Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

B.S. Ricks Memorial Library - Yazoo City, Mississippi

Last month, I spent some time in my home state of Mississippi during the initial tour of my book, The Juke Joint King of the Mississippi Hills: The Raucous Reign of Tillman Branch. During National Library Week, I signed books at several libraries in or near Holmes County, Mississippi, where Tillman Branch's club were located. One of the libraries hosting a book signing that week was B. S. Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City, Mississippi. John Ellzey and the library's friendly and helpful staff welcomed me, and the book signing went well. Although I grew up in Mississippi and was educated there, and had been to Yazoo City, I had never before seen the beautiful historic building that houses the library's wonderful collection of books. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to sign my book within the walls of this library.

B.S. Ricks Memorial Library
Front Entrance Off Main Street
Yazoo City, Mississippi

Side View of Ricks Library
Corner Window
Looks out from Mississippi and Yazoo Collection Room

The Yazoo City library's history is a long and interesting one, beginning in 1838, according to its website, when it "was chartered by the Mississippi Legislature to provide public library service to Yazoo County." The current building, opened in 1901, was funded by Mrs. Fannie Ricks, a local philanthropist, who named the library in honor of her late husband, General B.S. Ricks. Located on North Main Street in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the home of country humorist, Jerry Clower, the fascinating and beautiful building was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1975.

According to the s nomination form, "the Ricks Memorial Library is a noteworthy example of the Beaux Arts Classicism fashionable at the beginning of the twentieth century. While the building is not large, the use of Edwardian proportion and classical ornament combine to give it a pronounced monumentality. Standing on a concrete foundation, the library is constructed of hydraulic pressed brick with terra-cotta trim and is covered by a tin roof. Its composition is dominated by a central, two-story pavilion.... Sheltering the entrance is a single-story, semi-circular portico of paired Tuscan columns of Indiana stone....Use of the semicircle, of which the portico is the most conspicuous example, also appears in the skillfully detailed arches above the windows and the door opening....Other details include panels placed in the.....areas beneath the windows, which are double hung with one-over-one glazing."

Exterior View of Curved Wall of Main Library

The building's exterior is beautiful and architecturally exceptional in design, and its portico and arched windows remind me of the long ago design of Moorish palaces. In addition to the library's rounded walls of numerous arched windows that allow natural light inside the library's main reading area, the unique building boasts a number of other outstanding features. One of these features is the elegant and gilded barrel-shaped ceiling inside the entranceway.

Inside Front Entrance to Ricks Memorial Library
Yazoo City, Mississippi
A closer look at the gilded ceiling of the library's grand entranceway. Each picture frame type square includes a blue and white cloud scene that gives the illusion of sky overhead.

My book signing inside this grand old building went very well. Several people who attended shared stories about growing up in Mississippi during the time of Tillman Branch's clubs in Holmes County nearby. And I left Yazoo City with some fond memories of my own -- of time spent with new readers of my book in this exquisite old building.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

DNA Matches and Surname Mysteries

At this point, I have several thousand serious DNA matches. No, they are not all close matches, but if I examine the family trees closely enough, the link is usually evident. But there are a few surnames that keep showing up in my matches that just don't compute. For instance, the surnames of Cox, Manning, and Wilson appear in numerous family trees as ancestors of individuals who share my DNA. But I don't have a clue, at least not at this point, about my familial relationship with these ancestors. One of the ongoing problems with evaluating these "cousin" matches resulting from Ancestry's DNA tests is that so many of the individuals with whom I match don't have much family information posted on the site for review. However, one thing is for certain, if the cousin matches keep arriving by the dozens, as they have since my test results arrived, I may indeed match up with all 1,011,001 of my relatives!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Excerpt from The People of Shrock Mississippi 1895 - 1922

Edited by Duncan C. Covington, an Attala County native son, the book identified in the title of this post contains the names of hundreds of residents and former residents of Attala County, Mississippi and the surrounding area and chronicles the details of various events in their lives. I am including in the post here today a copy of one particular article published in the November 22, 1922 edition of Kosciusko's newspaper, the Star Herald. The article identifies students who were named to the Midway School's Honor Roll.

First Grade - Norma Stephens, Blanche Shrock, Eunice Caldwell, Mart Baldridge, Joe Mabry, Alice Baldridge, Walter Jones

Second Grade - W. C. Mabry, R.C. Jones, Herbert Harmon, Morris McDaniel
Third Grade - Leonard Porter, Myrtice Harmond, Estell Stevens, Ethel May Stevens
Fourth Grade - Elmer Caldwell, Buena McDaniel
Sixth Grade - A.B. Cochran, Thelma Jones, Anna Jones, Lucille Simpson
Seventh Grade - Laura Branch, Inez McDaniel, Clarence Porter
Eighth Grade - Charles Shrock, P.J. McDonald, Percy May, Joe Wyatt, Eva McDaniel
Ninth Grade - Lelia Porter

Included  among the names above are several of my own relatives, including my grandmother, Lelia Porter (Branch), two of her brothers, Leonard Porter and Clarence Porter, and her future sister-in-law, Laura Branch (Jones).

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ghosts Of Our Ancestors

The post appearing on Mississippi Memories today is a reprint, with minor revisions, of an earlier post of the same name. 

A few years ago, after I became aware that I had a Gibson great-great-great grandfather, I began my search for Gibson ancestors with virtually no facts at all. Little did I know, however, how much information I would discover about this family. My research found that much of what has been written about the Gibson family in America concerns this family's biracial roots, ones that began in Virginia and continued as the family migrated into North and South Carolina and on to Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and places beyond. One of these accounts, documented by PBS's Frontline series, can be read here. Today, descendants of the early Gibson family of Virginia can be counted in the hundreds of thousands.

My Gibson story began with one man, John P. Gibson. All I knew in the beginning was that he had been born around 1799 in South Carolina, and he first appeared on a U. S. Census record in Mississippi in 1860. I later found that he had married Margaret J. Williams, born around 1820, in Monroe County, Mississippi on January 3, 1843. Through U. S. Census records recorded in Mississippi in 1860 and 1870, I found that John and Margaret Gibson became parents of seven children. One of their daughters, Malverda Gibson, later became my paternal great-great-grandmother. But along the research road, I found not only information about my South Carolina Gibson family and its descendants, but a treasure trove of interesting books and published articles about the biracial and multiracial heritage of this country.

One such book was "The Free State of Jones," written by Victoria E. Bynum and published by the University of North Carolina Press. This publication, a portion of which is available on Google Books, begins with an interesting quote by Sam Dabney, taken from James Street's "Tap Roots," published in 1943:

"We can't boast of our ancestors, because when we get started talking about our families, out jumps the ghost of a pirate or a cousin of color."

A reference to America's rich racial heritage, contained in Victoria Bynum's book, states that racial sentiments in the South "evolved over a period of three centuries." She states that "by the 1840's, claims of Indian, Iberian (Spanish), or Mediterranean (Moorish) ancestry, defended one's whiteness against race-based laws and social harassment." Gideon Gibson, a "light-skinned slaveholder of partially African ancestry" and a member of South Carolina's so-called Regulator Movement, is mentioned in Bynum's publication as a person who exemplified how racial identity was often "fluid" and "even negotiable in some cases."

Bynum goes on to say that "many of Gideon Gibson's descendants, migrated west in search of whiteness as well as lands." We know this is true, since some of the descendants of South Carolinians, Gideon Gibson, Jacob Gibson, and Jordan Gibson, eventually settled in the state of Mississippi prior to the Civil War. Their lives and the lives of some of their descendants have been well-documented in historical publications about several southern states, including Mississippi and Louisiana. Often, these publications mention the ethnicity of Gibson family ancestors.

Another book, entitled "The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey From Black to White," by Daniel J. Sharfstein, chronicles the lives of the Gibson, Spencer, and Walls families as they made the transition from black to white during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First published in hardcover by Penguin Books in February 2011, the book was re-printed in paperback format on January 31, 2012 and is now available in audio and Kindle formats, as well. Sharfstein, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University, where is teaches courses in property, legal history, and race and the law, is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.

One thing that we know for sure is that regardless of whether a person was labeled as a Mulatto, Mestizo, Mustee, Melungeon, Creole, Cajun, Redbone, or similar names denoting something other than an "all white" ancestry, racial "mixing" has occurred throughout American history. And it has not occurred only in the South Carolina backcountry and other states commonly known as "The South." Class consciousness was widespread and very real in the 1800s; it became common for those who had migrated from the colonies, including North and South Carolina, to portray their ancestors as aristocratic patriots and slaveholders. The facts, when known, often revealed that many of these "aristocratic" ancestors were actually Regulators, itinerant preachers, and even Tories.

In my quest to find my own Gibson ancestors, I found that members of this South Carolina family were not only involved in the infamous Regulator movement in that state, but their descendants later became civic and governmental leaders in Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky. The involvement of Gibson family members in business and politics has been well-documented. One well-known Gibson descendant, Randall Lee Gibson, a former Confederate general and Louisiana senator, was instrumental in the founding of Tulane University, where Gibson Hall is named for him. Another descendant of this large South Carolina family, Tobias Gibson, is credited with the spread of Methodism in the South.

An interesting bit of history that I stumbled upon during this research that began with the Gibson family was the story of Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker, a small-town doctor who became the Registrar of Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics in 1912. Dr. Plecker's views about racial mixing became the impetus for the passage of the Racial Integrity Law of 1924, commonly referred to as "Plecker's Law." Details about this law can be read on the University of Virginia's website, in an article entitled "Battles in Red, White, and Black."

This law became Virginia's infamous "one drop" statute, and its language created two racial categories, "pure" white and everybody else. The law's passage allowed Dr. Plecker to pursue his alliance with John Powell of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America in waging an all-out war against the mixing of the races. One of his efforts entailed a push for "ancestral registration." Virginians were reluctant to comply with the idea of "ancestral registration," even though the state had already passed the first anti-miscegenation law in 1662. At that time, "passing" as white may have been rather commonplace, but proof of racial purity was difficult to obtain.

Plecker's method involved identifying racial impurity by compiling a list of family surnames that were "known" to be "mixed." The list was arranged by Virginia counties and included the names of "racially mixed" families who lived in these counties.

Counties and surnames included in "Plecker's List," as this list became known, appear below:

Amherst County:
Pumphrey (Migrants to Allegheny and Campbell) Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (according to Dr. Pleckerthis family was trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was believed to be the name of the white mother of the adult generation at the time), Branham, Clark, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nukles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southwards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, and Wood

Bedford County:
Branham, Burley (See Amherst), Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, McVey, Mason, Maxey, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pults, Ramsey, and Wood

Charles City County:
Adams, Allmond, Collins, Custalow (Custaloo), Dennis, Doggett, Dungoe, Hawkes, Holmes, Howell, Langston, Miles, Page, Spurlock, Stewart, and Wynn

Caroline County:
Byrd and Fortune

Henrico and Richmond City:
See Charles City, New Kent, and King William

King William County:
Adams, Allmond, Bolnus, Bradby, Collins, Custalow (Custaloo), Dennis, Doggett, Dungoe, Hawkes, Howell, Langston, Miles, Page, Spurlock, Stewart, Wynn

Nelson County:
See Essex

New Kent County:
Adkins, Bradby, Collins, Langston, Stewart, and Wynn

Elizabeth City and Newport News:
Stewart (descendants of Charles City families)

Essex and King and Queen Counties:
Brooks, Broughton, Byrd, Cooper, Fortune, Hammond, Mitchell, Prince, Nelson, Robinson, and Tate.

Elizabeth City and Newport News:
Stewart (descendants of Charles City families)

Fauquier County:
Colvin, Hoffman (Huffman), Phillips (See Prince William) and Riley

Greene County:

Shifflett, Shiflet

Halifax County:
Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Sheppard, Shepard, Talley, and Young

Lancaster County:
Dawson (aka Dorsey)

Lee County County:
Bolden (Bolin), Bunch, Collins, Delph, Freeman, Gibson (Gipson), Goins, Hawkins, Mise (Mize), Moore, Mullins, Ramsey (chiefly "Tennessee "Melungeons")

Norfolk County and Portsmouth:
Bass, Bright, King, Locklear (Locklair), Porter, Sawyer, and Weaver

Prince William County:
Tyson, Segar (see Fauquier)

Lancaster County:
Dorsey (Dawson)

Roanoke County:
Beverly (see Washington)

Rockbridge County:
Southerds (see Amherst), Sorrell, Terry, Tyree, and Wood (including migrants to Amherst Co.)

Dingus (see Lee County)

Smythe County:
See Lee County

Russell County:
Castell, Keith, Meade, Proffitt, and Stillwell, also see Lee and Tazewell Counties

Washington County:
Barlow, Beverly, Hughes, Lethcoe, Thomas, and Worley

Westmoreland County:
Atwells, Butridge, Okiff (Okeefe), Sorrells, Worlds (Worrell)

Wise County:
See Lee, Scott, Smyth, and Russell Counties

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Branch DNA Project.....Is Your Surname Branch?

If your surname is Branch, and you are searching for your ancestors, you may want to consider joining the Branch DNA Project affiliated with FamilyTreeDNA. The Houston, Texas-based company is offering its FamilyFinder test kit for the reduced rate of $99 this week. First off, I am not affiliated with the company, but I have had my own DNA tested by FamilyTreeDNA and was quite satisfied with the results of my FamilyFinder test. My DNA results, however, cannot be used for the Branch DNA Project - samples must be from male members of the Branch family who are willing to submit a sample for y-DNA testing. 

If you are wondering why I am writing about the Branch DNA Project, my answer is a simple one. I have searched unsuccessfully for years trying to determine the names of my 5th great-grandfather's parents. Here are the facts:

Edward Branch, born circa 1750, married Martha Tilman in 1797 in Amelia County, Virginia. Martha Tilman was a daughter of Richard Tighlman/Tilman. Edward had been married twice before, to Martha Botte and to Sara Goodrich, and according to most researchers, he had as many as ten children by the two women.  My own family line is descended from Edward's marriage to Martha Tilman, a relationship that allegedly produced only one child. Edward Tillman Branch, born in 1798 in Brunswick County, Virginia, was the youngest son of his father's children. He served as a rather young man in the Virginia Militia in the War of 1812, and later, he migrated, possibly with other family members, to Mississippi. In 1830, Edward Tillman Branch married Winiford Ragland in Hinds County, Mississippi, and from that point on, my lineage is clear. If you are interested in reading more about the descendants of Edward Tillman Branch, who married Winiford Ragland Branch, in Hinds County, Mississippi in 1830, you may want to grab a copy of my new book, The Juke Joint King of the Mississippi Hills: The Raucous Reign of Tillman Branch, scheduled for publication by The History Press on March 11, 2014. 

But in the meantime, I'm still searching for my 5th great-grandfather's parents. So if your surname is Branch, and you are male, and if you are related to Branch family members who lived in Tidewater or Southside Virginia in the 1700s, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Mississippi, please consider participating in the Branch DNA Project. Once you have purchased the test kit, the rest is are only a cheek swab away from helping Branch researchers place some more branches on their family trees.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Juke Joint King of the Mississippi Hills

Great News!  The History Press has announced a March 11, 2014 publication date for my book, The Juke Joint King of the Mississippi Hills: The Raucous Reign of Tillman Branch. The book, my first, is a mix of regional and family history and the elements of a true crime that occurred in Mississippi in April 1963 and will be for sale online and in local book retailers.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Lady in Red, A Poem

A few years ago, I wrote a post on my other blog, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek, about The Lady in Red, the body of a young woman unearthed in 1969 at Egypt Plantation near the town of Cruger, in Holmes County, Mississippi. Identification of the woman, dressed in red and encased for burial in a glass-sealed, cast iron coffin, was attempted, but was never made. Included below is a partial account of the event as it appeared in Jackson's Clarion-Ledger on August 2, 1969:

"The method of preservation used for The Lady in Red was common prior to the Civil War, when custom-made caskets, shaped to the body, were ordered as one would order a dress. The glass that sealed the coffin was placed over the body, and alcohol was poured inside until it was level full, and then sealed with a cast iron tip. When the back hoe machine hit the coffin, alcohol spilled from the casket and spots of the liquid were seen on the folds of the woman's dress."

No one knows how or why The Lady in Red was buried underneath the deep Delta silt and heavy dirt that make up Egypt Plantation's rich fields.Rumors have been rampant for years that her body may have fallen off a wagon on its way to be buried, that it had been lost in a flood, or that it had washed ashore after a steamboat that was transporting her body for burial was grounded after an accident.  Later, the young woman's remains were placed in a grave in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Lexington, Mississippi, where they were marked with a small headstone that identifies the mystery woman simply as "The Lady in Red." In more recent years, a few people have claimed publicly and privately to either know or to be related to The Lady in Red. Certainly she must be someone's long lost ancestor, but her true identify remains a mystery still.

Recently, a distant cousin of mine, Arthur Pickett, who grew up in that area of Holmes County, told me he had written a poem in tribute to the unknown, but not forgotten, Lady in Red. I asked to read it, and I subsequently obtained permission from Arthur to reprint his work here today. So, with Arthur's permission, it is with pleasure that I introduce his beautiful and poignant poem. 

The Lady in Red, A Poem

One day workmen came to rake the earth
With backhoe; it was then they found her berth
As she patiently waited rebirth;
But not one knew her life's worth.

No marker was found to name her face;
None to tell when she went to grace.
Was a eulogy before God to make her case?
Was there a new star to mark her place?

From that time-worn home taken she was
By a coroner, an undertaker, and his entourage
Taken by them with a limosine'd barge
East to the Lexington hills in a wooden cooperage

Mourn no more for her oh ye mortal
For now she has a new heavenly portal
Amongst pauper graves with no body corporal
Given name by poets knowledgeable.

She is now known as The Lady in Red
No more is she unknown and dead
Perhaps someone, somewhere will be led
To give her an ancestral name, instead.

Rest in Peace, My Lady, you will never leave us
For yes, we have seen that new star in Cygnus.

Arthur Pickett
Copyright 2009