My Black History Part 7

Tracing Amy

John Sterling

My Black History is John “Johnny” Sterling.  He was born 18 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 16 years after the abolishment of slavery.  He had eerie eyes that intrigued me.  He is the ancestor that launched my research into My Black History.


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


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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The Debut of Tracing Amy

Welcome to my first blog post!  My name is Amy L. Cole.  I am the 4th child born to Lee Roy Pruitt & Jerlean Edwards Pruitt of Quitman, Clarke County, Mississippi.  Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey is about my quest to learn more about my family history.

I started the blog after reading the appeal by Luckie Daniels, founder of African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, to make more of the research of African-American ancestry available online.  After much consideration and a nod from my family, I decided to start blogging!  My goal is to be able to provide a space where family members can follow and participate in my research.

Now that the blog history is out of the way, I think I should tell you a little about the names and places that I am researching.  I decided that I wanted to do research on both my paternal and maternal lines.  From what I know, both lines have deep roots in Clarke and Jasper Counties in Mississippi, post emancipation.  My paternal lines are Pruitt, Dukes, & Carr and the maternal lines are Edwards, Sterling, Shanks & Stokes.  I will tell you more about what I have found for each line in other post.

I have been able to take 3 of the 4 maternal lines back to the 1870 Federal Census giving me the names of ancestors that were possibly born into slavery.  I was able to accomplish this by sifting through family records, conducting interviews with family members, visiting cemeteries, and collecting obituaries.  Although I believe I have the name of the ancestors who would have been born into slavery, I have not yet started slavery research for my maternal line.   I want to ensure that all of my information post civil war is correct.  So, I am busy collecting birth marriage and death records as well as other records that will assist the search for my grandparents and great grand parents generation.  I plan to continue to go back one generation at a time collecting these records and learning as much as I can so that I have a solid beginning to enter into slavery research.

On my paternal line, I have only been able to get back to the generation of my great grandparents.  I will have to gather more information on this side because not much is remembered by those still living.  So I have some…..lets call them speed bumps on the paternal side, they haven’t turned into brick walls just yet. 🙂

So that is a summary of how far I have gotten on the family tree as a whole.  I have a couple of family reunions coming up in 2014, so I will probably focus on those lines the most in the coming months.  I will try to keep you posted along the way.


© 2013 Amy L. Cole and Tracing Amy: My Ancestral Journey.  All rights reserved.