By Sean Dunlap
Franklin Countians interested in their families lineage came together on Monday, June 7 for the inaugural gathering of a local group focusing on the nuances of genealogy and to discuss how to stay on point with the detective work across the decades in finding their relatives.
The session, held at the Franklin County Public Library in Meadville, was organized by Librarian Susan Adams along with area resident Bill Partin to create a networking group specializing in supporting residents trying to find out more about their families.
“We hope, in the future, this group can start helping others with their genealogy because there is a lot of interest in family history here,” Adams said.
Partin agreed and said those who are interested in their diverse family lines are also students of history.
“It’s an amazing and wonderful venture to undertake that brings a whole new meaning to better understanding the world around you, and history literally begins to come alive,” he continued.
Partin said he began his own family research around 1991, and his interest has only grown in the years that have followed.
“The thing that got me interested was in the McGehee family — there was a mother and a daughter who started doing research in the 1940s and published about three volumes of books,” Partin said.
“I got copies of those and it got me on the trail after that. Since then, I’ve accumulated about 76,000 people — along the family lines of my wife and I — in the database, and it keeps on growing.”
Based on his experience, Partin noted genealogy research typically points to relatives who lived in a certain regions and were involved in events — significant or otherwise — and those discoveries fuel the drive to keep digging further into the past.
“Groups like this one are about interactions and if you come across some information in your research and get stuck you can ask for help to get you past that,” he continued.
“When you go back in time, a family tree is really more of a diamond shape — not a triangle that keeps branching out. What I mean is that it keeps spreading out to a certain point and then begins to come back together.”
To this point, Partin shared with the gathering that his familial line traces back to England’s King Alfred, who had 12 children — with eight of those tied into his existence.
In discussing his own background, Partin, who was born in Wilkinson County, attended elementary school in Franklin County before his family moved.
He returned in 1965 to live with his grandmother and graduated after four years of high school here in 1969.
“We had been gone for 50 years and came back almost two years ago,” Partin noted. “We’ll be planted here when we pass on and already have our headstone at Siloam Baptist Church, which is our home church. I wanted to get back to my roots.
“In my graduating class, there were 68 people — and I have discovered, at this point, that 55 of them were my cousins. That’s just the way life is.”
Partin said the history of individuals could best be described as being like a spaghetti bowl.
“When I started doing research on my own family, I found that my grandfather and grandmother were double third cousins,” he continued with a laugh. “And my grandmother was not too happy about learning that.
“As I tell people, back in those days, you couldn’t travel more than 15 miles to find a spouse.”
Partin used the session to outline some of Franklin County’s general history — particularly early county formations.
“Adams and Pickering counties were two of the original counties in Southwest Mississippi,” he said. “The old Pickering County is now Jefferson and Claiborne counties. Wilkinson County came around 1802 and then Franklin and Amite counties followed.
“Franklin was formed from land that was in Adams and Wilkinson counties. A lot of our families crossed these changing county lines.”
Partin noted geographical boundaries continued to change as late as 1870 with the formation of Lincoln County.
“At that point in history, Franklin County stretched all the way to the Bogue Chitto River where it met Lawrence County,” he added. “You have to understand these boundaries to try to find details and records about your family members.
“The Franklin County Courthouse burned around 1870 so records prior to that time cannot be found here. But you can find a lot of information after this point in time.”
Partin said vital documents such as marriage records can be found in the circuit clerk’s office and land records are saved in the chancery clerk’s office.
“Once you start finding specific people and who they got married to, that will help in doing your research,” he said.
Partin said migration routes initially brought people to Southwest Mississippi along land routes from South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia along with others from the northeast — like New Jersey — via the Ohio and Mississippi river systems to around Natchez.
“In talking about our region, most of the local families here — the bulk of them — came in the 1800s from places like Georgia and the Carolinas,” he noted. “There were two major migrations of people coming here with the first starting around 1798 and continuing until around 1812 — bring about 15,000 people.
“The War of 1812 put a hold on that, and it started up again around 1814 and continued until 1819 — and this brought about 25,000 more people to Southwest Mississippi.”
Central South Carolina — particularly the area around what is currently Charleston and Richland and Sumter counties — was the jumping off point for many of those who settled locally.
“Unfortunately, a lot of those records no longer exist because they were destroyed as a result of the Civil War and Sherman’s march to the sea military campaign,” Partin said.
He also talked about the history of the Natchez Trace, which he described as being a “little dangerous” in its early days.
“That wasn’t necessarily the case if people were migrating as part of a large group by wagon train,” Partin said. “But if a family was migrating, they would likely encounter robbers along the Trace and what few possession they had would be taken.”
Another major migration route to Southwest Mississippi came in the form of an old federal road that started near Augusta, Ga., and made a bow toward the Southwest just north of Mobile, Ala. before coming into Wayne County, Mississippi, and toward this area — with much of the path traveling through Native American lands.
Adams and Partin encourage those who have already started their journey into researching their families or those wanting to start to take part in the group to find support and help if they get stuck along the way.
For additional information on the genealogy group and local research resources, contact Adams and Partin through the library at 601-384-2997.