Saturday, June 16, 2018

Juneteenth Celebration: Our Freedom Day Story


My cousins, Armentha Reed Puryear and the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry of Senatobia, Mississippi, both listened to their grandfather Bill Reed talk about that day in 1865 when Lemuel Reid stood on this very porch they are standing on and announced to all who were enslaved on the Reid Place that they were free.

The Reid Place, the old home of Lemuel Reid, near Abbeville, South Carolina, as it stood in 2004.

JUNETEENTH is a special holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. On that day, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order #3:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” that soon evolved into a national celebration of the emancipation from chattel slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, did not immediately emancipate most enslaved African Americans in the South, especially in Texas.

I often wonder about the day my enslaved ancestors were told that they were free. How did they feel? What did they do? Did they cry a river of tears? This day was undoubtedly a dream come true. After Alice Marie Johnson was recently pardoned after serving over 20 years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense, she stated that she performed a “Pentecostal holy dance” upon hearing the news from Kim Kardashian. I imagine the same type of jubilation that my enslaved ancestors displayed when they heard, “You are now free.” What an emotional day that must have been! The only difference here is that my enslaved ancestors had not been too-long imprisoned for a crime they committed; they and their ancestors had been held in inhumane yet legal bondage against their will for over 200 years.

Fortunately, my cousin, the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry Sr. (1914-2009), recalled a special story that his maternal grandfather – my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Senatobia, Mississippi – had shared with the family about his “Freedom Day.” Cousin Ike had a very close relationship with Grandpa Bill and remembered many accounts he shared with him. Although Grandpa Bill was a reserved man, I’m told, he was not tight-lipped about his experiences during slavery in South Carolina. Cousin Ike voiced so many mouth-dropping stories to me, that this vast amount of valuable oral history served as the solid foundation of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.

I listened with excitement as Cousin Ike recalled Grandpa Bill’s “Freedom Day.” He shared, “Grandpa told me that on the day they got freed, Lem Reid came out on his porch and called all the slaves up to the house and said to them, ‘Y’all is as free as I am.’ He asked them to stay on the place to help him bring in the crop and he promised to pay them. Grandpa said that they stayed for a lil while and then they decided to follow this man to Mississippi to make a better living for themselves.”

In an earlier recollection, Cousin Ike had shared that an unknown man from Mississippi came to Abbeville, South Carolina. He saw Grandpa Bill and others taking a break from working in the field, approached them, and told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.” Cousin Ike humorously shared, “Hearing that Mississippi had fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths got them all excited.” Grandpa Bill, a younger sister Mary, and others packed up their wagons and moved to near Senatobia, Mississippi around Jan. 1866. (DNA is indicating that another sister, Louvenia, remained in Abbeville; more later.)

Grandpa Bill Reed married Sarah Partee-Edwards in 1871, and they had eleven children. He died on Nov. 30, 1937, at the old age of 91. During the week of his death, he had been out chopping wood. He lived to see 53 of his 57 grandchildren, as well as a number of great-grandchildren. Many of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren listened to his stories while sitting underneath his sycamore tree. His stories were not forgotten. On July 8, 2004, members of Reed Family visited Abbeville, South Carolina for the first time. We finally saw what Grandpa Bill had talked about for many years.

The descendants of Lemuel Reid placed this Welcome sign in their storefront to recognize our return back to Abbeville, South Carolina after 138 years.

Standing on the steps of the Abbeville County Courthouse, July 8, 2004

(All pictures are the property of Melvin Collier.)


Friday, June 1, 2018

Jayson’s Journey: A Slave Schedule Story



Slave schedules are censuses taken in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses that contain the slave-owners’ names and the age, sex, and color of each of their slaves. Columns also report the number of fugitive and manumitted slaves. There is also a column that noted enslaved people who were “deaf, blind, insane, or idiotic.”  Unfortunately, very few names of the enslaved were recorded. First names were only recorded for most who were 100 years old or older. The slave schedules are available for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. They are not available for other states.

This week, author and genealogist Robyn Smith and I talked about historians’ frequent usage of the slave schedules in the TLC television series, Who Do You Think You Are, as well as Henry Louis Gates’ PBS television series, Finding Your Roots. This has been and continues to be a frequent dialogue in the genealogy community; many researchers express their concerns about how the slave schedules are used and what conclusions should not be drawn from them. I decided to present this hypothetical research story as an eye opener. I use the word “hypothetical” because the research scenario itself and Jayson are fictional, but the ancestors, documents, and conclusions presented in this blog post are factual. This scenario is a common occurrence.

Jayson Boyce, a journalism major in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Howard University, was given an assignment in his sociology class to write a comprehensive research paper. The class had a choice – either a research paper detailing a social aspect of a community or a research paper uncovering the history of a family, from slavery to the present. The class had to utilize primary sources. Since Jayson had always been curious about his family roots, he chose the latter. He was confident that his father’s father could get him started.

Two weeks later, Jayson flew home to Cleveland, Ohio to talk to his grandfather, who was 81 years old. His grandfather relayed to him how his father, Willis B. Boyce, was born in 1909, near Poplar Grove, Arkansas, but his family moved to Cleveland in the mid-1920s, when Willis was a teenager. Jayson did not know that his family was originally from Arkansas. However, his grandfather gave him another piece of valuable information. He shared that his father Willis always talked about a cousin named Tony Boyce who would often come to Arkansas from Mississippi to visit them. He was famously known as “Cuttin’ Tony from Como.”

After gathering these important tidbits of oral history, Jayson went to Ancestry.com to see what he can find out. With relative ease, he was able to find his family in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. Federal Census records. They were living in Phillips County, Arkansas. By the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the family resided in Cleveland, Ohio, confirming his grandfather’s account. Jayson also observed that his great-great-grandfather, John Boyce, was reported in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census as being born in January 1872 in Mississippi. Several of John’s siblings were also in his household, and they were born in Mississippi, too. Jayson discovered that his family had migrated to Arkansas from Mississippi around 1885.

Since much of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was destroyed in a fire, Jayson tried his luck with the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. He found his great-great-grandfather John Boyce in the household of his father, Mack Boyce, as well as two of John’s siblings who were in his household in Arkansas in 1900. They resided in Tate County, Mississippi. Jayson observed on a map that Tate County is adjacent to Panola County, where the town of Como is located just five miles from the Tate-Panola County line. Therefore, he successfully traced back to his three-times-great grandfather, Mack Boyce, whose age was reported as 35 in 1880. South Carolina was reported as the birthplace of Mack’s father and mother, as noted in the last two columns of the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. Undoubtedly being born around 1845 in Mississippi, Mack had been enslaved, and the family’s roots go back to South Carolina.


The 1880 U.S. Federal Census of Tate County, Mississippi – the Boyce Family
Two of Tony Boyce’s children, Mack Boyce and Nancy Boyce Rice, lived next door.
1880 U.S. Federal Census; Census Place: Beat 1, Tate, Mississippi; Roll: 665; Family History Film: 1254665; Page: 169D; Enumeration District: 181

Jayson couldn’t help but notice that Mack’s next-door neighbors were an elderly couple named Tony Boyce & Lucy Boyce (see above). Tony’s reported age was 64, and his birthplace was noted as South Carolina. Jayson concluded that Tony Boyce was Mack’s father and therefore his 4-times-great grandfather. He also discovered that “Cuttin’ Tony Boyce,” who used to visit his great-great-grandfather John in Arkansas, was also another grandson of Tony Boyce whom he was named for. Jayson was excited. Since his research paper should start with slavery, he decided to gather more information on Ancestry.com pertaining to Tony’s history, if possible.

Unfortunately, Jayson couldn’t find his family in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, which is a pivotal census for slave ancestral research. He was disappointed since that census is very often the first official record that recorded formerly enslaved African Americans by their first and last names. But Jayson didn’t let that deter him. He decided to see if the Boyce surname came from a Boyce slave-owner.

Only one Boyce showed up in the area from his search of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. A man named John Boyce, who was also born in South Carolina, resided in the Como district during slavery. Columns 8 and 9 of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census reported John Boyce’s real estate value as being worth $41,000 and his personal estate value as being worth $34,000. Therefore, Jayson theorized that John was a fairly wealthy man who likely owned slaves, including his family.


1860 U.S. Federal Census of Panola County, Mississippi – John & Martha Boyce
Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2009; Census Place: Panola, Mississippi; Roll: M653_589; Page: 275; Family History Library Film: 803589

Jayson soon learned about the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules and decided to research those records, too. John Boyce was reported as owning 30 slaves in 1860 in Panola County. Among those 30 enslaved people is a 42-year-old Black male. This closely fits the profile of his 4-times-great grandfather, Tony Boyce, who was born around 1816. Jayson knew that the ages for enslaved people or former slaves were often estimated. 

Jayson was very elated with his research findings. He organized his numerous sources and wrote his 18-page research paper that documented his family, starting with Tony Boyce as likely being enslaved by John Boyce during slavery in South Carolina and Mississippi, to sharecropping on a farm in the Arkansas Delta, to being part of the Great Migration to the North, and to the present in Cleveland, Ohio. He added a lot of anecdotes from his grandfather. He also included maps showing the migration pattern of the Boyce Family, from South Carolina to Panola County, Mississippi to Phillips County, Arkansas, and then to Cleveland, Ohio. Jayson’s professor was impressed with his research paper and gave him an A.

A year and a half later, Jayson noticed that a researcher named Melvin Collier also has Tony Boyce in his family tree on Ancestry.com. He contacted Melvin to see how he is related to Tony. Melvin revealed to him that Tony Boyce was an older brother of his great-great-great-grandmother, Clarissa Bobo. This made them to be 5th cousins once removed. Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery details how this relationship was uncovered.

Like Tony Boyce, Clarissa also resided in Tate County, Mississippi in 1880, just a few miles from Como. Melvin also communicated to Jayson that Clarissa had been enslaved by Dr. William J. Bobo, who brought her and her family to Panola County, Mississippi in 1858 from Union County, South Carolina. Clarissa had been previously enslaved by Dr. Bobo’s father-in-law, David Boyce (1781-1830) of Union County. Two of David’s daughters, Margaret and Mary Marjory Boyce, married two brothers, Dr. William Bobo and Barham Bobo Jr., respectively. Melvin also e-mailed to Jayson more information that documented Tony Boyce in slavery. This is what Melvin revealed to Jayson.

EVIDENCE #1: Thirty (30) enslaved people appraised on the inventory of David Boyce’s estate, February 23, 1831, Union County, South Carolina (transcription)

Toney was inventoried in the late David Boyce’s estate in 1831. His estate record show that David Boyce’s wife, Agnes Turner Boyce, inherited Toney from the estate. David died intestate (without having made a will) on Nov. 22, 1830, and 25 of the 30 slaves went to Agnes. She later moved to Panola County, Mississippi with some of her children around 1845.


South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980; Author: South Carolina. Probate Court (Union County); Probate Place: Union, South Carolina; Estate of David Boyce, 1831.

EVIDENCE #2: The 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Panola County, Mississippi, Agnes Boyce

This census shows Agnes Boyce as the head of household, with her daughter, Mary Marjory Boyce Bobo, and Mary’s son, Barham Bobo, living with her. Mary was the widow of Barham Bobo Jr. of Union County, S.C., who died shortly after their son’s birth.


Ancestry.com. 1850 U.S. Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2009; Census Place: District 13, Panola, Mississippi; Roll: M432_379; Page: 341A; Image: 303.

EVIDENCE #3: The 1850 Panola County, Mississippi Slave Schedule, Agnes Boyce

This slave census shows that Agnes Boyce owned 37 slaves in 1850 in Panola County, Mississippi.


Ancestry.com. 1850 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2004; Census Place: District 13, Panola, Mississippi; Roll M432; Page: 157.

EVIDENCE #4: Slave Deed, Dec. 31, 1857, Panola County, Mississippi (transcription)


This deed record was found while researching microfilmed Panola County deed records at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History in Jackson. This deed shows that 21 named enslaved people, including one named TONEY, were transferred from Mary Marjory Bobo to her son, Barham Bobo, in Dec. 1857. This deed also states that Mary had acquired them from her mother, Agnes Boyce, on May 2, 1855. Agnes died two years later on Dec. 28, 1857.

EVIDENCE #5: Southern Claims Commission Record, Barham Bobo, Claim No. 16710, Sept. 17, 1872, Panola County, Mississippi


Southern Claims Commission. Roll: scc_1071_1248_0001; Place: Panola, Mississippi; Claimant: Barham Bobo; Claim Number: 16710; Claim Date: 17 Sep 1872; www.fold3.com.

On March 3, 1871, Congress established the Southern Claims Commission to compensate individuals who claimed to have had stores and supplies, such as horses and crops, taken by or furnished to the Union Army during the Civil War. Testimonies were taken by neighbors, friends, and former slaves to prove their claims. Additionally, hundreds of African Americans filed claims, and their files contain extraordinary personal data.

In 2006, Footnote.com digitized and released the Southern Claims Commission records. Their online database contains images of every claim and all accompanying paperwork. Barham Bobo was one of 22,298 claims that were filed. His papers, dated Sept. 17, 1872, stated that several mules, mares, and horses, valued at $1,900, were taken during the Civil War by the 11th Illinois Calvary Regiment from the plantation of his mother, who died on Sept. 15, 1870. Being her only child, Barham was the administrator of her estate. His claim was denied.

However, on the line for the “Names and residences of witnesses who will be relied upon to prove the other facts alleged in the foregoing petition” were the following names: Tony Boyce, Jeff Williams, Wat Boyce, William Boyce & others. This document was additional proof that Tony Boyce was enslaved on the plantation that was once owned by Agnes Boyce and that fell into the hands of her daughter, Mary M. Bobo, and grandson, Barham Bobo.

Conclusion: One might understand why Jayson Boyce was confident that his 4-times-great grandfather, Tony Boyce, had been last enslaved by John Boyce. It was easy to conclude that. However, more research revealed that Tony’s last enslaver was Barham Bobo III (1833-1900). He chose to retain the Boyce surname likely because he had been born on David Boyce’s farm in South Carolina, and he had remained enslaved by David’s widow, Agnes Boyce, after his death, up until 1855. He was eventually transferred to Agnes’ grandson, Barham Bobo, in 1857. Tony was not the 42-year-old Black male reported for John Boyce in 1860. Therefore, slave schedules should never serve as direct proof of one’s enslaved ancestor and their enslaver, simply because they don’t contain the names of the enslaved.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day: Honoring the Slain Black Milliken’s Bend Soldiers Who Made A Huge Difference


 
Illustration of African American Soldiers Repelling the Confederate Troops at Milliken's Bend
(Source: Harper's Weekly, public domain)

Last weekend, as my father, oldest sister, nephew, and I toured the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, we conversed about the participation of my father’s great-grandfather, John “Jack” Bass of Warren County (Vicksburg), Mississippi, in the Civil War. I had confirmed that he served with the 49th Regiment, formerly the 11th Louisiana Infantry, of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). According to his service record, he enlisted on May 16, 1863, at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. He was promoted from Private to Corporal on February 1, 1865, by order of Lieutenant Colonel Cyrus Sears.

Just three weeks after his enlistment, Grandpa Jack Bass, who was born into slavery in 1844 in Northampton County, North Carolina, and who descended from the Igbo people of present-day Nigeria on his mother’s side, fought in a significant battle – the Battle of Milliken's Bend, fought on June 7, 1863. Colonel Hermann Lieb situated his men into a battle line at Milliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River, the opposite side to Vicksburg, and prepared them to meet the pursuing Confederate troops. His units comprised of the 8th, 9th, 11th, and 13th Louisiana Infantry Regiments (African Descent), 1st Mississippi Infantry (African Descent), and the 23rd Iowa Infantry that totaled 1,061 men. The Battle of Milliken’s Bend became one of the first Civil War battles to involve African-American Union Army troops.

With two gunboats docked in the river to assist, Lieb strategically positioned his recently-recruited and poorly-trained men on the levee behind bales of cotton. When the Confederates troops arrived, hand-to-hand combat ensued. The Confederates pushed over the cotton bale barricades with their clubbed muskets and bayonets. Adrenalin undoubtedly kicked in, and Grandpa Jack and his USCT comrades bravely fought for their freedom.  One soldier, Joseph Blessington, reported in his 1875 memoir, "The enemy gave away and stampeded pell-mell over the levee, in great terror and confusion. Our troops followed after them, bayoneting them by the hundreds." (Source)

Grandpa Jack’s service record described him as being a short 5 ft. 3 inches in height. I don’t have to wonder why my late great-aunt Pearlie Spicer, his granddaughter, was very short. So in my mind, I envision a short, brave man, probably resembling the comedian Kevin Hart, in fierce battle alongside his many USCT comrades who were being brutally slayed around him. They successfully scared away the attacking Confederates. Although Grandpa Jack luckily survived the ferocious battle, the casualties at Milliken’s Bend were severe on both sides.

According to Linda Barnickel, author of Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory, the 9th Louisiana lost a whopping 68% of their men, which was the highest total of any of the Black regiments during the Civil War. Sixty-six (66) of their men died, and it was the highest loss in a single engagement by any Union unit during the entire Vicksburg campaign. The 23rd Iowa Infantry lost 54% of their unit, which had comprised of only 120 men. Numerous officers on both sides reported that their companies sustained nearly 50% casualties.

Despite the numerous casualties, the bravery and tenacity of the African-American soldiers showed the nation that African-American men could fight as well as the best white soldiers. Being regarded as outsiders, they made the great Vicksburg victory possible for the Union, and they earned the official praise of Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Also, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wrote the following in a letter to President Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 5, 1863:

“Many persons believed, or pretended to believe, and confidentially asserted, that freed slaves would not make good soldiers; they would lack courage and could not be subjected to military discipline. Facts have shown how groundless were these apprehensions. The slave has proved his manhood, and his capacity as an infantry soldier, at Milliken's Bend, at the assault upon Port Hudson, and the storming of Fort Wagner." (Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of War. 1899. p. 1,132.)

Afterwards, the Union pushed to enlist thousands of African Americans into newly-formed regiments. When the Civil War ended in 1865, nearly 180,000 African-American men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. Close to 10,000 of them died in battle. Another 30,000 African-American men died as a result from illness or infection. They are not forgotten.


Pointing to Grandpa Jack Bass’ name at the African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Sources:

“Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory,” Link: www.millikensbend.com, accessed 25 May 2018.

Barnickel, Linda. Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2013.

National Park Service. “The Battle of Milliken's Bend, June 7, 1863.” Link: https://www.nps.gov/vick/learn/historyculture/battle-of-millikens-bend-june-7-1863.htm, accessed 26 May 2018.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of War, 1899.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Genealogy Has Become a Name Collection Game

 

Like many others, I will take time to click on the green leaf that’s attached to an ancestor or family member in my family tree on Ancestry.com. I am often led to others’ family trees who have claimed my ancestor/family member as their own. Sometimes the claim is accurate. Unfortunately, many times my ancestor/family member is not theirs at all – two different people with the same first and last names. They failed to verify the connection, their family trees are then consumed with errors, and those errors are duplicated via those green leaves. Sadly, this is a growing phenomenon with online family trees, especially on Ancestry.com. Genealogy research seems to be becoming a name collection game – people getting a thrill at seeing their family tree expand, copying others' family trees – errors and all – and not verifying the information. Next thing you know, you have numerous incorrect family trees out there.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the green leaves. I am just cautious with them.

Unfortunately, inaccurate family trees may mean that many people are “digesting” and passing on false information about a family’s history. I say this because I have personally heard others, who consider themselves as the family historian, say something like, “I have been researching my family’s history for several years and have traced back to the 1700s.” Then, after further conversation with that person, I realize that the researcher has never turned off the computer from viewing online family trees, along with cursory and non-analytical views of census records, and has never visited any local, state or federal Archives, genealogy libraries, family history centers, cemeteries, courthouses, or other places for records or clues of verification that are not online. The researcher has also not actively explored the many other digitized records on FamilySearch.org, fold3.com, and other sites that can add to their reasonably exhaustive search. Additionally, the researcher has not even taken the time to read books, blogs, articles, etc., or has not viewed any webinars, videos, or other online resources on conducting effective genealogy research. Unfortunately, “researching” seems to have become a name-matching sport for many.

My blog posts are usually about how I solved a genealogical mystery or made a cool discovery via genealogy research and/or DNA, to serve as a case study for researchers to learn from. However, I was compelled to write this post because of a recent dialogue that I found troubling.  Last week, I had an online “debate” with a young lady who claimed my great-grandmother's brother, Robert “Bob” Ealy Jr., as her ancestor. Her family was from Craven County, North Carolina and eventually migrated to New York. No records were attached to her family tree. My Ealy family is clearly in Leake County, Mississippi and had been there since c. 1835, when my great-great-grandfather Robert “Big Bob” Ealy’s enslaver, William W. Eley, brought him to Mississippi from Nash County, North Carolina. But because the two men had the same name, she attached my great-granduncle Bob Jr., his parents, and grandparents as her ancestors too and defended her reasoning.

One of her reasons was because she has DNA matches with people either with the Ealy surname or have an Ealy in their tree, as well as my surname, too. My surname (Collier) came from my Dad's adoptive father, George Collier. My family tree, that’s attached to my and my Dad’s DNA profiles, shows my Dad’s biological father, Hulen Kennedy (grandson of Big Bob Ealy). In essence, she concluded that Uncle Bob Ealy Jr. maintained two families at the same time – one in Leake County, Mississippi and one over 800 miles away in Craven County, North Carolina – and died in New York City, while I have documented Uncle Bob Jr., from his birth around 1855, in Leake County, Mississippi, until his death on Oct. 28, 1939, in Leake County, Mississippi. I had found Uncle Bob’s death certificate at the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History over 15 years ago. She seemed to have presumed that my information was inaccurate. Sadly, as of this blog post, she has not corrected her family tree. My concern is that many, who are in her Ealy family, may believe that they also descend from Grandpa Big Bob, and that’s certainly not the case at all. Many have my great-great-grandparents as their ancestors, and they aren’t.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take time to include some tips with this blog post. Genealogy research is a broad subject, so feel free to offer other tips in the Comments section:

TIP #1: Don’t assume that someone with the same name as your ancestor is probably yours, too. If the locations don’t match, seek verification, i.e, direct evidence and/or a collection of circumstantial evidence that proves that he or she is actually your ancestor. Even if there's a location match, still seek verification. Verify, verify, verify!

TIP #2: A woman, who is reported as the wife to the head of household, was often not the mother to all of the children in the household or to the older, grown children in their own households. Try to locate a record that documents the parents’ names in order to verify. Analyze the censuses, marriage records, cohabitation records, or other sources to determine if she became the wife prior to a child’s (or children’s) birth.

Especially apply this tip with former-enslaved people who are found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, and who likely “jumped the broom” into holy matrimony during slavery. For example, Grandpa Robert “Big Bob” Ealy had a daughter, Mary York (wife of Jordan York), around 1840, prior to “jumping the broom” with my great-great-grandmother, Jane Parrott, around 1845. According to my family’s oral history, Mary was known as “Aunt Sis” York, who was Big Bob’s daughter only. The identity of Aunt Sis’s mother is unknown. But since Grandma Jane is Grandpa Big Bob’s documented wife in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, many family trees incorrectly show Grandma Jane as Aunt Sis’s mother, even though Grandma Jane was around 10 years older than Aunt Sis.

TIP #3: If someone’s online family tree on Ancestry.com doesn’t have censuses and other records attached to an individual to document his/her existence and connection, don’t add that individual to your family tree as your ancestor, too.  Verify, verify, verify!

TIP #4: Don’t immediately assume that because you are a DNA match to a person or individuals who have a particular surname in their online family trees, that it confirms your ancestral connection to someone with that same surname. It doesn’t. First, people can be related via other lines. Secondly, not everyone with a particular surname are actually related. Thirdly, that person’s family tree might be wrong as two left shoes. Do the research!

TIP #5: A computer program can’t determine who your ancestors are. Therefore, all of the green leaf hints should be analyzed. Verify, verify, verify!

TIP #6: Try contacting the creator of a particular family tree to verify if their ancestor/family member is indeed your ancestor, especially if it’s not obvious. At times, you might even discover that their displayed ancestor is not their ancestor at all.

In other words – verify, verify, verify! It deserved repeating….

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Blog Interview with my African DNA Cousin


Maame Durowah Okai
(Used per permission)

I am elated and honored to feature one of my African DNA cousins, Maame Durowah Okai of Amsterdam, Netherlands, on my blog. If someone had told me five years ago that I will be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them. DNA technology has allowed many of us to learn something about our African ancestry and connect with African cousins.

Many geneticists recommend that one of the best ways to get a glimpse of our African roots utilizing DNA is through DNA matches to living Africans who have also taken one of the autosomal DNA tests – AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA. Many African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans are matching people from the Motherland, and these matches are celebrated. This is to be expected since we are the descendants of many Africans who were taken from an area of West Africa, stretching from present-day Senegal to Angola, as well as from present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. Check out Fonte Felipe’s insightful blog post, “How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry.”

Maame Durowah Okai’s family roots are from Ghana. Her father is Ashanti and her mother is from the Obo Kwahu people, who descends from the Ashanti Empire. Interestingly, historians believe that Harriet Tubman’s African maternal grandmother, Modesty, descends from the Ashanti people. Cousin Maame Durowah took the AncestryDNA test last year, which identified her as 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali.

Incredibly, she is a DNA match to both my father and me at 13 cM (centimorgans). According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), that amount of DNA is in the range of a fourth cousin or further. My chances of figuring out exactly how Cousin Maame Durowah is related on my father's side is astronomically slim. But that's OK. It doesn't matter. What matters greatly is that we carry an identical strand of DNA that originated from a common African ancestor, who was most probably from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana).


Cousin Maame Durowah is doing wonderful works in the Netherlands, and I am proud that she is my African cousin. To spotlight her, I asked her the following four questions about herself, her family, and her thoughts about DNA testing. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to e-mail me the answers to them.

Question 1. What are your current endeavors in Europe?

I was born in the 80s in the Netherlands on a Sunday morning. I was raised in Amsterdam South East by my Ghanaian parents, Nana Yaw Okai & Mercy Ayirebi. I had influences by my Dutch grandma, who is from the Netherlands, named Will Ottens. She lived downstairs and helped my mom out when she rang the bell and when nobody wanted to open the door (due to the Sunday morning). It was only my Dutch grandma that opened the door; this was in the 80's, and knowing the time in the Netherlands with the migrants. My grandma took the chance and helped my mom out and I become part of the family. She had an amazing influence in my life (learning about the Dutch culture up close - best of both worlds). This also gives me the chance to teach and educate people on diversity in the Netherlands; currently writing a project on that.

I am a social worker and a family coach. I have been active in social work and community development. I am the founder and project manager of the Brighter Day Foundation, an international social and community development organization. The Brighter Day Foundation develops creative, social, and community projects to raise awareness, impact, and speak out on social issues.

I am working as a family coach/counselor in a youth team (9-5 job). I don't see it as a 9-5 job. My purpose in being there is to break generational trends by helping people to think beyond the “system” and be self-reliant. My main statement when it comes to my work is, “No one can pay you for the job you do because we give more than we are paid for.’’

In 2018, I will be starting a tour called “The Kingdom Citizen: I Have Never Become Who I Am,” which is based on my book. The aim is to share my story on how I discovered purpose by highlighting different life stories. The teaching element at hand is to show how one can creatively discover purpose through the obstacles in life and maximize their potential by making their “stories” known. This will take place in five major cities in Europe. I am not all knowing, letting one know their Purpose that is in God's hands yet being a tool to discover is a calling. I accepted my calling as a pastor at the age of 30. Before that, I was actively involved in ministry from age 23, becoming serious in the Faith when I was 19. I was raised by a Christian mom; my Dad joined the faith in a later stage.

My faith in God is my foundation and my source of success in life I can proudly proclaim. I travel around as an international speaker, teaching and sharing about the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Kingdom-minded and focused on missions around the world, I mentor the broken and rejected and raise up leaders. I am a woman wearing a mantle of many colors; a signature that reveals myself via my various activities. I am a 'Kingdom' representative breaking the status quo!

(Used per permission)

Question 2.    Why did you take the DNA test and what are your thoughts about it?

On February 15, 2017, I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test just out of curiosity. I saw it several years ago when the African Ancestry DNA stories came out on the internet. My curiosity was about how God can create us with such an amazing DNA and link us to a specific country, yet all being connected some way. I knew I was full Ghanaian, but I was still curious what could come out of it. I had heard about Mali being a part of the history of the Ashanti Empire from my Dad but to know that there is a Mali percentage in my DNA was fascinating!

One thing is for sure, I am a Kingdom Child of God, and I know where I come from. Yet I was given a nation in the land of the living. While sitting on the bus on my way home from London, I received an email with my DNA results. “Well, well,” I exclaimed. This was an interesting combo! Being 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali was interesting! What made the story more interesting were the 15 people who were directly connected to my DNA, surprisingly.

Question 3.    Tell me something about your family roots in Ghana?

Mercy Ayirebi Kwahu (Obo Kwahu) is my mom’s name. She was born to Mr. Alfred Kofi Ayirebi & Mrs. Alice Abena Owarewah (daughter of Kwaku Nyame Danquah and Akosua Tiwah Donkor). My Dad is Nana Yaw Okai - Ashanti (Bonwire). My Dad’s lineage can be traced to Yaa Asantewaa. (Read more about Yaa Asantewaa here). I was told this as a young girl. Grandpa Afrani, we are still on the trace. Mrs. Yaa Durowah, who I was named after, is the daughter of Mrs. Efua Brempomaa & Nana Kwaku.

I was introduced to Ghana at age 10 and fell in love. I celebrated my 11th birthday in Ghana and the plan was for me to stay in Ghana and go to school. But my parents decided to keep me in the Netherlands. That one trip changed my life – my people, the food, the language. I became more interested about my background. We spoke Dutch, English and Twi at home, but learning my dialect became more of interest when I got to age 15. Forcing my parents to teach me the right way, I got myself into the culture, traditions, languages, food, my tribes…everything. I started going there every year, to even twice a year. The vision of the Brighter Day Foundation was born in Ghana. I lived in Ghana while doing my thesis but I had to come back to the Netherlands to finish school. I made up my mind 4 years ago to move to Ghana for a period of 5 years to build up a youth center, but my ways got an encounter, and I came back to the Netherlands to say yes to my calling.

I don’t have an English name. I was named after my Dad’s mother, Maame Durowah. I was born on Sunday - Akosua. In Ghana, they call me Ako or Akosua Durowah. Maame means lady or mother, so that is a general name before your name, which is Durowah (female) in my case. Durowah means medicine which comes from the word Oduro (male version). I was named after my Dad's mother out of love and respect. Okai is my paternal grandfather’s name. I do a lot of first and second generation analogy at work, but lately I am trying to do one of my own family genealogy, and every time I do it, I get to know more.


Maame Durowah Okai’s paternal ancestor, Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

Question 4.    How do you feel knowing that many people of African descent in America are your distant cousins?

It was really surprising when you sent me a private message saying that I was your DNA cousin in America. Even though it’s a small percentage, it is still a match. I have family members by marriage who are African-American, but knowing that, through the DNA test, many others are DNA matches is an eye opener. It opens another chapter of your life; you hear the voices of the unheard and share stories untold.

Maame Durowah Okai in Malta in 2017.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Genealogy Mishap Case: Discovering the True Paternity with DNA


No matter what the oral history said, DNA can say something differently.
What may seem obvious may not be the truth.


Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner (1842-1921) of Panola County, Mississippi

Miscegenation during slavery is a situation that many of us African-American researchers are often confronted with in our family histories. My mother’s maternal grandmother’s mother, Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner, was known to look like a white woman with long straight hair “that reached the floor,” according to family elders. Recently, I discovered that I had the wrong white father attached to her for nearly 20 years! According to her Civil War widow’s pension file, she was born on January 21, 1842 in Union County, South Carolina. Her enslaver, Dr. William J. Bobo, transported her, her mother Clarissa Bobo, and other family members to Mississippi in 1858.

A late family elder remembered her very well. Cousin Robert Danner was 16 years old when his grandmother died in 1921, and he spent a lot of time at her home. From my first interview with him in 1996, until his passing at age 103 in 2008, he shared many details about her. Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery would not have been possible without his priceless memories. He recalled that a man named Sandy Wilbourn visited his grandmother often. He claimed that Sandy was her white half-brother who acknowledged their family relationship, something that was exceedingly rare at that time. Cousin Robert had proclaimed confidently, “Grandma Lue’s father was a Wilbourn.” I uploaded some of the recordings of my oral history interviews with him in this 2013 blog post.

With that huge clue, I researched the censuses and other records, as well as communicated with Wilbourn descendants, and determined that Sandy Wilbourn was William Sanford Wilbourn (1853-1935). He died in Panola County when Cousin Robert was 28 years old. “Sandy” resided in the area where Grandma Lue lived. His father was Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. (1810-1878), so I concluded that Elijah Jr. was the man who had impregnated Clarissa with Grandma Lue and possibly her “mulatto” brother, Eli Bobo (1844-1918), too. Eli was a shorter name for Elijah, so that naming clue carried a lot of weight, in my opinion.

Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. had settled in Panola County, Mississippi also from Union County, South Carolina around 1840, about two years before Grandma Lue was born in South Carolina. I had theorized that he probably traveled back to South Carolina periodically to visit family, and during one of those trips, he made his way onto his former neighbor Dr. William Bobo’s plantation and impregnated Grandma Clarissa. That was my story, and I was sticking to it. Besides, Cousin Robert’s memory of many other people and events of our family history turned out to be accurate, so I had very little reason to question his recollection of Sandy Wilbourn being Grandma Lue’s half-brother.

Grandma Lue’s death certificate reported “Don’t Know” for her father’s name, so I was extremely grateful that he remembered this piece of history. This was very valuable oral history. I soon made an entry in my family tree, closed that chapter, and didn’t put much more thought to this Wilbourn impregnator. Then, DNA hit the scene nearly twenty years later. It told a different story.

In early 2015, a high DNA match appeared in 23andMe. I’ll call him “Cousin D.” He was sharing 100 cM over 4 segments with my mother (79 cM/3 segments with me), 75 cM over 4 segments with her brother, and 75 cM over 3 segments with her sister. These significant amounts indicate a fairly close relationship, possibly in the third cousin range. I also noticed that he was sharing 20 cM with my mother’s 2nd cousin, Cousin MAJ. To my surprise, Cousin D was 99.9% European. How could my family and I share this much DNA with a white person? This was my first thought.

Interestingly, Cousin D was also sharing DNA on the X chromosome with my aunt and uncle. (See chart below.) My mother, her siblings, and Cousin MAJ are great-grandchildren of Grandma Lue and her husband, Edward Danner. Cousin D soon contacted me, and I expressed to him that he appears to be closely connected to Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. of Panola County, Mississippi. Having African-American relatives piqued his interest. But there was one huge issue.

Because Cousin D was sharing X-DNA with my aunt and uncle, this meant that he’s related to us on his mother’s side. Males inherit one X chromosome from their mothers, while females inherit two X chromosomes, one from their mother and one from their father. His late mother was adopted, and he had no knowledge of her biological family. He then hired a professional genealogist to utilize autosomal DNA to build his mother’s biological family tree. This was indeed a challenging feat, but she had great success after administering autosomal DNA tests to numerous key people.

Cousin D’s genealogist determined that he and my mother are 5th cousins, and no one in his immediate family ever resided in Panola County, Mississippi. This was shocking. William Wilburn (1765-1822) of Union County, S.C., who was Elijah Jr’s uncle, was his 3rd-great-grandfather. However, we both felt that Cousin D shares too much DNA with my mother to be her 5th cousin, so something was not jiving. I didn't know what was aberrant, so I left it alone. I needed something compelling to make it a bigger research priority. Well, that “something” soon came.

Cousin D's maternal 2nd cousin, Cousin E, recently took the FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) test, and her raw data file was uploaded to GEDmatch.com. She too shares a lot of DNA and X-DNA with my family, including another one of my mother’s 2nd cousins, Cousin ORN (Cousin MAJ’s 1st cousin). See chart below. This was significant because Cousin D and Cousin E share the same great-grandparents, William Ray and Mary Amanda Wilburn (1855-1935) of Union County, S.C. Mary Amanda’s parents were Joshua Wilburn (1805-1887) and Elizabeth Sparks.  


Cousins D and E’s sharing of X-DNA with my family was very revealing. While my family’s matching X chromosome segments with them came from Grandma Lue’s father, their matching X chromosome segments appear to have come from Mary Amanda. But there was a problem. None of Mary Amanda’s X-DNA ancestors matched the maternal ancestors of Elijah Wilbourn, Jr., who was her father’s first cousin. If Elijah Jr. was Grandma Lue’s father, the X-DNA he passed on to her came from his mother, Mary Roundtree. She was not related to Cousin D and Cousin E. Also, the X-DNA that Mary Amanda’s father passed on to her came from his mother, Susannah Gibbs (1781-1814). This was the second red flag.


Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. inherited all of his X chromosome from his mother, Mary Roundtree. She inherited that X-DNA from both of her parents.

 
50% of Mary Amanda Wilburn’s X-DNA came from her father’s mother, Susannah Gibbs.

Cousin D’s genealogist also observed that my family share DNA with other descendants of Joshua Wilburn – Cousins A, B, and C. See chart above. All of these autosomal DNA findings point to Grandma Lue’s father likely being either Joshua Wilburn or his twin brother, also named Elijah Wilburn (1805-1889), who were the sons of William Wilburn and Susannah Gibbs, and not Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. (son of Elijah Sr./Mary Roundtree) who migrated to Mississippi. Both of the twin brothers lived and died in South Carolina. Fortunately, there was additional evidence.

I performed the “People Who Match One of Both of 2 Kits” option in GEDmatch.com between Cousin E and Cousin MAJ since they share the largest amount of DNA at 111 cM over 5 segments. The purpose was to see who else shared DNA with both of them. As expected, my family appeared among their mutual matches. I also noticed a DNA match that was among my mother’s DNA matches in FTDNA who attached a family tree to his account. I am calling him “Cousin F.” Being able to view a family tree among shared DNA matches was essential to try to determine a common ancestor. Cousin F’s extensive family tree revealed that he indeed shares common ancestors with Cousins A, B, C, D, and E.  His 3rd-great-grandmother was Elizabeth Gibbs, a sister of Susannah Gibbs’ father, James Gibbs. Elizabeth and James’ parents were John Gibbs (1716-1770) and Susanne Phillipe (1720-1786).

In a process known as manual triangulating, I viewed Cousin F’s “One-to-Many Matches” in GEDmatch.com. I then selected my family and Cousin E and viewed their matching chromosomes on the 2-D chromosome browser. Interestingly, Cousin F shares long overlapping chromosome segments with my family and Cousin E on chromosome 9. See figure below. I verified that they all match each other on chromosome 9. This indicates that everyone descend from a common ancestor.

Cousin F matches family members on overlapping chromosome segments on Chromosome 9


In 23andMe, this section of my mother’s chromosome 9 is identified as Northwestern European.

DNA is indicating that Grandma Lue had Gibbs ancestry. This served as additional DNA evidence that her father was likely Joshua Wilburn or his twin brother, Elijah (1805), sons of Susannah Gibbs. However, if Joshua and his twin brother Elijah (1805) were identical twins, they would share 100% identical DNA with each other. Full siblings and fraternal (non-identical) twins share around 50% of identical DNA. Therefore, Grandma Lue would share DNA with both Joshua and Elijah (1805) in the parent/child range (approx. 3,600 cM) if they were identical twins. If Joshua was the father, then Cousins A, B, C, D, and E are half 3rd cousins to my mother, her siblings, and Cousins MAJ and ORN. However, my speculation now is that they were identical twins, and Elijah Wilburn (1805) was her father. Then, Cousins A, B, C, D, and E are half 4th cousins genealogically but half 3rd cousins genetically. This revelation would have never been discovered had it not been for DNA technology.



This AncestryDNA match shares 34 cM / 1 segment with my mother. Elijah Wilburn (1805) is his 3rd-great-grandfather.

Acknowledgement: Special acknowledgement is given to Clarise Soper, CG for her great work in utilizing DNA to discover Cousin D's maternal ancestors.