In Mississippi, where introductions are commonly followed by questions such as “Where are you from?” and “Who is your mother?,” it is easy to understand why genealogy is a common hobby. Genealogy is defined as the history of the descent of a person or family from a particular ancestor. It is an interdisciplinary pursuit, involving geography; local, state, and national history; sociology; political science; economics; and archaeology, among other areas. Compiling the history of a family usually requires the use of original contemporary records such as censuses (both state and federal), tax rolls, land grants and deeds, wills or estate records, church records, county histories, and vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates). Newspaper articles and obituaries as well as personal journals and manuscripts often provide details about daily life. Maps of the area and cemetery transcriptions can help to pinpoint the family’s original home site. And photographs of the family or individual are a bonus if they have been preserved. Tracing a family’s history may require the skills of a detective, who must uncover clues to connect one generation to another, and of a puzzle solver, who can take one piece of information and fit it into the picture of a family.
When doing genealogy, some people concentrate on one family and compile family stories and documentation going back to an immigrant ancestor or even further. Others research only a few generations. And still others become so captivated by the search that they work on one family and then move on to another until they have documented grandparents and great-grandparents for ten generations or more.
While genealogy is the history of a family, a genealogist researches and prepares genealogies or family histories. Most genealogy in Mississippi is done by individuals researching their own families, and they may refer to themselves not as genealogists but as family historians or researchers. A few individuals become professionals and provide genealogical research services for others. One of Mississippi’s first professional genealogists was Richard Lackey of Forest, who developed a national reputation and has been inducted into the National Genealogical Society Hall of Fame. Other Mississippians have earned varying levels of accreditation from the Board for Certification of Genealogists . Most of the state’s libraries and archives provide lists of persons who have some expertise in local and/or statewide research and who will do research for individuals for a fee. Major genealogical research collections are held by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Cook Library at the University of Southern Mississippi, the Laurel-Jones County Library, the Pascagoula Library, and the Aberdeen Public Library. Most county and regional libraries collect local and family information on their area, and nearly all libraries offer online catalogs, enabling researchers to look for specific holdings without leaving their homes.
Genealogists benefit from sharing questions and research findings with others, often through genealogical organizations in the relevant geographic area. Mississippi has two statewide genealogical organizations. The Mississippi Genealogical Society bases membership on the recommendation of two current members, while the Family Research Association of Mississippi is open to anyone who wants to join. Most counties also have genealogical and/or historical societies that preserve and publish local history and help researchers looking for local contacts and information.
- Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy (1990)
- Anne S. Lipscomb and Kathleen S. Hutchison, Tracing Your Mississippi Ancestor (1994)