My Black History Part 8

Tracing Amy

My Black History is Henry Bristol Pruitt.  He is the oldest ancestor on that line that I know who passed down my maiden name.


© 2018 Amy L. Cole and Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey. All rights reserved.


Finding Henry Stokes: Clarke County Marriage Records 1865 – 1909

I have spent the last month going through five roles of microfilm that I have rented from the Family History Library trying to find any of my relatives that were married between 1865 – 1909 in Clarke County, MS.  The records were segregated at that time, so I was specifically looking at the microfilm of the books labeled “Freedman Marriage Record, Colored”. Since I am focused on the STOKES line, I did find the marriage records for almost all of Grandpa Henry’s children and also the marriage records for several of Grandpa Henry’s siblings. But I could not find his marriage record nor could I find the marriage record for his father, Taylor STOKES.

Although I could not find his marriage record, while going through page by page on several of the rolls, I began to notice that a lot of the records were recorded in the book from little slips of paper. Most looked like a note from the person who performed the ceremony or either the nearby merchant asking the clerk to send back the marriage license. Most of the notes had the date, the names of those being married and the assurance that they were both of the appropriate age.

Seeing this helped answer a question I have had since 2012 when I found the marriage record for Grandpa John STERLING to Grandma Bessie STOKES. The record had the ages 21 and 18 respectively. I incorrectly assumed that the clerk was listing their ages and thought that my great grandparents had fudged the truth since they would have been older at the time. After seeing those notes, I realize that the law at that time may have been that the male must be at least 21 years old and the female 18 years old in order to marry without parental consent (I have yet to find it). Since the notes didn’t have their actual ages, I don’t know how the clerk could really confirm that they were of age.

Having to go through the microfilm because I didn’t find what I was looking for in the index has definitely helped me understand the records a bit better. I now understand how most of them were recorded and the what information I can possibly use from them in my research. Still bombed that I haven’t found Grandpa Henry’s record. The search continues!

52 Ancestors #2: Maudie Lee Sterling Edwards (1919 – 1990)

It was only natural that the second ancestor be a woman who is dear to me. I call her “My Strong Black Grandmother”1.

Maudie Lee Sterling Edwards

Maudie Sterling Edwards
(1919 – 1990)

Maudie Lee (Sterling) EDWARDS was born on January 13, 1919 to John and Bessie (Stokes) STERLING in the village of Carmichael, Clarke County, MS.2

She is my maternal grandmother, the only grandmother I ever got to know, so I cherish the my memories of her. She was a beautiful woman. Her hair was long and her skin was dark like chocolate. I seemed to have inherited the chocolate skin color.  It took me a long time to love the skin that I’m in.  I now realize that my skin color is the perfect combination of my ancestors before me, so I now wear it proudly.

She was a pleasant person and a Christian woman that was very kind, free-hearted, understanding, and lovable. She always spoke the truth and she definitely meant what she said whenever she spoke. Nothing ever got past her!

At the age of nineteen, she joined Richard EDWARDS in holy matrimony on August 14, 19383. From this union came eight children and she began the long journey into motherhood: Mae, Richard, Jr. (1940 – 2013), Audrey, A.V., Jerlean (my mother), Willie, Levon, and Vernon (1956 – 1989).

To me, she was a wonderful lady and a strong woman. She took care of her family with what she had. Even when my granddad grew ill and could not work, she managed to feed and clothe a household of eight children and tend to her sick husband on about $50 dollars a month. Can you imagine having to do that with eight children?

She was a talented seamstress.  She was also one to match her clothes. Her dress, shoes, hat, gloves, and purse matched. She made sure of that. She made sure that what she sewed was sewn right. This talent was honestly passed on to her three girls. It was also passed to me and my sister by my mother, but we don’t use it as much as we should. My mom says that grandma would teach them that if they were going to sew, they had to do it right. Whenever they made something, my grandma would inspect it and if it was not right, she would take it apart and they would have to start all over again. She sewed with perfection and it was during the tough times that she used her talent to keep clothes on her back and the backs of her children. When I was home, I found a pattern that she cut out of an old newspaper. It was a priceless find for me. It looked to be a pattern of a shirt for a small child. Based on the year on the newspaper, it could have been for one of us grandchildren. I guess I may never know.

She was the sweetest grandmother a person could ever have. I remember when me, my sister, and my brothers visited her, she would bake chocolate cakes for us and put them in this tall white cabinet and inside was that glorious chocolate cake. It would be so good! To me, no one could cook like my grandma. She knew that cooking these cakes made us happy. She would also always give us money whenever we visited. She was a great grandmother, indeed.

I believe it was around 1985 that she was diagnosed with cancer. At one point she was very sick, she got well and then sick again. She fought this degrading disease for five long years. On the night that she passed, I stayed with her, my mom, my uncle and my granddad. To this day, I can’t remember why I wanted to stay that night because we lived just across the street. But on that cold night, October 28, 1990, my grandma passed away4. She passed while I was sleeping. I knew she was tired and weak, but she was the only grandmother I had. My heart was definitely broken, but I now know that as long as I live, she will still live on in me. We buried her on November 1, 1990 at the New Hope Cemetery in Quitman, Clarke County, MS5.

Grandma, I thank you for the works that you have done, for the cakes you baked, for the smiles you gave and the love you shared. You inspired me to go on, no matter what trials come my way. For to me you were a strong black woman. A strong black woman indeed! I love you!!6

This is my second post as a part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small.


1. Pruitt, Amy, “My Strong Black Grandmother.” Typescript, 18 November 1996. Cole Family Papers, Georgia.

2. Mississippi State Department of Health, birth certificate 44945 (1921), Mauddie Lee Sterling; Vital Records, Jackson.

3. Clarke County, Mississippi, “Marriage Record, Colored; Book 7, 1932 – 1938”, page 608 for Richard Edwards and Maudie Lee Sterling, Office of the Clerk of Circuit Court, Quitman.

4. Mississippi State Department of Health, death certificate 123-90-20190 (1990), Maudie Lee Edwards; Vital Records, Jackson.

5. Maudie Lee Sterling Edwards funeral program, 1990. privately held by Amy (Pruitt) Cole, Georgia.

6. Pruitt, Amy, “My Strong Black Grandmother.”

© 2014 Amy L. Cole and Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey. All rights reserved.

Cite This Page:
Amy L Cole, “52 Ancestors #2: Maudie Lee Sterling Edwards (1919 – 1990),” Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey, 02 March 2014 ( [access date]).

Please do not copy without attribution and link back to this page.

52 Ancestors #1: John “Johnny” STERLING

John Sterling

John “Johnny” Sterling
1881 – 1947

John “Johnny” STERLING was born on November 9, 1881,1 first born to George & Dorcas STERLING in Clarke County, Mississippi in what was known as the Maxville community.2  He was born just 18 years after the emancipation proclamation and 16 years after the abolishment of slavery.

He is my maternal great grandfather and is also the ancestor that started me on this journey.  I didn’t even know his name until my mother called me and intrigued me with the story about his parents that she had recently heard.  She knew her grandfather’s name and had his picture stored away in a box, but she knew very little about him and nothing of his parents.  He died before she was born so, all she had were stories of him being a mean man. She wanted to know more about him and his parents.  She specifically wanted to know where and when he died and then where he was buried.  She also wanted to know if the story of his parents were true (that’s another post). So, she called me up and put me to work. I haven’t stopped researching since.

I was surprised at how quickly the information came to me and I was able to answer Mom’s questions in no time.  The very first census I found him on was the 1900 census for Maxville, Clarke County, Mississippi on  I was ecstatic because there he was listed with his parents and most of his siblings.  I did note that the last name was spelled Stirling and not Sterling and the census taker did not bother to completely spell the name of Grandma Dorcas, instead they just wrote Dan. Even after this finding I wanted to learn more, so I kept searching.  I found him in every census available since his birth, 1900 – 1940.  I also found his draft card, land records, death, marriage and divorce records.  (I must say that most of his records were not found online, but were found by doing research in the archives of the county courthouse.  So, while I did learn a little with online research, I found a great deal more on my research trip home.)

1900 Census Clarke County MS

1900 Census for Clarke County Mississippi – George Sterling Household

According to his WWI Draft Registration card, Grandpa Johnny was tall in stature with a strong build.4 In 1915, at the age of 33, he set out on his own and married Bessie STOKES (1895 – 1964) on January 4th.5 Bessie was the daughter of Henry and Malissa STOKES.6  The date they married stood out to me immediately, because its my birthday!

John Sterling WWI Draft Card

U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for John Sterling

John and Bessie STERLING had 7 children: Lillie (1915 – 2006), Lucille (1916 – 2000), Maudie (1919 – 1990), John (1920 – 2003), Thomas (1922 – 1988), George (1927- 2010), and Orvelle.

When viewing the census records, I found that, with only a 6th grade education,7 he continued the family occupation of farming as started by his grandfather, Claiborne STERLING. I did find land records where he was given land by his grandfather,8 but I also found that he was later able to purchase additional lands on his own.9 It was on this land that he lived and farmed.

After 25 years of marriage, Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Bessie decided to divorce in October 1940.10 Neither remarried.

John Sterling

John Sterling
Calvary Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
Beneath the thorn bush

Grandpa Johnny lived in the Maxville Community until his health began to fail and he was admitted into the Mississippi State Hospital in Rankin County. He passed away on March 3, 1947 at the age of 6511 and is buried at the Calvary Hill Baptist Church cemetery in Shubuta, Clarke County, MS.12

I know there is much more to learn about Grandpa Johnny in records that my eyes have not yet had the opportunity to see.  I must admit that when I first saw the picture of Grandpa Johnny, I thought his eyes were a bit eerie.  But I know the story behind those eyes now and as I began to research, that story and those eyes intrigued me (now I have even noticed that my mother’s eye are shaped the same as his).  So, my search doesn’t stop here.  I search until I am able to corroborate the family lore about those eyes that stare back at me.

Note: The Maxville community is now known as the Carmichael community which is a part of Shubuta, Clarke County, MS.13

This is my first post as a part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small.


1. United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917 – 1918, digital images. ( accessed 16 February 2014), card for John Sterling, serial no. 1773, Registration Clarke County, Mississippi; Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.

2. 1900 U.S. census, Clarke County, Mississippi, population schedule, Maxville, p. 14, dwelling 117, family 117, George, Dan, and John Stirling; digital image, ( 2012); citing Family History Library microfilm: 1240804.

3. 1900 U.S. census, Clarke Co., Mississippi, pop.sch., p.14, dwell. 117, fam. 117, George, Dan, and John Stirling.

4. United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917 – 1918, images,, card for John Sterling, serial no. 1773, Registration Clarke County, MS.

5. Clarke County, Mississippi, “Freedmen Marriage Record, Colored; v3 1914 – 1919”, page 39 for John Sterling and Bessie Stokes, Office of the Clerk of Circuit Court, Quitman.

6. Mississippi State Department of Health, death certificate 13450 (1962), Bessie B. Stokes; Vital Records, Jackson.

7. 1940 U.S. census, Clarke County, Mississippi, population schedule, Maxville, p.30, dwelling 275, family 275, John Sterling; digital image, ( accessed 17 February 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration, 1940; Roll T627_2015.

8. Clarke County, Mississippi, Deed Book N-1:535, Claborn Sterling to John Sterling, 26 April 1922; Office of the Clerk of Chancery Court, Quitman.

9. Clarke County, Mississippi, Claborn Sterling to John Sterling, 21 August 1926; Office of the Clerk of Chancery Court, Quitman.

10. Clarke County, Mississippi, Chancery Court, divorce file 3950 (1940), John Sterling v. Bessie B Stokes Sterling, final decree; Office of the Clerk of Chancery Court, Quitman.

11. Mississippi State Department of Health, death certificate 4696 (1947), John O. Sterling; Vital Records, Jackson.

12. Calvary Hill Baptist Church Cemetery (Clarke County, Mississippi; County Road 622), John Sterling marker, photograph taken by Amy L Cole, September 2012.

13. Historic Clarke County Mississippi. Second Edition. (Clarke County, Mississippi: Historic Clarke County, Inc, n.d.), 46.

© 2014 Amy L. Cole and Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey. All rights reserved.

Cite This Page:
Amy L Cole, “52 Ancestors #1: John “Johnny” STERLING,” Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey, 22 February 2014 ( [access date]).

Please do not copy without attribution and link back to this page.