Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

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