Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Old Family Letter: From Itawamba County to Monterey County, California During 1872

Old family letters are a gold mine for not only genealogical, but historical information as well. These priceless gems give a first hand account of such things as family events, deaths, marriages, and everyday life. There are many old family letters scattered about Itawamba County hidden in desk drawers and old trunks. One such old letter is from the William Beachum family.

After the Civil War, many Itawamba County families moved west to start a new life because the economy of the South was in ruin immediately after the war. During Reconstruction in 1872 a small group of Itawamba County families moved west to Monterey County, California, south of San Francisco. Included in this collection of families was my great great grandmother Mary Rhyne Gillentine’s (wife of William Throckmorton Gillentine and daughter of Jacob and Mary Hope Rhyne) brother’s family (Henry W. Rhyne). Other Itawamba families taking part in this trek to California were the Cook, Galloway and Beachum families of southwestern Itawamba County.

During August of 1872, William Beachum wrote a letter from their new home near Castroville, California giving an account of California and a description of their trip from Itawamba County where they boarded a Mobile & Ohio Railroad passenger train in Baldwyn and made the eleven day trek. This old family letter includes a most interesting account of their journey and includes a most interesting pen drawing of San Francisco in 1872 (click image for a larger view of the first page of the letter). Below is a transcription of the old letter:

Castroville Monterey Cty. Cal. Aug 7th, 1872

Dear son and daughter,

I now avail my self of the present opportunity of droping you a few lines in order to let you know that we are all in tolerable health at present and hope when these lines reach you may find you all good health. We rec’d yours yesterday date of 26th last month, which born the painful tidings of the death of that lovely babe George which was an idol amongst the whole family. Your ma scarcely slept any last night the shock so great. We also rec’d one from G. Martin by the same mail to the same effect. We know how to sympathise with you. We know the ties of nature binds strong the will of the Lord must be won therefore we should have those misfortunes with as much fortitude as possible.

When you answer this let us know how W.A. Evans is and Dr. Weare and whether he is gone to Colorado or not such has reached here. Say to those who may inquire after my welfare I will write at such time as I may think that I can interest them.

I am not prepared to boast of California as yet. I think the east ranges very healthy but my opinion so far as I can learn a hard country for a poor man to till when a good crop grows low and such high the general estimate for harvesting is $10 per acre no out lands to pasture if a cow, he must be tied in __ land and it __ for as much as what you cultivate upon the whole. If I don’t get well of my misery it may prove a bad move for us.

No chance to buy lands from $30 to $100 per acre than a quit claim and the government lands are in the mountains where there is neither timber land or water there for I shall not advise any one to come as yet. The boys are at work at $2 per day. Frank has not been home for near 5 weeks. Cook and wife are both complaining. She has a risen on her left hand which is painful.

We made the trip from Baldwin in 11 days at a cost of $92.66 each over and under mountains, across steep gulches under snow spread for miles in sight of snow for 3 days and sometimes it from 2 to 5 feet thick. From Omaha to Sacramento is what I would call a baren dessert with a few exceptions. Galloway and H.W. Ryne are all well. I design starting to San Francisco to morrow when I return I will calculate your ma and me will go to the hot springs 40 miles.

I will close for the present as my hand paining me. Read what you can of this and guess at the balance as it is as good as I can do. Give my regards to all enquiring friends and for Rhoda, yourself and the children, this balance, tell Mary and Becca we have not forgot them and be smart pretty little girls.

Your affectionate Father
Wm. Beachum

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Hawkins Maple Tree: Perhaps Itawamba's Most Photographed Tree

For generations, the old Hawkins sugar maple tree (click photograph for larger version)has ushered in November with a spectacular show of autumn colors. The huge maple was planted probably during 1939 when the Robert C. Hawkins Cotswold Cottage style home was built on the lot (Block 14 of the original Inside Donation of Fulton purchased from the Sargent Prentiss Howard estate by R.C. Hawkins. There was an old antebellum home on the lot that was razed to make way for the new red brick Cotswold Cottage in 1939).

Situated on Main Street (the old Bankhead National Highway) just off the town square in Fulton, this tree is probably the most photographed tree in Itawamba County. For years locals and travelers alike have been awed by its colorful beauty every autumn. This year, it looks as if the peak colors will be within the next week or so. This beautiful old tree reminds me of a poem about autumn leaves:

The leaves had a wonderful frolic.
They danced to the wind's loud song.
They whirled, and they floated, and scampered.
They circled and flew along.

The moon saw the little leaves dancing.
Each looked like a small brown bird.
The man in the moon smiled and listened.
And this is the song he heard.

The North Wind is calling, is calling,
And we must whirl round and round,
And then, when our dancing is ended,
We'll make a warm quilt for the ground.


Photograph by Bob Franks (photographed during Autumn 2006)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Tennessee Valley Authority to Celebrate Its 75th Anniversary During 2008

During 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority will be celebrating its 75th Anniversary. Created by an act of Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 18, 1933 as part of The New Deal program, the TVA Act and the program it created brought electricity to much of the rural hill country of northeast Mississippi, including Itawamba County.

The massive project began during the Great Depression, and created much needed jobs to many area citizens. Many Itawamba County residents obtained work at the Pickwick Dam on the nearby Tennessee River and many area farms obtained electricity for the first time.

The TVA was envisioned not only as an electrical energy provider, but also as a regional economic development agency that would use federal experts and electricity to rapidly modernize the area's economy and society.

As part of TVA’s 75th Anniversary, a major documentary film is being produced and the film’s producers are looking for locals with stories to tell. For further information about this film, read the newspaper article, at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Photographs courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Old Craft of White Oak Basket Making in Itawamba County

From pioneer times until well into the Twentieth Century, various folks arts were practiced in Itawamba County. Every type of medium from pottery, quilting and weaving to basket making and wood carving was practiced.

One type of folk art that was prevalent in Itawamba County was the art of basket making. For the most part, Itawamba County baskets were made of white oak and were of a utilitarian nature. All types of baskets were created. There were baskets for eggs, baskets for gathering vegetables and baskets for cotton.

Baskets were usually made on the farm during the winter months when the growing season had ended. The farm family members would usually go into the woods and find a good straight white oak sapling of about ten inches in diameter. The log would be cut into about 6 foot sections and the section logs would be cut into about sixteen “pie pieces.” The white oak strips would be pulled off the “pie pieces" along the age rings. Usually the heartwood would be used to make the basket handles.

Baskets would be woven to suit the needs of the family and younger family members were taught the art of basket weaving as soon as they were old enough to learn the process.

White oak was also used to “cane” chair seats as well. The straight ladder-back chairs most all had white oak caning in Itawamba County.

During my youth I would visit an elderly basket weaver who lived on a ridge not far from my home. I would sit and watch him work at his craft and would listen to him tell of the basket making process. He told me he had learned the craft from his elders and his elders had learned the process from their elders. The gray-haired man made all types of baskets and also re-caned folks’ chairs for them as well. With his death several years ago, the old folk craft of white oak basket making has all but died in the hills of Itawamba County.

I am fortunate to have two of his white oak baskets today, and I cherish them as a utilitarian folk art from Itawamba County's days gone by.

Itawamba white oak basket and white oak tree photographs by Bob Franks

Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Itawamba County Hill Country Social Event For Generations: The Quilting Bee

From the earliest times up until the Twentieth Century, one of the favorite social pastimes in the hill country of Itawamba County was the quilting party, or sometimes referred to as the quilting bee. Neighbors from far and wide would come to the chosen house and produce beautiful quilts. Today in Itawamba County, these artistic treasures from a time go by or stored in many attics and closets.

Below is a description of the quilting bee, the social event that was ever so popular in Itawamba County for generations, as described in 1860:

"…the Yeomen of the South are also quite social and gregarious in their instincts, and delight much in having all kinds of frolics and family gatherings during the long winter evenings. On all such occasions, nearly, something serviceable is the ostensible cause of their assembling , though the time is devoted almost wholly to social pleasures: sometimes, ‘tis true, there is a wedding, or a birth-day party, or a candy-pulling; but much more frequently it is a corn-husking, or the everlasting quilting – this last being the most frequent and most in favor of all the merrymakings which call the young people together.

There is, indeed, nothing to compare to a country quilting for the simple and unaffected happiness which it affords all parties. The old women and old men sit demurely beside the blazing kitchen fire, and frighten one another with long-winded ghost stories; thus leaving the young folks all to themselves in the 'big room,' wherein is also the quilt frame, which is either suspended at the corners by ropes attached to the ceiling, or else rests on the tops of four chairs. Around this assemble the young men and the young maidens, robust with honest toil and honestly ruby-cheeked with genuine good heatlh.

The former know nothing of your dolce far niente or dyspepsia, and the latter are merry as larks and happy as it is possible for men and women to be in this lower world. No debts, no duns, no panics, nor poverty, nor wealth disturbs their thoughts or mars their joyousness of the hour. Serene as a summer’s day, and cloudless as the skies in June, the moments hurry by, as they ply their nimble needles and sing their simple songs, or whisper their tales of love, heedless of the great world and all the thoughtless worldings who live only to win the smiles of 'our best society.' Meanwhile the children play hide and seek, in-doors and out, whooping, laughing and chattering like so many magpies; and, in the snug chimney-corner, Old Bose, the faithful watch-dog, stretches himself out to his full length and does comfortably in the genial warmth of the fire, in his dreams chasing after imaginary hares, or baying the moon…”

Hundley, D.R., Social Relations of Our Southern States, Henry B. Price, New York, 1860, pp. 216-217

Quilt Photography by Bob Franks

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Carnival of Genealogy: Halloween Edition Now Online

The October 18 edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is now online at Creative Gene. The topic of the current edition is Halloween and the Supernatural. There are several blog articles running the gamut from the comical to the serious. As written on Creative Gene, "pour yourself an ice cold glass of apple cider, grab a doughnut, and indulge yourself in some great reading. Genealogy meets the haunted..."

The topic of the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be hosted by Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist. The topic is: Do you have a family mystery that might be solved by DNA? He will analyze posts for possible answers to questions or mysteries based on genetic genealogy and then he will try to help everyone understand if and how genetic genealogy might be used to solve family mysteries and questions.

For further information about the next edition, visit Creative Genes.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Historic Shaifer House Dedication Near Port Gibson

The recently restored Shaifer House and historic site near Port Gibson in Claiborne County will be dedicated and opened to the public in ceremonies on Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 10:30 a.m. Terry Winschel, historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park will deliver the dedicatory address, and tours of this historic site will follow, led by Libby Hollingsworth of Port Gibson, a descendant of the Shaifer family, and Jim Barnett, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historic Properties, which oversees the site.

The A.K. Shaifer House was the site of the opening shots of the Battle of Port Gibson on May 1, 1863. This signal battle was the first in General Grant's last, and successful campaign to capture Vicksburg during the Civil War.

The Shaifer House restoration project began during 2006 as a component of the TEA-21 Mississippi Civil War Trails Program. It consisted of two phases: Soil erosion repair consisted of the first part and the second phase was exterior stabilization an drepair, including the creation and installation of interpretive signage for the site. Robert Parker Adams, P.A., of Jackson was the project architect.

For more information about this historic site and the dedication ceremonies, contact the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Public Information Desk at 601-576-6857.

Photograph: Command and General Staff College, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Staff Ride Handbook for the Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862 - July 1863

Monday, October 8, 2007

Mississippi Hill Country Music on Stage at Society's October Meeting

On Tuesday evening, October 16, the Itamingo Strummers will be the special program at the regular monthly program meeting of the Itawamba Historical Society. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. with refreshments, and the special musical program will begin at 6:30. The meeting will be held in the Gordon McFerrin Auditorium of the George Poteet History Center, headquarters of the society at the corner of Church Street and Museum Drive in Mantachie.

The program will include approximately 15 musicians and singers with special emphasis on the musical heritage of southern Appalachia featuring the mountain dulcimer, the mandolin, bass and guitar. Songs performed will include old mountain ballads, standards and religious selections.

The mountain dulcimer has an important part in the musical heritage of Itawamba County, one of Mississippi's northeastern hill counties, nestled in the foothills of southern Appalachia.

The public is invited to attend this special program. For further information, contact the society at 662-282-7664.

Photographs by Bob Franks: Ronnie and Shelia Clayton, members of the Itamingo Strummers, jamming on the courthouse lawn in Fulton.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October is Archaeology Month in Mississippi

October is Archaeology Month in Mississippi. Sponsored by the Mississippi Archaeological Association, Archaeology Month activities include public talks on archaeology and archaeological methods, visits to ongoing archaeological fieldwork projects, site tours, and even fieldwork opportunities. These programs are financially assisted by the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Mississippi Humanities Council. All events are free and open to the public. There are many events scheduled across the state. Events in the Itawamba County area will be held in Starkville, Columbus, Ackerman and New Albany. Additional programs and updates will be posted on the Mississippi Archaeological website as they become finalized.

The Mississippi Archaeological Association is an organization of professional archaeologists and lay people actively involved with archaeology and archaeological preservation, uniting in a common effort to understand the prehistory and history of Mississippi and the surrounding region. Anyone who has a sincere interest in the cultural heritage of the state and is dedicated to the preservation of that heritage for all to enjoy is eligible for membership. The Association has as one of its important objectives the mission of encouraging scientific archaeological investigations and supports the dissemination to the public of information from these investigations in its publications, which are received by its members as a benefit of membership.

For further information about the Mississippi Archaeological Association, visit the association’s website.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ghosts, Goblins, Tricks and Treats: Childhood Memories

As a child growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Halloween ushered in a fun and magical season. In the Deep South, the air would finally cool off somewhat and the trees would put on a spectacular display of vibrant yellows, golds and reds. With the passing of October 31, that meant Thanksgiving Day’s cornbread chicken and dressing with all the trimmings was not far away, and of course jolly Santa in his sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ushered in the Christmas season.

Halloween festivities during those times included the annual Halloween Carnival at the local grammar school. This gala event was attended by the whole community and featured all sorts of exciting games and fun, including bobbing for apples, the balloon pop and the musical cake walk featuring some of the best tasting and most beautiful cakes home-baked by the local moms. There were always many tasty treats for sale including my favorite – popcorn balls. Popcorn balls were prepared from a mixture of popped corn, peanuts and cooked sorghum molasses. The sweet and crunchy concoction was molded into balls, cooled and hardened.

It was also the time to help transform the orange pumpkin into Mr. Jack o’ Lantern and pick out a costume. It was definitely a treat to go to the Ben Franklin Five and Dime on the town square and browse through all the plastic masks finally choosing just the right one. If one was lucky, there might be some extra funds left over to buy some candy corn, tasty red wax lips, licorice-tasting black wax moustaches or a wax panpipe filled with a colorful and sweet liquid.

Trick or Treating culminated Halloween week. It was a time you could put on your plastic “false face” and pretend to be a pirate, Dracula or even Frankenstein and go out with your paper sack ready to haul in a plethora of sweet and tasty treats.

Usually parents would drive the children around town. Back then, there were only two plotted subdivisions in town. The older section of town included the Googe Addition created during the early 1920’s, but south of the town square was the new Magnolia subdivision where neat houses were constructed close together in an orderly fashion, one street after the other. It was a youngster’s paradise for Halloween trick or treating.

I distinctly recall one Halloween with a group of fellow neighborhood kids. Going house to house in the dark, I lagged behind the older ones. Running, trying to catch up with the older kids, I took a shortcut through someone’s side yard and tripped over someone’s television antenna guide wire going full speed ahead, giving the antenna a good swift whirl. With the Dracula plastic false face flying and my paper sack full of Halloween bounty exploding over the lawn like colorful confetti at a New Year's Eve party, I was simply devastated. Although the only thing hurt was my pride, I called out to my friends to wait (and of course they didn't) and opted to lag behind even further, carefully picking up each and every single piece of that precious candy bounty I could find by the moonlight.

I’ve often wondered what the occupants of that house in Magnolia subdivision thought when their Sing Along With Mitch or Have Gun Will Travel on their television screen suddenly switched to a noisy fuzzy snow on that Halloween night. For me it definitely wasn’t a treat, but simply an unintentional trick.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Soldier's Story is Being Told

On October 1, the society received a request for information about a World War II soldier - Private Ray Collin Underwood of Company A, of the 192nd Tank Battalion, from Jim Opolony, a teacher at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. Mr. Opolony and two other teachers started the Provisio East High School Bataan Commemorative Research Project website during the 1999 -2000 school year. This most excellent award winning school project has been an ongoing endeavor for several years now.

I researched the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census records of Itawamba County as well as the county’s cemetery records. In addition, I made some telephone calls to local residents of the community where Private Underwood lived and found bits and pieces of information about him and his family. Society volunteers Charles and Virble Booth visited the Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery east of Tremont and photographed his monument, that included his portrait in uniform. This information was gladly supplied to Mr. Opolony in Illinois.

This small effort made by local members of the historical society was rewarding and the information we learned from the excellent Bataan Commerative Research Project about a local son was priceless. Thanks to this special school project, many soldiers are being honored and memorialized, including Private Ray Collin Underwood of Itawamba County.

An Itawamba Soldier’s Story

Private Ray Collin Underwood was a son of Itawamba County. Born on April 31, 1917 on his family’s farm east of Fulton, he was the son of Garvin and Mattie Lorene Underwood. Living most of his early life on an Itawamba hill country farm, the family had moved to Fulton by 1930 where Ray’s father was the Itawamba County Circuit Court Clerk.

Ray was inducted into the U. S. Army on December 12, 1940 and did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He eventually ended up in the Philippine Islands with Company A. of the 192 Tank Battalion.

On the morning of December 8, 1941, Company A heard the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ray and the other members of the company had been ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. This was to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers.

Around noon, Japanese planes approached the airfield and began bombing. At first the soldiers thought the planes were American but it was only when the bombs began exploding on the airfield that they knew the planes were Japanese. The bombers were followed by fighters which strafed the area. After the attack, the tanks were ordered to guard a dam against sabotage.

For the next two months, Ray's tank and the other tanks of the 192nd served as the rear guard as the Filipino and American forces fell back into the Bataan Peninsula. The tank company was east of Concepcion, when it came under enemy fire. A shell hit Ray's tank and disabled it. Lt. William Reed having escaped from the tank was working to evacuate the other members of the tank crew when a second shell hit the tank below where he was standing. He was mortally wounded.

In an attempt to get help for Lt. Reed, the soldiers went to find help as Ray Collin Underwood sat with Lt. Reed and cradled him in his arms as he lay dying. As he sat holding Lt. Reed, the Japanese overran the area. It was on that day that Ray became a Prisoner of War and continued to be such, until his death by pneumonia on February 15, 1945 at the camp hospital at Hanawa Camp #6 in Japan where he endured many hardships being forced to work in a copper mine that had been determined by the Japanese to be too dangerous to mine.

After his death, the Japanese held a Shinto funeral service for Ray. His remains were taken to a crematorium. After the cremation, Ray's ashes were given to the camp commandant who held them to the end of the war. Upon Ray's family's request, his remains were returned to Itawamba County. Pvt. Ray Collin Underwood’s remains were buried at Mount Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery just east of Tremont.

For 62 years, Private Ray Collin Underwood’s granite monument has stood among the hundreds of other monuments in the old Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery east of Tremont on a hill overlooking the beautiful and peaceful hills and valleys of the Mississippi countryside. And because of the volunteer work by the faculty and students at Provisio East High School in Maywood, Illinois, there is now an important story being told about a young Itawamba County, Mississippi son and valiant member of The Greatest Generation. And for that, we are thankful.

To read a detailed account of Private Ray Collin Underwood's service, visit his information page at the Bataan Commemorative Research Project site.

Photographs: The Bataan Commemorative Research Project Poster (top); Portrait of Private Ray Collin Underwood photographed on his monument in Mt. Pleasant Methodist Cemetery by Charles and Virble Booth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

An Itawamba Family's Musical Heritage

During the years following the Civil War, Itawamba County saw the largest influx of settlers it had seen since its founding in 1836. Not unlike those hardy settlers of earlier years, these people came to Itawamba County in search of a better life. The post Civil War settlers of Itawamba County had left their homes in states east of Mississippi and brought with them not only their household possessions, but their traditional customs as well.

Today, many people of Itawamba County, Mississippi are direct descendants of these hardy post war settlers, and like physical possessions, folk customs of an earlier age have been passed down through the generations. The Cockrell family of Itawamba County is one such family.

Perhaps the one thing the Cockrell family of Itawamba County is associated with the most, is their music. The members of the Cockrell family were Sacred Harp singers. Sacred Harp music (four note singing) dates back to the 1600s in England. The Old Cockrell Singing at New Home Baptist Church east of Fulton was named for this family as well as the Marion Singing at Oak Grove Methodist Church north of Mantachie.

Grandpa Marion Cockrell would spend hours upon hours walking up and down the front porch of his dog-trot home singing "in the old harp," as his arm would swing up and down keeping time with the melody of the music he loved so much. During cotton picking time, on a hot September day in 1944, Grandpa Marion died. His memorial service was held outside under the ancient oak trees at Center Star Cemetery in Itawamba County. As the mourners fanned themselves with fold-out paper fans, Grandpa Marion's elderly sister, Nancy Cockrell Thornberry, sat in a cane-bottom chair before the crowd and sang a special song for her brother. With her head bowed and her eyes shut in respect, the beautiful melody of "Amazing Grace" a cappella in the old harp style sounded over the silent hillside.

The Cockrell family not only sang, but were instrumentalists as well. Uncle Duff Cockrell played the fiddle left handed. During 1903, Jordan Cockrell left the rural hills of Itawamba County by train from Guntown and journeyed to St. Louis, Missouri where he won the World's Fiddling Championship at the World's Fair. Many times Grandpa Elijah Cockrell and his son Billy would travel to nearby Guntown, north of Mantachie in their wagon. As always, on their journey back home, they would see Grandma Nancy's house appear on the horizon in the Centerville community. As the wagon traveled closer they would see her disappear into the house and return to her rocker on the porch with her fiddle and bow in hand. As they would approach her house she would say "Let's play a few tunes," and before they would return to their journey home they always had to play "Leather Britches" for her. Grandma Nancy could also play the dulcimer. When she was three years old, her father, Elum, bought her a used hammer dulcimer and of course the dulcimer came with her to Itawamba County during 1873.

The Cockrell families would visit among themselves and make music way into the late hours of the night. As the women folk would sit around the fireplace smoking their stone pipes, the beautiful melody of the fiddles could be heard over the surrounding hillsides of the community.

Today, the melodious sounds of the Cockrell music has all but stopped. All that is left of the earlier generation are dusty fiddles, sacred harp songbooks and faded ribbon awards from fiddling contests stored away in attics and closets. These mementos are a silent reminder of the beautiful melodies that once echoed across the hills and hollows of Itawamba County.

Photographs: The Cockrell Family String Quartet at a 4th of July Celebration at the Lee County Courthouse during the 1890's (top photo); Cockrell family Sacred Harp Song Book (middle photo); Dr. Marion Albert Cockrell and wife Elizabeth Gillentine Cockrell, Sacred Harp Singers (bottom photo)

The Elum Cockrell Family Lineage

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Personal Research Treasures

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.