When Michael Dawsey sat down in 1844 to write his sister Amelia, he couldn't have realized the adventurous route the letter would take or how it would connect future generations of the family.
Since he wasn't even sure Amelia was still alive, he addressed the envelope to her son: Timmons Treadwell, Holly Springs, Lamar County, Miss. A postmark shows he mailed the letter in Savannah, Ga., on Feb. 18, four days after he wrote it.
"I hope this letter will reach you," he wrote, surely not realizing how the letter almost wouldn't. On the envelope is written, "Holly Springs Ala 12th April missent & forwarded." The next postmark shows a May 10 arrival in the correct Holly Springs, in Mississippi.
It's amazing that this letter did more than just "reach" Amelia. It was passed down the line for many generations. Today it sits among other family documents in a 25-box file known as the Aldrich Collection in the Archives and Special Collection section of the University of Mississippi library.
The short of it is that one of Amelia Dawsey Treadwell's descendants married into the Aldrich family — apparently adding a wealth of the Treadwell (and the single Dawsey letter) records to those of the Aldriches.
Last week, I wrote about James Joshua, John R., and Thomas A. Dawsey, who lived as young men with their father, also named Thomas, in Gadsden. They all moved together to Henry County, Ala. The focus of that column was to emphasize how researchers usually have to piece together an ancestor's life through indirect evidence. Generations often are linked together through collateral relatives and the records they created. That's what makes this letter so valuable — not to Michael and Amelia's descendants, but to their siblings' descendants.
Connecting with other Dawsey researchers on the Internet led to the discovery of Michael Dawsey in Savannah. Initially he caught my eye because family lore is that the original immigrant Dawsey was named Michael. I knew this Michael wasn't old enough, but the name could have repeated in subsequent generations.
And Michael's close physical proximity to South Carolina increased the likelihood that his path would cross with the Thomas I was looking for. Censuses consistently had revealed that Thomas and most of his children were born in South Carolina — that's just across the river from Savannah.
One of Amelia's descendants gets the credit for finding the Dawsey letter. She didn't expect to find it in the Treadwell collection; and although it was of interest to her, I doubt she appreciated the value of the letter as much as Thomas' descendants did.
Michael wrote to Amelia that he had two deceased wives. He listed his children and told her bits about several of them, including how two had married well-to-do slave-owning men, and he bragged about the "fine Society" in Savannah. He boasted that he was making $800 a year as overseer of a plantation on the Ogeechee River, and that he himself owned several slaves.
But a single line out of the entire letter jumped from the page as I read, "Brother Thomas moved to Quincy and has raised several children." Quincy was in Gadsden County and was the closest town to the proven land of our Thomas Dawsey. Research also has established there were only two Thomas Dawseys in Gadsden — the same two (father and son) who migrated to Alabama.
I'm hoping this is just the beginning of a trail of evidence to be traced as this research focuses more on colonial Georgia and South Carolina. With genealogy, we never know what new database the next Google search will reveal, or when the next email from an unknown distant cousin will link two or more generations or family lines.
Michael Dawsey's letter traveled a winding trail on its way to Mississippi — in that same sense we researchers sometimes must take many twisting routes to avoid genealogical roadblocks. As family historians, we can track ancestors through the tiny clues collateral relatives dropped along the trail. How boring it would be to have ancestors who left clear paths and definitive records. The hunt is 99 percent of the fun!