Sunday, November 9, 2014

DNA Makes the World Incredibly Small

Kevin Gilbert (far left) and Kelsey Rushing (far right) with the first scholarship recipient of the Gilbert-Rushing Political Science Scholarship at the University of Southern Mississippi. Picture shared by Kevin Gilbert.

Amazingly, our ancestors have been revealing themselves through DNA technology, enabling researchers to connect dots that they never knew existed. DNA is revealing how incredibly small this world truly is! There may be people within our social circles who are actually blood relatives without anyone having a clue. And these discoveries can literally leave your mouth wide open with amazement. This case is another one. I will present it in two parts.

Part 1 – Establishing the Ancestral Connection

In September, while looking at my DNA matches in AncestryDNA, I noticed that a guy, known as “WestCoastRon,” is considered a “high confidence” DNA match to me. The predicted relationship is 4th cousins. He uploaded a small family tree that only goes back to his grandparents. His father’s family included Gilberts. Well, many Gilberts lived in my Dad’s hometown of Lena in Leake County, Mississippi. In fact, some of my Ealy-Kennedy cousins are descendants of a man named Coleman Gilbert. They had posted Coleman’s picture on Facebook. I wondered if WestCoastRon was from the same Gilberts.

Coleman Gilbert (1863-1937) of Leake County, Mississippi
Picture shared by Pamela Williams

I decided to take a closer look at WestCoastRon’s paternal grandfather, Melody Gilbert (1902-1994). In a nutshell, my findings in the census records led me to determine that his Gilberts were the same Gilberts! They were originally from Leake County! I discovered that Melody was the son of William Gilbert (born c. 1865), who was Coleman Gilbert's brother. William, his wife Mary “Molly” York, and their eight children left Leake County shortly before 1910 and moved to Madison County, Mississippi, my home county. In 1910, they resided on Madison-Pocahontas Road in the southern part of the county near Jackson.

But how could I be related to WestCoastRon’s great-grandparents, William & Mary Gilbert? There had to be some kind of connection since they were from the same community where my paternal ancestors resided. Well, I was able to trace William Gilbert back to the 1870 and 1880 Leake County censuses. William was the son of Willis Gilbert (born c. 1836 in Alabama). In the 1870 census, Willis Gilbert appeared to have been a widower with three young children in his house, Coleman, William, and Fanny Gilbert. Willis soon remarried to Julia Gaddis on Feb. 1872, according to marriage records.

1870 Leake County Census: Willis Gilbert (age 34) and his three young children, Coleman (7), William (5), & Fanny (2)

Then, a light bulb went off! The names “Coleman” and “William” were big clues. While researching my great-great-grandmother, Jane Parrott Ealy (born c. 1829), I found that she had been enslaved by William Parrott, who had moved to Leake County, Mississippi from Lunenburg County, Virginia shortly before 1840 with slaves. In the 1850 Slave Schedule, William Parrott was reported as owning 13 slaves. Four of them were Grandma Jane, John Armstead Parrott, James Parrott, and George Parrott. Repeated names within their families included Sylvester, Coleman, Benjamin, Jessie, Martha, George, and William. Naming patterns often indicate kinship. Recently, another DNA match to me in AncestryDNA confirmed that James Parrott was her great-great-grandfather. Therefore, naming patterns and DNA technology are adding to the preponderance of evidence that William Parrott’s 13 slaves were one family. For more about my Parrott research, read I’m A Parrott – Not the Bird.

1850 Leake County Slave Schedule: William Parrott

You will notice that among the younger enslaved females on William Parrott’s farm in 1850 were Grandma Jane and four females whose ages were 16, 10, 9, and 5. Based on the evidence I’ve presented thus far, one can plausibly assert that those four younger females were likely Grandma Jane’s sisters. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine who those sisters were and what became of them. However, because one of Willis Gilbert’s sons was named Coleman, and the fact that I am a high confidence DNA match to WestCoastRon, one can also plausibly assert that Willis’ first wife, who died before the 1870 census was taken, was one of them.

Also, Willis’ first-born son Coleman Gilbert was born during slavery in 1863. Coleman was born where his mother was enslaved. Therefore, I pondered the following two questions: (1) Who was Willis Gilbert’s last enslaver? (2) Did Willis’ last enslaver live near William Parrott?

Well, the 1860 census and slave schedule provided great clues. On the next census page from William Parrott was a man named James L. Gilbert; he was the only white Gilbert slave-owner in the county. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule, Gilbert only had one slave – a 24-year-old male. To add, an Internet source revealed that James L. Gilbert had migrated to Leake County shortly before 1860 from Shelby County, Alabama. Willis was around 24 years old in 1860, and his birthplace was consistently reported as Alabama in the censuses. Therefore, Willis was very likely the lone slave that James L. Gilbert owned and had likely brought to Mississippi with him from Alabama, settling near William Parrott.

Unfortunately, Coleman Gilbert’s death certificate did not provide his mother’s name. A death certificate for William Gilbert has not been found. Therefore, I haven’t been able to learn the first name of the first Mrs. Willis Gilbert. However, my great-great-grandmother Jane Parrott Ealy and WestCoastRon’s great-great-grandmother being sisters would indeed make us to be 4th cousins, as AncestryDNA predicted.

Part 2 – Let Me Show You How Small This World Is

After establishing the likely ancestral connection, I decided to see if I can learn more about the Gilberts and to see if they still resided in Madison County. In the google search engine, I typed “Melody Gilbert Madison Mississippi.” The first hit made my mouth drop! I came upon the obituary of Rev. Melody Gilbert’s son, Robert L. Gilbert. To my surprise, he was the father of WestCoastRon, my DNA match. He had passed away in 2010. Another huge surprise was that Robert Gilbert was a member of Pilgrim Rest M.B. Church in Madison. Well, my sister is presently a member of this church; she had joined this church over two years ago. Of course, I immediately picked up the phone and called her. She confirmed that the Gilberts were indeed members of her church, and she knew some of them quite well. She almost dropped the phone when I told her, “Well, they are our cousins.”

I was soon put into contact with another grandson of Rev. Melody Gilbert named Kevin Gilbert, a deacon at Pilgrim Rest. After connecting with him on Facebook, I noticed that he knows my cousin, Kelsey Rushing, whom I had just recently met in August at the Ealy Family Reunion in Carthage, Mississippi. Big Bob and Jane Parrott Ealy were Kelsey’s great-great-grandparents. Kevin shared that not only he and Kelsey are frat brothers (members of Alpha Phi Alpha), but Kelsey is also one of his closest friends. They both attended University of Southern Mississippi and recently established the Gilbert-Rushing Political Science Scholarship at USM. Now, they are frat brothers, close friends, and cousins! Yes, DNA makes this world incredibly small!

Monday, November 3, 2014

DNA Does It Again – Another Long Lost Sibling Found!

DNA is un-freakin-believable! Excuse my language. Recently, the ancestors have truly been showing out and in a mighty great way! This morning, I got a message from Alisa Williams, one of my DNA matches in 23andMe. Alisa shares 51 cM (0.69%) on 4 segments with my mother and 42 cM (0.57%) on 3 segments with me. She has been in our relative databases for over a year, but I hadn't been able to figure out how we are related. When she informed me that her family has no knowledge of her maternal grandfather, I had predicted that we’re related through this unknown person. Boy, I was wrong!

Well, Alisa informed me that her mother's 23andMe results were completed. Lo and behold, we don't match her mother. Therefore, our connection is on her father's side. Her father's family is from Ouachita County (Camden) and adjacent Columbia County (Magnolia), Arkansas; they have been in that area since slavery. So how in the world could we be this closely related when I don't have any knowledge of family members being in that part of Arkansas? 

Thankfully, Alisa has a family tree on 23andMe. I investigated it again, and the strongest possibility was her paternal great-great-grandfather, Henderson Ellis. Born around 1850, his birthplace was reported as Mississippi. Henderson appeared to also have had two siblings in the area: Henry Ellis, born c. 1855, and their widowed sister living with Henry named Caledonia Payne, born c. 1852. Mississippi was reported as their birthplace, too. Hmmmm……

But, what really caught my attention was the name CALEDONIA. It was a family name. I'd discovered that my 3rd-great-grandmother, Margaret "Peggy" Milam, had a sister named Caledonia. Even two of Grandma Peggy's daughters gave that name to their daughters. Then, it dawned on me! I had seen the Ellis surname while researching Edward Warren, the previous enslaver of Grandma Peggy, her three siblings, Random, Sam, and Caledonia, and their parents, Adam and Sarah. I explained this discovery in this April 2012 blog post, Name Discrepancies Can Often Lead to More. I re-investigated my records, and my mouth dropped! A preponderance of evidence strongly indicates that Aunt Caledonia was likely the mother of Henderson, Henry, and Caledonia Jr.! Grandma Peggy had also followed a tradition of giving a daughter the same name as her.

I will present the preponderance of documental evidence, in conjunction with the DNA evidence, as “puzzle pieces.” Here's how those pieces of this genealogical puzzle fitted perfectly. Some of these are recaps from the aforementioned blog post.

PUZZLE PIECE 1: 1839 Slave Bill of Sale, Edward Warren, Marshall County, Mississippi

This bill of sale dated August 14, 1839 is how I found Grandma Peggy Milam and her family before she and her brother Sam were eventually sold to Joseph R. Milam of present-day Tate County, Mississippi around 1845. Edward Warren fell on hard times and decided to sell his slaves to pay off some debt.

. . . the party of the first part (Edward Warren) do hereby bargain sell and confirm to the party of the second part (James W. Briscoe) all the following described property to wit: six negroes viz; Adam aged about 55 years, Sarah aged about 40 years, Sam aged about 14 years, MARGARET aged about 10 years, Calidonia aged about 8 years, Random aged about 23 years and one half of the growing crop of cotton in cultivation by the party of the first party...

PUZZLE PIECE 2: 1840 Census, Edward Warren, Marshall County, Mississippi

Oddly, several months later in 1840, Ed Warren was counted in the census with six slaves who closely matched the six in the 1839 bill of sale (except for Calidonia but close). 

PUZZLE PIECE 3: Probate Records for Edward Warren, 1842 (Source: Marshall County Probate Records, 1839-1846, vol. 2-3)

Ed Warren died two years later in 1842. He died intestate (without having made a will), but I fortunately found his probate records on Documents in his probate records confirmed that Ed was still in possession of those six people in 1840 because his probate record included four of them in 1842 – Adam, Sarah (also recorded as San), who was identified as Adam’s wife, Random and Calidonia.

Inventory of Edward Warren’s estate, Nov. 3, 1842
Negro girl Caladonia, $350”, “Negro man Random, $500”, “Adam & his wife San, $200”

PUZZLE PIECE 4: Probate Records for Edward Warren, 1846 (Source: Marshall County Probate Records, 1845-1849, vol. 4-5)

These following two probate documents show Caledonia, RandomAdam and Sarah being placed for sale from the estate in 1846. The last document shows E.J. ELLIS paying $120.50 for Adam and Sarah. The records weren't entirely clear on who purchased Caledonia, but Ellis appeared to have been the purchaser of Adam, Sarah, and Caledonia. Random was sold to Notley Warren Briscoe.

Cash record of E.J. Ellis…Amt of sales of slaves Adam and Sarah . . . $120.50

PUZZLE PIECE 5: Marriage record and 1850 DeSoto County, Mississippi Census (Who was E.J. Ellis?)

In, I found the marriage record for Erasmus J. Ellis to Susan WARREN, Feb. 4, 1841, Marshall County, Mississippi. Susan was Edward Warren's daughter! This online source from a Warren descendant also verified this. In 1850, Edward's widow, Elizabeth Warren (age 75), lived with Erasmus and Susan Ellis in DeSoto County, Mississippi.

The Ellis Family left Mississippi after 1850. Guess where they relocated?! DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!!!! Yes, the Ellises migrated to Ouachita County (Camden), Arkansas! Undoubtedly, they took Aunt Caledonia and her children with them!

PUZZLE PIECE 6: 1858 Land Record, Ouachita County, Arkansas (Source: U.S. General Land Office Records, 1796-1907,

Erasmus J. Ellis purchased 37 acres of land in Ouachita County, Arkansas on May 3, 1858.

PUZZLE PIECE 7: 1860 Slave Schedule, Ouachita County, Arkansas - E.J. Ellis

E.J. Ellis was the only white Ellis slave-owner in Ouachita County. He had 29 slaves who were housed in 3 slave houses. His 28-year-old female slave closely matched the profile of Aunt Caledonia, who was noted as being 8 years old in August, 1839.

I can't help but wonder if Grandma Peggy Milam was aware that her sister Caledonia and her children were taken to Arkansas around 1858. Did they see each other again after slavery? Chances are high that they never saw each other anymore. However, 156 years later, their great-great-great-grandchildren, Alisa and I, found each other through DNA technology. Our DNA match and a paper trail led me to Aunt Caledonia's whereabouts!

Ironically, Mom and Alisa share more than the typical range of DNA for 4th cousins once removed. I am not surprised because I have always felt that Mom resembles and has a lot of DNA from her maternal grandfather's mother, Lucy Milam Davis (1846-1927), who was Grandma Peggy's oldest daughter. And folks say that I favor my great-grandfather, John Hector Davis (Lucy's son and Peggy’s grandson). See below. And the picture after that is how I feel now! J

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mending Broken Ties: The Reunion Documentary

Recently, someone asked me about the reunion video documentary that my cousin Kristina Hayes produced of our commemorative family reunion in 2009. That groundbreaking event in Atlanta, GA and Abbeville, S.C. reunited branches of our family tree after 150 years of separation. This is the reunion that culminated the book, 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended. As promised, I am resurrecting the YouTube links of this reunion documentary on my blog. Totaling 30 minutes, the entire documentary was divided into five short clips which are below.

In a nutshell, the following is the family that was separated in 1859 in Abbeville County, S.C. That year, William Barr Jr., the son of the late Rev. William & Rebecca Reid Barr, decided to relocate to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. He took most of the family slaves with him which split the following family tree.

What happened to the family?

LEWIS & FANNY – According to a letter that Rebecca Barr wrote to her sister in 1847, Grandpa Lewis died in Sept., 1846 at an old age, possibly around 70. Born somewhere in Virginia around 1785 and sold down South to Abbeville, S.C. by 1810, Grandma Fanny was taken to Pontotoc County, Miss. in 1859. Her nearly 75-year-old body endured William Barr's wagon train journey to northern Mississippi, which took days. According to the 1880 census, her grandson, Rev. Jacob Beckley Jr., was taking care of her. She died after 1880 at nearly 100 in Pontotoc County. Lewis and Fanny’s African roots are revealed in clip 1 below.

Glasgow Barr – He was never taken away from South Carolina. He and his wife Rosa, who had been enslaved by a neighbor Lesley Family, were found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses in Abbeville County. Children and grandchildren of Glasgow were also found in the 1900 Abbeville County, SC census. After that, I haven’t found a trace of the family. Not sure what became of his descendants.

Sue Barr Beckley – William Barr Jr. took her, her husband Jacob, a “mulatto” slave he had purchased from the Lesley Family, and their children to Pontotoc County, Miss. in 1859. After slavery, the family took the Beckley surname. Sue Beckley and four of her children, Sina, John, Susie, and Patsy, lived in Oxford, Mississippi in 1880. Her sons, Edmond, Cannon, Lewis, Clay, and Jacob Jr., and her daughter Louvenia remained in Pontotoc County. Those sons became known as “The Beckley Five”. The Beckley Family has held large family reunions every year since 1957.

Cannon Beckley (1840-1903), his wife, and his 20 children, Pontotoc County, Miss.
Picture taken in 1900; shared by Diane Beckley

Pleasant Barr – Shortly before relocating to Pontotoc County, William Barr Jr. decided to sell Pleasant, my great-great-grandfather, to a man named James Giles. Giles relocated to Tippah County (Ripley), Mississippi around 1859, taking Pleasant with him. After slavery, Pleasant retained the Barr surname, remained in Tippah County, remarried to Amanda Young, and had another son, Elijah Barr. His older children, namely William (Bill) and Mary, had been sold to Rebecca Barr’s nephew, Lemuel Reid of Abbeville. They never saw their father again, according to oral history. Bill, Mary, their first cousin Glasgow Wilson (son of Glasgow Barr), and others migrated to Panola County, Mississippi shortly after slavery in 1866. Bill Reed (1846-1937), my mother’s paternal grandfather, married Sarah Partee, had 11 children, and the family tree grew by leaps and bounds.

Sawney Barr – William Barr Jr. took him to Pontotoc County in 1859. According to the Mississippi Historical Society, Sawney was a blacksmith who worked in a blacksmith shop in the town of Pontotoc, shoeing horses for both the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War.  After slavery, he became a prominent figure in the county during Reconstruction (1865-1876).  He was recorded in Pontotoc County’s history as the First Superintendent of Education for Pontotoc County. However, the political gains of African Americans during Reconstruction were wiped out.  The racist Klu Klux Klan increased their reign of terrorism across the South during the 1870s, and many African Americans were forcibly ousted from these important positions. I haven’t found Sawney in any censuses or records after 1870. He had married and had at least two children, Frank and Anna.

The paper trail that unearthed and documented my family’s plight and separation included but were not limited to the following:

- Census records
- Slave schedules
- Wills
- Estate records
- Slave inventories
- Old rare family letters from the slave-owning family
- Slave-owner’s diaries
- Slave-owner’s cotton-picking ledger (1860 & 1861)
- Church records (slave births, baptisms, and rare notations)
- Church histories
- Marriage records
- Death certificates
- Civil War pension files

In conjunction with oral histories from the Reed and Beckley families, 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended tells how all of these sources and more unearthed our family story.






  Documentary produced by Kristina Hayes, great-great-granddaughter of Bill Reed, great-great-great-granddaughter of Pleasant Barr

This photo was taken on the steps of the Abbeville County, South Carolina Courthouse, August 8, 2009...150 Years Later.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Runaway Slave in the Family Tree

Slave ad offering $100 reward for unnamed man, about 30 years old, Ripley Co., Missouri (Source)

The ancestors are working overtime! Within this past week, they have led me to two revealing court cases! The first one involved my paternal 3rd-great-grandmother Annie, the mother of Grandpa Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi. Last week, I found the 1832 North Carolina Supreme Court case of William Hunt vs. Edwin Bass et al, in which William Hunt, Edwin Bass and his brothers fought over the ownership of Grandma Annie, her youngest child Lazarus, and a man named Ned, all in Nash County, N.C. Elated about this genealogical discovery, I was also saddened from picturing the agony Grandma Annie faced while people fought over her and her infant child's fate. A published opinion of that case can be read HERE.

Well, two days ago, I received an e-mail from a descendant of John & Anna Burnett, the last enslavers of my maternal 3rd-great-grandparents, Jack & Flora Davis (both born c. 1815 in S.C.), and their children of Panola County (Como), Mississippi. This descendant had found my blog post, Ain’t Gonna Take Massa’s Name, and realized that her ancestors owned slaves. I hadn't researched the Burnetts in a while. Therefore, because of our e-mail exchanges, I decided to do some "googling" just to see what else is out there about the Burnetts. Around 1861, they left Abbeville County, South Carolina and settled on land located on the now Tate-Panola County line, transporting Jack, Flora, their children, and others with them.

Before I go into the “juice” of this discovery, I must first mention a man named Wesley Johnson. He was born around 1852 in Abbeville County, South Carolina. The Burnetts also brought him to Mississippi. Years ago, I found my maternal grandmother’s parents’ marriage record. Poppa John H. Davis married Grandma Mary Danner in 1892 in Panola County. I noticed the name Wesley Johnson as being the bondsman. Learning that bondsmen are often family members, I asked my maternal grandmother's first cousin, the late Cousin Sammie Lee (Davis) Hayes, about him. Immediately, Cousin Sammie Lee relayed, “Oh, that’s Cutin’ (Cousin) Wesley! He and Grandpa Hector were first cousins, but they were real close like brothers.” Obviously, Poppa John was close to him too because he named his first son John Wesley Davis, who was my grandmother's oldest brother.

1910 Panola County, MS census: My great-great-grandparents, Hector & Lucy Davis, lived adjacent to Wesley & Evaline Johnson, solidifying my cousin’s claim of their closeness. Neighbors were often family members.

Poppa John’s father Hector Davis (1842-1925) was one of the sons of Jack and Flora. Therefore, somehow Cutin’ Wesley Johnson was Jack or Flora’s nephew. Fortunately, I had found Cutin’ Wesley’s death certificate at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives in Jackson. It reported that his father’s name was Ale Johnson. The mother’s name was not reported, but I had surmised that his mother was probably “Old Nelly,” who was inventoried in John Burnett’s 1863 estate, along with Jack, Flora, and some of their children. Cutin’ Wesley was “boy Wesley,” who was valued at $700. That slave inventory can be seen here.

What was particularly interesting about Cutin’ Wesley was that he took the surname Johnson. Since his death certificate reported Ale Johnson as his father, I realized that he chose his father’s surname. But where was Uncle Ale? He was not listed on that 1863 slave inventory. Interestingly, Johnson was also the maiden name of John Burnett’s wife, Anna. Could there be a connection here? For a while, I have theorized that either Ale Johnson or “Old Nelly” may have been Grandma Flora’s sibling. That’s why I have chosen to call him “Uncle Ale.”

Now, let's get to the “juice” of this discovery. Please remember that effective google searches can be your doorway to many genealogical clues! Yesterday while googling for more information about the Burnetts, I found the 1851 court case of Joseph M. Alexander vs John Burnet, Abbeville, South Carolina. A published opinion of this case was found here. To my surprise, the case involved the ownership of a “mulatto” slave named Ail, who was also known as Caleb. I had found Uncle Ale Johnson! The details of this court case revealed the following chronology of Uncle Ale Johnson’s eventful life during slavery, and eventful is an understatement!

1821: Uncle Ale was born the "property" of Benjamin Johnson in Abbeville County, South Carolina. He was noted as being “mulatto” in the court case.

1831: As a young boy around 10 years old, he was living on John & Anna Burnett’s farm. On June 13, Anna, with young Uncle Ale in tow, went to her brother Benjamin, and they agreed to make her his legal owner. So on that day, he wrote out a deed of gift giving Uncle Ale to her for one dollar, and he will become her legal property upon his death. Anna paid Benjamin the money that day, and then she and Uncle Ale went back to the Burnett farm. The deed of gift was never recorded in court records.

1832: Young Uncle Ale remained on the Burnett farm for another year, and then he went back to Benjamin Johnson’s place. He remained there until Benjamin’s death in December, 1836.

1836: Immediately after Benjamin’s death, his widow instructed their son, John Johnson, to take Uncle Ale and sell him. She clearly wasn’t interested in him being around. I wonder why? So at night, John clandestinely took Uncle Ale, who was now 15, and sold him to James Caldwell, who was visiting South Carolina and on his way back to Marengo County, Alabama.

1837: Shortly after arriving in Alabama with Uncle Ale, Caldwell sold him to Joseph M. Alexander on January 12. He remained with Alexander for 12 years.

1837 – 1845: Alexander took Uncle Ale with him on his many trips back to his birth home, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, passing through South Carolina in 1837, 1841, 1844, and 1845. I wonder if Uncle Ale had been his carriage driver?

1849: On October 31, Alexander and Uncle Ale stopped off in Pendleton in Anderson County, South Carolina, on their way to North Carolina. Since Abbeville County was just south of Pendleton, Uncle Ale seized the opportunity and ran away. He made his way back to the Burnett farm. Alexander learned of his whereabouts, sent an agent to retrieve him from the Burnetts, but they refused to relinquish him. They considered themselves as Uncle Ale’s legal owner, so Alexander took them to court.

1851: Alexander initially won the case, but after an appeal to the Court of Appeals, the court overturned the decision and decided that John Burnett, husband of Anna, was the rightful owner.

Currently, I haven’t figured out what became of Uncle Ale “Caleb” Johnson, but he fathered Cutin’ Wesley (and likely more) on the Burnett place. Cutin’ Wesley and Grandpa Hector Davis grew up like brothers, were transported to northern Mississippi together shortly before the advent of the Civil War, and their descendants grew up together as blood cousins. One never knows where diligent genealogy research will take us and what stories will be unearthed. And like genealogist Nicka Smith recently expressed in her post, The Magic Door Should Not Be Televised, we all have fascinating stories in our family trees just waiting to be unearthed, not just celebrities. This one adds to the many mouth-dropping stories that I have been fortunate to capture. Thank you, ancestors!