Memory is a strange thing. The last we remember, we were on a ship leaving Lauderdale. The next we knew, we were hibernating at home. It has been a crazy couple of years - a challenging period. And it's not yet over. With time on my hands, I have been consumed with contemplation. That, and writing. With the impossibility of in-person interviews, resources within the confines of my home, buried in filing cabinets and collecting dust on bookshelves, took on added value. Rifling through an arsenal of materials, I managed to cobble together a legion of columns.
I routinely gravitate to the "History of Washington Parish, Louisiana, 1798-1992 The Story of a Land and People on Three Rivers: The Pearl, The Bogue Chitto, and The Tangipahoa in Southeast Louisiana" by renowned historian Dr. E. Russ Williams, Jr., a premier resource on our parish history. I have never seen the book for sale. I inherited my copy from my parents.
With foresight, they left me the holy grail for local historical and genealogical research. In addition to Dr. Williams's treatise, there was "The Samuel and Mary (Myers) Burris Family" book by Jesse Stallings Burris, Flora Mae Burris, and Mamie Burris Simmons; the "William Magee and Mary Margaret James and their Descendants 1770-1993" book; and the "Pike County Mississippi 1798-1876 Pioneer Families and Confederate Soldiers" book by Luke Ward Conerly published in 1909 (my father had his name proudly engraved on the binding). In addition, I often turn to the "Source Records From Pike County, Mississippi 1798-1910" by Dr. Williams and Luke Ward Conerly, compiled in 1978, and also "On Through the Years" with Abner Jenkins by Doris Holden. And adding to my collection, I purchased a copy of "Magee Histories: The Progenitors and Descendants of Jacob Magee and Mary Scott" by Bevin J. Creel published in 2004. The late Mama Dell Clawson marched up on my porch, Bevin's book in hand, declaring it mandatory reading. As a general rule, if I can't find someone, with their spouse and offspring, in my books, they're not from around here (Washington Parish or Pike/Walthall Counties).
But back to Dr. Williams and his publications, they are exceptionally hard to come by. Having written extensively in the past about the colossal Russ Williams Collection at the Louisiana State Archives, I have marveled at his material. For background, Dr. Williams was the former husband of Mary Beth Simmons Williams and the father of four children. His ancestors came to Washington Parish as early as 1808. Getting an early start, his first historical writings were published in his hometown newspaper in 1952 when he was eighteen years old.
Dr. Williams earned his Bachelors and Master's degrees from Southeastern Louisiana University and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1969. For eleven years, he taught music at Bogalusa Junior High School, demonstrating his love of music. However, history was not second fiddle for Dr. Williams. He taught history at Northeast Louisiana University (now the University of Louisiana at Monroe), specializing in Louisiana and local history.
After he retired, Dr. Williams turned his focus to genealogy, authoring more than twenty books, editing historical and genealogy books, and writing an abundance of newspaper articles and pieces for historical publications like "Louisiana History," the Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. According to Bill Stafford, Director of the Research Library at the Louisiana State Archives, it is one of the oldest such historical publications in Louisiana. Like I said, Dr. Williams delivered the goods.
And he spoke at the local Historical Society meetings, which is where I first made his acquaintance. Following my introduction, he barked, "I know who you are." Never sure whether this is good or bad, I was rattled. But one can't shake me so easily. For several years, I visited with Dr. Williams in the Armory at the Washington Parish Fair, where I purchased materials from him, and I also mailed him correspondence with questions, as many as I could muster. That's how I learn. More's the pity I didn't probe further. From the get-go, I knew Dr. Williams was a brilliant man whose brain I wanted to pick - a man of means, historically speaking.
Making it a goal to get my hands on everything he had written - something easier said than done - I managed to secure an original hardback published by Dr. Williams in 1995, "Spanish Poste d'Ouachita The Ouachita Valley In Colonial Louisiana 1783-1804, And Early American Statehood 1804-1820," though North Louisiana doesn't much interest me, a South Louisianian. In search of local material, I found a good friend who was in possession of "Kinsmen All" "Descendants of Wettenhall Warner and Related Families," another masterpiece by Dr. Williams, and she loaned it to me. I can't detail what happened next - as they say, if I told you, I'd have to kill you. But when I was done, I returned her original. And I repeated the process when Dr. Jerry Thomas loaned me "The Ancestry and Lineages of the Mizell, Richardson, and Thomas Families" also by Dr. Williams. I can see how folks become repeat offenders.
But in 2020, of all years, while in seclusion I had the good fortune to find, on the up and up, "The Founding Families and Individuals of Washington Parish, Louisiana, 1798-1860" in the Lone Star State. A reputable book dealer advertised it online. It was too much to pay but too little not to, so I ponied up. Published in 1990, Dr. Williams described it as "A Potpourri of Historical Data Concerning the Founding Families and Individuals of Washington Parish, Louisiana, 1798-1860." It is that and more.
Found within the treasured book are the 1812 Tax List of St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana (of which Washington Parish was part and parcel); Guides to the 1820, 1830, 1850, and 1860 Federal Censuses for Washington Parish; the Washington Parish Agricultural Census of 1850; two early petitions with signatures of Washington Parish residents; and a surname index. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Mesmerized by the material, I couldn't be more delighted with my pandemic find - something so good in a time that has been so bad.