When it comes to William Logan of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, I’m reminded of the famous Mark Twain line: “The researches of many commentators have thrown much darkness upon this subject, and it is probable that if they continue we shall soon know nothing at all about it.” Certainly a broad overstatement in this case, and besides, I’ve been one of those well-meaning “commentators.” That said, however….
Here’s my concern. Many Logan researchers, in their attempt to IDENTIFY William Logan, sometimes “alias Clench / Clinch” in Virginia court records, from among all the other potential William Logans “out there,” refer to him as William “Clench” Logan. This is very helpful as an identifier for us genie researchers and also as a clue to possible ancestry (more on that in a subsequent post); however, it neither accurately reflects how William Logan referred to himself nor how other people referred to him and knew him.
This is an important distinction. Think about yourself. Take off your “genie” hat for a moment. What if, years from now, people referred to you in a way you never were referred to in life? Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, yourself: Nobody used your name this way or called you by this court alias when you were alive. It would be exceedingly odd for people to “begin” to use a name never used in your lifetime (except in court). Alas, not everybody is, or will be, a genie. Unintentionally, we may have confused the issue for future readers of our research and for those new to researching William Logan of Spotsylvania County.
This rendering of his name has led some people to think William Logan had an alias in the popular, not legal, sense; that is, that “Clench” or “Clinch” was an alias like Billy “The Kid”, Alan “The Horse” Ameche, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, or Vito “Babe” Parilli. That is most certainly not the case with William Logan at that time and place (1720s, 30s, and 40s in colonial Virginia). Nobody called him “Clench” or “Clinch” on the street.
Then there’s the fact that William Logan, “alias Clinch or Clench” (certainly the two spellings are simply a matter of interpreting the writing: Is it an “i” or an “e”), has somehow become only “Clench.” Why not “Clinch”? Why is one picked over the other? I have never heard an explanation for that choice.
It’s also important to point out that, in all the Spotsylvania and Orange County, Virginia, court records that reference William Logan (once or twice, Login), there are approximately four times as many which refer to him as “William Logan” than as “alias Clench or Clinch.”
My view is that we should look at Clench or Clinch as valuable clues to possible ancestry (more in another post) and that among ourselves as genealogical researchers, it may be helpful to use “Clench or Clinch” as an identifier. But we may want to do a bit of explaining, too; provide some context; and not merely call him William “Clench” Logan. With the best of intentions, in the process of identifying this William Logan, we are simultaneously misleading people about his name. We are unintentionally “throwing darkness on this subject.”
The next post will look at the possibilities that “alias Clench or Clinch” give us for furthering our knowledge of his ancestry — and ours.