Once following a genealogy conference, I had the opportunity to talk with a visiting archivist.  I shared with him my frustration that my 3rd great grandfather, James Ganus, has been so difficult to find, while I have so much on his parents and siblings.  I had to admit that some of  James’ family seemed to have a nose for trouble, so they and their escapades are found with some ease in newspapers and court records.  It took me by surprise when the archivist suggested that perhaps James was difficult to find because he was the biggest, baddest one of them all and that just maybe he had managed to fly under the radar!  My James, I thought?!!  I’ve tried to be open minded and accepting as I’ve researched, recognizing that times in the 1800’s were different and it is difficult for us today to fully understand the circumstances that led to certain behavior and choices back then, but as I consider the meager findings that I have on James, I still find it hard to believe that his name was synonymous with trouble.

It was an interesting discovery to find that James had shortened his name from Gurganus to simply “Ganus” about 1840, but that’s about as bad as anything I have on him and that’s not bad at all.  I couldn’t help but think of the many many times that people mispronounced my last name of Ganus when I was growing up.  I actually even had someone correct me on the pronunciation once when I was about 15 years old.  I remember standing there dumbfounded and wondering what they were thinking when they corrected me and if they had thought about the fact that it was MY name. Is it possible that James shortened his name of Gurganus simply for convenience?   I’ve also wondered if James was trying to distance himself from family troubles given that he moved about the same time that he shortened his name.  There always seems to be so many questions.

Notice close proximity of Bibb and Monroe Counties
James next moved to Fayette county.

I first found James Gurganus listed among the unclaimed letters in “The Macon Messenger,” on  April 1st, 1827.  Macon was in Bibb County and that placed him very close to where I had hoped to find him since his son, John Monroe Ganus, had always claimed to have been born in neighboring Monroe County in 1826.  While James can not be found on the 1830 census for either Monroe or Bibb County,  in 1832  James drew land in the Land Lottery from Justice, Bibb County, Georgia alongside his father David Gurganus.  In 1834, both James Gurganus and David Gurganus paid taxes on their lottery land, this time in Captain Ross’s District of Monroe County.  In 1840 James was listed on the Fayette County, Georgia Federal Census and in 1841 he paid taxes on that same piece of lottery property while living in Fayette County. From 1840 on, I find James going by simply James Ganus in the census records and tax digests until the end of his life.  While apparently the way that he said “Ganus” remained consistent, certainly the spelling did not and I find him in the 1841 Fayette County Tax Digest as James Gaynos and on the DeKalb Agricultural Census in 1850 as James Gainus.  It was not unusual to have such variation in name spelling back then, nor was it bad.  

I have looked for James in court records hoping to find him on a road crew or a jury, both duties typically assumed by men in that place and time, but I have not found him listed once.  While I have stacks of deeds for his siblings and  for his children, I have never found him on a single deed.  I know that individuals kept their own deeds and that it was up to them to file them, but I find it hard to believe that he did not do that even once during his lifetime. I have checked every name variation and spelling imaginable and enlarged my search to neighboring counties, all to no avail.

It’s also been difficult to determine who James’s friends were as I have not been able to find him on other people’s deeds or as a witness in wills.  From one census to another, he is living among completely different people each time, which has also made it hard to know just who he associated with over the course of his life.

James’s son, John Monroe Ganus, did indicate on several different church membership records that his parents were James Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey, so I do know that James married Elizabeth although no marriage records has been found.  I do know from census records that James and Elizabeth (Betsy)  had ten children that lived, but there are some significant gaps that make me think that there were children that did not survive.  Mary, John Monroe, Margaret, David, Rebecca, William Jackson, James W., Calloway, Martha Elizabeth and Addison R. all are found on census records with their parents, James and Elizabeth Ganus.

On the 1870 census James was shown living with his daughter and oldest known child, Mary and her husband Burton W. Cook in Fayette County, but by 1880, he is nowhere to be found. The last piece of evidence that I have for James is from 1871 when he served as a witness for his son-in-law, Burton W. Cook, when Burton claimed civil war damages in an effort to gain compensation from the Federal Government. On the document, it indicates that James was living in East Point, Fulton County, Georgia.  I have not been able to find a will, probate or even a headstone for James

As I have written this, I have realized that I probably do have more than I thought on James, but truthfully it pales in comparison to what I have been able to find on his parents and siblings.  I just lack the detail that would help me know something about who James really was and what he really did in his life.  I know approximately when James was born, which was  about 1798 in North Carolina, and I know about when he died, which would have been sometime after 1871 but before 1880.  So while I know a little (and very little at that) about his beginnings and even less about his end,  I know next to nothing about what he did  in-between.  However I’ve found nothing that would lead me to believe that he was the biggest or the baddest of his family.  If indeed he did purposely fly under the radar, he apparently was really really good at it.

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12 thoughts on “Did James really fly under the radar?

  1. I have ancestors who seem determined to stay hidden, too. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Sounds like you've tried a lot of tactics but James just was good at avoiding the records. Hope you find a breakthrough soon!

  2. Thanks Shelley. It really does make me wonder! I feel like I've tried everything that I can think of and as often as I put him away thinking that I probably have as much as I am going to have for him, I find myself pulling him out time and again and just wanting to know more.

  3. You do have a lot, already. But it is a tempting research problem! Could he have been visiting another one of his children when he died…or been out of town on business and died in a neighboring county? That happened to an ancestor in my family. If it weren't for a receipt from a funeral home in his nephew's belongings, I would never have guessed to go looking in another state!

  4. Thanks for your comments Jacqi. All of his kids that were still living, except for one, were living pretty close by at the time. I think the biggest problem is this is just outside of Atlanta and it is post civil war and these people just didn't have much. I've suspected that he is buried someplace pretty close by and possibly on someone's private property, with his headstone long gone, if he had one. They were a pretty poor bunch.

    I worked on a research problem once where the assumption was that a woman was dead by a certain date, only to finally learn that she had been visiting a daughter in another state and the daughter had ended up committing her to a mental hospital. I hadn't thought of looking there.

    Another time I looked and looked for the burial place for a woman and through a long series of events figured out that she had become very ill, was older and had gone to live with an elderly brother in another state and had died there. So you are right and it's so easy to make assumptions only to learn later that the story had a twist to it.

    I think it is so interesting how driven we are to find the final burial place of our ancestors. There is just a peace in knowing where there final resting place is.

  5. Michelle, we are similar in wanting to know the details about the life a person led and not just the dates. As more records and newspapers continue to come online, perhaps something will turn up when you search again in a year or two. But I know just how you feel!

  6. Thanks for stopping by Nancy. That desire to know more is almost like a craving isn't it? It's hard to ever feel that we have enough. You are right—new things are being added online with such speed, we never know when it will be just the thing we have been waiting for.

  7. I sympathize greatly with your eagerness to know what James "really did" and who he "really was." It's hard to know the essence or the "core" (if it exists) of these relatives we search for, from the surrounding documents. Like you, I quail before the possibility of finding something "biggest and baddest" about any of my relatives, and therefore it's difficult to evaluate calmly what I do manage to find. I have several long-ago ancestors who seem as if they didn't want to be "found," or perhaps "found out." Their descendants, an entire group of second cousins, keep themselves away from the rest of the family. A character in Williams' play The Night of the Iguana says, "Nothing human disgusts me." I believe that's a quote from some classical author…

  8. Im related to ruben gurganus. David or james have a daughter gatsy try native american rubens second wife was alledgedly cherokee or i no the land was in rockypoiont nc his daughter gatsy gurganus married my gg grandfather maternal his name was obediah francis watkins ther lost colony roanoak dna

  9. David and Gatsy Gurganus family is out of Onslow, NC and the David and James I descend from are from Pitt, NC. So many of the families used the same names so it makes it really tricky to sort out. Thanks for stopping by!

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