Where We Came From: An Introduction

Like most European-descended Southerners of my time, my heritage is rather homogeneous. It appears that I am almost totally a descendant of immigrants who came to America from England, Scotland, and Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries. The major known exceptions to my British ancestry are an emigrant fifth great-grandfather who was a German Palatine and a seventh great-grandmother born in the Germanic-speaking Rhineland. Thus, my heritage is about one percent German. My colonial forebearers, who came from Ireland, were Scotch-Irish.

Bryan is a surname that probably originated in Ireland. My paternal great-great-grandparents’ surnames, Parker, Ward, and Daniel, are likely names of English origin. The Armisteads and Thorntons were from Yorkshire, England. The Burnetts were from Scotland.

On my maternal side, the recent surnames Wilkerson, Adams, Morton, and Mosby are most probably English. The Montgomerys were Scotch-Irish (originally from Scotland), as perhaps were the Burks. The Camerons were pure Scottish. My earliest known British ancestors were pioneer families for whom we have ancestral records dateable from the 14th to the 18th centuries in the United Kingdom (see map).

My 32 great-great-great-grandparents (called third great) were Virginians and Carolinians, with the exception of one Pennsylvanian and his Irish-born wife. Also, except for a Scotsman who migrated to America after the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), all my third great-grandparents lived in colonial America (see map).

All of my 16 great-great-grandparents, born between 1799 and 1830, migrated (mostly with their parents) westward to the mid-South territories or states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee between 1800 and 1851. They all married between 1831 and 1851 (see map).

My four paternal great-grandparents and their parents lived in six rural counties in a corridor along the Mississippi/Alabama state line (see map). They were farmers, laborers, and businessmen.

My four maternal great-grandparents lived on plantations near Greenville, Mississippi (see map). They and their antecedents owned and operated cotton plantations along the Mississippi River.

My paternal grandparents, James Charles Bryan (1866–1930) and Jonnie Mae Parker (1871–1946), lived in the state of Mississippi in the town of West Point in Clay County (see chart on page 17). In 1909, more than 100 years ago, James Charles Bryan opened a meat market there. It was the beginning of what was to become a sizeable family business.

My maternal grandparents, Jefferson Pinckney Wilkerson Sr. (1878– 1945) and Caroline Mosby Montgomery (1884–1957), lived on Clifton Plantation in Washington County, Mississippi, north of Greenville, in the small town of Winterville. Clifton, originally a part of Loughborough in the 19th century, was bought by Jefferson Pinckney Wilkerson Sr. in 1912, several years after he married Caroline Mosby Montgomery.

I knew three of my grandparents, but not James Charles Bryan, who died six years before I was born. I was eight and nine years old when two of my grandparents died in 1945 and 1946, so I have only a few recollections of them. I was a 20-year-old college student when Caroline Mosby Montgomery Wilkerson, my maternal grandmother, died. I knew her quite well.

My four grandparents belonged to quite small families. Thus, I have relatively few great-aunts and great-uncles. I recall having met three of my great-aunts, but I have not really known my 23 second cousins.

My parents, John Henry Bryan (1908–1989) and Catherine Cameron Wilkerson (1909–2002), both had deep Mississippi roots. My father grew up in West Point and my mother in Greenville and Winterville, Mississippi. They lived their entire 54 years of marriage in the town of West Point. It was near to that town that my great-great-grandfather Stephen K. Bryan (1807–1855) moved with his family over 160 years ago. It was from that town that I, a sixth-generation Mississippian with virtually no American heritage outside of the South, moved with my family to Chicago, Illinois, now 37 years ago.

Both my mother and my father belonged to quite large families. My father was the youngest of five boys and my mother was the eldest of five children. Thus, I have three aunts and five uncles. As a result, I have 25 first cousins  with whom I share grandparents. At some time in my life, I have known all of my first cousins.

Incidentally, in the exercise of preparing this book, I learned how to define cousins

I certainly felt quite close to my parents for all of their lives. Between 1960 and 1974, I worked on a daily basis with my father. He died after several years of illness in 1989, when I was 52. I was very close to Mother throughout her life. She lived until I was 65 years old.