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

4 comments:

  1. You are indeed fortunate that some of your ancestors had livelihoods that singled them out from the crowd. While it would indeed be a treasure to have inherited a piece of pottery made by your ancestor, Michelle, I know it was a treasure of another kind to discover that mention of the Gurganus property in that book. Does Google Books have any other references pop up when you search under David Gurganus' name?

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  2. You can access the book that I mentioned at Google Books. There are other references to a David Gurganus, but most all of those pertain to the son that I have mentioned. I love that resource. Thanks for bringing it up though because you never know what others are using and are aware of.

    I hit a really crazy busy week this past week and let too much time go between posts. I love your blog Jacqi and I don't know how you manage to post such quality posts daily.

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  3. Your post taught me some good new things! Such as the name "Turner," which I would never have guessed, and the fact that Edgefield stoneware from 1858 costs a fortune. Never knew that Edgefield was known for its beautiful pottery! I also "love every little piece of information that I gather about each ancestor." Lovely photo, too.

    What sources do you recommend for farm directories and laborers for South Carolina in the 1800s and early 1900s? Most of my ancestors farmed, also, and some are still brick walls. Even when they don't appear in the US Census, I'm thinking I might find them by occupation--and learn more about the ones I have already found. Even with my family history book (website), I'm still an amateur genealogist, and I would welcome any database advice! My ancestors farmed in Darlington and Sumter counties.

    Thank you for this post!

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  4. Thank you for your comments. Without knowing what research you may have already done and where you live (so I don’t know what records you might have easy access to), I will mention that among my favorites are Tax Records and land records. I have loved using tax records to help fill in between census records and they help you to know where the land was located and what your ancestor had on his farm. The tax records that have survived and are available vary by county and by year. I love finding every deed that involved my ancestor and I have found some very unexpected things in deeds. Once on a deed, an ancestor’s children explained the process by which they had obtained the land and also told who their mother’s brother was who had originally given the land to their mother. This solved a huge mystery for me as to who this woman’s family was. This was 30 years after the ancestor’s death by the way.

    An Agricultural return exists for 1875 and that would be interesting to check for your ancestors. Mortality schedules exist for South Carolina for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. Of course your ancestor had to have died in the preceeding year, but I have found a few individuals on the mortality schedules and have gotten information from them that I have not found elsewhere.

    Have you gone to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for their online holdings? You can find it at this site:
    http://archives.sc.gov/onlineresearch/Pages/default.aspx I also have found some treasures about ancestors at http://books.google.com/ . There is a book on google books that is called “Darington County” by Mary Anne Hamblen and on page 111 it tells that The Darlington District Agricultural Society was formed in 1846. On this site http://www.darcosc.com/History/ the society is also mentioned and indicates that the society is still active today. This group had officers from the beginning and I would be tempted to contact them to see if they have records of their members and officers to see if any of your ancestors were involved.

    This website is good for helping you to see what records are available for Darlington County, South Carolina. https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Darlington_County,_South_Carolina

    www.familysearch.org has original records, including probate records. Scroll down and select “United States” under Browse by Location and then under “Place” select “South Carolina” to see what record collections are available. Check back often as they are constantly adding to this large FREE database.

    Maybe you are already familiar with all of these websites, but if not, hopefully you will be able to find some little tidbit of information that will help you in your search to know more. Good luck!

    What is your website by the way?

    (and if anyone else reading this has ideas to add, please feel free!)

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