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 Ancestry.com.3 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 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!
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.
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
1. United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917 – 1918, digital images. Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com: 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, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: 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, Ancestry.com, 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, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: 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.
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Amy L Cole, “52 Ancestors #1: John “Johnny” STERLING,” Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey, 22 February 2014 (https://tracingamy.wordpress.com: [access date]).
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