Friday, December 28, 2012

The Whys of It All

When my husband and I were first married, we were in our final years of college and we lived in an apartment close to the university.  One of our neighbors had an adorable little boy who was about three years old at the time.  Whenever I sat out on our little patio, I could count on a visit from the cute little guy.  I will never forget his steady stream of questions, and how he asked “why” following almost everything that I said.  It quickly helped me to realize just how little I really knew about the world. I have thought about him a lot lately as I have frequently asked myself  “why?”  Why do some people seem to have more to deal with than others?  Why do some seem to get so much more done in a day ?  Why must it snow for three days nonstop?
      
Martha Olivia Ganus
Martha Olivia Ganus
Although asking “why” for many questions does not produce an answer and is not necessarily even productive, I have found the opposite to be true in genealogy.  It’s in asking “why” that I have been led to some of my greatest finds.

It was in asking “why” John Monroe Ganus and wife Olivia were living in Alabama in 1860 instead of their home state of Georgia, that I learned they were there living among Olivia’s family, and I shared that story in this post. Asking why they were there led me to learn more about my Great Great Grandmother, Olivia's family, the Rainwaters.  And it was because I wondered “why”  I could not find more about my Gurganus family in Macon that I searched faded, difficult to read, microfilmed court records for hours, which in turn led me to the sad finding of a murder trial involving my family, which I shared earlier.  And, it was in asking “why” Grandma had faintly written in the corner of a little piece of paper, “John M. had a brother Jim that went to Alabama,”  that I began to search for Jim Ganus and that ultimately led me to not only Jim, but Jim’s descendants and I shared what I found in this post.  In addition, a picture of an unknown woman in my Grandpa Ganus’  papers led me to ask "why" her picture was among his few possessions and  led me to information about my Great Grandfather William Franklin’s first wife and their daughter, Martha Olivia Ganus.  I am saving that story to share at a later time.  I have truly learned that with genealogical research, asking the questions helps me to stop and evaluate what I know and what I want  to know and that ultimately leads to new information. 

I have witnessed a fair amount of banter among individuals recently over various issues of genealogical importance and as a result, I have looked at my own research and asked another "why."  Just "why” am I doing genealogy in the first place and am I on the road that will lead me to my desired goal?  Have I lost site of my original purpose and if so, "why" and what do I need to do about it?   I plan to set some genealogical goals for this coming year and as I do, I certainly plan to evaluate what I do against  “why” I am doing it and hopefully that will help me remain focused, lead me to some great finds and keep me out of trouble.

That curious little neighbor boy from so many years ago has long since grown up to be a man and I am sure that he has his own little children that sometimes ask him "why."   I am just as sure that he has long forgotten me and has no idea that I often think of him as I ponder issues in my own life and ask  "why?"

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas is Coming, the Squirrel is Getting Fat?


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat!

I remember singing that song as a child and thinking that it was a strange song. Why were we singing about a fat goose and putting pennies in an old man’s hat and just how did that relate to Christmas?

Christmas was magical as a child.  Things were a bit simpler then, but even so, I couldn’t have loved Christmas more. 

As simple as Christmas was for me as a child, I know that in earlier times, it was even simpler.  I do confess however, that thanks Christmas by the fireto old movies, I tend to romanticize it a bit, envisioning a family gathered around a roaring fire in a large rustic fireplace, real stockings hanging from the mantle and a freshly cut pine decorated with a few simple homemade ornaments standing beside it.  In my mind, their meal was composed of some type of bird and a few tasty yet simple fixings.  One thing is for certain, I’ve never pictured them gathering for a dinner of squirrel or including sardines!

So as I browsed through a few journals that I have copies of, I was surprised to read what they did in the days leading up to Christmas, as well as Christmas Day itself. 

From the biography of Henry Newton Cochran of Campbell County, Georgia:
December 24 1918
Tuesday “Christmas Eve”, It was very rainy last night, but has ceased this morning, but still cloudy. . . . The boys are preparing to go with a Lackie crowd serenading tonight. they went.
December 25, 1918
Wednesday-Christmas. We are all fine this morning, but I don’t know where or how we will be next Christmas Day.
That’s it?  No mention of exchanging gifts or a festive meal? The next two entries come from the journals of men serving as missionaries in the Haralson County area of Georgia in the 1880’s.

From the Journal of John Edward Metcalf:
December 25 1881
Sunday & Christmas day did not hold meetings ate some squirrel for breakfast, commenced to rain it rained without secession for twenty-four hours a very dismal Christmas read talked sung hymns 
And from the Journal of John Joseph Pledger Murphy I read the following:
December Friday 24, 1886
Christmas eve and uncle John is very buisy all day Selling candy Sardines Soda water & cigars to those that are having Christmass  I was also very buisey all day cooking & Eating.  uncle John & I continue to talk on the Principals of the gospell.  We hold Prares & go to bed & have a good Rest & Feel Refreshed.
Again, no mention at all about gifts!  No mention of decorations or big parties. I was struck by the simplicity of the day and although I did not include any entries for the days leading up to Christmas, I assure you that their entries were uneventful and full of typical daily activities.  There was no mention of a frantic effort to create the perfect holiday season or days full of shopping and spending. While I recognize that these entries may not fully reflect society as a whole during that era,  I do think it reflects a difference in how many people viewed the day.

I can’t help but think back to my own growing up years and see the contrast between then and now.  While we certainly celebrated Christmas and had fun activities with family and friends, the thing that stands out in my mind are the simple things.  We had many quiet evenings at home together as a family, enjoying games or an occasional special on TV.  I remember the peace of the program at church and that Christ was at the center of the holiday.  While I anxiously anticipated Christmas morning and a visit from Santa Claus, the expectations pale compared to what most want and receive today. The season didn’t seem to include the noise, the frantic determined search for the perfect gift, or the expectations for elaborate ornate holiday gatherings.   How did things evolve to where they are today? 

It has given me something to think about.  While I have definitely tweaked things the past few years to return the season’s focus to what Christmas is truly all about, I think I still have more changes to make.  One thing is for certain however, whatever else I choose to change, my family can rest assured that simplifying will not  include shopping for sardines on Christmas eve or serving squirrel for Christmas Day breakfast! 

Merry Christmas!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012


Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Eye for an Eye and an Ear for an Ear?

We all knew kids that bit other children.  One of our own sweet children often resorted to biting and sometimes for no apparent reason.  It was humiliating to have a teacher bring her to me during church, indicating that she had bitten....again.  But thankfully, with some creative persuasion techniques and time, she did outgrow biting and she is a wonderful woman today with her own children.  The point is, she did outgrow it and found other ways to communicate her displeasure with other's behavior.

Apparently, that is not always the case for everyone. While researching my Rainwater family in Anderson County, South Carolina court records, I found the following:

State of South Carolina
Appeared personally Mishack Deale and David Heaton before me, A.J. Liddell one of the Justice of the peace in the District aforesaid and after being duly sworn on their oaths said that they were present at a fight that took place between Jesse Jolly and Solomon Rainwater some time in the month of June 1816 and in the affray the deponents saith that Jesse Jolly did bite the ear off said Rainwater or part of the right ear of said Rainwater.  Sworn and subscribed before me this 14 day of Nov 1817.

A.L. Liddell J.P.
Recorded 15th Nov. 1817

I really wish I knew the full story of what transpired both before Solomon had his ear partially bitten off and afterwards.  This appeared in court records in November, about five months following the June incident, so both Solomon Rainwater and Jesse Jolly had had time to think about the issue and apparently had not resolved it on their own.  I couldn't help but remember an incident in 1997 when heavyweight Mike Tyson bit off a portion of his opponent Holyfield's ear in the ring. But again, this was at least in the ring.  What would provoke a grown man to bite a chunk of another man's ear off out in public?

This Solomon Rainwater was born about 1799 in South Carolina and was the son of Solomon Rainwater and Ruth Felton, whom I've mentioned before.  He was also brother to Joshua Rainwater who is my third great grandfather. This younger Solomon  married Nancy Linn about nine years after this fight on 18 Dec. 1826 and they had 11 children, Leander, Amanda, Naomi, Cimantha, Nancy, Solomon, Charity, Cicero, Isabel, Virgil and Horace. By 1821, Solomon and Nancy were living in Hancock County, Georgia where Solomon passed away in 1858.

Solomon's older brother, Job, had married Didama Hembree in 1800 and her sister, Winnie Hembree, had married David Heaton in about 1813.  So, Job Rainwater and wife Didama nee Hembree, as well as  David Heaton  and Winnie nee Hembree were married at the time of the fight, although Solomon was an unmarried young man about 18 years old and still living in his father's household. So, whatever the circumstances were, Solomon had a connection with David Heaton and my guess is, likely at least knew Mishack Deale as well.

 Hopefully the issue was resolved and life resumed, although with a portion of his ear missing as a reminder, it's unlikely that the incident was ever totally forgotten.  While a bit tedious, I love researching in court records because you never know what you might find.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012



Friday, December 7, 2012

Blood is Thicker than Water

On Wednesday, I attended the funeral for a cousin of mine.  He was still relatively young, had children at home and his passing was unexpected, so it was a hard day.  As I walked into the church, I was greeted by other cousins, some whom I had not seen for some time and it was a bittersweet experience.  While we were glad to see each other and grateful to be able to be together and provide support to each other, it was nonetheless a very solemn occasion as we said goodbye to a cousin, brother, uncle, husband and father.
Nephi Glen Hostetter, Maud
Hostetter Gathering in Colorado mountains

As I listened to the speakers share experiences from this remarkable cousin's life, I felt cheated that we had lived so many miles apart during our adult years and so I consequently knew very little about his more recent life.  I kept flashing back to childhood family gatherings.  My family lived out of state, so our association with cousins was limited to our yearly family vacations.  During those visits, we "helped" (or so we thought) cousins during the day as they gathered eggs, milked cows, baled hay and moved the sheep and cows.  Nights and weekends were filled with kick the can, riding tote gotes, softball games and sometimes a picnic in the mountains.  Grandmas and aunts on both sides of the family would fry up chicken, whip up tasty sandwiches or some delectable main dish, make salads and side dishes galore and top it off with the best desserts imaginable. Summers were heavenly and I remember wishing they would never end.

Because I loved those summer visits,  I started to count down the days to our next trip almost as soon as we waved goodbye to Grandma each year. I can remember that the tears began almost the second we pulled out from her house and would continue off and on during the thousand mile road trip home.

Me with mother, my brothers and Grandma Ganus,
my aunt and a cousin
Blood truly is thicker than water and that has always been the case.  I see evidence of families remaining close to each other as I research my various family lines.  Families used to be an "all in one" deal, living close to each other and providing everything from safety to friendship.  I was reminded of this as I searched for my second great grandfather in the 1860 census. John Monroe Ganus was born in Georgia in 1826 and could be found in Georgia Census records prior to 1860,and then again in 1870 and 1880.  But initially I couldn't find him in 1860.  When I finally did find him, he was living in Calhoun County, Alabama, across the border from his previous home in Georgia.  At first I couldn't imagine what he was doing there and then I realized that John and Olivia were living among Olivia's family.  The census entries surrounding the Ganus family are full of Browns, Baileys and Ayers, all who tie into the Rainwaters.  Living a few doors down is Olivia's sister, Frances, and her husband Ruben Ayers.  It was this sister, Frances, that Olivia visited a few days before she and John left Georgia to move to Colorado.  It's more than a little apparent that these sisters enjoyed each other's company and consequently their children had the advantage of being able to interact with each other, which was demonstrated in the story that I shared in a previous post.  So family at least played a part in John and Olivia's move to Alabama and that realization helped to solve that mystery.

But there is one other mystery associated with that 1860 census record.  Listed as living in the Ganus household is John Ganus 32, Olivia who was 27, William F. who was 6 and was my great grandfather, John T. who was 5 years old, another brother, James R. who was 2 and then lastly, Henry who was 19.  Each name following John's has ditto marks in place of their last name, suggesting that each member had the same last name as the first entry, which was "Ganus."  Each person is familiar and seems to belong until I come to Henry, and I have to say, finding a Henry listed with this family has actually kept me awake at nights.  I do not have a Henry listed anywhere in my database under any surname!  Who in the world is Henry?  Is he really a Ganus, or are those ditto marks following his first name just evidence of a lazy census taker? I know that families stuck together and often took in other family members and so I have searched the 1850 census many times to find other Ganus families, as well as other known relatives with a "Henry,"  who would have been approximately 9 years old in that earlier census, but have not been successful.  If anyone is aware of a missing Henry, please let me know.  

While that may sound like a silly thing to ask, it actually was a previously unknown cousin who provided the solution to another similar mystery.  Early in my research, she contacted me as a result of my post on a forum and told me that she believed that she descended from James and Elizabeth's "missing" daughter, Margaret. I, as well as several other researchers, had begun to assume that Margaret had died as a child, but thanks to the email from this distant cousin, I learned that Margaret was actually living next door to her parents with her husband and two children in 1860!! While the census taker had elected to use only initials for those he enumerated, making it a little trickier to piece together, with help of  this cousin's information, along with other records, we were able to confirm that this was "our" Margaret living next to her parents.  This was my introduction to the fact that families, particularly in the South, had a tendency to live close to each other and it helped me to understand the importance of carefully analyzing neighbors for potential relationships.

1860 U.S. Federal Census
Fayetteville, Fayette, Georgia 

Knowing that families used to live in such close proximity and knowing how dearly I love my own cousins,  I can't help but feel a little envious of earlier times. In many instances, cousins were able to provide a lifetime of strength and support to each other.  It's so different from today's world where many,  if not most people, live some distance from family and where gatherings are often limited to holidays, summer vacations and the occasional reunions.  I do have to say that social media has provided an outlet for staying in touch and that some of my cousins and I  have enjoyed interacting and sharing pictures through Facebook, texts, email and other means never imagined by our 19th century cousins. While these means hardly take the place of living close to each other, I am grateful that we have found some way to stay in touch across the miles, because I believe that while times have changed,  we truly do still need each other and that even in today's world, blood is thicker than water.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Can Do Hard Things

Each and every individual in my family tree holds a special place in my heart.  The tragic, the strong, the loving, the determined and the stubborn--each person belongs and as I learn about their lives and what they encountered and endured, I feel greater determination to similarly face my trials with courage and the same spirit of perseverance.

 Burton W. Cook has always been a favorite of mine.  Although I am actually related to his wife and children and not Burton himself,  I nonetheless feel a strong draw to Burton and it's in researching him that I have learned something about his wife and children.  Unlike some of the characters in stories previously shared in this blog, Burton didn't dip in and out of the newspapers and court rooms, but he just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, places where ancestors are supposed to be, but mine so seldom are. I find him in deeds, tax records, Agricultural Censuses, Federal Censuses, Civil War records including enlistment and Southern Claims Commission  and he even had a will AND there is record of his burial! Who knew such a person existed?  So many of my ancestors are so elusive.

Burton W. Cook was born about 1831, and while the records show conflicting data, I believe he was likely born in North Carolina.  I would love to know who his parents were, but my research, in addition to the information that I've received from some of his descendants has failed to produce any parents.  Interestingly enough, the first document that I have for him is his marriage license to Mary Ganus on 7 April 1850 in DeKalb County, Georgia.  Mary was my second great-grandaunt and the oldest child of James (Gur)Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey, my second great grandparents. I am unsure exactly where Burton was and what he did prior to his marriage.

On the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, just a short six months after their marriage, Burton and wife, Mary, are shown residing in the household of Shadrack Ellis, 89 years old, and Mary Ellis who was 35 years old,  living  in the Stones District of DeKalb County, Georgia . I have wondered why they were living with Shadrack and what the connection was?  While I can think of a variety of possibilities for the relationship and have explored options, I have not yet been able to prove any of them.

The first twelve years of Burton and Mary's life together appeared to be fairly typical of the time.  Burton farmed and Mary cared for the house and children. I did note that their first known child was born five years after their marriage, which is a little unusual for their time period..

Soon came the event that brought drastic change to life in the United States: the Civil War. Joining the ranks with neighbors and friends, Burton volunteered in Fayetteville, Georgia on May 1, 1862 and was mustered into Captain Samuel W. Marshborn's Company, Co C 53rd Regiment, the Georgia Fayette Planters.  Burton indicated that his place of residence was Atlanta. I was thrilled to find that Burton's record included a physical description.  Burton had a florid complexion, dark hair, grey eyes and was six foot tall.

At the time of his enlistment, Burton and Mary had three children. Isaiah M. was 7 years old, Elizabeth was  4 years old and Burton Calloway, their youngest at the time, was about three months old.   I can only imagine Mary's mixed feelings as Burton went off to fight. While she likely felt a loyalty and commitment to "the cause," I am sure the uncertainty that always accompanies war made it difficult for her to see her husband leave, not knowing if he would ever return and knowing that she alone would have to care for their family for a time.

I wonder if Mary was notified two years later, in June of 1864, when Burton was captured at Gaines Mill, which was sometimes called the Battle of Cold Harbor and took place in Hanover County, Virginia .
 PD-Art  Battle of Gaines's Mill
Elmira Prison Camp
Courtesy of Library of Congress
A month later, Burton was transferred by rail as a prisoner of war from Point Lookout, Maryland  to the camp at Elmira, New York.  Elmira had the highest death rate per capita of northern prisons with 24 percent mortality. The first group of prisoners entered Elmira on July 6th, and Burton arrived soon after on July 12th.  The camp quickly became overcrowded, and nearby Foster's Pond  filled with sewage creating a very unhealthy environment as the stench filled the air, bacteria spread and rats were drawn to the location in droves.  Disease was rampant throughout the camp.  The winter of 1864/65 proved to be one of the harshest that Elmira had seen with temperatures dipping well below zero and an extremely heavy snowfall. Blankets and clothing were very inadequate and many died from disease, malnutrition and exposure. In the spring, the thaw brought flooding to the nearby Chemung River which flooded the camp.  Conditions were so bad, prisoners referred to it as "Helmira."  .

I wonder if Mary was aware at the time of the deplorable conditions that her husband endured there.  Or, with the Civil War in its final months and Mary living just outside of Atlanta, was she totally consumed with  the challenge of trying to keep herself and her three small children safe and alive?  I wish I knew what she did, where she went and how she managed to care for her small family.  She could  not have known how history would eventually play out, nor how soon the war would grind to a stop.  Living in a time when "breaking news" is the norm, when a text or an email can be sent across the United States or across the world, it's hard for me to imagine a time when people were relatively unaware of the condition of love ones only a few states away.

The scene as citizens of Atlanta scramble to leave in
accordance to the mandatory evacuation order in 1864.
Wikipedia
 Both Burton and Mary endured incredible deprivation and hardship.  Burton survived his experience in a prison camp known for it's inhumane conditions while Mary, living just outside of Atlanta,  faced fear and uncertainty as she worked hard to keep her young family alive.  I can only imagine the joyful reunion as Mary and Burton, along with their three children, were reunited upon Burton's released from Elmira on June 19, 1865.  



In the years that followed,  Burton was able to return to farming and he and Mary added one more child to their family.  Mary C. Cook was born in 1868.

Burton died 3 January 1894 at the age of 63.  He was buried in the Abilene Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in Carroll County, Georgia.  The final record that I have for Mary is that of  the June 1900 U.S. Federal Census which shows Mary, 76 years old and living alone in Carroll County, Georgia.  Living just one door away is her son Burton and his family. Mary's final resting place is unknown at this time.

I wonder about Mary.  Did she too possess that Ganus "spunk"?  Perhaps it was that spunk that in part kept her going on those incredibly difficult days when she had to wonder if she and Burton would ever see each other again and if they would ever have a "normal" life again.  In any case, I feel an awe and gratitude for those such as Burton and Mary, that lived before, accepted life's challenges and kept going. I have learned about being strong and the capacity of the human spirit.  They faced adversity and kept going and showed me that I can too. It's a good reminder that I also "can do hard things."

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Are You Crying Fer?

It was a blessed time back in the day when extended families lived in close proximity to each other.  Families were able to be part of each other's daily lives--- casually dropping in and out during the day, supporting and helping as needed.   Not only were children able to learn some of life's most valuable lessons from their parents, but also from those that loved them most, specifically aunts, uncles and grandparents. Over time people have become more mobile and so for many, gone are the days when grandparents lived just down the road.

Carrie Melinda Davis Ganus, Emmett Ganus
Carrie Melinda Davis Ganus and
son Emmett Ganus
Sometimes the "older folks" provided a very direct lesson in the form of  "a talking to"---but other times, children learned a great deal from observing their nonsensical approach to life.  Either way, those lessons often influenced many aspects of their lives by teaching morals, shaping attitudes and teaching skills to help them cope and deal with the day to day events.  If shared with others, those lessons can continue to bless and shape future generations today .


Phoebe Johnson was among those blessed to have lived near some of her extended Ganus family.  While she never knew her grandfather, Roderick Monroe Ganus who had passed away in 1932, she did know his wife, her Grandma Carrie Melinda Davis.  Carrie was born 19 August 1886 in Hanceville, Alabama and was the daughter of Rolen Lee Davis and Mary Ann Watson.  Roderick's brother, Bobby had married Stella May Montgomery, who was born 21 Jul 1879 in Missouri and  was the daughter of Joshua Montgomery and Nancy Jane Woods. After the deaths of their husbands, Grandma Carrie and  "Aunt" Stella  lived in a duplex next door to each other.

I am grateful for the following story that Phoebe recently shared with me. Not only has it greatly impacted her life and her children's lives, but I believe that sharing it will impact all who read it.  Thank you Phoebe!


Hazel Mickelsen Ganus, Stella May Montgomery Ganus, Heber Monroe Ganus
Hazel Mickelsen Ganus, Stella May Montgomery Ganus
and Heber Monroe Ganus 
"I remember the first lesson that I learned about death I learned from the death of Bobby's wife, Stella (whom I LOVED).  Aunt Stella lived in a duplex along side Carrie. Aunt Stella was everything I wanted my Grandmother to be... patient, caring, touching and hugging.  She was very loving. Then she died. 


Robert Lee Ganus, Stella May Montgomery
Robert L. Ganus &
Stella M. Montgomery
I was visiting my Grandma, Carrie and I asked to go next door to say hello to Aunt Stella and she told me that she had died.  It was probably the first time that I had realized loss through death and I was devastated. So I went out on the common back porch that they had shared and peeked in the windows of Stella's old house. Then I sat down on the porch and cried. Grandmother Carrie came outside and sat down by me and said in an exasperated manner "what are you crying fer?" I told her I missed Aunt Stella. She sat there for a moment and then replied "Well. Is that gonna bring her back?" I answered no and she said "then get up and find something to do". As a youngster, the logic of that appealed to me and has stood me in good stead for a good amount of time. The "Get up and find something to do and stop feeling sorry for yourself" theme is one I carry on today and my family knows that particular phrase well. Carrie was a no-nonsense gal and a little girl that had drama queen tendencies was no match for her. I am sure that being practical had its place in the days and times when my Grandparents were growing up and I cannot imagine the hardships they endured just to survive."

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Bane of My Existence

I have often called my hair the "bane of my existence."  If ever there was wildly stubborn hair, that's mine.  I can't even begin to tell you how frustrated I was growing up in southern California in the 60's and 70's when stick straight hair was in. Mine chose instead to flip and curl and in some places, stand straight out.
robert Ganus, Roderick Ganus, Newton Ganus, John Monroe Ganus, John T. Ganus, William Franklin Ganus
John Monroe Ganus and sons
L-R  Top row  Robert, Roderick M., Newton L.
bottom row  John Monroe, John T., William F. 
Nephi Glen Hostetter
Nephi Glen Hostetter
While I will never appreciate the unorganized wildness that I fight with every day, I did have an ah ha moment one day as I was looking through my genealogy pictures. 

One look at my both my maternal and paternal grandfathers' and great grandfathers' wavy hair left little doubt that I had come by my hair naturally and that instead of making me stand out, like I had always felt, it actually helped me to fit in---fit in with the family.

So that began my quest to find other things about me that actually help me to fit in with my ancestors.

 I had to laugh once when I received an email from a newly found distant cousin and he asked if I had ever noticed rather pronounced ears in my family.  Yes, I told him---and with that we began an exchange of ancestor pictures back and forth, proof positive that our families shared more than surnames.  I was delighted to know that while I had always thought they were Ganus features because my Grandpa Ganus had those ears, this cousin was actually a Rainwater cousin and so it made me feel connected instead to my Rainwater family.

What other things?   What about personality traits?  I hate someone beating me off the line at a stop light---I know, I know, I'm way too old for that one, but it was fun to learn from my mom that her father had been the same way.  While I am not sure that there is a gene for such a thing, I delight in knowing that I share this with a grandfather that I never knew .

I giggle each time I find a new Ganus connection and learn that their ancestor was known for their spunk.  I shared some stories showing Addison's spunk in a previous post, but I've also been told that John's sister Martha was very spunky and that at times, so was my great great grandfather John Monroe Ganus.  Do I see that in myself?  Well let's just say that as much as I struggle with my hair, my spunk can be an even bigger problem.

I will never love my hair, but I must confess that some days it does make me smile as I realize that it connects me to them and somehow that helps.   What physical and personality traits have you inherited?

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Those Calloways-What's in a Name?

Do you remember the  1965 Disney movie called  "Those Calloways," starring Brian Keith?  I remember it and I think of it often because the name Calloway was favored in my Ganus family.
Burton Calloway Cook
Burton Calloway Cook
Son of Burton Cook and Mary Ganus
b. Feb 1863 d. 28 March 1938

Often there was significance in the names that our ancestors gave their children and I talked about that in an earlier post.  People often named their children after those that they were close to or relatives, but sometimes, even though we can see that a name had value for our ancestors, their reasoning has been lost over time.  Such is the case with the name Calloway in our family.  I can see that it was used with some frequency, but I have not been able to determine why that name was significant to James and Betsy as well as to several of their children.

Is Calloway possibly Elizabeth Ganus' maternal grandparent's name or the married name of a sister or possibly just a close friend for James and Elizabeth?  I hope to someday know the answer to that question, but in the meantime I continue to look at Georgia Calloway families and wonder.


Below are some of the Calloways found in our family:

Calloway Ganus b. 1842 (Son of James and Elizabeth (Gur)Ganus)


Three of James and Betsy's children named their children Calloway:

Edgar Calaway Brock (son of Martha Ganus and William Cohen Brock)

Burton Calloway Cook b. 1863 (son of Mary Ganus and Burton Cook)

James Calloway Ganus (son of James W. Ganus and Frances Foster)


There was also a grandson and a great grandson of James and Betsy's with the Calloway name:

Calaway Brock b. 1911 (Grandson of Martha Ganus  and William Cohen )

Joe Caloway Cook (son of Isaiah M. Cook and Sarah Adams---Grandson to Burton Cook and Mary Ganus)


In addition, there is a long list of  James and Elizabeth's descendants with the letter "C" for their middle initial and while I realize that it could stand for any number of names beginning with C,  it does make me wonder if a certain percentage are Calloways.

What's in a name?  When it comes to genealogy, I think there is plenty.


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012




Friday, November 2, 2012

Murder in Macon--Final Chapter-- The Trial


The murder created incredible excitement in the community. Ellen had been murdered in her front yard with her father, David Gurganus and her step-mother, Rebecca, as eye witnesses. David was MY fourth great grandfather and so this was MY family and I was stunned as I uncovered the story. While I may not know all of the whys of the events, given the nature of the crime, the court records and newspapers provided rich detail about both the crime and the trial.

Tuesday May 29, 1849 Baldwin County, Georgia "Union Recorder" carried the following:
             COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Elisha Reese, charged with the murder of Mrs. Pratt, in this county, on Wednesday last, was arrested the same evening by Messrs. Cumming Stephens, Ellis and others, some three miles from the scene of his crime, and lodged in prison.  On Thursday he was brought up before the Magistrates, Messrs. Grannis, Reid and Artope, and formally committed for trial.. . . . During the examination the accused showed but little concern.
The trial date was set to be held during the July Term 1849.  Minutes for the Bibb Superior Court provide many details, many of which I have already provided in the previous post.  A variety of individuals gave testimony, including Ellen's step-mother, Rebecca and neighbor James W. Armstrong. I couldn't help but notice the absence of  Ellen's father, David, who also was an eye witness.  I can only assume that the injuries he sustained, combined with the emotional trauma, prevented him from attending.

The defense's witnesses were primary individuals that testified to Reese's character.  Their testimonies helped me to anchor Reese to particular communities where he had previously lived, such as Habersham and Cass Counties.  The most interesting witness for the defense was his son, Frederick Reese.  Did his son provide true insight to his father's character or was he simply being a dutiful son?  Frederick indicated that his father was a man of "good character, a peaceable law abiding citizen."   He also said that he had "never known him to violate the laws of his country."  It is through Frederick's testimony that we learn that Reese was 50 years old. Frederick also indicated that he last saw his father January last in Cass County, but had not "known him since"  and that Reese had a family in Floyd County.

The evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution, with the defense only able to present individuals who knew him in his previous communities to testify of Reese's character.  Ultimately, Judge Floyd issued the verdict of guilty, and indicated that Reese was to be returned to the Common Jail of the County of Bibb.   The judge then said,
. . . . where you are to be kept in safe and close custody until Friday the Seventh day of September, Eighteen hundred and forty nine, when you are to be conducted to a gallows to be executed for that purpose in the County of Bibb outside of the corporate limits of the city of Macon, and within one mile of said Corporate limits, upon which said Gallows between the time of ten o'clock in the morning and four o'clock in the afternoon of said day, you are by the sheriff of said county of Bibb, or his lawful deputy to be publicly hung by the neck until you are dead! dead ! dead! And may God Almightly have mercy upon your soul.  

In "Reports of Cases of Law & Equity Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia", is found the case of  Reese vs. The State of Georgia, in which the defendant moved for a continuance on several grounds.  The first was because two witnesses to Reese's character had not shown up, and secondly, because
"he could not safely go to trial, on account of the public excitement against him, from the transaction being recent, and of an unusual character, giving rise to exaggerated reports, tending to inflame the public mind, and insufficient time not having elapsed to allay such excitement, and to correct the strong prejudices produced by it."  

The court refused continuance.  The hanging was scheduled for the 7th of September, 1849.

The final newspaper article for this tragic story appeared in the Macon, Georgia newspaper, The Messenger on Wednesday, September 12, 1849.

EXECUTION OF REESE
Elisha Reese, convicted of the murder of Mrs. Ellen Pratt, was executed near this city on Friday, in the presence of some five thousand persons.  Before leaving the prison, he gave an imperfect sketch of his life and of the circumstances connected with the murder.  It is sufficient to say that his confession in every particular, corroborated the statement of the affair made through the columns of this paper at the time of the killing, and which was subsequently sustained by the testimony before the jury.
Reese deported himself with the most stoical firmness and composure.  He shed no tear, and heaved no sigh during the solemn ceremonies under the gallows.  He ascended the platform with a firm and steady step, and declined when requested by the Sheriff, to address any words to the assembled multitude.  The result of this exhibition,  has been to excite no little feeling among our people in favor of private executions, and the matter will, no doubt, be brought up before the next Legislature.  

What I would give to have a copy of Reese's life sketch along with his confession, however imperfect it was. I feel some disappointment in knowing not only that it was not recorded, but also in knowing that Reese showed no remorse and no regret for the crime.  While justice ultimately was served,  for both the Gurganus family and the Reese family, there were deep wounds that would never completely heal.  Newspapers reported that it was doubtful that David would ever fully recover physically from his injuries given his age.  While it is difficult to know to what extent David's injuries contributed to his death just ten months later, I feel sure that the emotional wounds were even deeper and  that the remainder of his days were filled with painful memories of that fateful day.

I never dreamed the day that I tediously searched the Bibb County Court records for anything about my family, that I would uncover a story of this nature.  I suppose none of us ever envisions a tragedy of this scope occurring in our own families. As we research and uncover the details of our ancestor's lives, we inevitably will find both the good and the bad, the joyous along with the tragic, with each piece of information ultimately helping us to gain compassion and understanding for those that went before.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Murder in Macon--Part 2




The murder of Ellen Pratt created considerable emotion and excitement in the community. Newspapers throughout the states reported the story, including  The Liberator  in Boston, MA  who carried the story as "The Bloody and Oppressive South,"  Shocking Murder. We can't help but wonder what events  led  to the murder of Ellen Pratt.

It had started out as a typical spring day in Macon, Georgia.  The Gurganus family lived about four miles from the court house on the road to Forsyth.  At about 11:00 a.m.,  David, Rebecca and Ellen were all sitting together out on their "piazza,"  likely trying to cool off a bit.  Ellen, a widow of about 60 years of age, was living with her father and her step mother.  It may have begun like a typical day, but soon things would take a horrible turn.

Bibb county map with the road to from Macon to Forsyth
(From Georgia Galileo)
 Elisha Reese, who was called simply "Reese" by the townspeople, had recently proposed marriage to Ellen, but she had rejected his proposal. What else may have transpired between them, we do not know, but what we do know is that her father was concerned and  had sworn out a peace warrant against Reese. Newspapers later reported that there had in fact been threats of violence made by Reese towards Ellen. When Reese learned that a peace warrant had been sworn out against him, it did not sit well.

According to court records,on the morning of May 16th, 1849,  Reese went to visit with the sheriff about the peace warrant and there was considerable discussion which ended with Reese storming off, declaring "it would only cost him what little he had and his life and he would see her out or die."   The sheriff begged him to leave her alone, but determined, Elisha set out for the Gurganus property.

Rebecca Gurganus, who was Ellen's step-mother, testified that Reese had come to their property that morning and, while standing at the gate, asked Ellen why she had told the lie.  When Ellen insisted that she had not told a lie, Reese opened the gate to enter their yard.  Ellen then said, "Reese, don't come in here," but  he continued anyway and so David got up from the piazza and walked towards the gate saying "Reese, what are you coming here interrupting us for?  We interrupt no body."  Newspaper articles referred to David as a "very aged Revolutionary soldier," and indicated that he was "scarce able to walk" and had begged Reese to go away and to not create any disturbance there.

It was then that Reese gripped the barrel of the gun with both hands, swung it at David and struck him in the head, knocking him to the ground.  Ellen, who had been standing in the piazza, immediately ran to her father to help him, at which time, Reese took aim and shot her in the neck at such close range, the wadding set her clothes on fire.  Ellen fell dead within a few feet of her father, who was still on the ground and bleeding. Within minutes Ellen was dead and David had received injuries from which he would never fully recover.  Reese turned and calmly walked away, leaving Rebecca standing there, no doubt in shock over what had just transpired.

A neighbor testified that he had seen a man pass by his property through the corn field with a rifle resting on  his shoulder.  Minutes later he heard the gun go off and the man passed back by.  The neighbor had been unsure as to what had transpired, but then heard Rebecca calling to him for help.  When he approached the Gurganus property, he discovered that Ellen was dead and that ninety year old David, whom he described as  an "old and infirm man,"  was on his hands and knees, his head was bleeding and he was delirious. The neighbor carried David into the house, put him onto his bed and then set off for the doctor and the sheriff.

What occurs next sounds like a scene from an old movie.  The neighbor went into town and found the sheriff and others, who brought dogs and set out, determined to find "Reese." Starting at the Gurganus house where they surveyed the grim scene, the dogs then picked up Reese's scent, began to circle and then took off in chase through the woods. In my mind, I can see a frantic Reese, running for his life through the woods with the barking dogs at his heels, and the men on horses in determined pursuit.  The chase was intense enough that the sheriff would later need to receive compensation for the injuries his horse sustained during the chase. Within about 30 minutes, the dogs and men were able to overcome Reese.  The men then tied Reese up and took him into town.  

I have read over the court documents and the numerous corresponding newspaper articles dozens of times, each time feeling a deep sadness.  My heart breaks for Ellen, who rejected a suitor without realizing the price that she and her father would ultimately pay, for David, my fourth great grandfather, who witnessed the murder of his daughter, something no parent should ever experience, and for Rebecca, who stood helplessly by as she watched the terrible scene unfold.  As with any event buried in the past, there is more to this story than I will ever know. Why did Reese, a 50 year old man pursue with such determination, 60 year old widowed Ellen, and feel so strongly about her rejection that he made threats of violence and eventually murdered her?  While I don't have all of the answers, I still have more to share, including Reese's trial and what ultimately happened to him, all of which I will include in my next post.    

Continue onto Part Three, Final Chapter, The Trail 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Murder in Macon - Part 1

The woman was screaming and sobbing as her father laid bleeding on the ground, but the man coldly lowered his rifle and aimed it directly at her. The gun went off.  Our daughter jerked awake ---who had been screaming?  Was a neighbor in trouble, or had it been a dream?  With her heart pounding, our daughter laid there in the pitch dark, and listened intently for any noise or sound that might tell her that it was real, but all was silent.  And then she remembered.  Hours earlier, she had been helping me transcribe some newly found court documents. Having returned from college for a weekend visit, she had become intrigued when I told her that I had found our ancestors involved in a murder trial and I was anxious to sort it all out. She had then suggested that she help me transcribe the lengthy court minutes, but little did either of us realize how chilling the details of Mary Ellen's murder were or just how much they would haunt us.

I knew that a Mary Ellen Gurganus had married Thomas Pratt in Bibb County, Georgia on the 28th of October 1838.  Dozens of times over the years I had run across the marriage entry when searching Bibb County records , but I didn't know for sure who she was.  I had a pretty good idea that she would prove to be related to David Gurganus, my fourth great grandfather, as that surname was not common in Georgia at that time,  but I could not seem to find anything more about her that would help identify just what her relationship was to my Gurganus family.  She and her husband had married and then seemingly just disappeared.

One day in total exasperation at the lack of information that I had on my Gurganus family during their time in Macon, Bibb County,  Georgia,  I decided to go through a microfilm of Bibb County Court records, slowly, page by page, looking for something....anything.  A mere five hours later something caught my eye. The sheriff  had applied for compensation for the injuries that his horse had sustained in the pursuit of Ellen Pratt's MURDERER!! I wondered- could this be Mary Ellen GURGANUS Pratt?  I quickly checked the dates and then turned to Bibb County Superior Court records and  there it was. The trial of Elisha Reese for the murder of Mary Ellen Pratt on 16 May 1849.  As I quickly scanned the court minutes, the name "Gurganus" popped off the page. The record indicated that Ellen Pratt was a widow and had been living with her aged father, David Gurganus!!!  Rebecca Gurganus, her step mother testified. This meant that she was a daughter to my fourth great grandfather David Gurganus and a sister to my third great grandfather, James Gurganus.  I could not believe my eyes.  As I had tried to imagine why I couldn't find anything further about Ellen Pratt, the possibility that she had been murdered had never entered my mind. What had happened?  Why would someone murder a sixty year old widow woman in her front yard in front of her father and stepmother?  It's a story I'm anxious to share in upcoming posts.

Continue onto Part Two of Murder in Macon

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012, All rights reserved

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Just a Little Piece of Paper

"John M. had a brother Jim that went to Alabama."  This simple sentence was scribbled on the corner of a small piece of  faded paper and barely legible. The paper was among a meager collection of a handful of papers and pedigree charts that had belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa Ganus. When I first received the little floral fabric suitcase,  I had had such high hopes that it would be filled with the kind of information that every genealogist dreams of receiving- a family bible, letters rich in genealogical detail and pictures.  At first glance the suitcase appeared to hold just a few pedigrees with names, dates and information which I already had and void of any documentation.  Upon closer examination, however, I found that among the pedigrees sheets were a few choice pieces of papers with handwritten notes that would provide me with some much needed clues.

Grandma had researched in a day without computers and the endless online databases, forums and mailing lists so readily available today.  She was limited by her inability to travel to a distant research facility and the long wait associated with snail mail.  I feel so fortunate to have ready access to so much online data in addition to being close to an excellent research library.  But Grandma had something I don't have---she had people around her that remembered,  people that knew the people who are now just names on a pedigree for me.  How I wish I would have been interested in family history when Grandma was alive and that I had tapped into her knowledge. But I was young and busy and my mind and interests were elsewhere. So I will just be grateful that she took the time to scribble a few notes that I would eventually find and treasure.

My father had no knowledge of Jim, who was John's brother and who had gone to Alabama.  In fact, my family knew very little about John, my own great great grandfather because my grandfather had been orphaned at 8 years of age. So we were left to piece together what we could and  to do our best to learn from what others had recorded, which brings me back to the faded paper and the scribbled note about Jim.  Just who was Jim?

Turning to the 1850 census, I could see that my third great grandparents, James and Betsy Ganus did have a son named James.  Their oldest son, my second great grandfather, John was 22 at the time, but James, a much younger brother was only 11.  In between John and James were brothers David, who was 16 and Jackson (William Jackson) who was 12, along with sisters Margaret and Rebecca, and then some additional younger siblings,  so I find it interesting that James, or "Jim" was the only sibling named on that paper.

Jim's formal name was James W. and he was born Nov 1841, likely in Fayetteville, Georgia. On the 31st of August in 1862, at the age of 21, James enlisted in the Confederate Army and served with the 44th Georgia Regiment. From James' Civil War discharge certificate we learn that he was six feet tall, had a fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair. I love knowing what he looked like.

Battle of Sharpsburg fought September 17, 1862
 near Sharpsburg, Maryland
Picture by Kurz & Allison
I wonder how James' parents felt when they learned that he had been shot in the right arm at The Battle of Sharpsburg, which was known as the bloodiest single-day battle of the Civil War. James was treated and remained with his regiment until he was discharged on July 3, 1863.  I also wonder if James realized how fortunate he was to have survived a gunshot wound during a time when the medicine practiced was relatively primitive and when so many died of infection. His record did indicate that at his release he was partially blind due to sickness contracted while in the service. It went on to state that at that time that James was
 "so blind he cannot see to read or distinguish one person from another at ten paces.  Is unfit for duty in any depart. of government."  
My heart goes out to him, knowing that he was so blind he was considered unfit for duty and yet he would return home and would need to provide for himself and his family for the rest of his life.

Tallapoosa, Haralson County 1890
From Vanishing Georgia used with permission

In about 1865 James married Frances Foster.  They lived in Haralson County and had two children, James C. and Minnie Elizabeth.   Early in my research, descendants of James C. shared with me a story that had been passed down.  According to the story, James' wife Frances had died in childbirth and so James had taken that child, a daughter named Minnie, to her maternal grandmother to raise and then he had taken his son James C. with him and headed to Alabama. While evidence suggests that Frances did die and that Minnie was raised by her grandmother and that James C. remained with his father, James W. actually did not go to Alabama until nearly 30 years later. (I will tell Minnie's story at a later time.)   In about 1875,  James W. married Nancy E. Ayers in Haralson County, Georgia.  No children were ever born to this union.  On January 5th, 1897, Nancy died and was buried in the Fairview West Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in Cullman, Alabama.  In 1897, James once again married, this time to Martha Henriettta Watterson Basinger, a widow.

February 10, 1899, James applied for relief as a confederate soldier, indicating that he was incapable of making a living by manual labor because of partial blindness and Bright's Disease.  At that time he was 58 and living at Johnson's Crossing in Cullman County, Alabama. The County board indicated that they felt satisfied to the truth of his application and his pension was approved.

On March 18, 1911, James W.  or "Jim" as John called him,  passed from this life. According to his death certificate, he was buried in Fairview West Missionary Baptist Church cemetery although no headstone has been found.

My journey in learning about James all began with the simple words, "John M. had a brother Jim that went to Alabama."  Once again I am grateful for those that took the time to record what they knew, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  It makes me ask myself, what clues am I leaving for the next generation?


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Those wonderful Southern roots

I am continually amazed at the instant bonding that happens as cousins connect via electronic means across the miles.  I generally feel a real kinship and a connection despite the fact that we have never met face to face.  In my mind, I can almost see our ancestors smiling from beyond, glad to know that against all odds, distant cousins have managed to find each other across the miles and join together in a quest to know them better.

Addison R. Ganus was "my" John Monroe Ganus's youngest brother and my second great granduncle.  He was born Jun 1847, likely in Fayetteville, Georgia.  While there are no known pictures of Addison, thanks to information shared by descendants of Addison's siblings,  I feel that I can almost picture him.  One thing I know for sure, he had that ole Ganus spunk.

Typical Shotgun style house
Addison married Sarah Bowen on 20 September 1866 in nearby Coweta, Georgia where Sarah  had lived in the home of her parents,  Richard Bowen and Annie Carr.  For a few years after they were married, Addison and Sarah, or Sally as she was called, lived in the Fayette County area, but by 1900 they had moved to Carrollton, Carroll County, Georgia.  There they lived in a three room shotgun style house, had a little farm with chickens and cows and there they lived out the rest of their life. It is said that Sally loved the cows and that the cows ran away when anyone else tried to milk them.  I'm not so sure that Addison felt that same affection for the cows.  Apparently nothing riled him more than finding that his cows had gone home with someone else's cows in the evening and were now in their barn.  At that point Ad's well known "high temper" flared and everyone in the area could hear Ad yelling at his cows to get them back to his barn.

Ad and Sally were never able to have children, but according to the family stories, they adopted two Chance boys.  On the 1900 census, Robert Chance is shown living in their household, but I could find no other Chance boy ever living with them.  I did find it very interesting that when Addison died on 3 Dec 1927, that  listed on his death certificate was his informant,  I.C. Chance of Ashville, North Carolina.  Although Sally, his wife was still living at that  time, she was not the informant, as was often the case.  It would seem that I.C. had come a considerable distance to be there, leading me to believe that Addison was important to him and that possibly he was the other "Chance boy."  I will need to do further research to see if I can't determine for sure what the relationship was between I.C. Chance and Addison.   Addison is recorded as having been 83 years old at the time of his death and so he had those good ole long Ganus genes passed down from his father and grandfather.  Sally followed Addison about six months later, dying 7 June 1928 at the age of 85.  Their death certificates both indicate that they were buried at the Tallapoosa Church cemetery, yet there are no headstones in that cemetery for them.

A funny story was recorded by those that knew Addison.  The story pertains to a grandnephew of Addison's and obviously a name sake, Ad Lee who lived nearby.  Apparently he had some white overalls that Ad Ganus just hated and Ad Ganus made it known.  One day when Ad Lee's overalls were hung on the clothesline to dry, they disappeared.  Look as they might, no one could find them.  The following spring when the stables were cleaned out and the manure taken from the barn and spread out on the fields for fertilizer, there the overalls were, buried deep in the manure in the barn.  Apparently there was no question in anyone's mind how they got there.

Ad and Sally grew and cured  their own tobacco and  then smoked it in corncob pipes.  Those that visited noted that Sally liked to smoke a pipe with a long thin cane stem and some recalled that they had never seen a woman smoke a pipe before.  Friends and family liked to visit Ad and Sally in the evenings. I can just envision them sitting on their porch, smoking their pipes and visiting until bedtime at which point Ad and Sally would retire to their rope bed..

I feel so much gratitude for those that thought to record the "small" details of Addison and Sally's lives and even more grateful that they freely shared those details with me, a distant cousin, living many miles away.  Some times I feel a little cheated that I live a life so distant from my southern roots and that consequently so many details of my ancestor's lives are so foreign to me. But I will be forever grateful for my generous southern cousins that have reached out, pulled me in and included me in a way that helps me feel a connection to my southern heritage.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Butcher, baker or candlestick maker--what did your ancestor do?

A person's occupation is a big part of their life. That is true today and it was true for our ancestors. Not only did it determine how they spent their days, but also who they associated with, as well as their social standing in the community.  The vast majority of my ancestors were farmers. Generation after generation, the sons followed in their father's footsteps and worked the land.  While it was a way of providing the essentials for their family, for many it was also all that they knew.


Although most of my ancestors farmed, I have a few who chose a different occupation and those occupations helped them to stand out, making it a tad easier for me to spot them on records such as census.  Such was the case for David Gurganus  who I've written about most recently.  David Gurganus, the younger, was a blacksmith.  But David's father and my fouth great grandfather, also David Gurganus , also had an occupation that varied from the norm.  David Gurganus, the senior, died in Bibb County, Georgia in March of 1850 and so was  listed on the 1850 Mortality Census for "Persons who died during the Year ending 1st June 1850."  Under "Profession, occupation or trade," it indicated that he had been a "turner."

While there have been many types of turners over the course of history, and there have been many things that were turned,  including wood, metal, and pottery, among other things, I think it is most likely that David was a pottery turner.  Edgefield, South Carolina where David had lived for about 25 years was known for its beautiful pottery ( see here ) and in fact there was an area of Edgefield called Pottersville, which was a community of potters.  The natural resources of the region provided the needed materials to create beautiful pottery. In addition, they used an alkaline-glazed method there which produced strong and beautiful pottery which was unique at the time. While thousands of pots were created during their boom days, relatively few  pieces have survived intact and consequently those that remain are considered a prize for collectors. (see examples here)   Recently an auction offered 1858 Drake stoneware from Edgefield  and pieces were estimated at $100,000 to $175,000. (NY Times article) I guess that means that I won't be picking up a piece for the living room shelf anytime soon.

Not surprisingly, I have found various Edgefield turners and potters of that era among David's associates.  In addition, in the book, "I Made This Jar: The life and works of the enslaved African-American Potter, Dave," by Jill Beute Koverman, a reference is made on page 23 about the location of Pottersville in 1830 and the land owned by those potters.  In mentioning the location of this property, reference is made to Harvey Drake's tract of land and "a certain tract of land called the Gurganus place."

I love every little piece of information that I gather about each ancestor that helps me to know and understand them a little better. While I will never own a piece of Edgefield, South Carolina pottery, knowing that David was there and possibly participated in some small way in the creation of some of the pottery made there is a wonderful find and a fun treasure to me.  

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What was she thinking?

What was she thinking?  Was there a reason for Elizabeth Hancock, a young widow, to be concerned about the safety of her assets as she anticipated her marriage to David Gurganus?  Or was she simply following the recommendations of well meaning or possibly even slightly suspicious associates?  Was she really worried about the possibility of the  "indiscretion of her intended husband?"  As I searched to learn more about David Gurganus, son of David and Mary (Swain) Gurganus, I came across the following among Edgefield, South Carolina Equity Court records:
"That the said Simon Hancock departed this life intestate sometime during the latter part of the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty eight, leaving his wife and children in the possession of the said property.  That Eliza Hancock his widow afterward to wit on or about the sixth day of May in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine in contemplation of an intermarriage with the said David Gurganus made and executed a deed of trust to your orator John Day with a view of protecting her property against any indiscretion of her intended husband."
It's hard to put myself in the place of a young widow with three children and it is equally difficult to imagine what her concerns and fears might have been in 1829.  By all appearances,  her deceased husband had left her with considerable property and the annual returns reveal a widow that continued to live a very comfortable lifestyle, frequently traveling to Augusta, Georgia to shop.  But there would have been concerns beyond financial stability for a young widow in that time period, not the least of which was safety. In addition, neither widows nor widowers relished the idea of rearing children alone and as was frequently seen in those times,  Elisabeth remarried less than a year following her husband's death.

For reasons not expressed in court documents, David did in fact begin to sell her properties following their marriage and they prepared to leave the state.  My suspicions are that they were preparing for the move to Cass County, Georgia that was mentioned in my previous post.  In any case, it did not sit well with John Day who had been entrusted with protecting Elizabeth's property against any indiscretion.

On 10 Oct 1834 a bill filed against David Gurganus:
"Your orator John Day further shows unto your honors that he declined to accept of the trust unless the said David Gurganus should be apprised of the said tract deed and thereupon the said David Gurganus was fully apprised of said deed and was present when it was executed.  And the said David Gurganus and Eliza Hancock were shortly afterward married.  The said David Gurganus since by said intermarriage has sold, disposed of or squandered nearly all the property specified in said deeds, except the land, and Negroes and is now, as your orator John Day is informed upon good authority and very believes, preparing to remove from the state and intends to set off in a few days and carry with him the said Negroes."

From that point on, there was a flurry of documents filed and testimony given as to who knew what when and to what extent Eliza had been party to the sale.  Although there had been the required dowers release, she may not necessarily have been in full agreement of her own free will and choice as the release would otherwise imply. In addition, there was a question as to what extent Eliza had had authority regarding the children's shares and as to whether David and Eliza had received  full value on the sale of the properties. The court battle began in 1834, continued after David returned "home" following his time served in the Milledgeville Penitentiary (previous post here), and extended into the year 1845, when the kids were of age to have received their share of their father's estate.

As I read through the court documents, it was difficult to discern the truth, to wade through the accusations and testimonies from a variety of individuals to determine what really happened.  Did David become greedy or were there personal issues and biases that existed among Eliza's family and those entrusted with the watch care over her family's inheritance?  To what extent did Eliza's children resent a step-father that had influence over their mother?  But there were there indications that Eliza was in agreement regarding the transactions and that no more than her share had been sold.  As I read through the documents, I couldn't help but feel that just maybe David was not such a bad guy, but that instead he was caught in the middle of a squabble in which he was the outsider.  Perhaps even the initial filing against "indiscretions of her intended husband," were not indications of her suspicions as much as strong recommendations from the protective friends of her deceased husband.

In the end, it's not surprising that David and Eliza decided to take their children Willis, Moses, Frances, Mary and David and move from Edgefield,  leaving behind the persistent legal troubles that had plagued them for over 10 years. Initially they settled in Hamilton County, Florida and were living there in 1850. Once again,  David's  distinguishing occupation of "blacksmith" helped me to locate him and Eliza. The final document that I have for David is a census record for the 12th day of July, 1870 in Lake City, Columbia County, Florida.  I assume that Elizabeth had died by then as David was living with their yet unmarried daughter, Frances.  David was listed as 62 years old and a blacksmith. Whether Eliza had initially had reservations about David or not, she chose to remain with him through years of emotionally trying court battles, to wait for him as he served time in a prison miles away from home in another state, and then moved with him to Florida, leaving behind her extended family and friends. Whatever others may have seen that concerned them about David, it seems that Elizabeth saw enough good that she remained with him for over thirty years.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The crime of "escape"

Blacksmith, David Gurganus
A Blacksmith's Shop by Richard Earlom
Wikimedia Commons
It was him.  I just knew it.  After all, how many Blacksmiths named David Gurganus could there be?
"#695; David Gurganis; Crime: Escape; Term of years: 1 1/2 years; When received:  9 Sept. 1838:  Sentence expires:  9 Mar 1840; County where convicted: Cass County; Occupation:  Blacksmith; Birthplace:  North Carolina; No of sentences:  1; Age: 36 yrs; 5 ft. 9 1/4 in; Dark complexion, black eyes; black hair;  served out sentence and discharged."   
David was born about 1804, was the son of David Gurganus and Mary Swain and was brother to James Gurganus, my third great grandfather.  One thing that I noticed about him early on was that as a blacksmith, he stood out on the census among the sea of farmers. Being a blacksmith made him a little different and that along with some of his escapades, made him one of James's  "easier-to-find"  siblings and you will soon see why.

 This time, David's name was on a list of men in the penitentiary in Milledgeville.  According to the entry found on page 99 in "The Georgia Black Book," by Robert Scott Davis,  David had been arrested for "escape" in Cass County, Georgia (now Bartow County)  and served out his 1 1/2 years.  I wondered exactly what "escape" meant in that time period and so I turned to "Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia," (see HERE)  which is particularly helpful for legal terms used in the mid 1800's.  Actually there was no surprise in the definition, "escape" is "The deliverance of a person who is lawfully imprisoned, out of prison, before such a person is entitled to such deliverance by law."  So the question becomes, just why was David arrested in the first place?  Where did he escape from?  Despite efforts to search court records, I have not been able to find any more related to David's initial imprisonment. I have taken note that 1838 was a very tumultuous time for North Georgia and it was during that spring and summer that the final events of the Trail of Tears occurred , much of which occurred in the Cass County area.   I wonder, in what way may that have impacted David?
Milledgeville Penitentiary Georgia
Milledgeville Penitentiary burning in 1864
More about Penitentiary Here

Prior to this time, David and his wife and children were living in Edgefield, South Carolina where David had lived most of his life until then.  On 6 May 1829, David had married a  Elizabeth (MNU),  the wealthy widow of Simon Hancock.   She had three children from her previous marriage and by the time of David's arrest, they had three children of their own.  I knew that the family had been in South Carolina in 1834 because some of David's business dealings had created legal troubles and I had found those documents among court records, but that's a story for another day.

I wanted to be sure that the David Gurganus in Cass County, Georgia was the same David that had lived in Edgefield, South Carolina. I was able to establish that fact when I turned to Edgefield, South Carolina court records and discovered annual returns for Elizabeth Gurganus during that same time period.  The first reads  "Mrs. Gurganus for part board for heirs while in GA by D. Gurganus per order as receipt,  29 Oct 1838."  Then on the 19 of February, 1838 Benjamin R. Tillman was made guardian for their children.  Also among her annual returns I found, "14 May 1838 R. Harden (half expense) of moving minors of Mrs. Gurganus back to Edgefield out from Cass County, GA. Total expense:  131.50 = 65.75."  Although Elizabeth's first husband, Simon Hancock had left her very comfortable, I can imagine how hard and difficult this time must have been for her, especially in an unfamiliar area, so it's not surprising that she and her six children returned to Edgefield, where she had lived for years and where she could receive help and support.  She remained there while she waited for David's release which came 9 March 1840.

It all fit.  David Gurganus, the blacksmith who was imprisoned in Milledgeville was my third great grandfather's brother, David, son of David and Mary (Swain) Gurganus.  Hopefully over time I will find more details for this chapter of David's life, but even without them, his story is far from over and in my next post, I will tell you more.