Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Battle of the Bottle

Today's post is a re-print of a post first published here on March 3, 2009.

August 6, 1966 was an infamous day in Greenville, Mississippi, as it was in the State of Mississippi. As the historic marker pictured above states, the "Jigger and Jug," owned by the Azar Brothers, became the first legal liquor store in the state. Still in business today, the store is advertised in McRae's Business Directory as a "specialty" retail store that sells liquor.

It is difficult for many people my age to remember that manufacturing and selling liquor was illegal in Mississippi for over half a century. But the fact that liquor was not legal in Mississippi did not prevent those who wanted to buy a "bottle" from making a trip across the Mississippi River Bridge to a liquor store in Louisiana or from buying from local sources known as "bootleggers."

Throughout the prohibition years, local law enforcement officers and political and religious leaders alike waged very public wars against the sale of alcohol while often looking the other way when dealing with those who were selling it. Non-drinking private citizens, some with both money and influence, often took up the controversial cause. One of those private citizens was Hazel Brannon Smith, a newspaper editor who owned the Lexington (MS) Advertiser. Mrs. Smith's frank and revealing editorials in the 1940's eventually led to the arrests of a number of Holmes County bootleggers.

The illegal sale of liquor, however, continued until the law was changed in the mid-sixties. When the new local option law became effective on July 1, 1966, Mississippi entered a new era: it became the last state to end prohibition.

Blogger's note: Be sure to watch for my upcoming book, Mississippi Moonshine Politics: How Bootleggers and the Law Kept A Dry State Soaked (The History Press), scheduled for release in early 2015.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Just Released - New Book of Historical Photographs of Kosciusko and Attala County, Mississippi

If you have roots in or connections to Kosciusko, Mississippi, or Attala County, you may want to know about a new book of historical photographs, compiled and just released by Thomas Craft, a local photographer, and the Kosciusko/Attala Historical Society. The books are $20 each, if picked up, and $23 if they are purchased through the mail. Also, the books can be ordered directly from the Historical Society and from the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce (KADC), or they may be purchased through the Attala County Library in Kosciusko. For those who prefer to order over the phone, please contact the KADC at 662.289.2981, or the Attala County Library at 662.289.5141. Proceeds from book sales will go to the Attala Historical Society. I'm sure you will want to purchase your copy soon. As we all know, a picture is worth 1,000 words, something that is especially true with historical photographs!

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Book about State Prohibition in Mississippi in the Works

Although I don't have a title yet for my new book about state prohibition in Mississippi, I'm well into researching and writing about Mississippi's "liquor issues" that spanned almost six decades. The anticipated release date for the book, published by the History Press, is Spring 2015. Mississippi's own prohibition law was passed in 1908, a little over a decade before the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919. In fact, Mississippi was the first state to ratify the amendment. Ironically, however, many considered the Magnolia State to be the "wettest state in the country" until the state's lawmakers passed a local option law in 1966 during the early administration of Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr. This will be my second book published by the History Press of Charleston, SC, and I'm pleased to be associated with such a fantastic publishing company. Although the History Press is a UK-based company, it has had a Canadian location and a U.S. location in Charleston, SC. Recently, Arcadia Publishing purchased the U.S. portion of the History Press. Just in case you aren't familiar with Arcadia Publishing, the photographic history books about various places throughout the country, including the recently released Yazoo, by John E. Ellzey, long-time reference librarian at the Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City, are part of the company's Images of America series. Since the History Press is retaining its name, my new book will still be published with the History Press imprint. I'm so happy be associated with the largest publishers of regional history in the country (and maybe the world!).  And I hope you will follow the progress of my new book about state prohibition here and on Twitter, until I can set up a Facebook page with its official title. In the meantime, maybe you will want to read my earlier book, The Juke Joint King of the Mississippi Hills: The Raucous Reign of Tillman Branch, set in Holmes County, Mississippi. You can find it in a bookstore near you and online at,,, and on other websites.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Yazoo," by John E. Ellzey, Due Out on August 6, 2014

Well, its been over two months since I posted here...and it's good to be back. I have a good excuse, however, since I've been working on a new book project about state prohibition in Mississippi, due to be published in Spring 2015. The project is going well, and I hope to post more information here, as soon as the book's title is announced. So stay tuned. 

And it's especially good to tell you about a brand new history book, simply titled Yazoo, about to be released just 6 days from now. The book's author is none other than John E. Ellzey, who has been the reference librarian for the historic Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City, Mississippi, for 40 years. Published by Arcadia Publishing, the 128 page softcover book contains approximately 200 black and white images of people and places in Yazoo County, Mississippi, and will sell for $21.99. Just in case you aren't familiar with Arcadia Publishing, you are in for a historical treat. I'm including a descriptive sentence found on the company's website, stating Arcadia is "the leading local history publisher in the United States, with a catalog of more than 8,500 titles in print and hundreds of new titles released every years." 

If you would like to read more about Yazoo, or about its author, click here to visit the publisher's website. Or if you prefer to contact the author directly, he can be reached by email at

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Edward Arthur Branch Buried in Good Hope Cemetery, Madison County, Mississippi

Photo by J. Tracy
The Entrance to Good Hope Cemetery, established 1851, near the Good Hope Baptist Church in Madison County, Mississippi.

Good Hope Baptist Church Cemetery is located across a well-built and maintained wooden footbridge from the church. From the footbridge, a visitor can see deep down into a wooded ravine that is part of the heavily timbered countryside that provides a beautiful, serene setting for this old church and deceased members of its community who lived during the 1800's.

To get to the church and cemetery from Highway 51 North, turn right onto Highway 17 East, and travel about 6 miles to Rocky Ridge Road, a paved and scenic county road. Stay on Rocky Ridge Road for about 5.5 miles, passing Schrock Road on the left. Turn left onto Mullinville Road and travel approximately 500 yards to the church and cemetery directly ahead.

The cemetery is fenced, and on each side of the gate are engraved stones dedicating the cemetery to the memory of Barrett family who were instrumental in its establishment in 1851. The actual location of Good Hope Baptist Church and cemetery is in Madison County, Mississippi, but it is very near the line that separates that county from Attala County.
The tombstone you see here is located in the cemetery at Good Hope and was erected for Edward Arthur Branch, my paternal great-grandfather. Ed, as he was known to his family and friends, was born on November 15, 1874 in Madison County, Mississippi, and he died on November 2, 1915, in Jackson, Mississippi. The inscription on the tombstone states simply "Gone Home."

Ed Branch was only 40 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer. Two days before his death, he was admitted to a hospital in Jackson for surgery that doctors believed might save his life. He died of complications from that surgery, barely two weeks away from his 41st birthday. He left a widow and five children under the age of 18, and his only son, my grandfather, had just turned 16 years old.

Before he died, Ed Branch had been a member of an organization known as "Woodmen of the World," founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1890 by Joseph Cullen Root. According to "Wikipedia," the organization's purpose was to help its members "clear away problems of financial security....," and one of the benefits of membership was the organization's free tombstones for its members.

My great-grandfather's tombstone, one of three present in the Good Hope Cemetery, and one of many in cemeteries across the state of Mississippi and the the country, is a reminder of the other men who worked in one of the earliest occupations in the United States, the wood and timber industry. Use of these tombstones, unique and shaped like stumps of wood that bore the Woodmen of the World logo, was discontinued by the organization sometime around 1920.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Finding the Fenners - An Update

Over two years ago now, I ran across the name of a book about the Fenner Family, The Fenner Forebears.  Privately published in 1987 by Ruth Leslie Barrett, now deceased, the book is currently out of print. So on a whim, I called the New Bern Historical Society in New Bern, North Carolina, where I knew the family had lived at one time, to see if the organization might have a reference copy.  A helpful person who answered the historical society's phone quickly referred me to the Kellenberger Room of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library. I chose to call rather than use the research room's online resources, since I wanted to ask a researcher some specific questions about Richard John Fenner and his wife, Anne Coddington Fenner. Richard and Anne Fenner, early New Bern residents, are likely my Irish-immigrant ancestors. Although the book was not available, Victor T. Jones, Jr., the research department head, gave me the legal description (Lot 89 of the Town of New Bern) for the old Fenner House. 

I told a friend of mine who lived in New Bern at the time about the house, and she offered to take a photo and send it to me. At the time the photo was taken, the owners, who are Fenner family descendants, were in the process of restoring the house. The town of New Bern, with three separate historical districts that contain some beautifully restored properties, takes preservation of historical structures seriously. And it shows throughout this beautiful old town. 

Digital Photo by Amy Vaupel

The Fenner House, located at 217 Hancock Street, is within an easy walk of downtown shops and sightseeing adventures that include historic cemeteries, Tryon Palace, the Territorial House of North Carolina, Its lovely gardens, and a waterfront with comfortable benches for people watching and restaurants that overlook the water. One can only imagine how New Bern looked in the mid 1700s when the Fenner family occupied this colonial residence. Missing its original small front porch, the remodeled/restored structure now resembles a New England salt box styled structure. According to various historical accounts, Richard John Fenner may have been appointed to a position in the North Carolina territorial government, a position he occupied until his death in 1756. 

During the past two years, I continued to search for a copy of Mrs. Barrett's book so that I might learn more about my maternal third grandmother, Rachel Fenner, who married William Neatherlin in Wilkes County, Georgia. My search finally paid off when John T. Leslie, a distant cousin contacted me by email and told me he owns a copy of the book. It seems that John T. (as his family calls him) and I are descended through two of the three sons born to Richard and Anne Fenner. Later, we talked by phone, and John T. generously offered to scan and email digital copies of the book's pages, which he has now done. And sometime soon, we plan to meet and further discuss our Fenner connections.

What a way to start off the New Year.....meeting a new cousin and getting to read a much-searched-for family history book!