Chapter I: Retracing History
The Clinards of Robertson County, Tennessee
For several years I’ve been working on a book on the early history of my family in Robertson County, as well as many of the neighbors and the Mt. Sharon and Mt. Zion community. As the generations began to grow and family members and neighbors began to rapidly multiply, I’ve gotten boggled by the immensity of the project. I’ve decided that maybe by going chapter by chapter, and presenting it to you, the readers, for feedback, I can maybe begin to make some progress. So here goes… This will be my introduction.
In 2008, I began researching the Clinard family in order to get our family farm accredited as a Tennessee Century Farm. My husband, Walter Dudiak and I now live on the farm settled by the Clinards in the 1800s. My great-grandmother was Jessie Lee Clinard Bowie and I was fortunate that my Great-Uncle James Boyd Bowie, her son, now 90, still lives two houses down from us in her former home. When I began researching the family, I began questioning James Boyd (also called Jim or J.B. Bowie) about his mother’s family. He had conducted intensive research on his father, James Frank Bowie’s history, but did not know much about his mother’s family. He had inherited the home that Jessie had lived in before she died, and there were still items left in the house that remained after her death. He started digging through the house in search of family clues and after many months, found the piece of the puzzle that substantiated our family lineage. His mother or possibly grandmother had written out Joseph “Jodie” Clinard’s family tree, along with his brother’s names, Louis and Andy, giving us their relationship. She had also done a sheet for Henry Clinard with this group but as she did not specifically note Henry as a brother to the other three we can only speculate.
Until then, no one doing research on the Robertson County Clinards knew who was who. Two other Clinard descendants, Brenda Gartside of Canada and John and Lil Clinard of Kingsport, Tenn., had been researching the Tennessee Clinards for years, but had no proof of lineage until that was discovered. I emailed the hand-written family tree to both of them, and they were delighted to finally have the missing piece of the puzzle. It connected Joseph and Lawrence Clinard, my direct ancestor seven generations back that left North Carolina about 1805 and settled in Robertson County, Tennessee.
Unfortunately for our research, the house that she and her husband, John (Jack) Willie Bowie were in the process of moving into in 1941 burned during their move. They had been moving from the original Clinard home built by her father, Benjamin Boyd Clinard, to the tenant house a few doors down, so any items already moved were destroyed. Jack Bowie had been Clerk at Mt. Sharon Cumberland Presbyterian Church and all of the church records he had were burned at their home also.
I researched land deeds and titles at the Robertson County Deeds Office, which has records from 1900 to present. From there, I went to the Robertson County Archives where county records are stored previous to 1900. The archive workers and county historian Yolanda Reid and genealogy expert Mark Lowe were all helpful in my research of the Clinard family. The archives contain local history and family genealogy books, census records, court records, deeds, wills, marriage certificates, and early county survey books and maps. I was delighted to find the original surveys of Tennessee land grants purchased by Lawrence and Joseph “Jodie” Clinard beginning in 1819.
I made several trips to the Tennessee State Archives in Nashville, where I found a few items. For anyone doing family research, you’ll soon learn that names can be spelled numerous ways. On records such as census and court records, they seemed to just spell names however they sounded, so when you see a name spelled differently that is usually why. The internet is a wonderful research asset and I browsed numerous genealogy websites including ancestry.com, which is an amazing research tool. Be sure and use their “Soundex” feature, which will search names by sound, not spelling. Many names became misspelled on records when some official person would write down a person’s name based on how they thought it sounded. I’m sure the language barrier of non-English speaking new arrivals was part of this problem.
Upon completing my research on the farm, Yolanda Reid, the county historian looked over my research, gave her approval and it was sent off for state approval. We received our Tennessee Century Farm accreditation, as we had established the land had been in direct family lineage since 1819.
To me, the research became like tracing the lines in an intricate spider web, with my family members at the core. With each succeeding generation, the web becomes wider and wider and more elaborately entwined. I researched the Clinards over the entire winter of 2008. I even began to dream of my ancestors, re-living in my mind Lawrence and Joseph’s treks from North Carolina, and the settling of the abundant but daunting frontier land. The remaining log homestead on the farm offers a glimpse of their life, but the hardships they must have endured to tame these rolling hills is unimaginable. The settlement of the estates of Brown and Lewis Clinard in the 1860s show just how few possessions they owned. Whenever I cross the farm, or walk the woods in the spring in search of mushrooms or wildflowers, I wonder what they saw and what the land looked like then.
The first few generations only left a fragment of themselves to be discovered – flowers blooming in the springtime at former homesteads, a collapsing log homestead, and old farm equipment once pulled by mules. Sadly, there are no glimpses into their daily life or personalities left from letters or diaries. Census records, land deeds and church documents comprise their main records of note. Wills and estate settlements offer the best view into their lives, but not who they were, what they looked like, or how they felt. In later generations, journals and letters offer more insight into the family personality.
Stay tuned for Chapter II to learn more about my discoveries!