The challenges of Southern genealogy research.
A conversation several years back with a volunteer at the Connecticut Society of Genealogists:
Me: “Are there available vital records for events and people there around the 1900s?”
Her: “Why, of course. We have court records dating back to the 1700s.”
Me: “You’re kidding!”
Her: “You said you’re from Georgia? Yeah, you are going to have fun researching up here. It will be like a walk in the park for you!”
Those who start their genealogy pursuits in Southern research and stick with it are a hearty bunch. When I first started taking advanced genealogy courses, I was amused to learn that there was a term for piecing together the second-hand jigsaw puzzle that is the life of a person born in 1800s Georgia. The proof argument. I’d been doing this for years – amateurishly, of course, not writing it all down and never citing it. Others in my co-hort were happily documenting the fabulous stories gleaned from reams of notes and records and evidence…me, I was just happy to have a clue in a family bible leading me to a person’s parentage.
Southern researchers cut their teeth on brick wall research. Or abandon the hobby all together when they have life to tend to. That was me. I went as far as I could with what I knew and what I could find online (this was aol dial-up days, ya know!) and one by one, abandoned each branch when the records ran dry. Now that I’m smarter and have more time, I’m back at those brick walls. Most of them are probably just kudzu…you can tear at them inch by inch and eventually find the tap root to kill the vine and win the battle. That’s what I’m doing now…tearing at these walls inch by inch, record by record. I may not win all of them, but that’s the fun of the challenge, right?
In hopes that I’ll attract other researchers with similar problems or common places and surnames, here are my current challenges: several lines that have gone dormant (some I’ve picked at lately, some not at all). I’m not actively working all the lines, but have applied more recently learned methodologies to advance my work on most of them – If you are a family member, let’s talk DNA tests!
Prophett (Also Profitt, Proffit, Prophet)
David Prophet first appears anywhere in the marriage register of Troup County, Georgia, on 24 December 1835 marrying Nancy Farrow. Per the entries on the 1840 and 1850 census (and a few later ones) he was born around 1813 in North Carolina. His wife Nancy was born in either Tennessee or Georgia. She is as much of a mystery as David – many family histories having her claim an 1827 land lottery draw for which she would not have been eligible. It could be that an aunt or uncle claimed the land. David and Nancy had seven children and were biologically responsible for most of the Prophets in Troup County by 1900 – having roughly 28 grandchildren.
The challenge in this line is not being biased by the numerous online trees and early family genealogies that link David to a line of descendants of the Jacobite rebel, Sylvester Prophet, who arrived in the colonies as a prisoner in the early 1700s. It’s a sexy story and everyone wants a rebel in their family, right? Me, I just want to know who David’s dad was!
Shirey (Shire, Sherrer)
John M. Shirey was born around 1810, probably in South Carolina. According to my scattered notes, he came to Georgia by 1840 with his mother and a few siblings. He was enumerated in Gwinnett County in 1840 and Henry County in 1850. He married Nancy Pike in 1843. They had six children – my branch of which stems from the Civil War Veteran William Calvin Shirey (Hilliard’s Legion).
Willis Weathers was born around 1820 in Georgia. He served in and survived the Civil War and was enumerated in Randolph County, Alabama, in 1867 with his wife Malinda Jane Gladney. His early years are a bit tangled. There may have been another Willis Weathers in the area married to someone with a name similar enough to be the same person, but different enough to be someone else. The fact of a Civil War widow’s pension filed by that “other” wife at a time when “our” Willis was thought to be alive would imply we have two Willis Weathers to separate. One of the Willises was a son to Isham Weathers…this is the line most commonly traced in my family tree. My challenge is to document that Willis generation. In either case – those interested in pottery will enjoy this rabbit hole. My great-grandfather Jesse James Weathers was an artist and potter and created some unique pieces. At least one is held at the High Museum (though they seem to have misplaced it?)
Anderson Cox was born around 1810 in Georgia. He and his wife, Margaret Hunt, raised eight children in Upson County.
These are just the paternal lines of my grandparents. The maternal lines all end similarly – as do many of the extended lines of my great-grandparents. Every one of these lines has been repeatedly fleshed out online and in printed genealogies with not so much as a shred of evidence or a hint to support the parentage beyond these generations. It is difficult to not be biased by the stories and connections we “discover” in these records.
I am in awe of others when, at conferences and seminars, asked about their research they immediately jump into European or Scandinavian discoveries they’ve made. Then we get back to the present and I realize they are from the New England – as are most of their ancestors. My reply is that I am deeply rooted in the south and have yet to confidently find my genealogical way out of it. The challenge is in being patient, thorough, and methodical. That’s the part I’m working on now – in the spirit of my recently departed grandmother who battled those damned kudzu vines most of her 96 years!
Where will your research take you?