‘First Families’ spotlight state history

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, October 28, 2012

     History buffs with deep ties to the state of Mississippi gathered in Brookhaven Saturday for the fall meeting of the Order of the First Families of Mississippi.

     Membership in the organization is granted only to people who can prove they have an ancestor who lived in Mississippi before it became a state in 1817.

     The organization holds two yearly meetings: a spring meeting in Natchez, and a fall meeting held in a different location every year.

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     The organization’s current Governor General Wendy Cartwright said she thought of Brookhaven because of several now-deceased Brookhaven residents involved in the organization.

     Owen Roberts, a Brookhaven attorney, was a former governor general of the organization during the 1980s, Cartwright said.

     Bonnie Cole was also active in the organization and was a librarian and genealogist in Brookhaven.

     Cartwright said the group supports the study and preservation of history in the state of Mississippi and also awards scholarships.

     Saturday morning, the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society opened the doors of its museum in Brookhaven’s former Jewish temple. Order members mingled, talked and inspected the historical items in the museum.

     The museum houses a collection of materials amassed by Cole, and also has a sign from Roberts’ law office.

     Dan Johnson, of Crystal Springs, was present Saturday morning and called the study of genealogy a lifelong passion.

     “Genealogy is something I’ve been interested in since I was a teenager,” Johnson said. “I got serious about it when I was 14.”

     He’s been a member of the Order about 10 years.

     “The fact that it ties you to the founding of the state, that’s what interested me,” Johnson said.

     The Copiah County native has two ancestors qualifying him for membership in the Order: Samuel Brown, a Revolutionary War soldier who homesteaded in Simpson county and John Cooper, a veteran of the War of 1812 and a Rankin County resident.

     Johnson grew up with an awareness of history. A family cemetery in Copiah County holds Johnson’s ancestors going back to his namesake, Daniel Johnson, another veteran of the Revolutionary War.

     From him to Dan Johnson’s father, there are six generations buried in that cemetery.

     “I’ll be the seventh,” Johnson said.

     Though the Internet has made genealogical research much easier, Johnson still prizes seeing history with his own eyes.

     “I like seeing the original documents, seeing the signatures,” Johnson said.

     The last document he discovered that he considers a really big discovery was a land grant given to his ancestor Daniel Johnson. The document indicated Daniel Johnson fought in the War of 1812, not just the Revolutionary War.

     “That’s something no one knew,” Johnson said.

     It’s an appropriate fact given that the Order chose the War of 1812 as its focus for this year.

     After mingling at the museum Saturday, Order members reconvened for lunch at Mitchell’s to hear speaker Cynthia McNamara discuss the causes of the War of 1812.

     She also highlighted the importance of the War of 1812 in Mississippi history.

     “The War of 1812 is where we began to shine,” she said of the then Mississippi Territory. “So many of our counties and towns are named after War of 1812 soldiers.”