In last week’s post I introduced readers to a marriage record of two ancestors who married in Alabama. The record contained ambiguous language concerning the place of marriage. Further study indicated the event occurred within the community named Alabama Furnace instead of at the site of an iron-making blast furnace of same name. I gained a valuable education to learn that my ancestors were not as atypical in a marital sense as I had initially perceived—or so I thought.
Contrarily, today’s post features a research example in which another couple did in fact pursue, very convincingly, a most unconventional place to wed.
Years ago while searching marriage records in Clay County, Alabama, I encountered the record of my maternal great-grandparents, Thomas Taylor and Bellzora “Bell” Camp.1 It revealed a “situation” previously unknown by me. At the time it was discovered, I found the information on that unique record to be both shocking and hilarious.
You see, the clerk who recorded the marriage record was gracious enough to indicate Tom and Bell were married by C.W. Swann, a local minister, N.P., and ex officio J.P., “…
at in the middle of the public road near Buckeye, Ala…” As you can imagine, I didn’t see that one coming! No church wedding. No expensive gown nor bridesmaids. No best man. No mounds of flowers to shower the bride and groom. No trading of vows at the house of the bride’s parents. No sir. Choosing instead to dodge the social-column tidbits in the local paper, those rascals legitimated their vows in just a plain, old fashioned, can’t-wait-to-get-hitched, roadside affair. What a mental picture. I can just see them now, lying in wait, ready to ambush that poor, unassuming preacher on his way to town!
MY REACTION TO THE EVIDENCE
It would have been real easy for me to have swept some of the undesirable evidence I had discovered under the rug. I could have refrained from telling all and partially revealed to interested parties in my family that Tom and Bell were simply married by a minister or county official in Clay County on such-and-such date. It would have been the truth—yet only half the truth. Fortunately, I avoided that temptation. When it came to crunch time, I did what I knew was the ethical thing to do: I accepted my ancestors for who they were, warts and all, regardless of what the “record” said. I didn’t try to impose any modern, political correctness or social etiquette to their marriage situation.
The word “sanitize” conjures up lots of interpretation when it comes to genealogy. We “clean up” photographs with digital-editing software prior to sharing, believing that a manicured photo is more desirable than one which displays defects. Digitized documents are cropped to remove areas we deem less important or not applicable. We even reduce our findings during research to “abstracts” which reflect only a portion of the evidence we find. You’ll agree, those are legitimate examples in which noise, clutter, or the likes are removed in a preferred fashion from our artifacts, documents, and research.
On the flip side, I’ve known of persons who doctored their research conclusions to fit a certain legacy or story, knowing all the time that they were cleaving to something that was profoundly untrue. Why heck, I even know about a person who wrote their own obituary—later published at death (1990s)—which contained events, occupations, and such that the decedent had never experienced. Talk about sanitizing…
Like me, if you research long enough, you’ll eventually encounter unexpected “situations” in your own pedigree as well. Then you too will be faced with the same question about how to respond and treat the evidence you’ve discovered. When it occurs, don’t fall prey to the temptation to sweep undesirable or embarrassing information under the rug. Refuse to “sanitize” your perception.
Whenever a source reveals evidence about an ancestor that disappoints our human expectations, don’t fret. Avoid the inclination to accept any evidence at face value. Learn to be a diligent skeptic. Always subject your evidence to further research. Who knows, in time, new, comparative evidence may reflect a different meaning, perception, or interpretation. But if it doesn’t, just remember that our forebears weren’t perfect. We’re forever the product of their legacy—a fact that will never change—regardless of the size of our broom!
1. Clay County, Alabama, Marriage Records, Book H (1901-1904): 234, Tom Taylor to Bell Camp, 1902, license, return, and bond (not filled in); Probate Judge’s Office, Ashland.↩