Genealogy: A look into the past
VOLUNTEERING THEIR KNOWLEDGE Bettye Compton, left, Mary Hutchinson, Carol James, Sandy Gaddis, Louise Mabry and Alice Lockley are available to help people with their family genealogy from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays at the Meridian-Lauderdale County Public Library. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By Penny Randall / staff writer
June 30, 2002
@oc: Have you ever wondered where your family originated? Did they come over on the Mayflower? Are you of German, Polish or English descent?
As more and more people become interested in their past, a group of volunteers at the Meridian-Lauderdale County Public Library have been assisting many looking for answers.
They were brought together through the library's genealogical committee whose members represent different organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Colonial Dames and First Family of Mississippi.
Volunteers are on hand at the library from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays to assist the public. Their assistance is free, but they do take donations for supplies.
Genealogy volunteer Becky Chaney said she volunteers because "your roots are important, it lets you know where you came from."
"It brings history to life," she added. "Either you're interested in genealogy or you're not."
Begin with family
The library volunteers all agree: Anyone interested in searching for their roots should start with themselves and their family, learning everything they can from living relatives.
The volunteers give people just starting their family research what is known as a "pedigree chart" or a family tree.
The form has a place to record names, dates of birth, dates of deaths and places of birth and death. Once the form is completed, then it's time to start digging.
Volunteer Sandy Gadis, a retired BellSouth employee, said that "sometimes it's like finding a needle in a haystack."
Carol James, curator of the genealogy material at the library, said looking up family history is "not a quick thing. It takes a long time."
James said that census records are a good place to start looking. Others are local court houses where you search through land records, probate records, county histories, tax records and military records.
Dead end trouble
What happens if people hit a snag when digging for family history? Volunteers say people shouldn't give up; just continue looking and use such resources as the Internet.
"I had a cousin who got interested in genealogy and wanted to find out where our paternal grandparents came from," said Volunteer Louise Mabry.
"He corresponded with someone in Germany and they sent him the church baptismal records of all our grandparents."
Chaney's research took her to Kemper County, where she found a cousin she didn't know she had.
"I went into the library and said, 'I was searching for my great-great-great-grandfather Gabriel Long,'" Chaney said. "The librarian looked at me and said, 'Sit right down and don't move. I know someone who is descended from him.'"
"The librarian got her on the phone and we've been just the best of friends every since," she said.
Tracing your roots
When Volunteer Sandy Gaddis of Meridian traced her family roots she found that her great-great grandfather had traveled from Georgia on a wagon train in the 1890s.
In researching her husband's family, Volunteer Alice Lockley, a retired public health nurse, traced them back to Salem, N.C.
"They were Moravians, very religious people, they came to American because of their religious beliefs," she said.
She found out that they settled in North Carolina because of the dirt.
"They were pottery makers and found that the soil in North Carolina was excellent for pottery."
Genealogy volunteer Mary Hutchinson was surprised when she learn that her fifth-generation grandfather, the Rev. Littleton Meeks, was a missionary to the Cherokee Indians who left the reservation each day before sunset or be killed.
"Recently I was visiting my daughter in Atlanta and my husband and I went to North Mississippi and found a person who knew were their homestead was. They even carried us to the family grave yard," she said.
"I also found out that he was in the Revolutionary War when he was 16-years-old."
Librarian lends a hand
Librarian Carol James has helped people from as far away as California and Texas over the last 15 years.
"People from all over the country come to this library, not just local people," James said. "They have some kind of tie to the area, some of their relatives have pasted through this area."
Volunteering their time is a worthwhile experience for all these ladies.
Said Hutchinson: "It's so rewarding. You can learn something about history and geography."
Said Chaney: "It's certainly made me a lot more patriotic when I realized my ancestors died getting this country's independence."