Friday, May 13, 2005

Silence is Golden . . .

Thomaston, Georgia--Penny Cliff and staff at the Thomaston-Upson County Archives have already pulled several useful records by the time I arrive about noon. I tell Ms. Cliff my hypothesis (see (see She's Spanish, BREAKING NEWS, and BREAKING NEWS Part II). She seems fascinated in the issue presented: Was George Preston Birdsong the father of Matilda Manson's son Otis?

We know that George Preston Birdsong was the oldest son of George Lawrence Forsyth Birdsong ["Larry"] and Susan Francis Thweatt Birdsong. Records in the Archives show that Larry Birdsong's family was well-off and well-known in Upson County. Larry had a plantation known as Fernside about 10 miles southeast of Thomaston. He served as sheriff of Upson County and briefly, was captain of the Upson militia company that was later mustered into Confederate service. The Birdsongs had about 45 slaves, according to papers found in the family Bible, available at the Archives. Larry Birdsong was a noted sportsman and author.

Larry Birdsong died in 1869. The 1870 census shows Susan Birdsong as the head of household, with all of her children, including 29 year-old George Preston, living with her. But by 1880, Susan and most of the rest of the family lives in the Blackankle District, apart from George Preston, who lives in the Hootenville District, next door to Matilda Manson. Fernside was in the Hootenville District. The evidence suggests that George Preston Birdsong, his brother, Albert Hamill Birdsong, and Matilda Manson and her son Otis, all left Upson County in 1884 for Milam County, Texas. They all show up in the 1900 census for Milam County.

We know that George Preston Birdsong died on June 19, 1905, and was buried in Upson County.

Penny Cliff suggested that there might be a will or a deed of property that would refer to Matilda Manson. And she helped me look in both the Archives and the Probate Judge's office. No luck. There's no evidence of any testamentary disposition--with or without a will. There is no appointment of an administrator, no inventory or appraisal. So what happened to George Preston Birdsong's property in Georgia when died? Did he even have any property in Georgia when he died or had he disposed of it when he left for Texas? If he had previously disposed of it, where's the evidence?

It occurred to me that perhaps there was some correspondence between this scion and his prominent relatives. Penny Cliff thought this likely, but said the Archives had none. She picked up the telephone and rang a Birdsong relative who lives in Thomaston [as a number do]. She asked if the relative knew of any letters to or from George Preston. The answer was no.

We looked for other records, but found none. So the situation is that the oldest son of one of the most prominent families in the county removes himself to a remote location in Texas [where he works as a night watchman, living in rented accomodations], and there is virtually no contemporaneous record that survives. At this point, it occurred to me that the deafening silence of the evidentiary record might be no accident . . . .

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