Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Feeling good, but waiting still...

Today we wrapped up our final day doing research for the Atlas Family of Lake Providence, LA with another day at the Clerk of Court Office. This was the last research stop for the 2008 research trip.

Yesterday, we learned that our favorite staff person was elected to be the new clerk of court beginning July 2008. She is the first African American to be in this position since 1832. She has been working at the clerk of court office for nearly 30 years. We were so happy for her and continue to be especially considering that we were able to see her right before her installation. The current clerk is retiring after more than 63 years on the job. We took a picture with the new clerk to commemorate our visit.

Today, I spent time looking into the owners of Longwood Plantation, the plantation that Louis Balfour/Bareford Atlas, Sr. was born on that was also next to Eyrie/Balfour Plantation. I looked up mortgage, conveyance and succession records for George Mason Long who sold it to Dr. Samuel Bond who sold it to Joseph R. Parks. I found slaves, but none of the names matched the Atlas' that we were looking for. I found that William L. Balfour had a business dealings with Joseph R. Parks, but nothing referring to our earliest traceable ancestors.

We were disappointed yet again, but were still able to pick up a lot of information on other facets of the family, such as marriages, conveyances, etc.

We had lunch at our favorite lunch spot in town today as well.

After the courthouse, we went to visit Wilson Oliney, who was a newly discovered family member.  It was short visit, full of laughs and swapping of family history and stories.  

The next step for us it to check out the estate records for Yazoo County, MS as well as for every other county that a Balfour had an estate. That is going to be tediuous work, but it will be the only option if we are to find documentation of ownership. That means we may pass up Louisiana altogether and focus just on Mississippi for next year's trip or for the one in 2010. I am feeling like we may not take a trip next year, but we'll see what God says.

We will be leaving Lake Providence tomorrow and will be heading back to New Orleans. On the way there, we will be stopping to talk with Jean's cousin Henry to see if she can get more information on her father's side. I will be posting pictures for the remaining portion of the Lake Providence leg of the trip probably when we get back to New Orleans.

Monday, April 28, 2008

...and the verdict is...

Yesterday, after having church service at Progressive MBC, which is a church that several of my family members helped to start, we went grave hunting again. We took some pictures of a few plots that may have relatives and also drove to Eudora, AR just to see what it looks like.

Today, we spent the day at the East Carroll Parish Clerk of Court. Praise God that I was able to find a legible copy of the William L. Balfour's will and was able to transcribe it. I was also able to locate the inventory of slaves for William L. Balfour as well as for his other property in East Carroll Parish, but nothing mentioned the names of Atlas family members. I did, however, make some connections with King Atlas, Jr.'s wife Rachael Day. It was a huge disappointment for me not to find what I was looking for, but it does indicate that there was more going on than just what is on the surface. I documented a few members of the Day family living at Longwood Plantation after the slaves were freed.

We're not real sure how to proceed in locating the last slaveholder from here. We've exhausted just about every avenue we can think of to tie the Balfour's with our family.

Jean spent the day looking at and documenting marriage records that we did not have previously. We'll be back at the clerk of court tomorrow in Lake Providence to look for other information. Any fellow researchers: Please let us know while we are here of something that we can look for to help us! Thanks!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Destination: Lake Providence

Today we spent most of the day visiting various sites in Lake Providence that we had not seen before. Luckily, we had Robert and Cinderella as tour guides. We were hoping to find some really old graves of family members and also to see some new things. We went to the following locations:

East Carroll Parish Library - We spent about a half our at the library looking to see what they had as far as historical records. The only thing we were able to find was the microfilm roll of the newspaper article regarding our first family reunion in November 1972 in Lake Providence. We made a couple of copies of that. We also were happy because the library has Wi-Fi; our favorite café did as well, but they both closed at noon; so we gaffled Wi-Fi from the library parking lot. **Laughs**

Gaither Memorial Cemetery/East Carroll Baptist Association Cemetery – This cemetery is off of Gould Boulevard in Lake Providence. We took pictures of the following graves: Reverend Francis Joseph Atlas, Sr., Willie Mae Gibson Atlas, Reverend John Henry Scott, Cora S. Dukes, and a couple of possible family members with the last name Henderson.

Minsky Pecan Market - We picked up fresh picked pecans (the ones at Florence’s weren’t good this year), crawfish and boudin. We ate them later and boy were they good!

East Carroll Baptist Association – This association is one where all the 38 churches in the area belong (there are only 4,500 people here and that means about 119 people per church **Laughs**). This was the site of a black school before integration, and was bombed by townspeople when Reverend John Henry Scott, Reverend Francis Joseph Atlas, Sr. and others were fighting for voting rights in the parish. To find out more about their civil rights case, please click the following link:

Hood Lane Road – We had a visit with our cousin Florence. As always, we had great conversations and it was great to see her. She was, of course, full of stories and information.

Lone Star Cemetery – Off of Highway 134. Jean and I had no idea this cemetery was even in the area let alone that so many family members were buried there. We found the following graves: Dilcy Barber Taylor, Corneilus Taylor, Shiloh Taylor, Sr., Shiloh Taylor, Jr.; Alice Pierce/Piercey Thompson, Louis Thompson (Jean’s uncle) and other associated and possibly related folks.

Home of Daisy “Sweet” Russell Jackson – While here, we were able to meet Sweet’s son Charles or “Fatso” as he’s known to the family. He asked to put on our reunion mailings list and will try to make our reunion next year in Chicago.

The site of Longwood and Eyrie Plantations; St. Paul MBC and Cemetery – Off of Highway 596 – This was probably by far, my favorite part of our journey today. Longwood Plantation was the birthplace of Louis Balfour/Bareford Atlas, Sr. Eyrie Plantation was the area that King Atlas, Sr. and all his children ended up after being freed from slavery and that we’re researching as the last slaveholding area for them. Robert scared me by telling me that there were a lot of snakes in the area because of the time of year. So I was scared to walk through high grass. Cinderella and Jean were much more brave than me and Robert. We went for the low grass areas, which were not in abundance. There were probably only about 10 graves at this site. The site is about two miles from the Mississippi River Levee. You can see it as the grassy mound towards the back of the pictures. This area use to be heavily populated, but due to the severe flooding of the Mississippi River, family members and many others relocated to the other side of Lake Providence to the area where they are now.

Outside of the rain today, it was a very fruitful day and the first that we didn’t spend inside of a library or archives building for an extended period of time. Tomorrow, we are going to church service at Progressive Chapel Missionary Baptist Church and hope to get to view some of the old records. We are also going to try to visit our cousin Odell in Oak Grove as well.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jackson, Canton, Port Gibson, Vidalia , Lake Providence and a Wild Turkey

It’s been a while since I posted, and this is partly because we didn’t have Internet access for a portion of the trip. I will try recap everything that took place from late Tuesday, April 22 to Friday, April 25. I also uploaded pictures from the same time period to the Shutterfly Account.

I realized today that I have been in the seven cities in a little over a weeks time: Washington, DC, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Canton, Port Gibson, Vidalia and Lake Providence.

After we dropped RaiChel off at the airport, Jean and I headed to Jackson, MS to go to the
Mississippi State Archives. Our goal for our trip to the Archives was to search for estate or probate records in Madison County, MS as well as Hinds County, MS. Madison and Hinds Counties border one another. We were searching for both counties because William Lovett Balfour could have died in either.

After some searching through estate and probate record indexes, we determined that William Lovett Balfour died and filed his will in Madison County. Once this was figured out, we got really confused regarding how the records were kept. In California, the records are with the Superior Court and are called exactly that: Estate or Probate Records. In Mississippi, the name of the court that handles estates and probates could be called something different in every single county. With those difference means differences in filing and indexing systems as well.

In addition to this, the Mississippi State Archives may or may not have the matching microfilm to a particular index ie. They may have an index to probate records that spans from 1823-1971, but they may only have probate records from 1871-1950. That means that if you need to find probate records for the year 1857, you would have them on the index microfilm roll but not the actual probate records on microfilm because the Archives does not have it. This was exactly what ran into with the records we wanted to look at. Unfortunately, the staff wasn’t well versed in this subject area, so that also complicated things.

One great find during our first trip to the MS Archives was the will of William Lovett Balfour. We had not previously located this. The only problem, was that it was microfilmed in negative form rather than positive form ie. With black as the background and white writing instead of white as the background and black writing. To add to this, the handwriting was REALLY bad and part of the pages were torn or faded away. I could decipher that he willed away his plantations, but I couldn’t make out the word slave or Negro anywhere. The next step was locating an estate inventory, which would list out all the slaves, their names, ages and values.

On April 23, we headed back to the Mississippi State Archives. This time, we were able to make more sense out of the estate and probate documents. I was able to view the microfilm with the paperwork submitted to the court by the executors of William Lovett Balfour’s estate. I find a couple of inventories with values, names and ages and slaves but for some reason, they were for a completely different person than Balfour, meaning they were possibly misfiled.

Outside of that, I found copies of receipts for “rental” of slaves from Chicot County, AR, letters from the Clerk of Court Office in Lake Providence, LA regarding charges for creating an estate inventory, etc. I made copies of anything that was relevant. Unfortunately, there were a couple of name matches to Rachel and some of her and King, Sr.’s children in the possibly misfiled documents, but nothing definitive. Jean spent the day looking at estate records as well, and also documented some death certificates for the state of MS for possible family members and family members. After this, I spent some time printing out marriage records, notably; I received the marriage certificate for William Steven Atlas, III and Bessie Webb in Jefferson Davis County, MS. I also printed out other Atlas family marriage certificates of people who may be family members that we haven’t connected yet.

An employee at the Archives suggested that we go to Canton, MS, which is where the Madison County Courthouse is. That way, we would have access to the real documents as well as things that may not be available via microfilm at the Archives. Canton is only a half an hour drive from Jackson. We decided to head there the next day.

On April 24, we headed to Canton to go to the Madison County Courthouse. Unfortunately, when we got there, the employees there didn’t know a whole lot about the records we were requesting either. We were told the records were in one of three places, and no one was sure which one was right. One of the employees named Kim did a superb job helping us out. We were able to find the Probate Docket record for William Lovett Balfour which listed that an estate inventory, as well as other things were documented for the estate. We were supposed to be sent to the basement ourselves, but she went down there for us and brought back four file folders for us.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the “Book B” that the estate inventory was located. We were really sad about this. On the other hand, when looking at the four file folders for Probate Case # 733, the Estate of William Lovett Balfour, we found that the four folders were documents that I had viewed the day before. Yes, this sounds like we should have been sad, right? Well, not at all. The people that microfilmed the files “casually” forgot to microfilm a copy of an inventory that was done on the Balfour estate. It was about 9 or 10 pages, and 7 of the 10 pages were nothing but slaves, with names, ages and values. Some of the names matched our family members. It was unclear as to what plantation the slaves were from, but it was clear that there were a lot missing because it was only about 1/8 of what Balfour owned. Kim was supposed to charge us for copies of the inventory, but didn’t do it. FAVOR!!! We’re going to send her a thank you card.

What we were able to inference from this was that the Balfour estate was probably only allowed to inventory the estate he had in that particular county. Based upon the letters that I made copies of from the microfilm at the MS Archives, I could tell that an inventory was done in (East) Carroll Parish. After reading through some books that we have on the East Carroll Parish area, we were able to determine that in 1857, which was the year that Balfour died, (East) Carroll Parish was a part of the 10th Judicial District of Louisiana. That included (East) Carroll, Madison and Tensas Parishes. We called the East Carroll Parish Clerk of Court, which we were going to head to already on Monday, April 28, and they confirmed that they did have the 10th Judicial District Records, which we never have looked at in Lake Providence. Lord willing, we are believing that the estate inventory for Eyrie Plantation is there and has our relatives names on it.

Later that day, after lunch at Cracker Barrel (Which was great), we went back to the MS State Archives and printed out death certificates for family members and possible family members.

From there, we headed to Port Gibson, MS to meet with possible relatives. On the way there, we took the Natchez Trace, which is a road full of historical spots that are relevant to Southern life such as the Civil War. We were quite deep into it when all of a sudden, a wild turkey comes on the side of the road and I was thinking “WAIT!!! Don’t come out,” and it’s clear he didn’t hear my thoughts because he came right out into the road. We had to be doing between 55 and 60 miles an hour. He hit the front of the car and then rolled over to the other side of the road. My nerves were so frazzled that I didn’t know what to do. We weren’t able to pull over because there are really no safe shoulders on the Natchez Trace, they are all soft. If we would have swerved to avoid it, we probably would have crashed. We were just so grateful for our lives.

Once we got to our destination, we got out to look at the car. There were three six inch dents on the hood and the grate with the car make symbol was pushed in halfway. There were also some remnants of his feathers there as well. We couldn’t believe a turkey had done that. I immediately started praying that we wouldn’t incur a large amount of fees to repair it. The car that we got was brand new and only had about 200 miles on it when we picked it up.

After we calmed down a bit, we headed into the house of Pearl She and her family are natives of Port Gibson, MS, which is about an hour and a half southeast of Lake Providence, LA. I had been contacted by Pearl’s daughter, Vivian Hall-Carroll about a year ago after she had found out about our family website (http://www.atlasfamily.org) “by mistake.”

We were amazed at how many people came over to the house. Not only was Pearl there, but so were three of her sisters, a first cousin, two granddaughters, two great grandsons and one daughter of hers. We sat around the living room comparing notes on our families. It was crazy because I was telling them stuff about their own folks that they didn’t know because I had prepared a folder of information on their side before I came on the research trip this year. They were so gracious to us. It was amazing how many names our families had in common and also how much some of them reminded us of folks on our side. Jean and I, as well as Pearl and her side, left feeling like there was definitely a connection that just had yet to be discovered. We all vowed to keep in contact and exchanged contact information. On the way back to Jackson, I took another highway. **Laughs** I will create a separate database just for our Port Gibson side and then when we find the connection, I will link up our database with theirs to create one.

On Friday, April 25, we headed from Jackson, MS to Vidalia, LA. Vidalia is the parish seat for Concordia Parish, LA. My great grandfather, James Benjamin Sewell and Jean’s father, John Henry Thompson, were both from Concordia Parish.

While at the LA State Archives, I had discovered the names of James Benjamin Sewell’s parents. My main goal for going to Vidalia was to find out more information about his parents, Benjamin and Esther Sewell. Jean was going to find out whatever she could about her Dad’s side because the information she and her sisters had was very scant.

When we got to the courthouse, we were sent down to the basement to look at marriage records. By the time I had finished transcribing things, I had over 4 pages worth of information on marriages alone. I found out that Benjamin Sewell had to have been married at least five times which may possibly be the reason why James Benjamin Sewell was living with his grandparents Smith and Lettie Reader as a child. I found out he had siblings named Robert, William and Pierce.

Jean was able to get a lot of information on her father’s family as well.

The amazing part about this leg of the trip is that we encountered a PhD student who was originally from CA who was looking at the same records we were. We stopped and talked to him and he is an expert on the assimilation of African Americans into the US as free citizens during reconstruction, especially in the geographical area where we are looking for information. The “irony” is that a month or so ago, our cousin John had suggested that we contact university in this area to se if there was a doctoral candidate doing the same research. Aaron, the student’s name, had already documented over 15,000 transactions of 10 merchants in the area, and was well versed in history, specifically, African American history. He told us that in the three weeks he had been in Vidalia, we were only the second group of people he’s seen searching like he is. It was nothing but God!

After we left the courthouse in Vidalia, we headed for Lake Providence, LA. It’s about an hour and half drive north. We were very excited to see our cousins Robert and Cinderella.

Today we are probably going to do some touristy things in town that we haven’t done before and may visit some family members. We’ll be heading to church on Sunday, April 27 at Progressive Chapel Missionary Baptist Church which was started by family members in 1921. We are hoping that Robert can get us into the offices to look at old records and pictures that they church has. We’ll be heading to the courthouse on Monday.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NOLA, Public Library and the Quarter

Yesterday we got a chance to see the renovations on Grace's house. I couldn't believe how nice it looked. They were hoping to be back in the house once we started the trip, but due to some set backs, they were not able to be. Things have actually picked up since we got here and they may be able to move in while we were in Lake Providence. So, it's answered prayer that they'll be home while we are here and that we'll get to stay in the "new" house before we leave.

We then traveled to the New Orleans Public Library. The main library has a whole Louisiana division with a lot of genealogy documents. While we were there, we looked at various parish specific records as well as Orleans Parish specific records. We also printed many obituaries for family members who died in the New Orleans area. We didn't find a lot of stuff in the parish records, but it was still a valuable experience because we will be able to use what they have on file rather than venturing to several parish courthouses to obtain the information.

After we left the library, we headed back to the French Quarter so RaiChel could see more. We got gifts and souvenirs on Bourbon Street and stopped by my favorite black art store, the Black Heritage Gallery. After that, we took a stroll down Bourbon Street although there was still a bad stench from Mardi Gras. I'll have to tell some of you aboutthe revelation that I got about that. From there, we headed to Acme Oyster House and got po-boys so RaiChel could have one. Jean and I got oyster and shrimp, Raichel got a shrimp and catfish one. It was pretty good. We use to go to a place called We Never Close, but since Katrina, I've been told the sandwiches aren't as good.

After that, we headed back to the house and interviewed Alice and Little Freddy about their experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina. It was amazing to sit there and listen to them talk about it. Big Freddy rented When The Levees Broke so RaiChel could see it. I hadn't seen it since it aired, but I'm glad I watched it here with some of the survivors because I gained new insights. We capped the night off with some more Blue Bell Ice Cream. This time we had the banana pudding flavor.

We are now sad because RaiChel leaves in a few hours. We really don't want her to leave and wish she could stay with us for the duration of the trip, but alas, Minneapolis calls. We'll be going to the Trolley Stop Cafe for breakfast this morning and then after that, dropping RaiChel off at the airport. Then, Jean and I will head to Jackson, MS. This is where the bulk of our research starts as we'll be heading to the Mississippi State Archives. We will be there until Friday when we will head to Vidalia, LA to the courthouse to search for information on our father's families. Our cousin Hattie is going to meet us there. After that, we are heading to Lake Providence.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bye bye, Baton Rouge

Today was our last day in Baton Rouge. We started the day off going to church with our cousin Gene at the church he, his wife Cassandra and our other cousin Carl attend. The service was awesome and the message was very timely. We really enjoyed ourselves.

We met a fellow churchmember/friend of Gene's who has family in Ferriday, Concordia Parish, LA. That is where Jean's father and my paternal and maternal grandfathers are from. He told me that he knew some Sewells from an area called Wiseville. He offered to help me to gather information regarding them.

We had lunch/dinner at Carl's house tonight. His wife Allene is a great cook and tries to feed you to death. The food was, of course good, in addition to the mini sweet potato and pecan pies.

Overall, Baton Rouge was good to us, as it was last year.

We headed back to New Orleans at about 7pm. We then headed to see the movie "Street Kings" with my cousin Freddy. I could have passed on that one. **Laughs**

Tomorrow we will head to the New Orleans Public Library to look at New Orleans specific records. We're then going to head to Providence Memorial Park Cemetery to take pictures of graves of family members. We're then going to the French Quarter again with RaiChel and to where the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Archives and Baton Rouge

This morning, we left for Baton Rouge at about 9:30m after eating beignets this morning from Cafe du Monde. Of course, RaiChel enjoyed them as much as we did although we told her that we'd have to get them fresh for her to eat them that way too. We also stressed the importance of Tony Chachere's seasoning. We are going to send me and her home with some so we can be delivered from Lawry's. **Laughs**

We got to Baton Rouge at about 10:30 and had a breakfast waiting for us that was cooked by our cousin Gene. Gene collects a lot of antiques, his favorite thing to collect are clocks, although he has a phonograph and many old radios in his house. For the food report: Not only was there eggs, grits, sausage, but there were pancakes, biscuits, fresh orange juice, molasses or syrup and homemade strawberry jam. If I could hijack the strawberry jam back to California, I would. It was ridiculously good. Gene's son Gene, II met us over at the house with his girlfriend. It was the first time we had ever met him, which was great because we hear alot about him from his father.

From there, we headed to the Archives. Jean and I's cousin Hattie met us there so that that Jean and Hattie could do research on their side of the family. I'm related to Hattie on my maternal grandfather's side and Jean is related to her on her father's side. Jean is also the first cousin of my mother. Sounds confusing, but basically Jean and my mother are double cousins. **Laughs**

At the Louisiana State Archives, we picked up and discovered the following:
- Death certificates for the following people: Sissie Atlas; Lucinda Henderson; Henrietta Henderson; Albert Henderson, Jr.; Richard Henderson; Squire Henderson; Harrison Tyler; Sheridan Turner
- Marriage transcriptions/certificates for: Alfred Charles Atlas; Julius Atlas, Jr.; Charles Edward Russell, Jr; Phillip Atlas
- Tax Transcpritions: Years 1890-1896 in East Carroll Parish
- Confirmed the approximate year of death as the second half of 1890 to 1891 as to when King Atlas, Sr. died as per tax records
- I picked up quite a few birth, death and marriage records for my mother's father's side and for my dad's side period. I was able to find out the names of my great great grandparents on my paternal grandfather's side, which no one knew.

After we returned from the Archives, Gene made us some boiled shrimp which was really good. Then, we went over to Gene's friend Felton's house like we did last year. Hattie met us over there with her niece, our cousin Melanie. Our cousins Carl and Wakita met us over at Felton's as well. Carl's daughter Katara just received an award from the NCAA for her performance in track last season. He brought it over to show it to us. Gene's wife Cassandra met us over at Felton's too.

The menu was fried catfish (from Tony's seafood), jambalaya (that Wakita made by herself), potato salad, green beans, blueberry cobbler, and rolls. We sat around the table at Felton's place and talked for a while; Hattie and Carl had both seen a devasting fire at a high school while they were in school, two people ended up dead as the result. It all started with a container of lighter fluid being left on a radiator and was an accident. Hearing them relive the details was just a lot. It was amazing that the both of them were there and had no idea they were even connected. The fire happened in April 1969.

Gene offered us some Blue Bell Ice Cream and I have yet to partake in my favorite dairy treat, but will be soon. We are heading to church tomorrow with Gene and his wife Cassandra. We are hoping to meet up with our cousins Janice and India, who also live in Baton Rouge tomorrow. We are also having dinner over at Carl and Allene's, and we get to pick the menu. We will probably head back to New Orleans at around 9pm tomorrow night as well.