Friday, March 31, 2017

Diagramming the Family, the History, and the DNA

Visual learning with charts, diagrams, illustrations, etc. is often conducive for many people to comprehend information. Why not apply it to family history research and DNA. I decided to build a diagram in Microsoft Word, using the hierarchy Smart Art graphic, to show how DNA links the family history research of my mother’s great great grandmother, Margaret Peggy” Milam of Tate County, Mississippi, and her parents and siblings.

The research that uncovered the origins and sad saga of Grandma Peggy Milam and her family has been featured in several past blog posts, noted below. According to 1870 and 1880 U.S. census records, Grandma Peggy Milam was born in Tennessee around 1829. She and my great great great grandfather, Wade Milam, and their children had been enslaved by Joseph R. Milam in present-day Tate County. To make a long story short, an 1839 bill of sale recorded in adjacent Marshall County enabled me to uncover that her previous enslaver was Edward Warren (c. 1775-1842), as well as the names of her parents and several siblings. He transported Grandma Peggy and her family to Marshall County, Mississippi from the hills of Williamson County, Tennessee around 1836, when she was just a young girl. She and her family were eventually split apart, taken to various areas of Mississippi and Arkansas, likely to never see each other again.

Fortunately, DNA has proven this research and her family. This diagram shows the displaced branches of her family tree, the history, and how DNA triangulation connected the branches, to prove that Grandma Peggy’s parents, my mother’s great great great grandparents, Adam and Sarah, were the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestors).

Click image to view a larger image.

This history reflects several things that researchers should keep in mind:

1.     Like Henderson Herron and Random Briscoe, it was common for two brothers to take different surnames, especially if they had been sold away from each other and their parents.
2.     For African Americans, the descendants of enslaved people of African descent in the United States, many of our DNA matches are from displaced family members who were separated from our direct ancestors during slavery.
3.     The more slave ancestral research that is conducted and documented on our enslaved ancestors, as well as the history and migration patterns of the enslaver’s family, the better the chance of connecting with some of our DNA matches.
4.     Our family histories involve numerous surnames, due to our enslaved ancestors taking different surnames for various reasons. Check out genealogist Robyn Smith’s “The Complexity of Slave Surnames.” The four branches in this diagram had different surnames. What would be the “root surname” for this family? (Feel free to comment below.)
5.     Pay attention to names in the family. Both Grandma Peggy Milam and her displaced sister, Caledonia Ellis, named a son HENDERSON. These four children all named a daughter SARAH. Uncle Henderson Herron named a son ADAM. Names are often great connecting clues.
6.     Never assume that all of an enslaved couple’s or an enslaved woman’s children were documented in the enslaver’s will, estate record, slave inventory, etc. Adam and Sarah’s son, Henderson Herron, was never found in the records of Edward Warren’s estate. He had been sold or given to Edward’s daughter. DNA found him. See link below to read about that discovery. Another daughter, named Rachel, was also not documented in Edward Warren’s estate. She too had also been transferred to another son and taken to Magnolia, Arkansas.

To read more about how each of these four branches were discovered genealogically and genetically (DNA), see the following past blog posts:

(1)  Finding Grandma Peggy Milam’s Origins and Parents: “Name Discrepancies Can Often Lead to More”
(2)  Finding Henderson Herron: “DNA Uncovers an Unknown Brother”
(3)  Finding Random Briscoe: “The Truth Is In the Spit”
(5)  Finding Rachel Warren of Columbia County, Arkansas (another daughter): COMING SOON

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Family Was Broken but the DNA Wasn’t

In 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, I wrote the following about how I learned that a man named Pleasant (Pleas) Barr (1814-1889) of Tippah County (Ripley), Mississippi was the father of my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Tate County (Senatobia), Mississippi. Grandpa Bill’s death certificate provided his name. He, his sister Mary, and others came to northern Mississippi in 1866, from Abbeville, South Carolina, shortly after gaining their freedom. Grandpa Bill Reed told stories to his children and grandchildren about his experiences as a slave in South Carolina. Many of those stories are in the book. Here’s one account:

After discovering Pleasant Barr, I called Cousin Ike and expressed ecstatically, “I found out Grandpa Bill’s father’s name!  It was Pleas Barr!”

The name jarred his memory. He immediately shared, “Yeah, that’s right!  Boy, you are sure digging up some history! Grandpa Bill told us that his father was named Pleas, and that’s where Uncle Pleas’ name came from.”

“So he talked about his father,” I questioned.

“Oh yeah, all the time! He told us that his father was sold away, and they never saw him again. He used to talk about the day it happened. He said that they loaded his father on a wagon, and as the wagon was leaving the place, Grandpa just stood there and watched until the wagon was out of sight. It crossed some creek near the place where they were at, and it went down into a valley, and went off into the sunset. His father was gone but not forgotten. He talked about that so often because he always wondered where they took him. He was a young boy at the time.”

I was floored by this vivid account but saddened by what it gave an account of.

“What about his mother? Did he talk about her, too,” I asked with grave curiosity.

Bewildered, he stated, “You know, he didn’t talk about his mother much. He talked about an older sister that took care of him, but I don’t recall much of anything ever being said about his mother. I don’t know what may have happened to her.” 

Apparently, Uncle Jimmy Reed also did not know much about Grandpa Bill’s mother since the words “not known” were written on his death certificate.

Cousin Ike’s account sent chills through me like water flowing down the mighty Mississippi River. He continued, “Grandpa sure did love his father though. I remember him telling us how he was such a fun-loving man who would always joke around with the other slaves there on the place. You know that was really hard on him to be separated from his father like that, never to see him again and never knowing where his father was at. He would always say that he watched his father being taken away, off into the sunset.” (Chapter 3, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” pp. 44-45)

In 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, I chronicled how years of connecting the dots through oral history, genealogy research, and slave ancestral genealogy research enabled me to reconstruct Grandpa Bill Reed’s family story and family tree – one that got broken in 1859 in Abbeville, South Carolina. That year, his father was sold away and taken to Ripley, Mississippi, and William Barr Jr. took his mother, Isabella Barr, his paternal grandmother, Fanny Barr, and his father’s sister, Sue Barr Beckley (born c. 1812), her husband Jacob Sr., and their twelve children to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Barr had sold Grandpa Bill and his sister to his first cousin, Lemuel Reid, there in Abbeville. Grandpa Bill never laid eyes on them again, but he told his family about them, particularly his father, Pleas, and his first cousin, Cannon Beckley, with whom he had a brother-like relationship. I told the story of this discovery and presented a great amount of documentation.

Although the preponderance of evidence was quite abundant, I would sometimes ask myself, “What if?” Sometimes, the truth is not always what the paper records indicate. What if I misinterpreted my research findings? What if I had missed something? What if I saw something that really wasn’t there? What if I drew the wrong conclusions? These were usually just quick thoughts because the amount of genealogical records and oral history I presented in the book left my shadow of doubt at a very low 5%.

Now we have autosomal DNA testing (AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or Family Tree DNA) to not only learn about what is in our DNA and who our biological relatives are, but we can also prove some of our research through DNA matches. We can also connect with family branches of our family tree that we never knew existed. We can add more narrative to our ancestors’ stories. This is what makes autosomal DNA and genetic genealogy very exciting for me. As descendants of enslaved people of African descent in America, African Americans will undoubtedly have numerous DNA matches to people whose ancestors were forcibly separated from their loved ones during slavery.

DNA now has my shadow of doubt at ZERO percent with Grandpa Bill Reed’s family roots. When his father was sold and taken to Ripley, Mississippi, Grandpa Pleas Barr continued on with his life as best as he knew how. He remarried to a widowed lady named Amanda Young, and they had one child together, Elijah Barr, who was born about 1866/1867. I can’t help but wonder if Grandpa Pleas told Elijah about his children back in Abbeville, South Carolina. Sadly, before he died in/around 1889, Grandpa Pleas never learned that Grandpa Bill Reed and Aunt Mary Pratt had left South Carolina shortly after slavery and were just sixty miles away from him, over near Senatobia, Mississippi. They were so close but still so far.

Uncle Elijah Barr eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he married Lula Winston on March 16, 1908. Before Elijah died in 1918, he and Lula had two children: Frances Barr Evans (1909-1991) and Rev. James Matthew Barr (1913-198?). His descendants, via his daughter Frances, were finally found last year after I clicked on a “Shaky Leaf” family tree hint in That “Shaky Leaf” led me to a family tree uploaded by Ivy of California, indicating that the same Elijah Barr was her great great grandfather! Soon afterwards, another descendant, a great great grandson named Keith of Chicago, shared pictures! One of them included this old picture of Elijah’s widow, Lula, and their two children.

Elijah Barr’s widow, Lula Winston Barr, and their two children, Frances & James Barr. Shortly after Elijah’s death, she and her children moved to Chicago, Illinois. Shared by Keith Evans

Subsequently, I also learned that another descendant, a great great granddaughter of Elijah, had taken the 23andMe DNA test. Lo and behold, Jessica was among our DNA matches, matching me, my mother, my aunt, and their paternal first cousin Armintha on overlapping segments on chromosomes 3 and 4. To add, and not shown here, she also matches my mother's paternal first cousin's grandson, Dr. Leroy Frazier, at 23 cM.

As mentioned earlier, William Barr Jr. took Sue Barr Beckley and her husband Jacob and their twelve children to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. The preponderance of evidence led me to conclude that she was Grandpa Pleas Barr’s sister and both of them were children of Lewis Barr (born c. 1780) and Fanny Barr (born c. 1790). To date, at least six descendants of Sue have taken an autosomal DNA test, and they are DNA matches.

(1)  In AncestryDNA, wa7860 shares 42 cM over 2 segments with my mother. Sue is his 4th-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). He and my mother are third cousins three times removed.

(2)  In AncestryDNA, kismo7185 shares 30 cM over 2 segments with my mother. Sue is her 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). She and my mother are third cousins twice removed.

(3)  In AncestryDNA, M.G. shares 28 cM over 4 segments with my mother. Sue is her great great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). She and my mother are third cousins once removed.

(4)  In AncestryDNA, OnreaR shares 30 cM over 2 segments with my mother. Sue is her 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). She and my mother are third cousins twice removed.

(5)  In AncestryDNA, J.R. shares 8.5 cM with my mother. Sue is his 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). He and my mother are third cousins twice removed.

(6)  In 23andMe, Arlene shares 21 cM with my uncle and my aunt on overlapping segments. Sue is her 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Clay Beckley (1846-1903). They are third cousins twice removed. Arlene also shares DNA with Jessica at 25 cM. They are fifth cousins.

Since has refused to provide their millions of DNA customers with a chromosome browser, like 23andMe and Family Tree DNA have done, and since three of the seven haven’t uploaded their raw data files to, I am unable to do more DNA triangulations. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this is DNA from Lewis & Fanny Barr, our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA), that is shared among them. The family was broken during slavery, but the DNA wasn’t. 

1880 Pontotoc County, Mississippi Census: Grandpa Bill Reed’s paternal grandmother, Fanny Barr, was still alive when the 1880 census was taken. Her age was reported as being 100 years old. She was living with her grandson, Rev. Jacob Beckley Jr.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My “Kunta Kinte”: Part 2 of “The Search for Our African Ancestor’s Birthplace”

Map of Nigeria (Source: Africa World News)

On February 1, I posted The Search for Our African Ancestor’s Birthplace.” That blog post contains a video of Samuel Siaw of Cape Coast, Ghana giving us some great insight concerning my mother’s great great grandfather Luke Edwards’ African name – OGBAR OGUMBA. He immediately linked the name to the Igbo people of Nigeria, instead of Ghana. Please check out that post to understand the context of this discovery.

Naja Chinyere Njoku, the founder and moderator of the DNA Tested African Descendants Facebook groups, read my blog post and immediately contacted a Nigerian chief (Igbo) for more information about my ancestor’s African name. Chief Okorie Mba (Eze Amufi) of Asaga Ohafia, Nigeria (Abia State) was very familiar with the name! He relayed the following information:

There are two meanings of the name, (1) As a place, it means town or village, (2) the name Mba means the braggart, big mouth, admonisher, showoff, backer or bouncer of the family.... or a fighter. Ogu Mba means righteousness of a town. Ogba as a name is rampant in my village. It is a short cut to the name Ogbanta, which used to be an honorary name given to a great hunter.

For example:
Ogba Anu means animal shooter.
Ogba Agu means lion shooter.
Ogbu Agu means lion killer.
Ogba (r) means shooter.
Ogbu (h) means killer.

The correct name should be Ogba as in Mba. The (r) and (h) were added by colonial masters for easier pronunciation. Please note that the O will have a dot under.

While recording the oral history from family elders in the 1970s in Panola County (Como), Mississippi, the late Cousin Rev. Sidney Edwards also wrote the following about Grandpa Luke (Ogbar Ogumba), “He had a high pitched voice and never let up during a conversation." Compare this piece of oral history to the meaning of the name from Chief Okorie Mba that is highlighted in red above. Yes, I am astounded. This appears to be more than coincidental to me!

To date, this is by far the most compelling piece of linguistic evidence we have gotten. To add, nearly all of the males with the surname OGUMBA on Facebook are from Nigeria. We are getting closer!

Combined snapshots from the 1855 slave inventory of William Edwards’ estate, Panola County, Mississippi, taken on December 15, 1855. At the end of the inventory, placed at the top of this image, Luke Sr. (Ogbar Ogumba) was inventoried with a value of $150. At the top of the inventory, there’s another Luke, who was Luke Edwards, Jr., born around 1815. Luke Edwards, Jr. died after 1900 in Panola County, Mississippi. Prince Edwards (born c. 1830) was my mother’s great grandfather.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Search For Our African Ancestor’s Birthplace

I am posting this blog post and the short video clip below on the first day of Black History Month 2017, to emphasize that our Black history did not begin with American chattel slavery.

About six years ago, my cousin Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar and I discussed our family connection via my maternal grandmother. During the phone conversation, he told me how his Edwards family knew the name of their "Kunta Kinte." In the 1970s, down in Panola County (Como), Mississippi, his great-uncle, the late Rev. Sidney Edwards, interviewed family elders. They shared with him how the first Edwards was a man named Luke Edwards, who was from Africa. Not only that, family elders had knowledge of his true African name that he told his family - OGBA(R) OGUMBA. I was fascinated to hear this! I was also "green with envy" because this was the type of family history that I longed to have. I remember saying to Cousin Jeff, "Wow! You all are so blessed to have this kind of family history. This is rare!"

The oral history that the late Rev. Sidney Edwards typed in the 1970s.
(Courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar)

Fast forward four years later, in June 2015, I finally learned through autosomal DNA (with oral history clues left by family elders) that the father of my mother's paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed (1852-1923) of Tate County, Mississippi, was a man named Prince Edwards (born c. 1830). Read about that discovery HERE. Lo and behold, there's a preponderance of evidence that Grandpa Prince and his brother, Uncle Peter Edwards, were also sons of Ogbar Ogumba! So when Cousin Jeff was relaying his Edwards history to me, it was my history, too . . . . but I didn't know it at the time. I have been able to determine from genealogy research that he was born around 1790.

Based on prior Y-DNA testing, the family has speculated that Ogbar Ogumba may have been from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). The Bight of Biafra region (present-day Nigeria, specifically) was also speculated. So while my cousins and I were in Ghana in December, I asked several people about the name. To my surprise, they all proclaimed that "Ogumba" was not a familiar name to Ghana. They claimed its origins to be from the Igbo people of Nigeria. Here's one of the persons I interviewed, as we were standing at Elmina Slave Castle. We are still seeking absolute DNA proof of Ogbar Ogumba's origins. The chances of finding a "paper trail" are extremely slim . . . a miracle! Nonetheless, the Igbo people of Nigeria strongly appear to be his ancestral origins. 

(Excuse my clumsy finger at 1:30.)

Any additional comments regarding Samuel's shirt will be deleted. He is a very nice guy, who worked tirelessly to show us a great time in Ghana. He was very in tune to our history, after listening to us. He did not know that the shirt was offensive. So please do not place any blame or negativity towards him. This illuminates the fact that there needs to be more discussions between Africans and African Americans, to grasp a better understanding of our respective histories on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Miracles of DNA: Our Family Reunion in Ghana, Africa

This is my first blog post for 2017. I am very happy to make this blog post about our dream-like family reunion in Ghana on December 11 & 14, 2016. There will be other blog posts about our spectacular week in Ghana.

My cousins (R to L), Dr. Leroy Frazier, Andre Edwards, James Johnson, and I with our host William Obeng in the middle. My cousins and I all are descendants of Luke Edwards (Ogbar Ogumba) and Lucy Edwards of Panola County (Como), Mississippi.

During Memorial Day weekend of May 2016, my cousins and I discussed the possibility of traveling to Ghana at our Edwards homecoming celebration in northern Mississippi. One of my cousins, Dr. Leroy Frazier, my maternal grandfather’s great-nephew, was already set to travel to Ghana in December. By Labor Day weekend, I had not made the final decision if I was going to accompany them to Ghana or travel there in 2017. I had always wanted to visit Ghana, especially after receiving two DNA matches to Ghanaians, both on my mother’s father's side. One of the DNA matches is Kweku Folson of London. Both of his parents were Ghana immigrants to the UK. His family roots hailed from Winneba and Cape Coast, in the Central Region of south Ghana, and his family are of the Akan people. Kweku’s IBD (Identity by Descent) match to three cousins from the Reed/Edwards side of my mother's family on the same chromosome revealed our ancestral connection to the Gold Coast (Ghana). See this March 2016 blog post for more details concerning this significant DNA match to my Edwards lineage. 

On September 5, 2016, which was Labor Day, I checked my family's DNA accounts to see if any new DNA matches appeared. This is something that I do almost daily. Three months prior, I was able to generate a pseudo-DNA Lazarus kit in GEDmatch for my deceased maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed, using three of his children, including my mother, one of his baby brother's daughters, who is 95 years old, a great-nephew, and 10 Edwards cousins, who had also taken an autosomal DNA test and had uploaded their raw data files to GEDmatch. My grandfather was the grandson of Prince Edwards (a son of Luke & Lucy) of Panola County, Mississippi, his mother's father. While I was scrolling through the list of my grandfather's DNA matches in GEDmatch on that September day, I came across a foreign-looking name that appeared to be African. Her name was Nana Faba Idun. She was also a DNA match to my mother's brother. I immediately contacted LaKisha David, the person who manages Nana Faba's account, on Facebook. She responded within an hour!

To my joy, LaKisha informed me that Nana Faba was an elderly, 81-year-old Fante woman who resides in Elmina, Ghana, where she was born and raised, and the town where Elmina Castle, the slave dungeon, was located in the Central Region of south Ghana. This is the same region where Kweku Folson's family roots are from. She became my family's 3rd DNA match to Ghana! Also to my joy, LaKisha immediately connected me with four of Nana Faba's granddaughters, Rita Quaigrain Owusu, Rhoda Quaigrain, Efua Martin, and Ivy Gyaaba Martin, who were also on Facebook. They immediately embraced me and Cousin Leroy. Nana Faba's granddaughter, Rhoda, who resides in Canada, and LaKisha are best friends. In May 2016, both of them had traveled to Ghana, and while they were there, LaKisha collected saliva samples from Rhoda's mother and maternal grandmother, Nana Faba, for the AncestryDNA test. After receiving the results, LaKisha subsequently uploaded their raw data files to GEDmatch, an effort for TAKiR, the African Kinship Reunion project.

At this point, I then decided to make the trip to Ghana in December with my cousins to see our ancestral homeland. I had only three months to prepare. We arrived in Accra, Ghana on the night of Saturday, December 10, 2016. Two days before arriving, Cousin Leroy received the final confirmation that we were going to be able to meet Cousin Nana Faba Idun and her family. They happily agreed to the "family reunion." To say that I was excited is a gross understatement. The adjective "euphoric" doesn't properly describe how I was feeling! A family reunion with African cousins was something that was beyond my wildest dreams. Just several years ago, I never fathomed that something like this would even be possible! But DNA technology and the efforts of LaKisha and Rhoda, and her grandmother's willingness, made this possible.

One of Cousin Nana Faba's daughters, Faustina Quaigrain, resided in the suburban village of Kasoa, which is adjacent to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Therefore, the first part of this monumental family reunion was with Cousin Faustina, her husband, Chief Dr. Kennedy Quaigrain, and grandchildren and great grandchildren of Cousin Nana Faba there on Sunday, the day after we arrived in Accra. What a great way to start our visit to Ghana! 

We were warmly welcomed into their home in the Ghanaian traditional style. We conversed about the significance of this family reunion, which was reuniting them with African-American cousins whose ancestors were likely taken away from the Gold Coast, and our reconnecting with the blood descendants in Ghana. Cousin Chief Quaigrain discussed the importance of family connections and maintaining those family ties. We reiterated the effects of the transatlantic slave trade (The Middle Passage) on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. We expressed to the family how we are just four out of thousands of African-American cousins that they have. Chief Dr. Quaigrain also gave us a brief history lesson about the Fante people of the Central Region of Ghana. The Fante people are a subgroup of the Akan. He poignantly expressed, "Since you all made the great effort in traveling thousands of miles to Ghana to connect with us, we take great pleasure in opening our home and welcoming you all, our family, back home to Ghana." Hearing those words touched our hearts deeply. I felt my eyes watering.

With the daughters, son-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren
of Cousin Nana Faba Idun in Kasoa, Ghana

Chief Dr. Kennedy Quaigrain discussing the importance of family with us. (Photo by Andre Edwards)

The second part of this great family reunion occurred that Wednesday, December 14, in Cape Coast, Ghana. Our host, William Obeng, and his family planned a Homecoming Reception for us that night, which was attended by over 100 people from the Central Region and Accra. We had no idea that the Obeng Family would literally roll out the red carpet for us! Local dignitaries, their family and friends, as well as the Ghana media, were in attendance to welcome us "home." We were simply in awe. Not only that, since Cousin Nana Faba Idun resided nearby in Elmina, she was able to attend the reception, along with her daughters and grandchildren.

At the reception, we laid eyes on Cousin Nana Faba Idun for the very first time. For a minute, I just sat there and stared at her. I was in disbelief about what was occurring. I simply could not believe it! To garner DNA matches with African cousins is colossal within itself, but to meet that relative in person in Africa took it to a wonderfully greater level that I never imagined. I kept saying to myself, "Is this happening for real?" It was real.

As we sat at the table, talking and laughing with the family, our family, we felt a bond that was no longer hidden and broken. Even one of the camera men stated, "It seemed like you all have known each other for years." We knew that the ancestors were happy. It did not matter at all that we did not know exactly how we are related. This was one of the inhumane effects of American chattel slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Nonetheless, just the simple fact that we were blood family who had returned back "home" to Ghana was all that mattered. According to LaKisha, Cousin Nana Faba's brother, Joseph “Kawantwi” Arthur, remembered childhood stories from their elders about ancestors being taken away from the Gold Coast, never to return. On December 11, 2016, after over 200 years, they returned home through us. I thank God and the ancestors for this wonderful blessing!

My cousins and I with Cousin Nana Faba Idun, her daughters, and grandchildren in Cape Coast, Ghana

Cousin Nana Faba Idun of Elmina, Ghana and me

Cousin Leroy talking and laughing with Cousin Nana Faba and her granddaughter, Rita

People from Ghana at the Homecoming Reception in Cape Coast

Ghana TV News station 3 at the Homecoming Reception interviewing my cousins and me