Orangeburgh District while he was in South Carolina? Or Barnwell District?

To add to the confusion—after all, there could possibly have been two men by the same name in neighboring counties—there was mention of a Charles McClellan in legal documents filed in Barnwell District. Take, for example, this 1810 will drawn up by Peleg Wood Chase of Barnwell District, naming one Charles McClellan as executor:

Thirdly, I do hereby constitute and appoint my Dear Wife as Executrix, and my trusty friend Charles McClellan as Executor to this my last will + Testament.

In another will—this time for James Erwin, also of Barnwell District—Charles McClellan served as witness to the 1815 document.

Thanks to a tip from reader Charles Purvis, who directed me to the website of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, I was able to quickly locate three documents in Barnwell District which included Charles McClellan's name. I was particularly delighted to spot the third document, a "plat" for thirty seven acres in Barnwell District, surveyed by one James Dougharty, and dated January 23 of 1809. So, he was in Barnwell District, after all!

But if Charles McClellan was in Barnwell District in 1810, I couldn't find any sign of him in the 1810 census. Nor could I locate any clues from the 1800 census to help answer my underlying question: who might have been Charles' relatives—especially a potential father—in that South Carolina home? Other than Charles and Andrew, there were no other McClellans showing in the 1800 census in either Orangeburgh District or Barnwell District. Not even by wildly concocted spelling variations.

This certainly gave me pause to ponder just where the McClellan duo might have emerged from, prior to their arrival in Orangeburgh District. Were they previous residents of yet another state? There not only didn't seem to be a parent living nearby, there wasn't even a sign of another brother. Even that cliched immigrant scenario—"There were three brothers"—didn't seem to fit the narrative. What now?

Image above: Excerpt from the 1810 will of Peleg Wood Chase of Barnwell District, South Carolina, designating Charles McClellan as executor; image courtesy

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Playing the Carillon


There is a game I like to play. Unlike others who enjoy the challenge of table games such as bridge, or Scrabble, or even dominoes, my favorite game puts me through the paces of exercising my genealogical research skills: I find an abandoned token of family history and try to determine the identity of those who are named in that object.

In this weekend's case, I had just stumbled upon an eighty year old photograph someone had given me in hopes I could determine its original owner. I like to return such abandoned photos to family members of the picture's subject. Thus, I'm now searching for whatever I can discover about the three people featured in a 1940 candid shot taken at the New York World's Fair.

The reverse of the picture postcard identified three names: Frances and Patricia Page, and Bess Parker. Though one of the three people pictured was obviously much younger than the other two, which one was the child, and which two were the ones in conversation as they walked along?

Sometimes, you just have to start with a guess. I've learned to compare family history to algebra: although we aren't exactly looking for a number, we are certainly working to solve for an unknown. We start with a guess, then test that hypothesis. Sometimes, we guess right. Other times, we realize our error and start fresh with a new theory.

This time, my first guess was that the youngest person was daughter of one of the others, so it seemed reasonable that Frances and Patricia would be the most eligible candidates for that relationship. But which one was mother, and which one the daughter? This is where I remember to examine the point of view of the unknown scribe writing the photo's legend: possibly an adult who was friend or relative to one of the adults in the photo. In a case like that, I'd presume such a person would list the mother first, then the daughter.

Of course, I could be wrong, but I need to start somewhere. Thus, the test began with the most reasonable document to employ in search of answers for a photo taken in 1940: that year's U.S. Census. Since the threesome was at the New York World's Fair, I presumed they—or at least one of them—lived in the New York region. I presumed Frances was Patricia's mother, guessed Patricia's age—I actually overshot that estimate—and pulled up the 1940 census to look for some mother-daughter duos.

The immediate result was the William M. Page family in Niskayuna Township in Schenectady County, New York. There, mother Frances E. Page was thirty five years of age and a native of the nearby state of Connecticut. She and her husband were parents of two daughters, one of whom was ten year old Patricia.

What are the chances, I thought, of Frances Page being related to the older woman in the photograph? That was my next step: to follow the William and Frances Page family back through time, to see if there were any connection with Bess Parker. The answer came with a document drawn up only a few years after the 1940 census: William Page's own draft card. There, almost as if knowing I would someday come looking for it, he provided his wife's name as Frances Parker Page.

Since the 1940 census provided Frances' approximate year of birth, I looked for her in the home of her possible mother, Bess Parker. There in South Windsor, Connecticut, I found a young Frances Parker in the home of her parents, Harry V. and Elizabeth Parker, both in the 1920 and 1910 enumerations

This was encouraging, since the 1940 census had already shown me that Frances was born in Connecticut. Still, there could be multiple people of that approximate age, sporting the same common names. I looked for additional support.

An article in the July 14, 1991, edition of Schenectady's Daily Gazette provided details not only of Frances' memorial service, but a brief story of her life. By then, Frances had recently died in Hartford, Connecticut. The obituary confirmed that she had been born in South Windsor, and that as an adult, she had lived in the Schenectady area in New York for over a decade. The article also confirmed that Frances was the widow of William Page, and was mother of a now-married daughter by the name of Patricia.

The article also revealed that Frances had been a teacher and, along with her family, had spent her summer vacations teaching at the famed Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York.

Because Frances Parker Page's obituary included the updated name of her daughter Patricia, I could then confirm the family connections from another direction. A December 1952 engagement announcement in the Hartford Courant confirmed Patricia's grandparents' names, as they had given a party in honor of the engaged couple. That announcement provided the additional news that Patricia was about to receive her Master of Sacred Music from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Fast forwarding through the years—remember, we have yet to lay eyes on the 1950 census, though it will be available to us in one more week—my next stop in discovering the possible identities of the threesome in the World's Fair photo was to look for Patricia's own obituary in 2015. Not only had she become an organist and choir director at various churches in New Jersey after receiving her master's degree, but she felt a calling in mid-life to return to school once again to study for a divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary.

While obituaries may be viewed with a doleful eye by those bereaved, they sometimes provide their own snapshot of a person's life story. Patricia's story was one which brought to life her passion for music. Harkening back to her childhood summer stays at Chautauqua while her mother taught, her obituary mentioned that her family had "many cherished memories of their summers in Chautauqua."

Even though I learned from Patricia's obituary that she had been serving as a church organist as early as her teen years, it still surprised me to discover that her talent, combined with her family's presence at the Institution, led to her employment to play the carillon at the iconic Miller Bell Tower on Chautauqua Lake.

Granted, though the pieces seem to be falling together quite neatly to propose that the three women in the photo I found were grandmother, mother, and musical daughter we've been discussing here, there are certainly other options. There could as likely have been a mother-daughter duo with Patricia Page as the elder woman. Bess Parker could just as easily have been a friendly neighbor as a relative. No matter the option, though, the best test at this point would be to contact Patricia's now-adult children and ask if this photo belongs to their family. Somehow, I feel the chances are high that the response would be in the affirmative.

Above image: Photograph postcard from the 1940 New York World's Fair, labeled on the reverse with the names, Frances and Patricia Page, and Bess Parker; postcard now in possession of author until claimed by family member.


Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Problem With Provenance


A couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon an old photograph in my files, and have no idea where I got it from. As a genealogist, I must have failed in the due diligence category, and am liable at any moment now to be hunted down by the provenance police.


When you look up the definition of a word used in some circles but not in everyday life, the description on the dictionary page may draw a different picture than the image that word conjured in your own mind. Take the word "provenance." Since I run in history circles, I hear that word a lot. But when I look up the definition of provenance, I see explanations like the one given at the Merriam-Webster website:

The history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature.

While I appreciate the definition—it was cherry picked from a wide array of online options—I have a problem with it. Yes, we talk about provenance when we trace the journey taken by treasured museum pieces, and certainly when dealing with prized artwork, but for those of us in the family history world, even our collectibles and heirlooms have a story attached to them: the story of where they came from and who passed those items along to us.

And I sit with a photograph I found, from back during the years when I rescued abandoned family photos from antique shops and sought to return them to the family's descendants. Where did it come from? How did I get it? 

I don't think this particular picture was one I bought at any antique store, but I only think I might remember who gave it to me. So much for provenance. In this case, I am sorely lacking in its details.

The photograph did provide some clues as to the three subjects featured. For one, the handwriting on the back indicated a date: June 26, 1940. Then, too, the photographer's identification on the front of the picture postcard revealed a further glimpse into the picture's story. Taken by "Movie Shots," the insignia revealed a connection to "World's Fair of 1940 in New York."

The picture itself seemed as if full of its own story. Two women walked down the middle of a street, side by side while engaged in conversation. Both carried parasols, one wore a hat. Both were clad in unbuttoned coats suggestive of the layering of clothes typical of outings during spring weather. Following close behind them was a tall girl in bobby socks, also wearing a hat. While obviously part of this threesome, the youngster had her gaze fixed on the sights along the sidewalk as they passed by nearby buildings.

Best part of this black and white picture postcard was the fact that some organized person thought to label the card with not only the date, but the name of the people captured in time, over eighty years ago. One line bore the legend: "Frances and Patricia Page." The following line indicated one more name: Bess Parker.

How can a researcher come up with anything from those clues? Names like that—both the surnames and the given names—are common enough to produce a dizzying array of multiple leads, if we are conducting a nationwide search for matches, even back in the 1940s. But I thought there might be some ways to connect the threesome. I gave it a try, guessing the possible ages of the three subjects in the photo, and beginning with the census conducted that very year.

You know how genealogical research goes: barring the proverbial brick walls that stump every one of us from time to time, one clue leads to another, and finally, produces an answer. Though I have no idea how I got this photo in the first place—alas, my lack of the story of its provenance—tomorrow, we'll check out one possibility for the identity of these three visitors to the 1940 New York World's Fair.



Friday, March 25, 2022

No Way Thru—
Or, Check Those Lines Often


More than my fair share of conjectures can pop up when I'm dealing with the uncertainty of tracing ancestors. Some people prefer to call them by the more science-y term, hypotheses, but my struggles sometimes expose my lack of such certainty. I call them guesses, mere guesses—and I'm not afraid to try them out.

Right now, I'm wrestling with the thought that the Andrew McClellan who keeps showing up nearby my fourth great-grandfather Charles McClellan, no matter where he moves, might turn out to be Charles' brother. Obviously, that's simply my guess; I have no smoking-gun documentation to which to triumphantly point. 

I have some possible encouraging signs. The 1800 census, back in South Carolina, puts the two men in the same county—then a large swath of land dubbed Orangeburgh District. Twenty years later, when both names show up in the southern coast of Georgia, they are once again living near each other, despite the different location.

Still, until I can dig out some as-yet undigitized records increasing my confidence level beyond coincidence, I'd like some alternate means to guide my guesses, er, hypotheses.

Enter DNA. At least with a slim margin.

With the distance between the current generation of McClellan descendants and their founding ancestors so great, it is possible that there is no shared genetic material which can be discerned through autosomal tests. In other words, it is quite possible that a typical DNA test will not produce any viable matches at all. Nor can I rely on Y-DNA tests (I'm not a male descendant, nor would this be my patriline, even if I were). Not even a mitochondrial test would help, as this McClellan connection comes through my maternal grandmother's father.

Regardless, I took a look. As it turns out, I have several DNA matches which connect me to Charles McClellan—matches ranging from fifty four centiMorgans all the way down to a miniscule eleven centiMorgans. Those matches approaching the lesser count still provide a solid paper trail all the way up to Charles' several sons who were siblings to my direct line descent from George McClellan, my third great-grandfather.

Looking for Andrew's kin, on the other hand, worked out great last week, but not today. Why? I suspect the ThruLines readout provided at changes periodically, based on the fact that a major portion of the data is drawn from subscribers' own self-reported family trees. Change enough trees, see the resulting reports change, as well.

This week, for instance, I suddenly have had my fifth great-grandparent—father, presumably, of both Charles and Andrew McClellan—changed from the "Unknown" entry I had listed in my own tree to parent of a daughter, not the man I'd been expecting.

I remember seeing ThruLines listings for Andrew last week, but now—poof!—they are gone. Worse, now my own fourth great-grandfather shows up in the tool listed as a great-something grand uncle to me. And yet, when I blink hard and go back to look again a few hours later, everything is different once again.

I saw it, though: this listing of DNA cousins who descended from Andrew McClellan. I saw it; I know I did. And I check again, just to make sure. And—reverse poof!—there he is once again, founding father of a whole line of DNA matches. What brought him back?

True, the preponderance of the ThruLines connection is based on aggregated information from other subscribers' trees, so I shouldn't forget that detail. It is a tool, after all. Sometimes, a tool is just what we need; other times, we need to look for a more suitable application.

And yet, for a DNA cousin to link me back to the brother of a fourth great-grandfather, I'd need to be discovering sixth cousins among my matches. Referring to the Shared cM Project at DNA Painter, I can see that that would require finding a match within the range dropping from seventy one centiMorgans on the high end to zero on the other end. Small wonder, then, that I find most of the seventeen matches reaching back to Andrew hovering dangerously close to the ten cM range. That certainly falls within the numbers experienced in the more than sixty thousand data points submitted by participants in the Shared cM Project to date.

The numbers, seemingly too close to the Identical By State dilemma, bring me precipitously near a lack of confidence in what the numbers could represent. Granted, those numbers could turn up for a closer relationship; even third cousins, for instance, might not share any genetic material, according to a DNA test. It is clear from the paper trail, though, that these matches are not closer than sixth cousin. They could, however, represent even more distant relationships; a seventh cousin might produce a similar genetic count, pushing the Most Recent Common Ancestor back even one generation further removed. Charles and Andrew might not be siblings, after all.

While I most certainly will be spending the weekend churning out a bibliographic litany of documentation resources on the descendants of this Andrew McClellan, it is time to specifically look for any records which confirm or reject the notion that Charles and Andrew were brothers.

That, by the way, brings me back to my original research goal for this month: to learn everything I can about where Charles came from—especially such details on who his parents might have been, and even whom he married, somewhere back in South Carolina in the very earliest years of the nineteenth century.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

About the Other Andrew


Researching the wanderings of my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan, has brought us backwards in time from Jefferson County in territorial Florida to Camden County in Georgia. Though several McClellan descendants have asserted that the step before that move to Georgia was through Barnwell District in South Carolina, the only indication I found was in a close alternate location: Orangeburg District.

The question uppermost in my mind, once I found those details on Charles McClellan, was whether this Charles in Orangeburg District was the same man as the one by that name—well, close, if you can excuse the surname discrepancy as sloppy record keeping—that we found in 1820 in Georgia.

There was, however, one tantalizing detail about each appearance of Charles McClellan's name: nearby was the name of another McClellan man—the same one in each case. That man was Andrew McClellan.

Judging by the age brackets showing in the 1800 census, this man was fairly young: somewhere between sixteen and twenty five years of age. He was living in a household containing only one other resident, a woman between the ages of twenty six and forty four, an enigmatic bracket indeed for guessing whether this was the young man's mother (perhaps twenty years or more older than he was), or simply a wife barely a year older.

The story could be rounded out a bit more clearly, if we fast forward to the 1820 census in Georgia, where our Charles was listed next to what seems to be this same man—in another county and state. This time, the other McClellan was in the age bracket including that twenty six to forty four age span. He was joined, once again, by a woman in that same wide age bracket, but the addition of two girls suggests that the older woman would more likely be his wife, rather than his mother.

This other McClellan's name was Andrew, a name I have watched with quite some curiosity, wondering whether he might be brother to our Charles. While documentation from that era and location would not provide an answer to such a question, it is still obvious that tracing Andrew McClellan's life story might prove productive, so we'll take some time to follow his records.

In the meantime, though, it occurred to me that there might be one other way to see whether my guess about the McClellan men's relationship might be correct: look at my DNA matches.

Above: Listing of McClellan names from Orangeburg District in South Carolina according to the 1800 U. S. Census; image courtesy

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

You Can't Just Copy That


In researching my fourth great-grandfather, despite my struggles to locate documentation of his life's events, I am well aware that I am not alone. There are quite possibly dozens of other McClellan descendants over the years who have followed Charles McClellan's trail backwards in time, just as I am attempting to do now. Of those many researchers, there are some who are quite certain in their assertions that Charles McClellan originated in a South Carolina jurisdiction known as the Barnwell District.

That may be wonderful for other researchers, but I can't just copy that and add it to my family tree. I need to see the documentation. 

Thus, once we discovered records indicating that Charles McClellan did indeed stop with his family by at least 1817 to obtain property in Camden County, Georgia, we once again find ourselves on the road, seeking the exact location where this family came from before settling in Camden County.

As it turns out, while I couldn't find any southern McClellans in the census immediately before his arrival in Georgia, there is an entry for a couple men by that surname, reported to be resident in a place in South Carolina labeled in the 1800 census as the Orangeburg District.

In case no one noticed, Orangeburg is not spelled B-a-r-n-w-e-l-l. So what's the deal here?

To answer that question, we need to backtrack through quite a bit of geographical history, and rely on some maps leading up to that time period to piece together that story.

Apparently, the Orangeburg District—which originally was spelled Orangeburgh—owes its creation to the colonial government of South Carolina which, in 1768, replaced the colony's previous county system with seven overarching court jurisdictions, which it called "districts."

By 1785, now acting as a state, South Carolina created within the overarching Orangeburgh District four subordinate counties.

While that may sound like it was a creation of an orderly legislative process, there were issues which served to impact the records we seek concerning our ancestors from that time period. For one thing, apparently the subordinate counties in Orangeburgh District were never surveyed. Boundaries were thus unclear. Worse, the newly-established county governments never became functional. Bottom line to this revelation of local political history: records were still kept at the parish level, rather than by the counties, which were eventually dissolved by 1791.

Things changed once again, beginning in 1800. In that year, Barnwell District was formed from portions of Orangeburgh District. Again, Orangeburgh shrunk in 1804 with the further restructuring to create Lexington District. Further changes followed, much beyond those dates—all serving to remind us as researchers of the imperative of knowing the timeline of local boundary changes as they correlate to our search for our own family members' vital records.

Still, finding mention of the McClellan name in the 1800 census—wherever it was in South Carolina—was encouraging. That the listing was credited as Orangeburgh District in the same year in which Barnwell was extracted from the larger jurisdiction seems confusing. However, following the advice of the FamilySearch wiki for researching ancestors in this region between 1768 and 1800—whether before or after the 1800 enumeration—I now have three additional resources to add to my research to-do list.

Before launching into that paper chase, though, there is one more enticing detail I spotted about that 1800 census. Whether it represented our Charles McClellan or not, there was mention of another name which piques my curiosity: that of a man by the name of Andrew McClellan. 


Monday, March 21, 2022

Show Me the Paperwork


Following the paper trail on an American ancestor can be long as that relative doesn't move any more often than once every ten years, and only does so on or after the date of the 1850 census.

The question now, in trying to determine my fourth great-grandfather's roots, is: where did Charles McClellan come from to arrive in Camden County, Georgia, by 1817? Many researchers who have their trees posted online say he came from South Carolina. Some even assert he came from the Barnwell District of South Carolina.

Me? I'd like to see the paperwork.

Riding on this encounter with actual documentation is the possibility of uncovering clues as to the origin of Charles McClellan's wife—also a point of conjecture sans documentation in many of those same trees.

For today, we'll launch into a simple fact-checking endeavor, but keep in mind, this search is still hampered by one significant detail: I've yet to locate any records confirming the parent-child relationship between Charles and several of the McClellan neighbors we've located in either the northern portion of territorial Florida in the 1830s or his former home in Camden County, Georgia.

Let's presume the names which have shown up in various early Florida records represent sons of Charles McClellan and trace their lines forward to discover their own report as to where they were born. In order to do that, we need to find the McClellan men who, first of all, lived until at least 1850, and also continued to live in that northern Florida region where we first stumbled upon them. After all, there were ample options for finding McClellan men all over the nation with names as common as the given names we've rounded up: names like Andrew, Henry, Samuel, and Charles.

In addition, we have the benefit of discovering two of Charles' daughters. One, Adeline, was found by virtue of having her name specifically listed in her father's will. The other, though not mentioned in his will—same as these other possible siblings—we found thanks to her marriage record in Georgia, same county where her father had obtained land in 1817, and also to her subsequent appearance in census records providing housing for her two youngest McClellan siblings.

So where do these McClellans report their birthplace as being?

Margaret McClellan Stephens, the oldest daughter, was born in 1805 and died in 1882, giving us a long lifespan with ample places to pull up her entry in census records. In each of the enumerations in which I found her—for 1850, 1860, and 1880—she declared South Carolina to be the location of her birth.

Charles' oldest son, named in his will as George McClellan, was born in 1808, but died in 1866, limiting our ability to track his reports through census records. However, in both the 1850 and 1860 census, he declared his place of birth to be South Carolina.

The next three McClellan men are, at this point for me, still conjectures. They lived in the same area of territorial Florida in the 1830s, and some were even mentioned in the administration papers for yet another McClellan—William, who died too young to be included in the 1850 census. We can still plot their dates and places of birth, in case they do turn out to be Charles' sons.

Andrew, born in 1810, could be found in all the census enumerations leading up to his 1880 death, except for 1870. In the 1850 and 1860 enumerations, he gave his birthplace as South Carolina. In the 1880 census, on the eve of his death when he was living in the household of his Georgia-born son-in-law, someone reported his place of birth not as South Carolina, but Georgia.

Henry, born five years after Andrew, had a mixed bag for his birthplace results as well. According to the 1850 census, Henry was born in Georgia, but all subsequent enumerations—he died in 1892—showed his birthplace as South Carolina.

Charles D. McClellan, last of the McClellans for whom I don't have solid documentation of parentage, was born in 1819. To complicate matters, he died before 1860, leaving us with only one report of his birthplace, the 1850 census, where he reported being a native of Georgia.

The next child, Samuel, was one of the two minor children Charles mentioned in his will. Born in 1822, he too died early, in 1867, leaving us only one census from which to glean his birth report. Unsurprisingly, the listing indicated Georgia. And baby Adeline? While still living in her older sister Margaret's home in 1850, the record indicated she, too, was born in Georgia, as did the 1860 census, and even the 1900 census, when Adeline moved to Texas and was boarding in the home of Margaret's daughter. But even considering all those agreeing records, the 1870 census interjects a conflicting report of a Florida birth.

With that survey, we can discern a somewhat blurry line of demarcation between life in Florida, life in Georgia, and life somewhere beyond in South Carolina. It's not surprising to see the wobbling report of Henry's birth vacillating between South Carolina and Georgia; after all, the land record for Charles was dated May of 1817. Depending on whether Henry remembered his age correctly, he could have been born right before or right after the move from one state to the other.

Though Henry's reports don't give us a bright line to indicate the year Charles and his family might have arrived in Georgia, I suspect Andrew's 1810 birth was more solidly in South Carolina. The next question, of course, is: assuming these were indeed all of Charles McClellan's children, can we use that as a guidepost to follow the McClellan family back to South Carolina. If so, just where in South Carolina would they have lived? More importantly, can we find convincing documentation to indicate the exact location?

Sunday, March 20, 2022

From Relatives at RootsTech
to Relatives Face to Face


It was the beginning of March and, as soon as I could, I opened my RootsTech account, even before the first session had started. Why? I was curious about my results from Relatives at RootsTech.

Even though I know the app bases its connections on the universal family tree at—and I could already spot mistakes in my own part of the family lines there—I was curious to see what the program would find. I am, after all, consummately curious about all my distant cousins, wherever they are.

Like anyone else, I was hoping for those elusive cousins to materialize—you know, the ones who hold all the intel on what became of that disappearing great-great-whatever-grandparent that nobody can trace on paper. In my case, I was hoping for a Polish connection to my mystery grandfather, known here in the states by the sanitized American version, John T. McCann. Yeah, right: Polish.

Instead, one of relatives rising to the top of my Relatives at RootsTech list was a fourth cousin once removed. Looking at the readout comparing our two family lines, I could see she was descended from my third great-grandfather George E. McClellan's oldest daughter. Looking at my own family tree, with its multiple collateral lines extended all the way down to present-day descendants, I realized I had this relative's mother in my tree.

Both of us must have simultaneously realized this, and rushed to send each other messages. She messaged me on the FamilySearch system, while I, realizing she is also on my DNA match list, sent her a note via Ancestry. Each of us independently realized the other had used a different messaging system, and responded there. After this comedy of communication errors, we ditched both systems and opted for the straightforward connection of email.

That turned out to be a good thing. After all, we may end up being the first of this year's new cousin discoveries through Relatives at RootsTech to become Relatives face-to-face. And we couldn't have planned this any better than it "accidentally" turned out to be.

You see, I'm not on the opposite side of the continent right now—you know, that home from which I always moan, "oh, if I were back east, I could look up that record in person." I had already planned to accompany my husband on a business trip to Florida. While there, we also planned on meeting up with family members in the area, including a special trip returning to Wellborn, the Florida home of my third great-grandfather, George E. McClellan.

It just so happens that my newfound Relatives at RootsTech cousin lives a ten minute drive from Wellborn, and goes there often to keep up the McClellan cemetery, once part of the McClellan property there. She offered: "I'll be happy to meet up with you there."

If all goes well with travel plans, and a thousand different variables all fall into place for five relatives' separate itineraries, that is exactly what we'll be

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Eruption of New Lines


Each discovery of a new line can precipitate an eruption of names added to the family tree. If you are like me, delving into the use of DNA to augment my document-based research, it is most helpful to pay attention to clues which sometimes can only be found by exploring collateral lines. See, those pesky kid brothers and sisters can turn out to be quite helpful, after all!

Now that I'm pushing up against brick wall boundaries for my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan of Jefferson County, Florida, I'm once again eyeing those possible collateral lines. Sure, I already know about Charles' one confirmed son, George, whom he named in his will as executor of his estate; that's my direct line. But what about the others mentioned in his will—those two minor children left orphans at his passing, Samuel and Adeline? Even more to the point, what about those other McClellans living in the area who seem to be tangentially connected through evidence in documents, but without the benefit of an explicit comment identifying them as "my son" or "my daughter"?

In the next few days, we'll begin exploring whether those McClellans could be siblings of George. I'm already beginning to play with the records, and some give me enough confidence to add them to my tree—or at least attach them with warning notes and icons, so I can experiment with prompting Ancestry's hint mechanism to serve up more possible document sources.

In the meantime, that old family tree is erupting with additional names as I explore documentation of those collateral lines' own descendants and compare them to my McClellan DNA matches. In the past two weeks—make that just the last few days—I've added 181 names to my tree, all McClellan lines. That means the tree's branches now add up to 28,039 people. (Correspondingly, my in-laws' tree stood stock still at 26,200 names, since there were zero additions during my focus on the McClellan line on my own mom's side.)

While the DNA evidence can be reassuring, we always need to make sure we are interpreting the data correctly. After all, two people can be related for additional reasons, sometimes even for reasons we have yet to uncover. With that, it's back to the paper trail for me. I need to bolster this DNA confidence with some records of the paper variety.

Friday, March 18, 2022

What About ThruLines?


Exploring the possible family of my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan, it's easy to see there were several other people living near him in that sparsely-populated section of territorial Florida who also claimed the same surname. Some were even mentioned in court documents along with Charles. But were they all his children? Hard to tell from what we've already discovered.

There is, however, another way to explore this possibility: DNA testing. As I've long since tested at all five of the companies which serve the genealogical community, all I need do is explore my results. Since has the largest database for autosomal DNA testing, it makes sense to look there, first. Even though looking for others descended from my fourth great-grandfather pushes us to the outer edge of testing reliability, it's worth considering the suggestions provided by Ancestry's ThruLines computations.

Keep in mind, though, that ThruLines combines the data of DNA testing with the trees of other Ancestry subscribers. And we all know how possible it can be that any given customer's tree can contain errors. Forget those others—my trees can contain mistakes, as well! But we always want to remember that consideration and explore our matches' trees for solid documentation and reasoning.

Opening up my results at AncestryDNA, I could see that ThruLines considered fifty of my DNA Matches to relate to me specifically through Charles McClellan. Among the descendants of Charles, these of his children were named: George (my direct line ancestor, mentioned in his father's will), Andrew, Henry, Charles D., Samuel (also mentioned in Charles' will as his son), and a woman named Mary Jane.

Here is where we can see that warning illustrated clearly. Clicking on the "evaluate" button provided on the readout for Mary Jane at ThruLines, I could see that this match descended from Mary Jane shared only six centiMorgans with me, the lowest that AncestryDNA will report on, and an amount which could just as likely indicate...nothing. From the documentation on the tree of this "match" I could tell immediately we were not talking about the right family. Among the documents attached to this potential relative's tree were records from England and census enumerations from Kansas—clearly not a life story shared by my McClellan ancestors in Florida.

Still, the more hefty cM connections with the McClellan siblings whose names I've already encountered in court records or as neighbors in census records were now showing in my ThruLines records. An encouraging sign, indeed.

Being even more adventurous, I decided to up the ante. I looked for ThruLines to predict the man who would be one generation beyond our Charles McClellan. According to Ancestry, instead of the fifty matches produced when I inspected the connection to Charles, this leap into the unknown produced sixty five mutual descendants. 

Remembering the fluke from the siblings listed as Charles' children, I looked rather askance at this readout, but did explore it, as that is the question I'm entertaining right now in my research. I did, however, note Ancestry's caveat:

ThruLines suggestions come from Ancestry trees and when members make changes to their trees, ThruLines may also change.

Well, of course. But it serves to remind us, lest we become convinced this DNA wizardry is indeed some form of magic. While I will definitely use ThruLines as one form of way marker, it will be the documentation which I can produce by its guidance which will be the foremost and more seriously weighted proof in the analysis.

It was curious to also note this heading that popped up during my exploration of "Unknown," my fifth great-grandfather, whoever he was.

Because of changes in [my tree], the ThruLines for [Unknown] McClellan may be changing. Please check back in 24 hours when the update is complete.

Oh, believe me: I'll be back!

Thursday, March 17, 2022

For Their Pal "Charly"


When scouring centuries-old documents for signs of one's fourth great-grandfather, it kinda pulls one up short to see the venerable old man referred to—in legal documents, no less—as "Charly." But that is indeed what was written in the best crumbling old record I could find on Charles McClellan in Camden County, Georgia.

Granted, I'm not yet convinced I'm following the right migration trail, as I attempt to backtrack on Charles McClellan's life before he was last sighted in the 1830s in territorial Florida. Finding record of the marriage of a possible daughter, Margaret E. McClellan, in Camden County, Georgia, was my most promising clue. But what other signs can be found of any McClellans in Camden County?

Since Margaret McClellan's marriage to Benjamin Stephens was recorded there in 1821, the most logical next step would be to look for signs of her father in the 1820 census. When we look there, the results are not promising. There are no McClellans in Camden County's enumeration for that year.

Well, not exactly. There are two possible entries, though, if you are open to the kind of loose record keeping, which has given us variants such as McLellan and McClelland.

It is probably really stretching things to consider as a sloppy McClellan what indexers at affirmed the 1820 enumerator's handwriting was recording. The verdict at Ancestry? "McClynory."

On closer inspection, my own (unreliable) eyes detected something more akin to "Chas McLenon," similar to the entry right about it for Andrew McLenon. A fold in the paper alongside what looked like a possible meandering tear didn't help matters. I decided to see what other records from the early 1800s could be found online for Camden County.

I turned to's catalog, a rich repository of digitized records from around the world. Alas, though clicking to select only records available online, for some reason the many records resulting from my search were available only in person, not online. Too impatient to wait for any apparent glitch to resolve itself—normally things don't work that way on the site—I abandoned the catalog approach and instead opted to select the tab "records" for my search.

While the 1820 census image at Ancestry at its best made reading the surname difficult, it was clear that the given name was abbreviated "Chas." Because the one company's indexer had trouble deciphering the surname, I decided to try the wildcard approach, and searched only for "McCle*" in the surname field.

Right at the top of search results—was FamilySearch now reading my mind after my failed attempts at finding online access to land records in the catalog?—was an entry in a collection called "Georgia Headright and Bounty Land Records 1783-1909."

The document began officially enough:

Georgia, by the Court of Justice for the County of Camden,
To the County Surveyor for Said County.
You are hereby Authorized and required to admasure and lay out—or cause to be admasured and laid out Unto Charly McClellen—a Tract of Land which Shall Contain two hundred acres on his family head rights...

This certainly was no "Chas McLynory." But..."Charly"?

The instructions which followed that introduction were written on the fifth day of May, 1817, and were signed by the clerk and three other county officials. One of them, reassuringly, happened to be a familiar name: Sherrard Sheffield.

This becomes a moment in which I finally see Charles McClellan's "F.A.N. Club" coalescing. Sherrard Sheffield was brother-in-law to Job Tison, the Georgia man I mentioned yesterday who requested Charles McClellan to serve as witness to his 1824 will in nearby Glynn County. And it was Job's daughter Sidnah who married Charles' son George, a few years later.

After that point, Charles, George, and both their families moved from that southeastern corner of Georgia for the territorial land of Florida. That, we've already witnessed. But it is in the other direction in which we need our research to take us now. Next week, we'll take a look at what the various McClellans' records show us about where they might have originated before their 1817 documentation in the state of Georgia.

Image: Above excerpt from the 1820 U. S. Census for Camden County, Georgia, showing "Andrew McLenon" and "Chas McLenon" courtesy; document below from "Headright and Bounty Land Records 1783-1909" digitized record collection at  

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Clues in Camden County


It is sometimes more of a challenge to research our ancestors while moving backwards in time. Not everyone dwells on where they came from, but many will lay out broad hints of where they intend to move to in the future. We don't, however, have the luxury of learning either detail from my fourth great-grandfather Charles McClellan, and need to rely on close scrutiny of any clues scattered in his path.

Right now, we've learned that a possible daughter of Charles—Margaret E. McClellan—married a man named Benjamin Stephens in Camden County, Georgia. Since at the end of his life, Charles lived in Jefferson County, Florida, that was a help to discover. But what about Camden County? Could that be a possibility for the previous stop on the McClellan migration pathway?

We already know, from another branch of my family, that Charles McClellan had shown up as a witness to the will of Job Tison, Charles' son George's future father-in-law. Job Tison, at the time of his death, lived in Glynn County, one jurisdiction to the north of Camden County. One could hardly be expected to serve in such a capacity for a mere stranger passing through the area; Charles McClellan living in Camden County could reasonably be expected to know someone in nearby Glynn County. After all, one generation before that, Charles' friend Job had married a woman whose father was buried in another nearby county, Wayne, in an area now considered part of yet another Georgia county, Brantley.

The wedding of Margaret E. McClellan and Benjamin Stephens, as we already discovered, occurred in Camden County in 1821. By the time of the 1830 census, Margaret and her young family were already enumerated in territorial Florida, giving us the latest date estimate for the McClellan family's presence in Camden County. But what could be the earliest date of their arrival? After all, Margaret—if, indeed, she was Charles' daughter—was said to have been born in South Carolina, not Georgia.

Records for Camden County in those early years seem to be sparse. For one thing, the region's earlier history seemed to be rocky, with threats from the British offshore, and from across the river—and international boundary—to the south as the Spanish claim was relinquished to the British and then, ultimately, to the Americans as neighboring Florida became a territorial possession of the United States.

One encouraging clue was that of the history of Camden County's main town, Saint Mary's, Georgia. Originally a Spanish settlement, founded in 1566, local inhabitants drew up a charter establishing the town as part of the state of Georgia in 1787. Looking at the area now designated as the Saint Mary's historical district, it is interesting to note that a Methodist Church was founded there in 1799—and that this particular church was considered to be the "father of Florida's Methodist churches."

Why for Florida churches, if it was located in Georgia? This gleaning from local history may serve to point us to the way that Charles McClellan was once directed, arriving in Camden County with the end plan of continuing on to Florida. Yet, if he were indeed there in Camden County before his (supposed) daughter's 1821 marriage, wouldn't he be in the preceding year's census record? There, it turns out, we encounter another problem.

Margaret's Marriage


If the two young children of the deceased Charles McClellan were living in the home of someone named Margaret Stephens, could there be a connection, despite the different surname? After all, by the time we found Charles' orphans Adeline and Samuel in the 1850 census, they had certainly attained majority age and were free to live elsewhere. Why did they stay?

More to the point, who was Margaret Stephens? We can see from that same 1850 census that Margaret also had three young people with the same surname living in her household: twenty year old Mahalia Stephens, fourteen year old James C. Stephens, and fifteen year old Elizabeth H. Stephens. While each of the three younger Stephens residents were born in Florida—a logical expectation, given they were living in Jefferson County, Florida—the census revealed that Margaret herself was born in South Carolina.

Also of help to us in our broader search for the roots of the McClellan children's deceased father Charles is the notation that both Adeline and Samuel were born in Georgia. Since Jefferson County shares a border with the state of Georgia, that is not surprising news. However, that detail will help guide us as we trace the orphans' father's roots before his family settled in territorial Florida.

If Adeline and Samuel were born in Georgia, that most likely meant that their father was once also in Georgia. But what about Margaret? Could she have been connected to this family as well?

As it turns out, there was an application filed by someone named Margaret E. Stephens for a widow's pension, based on the service of her husband in the war of 1812. While not much information was written on the document other than the veteran's name—Benjamin Stephens—four captains' names from the Georgia militia were provided, under the line for "service." That line, incidentally, was edited to add the word, "alleged."

Still, that's a clue: to look for a marriage record for Benjamin Stephens and a bride named Margaret, somewhere in the state of Georgia.

With the help of digitized and searchable records, that was easily found:


On October 11, 1821, in Camden County, Georgia, the Reverend Mr. William Hawkins of the Methodist Episcopal church performed the ceremony uniting Benjamin Stephens and Margaret E. McClellan as husband and wife. By the 1830 census, though, Benjamin Stephens and his young family had moved across the state line to Jefferson County in territorial Florida, and by 1835, Benjamin was involved in land transactions in the same county, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

What became of Benjamin, Margaret McClellan's husband, is not yet clear, though it is obvious that by 1850, his wife and children were on their own. As for Margaret, though we've yet to find any record identifying her specifically as daughter of Charles McClellan, we at least can feel fairly confident that, as the surrogate mother for Charles' youngest children Samuel and Adeline, Margaret was likely their older sister.

What is most helpful about this discovery is that it outlines for us the route that brought Charles McClellan to Jefferson County in those early days before Florida statehood. Let's step first across the state line to Georgia to see what can be found in Camden County, the place where Margaret married Benjamin back in 1821.


Above image of the October 1821 marriage license for Benjamin Stephens and Margaret E. McClellan of Camden County, Georgia, courtesy of

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

What Became of the Orphans?


In Charles McClellan's 1839 will, recorded in territorial Florida's Jefferson County, we can see his deep concern for the two youngest of his children about to be left behind at his passing. From this, we can assume Charles' wife had already died, thus after Charles' inevitable passing, leaving Samuel and Adeline McClellan orphans.

Since my goal with this month's research is to see whether I can trace Charles backwards in time from this point in his life—about to die in Jefferson County, Florida—I'm curious to learn whether the story of what became of these two children can help me find anything on Charles' own roots.

We already know that it would be unlikely that those two named children, Samuel and Adeline, would be named in the upcoming census. In 1840 as it was in 1830, only the head of household was identified by name; all the rest in the family were itemized by age-bracketed tick marks. Of course, two other McClellan men had been mentioned by name in 1830, but despite their young age, each man had recently married, thus forming their own household. Still, it was unlikely that Samuel McClellan would have been of an age to do so, just one year after his father's passing.

The next option was to explore the 1850 census. That was the point at which the enumeration broke loose of its name restrictions to include mention of each individual in a household by name. That became my first chance to look for orphans Samuel and Adeline McClellan.

While it could have been possible that either child would, by then, have been married, and possibly also moved away from Jefferson County, it did turn out that there was a household containing both McClellan names. Samuel McClellan in the 1850 census was listed as being twenty eight years of age, and "Adaline" showed as a twenty five year old.

The two McClellans showed up in a Jefferson County household headed by a forty five year old woman named Margaret E. Stephens. The question then becomes, who was Margaret Stephens? Was she a relative? Why were both Samuel and Adeline living in her household?

Checking ahead to the next census, the 1860 report showed "A. E. McClelon" living in Margaret Stephens' Jefferson County home, along with a presumed son of Margaret who had shown in the previous census as well. The thirty five year old woman with the initials could likely have been Adeline, as we can see her father had shown her name as Adeline H. E. McClellan.

To see whether there was any connection with Margaret Stephens—after all, she could just have been an enterprising widow running a boarding house—we need to explore what can be found on her first, before drawing any conclusions that it was a relative who took in the bereft orphans after the loss of their father. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

When Family Records Get Tangled


My March research goal: learn something—anything—further about my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan. It was relatively easy to see that the man died in territorial Florida about 1839; we have his will filed in Jefferson County.

That, however, was a discovery which brought with it problems, foremost of which was that the man's overarching concern for his two minor children obliterated any felt need to mention the names of the rest of his family. Now, we know him only as Charles, father of Samuel and Adeline. Oh, and father of George, since Charles appointed his "eldest son" to be his executor.

What about the others? Looking at the lines of other McClellan men in the region, mentioned in each other's various legal documents, I can see their names appearing in tandem from time to time, but that doesn't assure me that they were truly brothers.

Take, for instance, the 1830 census for nearby Hamilton County, Florida. In that record, as we've already discussed, there were three listings for McClellan heads of households: Charles, William, and Andrew. Charles, we've already explored, and likewise William. But what about Andrew?

Finding these names mentioned in more than one northern Florida county bothered me. What if the young Andrew showing up in the Hamilton County census record in 1830 wasn't the only Andrew McClellan in existence in the region? I had to check out the possibilities. But looking at the three counties in which I've found at least some of those McClellan men—in Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson counties—I couldn't spot more than one Andrew McClellan.

Let's see what we can find on this third McClellan man listed in that 1830 census record. For one thing, his was one of the smallest of households, containing one man between the ages of twenty and twenty nine, and one woman somewhere between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. Newlyweds? According to one local history book, Andrew McClellan married Christianna Watts in Hamilton County on December 10, 1829, a matter of months before the 1830 census was taken—but that will be a document retrieved during an in-person visit, as it doesn't show in any online resources I've checked.

And yet, by 1840, there was no sign of this young Andrew McClellan in Hamilton County. By the time of that later census, though, there was someone by that name and approximate age heading a family of six in nearby Columbia County.

Looking at land records for Andrew McClellan, one can begin to sense my concern that there was more than one man by that name in the region. The search results at the online source for the General Land Office Records of the Bureau of Land Management showed no land acquired by Andrew McClellan in either Hamilton County or Jefferson County where the other McClellans had lived, but in Madison County and Suwannee County.

Of those land acquisitions, the Madison County ones were earlier transactions in 1835 and 1837. And yet, in 1840, the only Andrew McClellan listed in the census in northern Florida was living in Columbia County, not Madison. Then, from 1844 through 1848, there were further land transactions, this time listed in Suwannee County.

But wait! Suwannee wasn't established as a county until 1858. How could it be listed as the location of a land transaction occurring in 1848?

Likewise, the earlier records started to make me question the listings. Notice that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton had their beginnings in the same year: 1827. Could a land record from the 1830s have gotten the geographic designation wrong? Perhaps it is time to dig a little deeper into the interface between how records were recorded at the Bureau of Land Management as compared to the county formation in territorial Florida. Perhaps there was lag time, or even an attempt to identify the land's location by the subsequent geographic description.

As for Andrew McClellan showing up in the 1850 census in Columbia County, I can cheer that the names of his household members were individually identified—and sigh from the relief of realizing that wherever he lived in Columbia County, it was likely the same piece of land which, with the county boundary change in 1858, became the newly-formed Suwannee County. From that point, we can follow Andrew and Christianna through each decade—with the exception of the missing entry for the post-war 1870 census—and find them still in Suwannee County.

That, incidentally, was the same county in which another McClellan lived: George, the son of Charles named as his executor, back in his 1839 will. The only other document I can find Andrew linked with any of the other McClellan men we've been researching concerned that mutual struggle experienced by all northern Florida settlers, the series of battles called the Indian Wars. In that time period, we can find an application for a military headstone for Andrew McClellan in which, following the many handwritten notes affixed to the official document, it is clear that someone was having trouble locating any record of Andrew's service. 

On the back of the application, someone wrote in the comment, "2nd Lt," and identified Andrew's service with "Capt George E. McLelland's Co."

Seeing that inscription brings up a point—likely the same difficulty which not only faces us as we explore this McClellan family, but also was encountered by the record keepers tasked with confirming Andrew's service in the first place. In researching this line, I've seen that surname represented as McClellan, McClelland, McLellan, and McLelland. Sometimes, the initial "c" is substituted by an apostrophe: M'Clellan. Or the "Mc" handled as a prefix, or entirely optional to include at all. Can they all be representing the same name?

Whether Andrew served in 1836 in George McClellan's company as friend, neighbor, or family is hard to tell from the few documents available to me at this point. Because Andrew's 1880 passing was far beyond the dates of the other McClellans' deaths, there is no expectation to find their names affixed as witnesses or even executor of his will—though the reverse may be true for other McClellan men who predeceased him. More searching to come before we exhaust that point.

That Andrew had a long life, though, presents its advantages. He lived past the point at which census enumerations switched to name all individuals in a household, and even to the point of listing relationships between members of a household. Andrew and Christianna were still around for the 1880 census, living in their married daughter Mary's home, providing not only a link to the next generation, but an indicator that I had missed this daughter entirely in previous enumerations.

That type of entanglement I can welcome with open arms. That is the way we are able to knit family lines together over the generations. That, in fact, brings me back to that original will—the one in which Charles McClellan was so emphatic about the care of his two youngest children. After his passing, what became of Samuel and Adeline? Perhaps following their story will help weave this family together in ways we haven't yet discovered.


Above image from the Application for Headstone or Marker for military veterans, application made on October 2, 1956, on behalf of Andrew McClellan (1810-1880); image courtesy    

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Indexing Re-Invented


For the longest time, I set aside a regular time to volunteer as an indexer to make the digitized records at FamilySearch computer-searchable. As of this year's RootsTech conference, we've now discovered that indexing is no longer the volunteer process we've come to expect. It has been re-invented.

The sleek new package, redesigned with an eye to encouraging volunteers to take action, is now dubbed "Get Involved." Even better, it has been reinvented with volunteers-on-the-go in mind; to participate, you can download the app to your smart phone and tap in to volunteer opportunities in those fleeting downtime moments of everyday life. Like, while standing in line at the grocery store.

Well, I don't know if I'm that driven, but I did give the "Get Involved" program a whirl on my laptop, almost immediately after hearing about the reconfigured site during RootsTech. I guess a whole bunch of other conference attendees got the same idea at the same time, for the tab on the FamilySearch website disappeared for a while last Saturday night. Rest assured, it is back, and fully capable of showing its stuff in a test drive.

In a matter of moments, a volunteer can confirm or edit a batch of twenty names already transcribed via artificial intelligence handwriting recognition—the same computer action which will make harvesting the data from the 1950 U.S. Census a much faster process than even the volunteer victory over the 1940 census transference to computer-ready searches. All it takes—well, besides a free account—is the ability to compare notes from an identified name in a document with the "answer" the AI computer came up with. The volunteer's simple response? Either click "match" or "edit." If "edit," type in the correct response, then click "submit." If really stumped, there is always the out of clicking the third option, "unsure."

Those who are old hands at indexing may have noticed that the website tab to gain entry to select projects has been changed from the label "Indexing" to the more energetic "Get Involved." 


Under the drop-down menu, if you select "My Opportunities" and scroll down the page to the box labeled "Review Names," that is where the action begins. You can choose specific surnames to search, or a specific location—right now, only documents from the United States and Latin America are available—or just choose to work on whichever project has the greatest need at the moment. The app will serve up twenty names and ask you to compare the selected option with information in the original document. It's amazing how fast you can work through a batch of names.

Everything looks ready now for some serious volunteer action, once the 1950 U.S. Census is released on April 1. The only thing I'd like to see implemented in this re-invention of the old indexing site is the ability to form groups—teams of volunteers from the same location, like a local genealogical society—just as we used to do in the old indexing section of FamilySearch.

Once the 1950 census indexing gets rolling, I think it would be more fun for a group to see how much its members can tackle, and to see, cumulatively, how much we've accomplished for the common good. The new Get Involved app is making great strides in enabling us to collectively make more documents searchable—and thus usable—but gaining a sense of how we are all doing, together, to make that difference can be a far more powerful encouragement than just providing an easier way for volunteers to help out.

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