Monday, April 27, 2009

Methodology Monday in Evansville, Indiana

Tom Jones says we should spend as much time trying to figure out what to do with our sources as we spend finding them in the first place. I agree, while noticing with some embarrassment that almost every post to this blog has been about finding sources, not what to do with them afterwards.

I'll try to spend at least one post a week on interesting examples of methodology in tough cases. They may not all be from the Midwest but this one is. And since I won't unravel every detail of the reasoning, hopefully you'll be inspired to consult the original.

The semiannual Genealogist is perhaps the least well-known of the three or four top-ranked genealogy periodicals. I'm sure Fall 2007 is not its current issue, but it's the most recent one indexed in PERSI. Lead article is a 40-page monster by Stephen Alden Ralls, "The Lost Second Family of Colonel Hugh McGary Jr., Founder of Evansville, Indiana."

Polly (Blevins) McClain McGary had three McGary children in the early 1820s in Indiana. Everyone agrees Hugh McGary was the father, but which one? Hugh McGary Jr. of Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana? His nephew Hugh McGary of Sangamon County, Illinois? Or his other nephew Hugh McGary of Arkasas and Missouri? And for that matter, who was the Hugh McGary who married Polly McClain in Vanderburgh County 7 September 1826...after two of those three McGary children were born?

The nephews had been favored because a fairly reliable 1889 county mug book from Arkansas identified this Huge as one who had served in the Black Hawk War -- both nephews had done so, but their uncle Hugh Jr. hadn't. But one nephew stayed in Sangamon County and his probate mentions children of two other marriages but none of these three. And the other nephew was only 13 at the time of the first McGary child's birth.

So Ralls pieces together a mosaic of evidence that makes the case that Hugh Jr. and Polly had two children born prior to this marriage and a third born after, at least one of these while they were both married to other people. Both were tried separately for adultery in the local court in 1825 (specifics not available) and not convicted. After that episode and one day after her divorce from her first husband, who had been elsewhere for some years, they took out a marriage license.

Ralls analyzes the evidence in the form of five arguments that Polly's first husband McClain was the father of the three children, and ten rather stronger arguments that Hugh Jr. was. He sniffs out a coverup from the very fact that Hugh and Polly's marriage is mentioned in no local history until the year 2000: "Since a marriage is a significant life event, since Hugh had been a very important person, since histories typically document important events of important people, and since this marriage is the last definite record of Hugh's presence in Vanderburgh County before disappearing, then it seems clear that its absence reflects an intent to conceal." (page 159) IOW, Hugh was a good ole boy and the other good ole boys protected him as much as they could.

For a masterful marshaling of indirect evidence to reach a conclusion that no record states in so many words, this story is hard to beat, even with the gaps and uncertainties, and the lack of a letter or other window into the minds of the participants. The genealogical summary traces 24 "new" grandchildren in Hugh Jr.'s descendant lines.

Ralls, Stephen Alden. "The Lost Second Family of Colonel Hugh McGary Jr., Founder of Evansville, Indiana." The Genealogist 21(2): 131-171.

1 comment:

Yvonne said...

I am trying to find a Polly Blevins who married John Thompson. This Polly is the daughter of Lydia Sizemore and James Blevins. Any help would be appreciated.