Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bunch Family in Mississippi

Yesterday morning, I opened my email and found a copy of a press release from announcing the result of several years' research into the family lineage of President Obama's deceased mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.  Specifically, the research suggests that Ms. Dunham's ancestry is linked to John Punch of Virginia, likely America's first slave, and relates how John Punch's son, John Bunch, was born to an unnamed free white female. The story of John Bunch, a free mulatto, and his descendants, complete with references, can be read on links provided on's website. As I began reading the fascinating history of the Bunch family in America, I recalled hearing my paternal grandmother occasionally mention this surname in conversations with our relatives from Attala County, Mississippi. In addition, I have frequently seen the surname Bunch while researching census records in counties where my ancestors lived in Mississippi, including Attala.  Also, I recalled finding Bunch family connections while searching for my elusive Gibson ancestors in North and South Carolina. With my interest now piqued by the story of John Punch and John Bunch and his descendants,  I decided to do a little Bunch family research of my own.

According to early census records for territorial Mississippi, Elijah Bunch and Jacob Bunch were already living in the area as early as 1800, showing up as residents of what was once called the Southwest Mississippi Territory.  Further research established that Elijah Bunch likely migrated from North Carolina, where he had purchased land in 1791 in Chowan County from an individual named Hance "Pond," or maybe "Bond."  And just three years after he purchased the land in Chowan County, Elijah married Ann Parrish on August 26, 1794, also in Chowan County. According to North Carolina records of marriage bonds, Abner Bunch, whose relationship to the groom is undetermined, was the Bondsman, and Joseph Blount witnessed the marriage ceremony.

In 1820, the U. S. Census conducted in Mississippi shows Jacob Bunch and John Bunch as heads of households in Wilkinson County, Mississippi.  Elijah Bunch does not appear on either the 1810 or 1820 census. On August 7, 1820, John Bunch's household in Wilkinson County included 16 free white persons and 4 slaves. And it was in Wilkinson County that a Rebecca Bunch married Felix E. Stephens on October 19, 1828.  Jacob Bunch married Phanner R. Hornsby several months later, on January 1, 1829, also in Wilkinson County.  More research is needed to determine relationships that may have existed between Elijah, Jacob, George, Paul, and John Bunch, all early residents of territorial Mississippi, as well as Rebecca's relationship to Jacob Bunch. Further research is needed, also, to determine if Jacob's marriage to Phanner Hornsby was his first marriage or a subsequent union and to determine names of their children, if any, born during the marriage.

A review of the U. S. Census of 1830, recorded in Franklin County, Mississippi, adjacent to Wilkinson County, shows Margarett Bunch, a white female over 50 years old, living alone with two children under 20.  Since she was listed as head of household, it seems reasonable to believe at this point that she was widowed.  Interestingly, Samuel Porter, one of my paternal ancestors mentioned earlier in this post, and another Porter male, Tillet Porter, were enumerated on the same census page that listed Margarett Bunch. Ironically, members of the Bunch and Porter families would eventually move to Attala County and the surrounding area, where many of their descendants still live today.

Hunting For Bears, comp.. Mississippi Marriages, 1776-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: Mississippi marriage information taken from county courthouse records. Many of these records were extracted from copies of the original records in microfilm, microfiche, or book format, located at the Family History Library. U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Census Publishing. State Census Records. West Jordan, Utah: Census Publishing, 2003-2009. North Carolina, Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868;[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: State of North Carolina. An Index to Marriage Bonds Filed in the North Carolina State Archives. Raleigh, NC, USA: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1977.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Magnolia Memories and Musings in Poems - A Book Review

On the last page of her second book of poems, Patricia Neely-Dorsey quotes William Faulkner, who said "To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi." After reading Neely-Dorsey's newly-published book of poems, "My Magnolia Memories and Musings in Poems," it is evident the Tupelo resident not only understands her native state, but that her poetry is indeed a labor of love. 

Beginning with the book's first section, aptly named "Southern Sights, Scenes, and Sentiments," Ms. Neely-Dorsey takes the reader on a unique journey through poems entitled "Natchez Trace," "The Delta (Black, White and Blues)", "Memphis," "Front Porch (Hospitality Headquarters)", and "The Truck Patch...Gone, But Not." And in subsequent sections, she sentimentally recalls memories that deal with childhood, church, the (neighbor) hood, and love. Through her poems, Ms. Neely-Dorsey offers the reader an insightful glimpse into southern culture, specifically Mississippi's own unique culture, one that is often misunderstood by those who have not experienced it.  Patricia Neely-Dorsey is truly an ambassador for the State of Mississippi, and through her newest book of poems, she has invited the world to experience the people, places, and ideas of "a place like Mississippi."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

If Only The Walls Could Talk....

At this point, most of us have heard someone make this remark about an old house or building, or you may even have said it yourself.  And it’s so true - those walls have heard it all ---some have heard more and for a lot longer than others.  Old houses, churches, and other historic buildings have always fascinated me, not just because they are beautiful or architecturally unique, but because each building represents a vital part of the history of a family or of a specific geographical location. I’m certain you will agree that much of a town's history is based on events that happened within the confines of some of its oldest houses and buildings, many of which are still standing today. It was within those walls that babies were born, children were educated, sons and daughters were married, important business deals became reality, and grieving families held wakes when family members passed to the great beyond.  And the list of events could go on and on. 

Although researching the history of old houses is not an entirely new concept, it has become an ever increasingly popular one during the last decade. As a younger generation of urban workers continue to buy up older properties for renovation in an effort to lessen daily commutes by living near downtown, the desire to know the history of the house or building they plan to call "home" has taken on a new significance. Just as tracing one’s family history often changes one’s perspective on life, discovering the history of an old house, can be a source of pride to the new owners. The facade of an old house or building too often can be misleading in relation to the actual events that may have taken place inside the structure. And as another group of individuals known as this nation’s “baby boomers” attain retirement age, another phenomenon is growing around America.  Many of these retirees, at least the ones who still have funds to do so, are searching for and buying up historic properties to restore into full-time homes, inns, and sometimes a bed and breakfast. 

 Of course, there are many other reasons, not any less important, for wanting to know the history of one’s house or an old building where one conducts business. Sometimes the desire to discover who built the house or building, who owned and who lived there, or what actually happened inside the structure is simply personal.  It may be something as simple as the fact that one’s ancestors lived or died in the house or made its living in the building. In other instances, new owners may want to restore the property to its original state and need to know specifics about the time period in which it was built and the materials used in its construction. Those who are interested in completing historic restorations, for obvious reasons, often also have a strong desire to obtain a state or national historic marker for the property. More about this process can be found by visiting your state's historic commission website or by reading a National Register Bulletin published by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service available at 

 In reality, the history of our cities is woven within the stories of the families who lived in its old houses, made a living in its old buildings, and walked along the old streets of its historic downtown. And just as each human life is unique and has meaning, each of these old structures has a story that is worth telling. 

If only the walls could talk............

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Developing An Ancestor's Profile Through U.S. Census Records

Last April, the National Archives (NARA) released the U.S. Census of 1940 to the public, a day that genealogists and family history researchers throughout the country had been anticipating for years. You may be asking yourself why the 1940 census was still private - it had been more than 70 years since the data was recorded. 

Well, here’s the reason. Where U. S. census records are concerned, the federal government enforces what is called “The 72 Year Rule.”  What this means is that census records are not available for citizens to search through and view personal information contained in the records until 72 years (an average lifetime) after the information was gathered. Although the U. S. Census of 1940 was released to the public and is available for viewing at,,, and other sites, the data contained there is not easy to navigate without an index. Because of the sheer volume of the data, census records for only a few states have been indexed. The good news is that through the efforts of paid individuals and thousands of unpaid volunteers, we are closer than ever to having indexed census record data from the U. S. Census of 1940 available for researching in all 50 states.

Poring through the rolls of the 1940 census would have helped me tremendously last week.  I had taken on the task of assisting someone in putting together her mother’s family history. But data for the states I needed to search had not been indexed, and I had to “make do” with data found in census records from previous years. As I reviewed and searched  through countless digital images of documents from several states, beginning with 1850 and ending with 1930, I began to develop visual profiles of the relatives my contact had never met, even some she never knew existed. And it was all because of small bits of personal information available on census records. It’s true. Almost everything any researcher might ever need to know about an ancestor, except for a physical description, is contained within those handwritten entries on these priceless documents. 

As I continued my review and diligently searched for more facts, census entries answered one question after another.  When was the individual born?  Where was he/she born? And who were the parents? Where were the parents born, and what language did they speak? 

But wait; that’s not all. There is so much more information contained there, information that goes well beyond the basic facts. Many of these old census records reveal how many years a couple had been married, whether they had been previously married, and if so, how many times, and how old they were when they were married the first time.  Staring out at me from these images was data that detailed a woman’s childbearing history. How many “live births” had she experienced? And what was the total number of her children who had survived childhood? Just how personal can we get here? But when one considers the importance of this information to a developing country in preventing infant mortality, these facts suddenly become much more than sad reminders of how difficult having a child really was back then. 

As I continued my research, I realized that by simply reading a line of words across a page, I could determine the dollar amount of an individual’s assets, the value of his house or farm, the occupation at which he or she was employed, and whether a child had attended school that year. Since we are a nation of immigrants, census records also provide details about when an individual immigrated to this country, if that individual has been naturalized, and if so, when the naturalization occurred. Also, I began to formulate visual images and mental impressions of people caught in a micro-moment of time, sometimes daring people who were forging life out of the elements, but always people whose lives were eternally linked together in this universe by blood, hard work, and often tears. 

I knew my contact would be pleased with what I had found. And it was because the census records of this country tell a moving story of its people, a story that consistently makes tracing one’s roots a powerful and enlightening journey.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wills, Family Photos, and Aunt Susie's Diary

Old family photos, wills, and diaries are often invaluable items that can help solve a family’s puzzle of life. On a number of occasions, I have seen these sentimental items in antique stores, and it always make me wonder why these potential family artifacts are not among the treasures and keepsakes of the individuals’ descendants. As someone interested in family history and its preservation, it makes me sad to see these special pieces of history lost to posterity. 

More than likely, you have heard the saying that “a picture speaks a thousand words.”  And in the case of old family photos, this could not be more true.  Not only do many of these old photographs have the names of those pictured written on the back of the photo, but the name and address of the photographer may appear on the photo, as well. Just a simple bit of information like the address of a photography studio may lead a family researcher to look for information about one’s ancestors in a location previously unknown to the family. And in other cases, the date of the photograph may be determined from information about the photography studio’s years of operation. Examination of old family photographs is always fascinating, since close observation of facial characteristics and how the individuals are dressed in the photos may reveal clues that will be helpful in further research.  Some of these observations may assist a researcher in determining an ancestor’s social status, ethnicity, and even possible religious affiliation. Always interesting is the fact that old photographs often reveal facial similarities and other physical characteristics to known living relatives. Our genes speak loudly and very clearly.

An often overlooked source of valuable information about our ancestors who lived and died prior to 1900 are probate documents. Commonly known during the 18th and 19th centuries as one’s “Last Will and Testament,” these old documents contain first hand information provided by the deceased about his family at a defined snapshot in time.  Following English Common Law, upon which our nation’s legal system was based, the oldest son inherited lands owned by his father. Therefore, the names of the decedent’s oldest living male heir, the name of his widow, and the names of his other offspring are included in the text of the will, provided they received bequests of real property, household or personal property, or money. Other valuable information resulting from the examination and review of a will may be the maiden name of the widow of the deceased, married names of his daughters, and the names of grandchildren who also received bequests. Since names of females were not listed on U. S. census records prior to 1850, finding the married name of a female ancestor in a will is a cause for celebration.  And in many instances, the names of other close family members may be among those who served as witnesses to the signing of the will. In the last decade, online access to early probate documents has increased tremendously and continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  Free access to large numbers of information from probate records is available at  And a subscription to will allow a researcher to view information gleaned from millions of probate documents housed in thousands of locations throughout the U.S. without ever leaving home. Of course, the ultimate dream of most family researchers, if they will admit it, is to search through hundreds of old dusty and musty courthouse records until they find and actually hold the probated copy of an ancestor’s Last Will and Testament in his or her hands.

I guess I am a sentimental sort, because I believe anything written by a family member or loved one, young or old, is something worth keeping.  Within the family history research community, I am not alone.  These statements bring me to “Aunt Susie’s Diary.” Not everything our relatives leave behind is valuable to their descendants. Most of us know that, particularly if we have helped someone move or assisted in closing out an estate of an elderly friend or loved one. But if that individual maintained diaries or other handwritten records of personal thoughts and activities, photos of trips taken and picture postcards received, or letters from those who lived in distant places, these items may become family treasures in years to come. All are worth keeping, not because they are museum quality or have monetary value, but because they tell the story of someone’s life.  And who knows, that story may be just what someone needs a half-century or more from now to complete a family’s puzzle.