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.


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