Growing up in Itawamba County, like the rest of the South, one’s ancestry plays an important part in a person’s learning experience. Being in a rural setting, most everyone knows everyone, and a person’s family ties are rather common knowledge, being strong ties that bind a community together.
Although I’ve always enjoyed history – especially local history, I never developed a genuine interest in genealogy until high school and later college. Growing up I had the privilege of sitting on the front porch listening to family elders talk of the olden times and sharing stories of pioneers, the Civil War and just daily life in general from a time gone by handed down to them by their elders. These oral histories instilled a vivid and colorful picture of my family’s past in Mississippi.
That background of hearing colorful family stories during my youth and reading nearly every regional history book I could get my hands on, later led to researching my family’s ancestry. During that very beginning of my thirty-one year family history journey, I recall one day sitting in the local library thumbing through a biographical dictionary and coming across my family name.
Here was a man with whom I shared a surname, whose biography was staring up at me from the pages of the biographical dictionary. Baron Sir Oliver Shewell Franks. According to his biography, he was an Oxford academic, and Provost of Worcester College. He was a moral philosopher by training, serving as Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow between 1936-1946. He was involved in Britain's recovery after the Second World War and the knighted Sir Oliver had served as the British Ambassador to the United States from 1948 to 1952. As ambassador, he strengthened the special relationship between the two countries.
I transcribed the biography into my spiral-bound notebook and a week later, not having been successful in finding the nativity of my forbearers before they had landed on the shores of Carolina during the 1700’s, decided to write the elderly gentleman in England with hopes he would have information about my surname – and so I did.
Not really expecting to hear from him, several weeks had passed and the letter I had written was soon forgotten. Then during late September, on one of those hot and humid Mississippi afternoons, I came home from work and waiting in the mail box mixed in with various advertising circulars and the like, was a crisp cream colored envelope with two 7 pence stamps postmarked The Isles of Scilly and I knew immediately who this letter was from!
Inside the envelope was a two-page handwritten letter from Sir Oliver, giving me a lineage of his Franks line back through his great grandfather and a most interesting description of his line from the Danish settlement of Yorkshire. It was an exciting gift indeed for a young man beginning his family history journey.
Although I later found that my Franks immigrant ancestor was more than likely a part of the DeGraffenieid New Bern, North Carolina settlement of the 1730’s and my paternal line had more than likely hailed from the Heidelberg area of Germany rather than England, I have always cherished this letter from my youth simply because this kind elderly gentleman in England took the time to personally supply information about his lineage and to answer the questions of a young man beginning his family history quest in the hills of northeastern Mississippi. This was the beginnings of a thirty-one year personal genealogical journey for me and it certainly illustrated the kindness and sharing I would find in the genealogical community for years to come.