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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finding Your Roots in the Missouri Bootheel

Did you know that Northeast Arkansas was once a part of Missouri Territory? We were also a part of the lands claimed by the Spanish and French before the Louisiana Purchase. . . .Odds are, if your ancestors were around from the 1780's-1821 (when Missouri became a state), you'll find your family records in the Bootheel of Missouri.

My own family is deeply tied to that early history of the state. . . .For years--I mean YEARS--they alluded me because of the lack of records that have been kept in the Bootheel. . . .My Grandmother Magers, who was a Ruddle and was born in Hayward, Mo, knew nothing about her family. She was orphaned when a young child. Her half sister raised Grandmother in the same area but it appears separated from the Ruddles of Ruddles Point. All I had in the beginning was a name.

I found the Ruddles to be a huge part of American history, beginning way before the War of Independence and found in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and finally Missouri as they made their way west. The confusion stemmed from the families naming the males in the family--John, William, Andrew, Archibald, George, and Cornelius---over and over again. . . .The only way I've been able to track my line was through the wives names, primarily on Deeds, Wills, and other documents. Even that information often wasn't available. . . .

I won't go into a lot of detail. . . .that's not my purpose in this post. . . .My point being, it's been a long, hard search of 25 years to finally break down my brick wall, mainly because of the lack of recorded history in the Missouri Bootheel. . . .You can't imagine how thrilled I was when I finally found John Ruddle, my missing link, at the sight of the Linda Division of Bunge on the Mississippi River!

I can tell you after roaming all the back roads and looking for cemeteries, that unless your ancestors are buried in a city or on higher ground, most of the private cemeteries along the River are lost.

So what do you do?  I've research many libraries, funeral homes where some cemetery records are kept, actual cemeteries, books, courthouses and have found the places with the most records. I thought I'd share that information with you, maybe save you a few steps in your search for Missouri Bootheel ancestors.

The Dunklin Country Library in Kennett, Mo 
has one of the best genealogy collection I've found in the Bootheel.
It not only contains Dunklin Country records but also information from
New Madrid Country, Pemiscot County and other counties in the Bootheel.

Dunklin County Library
209 N. Main Street
Kennett, MO 63857
Open 8:30-5:30 M-Sat


The Dunklin County Courthouse is on the square in Kennett.
Early records were lost during the Civil War era from a fire.
No one will say who set the fire. . . I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Ancestors living in Dunklin County after the War will be on record there.
Deeds, Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records are found
at the Recorder's Office

Dunklin County Courthouse
Recorder of Deeds
P O Box 389
Kennett, MO 63857
Open 8:30-Noon, 1:00-4:30 M-F


Pemiscot County Courthouse in Caruthersville has
a wealth of information in early
documents--deeds, marriages, wills, plats--
and are organized and easy to find.
Pemiscot Country was formed from New Madrid County,
so some of the early records
of people living in Pemiscot Country will be found in New Madrid. 
The ladies there are well informed and helpful.
Records at the Pemiscot Co Courthouse
are available for Deeds, beginning in 1833
Marriage Liscenses begin in 1882
Death Records and Wills are also on file there.

Pemiscot County Courthouse
Recorder of Deeds
610 Ward Avenue
Caruthersville, MO 63830
Open 8:30-4:40 M-F


In order to trace my Ruddles, who settled in both the present day counties of Pemiscot
and New Madrid, I had to trek on up to the New Madrid Country Courthouse.
These people have got it together!
Records are all indexed, in order and easy to access.
They are housed in a vault, safe from fires and vandalism.
The ladies are very knowledgeable of early history and very helpful.
Deeds begin in 1805, after the Louisiana Purchase.
Marriage Licenses begin in the 1840s, with some references before that.
 These can be found in the Recorder's Office.
The Probate Office did not have the older Wills available to view,
but there's a ton of information through the land deeds in the Recorder's Office.

New Madrid Country Courthouse
Recorder of Deeds
450 Main Street
New Madrid, MO 63869


For online research, my main source has been through
the Secretary of State's Missouri Digital Heritage Collection.

It's a wonderful resource for early records. I haven't researched the entire
site, yet. . . .I continue to find more information every time I access it.

Another online source that might of help is
the Missouri Gen Web.


Hope these sources will be of help to you. . . .It does come from years of experience searching for my own family. . . .

I'll be posting more on the common history of Northeast Arkansas and the Bootheel of Missouri soon--I hope. . . .

Good Luck with your Search!