Saturday, November 26, 2022

When You Realize You Already Knew That


Researching the McClellan family of Wellborn, Florida, has been a decades-long, stop-and-go process for me. My childhood was filled with stories told by "Aunt Fannie" to all her nieces and nephews (and subsequently to their children and grandchildren), but the real research didn't begin until I had access to digitized records accessible online.

Since I didn't even set foot in the state of Florida until only a few years ago myself, this had not been a destination for any research journeys. The only way to learn about my great-grandfather Rupert McClellan or his many siblings had to be by other means. Of course, like anyone else, I was able to pick him out of such general records as census enumerations, thanks at first to, and then through It wasn't until this past decade when I learned about alternate resources.

In the meantime, the State Archives of Florida had procured grant funding to digitize and make available online several of their collections. Out of this process grew the website known as Florida Memory.

When I first discovered the site, I explored the holdings simply because of the many Florida relatives I've had, over the decades, who were at least tangentially involved in state politics or administration. Rather, I should say, I found the website—it was an accidental but Eureka! moment—and then promptly forgot about it.

Late this past week, I was reminded of what I had forgotten about. Once again researching my McClellan roots, I stumbled upon several references to records at Florida Memory concerning Rupert McClellan's father, William. Apparently, living in the state when he was of an age to serve in the military during the Civil War, William had later applied for a pension for his service—and after his death, apparently his widow did, also.

In this case, I was fortunate that William apparently had some difficulties with his application, for even pages of his correspondence on the matter were preserved in a file at Florida Memory. Not that there were monumental discoveries unearthed in the many pages I was able to access, but this small cache of records enabled me to take a peek into a few days of the life of my second great-grandfather in a way I could not otherwise have done.

That, however, wasn't something I discovered that time, several years ago, when I first stumbled upon the website. This discovery happened just this week. Yes, I forgot about that resource. It felt like a new discovery, until I realized I had been this way before.

The antidote to such a research mishap, of course, is to keep a research log of where you've been already, and what you found when you were there. That is a fine concept in theory, but I find it increasingly difficult to cope with multiple streams of paper in the face of an increasingly digitized research world. To write such information on paper means not only to somehow remember I wrote that down, but to also recall a summary of what, exactly, I had written. If I can remember that, why bother recording it?! Jumping back and forth from digital to paper means seems awkward.

I'm developing habits of recording such information exactly where I'm working at the time, which for now is mainly online. Most people using to build their family tree probably realize that the left column of an ancestor's profile page represents the person's timeline—the column labeled "Facts"—while the middle column, which Ancestry labels as "Sources," serves as what I call the footnote column. These entries are editable, and I am starting to add my own information to the columns as my way to incorporate a research log right into my ancestor's own profile page.

By clicking the plus sign to the right of the "Facts" column label, I can enter a wide variety of life event labels to that timeline—everything from A.K.A.s and Bar Mitzvahs to dates of retirement or details of a will. Likewise, the same plus sign button to the right of the "Sources" column header allows me to add website addresses or other information sources outside of those offered in Ancestry's own vast collection. In addition, I can customize any notes to timeline entities I've already entered simply by hovering over the tile for that specific timeline entry and clicking on the "edit" button that pops up to add a note about what I've found—or to make a note of what I still need to find.

Using those simple tools, I now can add the digital equivalent of a sticky note right onto the ancestor's page where I've made a great discovery—or made the discovery that I still need to follow up with more sleuth work. Like the time this week when I discovered a resource that I...oops...already knew about. 

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