Fagan descendants search for pieces to family puzzle

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 31, 2004

No Fagan family member will be among those Natchez characters portrayed in the annual &uot;Angels on the Bluff&uot; Nov. 6 and 7. But that is not stopping a large group of the Fagan descendants from coming to listen eagerly to all the stories.

They will hear about Count Gasimir Dembouski, played by Rusty Jenkins; Bishop John E. Gunn, by the Rev. David O’Connor; Ferman Cerveau by Jane Millette; and others.

The Fagans will listen; they also will reflect on the stories learned recently about their own ancestors &045; Fagans, Lewises and Mahans, for example &045; buried in the Natchez Cemetery and associated with the earliest history of Natchez.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;Our family came to Natchez in the early 1800s,&uot; said Robert E. Fagan Jr. of Jackson, a special assistant attorney general. &uot;They were among the immigrants who came to build St. Mary Cathedral. In time, they became prominent members of the community.&uot;

Not only were they prominent, they were among the prominent donors to the Catholic church in Natchez in their day.

Fagan and his sister, Mary Chatham, also of Jackson and a special education teacher at the state

hospital, visited the cemetery on a wet October day. They came especially to see new markers they had made for their great-grandparents, James Edward Fagan Jr., 1861 to 1924, and Beatrice Lewis Fagan, 1861 to 1952.

&uot;My sister and I are trying to put together the pieces of the family puzzle,&uot; Fagan said. &uot;A lot of our family is buried on Catholic Hill in the cemetery.&uot;

Chatham said many family members are interested in genealogy. &uot;The greatest thing I’ve found recently is that our great-grandfather was taken prisoner at Port Hudson, La., (during the Civil War battle there) and he came back to Natchez and started working as a wagon master and carpenter. He passed that on to his son,&uot; she said.

Their grandmother had told many stories, Fagan said. Those are coming to life as they find bits of information here and there.

They have learned that their grandfather, who had completed his studies to become a priest and was nearing ordination, met their grandmother, who changed his mind about the priesthood.

&uot;My grandmother said she spotted him. She told me the drama of their falling in love in each other’s arms dancing at a party at Longwood,&uot; Fagan said.

Most of their direct ancestors began to drift away from Natchez, his grandparents going to Yazoo City, where they had property; but cousins remain in Natchez today, he said.

Brother and sister are fascinated by the journeys made by the early residents of Natchez to get to a small city in a remote part of the country. &uot;I have studied how they came and how they lived,&uot; Chatham said. &uot;This was still a part of the wilderness. It took great faith to make that journey.&uot;

Bob hopes they will learn more about all the family lines. &uot;We’ve wanted to do this investigation for a long time. We’ve grown up. Our older sister is deceased. Our parents are deceased. And our time with our aunts and uncles is growing short.&uot;

Natchez draws people into it, he said. They are thrilled to have ties to the community. &uot;To be as old as it is, Natchez has been able to save that quaintness of a small community,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m proud to have a legacy in this river city as well as the one in Yazoo County.&uot;

Standing in the Catholic section of the ancient cemetery, the brother and sister sensed the strong connection, they said. &uot;And we sense the adventure of the people who migrated to Natchez,&uot; Chatham said.

Natchez was different from the big cities of the same era, where immigrants from different countries lived in designated parts of the cities, Chatham said.

In Natchez, unlike other places, where the Italians, Polish, Russians and Irish had their own communities and attended their own little churches, here they had one church. And these immigrants helped to build it.&uot;