Monday, March 27, 2017

Hide and seek with records from burned counties

If you need to find a marriage record in Jackson County, Mississippi dated 11 January 1832, where do you look?  You look in the Wayne County, Georgia probate records of course!   

Catherine Sheffield married her first husband Ignatius Grantham in Wayne County, Georgia on 09 October 1810.1 Ignatius was a bit of a scoundrel so Catherine filed for divorce in 1825 in the Marion County, Mississippi Chancery Court.3 They had been living apart for some time because Ignatius is enumerated by himself in 1820.2 Of interest is that Catherine’s soon to be second husband William Seaman was listed as her “next friend” in the court papers and acted as her representative.

Back in Wayne County, Georgia, Catherine’s father West Sheffield died leaving behind an informative estate file. Catherine’s now second husband William was getting some serious payouts from the estate and not only is there an affidavit from Catherine Seaman attesting that she is in fact the daughter of West Sheffield there is a marriage record from Jackson County, Mississippi copied into the Wayne County, Georgia book proving that William is Catherine’s husband.4

William C. Seaman had married Catherine (Sheffield) Grantham on 11 January 1832 in Jackson County, Mississippi but the Jackson County courthouse in Scranton [now part of Pascagoula] burned in 1875. The papers that were in the safe (deeds and money) were spared but the marriage records were not.5 If William and Catherine’s marriage record had not been copied into West Sheffield’s estate papers to there would have been no record of it.

I still need to find out why Catherine moved to Marion County and filed for divorce there. She ended up going back to Jackson County to marry William. I also don’t know where Catherine was in 1820 when Ignatius was enumerated alone. 

Here is another example of finding a record from a burned county:

On 08 November 1851, Silas Simmons applied for bounty land based on his service in the War of 1812.6   In the bounty land file there were Perry County court documents dated 03 March 1855 and 31 January 1856.  Silas had to appear in court to prove that he was in fact the same Silas Simmons that fought in the 10&20 Consolidated Louisiana Militia before he could be awarded his land. So what is so special about that?  The Perry County Courthouse burned on 14 November 1877 with a complete records loss.7  The 1855 and 1856 court documents shouldn’t even exist. If I had merely looked at the information on the Bureau of Land Management website and not ordered the actual bounty land file I would have never discovered this.

1 Wayne County, Georgia, Marriage Book 1809-1869: 8, Grantham-Sheffield, 1810; Probate Court, Jesup.

2 1820 U.S. census, Jackson County, Mississippi population schedule, p. 45 (penned), line 15, Ignatius Grantham; digital images, ( : accessed 25 March 2017); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M33, roll 58. 

3 Mississippi High Court of Errors and Appeals, Drawer no. 65, Case no. 15, Catherine Grantham vs. Ignatius Grantham, 21 February 1825; Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson. The case was originally filed in Marion County.

4 "Georgia Probate Records, 1742-1990," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 24 March 2017), West Sheffield estate, 1831-1833, Wayne County Court of Ordinary, Wills & Estates Records 1824-1855, p. 199-205.

5 "Burning of the Scranton Court House," New Orleans Times, 02 March 1875, p. 4, col. 4; digital images, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 24 March 2017). 

6 Silas Simmons (Pvt. 10&20 Consolidated Louisiana Militia, War of 1812), bounty land warrant file 64098 (Act of 1855, 40 acres); Military Bounty Land Warrants and Related Papers; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

7 Martha F. Clark, Perry County, Mississippi Circuit Court Clerk to Michele Simmons Lewis, e-mail, 10 Jan 2012, “Courthouse Records,” Lewis Research Files; privately held by Lewis, Harlem, Georgia, 2012.


The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has updated their Code of Ethics. I encourage ALL genealogists to use the code of ethics as a guideline for their own conduct while doing research.  You can also read the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Code of Ethics and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others.

If you are not following Randy Seaver’s series on the “We’re Related” app by Ancestry on his Genea-Musings blog you are missing out. Every week Randy goes through his new matches and determines how likely the relationship is. I am having a lot of fun reading these. I am working on a little project of my own using the We’re Related app which you will read about later.


  1. Thanks for publishing this. I have circumstantial connections to the Ignatius Grantham family. I will be reading these docs thoroughly this afternoon.

  2. Ignatius was a very interesting fellow :)