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