An Evening Stroll at Coalville Cemetery “The Rough and Ready”

The shorter days and deeper shadows create nicer weather for evening strolls in South Mississippi.  On these evenings, I enjoy walking without the threat of being baked and drenched from the South Mississippi heat.  I decided to plan a visit to Coalville Cemetery in order to experience the history and scenery in the cooler weather.  The perfect afternoon came at the end of September, and I took the short drive to one of the most picturesque cemeteries in Harrison County.  

Coalville Cemetery
The gates of Coalville Cememtery.

A Little History

Coalville Cemetery grew across the street from Coalville Methodist Church in a community known as Woolmarket.  Currently, Woolmarket is within the city limits of what is now north Biloxi.  Coalville happened to be the original name of the community because the first industry was burning pine trees for coal.  Settlers shipped the coal to New Orleans and Mobile.  The coal industry bowed down to wool which proved more profitable.  

The community built the original chapel in 1852 and lasted until 1967.  Records suggest that settlers had services and Sunday school pre-1850.  It was not easy to live on the Gulf Coast in the 1800s.  There was an array of struggles due to the warm weather and mosquito borne diseases.   The residence called the original building “The Old Rough and Ready” as it also served as a schoolhouse and meeting hall.  

Coalville Cemetery
The older section of Coalville Cemetery

A bigger chapel, consecrated in 1968, replaced the original.  Mr. Albert Felsher used some of the lumber to make a wooden cross that still hangs over the choir loft.  Through all these changes the cemetery was always the silent presence across the road. 

Coalville is close to my heart and family.  I am a direct descendent of many Coalville families.  I also spent the later part of my childhood living in Woolmarket when we moved there. The Reverend Louis Fayard was a noteworthy figure in the community.  He was a circuit court rider that would travel by horseback in order to conduct weddings, funerals, and services.  Many friends and family speak of him like a local folk hero. He is also a resident of Coalville Cemetery. 

Coalville Cemetery
Evenings at the “Rough and Ready”

Stories Among the Stones and Moss

Coalville Cemetery, at the time of the post, has at least 2,270 interments according to Find a Grave.  The historic wrought iron gate still stands as entry way to the historic gravestones.  I love the moss hanging over the massive oak trees next to the chapel, and enjoy strolling down the hill.  Most of the older gravesites are closer to the church and entry gate.  If you know how to look, you can easily be transported into time.  

“Remember me as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you must be, Prepare for death and follow me.”

The tomb of Sarah Azolean Wedgeworth impacts me the most.  She has an above ground burial, and was only 19 years old at the time of her death.  She passed September 4, 1857 making her one of the earliest in the cemetery.  However, the poem under her name will give you chills! 

The poem is fading, but is certainly still there.  

Coalville Cemetery
Urns are common symbols on gravestones.

When I arrived that Sunday evening, the sun had begun to set with the slightest hint of fall coming.  I wandered around the old section and ended visiting both of my maternal family lines in the family plots. Each plot tells a story and each one I find interesting.  On this visit, I noticed the close death dates of two Felsher children and their mother the summer of 1885.  

It is easy to find the stories of other stones and families also interesting.  I became curious of some of the markings on the tombstones throughout the cemetery.  Therefore, I made a list and went on a search for the subliminal meanings.  

Coalville Cemetery
My ancestor lost her live too early at the age of 10. The rose depicts a young girl lost before their time.
Coalville Cemetery
Anchors are seen on many stones at Coalville because of the close proximity to the Gulf and prominent sailors living in the community.

Common Symbols at Coalville Cemetery:

  • Lamb-The lamb, also a symbol of Jesus, shows the grave of a baby or child.  Stones with this symbol mark the grave of a child or baby land. A baby land is a plot specifically for infants. (As far as I know, Coalville does not have one.)
  • Urn-It represents immortality.  If a shroud is present, it ‘guards’ the ashes or urn.
  • Rose-The rose represents a young girl or woman who has passed.  The state of the rose is important to understand the age of the deceased.  A bud would be a very young girl, partial bloom is a teenager, and a rose in full bloom I a young unmarried woman. 
  • Anchor-It symbolizes hope and steadfastness.  It is also the mark for a sailor. With Coalville’s proximity to the Gulf Coast this symbol is very common around the grounds. 
  • Book-Although it is known for its scholarly meanings, it has other meanings when on headstones.  It can have a dual symbolism as the Bible or the Book of Life.  
  • 5 Point Star or Pentangle- I was curious about this mark the most.  I wondered if it actually had a less traditional meaning than the others.  It actually represents the five wounds of Christ and the spirit rising to Heaven.  Remember, the star always is bright against the darkness.  
Coalville Cemetery
The lamb is often found on the tops of the graves of children.
Coalville Cemetery
The book can still be viewed clearly on this stone.

Another interesting feature within the grounds of Coalville Cemetery are the seashells loosely placed on the top of headstones.  This is a Victorian tradition commonly seen in southeastern states.  Along with being used as decorations, the shells symbolize in a pilgrimage and can later represent a safe crossing into the afterlife.  The shells are often the conch shell or scallop shell.  However, at Coalville I found shells of the lightening whelk.  The lightening whelk is common along the Gulf of Mexico and can be found easily locally by beachcombers visiting the barrier islands.    

Coalville Cemetery
Angel watching over Coalville.

Stone letters, Thought Co, and The Cemetery Club are the websites I used to find this information.  I recommend looking at them further to decode other markers in the cemetery.

Coalville Cemetery
So much history is in Coalville Cemetery. I encourage you to take a look.

Other Notable Interments

Coalville Cemetery has many notable people buried on the grounds. The grounds host at least nine Civil War soldiers. There are also interments for Word War I, World War II, and many others. There are many past graduates of Woolmarket School when it went elementary to high school.

If you would like to learn more about the people buried in Coalville or a specific family member I recommend researching them. There are many free and helpful sources online. You can also visit the local genealogy library. I wrote a helpful article in April about some things to prepare for a visit to the library here.

I encourage everyone in the area to respectfully visit and observe the quiet beauty of Coaville Cemetery. Coalville Cemetery is located at 12556 Lorraine Road Bilox, MS 39532

Do you have any family buried here? Where is your favorite historical spot on the Mississippi Gulf Coast?

The Origins of Family Lore and Legends: The Sensational, the Romantic, and the Spooky

I would like to challenge you to go the oldest person in your family.  Ask them about your ancestors and the past history of your family.  I bet they come up with these crazy stories and tell you about all your notable ancestors.  Unfortunately, some of these stories are not always true.  This interchange is how family lore spreads and continues to change from generation to generation. 

“Lots of times people accept the family rumors they hear as part of their family history.  But once they begin researching these rumors for themselves, they discover these ‘legends’ aren’t true at all.” Nancy Welton Dallas Morning News Sunday, April 22, 1984.

Now my family has some pretty interesting lore floating around.  When I began working for the genealogy library in 2010, many random family members and distant cousins could not wait to tell them to me!  Throuhgout the years, I have tried to verify some to no avail.  The only thing I know is that some of the people mentioned actually existed.  Don’t worry, I will share them today!  There are also some things you can do to help verify your own family lore and legends. 

Family Legends and Lore
My beautiful many Great-Grandmother Louisa Fountain Groue

Well you know my great-grandma was….

My favorite family legend is that of a great-grandfather and his mysterious death.  He is the patriarch of the Husley (aka Hosli) family from Switzerland.  Frederick ‘Fritz’ Hosli was an immigrant that came into New York only to be directly drafted into the Union Army.  He moved South for the land-claims owned to him as a veteran.  He married a local girl, and started a family.

 In October of 1882, he was set to speak in favor of an accused horse thief.  As family legend would have it, he was found dead mysteriously the next day at the age of 38.  My great-grandmother mentions poisoned coffee in her rendition.  Unfortunately, the coast paper did not begin until 1888 and there are no existing court records that have survived all the hurricanes to my knowledge. 

Here is the interesting thing.  This story was told to me and a week later re-told to me again from a distant cousin I met randomly.  Is it true?  Maybe, but it is doubtful that it will ever be verified.

Family Legends and Lore
My Great Great Great Aunts. Twin sisters of my great grandfather Dewey Lawrence

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

The story of a great grandmother on another side of my family is perfect for Halloween when everyone is thinking of the spooky.  This was told to me by a distant cousin who has done extensive genealogy research tracing the family all the way back to France.  However, this story is from her childhood memory.  As recounted, she remembers my great-grandmother Aurelia reading tarot cards until her brother threw them into a fire.  He claimed she was a “sorceress.” 

Also, like everyone else in the south I have the famous “Indian Princess” legend floating around.  There is some version of this in every family.  When in actuality, it was a ploy by many people to scam the United States Government in order to receive Native American benefits in the 1900s.  For reference, you must prove without a double to have at least one grandparent of full Native American heritage in order to claim benefits. 

Family Legends and Lore
My Great Grandfather standing a beach road. I imagine this is what all small beach roads used to look like.

How about your family lore?

Most family lore and legends stem from some little seed of truth.  Whether it is an odd fact, interesting person, or a brief childhood memory.  These things can morph and change as they are retold verbally.  (Think of the Greek legends and how outlandish they became!)  Eudora Welty mentioned that southerners are born storytellers.  Nothing can get a southerner as excited as talking about their family while telling a great story.

If you want to verify any of your family legends you should begin with solid records.  The old standbys like census records, newspaper searches, and even the family Bible.  I also suggest checking on some dead ends you may encounter from time to time.  For example, ten years ago, I did not have easy access to microfilm records that have been digitized by the Library of Congress.  If all else fails, there is always a DNA test!

Sometimes it is worth just embracing the stories.  Record the oldest members of your family telling them and share them at gatherings!

Final Thoughts.

The final story I will leave you with is about my ship captain great grandfather.  I was told he had a ship sunk by Union soldiers during the Civil War.  However, by using Genealogy Bank, I discovered he had a ship blow after the Civil War.  He lost some crew members, and the rest washed up a good ways from Biloxi.  The article spoke of a good Samaritan giving the remaining soggy crew train fair to return home.  It was interesting to hear how a legend came from an actual true event. 

Remember fact can be stranger than fiction!

Family Legends and Lore
Pin Me!

What are your favorite family lore and legends retold to you? 

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Free Genealogy Websites I Love: Part II

Back in March 2013 I posted my top favorite free websites.  Now it is time for an update six years later!  About seven months ago I returned to being a local history librarian while continuing my online teaching. It has been a good experience to reacquaint myself with new resources.  My research tactics have changed over the past six years. DNA testing was not an option, and I used many web sources to find information.

Here is my list of great websites to help you along with your research.

Access Genealogy

I highly recommend adding this website to your favorites bar right now!  It contains over 240,000 links to free resources.  The top menu bar is easily arranged by category and there is also a state search as well.  Its star attraction is the massive Native America census database linked with the Free US Indian Census roll from 1885-1940.  It also has an impressive selection of African American resources as well uploaded by individuals.  

It is easy to get lost moving through the categories and searches.  Anyone can subscribe by e-mail to be notified of when new resources are posted. 

Mississippi and Louisiana Digital Library

Both of these sites operate under the principal of offering open source pictures and documents to the public.  They have partnered with several librarians, universities, and museum collections in order to digitize their images for public use.  All items have citations and searchable descriptions.  

Some of my favorite items found on Mississippi Digital Library are the papers of the Dantzler Lumber Company that had a log book of the Cedar Lake grocery story.  I found three different great grandfather’s names posted in their accounts! Take time to check out the Mardi Gras illustrations available to Louisiana Digital Library.  They are worthy to hang as wall art!  

Open Library

I have used this website for over eight years.  It is different from the popular WordCat.  It has taken and uploaded digital books that are open source.  Some are easily accessible by clicking their pdf link.  No log in or password required.  Open Library has a free log in for anyone very interested in the resources available here. 

Here is a small list of things you can use this website to find in your genealogy and historical research:

  • Obscure and out-of-print genealogy books.
  • History books of counties, passenger ships, and people.
  • Books of maps.
  • Antique reports of industry and commerce.
  • Bibliographical and citation information for your librarian to search for hard to find books.
  • Vintage cookbooks!  (You know I am a fan of these.)

Here is my favorite book I have found for my research…

Castle Garden and Ellis Island 

The significance of Ellis Island is no secret in the word of genealogy.  Over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island on their way to a new life in the United States.  It was active from the years 1892 through 1954!  The only requirement to complete the passenger search is to create a free account.  

Before Ellis Island, the main immigrant port was Castle Garden at Battery Park also in New York City. Castle Garden was active from 1820 until 1892.  The website states, “Today more than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to this early period of immigration.”  The database is open and does not require a log in.  It contains useful information such as age, date of birth, country of origin, and ship name.  

Both of these are great sources if you are unsure where you family entered the country.  

Old Biloxi Cemetery
Autumn View of the Old Biloxi Cemetery during the Annual Cemetery Tour!

City of Biloxi-Biloxi Cemetery Search 

This is a very specific, but useful database.  The portal was released in October of 2018 by the City of Biloxi.  It is a searchable database for the Old Biloxi also known as The Old French Cemetery on Highway 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Follow this link or check out the homepage of The City of Biloxi “Cemetery” link to access it.  Search the records using last name first.  Once you choose a name on the right, you can see who else is interred in the plot.  

I would use this with another free website called Find a Grave.  Some of the sections (like addition 6 across Irish Hill Drive) have not been completed. Some of the records are incomplete as well and only give name.  Still, it is a great map if you are looking to visit the cemetery on a clear day and visit ancestors under the moss covered oaks.   

If you want further help without paying a dime you can checkout this fantastic 50 website list by Family History Daily.  

How have websites help you in your genealogy and historical research?  

My DNA Results are in!

My DNA Kit

After years of wanting to give it a try, I jumped at the chance to have my DNA tested when my mother offered to order a kit for me as a Christmas present.  I chose Ancestry DNA because it is the service used by my in-laws as well as a great uncle.  Ancestry is currently running a deal where the kits are 79 dollars instead of 99.  Please be aware there is around a 8 dollar shipping cost.  Bonus:  If you are a member of Ebates you can also receive 7.5% cash back on any Ancestry product!

Anyway, I was curious to see how my genealogy research has stacked up to the realty of my own DNA.  So I would like to take this moment to walk you through the process from beginning to the reveal!

My predictions:

Before ordering the DNA kit, I thought about all my previous research.  I predicted based on my physical features and my own family research.  I predicted the following results:

  • 40% Spanish
  • 15% Croatian, German (Bavarian), and Swiss
  • 10% French
  • Less than 10% British
  • Maybe 1% Native American

I thought about this considering the distance between generations of my family story.  The Croatian, German, and Swiss all come from great great grandparents.  While I know there is French on both sides of my family they came to the US in the early 1700s.  The Spanish was consistent through generations of my father’s family.  Plus I have very Spanish features.  (It has made my travels in Spain an easy going experience because I am never mistaken as a tourist!)

The PRocess:

Ordering a kit is a simple process where you create an Ancestry account, and place the order with payment.  It took less than a week or a small box to arrive. (Photographed above.)  It is the size of a small VHS box, and fits easily into the mailbox.  The kit includes two tubes, a prepaid mailer box, and clear instructions on how to complete the test.

You cannot eat, drink, or chew gum up to thirty minutes before collecting saliva.  You have to spit into the clear tube.  (They claim its only 1/4 of a teaspoon, but I had difficulty getting the tube filled!)  You then place the blue tube on top and shake in the blue stabilizing fluid. This step preserves the DNA.  Make sure to register your kit before sending in your results!

There is no need to go to the post office desk.  You can drop it in the mailbox since it is pre-paid.  I ordered the kit on November 5th, received my kit on November 10th, sent it out the next day.   My results arrived on November 23rd.  The whole process took 19 days!  Ancestry does say give 4-6 weeks for processing.  

My Results:

I was very surprised with my results.  I did not anticipate so much of my DNA to be from Great Britain!  It also showed way less Spanish ancestry than I expected.  There was also very little western Europe countries like France, Germany, and Switzerland.  It was amazing to see how my research has been off.  However, on further thought some makes sense when considering migration patterns and the history of these countries.

About 16% of my DNA is a prediction.  These are markers that are further in m family’s past.  Therefore, it is less accurate or trackable.  The amount of Middle Eastern, and central Asian is expected when considering that both Croatian and Spain have been under control of eastern countries.

My main DNA results!

Estimated DNA results!


My Thoughts:

Although my results were surprising for me, it was such a easy and interesting experience.  I would recommend the Ancestry DNA tests due to how easy it is to complete and receive results.  The whole process is sent through e-mail, and updates come in frequently from Ancestry.  You also have the option to link your DNA with other people in order to see possible matches.  (This can be waived if you would like your results to remain private.)  My great uncle showed as my first match, and I see this as a good sign of consistency within the test.

Ancestry uses genetic markers collected all over the world in order to predict your DNA.  Some of these are guesses depending.  Keep in mind that your family may be from other places, and migrated around.  (For example: think of the Irish who left Ireland during the potato famine.)  Also, other relatives are only part of your story.  A uncle only gives you a small portion of possible DNA results.

I look forward to using these results to guide further research by looking more carefully at last names and further into records.