Mississippi History and Research Overview

Mississippi History and Research Overview

Learn about Mississippi's history and available records in this research guide that includes a map and bibliography.


For more than two centuries, Spain, France and Britain vied for a foothold in Mississippi — control of the Mississippi River valley meant dominance in much of North America. Although Spaniards explored Mississippi in 1540, France founded the first European settlement in 1699 near present-day Biloxi. At the end of the Seven Years War (1763), France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi River to Britain. Spain occupied the coastal area in the last years of the American Revolution. After that war, the 1783 Treaty of Paris gave to the new United States the British territory north of the 31st parallel.

Though largely Indian lands, much of present Mississippi and Alabama became Mississippi Territory in 1798. In 1802, Georgia gave up her claim to the northernmost Mississippi-Alabama land along the Tennessee boundary, and the War of 1812 brought the coastal area under US control. From all directions, by road, river and sea, land-hungry settlers flocked to the fertile coastal plains, and Mississippi became the 20th state in 1817. Forced Indian removal in the early 1830s opened the northern part of the state to white settlement. Early residents came mostly from older Southern states.

Along with river commerce, cotton agriculture on farms and plantations — worked largely with slave labor — dominated Mississippi’s pre-Civil War economy. By 1860, the state’s population was just over 55 percent slaves. Of the free population, 1 percent were foreign-born and less than a tenth of 1 percent were free blacks.

In January 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede from the United States. The state witnessed numerous Civil War engagements, including the year-long siege of Vicksburg that ended in July 1863 with the Union controlling the Mississippi River corridor. Mississippi was readmitted to the Union in 1870. In this agricultural state, sharecropping replaced slavery and included numerous poor white farmers. The state remained impoverished long after Reconstruction.

Manufacturing grew during the 1900s, especially in the food processing, textile, timber and petroleum industries. In 1900, the state’s urban population was 8 percent of the total; by 2000, city-dwellers were still the minority at 49 percent.

(click to enlarge)
Mississippi state map with county outlines


  • Ancestors reporting their birthplace as Florida or West Florida before about 1813 could have been born in what is now Mississippi. Someone reportedly born in Mississippi before 1817 may have been born in what is now Alabama.
  • Before US censuses began or when schedules are missing, investigate surviving census fragments, state or territorial censuses, and county tax lists.
  • The Mississippi Department of Archives and History http://www.mdah.state.ms.us is the state’s major genealogical research site.
  • The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, has a large genealogy collection with family and historical manuscripts, and oral histories collection. The University of Mississippi holds collections for state history.


  • Federal census: 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Federal slave schedules: 1850, 1860 (schedules name slaveholders but rarely name slaves)
  • Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890
  • State census: 1822-1825, 1837, 1841, 1845, 1853, 1866
  • Territorial census: 1805, 1808, 1810, 1813, 1816


  • Abstract History of the Mississippi Baptist Association, 1806-1906 by T.C. Schilling (J. G. Hauser, 1908)
  • Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi, 2 vols., (Goodspeed Publishing Co, 1891, Reprint Company, 1996)
  • Choctaws And Missionaries In Mississippi, 1818-1918 by Clara Sue Kidwell (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995)
  • The Episcopal Church in Mississippi (Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, 1992)
  • First Settlers of the Mississippi Territory by Frances Terry Ingmire (Ingmire Publications, ca. 1982)
  • Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War by John C. Willis (University Press of Virginia, 2000)
  • Four Centuries on the Pascagoula, 2 vols., by Cyril Edward Cain (C.E. Cain, 1953-1962)
  • Guide to Official Records in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History compiled by Thomas W. Henderson and Ronald E. Tomlin (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1975)
  • History of Mississippi from the Discovery of the Great River by Hernando Desoto, Including the Earliest Settlement made by The French, Under Iberville, to the Death of Jefferson Davis by Robert Lowry and William H. McCardle (Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1891, Reprint Company, 1978)
  • History of Mississippi, the Heart of the South, 2 vols., by Dunbar Rowland (1925, Reprint Co., 1978)
  • History of the Primitive Baptists of Mississippi by Benjamin Griffin (Sammons Printing, 1853, 1958)
  • The Large Slaveholders of the Deep South, 1860 by Joseph Karl Menn (Ph.D Thesis: University of Texas, 1964)
  • Lutheranism In the Southeaster State, 1860-1886: A Social History by Hugh George Anderson (Mouton, 1969)
  • Methodism in the Mississippi Conference by J. Allen Lindsey (Hawkins Foundation, Mississippi Conference Historical Society, 1964)
  • Mississippi, 4 vols., by Dunbar Rowland (1907; The Reprint Co., 1976)
  • Mississippi Biographical Abstracts by Jean Strickland (J. Strickland, 1990)
  • Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, 4 vols., by Dunbar Rowland (1907; The Reprint Co., 1976)
  • Mississippi Newspapers, 1805-1940: A Preliminary Union List (Mississippi Historical Records Survey, 1942)
  • Mississippi as a Province, Territory, and State, with Biographical Notices of Eminent Citizens by J.F.H. Claiborne (Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1880; The Reprint Co., 1996)
  • Mississippi Provincial Archives, 1612-1763, French Dominion edited by Dunbar Rowland and A. G. Sanders (Department of Archives and History, 1968)
  • Mississippi Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (online at http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/RG/guide/mississippi.asp)
  • Mississippi, United Methodist Churches: 200 years of Heritage and Hope by William L. Jenkins (Providence House Publishing, 1998)
  • The Order of the First Families of Mississippi 1699-1818 edited by Charles Owen Johnson (Edwards Brothers Inc., 1981)
  • The Removal of the Choctaw Indians by Arthur H. DeRosier (University of Tennessee Press, 1989)
  • Research In The Mississippi Department of Archives And History from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (filmed by the Family History Library, 1972)
  • Redskins, Ruffleshirts and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830-1860 by Mary Elizabeth Young (University of Oklahoma Press, 1961)
  • Residents of the Southeastern Mississippi Territory, 5 vols., by Jean Strickland (J. Strickland, 1996)
  • A Southern Catholic Heritage by Charles E. Nolan (Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1976)
  • Steamboats and the Cotton Economy: River Trade in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta by Harry P. Owens (University Press of Mississippi, 1990)
  • Tracing Your Mississippi Ancestors by Anne S. Lipscomb and Kathleen S. Hutchison Jackson (University Press of Mississippi, 1994)
  • Who’s Who In Mississippi by Thomas E. Kelly (Tucker Printing House, 1914)
  • Women in the Florida Parishes, 5 vols., by Donna Burge Adams (D.B. Adams, 1985-1991)

Return to the main Mississippi page

From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.

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