Genealogical Research at the Archives
Successful genealogical research depends on three things: the quality of record-keeping in the area being searched, the existence of surviving records, and the determination of the researcher. To get a head start on your research and use your time more efficiently, you can search descriptions of the records we hold using our online catalog before traveling to the Winter Building. Descriptions of the most commonly used genealogical resources follow.
Birth and Death Records
The State of Mississippi did not officially keep birth records until November 1912. Records from that date to the present are in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Health, Vital Record Section. Census records can be used as an alternate proof of birth. While there are no copies of birth records at the archives, there are microfiche copies of the state's death records from November 1912 to 1943. Death records often give the names and places of birth of the parents of the deceased in addition to information about the deceased.
Information on how to purchase copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce records not found at the archives is online at the Vital Records office of the State Department of Health Web site.
Federal population censuses are conducted every ten years. Early censuses list the head of household and number of household members. More details were gathered beginning in 1850, eventually including names and ages of all family members, place of birth, occupation, and the value of property.
The archives has 1820–1930 federal population censuses for Mississippi on microfilm. Indexes for the years 1820–1870 are in book form, while the 1880–1930 indexes are on microfilm. (The 1890 census was destroyed in a U.S. Department of Commerce fire.) The archives also has some early census records for Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
In addition to population schedules, the federal government also conducted special censuses that include agricultural, manufacturing, mortality, and slave schedules. The archives has agricultural, manufacturing, and mortality schedules for 1850–80. The archives has slave schedules and indexes for 1850 and 1860. Although slaves are not listed by name (only names of slave owners or overseers are given) the records do state the gender and age of each slave.
Mississippi researchers also have some surviving state census files. They are not available for every county, and several years are not indexed. Some of these state censuses were taken in years between the federal census.
After a definite location for the family is determined, county records such as marriage licenses, wills, deeds, and tax records should be explored. The holdings for each county will differ as some courthouses have suffered fire or other damage. In most cases, the original copy of the record remains in the courthouse while the state archives maintains a microfilm copy.
The archives' collection includes hundreds of court cases from the files of the High Court of Errors and Appeals (forerunner of the State Supreme Court). Cases that were thought to have valuable genealogical data were indexed by Mary Flowers Hendrix and published in Mississippi Court Records 1799–1859; the volume is indexed by the name of the contesting parties. The online catalog's "Quick Searches" offer three finding aids for court records—county, non-county, and supreme court—with entries for the individual parties named in the suit.
President Grover Cleveland appointed the Dawes Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes in 1893 to negotiate land with the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes. The commission generated the Dawes Rolls of people eligible for tribal membership from 1898 to 1914. The archives has microfilm copies of Choctaw and Chickasaw enrollment cards. Information given on the cards usually includes roll number, name, age, sex, degree of Indian blood, relation to head of household, and names of parents.
Enumeration of Educable Children
The enumeration of educable children has proven invaluable to researchers trying to locate elusive families. These files list the names and ages of children aged five to eighteen and, beginning in 1885, their parents or guardians. Some families who were missed by the state or federal census taker may be listed on the enumeration of educable children. The dates for these records vary by county. The oldest date to 1850, while others are as late as the 1950s. Educable children's lists may be found in the records of the Secretary of State, Department of Education, or counties.
Freedmen's Bureau Labor Contracts
Some 36,000 former slaves are listed on the contracts, which record the freedmen's agreement to work for a planter (possibly their former master) for a fee, medical care, housing, and sometimes a share of the crop. These records contain such information as the county of residence, name of the planter, plantation name (if one was given), name of freedman, age, and terms of pay. Sometimes family units or relationships are indicated on the contracts. Labor contracts are indexed (by freedmen, planter, and plantation).
County Marriage Records
The archives offers microfilm copies of most of the original marriage books held by the county courthouses. The extent of the collection varies county to county. County clerks indexed the marriage records, usually by grooms' surnames.
Statewide Marriage Index
Marriage records prior to 1926 found in Mississippi courthouses by the federal Works Progress Administration were indexed (using the federal Soundex Code) by grooms' surnames. The information provided on the microfilm index includes name of groom, name of bride, date of record, name of presiding official, county of marriage, and the book and page where the marriage is recorded.
Freedmen's Bureau Marriage Records
A portion of the fifty microfilm rolls pertaining to the operation of the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau include marriage records of some of the newly freed slaves. The information provided includes names of parties, ages, and places of birth and residence. Most of the marriages recorded took place in Warren County and involved grooms who served in the United States Colored Troops.
Mississippians have a long history of serving in the armed forces. Materials documenting this service occur throughout the archives' collections. Government records include Confederate records, State Auditor's Confederate pension files, Military Department/Adjutant General series, Veterans' Affairs Board records, and U.S. military records. The archives has nearly 400 manuscript collections associated with the different wars in which Mississippians have served. The Mississippiana collection includes military history books as well as indices to service records and pension rolls. The archives also has many photographs with military subjects. All of these materials are searchable in the online catalog.
The archives has microfilm copies of service records for Mississippians in the War of 1812 (1812–15), Mexican War (1846–48), Civil War (1861–65), and the Spanish-American War (1898), and draft registration cards for World War I (1917–18). The archives also holds Mississippi World War I statement of service cards, 1917–19. Link to list of military records on microfilm
The only pension files available at the archives are those of individuals who served in the Confederate army or navy. These records are available on microfilm. The pension files for veterans of all other wars and Union soldiers in the Civil War can be found at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
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