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.


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