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Genealogical Research in Mississippi

Genealogy Research Mississippi

There are many genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in Mississippi. Because there are so many records held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping you to understand:

  • What they are
  • Where to find them
  • How to use them

These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in Mississippi. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Magnolia State” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your Mississippi ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of Mississippi

There were approximately 30,000 Native American Indians of various tribes living in what we now call Mississippi when the first Europeans arrived in the early 16th century. By the time the French had settled the area in 1699 however, only the three largest tribes remained, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez. The Natchez were eventually wiped out by the French between 1729 and 1730 in retaliation to the massacre of a colony of French settlers on the Natchez Bluffs.

Hernando de Soto was the most notable of the Spanish explorers who ventured into the area. He arrived between 1540 and 1541 seeking mineral wealth. Upon finding none, the Spanish lost interest in the area and the French established a settlement at Biloxi Bay in 1699. The French soon established settlements at Mobile in 1702, Natchez in 1716, and New Orleans in 1718. Spain once again took control of the region after the French lost the French and Indian War, but ceded the area east of the Mississippi to England.

The Spanish continued to rule the area until 1795, but maintained a garrison there for another three years. Mississippi was organized as a territory in 1798, and for the next 9 years grew enormously in population. Mississippi was granted statehood on December 10, 1817 and exemplified the American frontier until the outbreak of Civil War.

In three treaties between 1820 and 1832, the remaining Indian tribes signed over their land to the United States. The availability of these fertile lands led to boom of cotton agriculture and slavery sweeping across the state. As slavery increased, so did profits, and the Mississippians who benefited began to justify slavery morally, socially and economically. The plantation owners of Mississippi grew to believe that no price was too high to pay to maintain slavery, even secession and civil war.

So intent was the state on maintaining slavery that it became to second state to cede from the union on January 9, 1861. Because of the strategic importance off the Mississippi River, the area occupied a central place in Union strategy. As such, much of the fighting during the Civil War took place in Mississippi, the most concentrated Union attack coming at Vicksburg, which eventually proved a turning point in the war in favor of the Union. Of the 78,000 men from Mississippi who fought for the Confederacy, close to 30,000 lost their lives.

The Reconstruction era was a tumultuous time for Mississippi; Republicans and Democrats clashing over the rights of newly free African Americans. While the Republicans encouraged blacks to get involved in the political system by voting and running for office, the Democrats resisted full freedom with all their might. The confrontation lasted until 1875 when Democrats, using violence and intimidation wrested control of the state from the Republicans.

Blacks in Mississippi were pushed back into slavery in everyway except name, and segregation laws and a new state constitution in 1890 completely usurped their rights. White political solidarity lasted from the Reconstruction era right into the 1960’s and according to the Tuskegee Institute, an educational institute for blacks that opened in 1888, 538 blacks were lynched in Mississippi between 1883 and 1959.

  • Important Dates in Mississippi History
    • 1699– French settlement established at Biloxi
    • 1763 – Ceded from France to Great Britain
    • 1781 – Part of Mississippi ceded to Spain
    • 1783 – Most of Mississippi claimed by Georgia
    • 1795 – U.S. receives all of Mississippi west of Florida in Pinckney treaty
    • 1796 – U.S. takes control of area claimed by Georgia
    • 1798 – Organized as a separate territory
    • 1802 – Georgia relinquishes claims to the area
    • 1817 – Statehood
    • 1831 – Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians removed
    • 1861 – Secedes from Union
    • 1863 – Battle of Vicksburg
    • 1870 – Readmitted to Union

Famous Battles Fought in Mississippi

Many battles took place in Mississippi during the Civil War, and the Civil War Academy has excellent accounts of them all, providing; locations, dates, names of Commanders, names of Units involved, and number of casualties.

These battle accounts that exist can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men.

Common Mississippi Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching Mississippi ancestors. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of Mississippi.

Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.

Mississippi Genealogical Organizations and Archives

Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.

Mississippi Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.

Mississippi Genealogical and Historical Societies

Genealogical and historical societies have access to extensive catalogues of genealogical data. They are also able to offer expert guidance for genealogical researchers. Many members are professional genealogists who are most willing to share their expertise in finding ancestors. 

Mississippi Genealogical Society – census, vital records, religious records, city directories, military records, family histories
6000 Douglas Ave.
P.O. Box 7735
Des Moines, IA 50322
Telephone: 515-276-0287

Old Fort Genealogical Society – cemetery records, township maps, old settlers list
Ft Madison Public Library
1920 Ave E
Ft Madison, IA  52627

Mississippi Family History Centers

Additional Mississippi Genealogical Resources

Mississippi Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on Mississippi genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Mississippi Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.

Mississippi Message Boards

A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the Mississippi Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

Mississippi Newspapers and Periodicals

Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills.

Historical Mississippi Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in.

For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research.

Mississippi City Directories

City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in Mississippi is the Mississippi Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available city and historical directory related to Mississippi.

Mississippi Genealogical Records

Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories and websites where you can find Mississippi vital records

Some county clerks kept vital records as early as 1838. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of these documents for many counties which can be accessed at Mississippi Family History Centers. Existing originals are found in the county clerk’s office or in the Mississippi Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) for that county.

Original copies of Mississippi Vital Records for death, birth, marriage, and divorce may be ordered from:

Mississippi Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records
605 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, IL 62702-5097
Telephone: (217) 782-6553
Fax: 217-785-3209

The Mississippi Archives has an Mississippiwide Marriage Index, 1763–1900 which contains one million marriages, or two million names.

Census Reports

Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.

Federal census records for Mississippi exist from 1800 to 1990. Unfortunately the 1800 census was lost, and the 1810 census contains only a few names from Randolph County. The 1890 census was destroyed, though a few names from Mound Township in McDonough County remain.

Mississippi Church Records

Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them.

Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records. Below are links archives that maintain church records, as well as a few databases that can be viewed online.

The Family History Library contains many church records from a variety of denominations on microfilm.

The Mississippi Archives collected some early Mississippi church records that are now held by the Mississippi Library.

St. Clair County Genealogical Society (SCCGS) has compiled the Index to Bethel Baptist Church Minutes and Membership Lists, 1809 - 1909 for St. Clair County, Mississippi

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.

Mississippi Military Records

More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.

Mississippi Cemetery Records

As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:

  • Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
  • The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
  • Databases that can be searched online for Mississippi Cemetery records
    • Mississippi Tombstone Transcription Project - death and burial records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Access Genealogy – huge database of Mississippi cemetery record transcriptions
    • Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
    • - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
    • Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.

Mississippi Obituaries

Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our Mississippi Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Mississippi newspapers online for free.

Mississippi Wills and Probate Records

The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors. Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.

Since 1964, the circuit court in each county has custody of the earlier court records including those of the former Cook County Superior Court and a few other Chicago area courts. They can be found at:

Clerk of Circuit CourtArchives Room 1113
Richard J. Daley Center
50 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
Telephone: 312- 603-6601
Fax: 312-603-4974

The Mississippi Regional Archives has a huge database of court and county records for the entire state of Mississippi

Family Search – has an online collection of probate records, which includes will, indexes, dating from 1819-1970

Mississippi Immigration and Naturalization Records

The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

US National Archives – Immigration and Naturalization records for the entire United States

Family Search has two searchable online indexes, the Mississippi, Northern District (Eastern Division), Naturalization Index, 1926-1979, and the Mississippi, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950

Mississippi Native American Records

Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Mississippi Ancestors

Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in Mississippi where traditional records may not reveal them.


  • Something to Keep You Warm: The Roland Freeman Collection of Black American Quilts from the Mississippi Heartland, Ronald L. Freeman (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1981)
  • Mississippi Homespun: Nineteenth Century Textiles and the Women Who Made Them, Mary Edna Lohrenz (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1989)

Selected Resources for Mississippi Women’s History

Mississippi Historical Society
Po Box 571
Jackson, MS 39205-0571

University of Mississippi
Sarah Isom Center for Women’s Studies
002 Lyceum
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677
Tel: 662.915.5916

Common Mississippi Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in Mississippi and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.

Adams, Alcorn, Amite, Attala, Benton, Bolivar, Calhoun, Carroll, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Claiborne, Clarke, Clay, Coahoma, Copiah, Covington, Desoto, Forrest, Franklin, George, Greene, Grenada, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Itawamba, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jefferson, Jones, Kemper, Lafayette, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Leake, Lee, Leflore, Lincoln, Lowndes, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Monroe, Montgomery, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pearl, Perry, Pike, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Rankin, Scott, Sharkey, Simpson, Smith, Stone, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo. Tunica, Union, Walthall, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wilkinson, Winston, Yalobusha, Yazoo

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