Volume 145, Number 2, March/April 2011, Page 6
By Lena Anthony
Photo courtesy of Melanie Thortis
To say that Mary Collins Landin, Ph.D., has a passion for genealogy would be an understatement. She’s been working on her own genealogy since she was a teenager, and she’s always willing to help someone find a lost ancestor—whether the searcher is in her home state of Mississippi or elsewhere.
Her favorite genealogy-related pastime is recording old cemeteries, which she and her son, now a space engineer with Lockheed Martin, would do on the weekends when he was a boy. “I record them because of their history,” says Dr. Landin, the Regent, past Registrar and longtime member of the Ashmead Chapter, Vicksburg, Miss. “Before 1850, census records didn’t list anyone except a head of household or widow, so cemetery records play a very important role in tracing one’s lineage.”
She spent four years researching and writing a book that lists more than 13,000 Mississippi cemeteries. That’s just one of more than a dozen genealogy books Dr. Landin has published since the 1960s.
“I find genealogy fascinating,” she says. “If you know something about your family, you can’t help but feel pride, even if you have a horse thief back there somewhere.”
But the sign that Dr. Landin is a die-hard genealogist? She gets as excited helping strangers trace their lineage as she does working on her own genealogy. “I get such a kick out of helping people make these connections to their past.”
With this impressive résumé, Dr. Landin sounds like a professional genealogist, but she’s actually a farmer, as well as a retired environmental scientist who worked for the federal government for more than 30 years. She spent most of her career at the Waterways Experiment Station and Engineering Research and Development Center. Based in Vicksburg, the station serves as the research facility for the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Army Corps of Engineers.
Dr. Landin’s job took her all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, England and Spain. “We designed wetlands, helped rehabilitate damaged areas that the Corps and DOD owned or managed, and did follow-up research,” she explains. Though she retired in 1997, Dr. Landin still does contract work for state and federal agencies. In 2005, she was called on to participate in a task force focused on the recovery of the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Today, Dr. Landin is enjoying a busy retirement by tending to her farm in Utica, Miss., which occupies the same land her ancestors farmed when they settled in Mississippi in the early 19th century. While the farm has produced a variety of crops, today the focus is on cattle, hay and timber. “I’ve been involved in this my entire life,” she says. “I had three brothers, but none of them came home to farm after college, so I turned out to be the family farmer.”
Dr. Landin explains that a typical day on the family farm involves working from “can [see] to can’t [see],” or from dawn until well after dark, most days of the week. In the winter, she’s constantly feeding her cattle, putting out 21 tons of hay every three days to feed an estimated 300 mother cows, plus their calves, herd bulls and replacement heifers. Other times of the year she’s working the pastures and hayfields nonstop. “There’s always more than enough work to do on a farm,” she says. “You’d have to love it or you’d never survive!”
Between her farm and genealogy pursuits, it’s surprising that Dr. Landin has room in her day for much else, but she’s also an avid preservationist. She has restored two historic buildings in downtown Utica, both of which she saved from bulldozers. “It was definitely a spur-of-the-moment decision,” she says. “But I hate to see something so carefully constructed and holding so much history be destroyed. The buildings I saved aren’t beautiful, but it’s our history. I’m just trying to help save and make useful what’s left.”