Read, Record, Write, Repeat: Tuesday’s Tip

Within the windowless library, area genealogists gathered to review records on screen, microfilm, and in hand.  I was a novice family historian, with little reason to use the local data, just seeking the opportunity to mingle with fellow enthusiasts.  I was set the task of transcribing funeral home ledgers for the microfilm index.  As I steadily worked through the one hundred year old volumes each week, I asked questions about the area prompted from the names, places and customs detailed in those lines of script.  Over time I struck up a friendship with a particularly clever genealogist, computer savvy and very familiar with the local databases and collections, and I seized the chance to talk about my research with its puzzles and twists.  My friend recommended some universal rules of research:

Identify your starting ancestor.

READ as many records and newspapers as you can.

RECORD your sources and your information so it can be stored easily and retrieved easily.

WRITE up your research every so often and uncover the next set of questions you would like to answer.

The most important tip she passed on was this: REPEAT THAT PROCESS!  What an historian learns in the second, third, and fourth reading are the connections between the small details. Details that seemed inconsequential at first suddenly tell an important story or offer an amazing insight into your ancestors’ lives.

Case in point.

I have very limited information about the women in my families: maiden names, federal census data, brief register report descriptions, and every once in a while, a mention in a document like a deed or mortgage.  On the occasion of Women’s History Month I devoted some time last week to rereading those records and attempting to write brief biographies of four female ancestors alive during the Civil War.  Six hundred words later I had gotten up to 1864 in the life of one woman. My very limited assignment took on the feel of a dragon pulling me into a deep, bottomless cave!  Given the time I have for writing I had to refine my assignment, and so began looking for a connection among all of the data, a spark of insight, a piece of sticky tape that might paste a story together.  In other words, I repeated the process–again.

I began with another read-through of the Minor Register Report for Mary Jane Gwynn Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania, wife of Francis Marion.  She bore five children:

John P. born 18 December 1852.  Alfred born 31 December 1855.  Sarah born 23 February 1858.  Leroy born 15 April 1864. Robert, my great-grandaddy, born 29 July 1869.

Wait.  Leroy was born on April 15, the birthdate of one of my children! Hmmm.  Seems like something else happened on or around that date.  Rifling through my Lady Papers, I found my essay on Greene Dodson.  There.  April 15, 1864–William Greene Dodson, eldest son of Sarah Jane Rowlett and James H. Dodson, enlisted in the 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army, at Christiansville, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

Three women connected across time, place and circumstance.  At this intersection waits my story, which will require yet one more repeat of the read, record, write.

I, Daddy, Pledge That You, Son, Can Have This Land Someday Soon: Amanuensis Monday

By 1854 Abia and Robert Minor were married with families, living on the Harrison County land that John P. Minor purchased from James P. and Rowena Wilson in 1841 and 1842.  With this document it becomes clear that John P. Minor still held the deed to the land, in spite of the intention to convey ownership to them as expressed in the 1849 unexecuted deed.

It’s as if he had said:

~~You can have this land, fee simple, free and clear, in your name to do with it what you want and when you want–eventually.  Once you have established yourselves as fine upstanding, self-sufficient men, we will take care of that pesky legal work.  Don’t you worry, son.

 

Whereas I own in Harrison County State of Virginia on Simpsons Creek five hundred and seventy five acres of land; on which there is now residing Abia and Robert Minor my sons; and whereas I have always intended to give and deed unto said Abia and Robert Minor my sons three hundred and twenty acres over of said tract of five hundred seventy five acres of land.  This is to certify that I bind, pledge and obligate myself to deed to said Abia and Robert Minor my sons the above mentioned three hundred and twenty acres of land to be theirs fn fee simple for their use and behoof to be liable for their contracts etc.  and whereas said Abia Minor has been elected High Sheriff of said Harrison Co and state of Va. thereby affirm that I make the above deeds for the better securing the bails of said Abia Minor: now said deeds are to be made in accordance with my last will and testament in this particular, to wit, free egress to and from the balance of the tract of five hundred and seventy five acres of land and also the use of the coal banks on said lands.  I bind myself to make said deeds in the course of six or twelve months.  In confirmation of the above I hereby sett (sic) my hand and seals this Ninth day of June one thousand eight hundred and fifty four

sealed and delivered in the presence of

A.E. Carson             I. W. Hathaway                         John P Minor

 

 

~~Oh, and by the way, I will always be able to come and go across this land as I see fit, and I will always have access to the coal in them hills.

;)    Daddy

 

Follow Friday: The Museum of the Confederacy

Back when I was a kid, in the 1960s, every southern child learned about the yell, the high decibel, primal yell that rebel soldiers were reported to have uttered as they charged into the blue uniformed aggressors.  Speculation held that it sounded like a pack of wild men; the eerie screams stopped Yanks in their tracks, made them reconsider their positions and examine their reasons for fighting.  The Museum of the Confederacy in  Richmond, Virginia has a vodcast in which this mythic cry has been recreated–and it is indeed eerie, primal, menacing.  No wonder northern soldiers wrote home about it.

This site contains this clever reconstruction, as well as, several other short lectures covering subjects such as:  Mourning in Civil War America, Creativity in Captivity, Emancipation and the New Black Vote, Encouraging Hearts and Strengthening Hands.  Anyone attempting to understand the cultural transformations and political consequences of the Civil War will find this set of videos helpful.  Even if you are a Yankee. ;)