Monday, August 20, 2012

Those Small Brick Churches Deep in the Country

     Whenever I give genealogy presentations and workshops, or whenever I personally advise someone on tracing their family history, I always recommend that people visit the churches where their ancestors were members.  In many cases, these churches are rural ones with adjacent cemeteries.  One may find in those cemeteries a wealth of information and clues – names, dates, etc. from the tombstones of known and unknown ancestors.  Additionally, I often recommend that they take time to attend church service there one Sunday and talk to the people.  Chances are, some of them are relatives and may have a wealth of information to share about certain ancestors. 

     This research tip reminds me of those Sundays my parents and my paternal grandparents would make their annual trips to their hometown churches.  My mother’s home church was Beulah Baptist Church, located deep in the country, eight miles east of Como, Mississippi (Panola County).  My paternal grandparents’ home church was Harmony Baptist Church in Lena, Mississippi (Leake County).  Harmony was just a 45-minute drive from my hometown of Canton, but Beulah was a longer trip – a 2-hour drive from Canton.  My mother was born and raised in Tate County (Senatobia), and the Tate/Panola County line was the southern boundary of her father and grandfather’s land.  Although Beulah (pronounced ‘Bu-low’ by family members) was in another county, their church was just a stone’s throw away from their house. 

Beulah Baptist Church, Como, Mississippi

     Our annual trips to Beulah were always on the third Sunday in May, and our annual trips to Harmony were always on the third Sunday in August.  Both Sundays were called “Homecoming Day”, an event that my grandparents rarely missed while they were still in good health.  Because we didn’t have family in my hometown, and I didn’t have the privilege of growing up with lots of kin around, I always looked forward to those trips – which meant the world to me.  I had possessed a natural curiosity about my family history since the ninth grade, so I don’t think my family realized until much later just how much those annual trips positively affected my life.  In essence, those trips established where my family roots sprouted, and there was no doubt that my roots ran very deep.

     At Beulah, a small brick church that probably held a maximum of 100 people, presumably 90% of the people who attended Homecoming Day from far and near were related to Mom. Many were even related to her on her mother’s side and her father’s side – double kin.  And it was very obvious!  Looking at their faces was like looking at my mother and her siblings.  Also, I enjoyed my mother’s display of great happiness when she returned “home”.  Home never left her heart.  As long as I remain in my right mind, I will always carry very fond memories of those family elders (all of them are now deceased) who I only saw once a year. 

Harmony Baptist Church, Lena, Mississippi
(Picture courtesy of Richard Mack. Additions have been made since my grandparents’ death in 1990.)

     Memories of going to Harmony annually with my paternal grandparents included several times when my loving yet ostentatious grandmother would force me to get up and sing a solo, while my sister LaVonda played the piano. Grandma never forewarned us of her intentions.  Like Beulah, many of the people there at Harmony were our relatives – even the snow cone man, Cousin James Ferrell, who made the most scrumptious snow cones from the back of his truck.  It was a treat after spending hours in church listening to two or three sermons.  Correction: Maybe the word “hearing” is more accurate than “listening to”.  There’s a difference, and I was young (LOL). Those Homecoming Day services were quite lengthy.  If someone wasn’t Grandma’s niece or nephew, he/she was her cousin.  However, that didn’t stop my match-making Grandma who seemed to forget that fact.  Another favorite memory included the following incident:

     As I exited the church with Grandma, she spotted a young girl standing outside and who appeared to be around my age. I was around 15 at the time.

     Pointing at the girl, Grandma instructed, “Baby, come here. What is your name, baby?  You are such a pretty girl.”

     With a smile, the girl shared her name.

     Grandma commented, “Well, baby, I want you to meet my grandson here. His name is Jimell (my middle name).  You and him may be around the same age. How old are you, baby?”

     The girl’s mother suddenly approached.  Excited, she interrupted, “Hey Cut’n Willie! How you doing? I'm so glad to see you!  This here is my daughter.”  Note: Cut’n” is the southern slang for “cousin”.

     Grandma remarked coolly, “Oh, is that so?”

     Imagine the stoic look on Grandma’s face when she discovered that she just tried to match-make me with a cousin! 

     I will never forget that experience and many more at those small brick churches deep in the country – a significant part of our history and once major pillars of our communities.

Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery, Como, MS
Most of the people buried here are Mom’s family members, including her parents and her paternal and maternal grandparents.

The William “Bill” Reed & Sarah Partee Reed Monument in Beulah Cemetery
My mother’s paternal grandparents
In 2004, the Reed Family raised $4,700 to purchase this 7-feet tall monument for their grave-site.


  1. Greetings, thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm researching my family hisorty in Teaxs right now and will one day make it to Mississippi to track my mothers side.
    This is helpful information and a wonderful confirmation for me.

    Best...Novuyo Masakhane

  2. Loved your story Mel. I love going to my maternal ancestors home Church in Marshall Texas. The Cemetery in the back has many of my ancestor lines. Love it

  3. Excellent post! I agree, visiting churches where our ancestors' attended should be a vital part of our research. When I'm not able to physically visit a church, I write to the church's clerk or historian for information. And since I'm located in the Lone Star State, I have on my shelf BLACK CHURCHES IN TEXAS, that I refer to regularly. Again, great post!

  4. Melvin this is Amazing...this reading thrilled me so much.I found myself smiling while reading. Thank you. I to attended Harmony church when I was young with my grandparents (Lee family).(memories of the good days) I have to get the book.

  5. Hello Melvin,
    My name is Veronica Swift. I read your book Mississippi to Africa.I am interested in knowing if you know how Beulah Baptist Church was founded. My uncle Willie P Cooke who was the pastor of Shiloh Baptist in Sacramento Ca had a father who was a minister of Beulah Baptist in Mississippi. His name was Willie P Cooke and supposedly he named the church after her. Her name was Beulah (Adams) Cooke.They were from Brookhaven,Ms. Are you familiar with any of these family members?
    Thank you for your assistance.
    Veronica Swift


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