Happy New Year Everyone! We are now back on schedule for posts every other Monday.
I’m going to assume that some folks reading this don’t know who Clyde Barrow was. And for anyone reading this that hasn’t been following my previous posts in 2016, I am descended from Barrows in northwest Florida so I have an interest in how the Barrows in America fit together. My earliest known Barrow is John Barrow who settled in Virginia in the mid-1600s. Some of his descendants moved from there to North Carolina, Georgia, through Alabama, and finally to the Florida panhandle. The one that settled in northwest Florida was also a John Barrow whose son, Richmond Barrow, is the ancestor of a bunch of folks from the panhandle. I’ve mentioned both men in a number of my posts in 2016 (29 Aug 16, 12 Sept 16, 26 Sept 16, 19 Dec 16).
Clyde Barrow was a notorious outlaw in the early 1930s when lawlessness was rampant because hard times were everywhere. He had a small gang, including girlfriend Bonnie Parker, that roamed over Texas, Louisiana and areas north until gunned down by some lawmen in Bienville Parish, LA on 23 May 1934. There have been a number of books written about the gang, and about Bonnie and Clyde, and more than a few movies and documentaries over the years. They became almost mythical in their exploits and nearly every hold-up or murder in Texas, Louisiana, and the Midwest of the early 1930s was attributed to them.
Sometimes when I tell folks that I’m descended from Barrows, I get the question, “Are you related to Clyde?” Early on I would laugh, with some effort at being good-natured about the question, and say, “No, he was from Texas and I’m from Florida.” But then I got into genealogy and I too began to wonder if there was a connection somewhere, especially when I discovered that some of my distant ancestors’ siblings went to Texas. I tried looking into books on Bonnie and Clyde but most didn’t do a genealogy; it was much more fun, colorful and graphic to cover their supposed exploits. So I set out to do Clyde’s genealogy and sure enough it came back to the Florida panhandle. Upside so far, I’ve not connected his ancestor in the panhandle with any of mine but for any of you genealogists out there you know if you dig long enough, you will find something you might consider ignoring. With that context, let’s look at Clyde’s genealogy that I’ve managed to discover.
Let me start by saying that if you read books about Bonnie and Clyde you should consider not believing everything you read. Folks don’t always get their “facts” straight. Embellishing exploits sells books. Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born 24 March 1909 in Telico in Ellis Co, Texas to Henry Belson Barrow and Cummie T. Walker. There is some confusion on his middle name. His sister, who was co-author of the book listed in resources, says his middle name was Chestnut. A number of news accounts of the time, and subsequent books, listed the middle name as Champion. I tend to believe a sister on this. His parents are pretty widely known (reference the 1934 wanted poster in which a number of relatives are listed. I saw it at a small museum in Texas years ago but it is on the Internet in a number of places) and are confirmed by census. In 1910 we find the family in Ellis Co, TX in Justice Precinct 2, District 0126, dwelling 53 and family 54, sheet 4A in ED 126. This census indicates that his father, Henry, was born in Alabama, as were Henry’s parents, and Cummie was born in Texas and her parents were both born in Alabama.
Moving back ten years we find Henry and Cummie in Nacogodoches Co, TX, Precinct 8, dwelling 62 and family 64. He gives his birth month and year as January 1876. It is here that I spent a bit of time. As most family historians know the 1890 census doesn’t exist for most of us with roots in the east and south. But if Henry was born in the 1870s, I decided I could possibly find him and his birth family in either Alabama or Texas in 1880. And after pulling up censuses and deciding whether to keep or dump, I finally narrowed it down to Thomas and N. A. Barrow in Grimes Co, TX in 1880. I knew from the 1934 wanted poster that Henry had a brother named Frank and one named Jim and that helped to narrow down the family. The family was family #3 in dwelling #3. As I looked at this census, I had one of those “Oh, darn” moments, or something similar but more colorful. Thomas Barrow, Henry’s father was born in Florida about 1855 and his parents were both born in Georgia. While I have come to terms with finding the black sheep in my family, because I have enough to share with anyone who doesn’t have any, this was one I was hoping to avoid. I don’t find Bonnie and Clyde’s exploits interesting or their death exciting. Young lives gone stupid just doesn’t appeal to me. But there it was and come to terms with it I would if I had to.
Thomas had a brother named James living with the family in 1880 who was a shoemaker and a few years older so I stored that piece of info away and moved to 1870. It was clear from the 1880 census that the family had moved from Alabama to Texas between 1878 and 1880 based on the birth locations of the children so I knew I would be in Alabama for 1870. This census proved a bit harder. I couldn’t find a family in Alabama in 1870 with both a Thomas and a James in the household but James would have been about 20 so it was possible he was out of the household already. There was a household of a J. W. and Fanny Barrow in Crenshaw Co, AL with a Thomas the right age and J. W. was a shoemaker. It was clear from the ages of the children that a son named James would have been the eldest son and most likely to take his father’s occupation and name. Places of birth fit, ages fit, occupations fit; what else could I ask for?
So I was looking for a J. W., James W. or James Barrow in 1860. For any of you not kin to the Barrows, I will say that they have a long history of name replicating. Little creativity until they ran out of the names to pass down in every generation. John was their favorite, followed by James, William, and Thomas. I hope you see a pattern here. I thought it would be hard to narrow it down but it wasn’t. Right up near the top of the search results was a J. W. Barrow, saddler, born in Georgia with a wife named Famma and sons named James and Thomas. They were listed in the town of Milton in Santa Rosa Co, Florida. I spent a bit of time scanning the neighbors on both sides for names I would recognize from Oak Grove, just in case. Thankfully not. I’ve not done any land searches for J. W. which might narrow the location better but as a saddler/shoemaker I would think he would have been close to Milton.
To be honest, at this point I figured I was going to get a connection but I bucked up and pushed back another decade and found the family in Holmes Co, FL. They were neighbors of my Fulford ancestor, Randal Fulford, when he was nine and living with his mother, her second husband and their kids and listed as a Forehand (his step-father’s surname). James (J. W.) was listed as a saddler rather than a shoemaker and this time born in Alabama with a wife Fanny and a son William age 1. This William may well be James William since the age fits the James in the 1880 census with his brother and would possibly make him a junior since we know his father was James W. So far, I’ve been unable to push this family back any further. Fanny was about 15 years James’ junior so I’m pretty sure he was either single in 1840 or married to another woman and frankly looking for a James W. Barrow in 1840; even narrowed down to Florida, Georgia, or Alabama; doesn’t excite me. At least for now it doesn’t. I can no longer definitively state that I’m not related to Clyde Barrow but I can say that I still don’t wish to be.
I’ve told this story for two reasons. One, this is a blog about northwest Florida so laying out Clyde’s connection to the panhandle seemed like an interesting subject for a post. The second reason is a little more subtle. I’ve been doing genealogy for about 25 years now and I’ve discovered a good lesson from the effort. If you are interested in the truth, regardless of what it happens to be and regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you, genealogy will give you opportunities to practice adjusting to sometimes pleasant, and sometimes unpleasant, surprises. Black sheep, criminals, unmarried women and less than honorable men and/or women may be waiting for you to find them. I have had the “pleasure” (used loosely here) of hearing all kinds of explanations for what seems obvious. Some folks can be remarkably creative when trying to avoid accepting their ancestors’ behaviors, lifestyles or ethic makeup. Surprise! Our ancestors weren’t all angels and didn’t always live by the same conventions we do.
Don’t get me wrong, I do have some information on some of my ancestors that I just don’t share on Facebook or in a blog but I do share with family. I’m also known to ask a family historian if they are ready for the truth, whatever it happens to be. I do encourage trying to get to know your ancestors and the events that surrounded them, warts and all. Really delve into the history of the communities and events that surrounded them. It is a part of your deep history and acknowledging and accepting doesn’t mean approving but it does make for a simpler, and more accurate, approach to genealogy. And our collective genealogy is a part of the history of the Florida panhandle.
Until next time when we will explore the Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs as we approach the 2017 4-day event.
- Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker As Told By Bonnie’s Mother and Clyde’s Sister, Nighthawk Books, 2015 for Kindle edition.