Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Southern Jewish Experience

A couple of years ago, I became aware of two museums in Mississippi that deal with the state's history. Unlike many of Mississippi's older, more established museums, these are fairly new, having been around only since the mid-1980's. They are not, however, Civil War museums, museums that showcase Native American history and culture, or museums that chronicle the history of the music phenomenon known as The Delta BluesThey are museums that have a mission "to document and preserve the rich history of the Southern Jewish experience." If you are among those who may be searching for information about Southern Jewish ancestors, their lives, and their customs, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, or "ISJL," may just be the place to visit. Two locations now exist, the original location in Utica, Mississippi, near Jackson, and a newer site in historic Natchez, Mississippi. The ISJL's website describes the original museum facility as sitting on "a beautiful rural setting on the 300-acre site of the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi.....with exhibit galleries and a central sanctuary that is actively used for programs and services." The Natchez museum is located at 213 South Commerce Street at Washington Street, and houses an exhibit that documents the history and everyday life of Natchez's Jewish families, beginning with the arrival of the first Sephardic Jewish families in the late 1700s. Of interest here, is the fact that the oldest Jewish congregation in Mississippi was housed at the temple in Natchez. Behind the stained glass windows and historic walls of Temple B'nai Israel are a century-old organ and an ark made out of marble.

For readers who live outside the State of Mississippi, it may be a surprise to hear that the Magnolia state would have enough
Jewish population to warrant these two museums. But the fact is that Jews have lived in the South since the 18th century. A large portion of that population likely resulted from the mass emigration of Jews from the Alsace-Lorraine region in Europe to the United States during that time period. And many of these families migrated further south. This theory is supported by information on the museum's website that states "as early as 1820, more Jews lived in Charleston, South Carolina than in New York City." If you haven't visited Mississippi's wonderful museums, I encourage you to do so. 
And don't forget to include the ISJL. These museums will certainly be worth the "southern experience."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Surname Saturday - Finding the Parents of John P. Gibson

It's been over 10 years since I began searching for the parents of my third great-grandfather, John P. Gibson, and each time I post the surnames I am researching, his name always appears at the top of the list. Without a doubt, John's ancestors have been the most challenging to find, but I am certainly not ready to call off the search.  I do have some pretty useful information about John, including the year and place of his birth (1799 in SC), a copy of his marriage record to Margaret J. Williams in Aberdeen, Monroe County, MS on January 3, 1843, and a copy of the marriage bond posted by Joseph Gibson, whose relationship is unknown.  Thanks to the U. S. Census recorded in 1860, I also know that John P. Gibson and Margaret Gibson were living in the Cherry Hill area of Calhoun County, Mississippi, where he worked as a blacksmith.  According to that census information, John and Margaret Gibson had seven children whose names were Elvira, Malverda (my great-great-grandmother), Francis, Asberry, Sarah, Mary, and Martha. I also found Calhoun County land records showing that John sold his land there and moved to Carroll County, Mississippi, where he and his family were enumerated on the U. S. Census of 1870. Although John most certainly died before the next federal census was recorded, I have been unable to locate either his burial place or where Margaret is buried. As I write this post, I am hoping that another Gibson researcher will read it and have information he or she is willing to share. But until then, I will do what I have done for so long - continue the search for information about John P. Gibson's parents.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

This evening, we will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day with some close friends, enjoying a traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage.  And most certainly, a few cups of coffee with some Bailey's Irish Cream will bring an evening of lively conversation to a close. It seems those of Irish descent love to laugh, joke, and be a part of any fun-filled gathering, so celebrating with food and revelry seems to be the order of the day everywhere. Tomorrow, one such celebration will occur in Mississippi, a state with a deep-rooted though not widely talked about Irish heritage, when the masses converge in downtown Jackson, Mississippi for an annual event known as Mal's St. Paddy's Parade & Festival.  Grand Marshals for the parade, now in its 29th year, will be members of the Mississippi Blues Commission, and marching groups will include those with names such as Krewe of Kazoo, the O'Tux Society, and the Green Ladies. For more about the event, read this article in The Clarion-Ledger.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Brunswick County, Virginia 1720 - 1975, Revised to 2000, by Gay Neale

Identified on its cover by the author as "The History of a Southside Virginia County," this book by Gay Neale is a compilation of Brunswick County's historical information gleaned from old books, newspapers, personal papers, and other records belonging to its residents. The book was an unexpected gift from one of my Branch cousins and was a very welcome addition to my genealogy library. Although my cousin is a Virginia native with whom I share a common ancestor who lived in pre-Revolutionary Brunswick County, her family remained in Virginia and the surrounding area, while my third great-grandfather left Virginia to claim land in Mississippi after the War of 1812.  

Within the 500 pages that make up her excellent genealogy book, Neale traces the early development of the area that later became Brunswick County from before the building of Fort Christanna to the year 2000.  Neale weaves the county's history around the wars that were fought on its soil, including the American Revolution and the Civil War, and includes many details about life in Brunswick County during those difficult periods. In a lighter moment, Neale discusses the origin of "Brunswick Stew," named for the county. The book's 150-plus pages of appendices serve as a treasure chest  of names of those who lived in early Southside Virginia, including many who later left the area to colonize other land to the south and the west. Neale, who has a Master's Degree in Library Science from Catholic University, has expertly woven the intricate history of Brunswick County into a valuable reference book of use to family researchers everywhere. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Finding Your Ancestral Home

As a family researcher, I am always looking for information and photos about where my ancestors actually lived. I want to know how they lived, what they did for a living, where they went to church or synagogue, and how and where they were educated. Several months ago, during a moment of genealogical curiosity, I decided to search the National Register of Historic Places to see if any of my ancestors' names were attached to places listed there. Not only did I find photos of the old Porter homestead in Mississippi, I found photos of three historic houses named for other ancestors who lived in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. So, if you have some brick walls to be broken down, or at least scaled, take a look at the list.  Maybe you will find your ancestral home and the other resources needed to make your brick wall crumble.

Note:  Mississippi's Register of Historic Places can be accessed here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Family Tree Magazine's 40 Best Genealogy Blogs for 2011

You can imagine my surprise when I received the announcement yesterday that Mississippi Memories made Family Tree Magazine's 40 Best Genealogy Blogs for 2011.  The list of 40 is divided into several categories, and this blog was named as one of five in the category entitled "Family History."  Needless to say, I was surprised, thrilled, amazed, and speechless (well, almost!)  Thank you to those who may have nominated me, and a big thank you to everyone who voted for this blog. I feel so fortunate and proud to have Mississippi Memories included among so many outstanding blogs, whose authors are some of the most resourceful, talented, and creative in the blogging community.  To them, I offer my congratulations - you are so deserving.  And to you, my readers, thank you for continuing to visit this blog.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yellow Pages for Genealogists

Commonly known as the "Yellow Pages for Genealogists," The Genealogist's Address Book, 6th Edition, is a must-have reference book for family history researchers everywhere. Compiled by Elizabeth Petty Bentley and published by Genealogical Publishing Company, the 2009 revision is larger and is fully cross-referenced. Contained in the book's 799 pages is nationwide contact information, arranged by state, that includes names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for over 16,500 genealogical resources. A new addition to this version of the book is contact information for ethnic and religious organizations.  Available online at, Barnes&Noble, and Books-A-Million, "The Genealogist's Address Book, 6th Edition," is also available in Google eBook format. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras - Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

Today's post was originally published on this blog on February 24, 2009.

Tonight at midnight, Mardi Gras celebrations are officially over, and the season of Lent begins. It seems this celebration, a religious-based one that dates back to the second century in ancient Rome, catches on in more places every year. Although large parades and related festivities are still confined to predominantly Catholic areas in Louisiana and coastal cities all the way from Beaumont, Texas to Mobile, Alabama, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast, smaller celebrations of green, gold, and purple continue to pop up every year in areas farther north. King cakes, with plastic "babies" are sold in chain grocery stores throughout the midwest, and colorful beads hang from the rear-view mirrors of cars whose owners have never set foot in "Mardi Gras Country." It seems that Mardi Gras has become "everyone's celebration."

Why has this happened? Have we become a country of party-goers and merrymakers, where everyone is looking for something to celebrate? Maybe. But more likely than not, traditional celebrations such as Mardi Gras serve as means to bring people together in ways that ordinary, everyday celebrations cannot. They create a common bond of tradition, promote a spirit of community, and create an opportunity to live for a few moments in the present that removes some of the stress of everyday life. And during these difficult economic times, celebrations like Mardi Gras, with its meaning steeped in years of history and tradition, are important to all of us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez

It's that time of year - Natchez Pilgrimage time.  If you are a Mississippian, likely you have visited Natchez during its Spring or Fall Pilgrimage. If you live elsewhere, a visit to this old, historic southern city that was once the capital of the Mississippi Territory is well worth the trip. A preservation project of the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, the pilgrimage showcases the elegant antebellum mansions of the city, with many of them open for tours.  And if you are into genealogy and have "southern roots," what better place to begin tracing your ancestors.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Photo by J. Tracy

"For oft when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

- William Wordsworth

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011