By Brenda Owen

Daily Journal

Step into the genealogy section of the Lee County Library on any given day and you’re likely to find some of your relatives. If they’re not there in person, they can most likely be found in the volumes of records and resource materials lining the library shelves.

And, if you show up around lunch time, you’ll probably bump into Melissa Kitchens, trust administrator for the Peoples Bank and Trust Co. in Tupelo. She spends at least three lunch hours a week at the library scanning microfilm or pouring over old census records.

Kitchens said her interest in genealogy was sparked a couple of years ago when she read some material gathered by a relative on her father’s family history.

“I went to the library to look up some additional information and I was hooked,” she said.

Today, Kitchens has traced one branch of her family back to 17th century Scotland and has amassed computer files full of information on other limbs in her family tree.

“I’m about to get to the point where I will have to do some traveling to gather more leads,” she said.

Sometimes the going gets slow, but Kitchens said months after hitting a brick wall a chance remark by a relative will send her off to the library to pick up another trail.

“So far I’ve talked to people as far away as California and Texas and I even ran across some relatives in New Albany that I didn’t know about,” she said.

Another avid roots researcher, Sandra Knight of Tupelo, has filled four filing cabinet drawers and numerous computer disks with tidbits on her family, her husband’s family and even her daughter’s future in-laws. Since she began her searches 16 years ago, she has often gotten calls from out-of-town genealogy buffs asking if she could help out by looking up information.

After visiting the Payne Family Cemetery where her grandmother’s grandmother was buried during the Civil War, Knight grabbed a notebook and headed for the library.

“Now I go on Saturdays every chance I get,” she said. “It really takes time. If you don’t have at least two hours, you may as well not go.”

Knight said she takes notes when older relatives are talking, then checks the library records to see how accurate the family accounts are.

“The best thing you can find is an older relative that really kept up with the family,” she said.

Knight said her genealogy research has long since gone past the definition of “hobby.”

“It can become an obsession,” she said with a laugh. ” They call it ‘the bug,'” and I guess I’ve got it.”

Back to basics

Interest in genealogy has boomed over the past two decades, said Sandra Conwill, cataloging and reference clerk for the library.

“Genealogy took off in the mid-1970s,” she said. “People wanted to know the history of their ancestors, they wanted to know about their roots about when, where and why things happened.”

Conwill, an amateur genealogist herself, has traced her family back to the Revolutionary War. A large portion of that research was done at the library, she said.

“Lee County Library genealogy deals mostly with the Southern and Southeastern states,” Conwill said. “Materials available here consist of books that contain marriage records, tax rolls, property transfers, pension records, wills, cemetery indexes, and county histories. There are also a large number of published family histories available.”

Census records are on microfilm for some states, she said. The records for Mississippi date from 1820-1920 with indexes through 1870.

“The library also has journals and magazines from various historical societies,” she said, “as well as information on Irish and English genealogy such as passenger lists, immigration lists and heraldry.”

The genealogy section also contains information on African-American and Native American heritage, Conwill said.

For those interested in starting a genealogy of their family, Conwill said the easiest part is knowing where to start.

“Start with yourself and work backward,” she said. “Most people want to do it just the opposite.”

She warns however that if you start, you might not be able to stop.

“It’s addicting,” she said.

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