Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Finding Wilds Meriweather and Melvertie Gibson

The Meriwether family name has been a difficult one to research in Mississippi. First there is the problem of how the name has been and continues to be spelled. The original English spelling, and still the most common, is "Meriwether." It has also been spelled "Merriwether", "Meriweather", and "Merryweather." These versions do not include the mispelled versions of the name, such as "Morsiweathers" as it was actually spelled on my great-grandparent's marriage license. Each time I searched in a particular group of records, I had to use each spelling to ensure I didn't miss the right one.

When I was growing up, the only other person I had ever heard with the name of "Meriwether", was Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. I never even considered that my great-grandmother might be related to this person. He was an important historical figure, and my great-grandmother was, well...you know....my great-grandmother. As I became older and television, newspapers, and magazines made me aware of others in the world who had the surname of "Meriwether", I heard about Margaret Meriwether Post, the Washington socialite/heiress and Lee Meriwether, the actress. I still didn't even think about possible family relationships, particularly since my grandmother had told me that her mother's maiden name was spelled "Merriweather", and she would know the correct spelling. Today, I am not so sure that everyone used the correct spelling, and in some instances, different families may have spelled the name differently to set themselves apart from others. In this post, I will use the original spelling of the name, unless I am referring to an actual document that uses a variant spelling.

I had always heard that my great-grandmother Porter's father was named "Will Merriweather." I took this as gospel until I started this research about ten years ago and asked my father if he knew his great-grandmother's last name (Maggy Merriweather's mother.) He told me he did not and that he had only heard her called "Grandma." I had to know great-grandmother Porter's mother's maiden name, or I couldn't go back any further with my research. I was facing a "brick wall," as genealogy researchers say.

There was no one alive who knew the answer to my question. So I pondered about what type of record I could find that would provide me with my great-grandmother Porter's mother's maiden name. The answer was actually an easy one. Medicare law was passed in 1960, and great-grandmother Porter was old enough in 1960 to be eligible for Medicare coverage. This meant that if she didn't already have a number, she would have been required to apply for a number in order to obtain coverage. I knew that I could request a copy of her SS-5, or "Application for a Social Security Number" and that it would contain very valuable genealogy information, including her date of birth, place of birth, and the name of her parents, including the maiden name of her mother. A copy of the document can be obtained for a small fee, but for security reasons that are obvious, the information is available only after the number holder is deceased. I requested the document and received a surprise.

The SS-5 verified my great-grandmother's birthday and showed that her full name was Margaret Susanna Merriweather Porter, and she was born in Calhoun City, Calhoun County, Mississippi. Her father was "Wilds" Merriweather, and her mother was Melvertie Gibson. I had never even heard the name "Gibson" mentioned in our family and had no idea we had relatives who had that name.

Although I believed that I now had the correct name for my great-grandmother's father, I still didn't know the names of Wilds' parents, where he was born, where he died, or anything else about his family. I still wondered why he allegedly had deserted his wife and children. And now I had even another question: who was this Melvertie Gibson? who were her parents? where was she born? and where did she die?

Where would I search first?

Tomorrow: A Quest to Find the Meriwethers and the Gibsons.

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