Wednesday, April 20, 2016

DNA and the Second Middle Passage

“Slave Auction, U.S. South,” Image Reference cass6, as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

With African Americans – the descendants of enslaved people of African descent here in America – one thing is for certain for those who take an autosomal DNA test from 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and/or FamilyTreeDNA. A lot of DNA matches will be descendants of family members who were permanently separated from our direct ancestors during slavery, never to see each other again. This forced migration of nearly one million enslaved people from the Upper South to the Deep South was coined as “The Second Middle Passage.” Many of our enslaved ancestors were sold "down the river" from auction blocks. Many mothers were separated from children, husbands from wives, sisters from brothers, and so on. Many were marched hundreds of miles to their Southern destinations, on foot and in chains, especially from 1830 to 1860. Additionally, many white slave-owning families left the Upper South for the Deep South, taking their slaves with them. Many of them left behind family members, never to see them again.

Such was the case with most of my great-great grandparents. Since both of my Mississippi grandfathers (my maternal grandfather and my father’s biological father) were much older than my grandmothers, I hit the slavery era in the fourth generation – my great grandparents. Let’s look at the years when all of my eight great grandparents were born: 1856, 1865, 1880, 1880, 1846, 1852, 1870, and 1867. Three of the eight were born during slavery. One was born the year slavery ended and never worked as a slave. The remaining half were born within 16 years after slavery’s end. Mind you now, I am only in my early 40s, and I know many people my age or older who knew one or more of their great grandparents quite well. To add, we all have 16 great-great grandparents. Only 4 of my 15 once-enslaved great-great grandparents were even born in Mississippi (one great-great grandfather was European). The rest of the 11 were transported to Mississippi from South Carolina (5), North Carolina (3), Alabama (1), Tennessee (1), and Virginia (1). Hence, I have DNA matches from all over the South, like many African Americans.

A number of my past blog posts show how I have experienced much success finding long-lost family members who were permanently separated from my direct ancestors during slavery, with the help of DNA technology. Check out my July 2015 post called “Repairing Broken Ties: DNA Finds Aunt Barsilla,” or check out my November 2014 post entitled “DNA Does It Again – Another Long Lost Sibling Found!” Read my recent short fictional story, “Losing a Sibling,” which was based on a lot of facts I had revealed in my second book, “150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.” So as you can see, autosomal DNA has been one of my best friends!

However, there are some DNA matches that are driving me crazy! Why? Because we share a good amount of DNA, and I can’t figure out exactly how we are related. Normally, many DNA matches in the first to third cousin range are not “hair-pullers” to find the connection. The success rate of determining the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) is greater with those DNA matches (for non-adoptees), especially if both sides have done some good genealogy research. But because I am confronted with slavery in the fourth and fifth generation (great grandparents and great-great grandparents), this particular case with Mrs. Williamson (fake name to hide identity) is giving me a run for my to speak!

Mrs. Williamson’s daughter tested her with 23andMe. She popped up in my and my father’s relative database over a year ago, sharing a significant 119 cM of DNA over 2 segments. 23andMe gives a prediction of “3rd Cousins.” I got excited because I was immediately confident that I could figure out the family connection. Within seconds, my excitement went to utter confusion when Mrs. Williamson’s profile showed that all of her family was from North Carolina. I sent her daughter a message to learn more. Luckily, her daughter responded, but she expressed that she was a newbie to genealogy and DNA and did not have much information. She also shared that her mother was from Franklin County, North Carolina. I was also able to uncover that Mrs. Williamson is approximately 82 years old.

Since she was born before 1940, I checked the 1940 U.S. Census and found her! Finding her was relatively easy because she possesses an uncommon first name, with a relatively uncommon last name. Mrs. Williamson, her widowed mother, and her three siblings were in the household of her mother’s brother, Hurley Batchelor. They resided in the Cypress Creek district in Franklin County, which touches the Franklin/Nash County line. The 1940 census also reported them residing on “Seven Paths to Spring Hope.” The town of Spring Hope was no more than 5 miles away, over in Nash County. This was great information!

Instantly, I thought of my father’s paternal great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi. He was born around 1817 in North Carolina. His last enslavers, William “Billy” and Frances Bass Eley, transported him to Mississippi around 1835, from Nash County, North Carolina. Family lore claimed that “Masser Billy Eley” had used him as a breeder. Grandpa Big Bob was Frances’ inheritance from her father Jesse Bass’ 1822 will. I had already determined that Jesse Bass’ plantation was located somewhere near Spring Hope in Nash County. So what does further DNA analysis say?

To confirm that Mrs. Williamson was indeed related to us via Grandpa Big Bob Ealy, I triangulated in 23andMe, using their chromosome browser to compare her to known family members. By that time, at least five other descendants of Grandpa Big Bob had tested with 23andMe, too. I smiled when I noticed that Mrs. Williamson matches six of us on the same two chromosomes, 7 and 21! To add, the two chromosome segments that she shares with me and my father are quite long, totaling 118 cM for me and 119 cM for my father. The first shared segment is 89.3 cM, and the second one is 29.3 cM with my father (28.3 cM with me). Our four Ealy cousins are also DNA matches on one of the two chromosomes. One is also a great-great grandson of Grandpa Big Bob, and the other three are great-great-great grandchildren. See diagram below that shows the matching with five of us.

Clearly, when Grandpa Big Bob Ealy was taken away from North Carolina, a close family member was left behind. Was that person a child he had fathered, since he was approximately 17 or 18 years old when they migrated to Mississippi? Was that person a sister or brother? Who? I had deduced that Big Bob’s mother and four identified siblings (John, Gus, Esther, and Lazarus) were taken to Texas and Mississippi. His brother, John Bass, was taken to Gonzalez County, Texas, transported there by Frances’ brother, Jordan Rogers Bass. Frances’ other siblings migrated to Hinds and Washington County, Mississippi, and her sister, Penelope Bass Wilhite, migrated to Meriwether County, Georgia with her husband, Ricks Wilhite. I had found evidence that Lazarus was indeed taken to Hinds County, Mississippi. So who was left back in North Carolina? I haven’t been able to positively identify Grandpa Big Bob’s father. Was he left back in North Carolina?

I decided to research Mrs. Williamson’s family tree back further, in hopes of finding some clues. Researching census records, as well as marriage records and death certificates for North Carolina on, I was able to trace back to all of her 8 great grandparents. I wonder if one of them was Grandpa Big Bob’s closely related family member. They were the following:

(1)  Tom WHELESS (not found in census)
(2)  Mrs. Adline Wheless (maiden name unknown); birthdate reported as March 1830 in N.C.
(3)  John YARBROUGH; age reported as 56 in 1880 (born c. 1824 in N.C.)
(4)  Mrs. Milly Yarbrough (maiden name unknown); birthdate reported as Aug. 1829 in N.C.
(5)  Alfred BATCHELOR; reported as 50 in 1870 (born c. 1820 in N.C.)
(6)  Evaline GAY; reported as 29 in 1870 (born c. 1841 in N.C.)
(7)  Gilford LEONARD; reported as 38 in 1870 (born c. 1832 in N.C.)
(8)  Nancy DAVIS; reported as 24 in 1870 (born c. 1846 in N.C.) 

One of the eight was family! Who? Maybe that family member was Mrs. Adline Wheless, since Grandpa Big Bob Ealy named one of his daughters Adeline. He had also named a son after his brother Gus, a daughter after his mother Annie, and his oldest son was named John, possibly after his brother, John Bass. Hopefully, time, other DNA matches, and more genealogy research will uncover this mystery. If you have further information about any of these eight people, please let me know. I hope that Mrs. Williamson’s daughter will eventually respond to my additional questions, and it would be nice to meet her and her mother. If this happens, we can thank DNA technology for mending broken ties!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Losing a Sibling

There on the Barr farm, just a mile north of Abbeville, South Carolina, Sue and her brothers, Pleasant and Glasgow, labored together, laughed together, played together, prayed together, and always looked out for each other. When Sue was allowed to come back to the slave cabin at night, after working all day in the big house, she couldn't wait to tell her brothers and their parents, Lewis and Fanny, what the "white folks" talk about. She was good at mimicking them, that it usually had everyone rolling on the floor laughing out loud.

Glasgow and Pleasant looked after their only sister Sue. When a white-looking, mulatto young man named Jacob, who was enslaved on the neighboring Leslie Plantation, wanted her hand in marriage, he had to go through her brothers first. Glasgow and Pleasant didn't make it easy for Jacob, either. Pleasant would often taunt him jokingly, often making Jacob nervous. Nonetheless, the brothers soon realized that Jacob was deeply in love with their beautiful sister, and they approved of the marriage. They felt that their late father Lewis would have approved. With every child that Sue was having (Sina, John, Luther, Edmond, Cannon, Louvenia, Clay, Jacob Jr., Lewis, Joseph, Patsy, and Susie), Glasgow and Pleasant waited with nervous Jacob as Momma Fanny delivered another grandchild into the world.

In the midst of bearing and raising children and being a wife to Jacob, Sue was Mrs. Rebecca's prized possession, her trusted house servant. One night in 1859, after a long day of helping Ms. Rebecca polish the silver, Sue ran back to her mother's cabin in tears. Her heart was torn apart. Crying uncontrollably, she was barely able to talk, but she managed these words, “They gonna sell Pleas!”

She had overheard her "massa" William Barr Jr. tell his mother Rebecca that a man named James Giles offered him $1,400 for his slave, Pleasant, her brother. Giles was preparing for a move to Ripley, Mississippi and wanted extra laborious hands to help him build his new farm in Mississippi. William was planning to take his offer. He explained to his mother, “Mom, I really need the money to help me buy the Wilson place in Pontotoc County (Mississippi).” William Jr. was also looking to move to Mississippi. Rebecca nodded her head in approval of the transaction.

The next morning, Momma Fanny received a knock on her cabin door. William Jr. shouted, “Fanny, open the door!” She nervously went to the door and opened it.

“Where’s Pleas,” asked William Jr.

Fanny responded, “He and Isabella is out in the barn milking the cows, massa.”

Babysitting her grandson Bill, he looked up at Momma Fanny and asked, “Grandma, what does Massa want with Daddy?” She immediately grabs Bill and hugs him tightly, too hurt to tell him what was about to happen.

Entering the barn, William Jr. hollered out, “Pleas, come here boy!”

Pleas responded, “Please, massa, Please! Don’t sell me to Mr. Giles. I has a wife and two young chil’ren. Isabella, Bill, and Mary needs me! My sister needs me! Momma Fanny is getting up in age, and she needs me, massa! This is gonna break their hearts!”

William commanded, “Shut up, boy! Jim Giles just need to take care of some business in Mississippi and needs your help. He will bring you back to Abbeville!”

Pleas appeared somewhat comforted by his words, not realizing that William had just told him a bold-faced lie.

As Pleas was being placed on Giles’ wagon, Fanny, Isabella, and Sue run to the wagon! Fanny yelled, “Nooooo!! Please don’t take my Pleas! Please, massa! His young family needs him!”

Fighting back tears, Sue grabbed her brother Pleas’ hand and held it tightly. With tears streaming down her face, she looked up at Pleas and said, “Don’t worry my dear brother. We will see after Momma. I’ll help Isabella with the chil’rens. I will see you again. Yes, we all will. I love you, dear brother.”

As the wagon exited off the Barr farm, loud crying can be heard in the air. Momma Fanny’s heart was too broken, as her crying got louder and louder. Her boy was being taken way, likely forever. His two young children were standing there, in complete shock at what was happening, as they held on to their mother Isabella’s long skirt. She herself was near fainting. This was reminding Fanny of when she was taken from her own family in Virginia and brought down to Abbeville, South Carolina in chains, where the late Rev. William Barr had purchased her at an auction in downtown Abbeville in 1809. She was only 17 years old. She knew the pain of permanent family separation. She also knew that she’ll never see Pleas again.

Today, as many celebrate National Siblings Day, I was compelled to write this fictional story that is based on facts. It wasn’t even a plan. Just a sudden urge and I started typing.

My great-great-grandfather, Pleasant "Pleas" Barr, was in fact sold to a man named James Giles in 1859, and Giles transported him to Tippah County, Mississippi. His son, my mother’s paternal grandfather Bill Reed, relayed to his family years later that Pleas was never seen again. Later the same year, in 1859, Pleas’ sister Sue Barr Beckley, her husband Jacob and their children, and their mother Fanny were taken to William Barr’s new farm in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Glasgow Barr was left back in Abbeville.

Like Pleas, many of our enslaved ancestors were sold away from their siblings, never to see them again. I can’t even imagine the pain they endured. So on this National Siblings Day, I want to pay homage to our enslaved ancestors who suffered that pain. May DNA and genealogy research bring more of the descendants back together! Factual details of this family saga can be read in “150 Years Later” at

One of my Barr/Beckley DNA Matches in AncestryDNA! She shares 15.1 cM with me!

Pictured above are three of Pleas Barr’s grandchildren that he never laid eyes on, Jimmy Reed (1871-1959), John Ella Reed Bobo (1882-1974), and his namesake, Pleasant “Pleas” Reed (1889-1966), of Tate County, Mississippi.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Trekking the Edwards DNA Trail Back to Ghana


DNA technology is allowing African Americans to gain more insight about their African origins. Fortunately, many Africans are also taking autosomal DNA tests like AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FTDNA. They are discovering that many African Americans are solid DNA matches – distant cousins. This is not surprising since the African ancestors of people of African descent here in America and in the Caribbean were largely extracted from the West Coast of Africa, stretching from present-day Senegal to Angola, and then also from Mozambique and Madagascar.  These enslaved African ancestors undoubtedly left family members behind in Africa. 

When 23andMe examined the DNA of an African man named Kweku of London, England, he was a DNA match to two family members! Kweku reported that his ancestors were born in Accra, Elmina, and Winneba, Ghana. He is from the Akan people. His DNA match to my cousins told us something monumental – that the Edwards Family likely had an ancestor from the present-day region of Ghana!

I first noticed that Kweku was a DNA match to my second cousin, Dr. Leroy Frazier, at 8 cM (0.09%). Cousin Leroy had given me access to his 23andMe account so that I can transfer his raw data file to GEDmatch. At first, I became a little envious to see Kweku among his DNA matches. Many African Americans who take the autosomal DNA tests long to be a match to someone from Africa. However, when I compared Kweku to other known family members in his 23andMe database, I discovered that he also matches another mutual cousin, Dennis Sumlin. My eyes bucked! 

I then checked the chromosome browser to see if they matched in the same area on the same chromosome. If so, then both Cousins Leroy and Dennis’ family connection to Kweku is definitely via a common ancestor – one of the parents of Peter and Prince Edwards. Peter was Cousin Dennis’ great-grandfather, and Prince was Cousin Leroy’s great-great-great-grandfather. To my joy, they indeed match in the same area on their chromosome 9. See below. (Leroy and Dennis match each other at 107 cM over 4 segments.)

Kweku vs. Leroy and Dennis

To be sure that this DNA match to Kweku was via an Edwards ancestor, I performed a process called DNA triangulation, where I compared and analyzed the matching chromosome segments of multiple people within one family. Using 23andMe’s chromosome browser, I compared Cousin Leroy to Kweku and four other Edwards descendants – Dennis Sumlin and Brian Edwards (great-grandsons of Peter), and my mother and her sister (great-granddaughters of Prince). Everyone was matching in overlapping segments in this region of their chromosome 9. See below. That means that all six of them share a common ancestor. Since Kweku is from the Akan people of Ghana, our DNA match to him strongly suggests that our Edwards history can claim present-day Ghana as one of our African ancestral homelands! Madagascar is another. See this post about our Madagascar ancestry.

Since Cousin Leroy shares matching DNA segments with Dennis, Brian, Versia, and Eartha, who are all Edwards descendants, from point 75.8 to 129.8 on chromosome 9, he inherited this portion of his chromosome 9 from an Edwards ancestor. Since Kweku matches him and Dennis within this region, Kweku is related via an Edwards ancestor.

Interestingly, oral history collected by Edwards descendant Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar has conveyed that the parents of Peter, Prince, Jerry, and other siblings were an enslaved couple named Luke and “Reedia” Edwards. Family lore claims that Luke, who was born around 1790, was transported to America from West Africa, and he passed down that his African name was "Ogba(r) Ogumba," which was likely an attempted transliteration of "Agba Akumba." Edwards Y-DNA testing with FTDNA has yielded numerous Ghana DNA matches but on a 12-marker level. However, geneticists consider 12-marker matches as inconclusive. DNA scholar Shannon Christmas stated, “The connection to Ghana is only at the 12-marker level; if I saw that at the 37-marker level, then I would find the Ghana connection more conclusive.” To add, an elder Edwards male was tested by African Ancestry back in 2007, and he was found to be a match to the Akan people of Ghana. Now with this legitimate IBD match to Kweku, Ghana keeps popping up!

To add, further research findings show that the mother’s name may have actually been Lucy, not Reedia. Perhaps Kweku’s match to the Edwards family is via Grandma Lucy? That possibility has to be considered until we can find further evidence that Kweku is truly related via Grandpa Luke (Ogbar Ogumba). Census data suggests that Grandma Lucy was likely born in Georgia around 1797. I recently discovered that they had been enslaved by William Edwards Sr. of Panola County, Mississippi, who had died in 1855. William Jr. inherited his father’s plantation. William Sr. had moved to northern Mississippi around 1837 from Henry County, Tennessee. Luke and Lucy are also believed to be the parents of additional children – Harriet Edwards Wilbourn, Luke Edwards Jr., Monroe Edwards, Jerry Edwards, York Edwards, Jeffrey Edwards, and John Edwards. Perhaps an ancestor of Grandma Lucy from the present-day region of Ghana was disembarked onto the shores of America via Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia? Hopefully, time, additional genealogy research, and more DNA data will tell.

When William Edwards Sr. wrote his will on November 14, 1855 in Panola County, Mississippi, he left his wife Margaret Edwards five slaves: LUCY, HARRIET, PETER, PRINCE, and JEFFERY. (Source) On the estate inventory, Lucy was given a value of $0. She was probably the 53-year-old female reported in the 1850 Slave Schedule for William Edwards. Interestingly, Peter gave the name Lucy to one of his daughters. Harriet named one of her sons Luke, and Prince named one of his daughters Harriet, who was known as Hattie. Also, both Peter and Prince named one of their sons Jeff.

During his trip to Ghana in 2011, Cousin Dr. Leroy Frazier was officially welcomed by Akan children in Kumasi in a grand parade. (Photo by Dr. Leroy Frazier aka Nana Kwame Adebowa Bessanta)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

DNA Prediction Was On Point!


I'm back! I haven't written a blog post in several months. But I have a good reason. I have been writing! Yes, I have written and produced a third book. It's entitled Ealy Family Heritage - Documenting Our Legacy. See icon on the right side for more details. Underneath, I am asking two questions:

(1) Do you want or need a great example on how a family history book can be written and organized?
(2) Are you an Ealy (a descendant of Big Bob Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi) and you want to learn about the family and its history?

If your answer is YES to either one of those two questions, get the book! You won’t regret it.

A year ago, I predicted something in my blog post, 20 Do's and Don'ts of DNA, for the year 2015. I wrote the following, "I have a prediction! 2015 is going to be a phenomenal year for everyone who partakes in genetic genealogy." I hope that my prediction turned out to be true for everyone? For me, it certainly has! The ancestors were working overtime and utilizing DNA to send the best clues ever. My DNA discoveries came in the following three ways:

1. DNA enabled me to find new ancestors and family members that I was unaware of. I wrote about those discoveries in these blog posts:

March 8, 2015: Finding the Connection to a DNA Match Within An Hour! – reveals the discovery of another sister of my paternal great-grandmother, Angeline Bass Belton of Warren County, Mississippi.

March 7, 2015: The Truth is in the Spit – reveals the confirmation of Uncle Random Briscoe of Marshall County, Mississippi, the proposed brother of my maternal third-great grandmother who was transferred to another owner.

July 13, 2015: Repairing Broken Ties: DNA Finds Aunt Barsilla – reveals how DNA led me to discover the whereabouts of my paternal third-great grandmother Beadie Bass’ sister, Barsilla Williford, who was bequeathed to a different owner and remained in North Carolina, while Grandma Beadie and her children were taken to Hinds County, Mississippi in 1849.

July 1, 2015: My Maury Povich Moment with DNA – reveals how after over 20 years, I finally pinpointed the father of my mother’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed of Tate County, Mississippi. His name was Prince Edwards, and this DNA discovery led to finding a “new” family branch out in Oklahoma! Not only that, this DNA discovery led to discovering an African ancestor, Prince’s father Luke Edwards Sr., who was brought to America from West Africa, according to oral history, and his African name was remembered and passed down by family elders! I am still doing the “Carlton Banks” dance on this discovery!

August 2007 Oklahoma City Herald newspaper article featuring the 2007 Edwards Family Reunion, the descendants of Grandpa Prince’s brother, Peter Edwards, attended by over 400 descendants. Uncle Peter’s 12 children left Mississippi around 1910 and settled in Oklahoma. Some descendants even moved to Alberta, Canada.

2.  DNA showed me that one of my ancestral theories concerning Native American ancestry was wrong! Read April 5, 2015: Jumping to Conclusions with Genealogy and DNA.

3.  Last but definitely not least, DNA also confirmed long-time research and family connections that were the foundation of my second book, 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended. This is what I mean.

Check out the old family portrait at the top of this blog post. It's of a man named Cannon Beckley with his 20 children and several grandchildren. This picture was taken in the year 1900, in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. During my research of my maternal great-grandfather William "Bill" Reed (1846-1937) of Tate County, Mississippi, Cannon appeared on Rev. William H. Barr's 1843 slave inventory (Abbeville Co., S.C.), along with Grandpa Bill's father, Pleasant Barr, and numerous other family members. When I called out the names on that inventory to my late cousin Isaac Deberry (1914-2009), a grandson of Bill Reed, his eyes bucked when he heard the name "Cannon." He immediately said, "That was Grandpa Bill's brother! He talked about him all the time!"

Further research revealed that Cannon wasn't his brother, but Cannon's mother, Sue Barr Beckley, and Grandpa Bill's father, Pleasant Barr, were likely sister and brother. Cannon was one of 12 children born to Sue and her husband, Jacob Beckley Sr. The family was split apart in 1859 in Abbeville, South Carolina. In 2009, the Reed and Beckley families came together in Atlanta, Georgia and Abbeville, SC, on the 150th year anniversary of the family's separation. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. See reunion documentary here.

In December 2015, two new DNA matches appeared in my AncestryDNA database within a week of each other. Thankfully, both of them had viewable family trees. My heart skipped a beat both times when I saw that the two new DNA matches are members of the Beckley Clan! With “Kismo,” I share 15.1 cM across 1 segment. After Cousin Walter King of Oxford, Mississippi uploaded his AncestryDNA raw data file to GEDmatch, I learned that he shares 33.5 cM across 2 segments with my mother and her brother. And out of all of Aunt Sue Barr Beckley's 12 children, guess which son was Kismo and Walter’s third-great grandfather? Yep...Cannon Beckley!

Like I said a year ago, I say again: "I have a prediction! 2016 is going to be a phenomenal year for everyone who partakes in genetic genealogy." I hope that this declaration will be the case for you and me. DNA is awesome!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Trekking the Edwards DNA Trail Back to Madagascar


More definitive conclusions can be drawn when multiple people from one family take an autosomal DNA test, such as 23andMe, and chromosome segments can be analyzed, compared, and triangulated. Currently, in 23andMe, that is possible only if test takers are taking time to accept requests to share genomes from their DNA matches. This is very important. Collaborative cooperation can lead to great findings. Shortly, 23andMe will be making major changes to their system, allowing easier genome-sharing between DNA matches. I am hoping for drastic improvements, so we will see. Read about 23andMe pending changes from DNA expert Shannon Christmas’ blog HERE.

When I received my maternal uncle John Reed's 23andMe results on April 4, 2015, I immediately looked at his ancestry composition. To my surprise, over 80% of his X chromosome was of Native American descent. I have since figured out that my uncle received nearly all of his X-DNA from his maternal grandmother, Mary Danner Davis (1867-1932). I also noticed that his ancestry composition included 0.5% South Asian DNA. At first, I contributed that to him having Native American ancestry since certain forms of Asian DNA have been linked to Native Americans. My theory turned out to be inaccurate. I have since discovered that he inherited his South Asian DNA from his father, my maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed (1881-1955).

My Uncle’s 23andMe Ancestry Composition

Fast forward to two months later. In June, I finally identified the father of Granddaddy Simpson Reed’s mother Sarah Partee Reed; she was born into slavery around 1852 on Squire Boone Partee's plantation in Panola County (Como), Mississippi.  DNA matches, oral history, and genealogy research finally pinpointed Prince Edwards (born c. 1830) as Grandma Sarah's father. Read more about that discovery HERE. Grandpa Prince had been enslaved by William Edwards Sr., who was Squire Partee's father-in-law and neighbor. Along with that discovery was the DNA confirmation of a brother of Prince named Peter Edwards (born c. 1835). Uncle Peter and his 12 children settled in Oklahoma by 1910. This DNA discovery enticed more of Uncle Peter's descendants to take the 23andMe test. Collectively, our DNA results are revealing some interesting things about our family history.

Presently, four descendants of Uncle Peter Edwards have taken the 23andMe test. Three have taken the AncestryDNA test. Three other descendants of Uncle Peter recently ordered 23andMe kits! My mother and I, her brother and sister, their paternal first cousin, and three second cousins make up the eight descendants of Grandpa Prince Edwards who have tested with 23andMe thus far. Comparing our DNA in 23andMe with the four currently tested descendants of Uncle Peter has revealed that my uncle inherited that South Asian DNA from his great-grandfather, Prince Edwards!

Being direct evidence, three matching chromosome segments between Uncle Peter’s great-grandson Brian Edwards and three of Grandpa Prince’s descendants were on sections where South Asian DNA exists. In other words, Cousin Brian matches my uncle John Reed on chromosome 2, from point 209 to 216 Mbp (6.3 cM). Both have South Asian DNA in this section of their chromosome 2. Cousin Brian matches my mother’s paternal first cousin Armintha on chromosome 7, from point 3 to 20 Mbp (30.7 cM). They both have South Asian DNA in this section of their chromosome 7. Also, Cousin Brian matches my mother and her sister on chromosome 10, from point 122 to 127 Mbp (11.5 cM). All three of them possess South Asian DNA in this section of their chromosome 10. This clearly indicates that they all inherited their South Asian DNA from a common ancestor – one of the parents of Prince and Peter. Additionally, all descendants, except two, had South Asian DNA, from 0.1 to 1.8%. I also noticed something else of great significance. All of us, except my uncle, also had Southeast Asian DNA, ranging from 0.1 to 1.1%. Interestingly, GEDmatch’s Dodecad V3 Admixture Proportions tool shows higher Asian percentages for each of us.

Uncle Peter Edwards’ great-grandson Brian shares a matching chromosome segment in his yellow region (South Asian) of Chromosome 2 with my uncle, who is a great-grandson of Grandpa Prince Edwards.

To be sure of the commonality of having South Asian DNA, I looked at the ancestry compositions of many of my other 23andMe DNA matches of African descent. A small percentage of people possess South Asian DNA. Therefore, having this DNA reflected something. What was it? Did we have an ancestor from India or Pakistan? Or was this South Asian DNA an indicator of something else? On my father’s side, I had already become aware that ancestors from Madagascar, an island located 250 miles off the southeastern African coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean, may transfer Southeast Asian DNA to their descendants. What about South Asian DNA?

T.L. Dixon, a DNA scholar in the Malagasy Roots Project Facebook group, confirmed that South Asian DNA may be an indicator of a Madagascar ancestor. He further stated, “The range seems to be from 0% to 25%, based on my family's Malagasy ancestors….You should also note the Southeast Asian clusters very closely to South Asian (India subcontinent), so the algorithm may show percentages in both categories.” Another DNA scholar, Teresa Vega, who has also extensively researched her Madagascar ancestry, also explained that she has both Southeast Asian and South Asian admixtures in her ancestry composition. Her extensive research can be read HERE.

The ancestry composition of a Malagasy shows 22.2% South Asian DNA
and 20.5% Southeast Asian DNA
(Courtesy of TL Dixon)

Of the approximately 450,000 enslaved Africans who were transported to America over the course of the transatlantic slave trade, only about 4,800 of them were from Madagascar. That is way less than 1%. They were transported via 17 documented slave voyages into New York and Virginia from Madagascar. Of that total, from 1719 to 1725, around 1,400 enslaved Africans from Madagascar were disembarked into Virginia through the Rappahannock and York River ports. Additionally, more were transported to the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados. In Exchanging Our Country Mark, Michael Gomez describes how those particular Africans transported into Virginia were "yellowish" in complexion and had hair like a "Madagascar's" (p. 41). Madagascar’s inhabitants are called the Malagasy people, and they speak a language by that name. Sources note that many of the Malagasy people possessed light skin and facial features very akin to people in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Many others possessed darker skin and curly hair. Geneticists have determined that all of the Malagasy people descend from ancestors from Africa, as well as from Asia, specifically Borneo (Source). As time passed in America, Malagasy Africans were often and mistakenly labeled as “Indians,” or “Black Indians” or even “Native Americans.” Some may have even become labeled as “Blackfoot Indians.”

Interestingly, my great-grandmother Sarah was rumored as having Native American ancestry. Even one of her sons possessed “cold black,” curly hair that many considered to be a Native American trait. Turns out, that was most probably a Malagasy trait, not the Cherokee Nation. As demonstrated here, Grandma Sarah’s Madagascar roots came from her father, Grandpa Prince Edwards. Oral history revealed that his father was likely an African named Luke Edwards (born c. 1790), who was transported to Virginia from Africa, and eventually taken to Panola County, Mississippi. Oral history collected by my cousin Jeffrey O. Green Ogbar also relayed that Luke’s African name was written down in family records as “Ogba(r) Ogumba.” The name itself suggests Ghana or Nigeria origins, and past DNA testing earmarked Ghana as his origins. Further Y-DNA testing (67 markers) may confirm his origins soon. Therefore, this Madagascar ancestry likely came from Grandpa Prince & Uncle Peter Edwards’ mother. Her name, identity, and actual birthplace in Georgia are currently being confirmed. Stay tuned.

Malagasy Women in Madagascar

Slave Ancestral Research: Unearthing your Family’s Past Before the 1870 Census

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) published this second article in their latest newsletter, BCALA News, Summer 2015, Volume 42 Issue 3, pp 41-46. I am reposting it here on my blog. This article can also be read at the following link:

You have thoroughly researched your African-American roots all the way back to the 1870 U.S. census. You have even read an article, book, or two about the institution of chattel slavery here in America. Now you are wondering what to do? How can you trace your family history back into the slavery era? How do you find and document your enslaved ancestors? Part two of this genealogy series answers these questions.

First and foremost, you must determine if your African-American ancestors were enslaved. Elderly relatives may be able to shed some light. You can also determine if your ancestors were free or enslaved by researching the 1860 U.S. census. If you find your ancestors in the 1860 U.S. census, residing in a slave state, then your ancestors were “Free People of Color” (FPOC).  Only a small percentage of African-American families, especially in the South, were actually free before the Civil War. Historians have estimated that more than 200,000 FPOC were in the South and in the North before the Civil War. However, most people of African descent here in America were enslaved, especially in the South. More than 4,000,000 were enslaved in the South when the Civil War began in 1861.

If you have successfully located your ancestors in the U.S. census records, all the way back to the 1870 U.S. census, then you have successfully reached the point known in the genealogy world as the “1870 Brick Wall.” If your ancestors were enslaved during and before the Civil War, there is only one way to knock down this infamous brick wall. You must find the name of the last slave-owner to research for information about your enslaved ancestors. This is imperative. Slave ancestral research cannot be conducted without knowing the name of the last slave-owner.

During the early years of my genealogical journey that began in 1993, I presumed that the surnames of nearly all African Americans came from the last slave-owner. While researching my family roots, I found that to not be true.  Some former slaves took the last slave-owner's surname, but a lot of them did not.  Many emancipated people not only chose different surnames after slavery, but many people had surnames on farms and plantations that were concealed from most slave-owners. In The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925, historian Herbert Gutman quoted the following from the 1865 diary of Eliza Frances Andrews, a slave-owner’s daughter in Georgia, “I notice that the negroes seldom or never take the names of the present owners in adopting their ‘entitles’ as they call their own surnames, but always that of some former master, and they go back as far as possible.” (pg. 256), the genealogy website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reports that only 15 percent of former slaves retained the last slave-owner’s surname. The statistics vary on this subject. However, the general consensus, based on a number of sources, indicates that the number of people who did not take the last slave-owner’s surname is greater than the number of people who did.

Here are seven other important facts to remember when starting your quest to document your enslaved ancestors:

1. Slavery ended in 1865, in most areas of the South.
2. Husbands and wives were not always enslaved on the same farm or plantation.
3. A number of African Americans and their families were enslaved by the same family for several generations.
4. Many enslaved people had multiple owners.
5. Some African Americans chose surnames not affiliated with any slave-owner.
6. Slave-owners acquired slaves through the following sources:
a. Estate sales
b. Public Auction, Slave markets, or independent sellers
c. Sheriff sales
d. Inheritance from family members (fathers, fathers-in-law, uncles, grandfathers, etc.)
7. If one of your enslaved ancestors was “mulatto,” and you have no oral history about this ancestor’s parentage, don’t immediately conclude that the slave-owner was the father.

With genealogy, especially slave ancestral research, one is often faced with direct evidence vs. indirect evidence. Evidence only arises when the researcher asks a specific question and then considers whether the information found in a particular record answers that question. Direct evidence is information that directly answers a question, such as ‘what year was Prince born,’ without a need for other evidence to explain or interpret it. Conversely, indirect evidence is circumstantial information that requires additional evidence to devise a reliable conclusion. Of course, direct evidence usually carries more weight than indirect evidence. However, with slave ancestral research, many forms of direct evidence that emphatically proves family relationships, birthplaces, and other happenings are often non-existent because slaves were merely considered “property” and not human beings. Indeed, a number of researchers have been very fortunate to find pieces of direct evidence, in the form of old family letters, diaries, ledgers, Bibles, etc.

With this background information, here are seven basic steps to begin your slave ancestral research journey.

Step 1 – Talk with your kin again.

To begin the journey of finding and documenting enslaved ancestors, you should talk to elderly family members again. I say “again” because you should have already conversed with family elders during the beginning stages of your genealogy research. Record their memories of past family members, especially the ones who lived during slavery. Inquire if the family’s surname has always been used by the family, or if at one time, the surname was said to have been different. If so, record that surname because it will likely serve as a great clue in your quest to find and document your enslaved ancestors. Record any special stories that were passed down in the family, especially if the events happened during slavery. Verify where the family resided during and after slavery. Chances are good that your ancestors remained close to the farm or plantation where they had been enslaved. Note the names of other family members or kinship with other families with other surnames. Those surnames may also serve as great clues. 

Step 2 – Study the Neighborhood.

Once you have found your ancestors in the 1870 U.S. census, go back and study the neighborhood. Look at the white families who lived near your ancestors for suspects. I often advise people to scroll at least the first ten pages before and after your family in that census. As mentioned in the first article, many African Americans on the same 1870 U.S. census pages had likely lived together earlier as a family group on their former enslavers’ farms and plantations. As late as 1870 and further, they continued to depend upon these relationships, even though some people were not blood-related. In 1870, you may often run across other families in the area with the same last names as your ancestors. Some of them may have been blood relatives, and some were not. Elder family members may know which families were blood-related. More importantly, the goal is to also find any white persons who may have been the last slave-owner. Your examination of the neighborhood for clues is a methodology called cluster genealogy. Becoming familiar with the 1870 neighborhood, i.e., family, friends, and associates, just five years after slavery, often reveals great clues to determining who the last slave-owner may have been. Additionally, increase your knowledge about the area and county where they resided through published sources.

Step 3 – Research the 1850 and 1850 Censuses/Slave Schedules.

Armed with clues gained from conducting cluster genealogy, research the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules for the county where your ancestors were living in 1870, to see if any suspected persons owned slaves. Highly suspected persons are whites with the same surname that your ancestors chose to retain, since many people chose to keep the last slave-owner’s surname. However, there is one problem with slave schedules. Outside of identifying the names of potential slave-owners, many researchers feel that the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules are fundamentally useless. Why? When slave schedules were added to the U.S. federal census in 1850 and 1860, census enumerators were not required to list each enslaved person by name.  The name of the slave-owner was reported, with only a scanty description of each slave – age, sex, and color. Enslaved people, age 100 and over, were supposed to be named in the 1860 slave schedules, but only some of them had their names recorded. Despite this inhumane act of not reporting our enslaved ancestors’ names, the slave schedules can provide a plethora of clues. Compare the age, sex, and color of the slaves to that of your ancestors. Also, research the 1850 and 1860 census records to see if there were any white families with the same last names.  Some people were omitted in the slave schedules.

Step 4 – Research the Suspected Slave-owner’s Family.

You may have to do as much (or more) research on the last slave-owner and his family in order to find your enslaved ancestors. Note the following key facts about the suspected slave-owning family.

1. Pay attention to migration patterns. Note the birthplaces of the possible slave-owners to see if they match the birthplaces of your ancestors.
2. Gather the following information on the slave-owner. 
A. Year and place of death 
B.  Maiden name of wife 
C.  Birthplace
D.  Children’s names and the names of sons-in-law
E.  Parents’ names and their dates and places of death.
3. Scour the Internet for others who are researching the same family, i.e. genealogy message boards and family trees on
4. Read county history books to see if there are any written histories on the slave-owning families. 
5. If a possible female slave-owner was found in the censuses and slave schedules, she was likely a widow and her husband may have been the previous slave-owner. Research to determine the name of her deceased husband and his date and place of death.
6. Check the historical society in the county where your ancestors were enslaved or the State Archives to see if any plantation records may exist for that suspected slave-holding family.

Step 5 – Research County Court Records.

Enslaved African Americans were considered “property,” like horses, cattle, furniture, etc. Many of the enslaved were recorded in court records by their first names for any transactions that affected their ownership.  Wills, probate and estate records are the most valuable resources in tracing enslaved ancestors. They often contain the names of slaves frequently listed in the wills and estate inventories. Once you have found the name of a suspected slave-owner, check to see if he left a will. Also, search for his probate and estate records.  When a person died leaving a will, he died testate; his estate was distributed according to his will. These distributions were recorded in the estate records. When a person died without leaving a will, he died intestate. However, his property was distributed according to the inheritance laws of the State. A court-appointed administrator was responsible for taking a complete inventory of the estate. If the person died testate or intestate before 1865, and he was the owner of slaves, his court records should include the names of his slaves, as well their ages and/or value.

Other rich resources in county court records include the following:

1. Probate/Estate Records, Slave Inventories and Appraisements — when slave-owners died, their estates had to be settled. Slaves were often named in inventories and appraisements of the estate.
2. Deed Records — Bills of sale, deeds of gifts, and deeds of trust show the transference of slaves. 
3. Civil Court Cases — Research these records to see if the slave-owner was involved in any lawsuits that may have involved the slaves.
4. Tax Records – some counties’ tax records may list slaves and their monetary value.

These records can be found at the courthouse in the county where the person died. Most state archive departments have these records on microfilm. Also, microfilms containing wills and estate records can be ordered through your local or nearest Family History Center. Many county court records may also be found online, on sites like,,,, and others. Specifically, and are continuously digitizing more of these records and adding them to their online accessible databases.

Step 6 – Research Other Sources to Determine or Verify the Last Slave-owner.

1. Civil War Pension Records – see
2. Freedman’s Bank Applications – see or
3. Freedmen’s Bureau Records – see
3. Southern Claims Commission Records – see or
4. Slave Narratives
5. Church Records
6. Inquire about unique records for your state at your State Archives.
7. Donated family papers – check your local archives, your state archives, and your local historical society.

Step 7 – Read slave ancestral research case studies and genealogy blogs, books, articles, etc.

Although I have placed this as the last step, it can actually be one of the first steps. Slave ancestral research is not an exact science or does not entail a straightforward methodology, even though I list seven methodical steps in this article. Many people have found and documented their enslaved ancestors in a number of ways, utilizing a lot of records. You can garner much insight by reading cases on how enslaved ancestors were found. My two books, Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery and 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, offer two extensive case studies on how my families were traced back well into the slavery-era. One of the purposes for writing these books was to provide readers with solid examples of slave ancestral research. Also, my blog, Roots Revealed, contain many posts on how enslaved ancestors were documented. See Genealogist Robyn Smith’s new book, The Best of Reclaiming Kin: A Genealogy Blog, offer great cases as well.

Additionally, several instructional books are available that outline methodologies for slave ancestral research. Those books include the following:

1.     Finding a Place Called Home by Dee Palmer Woodtor
2.     A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors by Franklin Smith and Emily Croom

Slave ancestral research is not easy. It requires time, money, patience, and knowing what resources are available. Understanding how others tackled their genealogical puzzles can provide researchers with “road maps” to their own enslaved ancestors, who are waiting to be found. Last but not least, never give up. If you become too easily frustrated and give up, your ancestors will remain buried.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Reuniting of Two Sisters, Beady and Brittie Ann


I have come to realize that we are on the ancestors’ time. Therefore, when we embark on a genealogy journey to trace our family histories, we must have patience. We also must never give up. Everything that we want to know will not be found within the time frame that we imagine. If we get easily frustrated and decide that we don’t want to be bothered with genealogy research anymore, then whatever was meant to be found will remain buried. I truly believe that our ancestors want their stories told. At the same time, I feel that they ascertain the perfect time when to drop a major clue out of the blue.

I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in April 2013. Now, I honestly believe that my ancestors were waiting for that move to happen. They had a lot of things in store for me, and being in the D.C. area would be perfect. I needed to be here to also attend the 2015 Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion in Alexandria, Virginia. On the day I moved to the D.C. area, hearing “The Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion” would have meant nothing to me. I was clueless about my connection to this North Carolina family. Two months later, on June 18, 2013, the ancestors obviously stated, “It’s time!” A major clue was revealed. That major clue enabled me to break down one of my brick walls and learn more about my father’s great-grandfather John “Jack” Bass’ family, especially the plight of Jack’s mother, Beady Bass. Previous blog posts disclose the Bass discoveries in greater detail.

However, allow me to summarize in a nutshell. In or around 1849, my great-great-great-grandmother Beady Bass, her children, two brothers, their mother Rose, and possibly her very elderly grandmother Peggy were taken to Hinds County, Mississippi. Persistent research finally revealed that she had a younger sister named Brittie Ann Bass. Aunt Brittie Ann remained in North Carolina because their former enslaver, Council Bass, had bequeathed her in 1830 to one of his three married daughters named Charlotte Holloman; she stayed in North Carolina with her husband, while her two sisters migrated to Hinds County, Mississippi and Madison County, Tennessee with their husbands. Those sisters took nearly all of Aunt Brittie Ann’s siblings away from North Carolina. Sadly, Grandma Beady and Aunt Brittie Ann never saw each other anymore. She subsequently “jumped the broom” with a man named Langley Earley, and they had a large family who lived near Ahoskie in Hertford County, North Carolina after slavery. Aunt Brittie Ann died in 1914. Her death certificate reported that she was “about 100,” and she was definitely in her mid to late 90s when she died.

Shortly after discovering the whereabouts of Aunt Brittie Ann, I was fortunate to find a family tree on that contained one of her sons, Goodman Earley, the same son who was the informant of her 1914 death certificate. Andre Early of New York had uploaded his family tree there. Goodman was Andre’s great-grandfather, and Aunt Brittie Ann was his great-great-grandmother. Soon after making contact with Andre, he invited me to the Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion, a reunion of Aunt Brittie Ann’s descendants! He was the 2015 reunion organizer, and it was slated to be held right here in the D.C. area, practically in my back yard, in Alexandria, Virginia.  

On this past Saturday, while I gazed into the eyes of Aunt Brittie Ann’s descendants, I was in disbelief. All of this happened within a short time frame – from uncovering Grandma Beady Bass’ family and her permanent separation from family members in 2013, to meeting the descendants of one of her long lost sisters in person in 2015! The ancestors were with me as I relayed this unknown history to the family. Mouths dropped while I gave my presentation. Everything seemed so surreal. I had purposely refrained from telling family members how I was related when I was asked before my presentation. I simply stated, “If I tell you now, it may be hard for you to believe, so let’s wait until I give my presentation.” Many understood why I stated that. They never imagined that my connection to the family would be in this manner. I was lovingly embraced, and I felt that North Carolina hospitality. Grandma Beady and Aunt Brittie Ann were happy. They had been reunited.

Here are some pictures from the family reunion:

Andre Early and me

Descendants of Goodman Earley (Brittie Ann’s son)

Descendants of Rev. D. Westley Earley (Brittie Ann’s son)

Naomi Murrell-Bunch of Ahoskie, N.C. delivering the Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion History. She is a great-granddaughter of Aunt Brittie Ann’s son, Rev. D. Westley Earley. Cousin Naomi told me that her grandmother talked about Brittie Ann a lot!

Cousin Naomi Murrell-Bunch

Earley-Jenkins Descendants

Look at that beautiful cake!

With Alice Medford, another descendant of Rev. D. Westley Earley

The Earley-Jenkins Family knows how to dance!

With Cousin Dana Early-Jeune, who wrote on her Facebook page, “Connecting the dots w/ a family member. Sisters separated because of slavery & never knew what happened to each other once the slave owner died & left slaves to his kids. One went to Mississippi & the other one stayed in NC. WOW!!”