13 October 2011

The Strange Road to Samuel O. Tift

Yesterday was an exciting day, because when I opened up my mailbox, there was a lovely (and rather heavy!) packet from the Allen County Library inside... filled with 103 pages copied from the Journal of Southwest Georgia History. How I ended up ordering these pages tells a lot about the strange roads we walk through our research.

One of my husband's ancestors, Louisa P. Harvey, married a gentleman by the name of Samuel O. Tift in Key West Florida in 1842. Louisa and Samuel had two sons together, but in both the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Louisa is enumerated with the household of her parents... no sign of Samuel.

I've wondered for a long time what happened to Samuel, and as my recent research odyssey into the Tift/Harvey family began, I only knew that Louisa disappeared after the 1860 census--whether she died or had re-married was unknown.

The problem has been a perplexing one, so I hired an APGen researcher to check for (among other things) information on Samuel Tift. His search, beyond the couple's marriage registration, came up null.

Now, the Tifts as a family made quite an impact on Key West, making a fortune salvaging wreckage from ships that ran aground of Key West's treacherous reefs. Two brothers, Asa and Nelson, even funded the construction of some of the Confederate navy's first ships. But how Samuel O. Tift was related to the notable Tifts of the area was unclear. I hoped that somewhere in the copious documentation and primary sources related to the Tifts, there may just be something about him.

In the course of learning more about the Key West Tifts, I posted a message to the Tefft mailing list asking if anyone knew much about the family. In response, I was contacted by a gentleman who was kind enough to send me a short report for information he had collected on a Solomon O. Tift, who, it seems, was also known as Samuel! Being a quality researcher, this gentleman's work was cited properly, and his footnote read as follows:
This information originated with Debra Boswell Crosby at the Dougherty County Public Library in Albany, Georgia. It came from various records at the library, among them the diaries of Nelson Tift. She shared it with Judith Mitchell Bennett, a Tefft descendant, who in turn contributed the information to Pettaquamscutt historian A. Craig Anthony. Mr. Anthony kindly passed this info on to me. 

Wow! That's a pretty circuitous route, but I am cheered that the provenance of this information is, at least, documented.  It gives me a trail to walk backwards (dangerous for someone as klutzy as me), which is a lot more than I had before. As an added bonus, the report included a death date and burial location for Louisa, who, it turns out, died in 1863.

As Nelson Tift was a founder of Albany, Georgia, I was pretty sure that a publication somewhere, at some point, would have published out his diaries. And, indeed, a PERSI search showed me that they had been excerpted by the Journal of Southwest Georgia History... leading to the tasty packet that arrived in the mail.

So yes, I'm excited to learn more about Nelson Tift, and to find more information on my man Samuel/Solomon. And what a twisted road to walk... online records, onsite researchers, a mailing list, an email, and an order to ACPL... I like to think that somehow, after tossing in some phone calls and connecting with some of those historical experts, my research trail will lead me to the story of Mr. Samuel O. Tift.

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