Creative Sleuthing

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When conducting research on obscure people, you encounter plenty of informational brick walls. These can be frustrating, but you don’t have to let them stand in your way.

Now known as the Myers-Wilson House in Chipley, Florida. Built in 1895.

Now known as the Myers-Wilson House in Chipley, Florida. Built in 1895.

My most recent information barrier centers on Emmett’s boyhood home.

The Wilson family lived in two houses during the late 1800s. The house I visited back in May (and shared with you) was built in 1895 by Dr. Wilson; by then, Emmett was 13 years old, there was a new Mrs. Wilson (Emmett’s mother had died), and two more children had come into the family (Emmett’s stepsisters).

But where did Emmett and his family live prior to 1895?

We know from the 1885 Florida Census that they were in the Chipley area; there were 10 children enumerated, so it had to have been a sizeable place.

But where was this place, Emmett’s childhood home?

To find out, what I did was take the 1885 Florida Census, and get the names of the Wilson’s neighbors. One thing I noticed is that on either side of the family, you had farmers. In fact, there are several farmers on this (and the pages immediately before and after the page with the Wilsons). Chipley was (and still is) a small town, but it was a ‘town.’ If they were within the city limits, it seems logical that the immediate neighbors would have occupations that were not ‘farms.’

I compared the neighbors’ names to those on the 1900 Federal Census. Sure enough, two of the neighbors who were almost right next door to the Wilsons in the 1885 Census, are still there. They haven’t moved. They are also still listed as farmers.

The 1900 Federal Census also does not provide the street name, but now, I can take the two neighbors’ names and check with the Washington County property records to see where these were located exactly.

When I find out those locations, I can then check the property records for the surrounding area for original owners and tenants. I’ve got a query in with my colleagues in Washington County; I’ll let you know how this strategy worked out.

For what it is worth: No, I didn’t get this strategy from the History Detectives. But if it works, I’m going to recommend it.

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