Thursday, January 8, 2009

Silk Hoop Skirts and French Lessons in Antebellum Itawamba County

Old probate records on the local level are simply a gold mine of information ready to be mined, giving a rare glimpse into the daily life of antebellum Itawamba County citizens. Located in these volumes of hand-written records are loads of guardianship papers, where guardians were appointed for minor heirs of the probate subjects. The court-appointed guardians had to account for every penny spent on their wards and those financial records were recorded with the probate court. Because of this, these records simply record transactions of daily life in Itawamba County. As an example of the importance of these records, the guardianship records of the minor heirs of Fulton merchant and planter, Wiley Daniel Clifton, who died during 1855 were quickly studied.

During the 1850’s the minor children of Wiley Daniel Clifton of Fulton received their share of their father’s sizeable estate, and the lives of the children – Eugene, Josephine, Wiley, Charles and Julia, are well documented in the related guardianship records (Probate Record Book 5) of Itawamba County.

Typical of the detailed information that can be found in these 19th century guardianship records of the probate court, the following information can quickly be learned about Josephine Clifton by quickly studying just a few pages of Record Book 5: Called Josie, she attended the Huntsville Female College in Huntsville, Alabama for two terms during 1858 where she took piano, singing, and French. The bills received from the college president George Everhart are very detailed giving details of the textbooks and teaching materials used by the young Josephine. During 1858 the young lady had a bill for $143.86 in New York City where her mother purchased clothing for her, including a grenadine robe, kid leather boots, 27 yards of silk and traveling dresses at Mrs. Levy’s. During August of 1859 Josephine took a trip to Aberdeen, probably visiting her Eckford cousins, and visited the fair at Richmond in southwestern Itawamba County. It was also during August of 1859 she had her “likeness” painted. During 1859 she had dental operations by Dr. W.J. Blackmon and paid $15 for 5 gold fillings. Additionally, there are many bills received and paid by the guardian from storehouses, physicians and dentists in Fulton and Aberdeen over a three-year period describing in detail where she visited and what she purchased.

As briefly illustrated above, the financial records in the probate books offer the researcher a rare glimpse into the daily lives of our Itawamba ancestors. These important records provide a vivid description of how people from all walks of life lived during their daily routines in early Itawamba County. In researching Itawamba County records, don’t forget these probate records. Simply stated, these records tell us so much more than mere family connections alone, by giving detailed clues about the lives of those who came before us.

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