My Black History Part 6

Tracing Amy

My Black History is Bessie Stokes Sterling.  She is the matriarch of my creativity.



© 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 #3: Bessie STOKES STERLING (1893 – 1962)

Bessie STOKES, Momma Bessie as she is known to our family, was born to Henry and Malissa (Pickett) STOKES in Clarke County, MS on March 10, 1893.1 Today is the anniversary of her birth 121 years ago.

I was able to find Momma Bessie living with her parents on the 1910 census as a teenager.2 When she was 22 years old, she married John “Johnny” Sterling and she began her journey as a wife and mother.3 Together they had 7 children: Lillie (1915 – 2006), Lucille (1916 – 2000), Maudie (1919 – 1990), John (1920 – 2003), Thomas (1922 – 1988), George (1927- 2010), and Orvelle.

I followed her through the census records with her family until 1940 when I found her living with her four sons.4 She was listed as married, but I found Grandpa Johnny living alone in another part of the county. That is when I learned that they later decided to divorce in October of that same year after 25 years of marriage.5

I never got to meet Momma Bessie, I only know her through the stories told by my mom and her siblings. From their stories, I gathered that they loved spending time with Momma Bessie. My mom said “we would go wherever she would go to get away from the house”. Mom most remembered that she loved to go fishing and visiting people in the neighborhood.6 She was also the favorite aunt of my 95 year old cousin.  She says that Aunt Bessie, as she called her, was fun to be with and had something to laugh about all the time.7 I really wish I could have met her. Since I didn’t, I will do my best to preserve the memories of her.

My mother’s last memory of Momma Bessie is that she went to the hospital and never come back. Based on her death record she had suffered a stroke and died several hours after reaching the hospital. She died on August 4, 1962 in Quitman, Clarke County, MS at age 69.8 She was buried in the New Hope Cemetery in Clarke County, MS.9

Happy Birthday Momma Bessie!

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


1. Mississippi State Department of Health, delayed birth certificate no. 112100 (1956), Bessie Stokes; Vital Records; Jackson.

2. 1910 U.S. census, Clarke County, Mississippi, population schedule, Quitman, p. 76, dwelling 652, family 652, Henry Stokes, Malisy, and Bessie; digital image, ( 2013); citing Family History Library microfilm: 1374749.

3. 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.

4. 1940 U.S. census, Clarke County, Mississippi, population schedule, Quitman, p.13, family 112, Bessie Sterling; digital image, ( accessed 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration, 1940; Roll T627_2015.

5. 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.

6. Jerlean (Edwards) Pruitt, Quitman, MS, interview by Amy Pruitt Cole 05 July 2013; audio privately held by interviewer, Georgia, 2014.

7. Malissa (Rogers) Speed, Quitman, MS, interview by Amy Pruitt Cole 12 March 2013; audio privately held by interviewer, Georgia, 2014.

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

9. New Hope Cemetery (Clarke County, Mississippi; County Road 691 GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 31.98102, Longitude: -88.67754), Bessie Sterling marker, photograph taken by Amy L Cole, September 2012.

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

Cite This Page:
Amy L Cole, “52 Ancestors #3: Bessie STOKES STERLING (1893 – 1962),” Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey, 10 March 2014 ( [access date]).

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