Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chasing the Meriwethers

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post on my Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek blog about Colonel James Drane, whose house and grave marker can be seen at French Camp, Mississippi, a small historical town on the Natchez Trace. The next day, I received an email from a reader who told me that Colonel Drane's actual grave is located somewhere else in the state. The reader offered to provide me with photographs of the grave that actually contains the remains of Colonel Drane, and I accepted the offer. I hope to write a followup post as soon as I receive the photos. In her email, the reader asked me if my family is descended from Colonel Drane, and I responded that I have no knowledge of such a familial connection.

But her question actually raised another for me, one that involves the Drane family and my own Merriweather family. Here is the question and the story behind it. Over ten years ago, I decided to research my great-grandmother's family. I had always known that her maiden name was "Merriweather." This old surname, with its origins in England and Wales, traditionally has been spelled "Meriwether." Alternate spellings include "Merriweather," the one used by my great-grandmother, along with "Meriweather," "Merryweather," "Merriwether," and "Merryweathers." If you are interested in researching the Meriwether Family in the United States, I highly recommend The Meriwether Society and its publications as a great place to start.

I began my research with little knowledge about how much genealogical grief the spelling of my great-grandmother's name would cause for me. Initially, I searched for information about a known event, something that I only needed to substantiate: a record of Margaret Susanna (Maggie) Merriweather's marriage to John J. Porter, in either Attala County or Carroll County. After several failed attempts, searching under all the variations of the name listed in this post, I ultimately found the marriage record. It was just a stroke of luck, however, that I found it at all, since Maggie's last name was not spelled like any of the known spellings: it was phonetically spelled "Morsiweathers." I was elated to find the record, but it was difficult for me to believe that it had even been possible, considering the spelling.

My next foray into Merriweather research was the first time I encountered the Drane name. But first, I must provide some additional background. My grandmother, Maggie's daughter, told me the story about how Maggie's father, Wilds Merriweather, had deserted his family which included Maggie's mother, Malverda Gibson Merriweather, Maggie, and her younger brother, Lewis Merriweather, sometime around 1880, after Malverda had given birth to a stillborn child. The child's death is documented in the Mississippi Mortality Index published for the mid-late 1800's, but the actual story about the desertion remains unsubstantiated. One thing for certain is that Meriwether family members living in Mississippi did return to their native Shelbyville, Kentucky, near Louisville.

Malverda Gibson Merriweather eventually remarried when Maggie was about 12 years old. With this knowledge, I searched for a record of her marriage to Newell Autry Felts that would have occurred in the late 1880s, and I found the document in the records of Yalobusha County. According to the document, "Jim Drane" posted a marriage bond for Malverda Merriweather's marriage to Mr. Felts. It is very likely this individual was actually "James Drane" who lived in nearby French Camp.

My family research has not found anything to indicate that Jim Drane was a relative by blood or by marriage. Maybe he was a friend, neighbor, or perhaps Newell Autry Felts worked for him. Apparently, he knew my great-great-grandmother and her intended husband well enough to post a surety bond attesting to their legal abilities to marry each other. But I still don't know why a surety bond was needed for this particular marriage, since others during this time frame were being performed without such a bond. One possibility is that it had something to do with the fact that Malverda's husband had deserted her when he moved with his family back to Kentucky. Since I have been unable to locate a record of their marriage, maybe Malverda and Will were never legally married at all. And perhaps Jim Drane was aware of the situation and attested to this knowledge by posting a surety bond.

The actual story surrounding the relationship between my great-great-grandparents, Malverda Gibson and Wilds Merriweather, remains one of my family's unsolved mysteries, one that I hope one day to solve. But as those of us who love family history know for certain, genealogy research is never complete.

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