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. 


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