Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Surname Saturday: Gibson

One of the blogs that I read each week is We Tree, written by Amy Lenertz Coffin. In her post published today, Amy mentions that some bloggers are writing posts on Saturdays about surnames they are researching. This idea falls in line with other regular topics posted by some bloggers, who, like me, are members of the group known as Geneabloggers. For instance, there are suggested topics for particular days of the week, including Monday Madness, Tombstone Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, and Treasure Box Thursday. You may have seen one of these posts on this blog or on Mississippi Memories's sister blog, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Now you know the background of my post here today about the surname "Gibson." For almost 50 years, I had never knew that I had ancestors named Gibson. Nor did my father. When I asked him if he knew his maternal great-great-grandparents' names, he answered that he had only heard them referred to in conversations with his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, all who were still living when he was growing up, as "Grandma" and "Grandpa." Of course, he never asked for more information. And I never asked my grandmother, his mother, about her ancestors while she was alive. At that point in my young life, I did not realize the importance of family history. Although my grandmother never mentioned the Gibson name when she talked to me about her family, which she often did, I am certain that she would have told me what she knew about her great-grandparents, if I had ever asked.

I did have one piece of information that was commonly known throughout my father's family: his great-grandmother's given name was Melvertie. I knew this because my great-aunt, Vertie Porter, had been named for her. It was an unusual name, but without a surname, further searching was impossible.

Over ten years ago now, with everyone already deceased who might know the name of my father's great-great-grandparents, I began my own personal quest for the information. Since my great-grandmother was born in 1874 and had never worked under Social Security, she had never requested nor been assigned a number. But since she was still living when Medicare was passed and became eligible for coverage, she was required to apply for a Social Security number.

The fact that my great-grandmother had completed an SS-5 was a very lucky break for me. I knew that the application for a Social Security number would contain her mother's maiden name, so I requested a copy. I made the request online, it cost around ten dollars (fairly inexpensive compared to the cost in 2009), and I received a copy of the document in less than three weeks.

The result was invaluable. This small investment of time and money provided me with a name that I would never have found otherwise, Melvertie Gibson, the full name of my paternal great-great-grandmother. Beginning with this one name, one that included a rather uncommon given name, I searched U. S. Census records for Mississippi. I began with the U. S. Census of 1850, but I found nothing. But when I searched the census record for 1860, I found the names of an entire Gibson family in Calhoun County, Mississippi that included a young female named "Malverda." Because the name "Melvertie" and "Malverda" are so similar, I knew instantly that I had found the right family, a family headed by John P. Gibson and his wife, Margaret J. Gibson. That was the day I broke down a brick wall and danced the so-called "happy dance."

According to the census, John P. Gibson was born about 1799 in South Carolina, and his occupation was that of "blacksmith." I continued to search and found the family again on the U. S. Census of 1870, recorded for Calhoun County. In 1880, I found nothing. Nor did I find a record for Melvertie, who had already met my great-great-grandfather, William Jefferson ("Will") Merriweather and had given birth to my great-grandmother, Margaret Susanna Merriweather.

Later, I discovered a record of John P. Gibson's marriage to Margaret J. Williams on January 3, 1843, in Monroe County, Mississippi, but I have been unable to find the names of John P. Gibson's parents, or the names of Margaret's parents. According to the marriage record, Joseph P. Gibson posted a $500 marriage bond before John married Margaret.

But Joseph's relationship to John is still a mystery. Although I have read Joseph P. Gibson's extensive and long-contested will that is on file in the Monroe County courthouse in Aberdeen, Mississippi, I did not find John's name included in any of the documents.

Based on the provisions of the will, Joseph and John were not father and son, nor were they brothers. Were they perhaps cousins? And why was such a large bond required before John and Margaret could marry? Since John was 44 years old when he married Margaret, it is likely that he had been married at least once before. What was his first wife's name, and did they have children? The questions are endless, and all are still unanswered.

But my search has not ended, and someday I will break down yet another brick wall....just wait and see.

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