Monday, February 14, 2011

The Flavor of the Times

We were looking at the records available through Georgia’s Virtual Vault, from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, but I’m going to take a break this week.  Sometimes it helps to shift gears a bit in your research, to back off from a thorny problem of tracing lineage, and relax with a little light reading.  So this week I want to share some sources I’ve read, or started reading, or found and intend to read, that help make your research into names and dates and places into living, breathing relatives that inhabited a world every bit as real as ours.  The point here is not to discover our ancestors but to explore the world in which they lived.

In researching my Perry ancestors in southwest Georgia, as with any Georgia relatives, it helps to remember that counties and boundaries change over time.  There are several sources for historic county maps of the state, but the two I’ve found most interesting and helpful are the Historical Atlas of Georgia Counties (at, part of the Georgia Info web site, and one I’ve mentioned before, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries from the Newberry Library (at  Unfortunately the interactive maps of the Newberry Library site seem to be unavailable at this time, but it’s worth the time to check back periodically.  I’m sure they’ll get it working again soon.  Georgia Info’s Historical Atlas is a great collection of maps that can be used to illustrate the changing boundaries of a county.  Additionally, because the maps were created over the past 250 years or so, they often show communities that no longer exist, or whose names have changed, helping you to located a particular area that may be listed on old census or tax forms that could not otherwise be located on Google Maps or MapQuest

For example, when Joshua Perry first moved his family westward he settled in Early County.  He is on the Early County census of 1850.  In 1860 he was on the Calhoun County census.  But if I pull up the maps of Early County from the Historical Atlas for 1846 and 1855 I can readily see that Clay and Calhoun Counties were carved out of Early County in 1854.  In fact the 1860 census places Joshua Perry and family in District 4, Pachitta, Calhoun County, and Pachitta is clearly visible as a community in Calhoun County.  I could switch over to the Calhoun County maps as watch the evolution of the various communities.  Pachitta disappears by 1874.  By 1899 the town of Edison appears, which is the location of the cemetery in which Joshua and his wife are buried.

For more down to earth information, I turn to local county histories and even memoirs of individual people.  I haven’t yet located an in-print history of Calhoun County, but the Early County Historical Society has a fascinating series of books which extract information from various sources, official records, contemporary newspapers and personal recollections of residents.  I found mention of a Col. Joel Perry, who may or may not be a brother or cousin of Joshua, who was an early resident of the county in a set of articles reprinted by the Society in the first volume of Collections of Early County Historical Society (1971), available from the Early County Historical Society.  There was a local man by the name of Dennis M. Wade, Sr. who wrote a series of columns or letters to the editor of the local paper about 1898 to 1900 or so.  Through his reminiscences I discovered another relative, for he makes clear that his grandfather was Joshua’s father-in-law.  In a piece dated 15 February 1900 for the Blakely Reporter Mr. Wade writes of his father:
     William Henry Wade, Sr. was born July 24th, 1799, in Scriven County, Georgia, and died August 5th, 1856, in this county. His father was John McGruder Wade of Irish descent and his mother was a Holcombe, a sister of Henry Holcombe, the renowned Baptist preacher of Savannah and Philadelphia.
An earlier piece, dated 28 September 1899, mentions I think my ancestor Joshua Perry, and also gives you an idea of the flavor of the writing:
     I must digress here to tell you something about our old-time weddings. Do you like chicken tart? If so, you ought to have lived in those days. Chicken pie or tart, as it was sometimes called, was the main dish at a wedding supper, which was served at the bride's home. A plenty of other good things were on hand, too. About everybody that knew of it went, invited or not invited. The ceremony was generally performed by a magistrate. I remember one, an uncle of the writer, who was as popular at the business as Judge Perryman is now: Squire Joshua Perry, father of Hon. T. J. Perry of Cuthbert, whose only fee was as many chicken gizzards as he could eat. 
     Uncle Joshua was a good old-time fiddler (not violinist). He could play and talk the "Arkansas Traveler" and other fashionable tunes of that day. Of course,  his services were in great demand on that score, for after supper was over, it was a dance for the balance of the night. Those were halcyon days for the young "Bucks" and "Buckesses," and even older married couples would join in the dance.
There is a great series of books, Images of America, published by Arcadia Publishing.  Many, many localities have their own books published by this company.  They can often be found in the Local Interest section of even large chain bookstores, as well as in smaller local museums and gift shops.  Normally you can only find the books locally, but you can order any of the in-print books through the publisher’s website,  The books are illustrated with historic photographs and have short sections on various topics and locations peculiar to each locale.  While they are uneven in execution, they are almost always worth getting to get a sense of the community as it views itself.  So far I have books for Camilla and for Effingham County.  Two of the ones I particularly want are currently out of print, but I’m hopeful that I will run across a copy on my next visit home.  The books generally run about $20 to $22 each.

In a used book store, I ran across a 1957 reprint of an 1835 book by a fellow named A. B. Longstreet called Georgia Scenes.  The rather long subtitle is Characters, Incidents, &c, in the First Half Century of the Republic.  I have only read parts of it so far, but according to the introduction it was admired by Edgar Allan Poe, and may have been familiar to such literary luminaries as Mark Twain and William Faulkner.  While humorous, the modern reader is struck by the casual acceptance of violence, and the undercurrent of savage barbarity that is barely in check.  It’s difficult to remember, but in the 1830s and earlier, Georgia was the frontier, the original wild, wild west.  Another example, which can be found on Google Books and downloaded for free, is Historical Collections of Georgia, written in 1855 by the Rev. George White.  Being a collection of historical and biographical sketches, it need not be read straight through, but the various bits certainly give a flavor for the way things were in antebellum Georgia.

Before I close this post, I also have to mention that now is a good time to find reprints and new collections of the journals and letters of men and women who lived, and died, during the Civil War.  I found one such reprint in another used book shop, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Frances Anne Kemble, a young English actress who married an American and spent several months on his family’s plantation on Sea Island, Georgia.  I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to tackle this one, but I know it will be both challenging and fascinating.  At some point I’ll update you on it.
That’s all for now, so here’s your summary:
  • Historic maps are a good place to start when trying to locate your ancestors and figure out where they lived.  County and state boundaries change over the years, and only by referring to contemporary maps that your relatives might have know can you get a sense of where they were and where they thought they were.  Site such as Historical Atlas of Georgia Counties and Atlas of Historical County Boundaries are a good place to start; you can Google for others.
  • Books, newspaper articles and collections of other writings by 18th and 19th century writers who lived or traveled in Georgia can be invaluable for giving you a “sense of place”.  Try reading items both by native inhabitants and by outsiders visiting or just arriving.  Sometimes their perspective may more closely resemble your own, in the sense that they are trying to figure out as you are what these people were about.
  • Check Google Books for free downloads of period books that are out of copyright.  You can also check, Borders and Barnes & Noble for new reprints of old titles.  Don’t forget to check your local used book stores.  They often have books that were printed in the 1950s and 1960s as part of reprint series for educational courses, and they can be very inexpensive.  Heck, you might even stumble across original printings from the 19th century!
  • For more recent histories, say the 1880s through the 1940s, try the Images of America, published by Arcadia Publishing.  Many of the books were written by county historians, but even the books that read like promotional materials from the Chamber of Commerce can provide valuable historical context.

Later y’all,


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