Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Farthing for Your Thoughts

I.C. Farthing & Mamie Farthing, 1955
I’ve mentioned before that my maternal grandmother was Helen Lois Farthing (1910-1984).  Her parents were Mamie Clyde White (1884-1957) and Irving Colquitt Farthing (1885-1974), “Mamaw” and “Papaw” as we called them (though I’ve discovered that my mom spelled their names “Mamma” and “Pappa”).  Mamaw and Papaw were married in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia, on 1 December 1907.  I.C., as he was known, worked for an insurance company, and later became a lawyer.  I’ve always had a special fondness for this great-grandfather, not just because he’s the only great-grandparent I knew (!), but I was named after him.  His first name, Irving, is my middle name.

Besides my mother’s personal memories, one set of sources I used for some information about my great-grandparents was the city directories of Savannah.  So far I’ve looked them up in the directories for the years 1917-1923, 1925-1929 and 1934.  Those are the years I examined at the Bull Street Library in Savannah when I was able to spend a half day there last month.  There are more city directories available on microfilm through the Family History Center (Family Search Center).  I plan to order those microfilms later this summer.  City directories are interesting books, far more than just a phone book, though you can find elements of both the white and yellow pages there.  City directories date back to the 1700’s in the USA, though the heyday seems to have been the period from about 1870’s through the 1920’s.  Most major cities had yearly directories, and even many smaller urban areas had directories compiled every few years.  At a minimum, the “classic” city directory will list each address in the city along with the business or head of household and possibly a spouse in one section, followed by an alphabetical listing of the city’s residents and businesses.  Many times the employer of individuals will also be listed.  In addition, each employed adult (or older adolescent) would be listed separately.  Advertising appeared on every page, and later books added a section of just businesses.  Once phones were introduced, the phone number was listed if the person or business had one, plus the directory would often list what we would consider a “reverse lookup” – all the phone numbers in numerical order with the telephone subscribers’ names attached.  This is truly an embarrassment of riches for the family historian if you are lucky enough to have family living in an area that had city directories.

For example, this is a page (right) from the Savannah 1918 City Directory, published by The Savannah Directory Publishing Company.  (Remember, you can click on any image in the blog for a larger view, or right-click and open in a new tab or window to keep this page up, too.)  The listing reads “Farthing, Irvin [sic] C. (Mamie), agt. Metro L. I. Co., h 302 Hall w.”  Irvin was a common misspelling of his first name; I sometimes get that, too.  Interestingly, the Street Guide section (below) spells his name correctly.  They were living at 302 West Hall Street, and he was an agent with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.  By the next year, 1919, I.C. was listed as a lawyer with an office at 24 East President Street, and he had moved his family out to the suburbs, living in Pooler.  He moved back into the city by 1922, taking up residence on East 32nd Street.  Like I said, not only is there an alphabetical listing of residents, but there is also a Street Guide, which lists households by address.  A nice dividend to the Street Guide is that you can see who your ancestors lived near.  Sometimes this may help in finding in-laws, children, cousins, parents, or other relations who may have been missed on the traditional census.  Each block is indicated by the cross-streets, so it becomes easy to look for where they may have lived.  One thing to keep in mind, though, if you look up old addresses on a modern map, is that oftentimes the streets have been renumbered and even renamed. 

Fortunately, for some cities and for some years, there is a resource that you can use to check this out – the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  (For a nice introduction to the Sanborn Maps check out this Wikipedia article.)  I found a selection of digitized historical Sanborn Maps for a variety of Georgia cities at the Digital Library of Georgia website (click here).  Many libraries have copies of local Maps, and a Google search may reveal additional digital sources that can be accessed online (such as ProQuest – available through many local libraries – and the Sanborn Company itself, if you want paper copies.)  Google Maps’ Street View can come in handy for seeing what the location looks like today.  Just for kicks I looked up the address 302 West Hall on a 1916 Sanborn Map available through the Digital Library of Georgia.  In this case it appears the address hasn’t changed in the past 95 years.  Comparing the map section to the legend, it appears they were living in a flat located in a 2-story wood frame building.  When I looked at the Google Street View, it appears that could be the same building, but without further research there’s no way to be sure.  Still, it’s pretty cool, yes?

Guess that’s about it for now.  More next time.

Here’s your summary:
  • City directories can provide valuable genealogical and family history information, as well as interesting details about life in the town or city where your ancestors lived.  Try Google Books, and Googling the name of your town plus the words “city directory” for additional online resources.  There are researchers who will (for a fee) do lookups.  Additionally, many libraries have copies of their local or in-state city directories.
  • City directories are no more, or less, accurate than census forms, but the two should corroborate each other.  One big advantage to the directories is that they were often printed yearly for larger urban areas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • Sanborn Maps can be useful in urban areas for showing what buildings existed at the time and the information can be used to supplement and verify both printed tabular resources such as censuses and directories as well as pictorial evidence that may be derived from old family photographs, drawings and historic postcards.

 Later y’all,


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends”

A short break turned rather longer than planned.  My apologies.  Much like Lemony Snicket I was confronted with a series of rather unfortunate events, some personal, some family, some professional, and in the middle of it all I went on a planned two-week vacation and recovered from a computer crash.  Among other things I’ve learned is not to wait to back up digital files on at least one other medium (thankfully I recovered from that near-loss), and I can no longer type for long periods on my laptop.  Next time I travel I’m going to have to take along an extra full-size keyboard and plug it in.  The trip to Georgia also reinforced my belief that we have a long way to go yet in digitizing the historical and ancestral records and making them more widely accessible.  I also found myself impressed again and again with how nice and helpful most of the people I encountered were, from the professionals employed by libraries, repositories and court houses to the chance encounters with strangers in cemeteries across the state.  Without exception I found them to be generous with their time and knowledge, and downright apologetic that they couldn’t provide more information!

One other observation: Most of my research has been confined to the internet, libraries and microfilm at the local Family Search Center (aka Family History Center).  This is simply due to the fact that I live in Wisconsin and I grew up in Georgia.  But there is a definite emotional impact derived from a visit to actual sites associated with my family, whether a cemetery, a home or a now-empty plot of land.  Just knowing that I’m walking where my ancestors walked is very special indeed and not to be discounted.  I have a deeper understanding of the reactions of people who visit England or Germany or Italy or wherever, and of how big an impact it has on them.  But for me, for now, it’s back to the long-distance research.   

I’m still sorting and cataloguing my “finds” during the trip to Georgia, but one key research goal went unrealized, and I made another key discovery. 

I’ve previously mentioned the problem I’ve been having in trying to conclusively identify the parents of my great-great grandfather Mathew “Mack” Jones.  I thought I had uncovered a major clue last fall when I found a 2001 posting on the Jones mailing list archive (JONES-L Archives) on Rootweb.  In the opening sentences it states:
I found this in the Atlanta Archives [sic]. Hope it helps someone, I copied it verbatim:
Nancy Hendricks b. 2-17-1820 d 8-8-1907 married William M. Jones b 11-24-1813 d 8-25-1877
Their children:
Mathew E. "Mack" Jones b 1835 married in 6-7-1860 to Emily "Emma" Neville b 1839
Mary E Jones b 7-12-1838 d 1927 married Thomas Neville b3-12-1808 d 10-21-1870 she also married Norman Rushing

I had planned a day at the Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia, specifically to try to locate the document transcribed by the original Rootsweb poster, Nancy Hicks.  When I contacted her to ask for more information about her find she did confirm that she did mean the file had been at the Georgia Archives, but was unable to provide any more details.  I spent six of my eight hours at the archives searching for this document but was unsuccessful.  I still hope that some day someone else will find and publish the document, or possible even a photo of it, that it is merely misfiled or located in a file that I didn’t think to search.  My biggest fear is that some unscrupulous “researcher” decided that his or her need of a trophy far outweighed the interests of future generations in the document and made off with it and that it is thus lost to us forever. 

William & Nancy Jones, 1850 & 1860
(click for a larger image)
Even if I had been successful in locating the document, however, I would still be faced with corroborating the family tree it presents.  I have a probable 1850 Lumpkin County census for William and Nancy “Janes” and an 1860 Bulloch County census for “Wm M” and Nancy Jones.  Neither lists Mathew or Mack with the family.  The earliest census form I have listing Mack & Emma Jones is 1870.   They were married 7 June 1860 in Bulloch County.  Emma is listed in her parents’ household in the 1860 census because, though the enumeration was made on 2 July 1860, the instructions for column 3 state “The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1860, was in this family.”  “Emely” is also listed as the eldest child of Jacob & “Elvina” “Nevill” on the 1850 Bulloch County census.  I still haven’t located similar census records for Mack Jones in 1850 or 1860 in Liberty or Bulloch counties, though I’m still searching page by page.  I’m also pursuing a search of the Bulloch County Deeds & Mortgages books for the relevant decades.  If I can find a “deed of gift” or other document which mentions Mack and one of his parents I will have made a giant step forward in proving or disproving this theory of his parentage.  A similar search of wills and probate records has thus far been fruitless.

In the earlier post I also stated that “So far I haven’t found a marriage record or gravesites for [William or Nancy Jones]. “  But whether or not William and Nancy turn out to be related to me I can say that I did manage to find their gravesite.  The Statesboro Regional Library (124 S. Main St, Statesboro, Bulloch County, Georgia), has a wonderful multi-volume set of bound typescripts containing surveys of the cemeteries of Bulloch County.  The surveys were done over a period of twenty-something years from the late 1960s to the late 1980s or early 1990s by numerous people.  In the rather limited time availale I paged through all the volumes, hurriedly scanning the entries for the various surnames I thought I might find there.  In one of the books I found a single page listing for the burial site on Peter Nevil’s farm.  Here’s the transcription of that listing:

Demsey Riggs
Born 8 Jan. 1808
Died 25 June 1874

William A. Sumerlin
Died 26 April 1892

William Jones
Born 24 Nov. 1813
Died 25 Aug. 1877

Nancy Jones
Born 17 February 1820
Died 8 August 1907

Calley D., dau. of
S.E. & M.E. Jones
Born 18 August 1883
Died 25 October 1886

Charles J. P. Nevil
Born 13 1863
Died 22 June 1872

Joseph L. B., son of
Thomas & Rachel Nevell
Born 9 October 1840
Killed 28 August 1862 in
second battle of Manasses, Va.
His remains are still there.

Jacob Nevil Jr., son of
J. & Rachel Nevil
Born 27 July 1838
Died 23 May 1861

Mrs. Rachel Nevil,
wife of T. Nevil
Born 30 October 1818
Died 12 July 1859

Thomas Nevil
Born 12 March 1808
Died 21 October 1870

The gravestone of William & Nancy Jones
There it was in black and white.  The graves of William and Nancy Jones, and they were listed in close proximity with the Nevils into which family one or more of their children had married.   The property wasn’t far from Statesboro so I decided to try to find the site on my way out of town.  Luck was with me that day, and I was fortunate to meet members of the Nevil family who still own the property and was given permission to view and photograph the graves.  So, even if I’m not related to them I still managed to locate their tombstone, and that was immensely satisfying!

Here’s your summary:
  • Even though they are usually very suspect and you must validate the information with your own research, the family trees posted in,, and other online websites and forums can provide valuable pointers when you might otherwise be at a dead end.  Don’t ignore them completely just because they often don’t cite sources.  Evaluate them as you would any other reference you find.
  • There’s nothing like a visit to the locale in which your ancestors lived to breath life into their stories.
  • To quote a favorite movie out of context: Never give up, never surrender!
  • The websites for the Virtual Vault, the Georgia Archives and the Digital Library of Georgia are useful and valuable resources for research.  If you get the chance and you plan ahead, an in-person visit to the Georgia Archives building in Morrow, Georgia, can be equally rewarding and personally satisfying.  Sorry, I’m a bibliophile at heart; as much as I love digital research there’s nothing like the smell of old paper and leather to set my heart racing!

 Later y’all,