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Former Superintendent Philip Terrell masterminded and promoted the extensive school constructions and renovations to all the school plants and complexes that took place in the Pass Christian School District which includes DeLisle. The major part of this expansion was completed before his voluntary resignation due to illness in 2001.
TRACING MY ANCESTOR'S FOOTSTEPS IN SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI
A Genealogical Journey by Philip Terrell, Ph. D.
Superintendent of Pass Christian School System
It's simply amazing how once one reaches the age of forty, he/she almost instinctively begins to develop a strong desire to rediscover their roots. At forty-something, forty-three to be exact, I'm no exception.
Although I had studied U.S. history, Mississippi history, and European history at Mississippi State University in early to mid 1970's and had taught high school until 1980, surprisingly, the world of genealogy and my own history background never crossed paths until I passed the age of forty.
Although I had thought about my family history often and remembered some of the stories that my mother and father shared with me over the years, it was not until after a conversation with a colleague that I began to research my family history.
As a result of prior discussions with my father, Ledell Terrell, I knew that his parents were Richard Terrell and Jessie Gayten Terrell, who were my paternal grandparents. I also learned that Richard Terrell's parents and my great-grandparents were Jerry and Mary Terrell. However, with the exception of the fact that my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all resided in Lincoln County, Mississippi, sometime during their lives, and that my great-grandfather, Jerry Terrell, homesteaded some land there, I had virtually no other information.
After locating old family documents and developing genealogical questions, I initially began talking to Ms. Anne S. Anderson (who once maintained a collection of genealogical material), my first stop was the Hancock County Courthouse. There I was able to locate documents concerning my parents in the Hancock County Circuit Clerk's office that promised to provide, and eventually did provide, information about my grandparents. To my surprise, the information had been there all along.
One of the first documents I obtained was a copy of my parents' marriage application. This document revealed that they were married in 1932. It also provided the address of my grandparents, Richard and Jessie Terrell, at the time of my parents' wedding. And just a few doors down in the Chancery Clerk's office, I was able to locate the list of educable children. I had hoped this list would provide information once I began research on my mother's family, since my mother was originally from Hancock County.
Excitedly, I returned to the Anderson Genealogical Library and immediately fast-forwarded the process by beginning the task of reviewing census records. With some help, I was able to locate my grandparents, Richard and Jessie Terrell, in the 1910 census. I was shocked! There it was as it had been all along. The information listed Richard and Jessie Terrell living in a house on Jackson Street in the Norfield Village, which was near a local saw mill in Lincoln County. Their children were listed as James, age 3, who was my father's brother, and, of course, Lee, age 1 1/2, who was my father. My grandfather's age was listed as 27, while his wife, Jessie, was listed as being 22 years of age.
By now I was thoroughly hooked. Perhaps I could find my great grandfather in the U.S. Census! Because of time restraints, several weeks passed before I could get back to the Anderson Genealogical Library, but eventually I returned. And this time I knew exactly where to start.
Pondering over U.S. Census Reports, the 1900 census did not reveal any information pertaining to my family history, and I was quickly made aware that the 1890 census had been destroyed and was unavailable. So, as I moved to the 1880 census, I knew that this census record would very well be my last chance to locate information about my great-grandfather. Very few African Americans were listed in the official U.S. census records prior to 1870; and the 1870 census, due to such vast migration and movement of newly freed men, is somewhat incomplete.
Finally, I began reviewing the 1870 census, looking first in Lincoln County, Beat 4, because this was the general location my grandfather and great-grandfather had homesteaded land. After several hours of perusing the records with the assistance of a library volunteer, I discovered information about my great-grandfather in the 1880 U.S. Census.
I was humbled by the fact that even though a scant 15 years had passed since the Civil War, the records indicated that my grandfather was enjoying a relatively prosperous life. The records show that my grandfather, Jerry Terrell, was 40 years of age at the time, which placed his date of birth as 1840. His wife, Mary, was listed as 35 years of age. At that time, they had nine children, excluding Frederick, who was born in 1882, and Richard, my grandfather, who was born in 1887. The census record showed that my great-grandfather's occupation was that of a farmer and that Mary, his wife, was "keeping house."
After learning a little more about my great-grandfather, Jerry Terrell, from the census records, I felt a strong desire to learn more about him as an individual. Therefore, I journeyed to the Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, and was able to research, pinpoint and acquire a legal description of the land he originally homesteaded. Since Lincoln County was created as late as 1870, this was very easily done. There were not many entries during this period of time. Where I previously thought my great-grandfather homesteaded only 40 acres, this research revealed that he had homesteaded nearly four times that much: 157 acres!
With this information, I was able to write to the U.S. Department of Interior to ascertain if they, in fact, would have any information about my grandfather. Again to my surprise, the records were still on file.
Ten days later, I received a package from the U.S. Department of Interior containing the records, which included some details about my great-grandfather's life. (Admittedly, I was impressed with the expediency with which the Department of Interior responded to my request!) Specifically, the records revealed that my grandfather and his family first appeared on the land on January 19, 1876, and that by 1881, five years after the original settlement, Jerry Terrell's improvements of the property included the construction of "a dwelling house, meat house, kitchen, stable, two corn cribs and a cotton crib." To my amusement, my great-grandfather placed a value of $250.00 on his improvements.
During this same five-year period, Jerry Terrell testified for the record that "he had cleared 30 acres and had planted and harvested five crops." The documents from the Department of the Interior also revealed, through the required testimony of witnesses, that my great-grandfather was of good character. In fact, one witness, Austin Dean, was quoted as saying, "I have been acquainted with Jerry since 1866."
Due to slavery, most African Americans find it extremely difficult to obtain information on family history prior to 1865. However, I continue to investigate my great-grandfather's life as the remaining historical documents reveal his history.
In addition, I am encouraged that immediately after slavery my great-grandfather apparently emerged as a successful and prosperous newly freed man.
But now I have more questions about my family history than ever before. And, finally, I think I am close to locating the specific geographical area where my great-grandfather, Jerry Terrell, labored in bondage, and maybe the name of a great-granddaughter of the original slave owner. Once I locate this information, as well as information about my mother's side of the family, a more complete picture of my family history will come into focus. And, honestly, I can't wait.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Philip Terrell is originally from Bay St. Louis, lives in Pass Christian with his family in the home that he built on Second Street. In his capacity as past Superintendent of the Pass Christian Public School District, he was very active in a number of civic and community initiatives along the Coast.