The Taylor Family Papers: Using Plantation Records for Researching Enslaved People

Finding personal details of enslaved people prior to the end of the Civil War can be difficult. The basic tool that many use for researching American ancestors, the United States population census, did not name slaves. The census slave schedules, taken in 1850 and 1860, listed the slave owner’s name and slaves by sex and age only, with occasional exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, court documents, such as wills and probate proceedings, bills of sale and, rarely, plantation records, also include personal information about slaves.

Journals, ledgers and other personal records can likewise prove useful for researchers. Though records from Florida antebellum plantations tend to be scarce, when they have been preserved, they can often yield valuable information about slaves. Using records housed at the State Archives, we will demonstrate how genealogical researchers can use some of the resources listed above to find valuable information about enslaved ancestors.

In collection M83-27, Taylor Family Papers, among a number of letters detailing the genealogical history of a group of allied North Florida families is a remarkable journal kept by Elizabeth L. (Grice) Taylor (1830-1888). The journal records the movement of her family from North Carolina to Leon County, Florida, and then around North Florida to various plantations. In addition to listing births and other important events in her own extended family, she also documented the names, ages, births and deaths of some of their slaves.

On the first page of her journal, Elizabeth noted the names and birthdates of her own children, Sarah, Elizabeth Roberta, Charles, Catherine, William Jr. and Leslie. On the second page, titled “Black Creek, Jan. 4th, 1851” and subtitled “Negroe ages,” she listed the birth dates of children born to the enslaved women between 1850 and 1858. On subsequent pages are additional birth dates and death dates of slaves. She also made a timeline for the various places the family moved to in Leon, Wakulla and Madison counties.

Timeline in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

The dates and locations of residence that Elizabeth noted in her timeline can be especially useful for structuring a search for other records; a researcher will have a better general idea of what kind of records and particular repositories to search for the Taylors and any documentation on the slaves. Knowing the dates allows researchers to conduct a more targeted search.

1850-1865

William N. Taylor (1825-1896) and Elizabeth L. Grice were married July 24, 1850, in North Carolina. They left North Carolina on the 30th of September for a honeymoon trip to New York and arrived in Florida on the 6th of October. They arrived after the census was taken that year, so they were not recorded in a Florida census until 1860.

From 1850-1855, the Taylor family and their slaves lived at Black Creek Plantation, Leon County, in the Miccosukee area. Elizabeth noted birth dates of the slaves at that time:

“Mary Brown was born about 1831

Mary’s child – George was born 20th of July 1850

Fanny was born 29 November 1852

Harriet was born 1839 – month not known

Mary Branson’s child – Charles was born 22 March 1853

Maria was born March 25th 1855

Lizzie was born August 1854

Bell’s boy Bull S. born April 1st, 1855

Pleasant, Till’s babe born January 1855″

 

List of births in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

Between 1855 and 1861, the Taylors lived at The Pinewoods in Wakulla County. During that time, Elizabeth noted the following slave births:

“Florence born April 1856

Lany’s boy born August 15, 1856

Emily born July 1857

Ellen born January 22, 1858

Allmand born November 16th, 1858

Dora Ansy, Till’s 3rd daughter was born July 1860

Capitola, Mary’s daughter, was born February 1860

Austin Till’s boy born August 11, 1863″

Additional births in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

She recorded deaths on separate pages, one also labeled “Negroes”:

“Mary Branson died Jan 18th 1860

Mary Brown died August 2nd 1867

Maria died October 1859

Emanuel died Nov 1857

Emily died Sep 1859

Capitola, Feb 1860

Vina and Hepsy died August 1850

Old Dr Alick died January 22, 1863

Dora, Till’s daughter died June 8th 1863″

List of deaths in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

One of the letters in the Taylor Family Papers mentioned an 1858 bill of sale in the Wakulla County Courthouse between William N. Taylor and James M. Shine. This deed record confirms many of the names in the journal, adds several other individuals, and reveals mother-child relationships not noted by Elizabeth.

Deed between William N. Taylor and James M. Shine from Wakulla County Courthouse, Deed Records Book A-B, February 5, 1858, page 295.

 

Deed between William N. Taylor and James M. Shine from Wakulla County Courthouse, Deed Records Book A-B, February 5, 1858, page 296.

From page 296:

“Trustee of the said Elizabeth L. Taylor & his successors the following slaves to wit Marr aged about twenty two years, Mary ages 40 years & her child Charles aged 5 years, Isaac aged 23 years, Harriet ages 16 years, Isabel aged 40 years & three children aged Temperance aged 9 years, Margarett aged 7 years and William Henry aged __ years; Mary aged 24 years & four children George 6 years, Fany aged 4 years, Maria aged 2 years and & infant; Gillany aged 25 years, Matilda aged 21 years & two children, Pleasant aged 4 years & Emily aged 1 year”

A number of the same individuals listed in this deed and in Elizabeth’s journal were later included in the 1860 slave schedule. The U.S. Census Slave Schedule, taken June 22, named the slaves of William N. Taylor located in Shell Point District, Wakulla County. Most of the slave schedules do not name slaves, but the census taker in Wakulla County did that year.

1860 U.S. Census, Wakulla County, Florida, Slave Schedule, Shell Point District.

Under “William N. Taylor, Owner” the following slaves are listed: Allick, age 70; Isaac, age 23; Harriet, age 19; Matilda, age 21; Pleasant, age 6; Isabella, age 40; Temperance, age 13; Margaret, age 11; William, age 5; Mary, age 27; George, age 10; Fanny, age 8; Ellen, age 4; Mace, age 25; Gelaney, age 22; Charles, age 8; and June, age 11.

In 1861, the household moved to “Ridgeland,” on Lake Jackson north of Tallahassee in Leon County, and remained there until 1867. After 1867, the Taylor family moved to various locations in northern Florida, including “Woodlawn” and “Myrtle Grove” in Leon County and several locations in Madison County. At some point afterwards they moved back to Tallahassee, where they are buried.

Emancipation

It is a bit more difficult to trace the former slaves after 1865, as surnames are not given for most of them in the Taylor documents. They may also have selected new surnames. In order to find and trace emancipated slaves in extant documents, a researcher would have to work with the types of information that would have been recorded, the most useful being dates and places. For example, the 1870 population census asked for age, sex, race, occupation, and place of birth, and enumerated people by county and district. In this case, a possible clue would be the place of birth; the adults listed in the slave schedule of 1860 may have been brought from North Carolina by the Taylors. The last plantation they owned before the end of the Civil War was in Leon County, so it would be reasonable to search there for emancipated slaves. The ages given in the Taylor journal and in the slave schedule could be very helpful, although ages were not always consistent between different sources.

Case study: Lany

An unusual given name can also be key. As an example, one woman named Lany is mentioned in the journal, and there is a woman named Gelaney in the 1860 slave schedule. The 1858 bill of sale in the Wakulla County Courthouse listed “Gillany aged 25 years.” Gelaney or Gillany being an uncommon name, it is possible that a woman listed in Leon County census records in 1870, 1880, and 1885 married to Alfred Mitchell or Mitchel might be the same person as the Lany noted in the Taylor journal.

In 1870, the census taker for Leon County, Northern District listed “Delaney,” age 32, born in North Carolina as the wife of Alfred Mitchell, age 33, born in North Carolina. Also in the household is a 4-year-old named Elizabeth, an 18-year-old named Charles (possibly the child born to Mary Branson in 1853), and a 60-year-old woman named Isabella Page. Isabella was also born in North Carolina and could possibly be the same Isabella named in the 1860 slave schedule.

1870 U.S. Census, Leon County, Florida, population schedule.

The same household is recognizable in the 1880 census, comprised of Alfred, his wife Gillaney, and daughter Eliza, now 14 years old.

1880 U.S. Census, Leon County, Florida, population schedule.

The 1885 Florida state census finds Alfred Mitchell, his wife Laney, and his daughter Elizabeth still living in Leon County. Also in the household are Delia Ford, 20, listed as Alfred’s niece, and Laney Wilson, 8, listed as his ward.

1885 Florida state census, Leon County.

Unfortunately, Gilaney does not appear in subsequent census enumerations. Alfred appears in the 1900 Leon County census with a wife named Lucy. One of the questions asked in 1900 was number of years married, and Alfred and Lucy had been married for 10 years. Gilaney might have died between 1885 and 1890. Eliza most likely married after 1885 and would be listed under a married name.

To continue tracing this family, a researcher could explore other resources including county courthouse records, Freedmen’s Bureau records, the records of the Freedman’s Bank, Freedmen’s Contracts when available, and the Voter Registration Rolls, 1867-1868 (digitized on Florida Memory.) For instance, a search for Lany’s husband, Alfred Mitchell, in the Voter Registration Rolls on Florida Memory returns a record of his registration to vote in Leon County on August 17, 1867. Each individual record may contain clues that lead elsewhere and a more detailed picture of a family’s lives and circumstances may emerge.

Tracing the genealogy of enslaved persons can be difficult due to the limited amount of information about enslaved persons kept in US census records prior to emancipation. When researching former slaves, don’t overlook the possibility of plantation records and other non-traditional genealogical resources. While scarce, when found they can add context and detail to information found in census and courthouse records.

Meet a Researcher

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Meet Braeden Belcher, a historian at Florida State University who is using the State Archives of Florida as a resource for his master’s thesis. Originally from Brighton, Michigan, Braeden is a student in the FSU Historical Administration and Public History Program and “hope[s] to one day work in a museum!”

Braeden uses the State Archives as a resource while he conducts research for his master’s thesis.

Braeden uses the State Archives as a resource while he conducts research for his master’s thesis.

Belcher brought some archival experience with him on his research trip to the State Archives.  While in college, he worked as a research assistant in his university’s archives.  In this capacity, he was in charge of researching and developing displays that highlighted the archives’ collection and, according to Braeden, he “loved it!”

Braeden’s master’s thesis explores how Floridians celebrated the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution in 1976.  Braeden is using the records of the Bicentennial Commission of Florida (Series 787), which was the group responsible for planning bicentennial celebrations and activities throughout the state in the 1970s.  These archival records are helping Braeden “get a picture of how Floridians were planning for America’s 200th birthday, and what being an American meant to them.”

To plan his research trip, Braeden made frequent use of our online catalog and the Florida Memory website, as well as consulting archives staff in the research room.  “The finding aids available online have a lot of useful information about the collections, but the staff is always willing to help me if I have extra questions,” he says.

Through consulting the archives’ catalog, website, and staff, Braeden acquired the materials he needed for his research project.  He also has this advice for potential researchers: “Make sure you have a general idea of which documents you want to look at, the more information you can give to the staff the better! They will always be able to help you out and answer any questions you have, so feel free to ask!”

If you’re conducting research at the State Archives of Florida, remember that the reference staff is always available to answer questions and to help point you in the right direction. The Archives reference room is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Land, Land Everywhere – But What To Do With It?

Introductory Note:

The following is the final post in a three-part series of blogs exploring the State Archives’ recent accession of records concerning the Cross Florida Barge Canal and its eventual conversion into the Cross Florida Greenway. Here are the first and second posts.

Engineers and government officials have been hatching plans to dig a canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean since the 16th century. The United States government initiated construction on this ambitious project in the 1930s, but it was halted several times over the next three decades before it was shut down entirely in 1971. The land appropriated for the canal was later converted into the Cross Florida Greenway, a series of recreational trails extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River.

The State Archives’ recent accession of records on this topic consists of 167 boxes of material, including administrative files, reports, legal records, land records, Canal Lands Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records. These documents join five existing series of Cross Florida Barge Canal records accessioned in the 1990s and early 2000s. Taken together, these collections illustrate the creation, progression, decline and eventual transformation of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project into the Cross Florida Greenway.

 

“Land, Land Everywhere… But What Do We Do With It?”

After President Richard Nixon halted the canal project by executive order in 1971, advocates tried unsuccessfully for several years to resuscitate it. Gradually, the focus of state officials and other interested parties turned toward deciding what to do with the large quantity of land that had been accumulated for the canal. The following records document the process of soliciting public input and determining the future of the Cross Florida Barge Canal corridor. All records are open for research.

 

Record Group 540: Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission
Series 2045: Cross Florida Barge Canal Land Use Study Files

This series consists of minutes, studies, reports, correspondence, recommendations, editorials, etc. regarding proposals for use of land acquired for the discontinued Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The files were those of Colonel Bob Butler, retired regional director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The majority of the records are from 1992, but there are some from the late 1980s.

Cover of a proposal for an "Inland Waters Science Museum" to be located along the former canal corridor. This was one of several proposals for using the land reflected in the documents of Series 2045.

Cover of a proposal for an “Inland Waters Science Museum” to be located along the former canal corridor. This was one of several proposals for using the land reflected in the documents of Series 2045. Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2690: Canal Lands Advisory Council Administrative Files

Meeting files make up the majority of the series and include agendas, minutes, notices, photographs and other meeting specific supporting documents.

The administrative files make up the remainder of the series and consist of contracts, reports, maps, usage proposals, financial records, correspondence and various documentation concerning Canal Lands Advisory Committee activities and proposed uses of the former Cross Florida Barge Canal Lands.

It is worth noting University of Florida, Department of Landscape Architecture’s proposal for “Research and Technical Services in support of Alternative Land Use Plans for Canal Authority Properties.” The proposal names expert university faculty who would lead other professionals and graduate students in developing a “comprehensive plan for the design and management of a regionally significant green belt” as a joint project with the State of Florida’s Canal Authority. The proposal includes a contract which describes the precise responsibilities of the University and the Canal Authority, as well as the proposed budgets for each year of the two-year plan.

Transcript of an April 23, 1992 public hearing regarding the future of the Cross Florida Greenway, the new designation for the former Cross Florida Barge Canal corridor (Series 2690, State Archives of Florida).

Transcript of an April 23, 1992 public hearing regarding the future of the Cross Florida Greenway, the new designation for the former Cross Florida Barge Canal corridor (Series 2690, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2688: Cross Florida Greenway Administrative Files

This series documents the administrative functions of the Cross Florida Greenway project. Three main administrative subseries exist within this series: meeting files, correspondence and subject files.

The meeting files include agendas, minutes and meeting specific supporting documents.

The correspondence subseries details general activities, events and issues handled throughout the project. Many of the records document the coordination of the greenway project and meetings internally by Department of Environmental Protection staff and externally with other stake holders. There are also letters from citizens and environmental groups that voice opinions on the future of Rodman Reservoir.

The subject files make up the majority of the series and include records on project committees, cost-benefit studies, implementation plans, liability insurance, grant funding, and site specific issues. Of particular interest are the trail land withdrawals which document the process of reevaluating private and state owned lands involved in the Cross Florida Barge Canal with landowners to determine which parcels would be included in the trail.

Proclamation by Governor Lawton Chiles declaring the Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation & Conservation Area an official Florida Greenway (Series 2688, State Archives of Florida).

Proclamation by Governor Lawton Chiles declaring the Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation & Conservation Area an official Florida Greenway (Series 2688, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Interested in browsing the Cross Florida Barge Canal records in person? Stop by the State Archives of Florida Reference Room between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Check out our website to plan your visit.

Where There’s a Will…

Introductory Note:

The following is the first in a three-part series of blogs exploring the State Archives’ recent accession of records concerning the Cross Florida Barge Canal and its eventual conversion into the Cross Florida Greenway.

Engineers and government officials have been hatching plans to dig a canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean since the 16th century. The United States government initiated construction on this ambitious project in the 1930s, but it was halted several times over the next three decades before it was shut down entirely in 1971. The land appropriated for the canal was later converted into the Cross Florida Greenway, a series of recreational trails extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River.

The State Archives’ recent accession of records on this topic consists of 167 boxes of material, including administrative files, reports, legal records, land records, Canal Lands Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records. These documents join five existing series of Cross Florida Barge Canal records accessioned in the 1990s and early 2000s. Taken together, these collections illustrate the creation, progression, decline and eventual transformation of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project into the Cross Florida Greenway.

 

“Where There’s a Will…”

Before a government agency can begin work on a large construction project like the Cross Florida Barge Canal, it must obtain title to the necessary land. The following records in the State Archives’ recent accession on the canal project document how the State of Florida, the United States government, and a variety of other public and private actors interacted to facilitate this process. All records are open for research.

Record Group 500: Florida Department of Natural Resources
Series 1976: Cross Florida Barge Canal Land Acquisition Records

This series includes appraisal reports, parcel summary worksheets, photographs, maps, sketches, correspondence and other records relating to land acquisition for the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The land acquired included parts of Citrus, Levy, Marion, and Putnam counties. Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Map of the Cross Florida Barge Canal (1971).

Map of the Cross Florida Barge Canal (1971).

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2686: Cross Florida Barge Canal Legal Records

This series is comprised of records reflecting the legal process of the Canal Authority of the State of Florida acquiring land for the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Three main legal categories exist within this series: condemnation files, court case files, and leases and easement files.

Though early discussions on condemnation began in the 1930s, the bulk of activity occurred in the 1960s. The process of condemning and acquiring the land frequently culminated in Florida Supreme, District and Circuit Court cases. The defendants involved ranged from one private land owner to multiple owners that banded together, as well as Florida-based companies. The size of each case file reflects the scale of the trial and subsequent settlement. While many cases were short-lived, others were extensive, often producing multiple appeals. Canal Authority v. J. G. Perko and Canal Authority v. Harry M. Litzell, et al are examples of more voluminous cases. Document types within the condemnation and court case files include land appraisals, correspondence, and orders of taking, as well as depositions, transcripts of testimony, motions, answers, pleadings and final judgments.

The leases and easement files document the activities of those lands in condemnation under pre-existing leases and those that the Canal Authority chose to lease out after the failure of the canal endeavor. In 1993, after the passage of Florida House Bill 1751, control of all Canal Authority lands and easements were transferred to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund. Many of the leases and easement files captured within this series reflect this administrative alteration and how it affected pre-existing lessees.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

A deposition taken in the case of Canal Authority v Silver Springs, Inc. in 1969, one of many legal records available as part of Record Series 2686 at the State Archives of Florida.

A deposition taken in the case of Canal Authority v Silver Springs, Inc. in 1969, one of many legal records available as part of Record Series 2686 at the State Archives of Florida. Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2687: Cross Florida Barge Canal Land Records

This series includes records pertaining to the land involved in the course and aftermath of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Topics include: land requests; general land information by tract number; right-of-way, road, and railroad relocations; design computations for canal structures; photographs documenting the land in multiple stages of development; maps that show different parcels of land and the proposed canal route; and audio recordings of the canal’s dedication with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

The records document all portions of the canal, but some areas figure more prominently than others because of the amount of work that went into them and their controversial nature due to threats of environmental disturbances on wildlife disruption and declining water quality. Records within this series on the Rodman Reservoir, Ocklawaha River and Inglis Dam areas reflect their complex and contested histories. Of particular note are the maps that show the projected canal path through the Florida peninsula, because of their attention to detail in the route and lock locations as well as their unique design.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Leaflet on the Cross Florida Barge Canal (circa 1960s), in Box 5, folder 14 of Secretary of State Tom Adams' Subject Files (Series 501), State Archives of Florida.

Leaflet on the Cross Florida Barge Canal (circa 1960s), in Box 5, folder 14 of Secretary of State Tom Adams’ Subject Files (Series 501), State Archives of Florida.

Interested in browsing the Cross Florida Barge Canal records in person? Stop by the State Archives of Florida Reference Room between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Check out our website to plan your visit.

That’s all for today, but look for our next post, which will take a look at some of the records involving the actual design and construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

It’s in the Directory

Remember back before the Internet when you needed the “phone book” to find a phone number or address for a person or business? These days, we tend to use printed directories for booster seats and doorstops more than for their intended purpose, but these volumes do have a critical role to play as a historical resource. Especially the older ones.

A few of the printed city directories available at the State Library of Florida - others are available on microfilm or through online databases like Ancestry.com.

A few of the published city directories available at the State Library of Florida – others are available on microfilm or through online databases like Ancestry.com.

For many Florida municipalities, city directories have been published annually for over a century. The content in each volume varies by town, year, and publisher, but generally they include an alphabetical list of residents with addresses, a classified business directory, information about local officials, clubs, public services, and societies, and a street guide. Some directories also include information on nearby towns too small to have their own published directories.

City directories are a goldmine for genealogists, because they can potentially provide several kinds of information about an individual:

  • Where the person lived
  • The person’s occupation
  • The names of persons living in the same home (including spouse) or neighborhood
  • Who lived at the same address before someone moved in
  • Where the person moved to/from (if in the same city)
  • How long a person lived in a particular city

These volumes are also useful for local historians because they can help with tracing the history of a particular building, a business, a club or society, or other local entity.

City directories may be found in public libraries, the State Library of Florida, or through one of a number of online databases. Ancestry.com provides searchable digitized editions of many Florida city directories, and a number of Florida cities have completed their own digitization projects to make the directories available online.

So how do you use these city directories for family history research? Let’s make an example of this gentleman whose portrait is included in the Florida Photographic Collection:

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

The catalog record for this portrait of Leonard A. Wesson says it was taken in Tallahassee in 1940. That’s all we know at this point. Using city directories, however, we can determine whether he actually resided in Tallahassee, and if he did we can determine roughly how long he lived there. We can also find out his occupation, whether he was married, and whether he moved around a bit while he was in the area. Let’s start out by checking the alphabetical name index in the 1940 Tallahassee city directory:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1940.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1940.

And there he is! From this entry, we see that Leonard had a wife named Winifred, and that the two of them were living at 503 E. McDaniel St. in Tallahassee in 1940. We also see that Mr. Wesson was a busy fellow, serving as Secretary to both the Middle Florida Ice Company and the Tallahassee Coca-Cola Bottling Company. This is good information, but it’s only a start. How long did Leonard and Winifred live at this location? Who lived in this house before they did? Was Leonard Wesson always associated with the two companies he was working for in 1940?

To find the answers, let’s back up a few years to 1936. We’ll start out by looking at the alphabetical name index once again:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1936.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1936.

This entry turns up some interesting information. It appears Leonard Wesson was serving as mayor of Tallahassee in 1936. He was living at the same location as he would four years later in 1940, and we get to see his telephone number in this directory. Note that Winifred’s middle initial is listed here as “A” rather than “L” as it appeared in 1940. One is probably her given middle initial and the other the initial for her maiden surname. This information could come in handy later when searching for Winifred in an index.

Let’s keep going backward in time to see what else we can learn about Leonard and Winifred. Here is their alphabetical index entry for 1930:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1930.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1930.

Intriguing… Leonard Wesson was working as a civil engineer in 1930, and living with Winifred in a completely different location, 403 E. Park Avenue. Also, we can tell that the Wessons didn’t own the house, because the address is preceded by an “R” for “roomer” or “resident” rather than an “H” for “householder.” Each directory explains its use of abbreviations at the beginning of the alphabetical name index.

If you’re wondering who was living at the Wessons’ future home on McDaniel Street at that time, there’s an easy way to find out. Most city directories have a reverse lookup street guide that allows you to determine who was living in each building along a particular city street. So, to see who was living at 503 E. McDaniel Street in Tallahassee in 1930, we need to look at McDaniel Street in the street guide. Here’s the page:

An excerpt of a page from the reverse lookup street guide included in the 1930 Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee.

An excerpt of a page from the reverse lookup street guide included in the 1930 Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee.

Notice that the address 503 E. McDaniel Street does not appear at all in the listing. Since this directory shows when a house was vacant (e.g. 1045 Lake Jackson Rd. in the excerpt above), we can safely assume this means the Wessons’ house had not yet been completed when the directory was published. (Note: A little extra research confirmed that the Lafayette Park neighborhood where the Wessons relocated in the 1930s was indeed undergoing development at this time.)

To determine how long Leonard and Winifred lived at 403 E. Park Avenue or elsewhere in Tallahassee, we could continue following them through various city directories, but let’s try to find out who lived at their home on Park Avenue before they began rooming there. To do this, we simply look up that address in the reverse lookup street guide for previous years until we find a different occupant listed. Let’s try the 1927 directory for Tallahassee:

An excerpt from the reverse lookup street guide in Polk's 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

An excerpt from the reverse lookup street guide in Polk’s 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

L.M. Lively shows up as the primary householder for 403 E. Park Avenue in 1927. That’s helpful to know, but who is L.M. Lively? We can find out more about him by looking him up in the alphabetical name index in the same 1927 volume:

Excerpt from Polk's 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

Excerpt from Polk’s 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

Interesting! The resident of 403 E. Park Avenue in 1927 was Lewis M. Lively, president of the Middle Florida Ice Company, which Leonard Wesson would later work for. We see from the address listing that Lively owned the house, which suggests that he was likely the person who rented it to Wesson and his wife Winifred in the 1930s.

From these bits of information, a clearer picture of Leonard Wesson begins to emerge. In the late 1920s, he was a civil engineer in Tallahassee, possibly working for Lewis M. Lively at the Middle Florida Ice Company. By 1940, Wesson had moved up the ladder, had served as mayor of Tallahassee, and had become secretary to Middle Florida Ice. He had also built a house in the new Lafayette Park neighborhood. Armed with these details, we can now begin cross-referencing the information with other sources to help build a more detailed profile of Leonard Wesson’s life. A quick search of the Florida Photographic Collection, for example, reveals that photos exist of the Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue:

Lewis M. Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue in Tallahassee (photo circa 1980).

Lewis M. Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue in Tallahassee (photo circa 1980).

This is just one example of the many life stories that city directories can help reconstruct. Visit your local library, the State Library of Florida, or an online database to explore city directories and see what you can discover!

Need help finding a specific city directory? Contact the State Library’s reference desk by phone at (850)-245-6682 or email at library@dos.myflorida.com for assistance.

Employee James McCamon of the Middle Florida Ice Company cools off by reading the Tallahassee Democrat while sitting on a block of ice (1965).

Employee James McCamon of the Middle Florida Ice Company cools off by reading the Tallahassee Democrat while sitting on a block of ice (1965).

 

Researching the Homefront

Today’s post is part of the Florida Department of State’s Victory Florida campaign to commemorate the contributions of Floridian men and women to winning World War II. Help us get the word out by sharing this and other related posts on social media using the hashtag #VictoryFL.

Americans nationwide are preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The weekend of August 14-16 will mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s announcement that it would surrender, while September 2nd will be the anniversary of the formal ending of hostilities.

Bird's eye view of the Victory Club of the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, standing in a

Bird’s eye view of the Victory Club of the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, standing in a “V for Victory” formation (1942).

Over 248,000 Floridians, including more than 50,000 African Americans, served in the military during the war, while the state itself served as a year-round training center with over 170 military installations. Florida’s population grew by leaps and bounds during and after the war, as many former military personnel decided to make the Sunshine State their permanent home.

It goes without saying that Florida’s military contributions to the war were vital, but Floridians on the homefront also played an essential role in achieving victory. Citizens from all walks of life – men and women, whites and African Americans, city dwellers and rural folks – poured countless hours into civilian defense programs designed to keep Florida safe and prepared for any possibility. They took stock of food, water, and medicine supplies, organized carpools and child care services for working mothers, planned recreational activities for the men and women in uniform, and even helped watch the skies and seas for signs of the enemy.

Scrap metal collection was a vital homefront program. Seen here are several Floridians in Pensacola with a large collection of scrap metal and rubber (circa 1943).

Scrap metal collection was a vital homefront program. Seen here are several Floridians in Pensacola with a large collection of scrap metal and rubber (circa 1943).

This organizational chart demonstrates the breadth of the projects undertaken by the State Defense Council and its local branches. Shown here are the various state committees, along with the organizations with which they cooperated (Box 14, Series 419 - State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

This organizational chart demonstrates the breadth of the projects undertaken by the State Defense Council and its local branches. Shown here are the various state committees, along with the organizations with which they cooperated (Box 14, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida). Click to enlarge.

Many of these programs were administrated by Florida’s State Defense Council, a state-level counterpart of the national Office of Civilian Defense. Each county had its own defense council, with committees assigned to take on various tasks associated with civilian defense. Because these entities answered to the State Defense Council, many of their records have been preserved at the State Library and Archives in Tallahassee in Record Series 419. For the local historian working on a history of a particular Florida community or county, these records can be invaluable for understanding how local leaders helped meet the serious challenges of World War II. Genealogists may also find it interesting to learn how various relatives participated in civilian defense work. Here are some examples of the kinds of records available:

 

Personnel Lists & Organizational Charts

Each county and many cities had their own defense councils, administrated by community leaders and supported by hundreds of local volunteers. Many of the committee chairpersons were required to submit oaths of allegiance before their appointments to local leadership positions would be confirmed by the state and made official by the Governor. The local council also had to notify the state if there were any changes in personnel as the war progressed. All of this activity was documented through correspondence and lists of essential defense council leaders. Local and family historians can use this information to determine who was in charge of each area of civilian defense work during the war in a given community.

A leadership roster from the Dixie County Defense Council, showing who was in charge of the various committees. This sort of roster is available for most counties in Florida (Box 16, Series 419 - State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

A leadership roster from the Dixie County Defense Council, showing who was in charge of the various committees. This sort of roster is available for most counties in Florida (Box 16, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

Chart suggesting a method for organizing civilian defense volunteers. Note that the chart provides alternative arrangements for areas with varying population density (Box 14. State Defense Council Records - Series 419, State Archives of Florida).

Chart suggesting a method for organizing civilian defense volunteers. Note that the chart provides alternative arrangements for areas with varying population density (Box 14. State Defense Council Records – Series 419, State Archives of Florida).

 

Local Programs & Advertisements

Local defense councils, especially those in Florida’s larger cities, designed intricate programs to handle basic needs like child care for working mothers, transportation, and spreading information about air raid drills, blackouts, and other safety measures. Many of the child care centers, supply distribution points, and other agencies created during the war disappeared quickly after victory, leaving little trace of their existence. The records in Series 419 can help local historians piece together what these entities were doing, where they were doing it, and who was in charge.

Example: Leaflet describing wartime child care services in Duval County established by the local school board and the Duval County Defense Council (Box 16, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida.

 

Another example:

Flyer produced by the Dade County Defense Council encouraging citizens to volunteer (Box 12, State Defense Council Records - Series 419, State Archives of Florida).

Flyer produced by the Dade County Defense Council encouraging citizens to volunteer (Box 12, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida).

 

Correspondence

While much of the correspondence between the State Defense Council and the local defense councils consists of routine business, some of the letters contain excellent descriptions of the work being done, and of the challenges local leaders faced in getting the supplies they needed, the information they wanted, and so on. These letters are a must for anyone working on the history of civilian defense work in a Florida community. Here is an example of one such letter to the State Defense Council from Mrs. C.C. Codrington of Lake City, who had volunteered to chair a local campaign to recruit women into the Women’s Army Corps. She describes speaking to local civic clubs about her work, working with local theater managers to show informative films, and starting work in the local high school library. Mrs. Codrington’s oath of allegiance was enclosed with the letter.

Source: Box 12, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida.
These are only a few examples of the many gems to be found in the records of the State Defense Council at the State Archives of Florida. If you or someone you know is working on a history of your Florida community during World War II, visit us and have a look. More information on Series 419 may be obtained from the Archives Online Catalog, or you may contact the State Archives directly by email at Archives@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at (850)-245-6719.

Also, don’t forget to share this post with friends or family who may be interested in learning more about Florida’s World War II contributions. Use the hashtag #VictoryFL to help more people find this and other related posts!