If someone wanted to find out about their ancestry in Morehouse Parish, they need not go far to get the answers.
The Family History Club of Bastrop, a non-profit organization, researches and collects history and genealogical information about Morehouse Parish and Northeast Louisiana.
“This club was formed 23 years ago by a group of people here who were interested in preserving the history of Morehouse Parish,” explained FHCB president Susan Holley.
In 1989, O.L. Harper of Bastrop first conceived the idea of organizing a genealogy club. Faye Bowe, of Mer Rouge, helped him contact people who were interested in genealogy and they held their first meeting in November 1989 at the Snyder Museum.
“They started a genealogy library at the museum for anyone who wanted to do research on their family history,” Holley said. “Today this library has approximately 700 volumes of genealogical charts and historical data that is free to the public to view during museum hours.”
In 1992, the club compiled recipes for a cookbook, which they sold to fund and produce their first genealogy-related item: Known Burials in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, and South Ashley County, Arkansas, Book I. Over 300 copies of the book have been printed to date.
The success of the book led to three other publications: Known Burials in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, South Ashley County, Arkansas, East Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, Book II, Church of the Redeemer Episcopal Church Cemetery, Oak Ridge, Louisiana 2008 and Morehouse Parish, Louisiana Churches.
“Faye Bowe collected cemetery records and obituaries back in the 1960s,” Holley said. “Most of the obituaries came from the Bastrop Enterprise and New Star [newspapers.] The cemetery records go back to the very beginning-in the early 1800s.”
Holley said former club president, Eloise Means, now treasurer, helped to compile the information in the book about Morehouse Parish churches.
“Most of the churches in the book are not in existence anymore,” Means said. “We got in touch with people who were members at the churches and found that most of them had kept a history of how the church began.”
In 2009, member Isabelle Woods, began compiling information for five new publications: African-American Burials and Obituaries in Morehouse Parish, African-American Burials and Obituaries at Bastrop, African-American Burials and Obituaries in Collinston and Oak Ridge, African-American Burials and Obituaries in Northeast Louisiana and African-American Burials in Mer Rouge, Louisiana.
Woods, who lives in Bossier City, started collecting the information for the books after her husband, Freeman Woods, asked her to find out about his family’s history in his native Morehouse.
“I went out to the cemeteries to find his family,” she said. “I wrote down the information on the headstones such as their birth date and death date.”
Woods said she would take the information from the headstone and send off for that person’s death certificate.
Page 2 of 2 - “If the person has been dead for 50 years or more, you can get a copy of their death certificate,” she said. “Once you have that, you can find out the names of that person’s parents and where they were born.”
Holley said that Woods was “very dedicated” in her search to find out about her husband’s ancestry.
“There was no record of many of these cemeteries,” Holley said. “Mrs. Woods would ask local residents if they knew where cemeteries where. Many of the cemeteries were along Bayou Bartholomew or in overgrown fields behind people’s homes.”
The History Club not only located many cemeteries and recorded the never before documented information, they also began preserving them.
“We restored the Douglas Cemetery which is a private family cemetery in a field on the border of Morehouse Parish, going toward Monroe,” Holley said.
Although the FHCB currently has more than 30 members, Holley said they’re hoping to get new members.
“Charter member Mrs. Faye Bowe knows everything about Morehouse Parish and almost everyone,” Holley said. “We would love to get some new members so we can pass down what we’ve learned and keep this area’s history alive.”
Holley said in addition to documenting and preserving the parish’s history, their monthly meetings are informative speakers who “tell interesting stories about the history of Morehouse Parish.”
“One of our members, Dan McDuff, who is now in his 80s, spoke to us one evening about what life was like in the 1940s in Bastrop,” she said. “He told us he worked at a drug store on the square when he was 12 or 13 years old. People would call and order ice cream. He would wrap it up with paper, jump on his bicycle, and deliver it to their home.
We have so much to pass down. Even if someone doesn’t want to join, they are more than welcome to use our library at the museum and learn more about this wonderful area.”
The FHCB will hold its 23rd Anniversary Reception from 3:30–5:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Snyder Museum. This reception is free and open to the public. In addition to celebrating the clubs anniversary, they will also announce the release of Wood’s three new books on African-American burials and obituaries.