02 May 2011

Devil's Advocate: The Mysterious Ms. Dexter

It felt good this week to blow some of the dust off of the genealogy files and delve back into the lives of some of my set-aside (but ne'er forgotten) kin. Something good about taking a break from your research... revisiting old notes and research trails leads one to notice the assumptions being made along the way. Some good, some great, some pretty awful.

On that tip, today I'm playing RDR: Devil's Advocate. Here I present a current problem, and play devil's advocate against my assumptions, making my researcher-self reason out and justify the decisions I've made along the way. Let's get devilish in our advocating:

Tell us about it, Jim (er, Jennifer)!
Everyone has their pet ancestors, the ones they turn to again and again, looking for new information, and rehashing old papers hoping to bring something new to light. One woman I have a hard time getting out of my mind is Mary C. Dexter, my husband's GGGG-Grandmother.

Born in Massachusetts about 1805 (as per census enumerations and her death certificate), Mary somehow managed to meet and marry a South Carolina native, Samuel Harvey, sometime in the mid-to-late 1820's (first child born abt. 1828). Mary died in Charleston, South Carolina on 21 March 1889 from old age and dysentery, and is, according to her death certificate, buried in Magnolia cemetery in that city.

So, Dexter, huh? Where in G*s name did you get that from?
Mary's maiden name is taken from the death certificate of her son, Charles Tift Harvey, who died in 1915. Her maiden name is either not asked or left blank on the death certificates for other children located thus far, so unfortunately I don't have a corroborating source. As a side note, the death certificate also says that Mary was from Boston, Massachusetts.

I haven't located any marriage records for Samuel Harvey and his wife Mary. Not yet, at least.

While I acknowledge that the information on the death certificate requires a circumspect handling, every other iota of information on that death certificate has been verified, and it has been spot-on every time. Charles' wife, while (of course) possibly wrong about her husband's mother's maiden name, was remarkably correct on every other piece of information she supplied in the death certificate... which makes me feel confident in the maiden name.

Also, it's the only lead I have.

You got nothing else? Not a thing?
Nope. No will, no probate, no court files, no headstone, no marriage documentation, no birth records for the children. Not yet, at least.

So... She's a Dexter(?). I'll give you that, since otherwise this project gets stuck up on the shelf. How are you looking to verify her maiden name?
With a gut feeling and some confidence in Mrs. Charles T. Harvey, I have set my sights on a possible coincidence--or, viewed alternately, a meaningful item that could prove fruitful.

The best lead thus far is that a man by the name of Edward Dexter (native of Massachusetts), who resided in Key West, Florida at the same time as Mary lived there with her husband Samuel Harvey and their children.

Now, Key West at that time was a pretty small place... just about 2700 people. One Harvey family, one Dexter family. Edward Dexter, as I mentioned, hailed from Massachusetts. Further research into his family revealed that he likely hailed from Boston, Massachusetts... the purported birthplace of Mary Dexter as well.

Samuel served, at least twice, along with Edward Dexter as Port Warden for Key West (1843 & 1851). And, like Samuel, Edward Dexter was a ship carpenter.

So, Mary Dexter resides in a small town, in Key West, Florida, in which her husband likely works and serves along with a man with the same last name, who also comes from her birth city. Pretty good, right?

Big coinkydink. Could be something. Might not. What's your plan to get to the bottom of this?
Well, since I live 3,258 miles from Key West, I did what any reasonable researcher would do. I contacted an APGen member who lives in Key West. I'm asking for some copies of marriage records that I have only seen the indices for,  and relying on this person's local expertise to guide the research to some sources that I may not be aware of.

Are you sure you're not just lazy?
Between my Northern and Midwestern ancestors, and my husband's ancestors in the South, I've  been researching in just about every state in the Union. My head hurts when I start thinking about doing all the required background research on the location. I'm a little tired, and not up to learning about Key West resources, when I can just hire someone to do it for me. So yes. Basically I'm just lazy.

I can't overstate how much I love laziness. After all, idle hands are... well, you know. Let me know how this turns out, so that I can tear the results to shreds!
I look forward to it.


Jo said...

I love playing genealogical Devil's Advocate! Looking forward to seeing what comes back from Key West :-) Jo

Susan (Nolichucky Roots) said...

Well done! And I heartily endorse the local expert idea. There are times you need feet on the ground.