Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Still Amazed by DNA

  Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner
1842 – 1921
Como, Mississippi

     By now, many can probably tell from my recent blog postings, Grandma Was Right! and That DNA is Something Else!, that I am truly fascinated by the advances in DNA technology.  I am awestruck how DNA can detect if someone is as distant of a relative as sixth cousins.  I have often heard that after third or fourth cousins, the “blood link” is not there anymore.  I facetiously express that this has been an erroneous rationale used by many who have considered “having relations” with someone they heard was a distant relative.  However, as I have shown in That DNA is Something Else!, DNA can even detect if two people may descend from the same fifth-great-grandparents.  Therefore, the “blood link” is there, indeed. 

     Today, I logged into my 23andMe account to see if my number of “DNA cousins” in my Relative Finder database had increased. Indeed, it had.  Last week, it had increased to 244 people.  Today, I now have 247 people.  To my sheer delight, I immediately noticed that one of my new “DNA cousins” was a close cousin – Orien Reid Nix of Philadelphia, PA.  She made her profile public, which enabled me and others to see her name, her picture, and the surnames she listed in her profile.  I was beyond thrilled.  Cousin Orien is one of my favorite cousins, and I had no idea that she also had recently taken 23andMe’s DNA test.  She surprised me!  Cousin Orien and I have been in touch since 1998, the year I received an e-mail message from her stating that she was the granddaughter of Laura Danner; she had seen one of my Internet posts about the Danner name.  Not long after that, she flew to Memphis, TN to meet me and other family members. 

     The first woman to ever hold the position as Chair of the National Board of Directors of the Alzheimer's Association and a retired Philadelphia consumer news reporter, Cousin Orien is the granddaughter of Laura Danner Reid, a sister of my mother’s grandmother, Mary Danner Davis.  They were the daughters of ex-Civil War soldier Edward Danner and Louisa Bobo Danner, my great-great-grandparents and her great-grandparents of Panola County (Como), Mississippi.  This made Cousin Orien my second cousin – once removed.  Based on genealogy research, I also strongly speculate that her great-grandfather, Robert Reid of Chickasaw County (Houston), Mississippi (born c. 1844), was a cousin to my great-grandfather, William “Bill” Reed of Tate County (Senatobia), Mississippi (1846-1937). I’ve traced both of our Reed/Reid histories to the same slave-holding Reid Family of Abbeville County, South Carolina.  The fascinating saga of Grandpa Bill Reed’s stories is told in 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.

The Danner Sisters – left to right, Great-Grandma Mary Danner Davis (1867 – 1932), Francis Danner Howard (1869 – 1951), Laura Danner Reid (Orien’s grandmother, 1871 – 1955), and Madam Mattie Danner Hockenhull (1873 – 1937).  They also had 6 brothers, Jim, Mack, Alfred, Alexander, Phillip Isaiah, and Edward Jr.

     According to 23andMe, Cousin Orien and I share 2.48% DNA across 9 chromosome segments (186 cM).  As of April 25, 2012, she is now the closest relative in my database.  The average amount of DNA sharing for second cousins-once removed (when a person’s great-grandparents are another’s great-great-grandparents) is 1.563%. A complete DNA sharing chart can be seen here. We share above average DNA for second cousins-once removed.  Perhaps, a possible double connection may explain our numbers?  Well, a poster in the “23andMe Community” forum shared that she know of two people, who are also second cousins-once removed, who share 2.63% DNA across 9 segments, which are very close to our numbers.  Therefore, our above average numbers are not necessarily proof that we are indeed double related.  Nevertheless, seeing how much DNA we share, in conjunction with our already-close relationship, I am thrilled that she took the test!  Hopefully, this post will inspire more of my known (and unknown) relatives to take 23andMe’s DNA test, too.

 Cousin Orien (right) at the 2007 Danner Family Reunion in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, Charlie, and daughter, Traci

For an interesting story about Mattie Danner Hockenhull, who ran her own beauty palor in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the early 1900s and who established her own line of beauty products, see Angela Walton-Raji’s post, The Search For and Discovery of Madam Martha Danner Hockenhull.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Grandma Was Right!

My father and my Grandma, Willie Ealy Collier
Taken in 1941, Lena, Mississippi

       Growing up, I was very fortunate to have a very close relationship with my Dad’s parents, George C. Collier & Willie Ealy Collier.  My childhood days were filled with fishing trips with them and driving them to church, to family and church functions in Leake County, Mississippi, to grocery and retail stores in Canton, Jackson, and Carthage to shop, and I even spent numerous days at their house just "chillin" or working in their garden with them.  Although they lived within the town of Canton, Grandma and Granddaddy still maintained a very large garden in their back yard – an extension of their rural upbringing.  I would not take a billion dollars for the close bond I had with them; that special bond helped to shape who I am today.  During the eighteen years I was blessed to have them in my life, Grandma would often observe me and would say to me, “Buster, you sure do have plenty of my blood in you.”    
       One may say, “Of course you do. She was your grandmother. That’s like one-fourth (25%) of your DNA.”  But, Grandma was not my biological grandmother – she and Granddaddy were Dad’s adoptive parents.  It was not a secret.  I have always known this every since I can remember.  The tall (6’3”), slender, and caring man who was biologically responsible for my father’s existence was Grandma’s double first cousin, Hulen Kennedy.  Everyone mostly called him “Newt”.  He was also responsible for making sure that my father was raised in Leake County among his side of the family and in a loving and stable household that contained two school teachers – my wonderful grandparents.  “Newt” Kennedy was adamant that no child of his would be raised in the Mississippi Delta, a place he considered “neo-slavery,” so to speak.  Grandma would often explain her “double kinship” to him by saying something like “brothers and sisters married brothers and sisters.”  As a young teenager, this didn’t sound quite right to me. Almost sounded kind of incestuous, but it was not.  Nevertheless, I didn’t ask her to go into details to explain what she meant.  I was more interested in going outside and riding my red Honda Elite motor scooter that she and Granddaddy purchased for my 15th birthday. Yes, they spoiled me. LOL

 Willie Ealy Collier (1904 - 1990) and Hulen "Newt" Kennedy (1888 - 1970)
Double First Cousins

       Born in 1888 near Lena in Leake County, Hulen “Newt” Kennedy was the fourth of five children born to Albert Kennedy and Martha (Sissie) Ealy Kennedy.  I vividly recall Grandma relaying to me how her father’s sister (Hulen's mother) was blown away in a storm – I’m assuming a tornado – that struck southern Leake County, Mississippi when her five kids (Dora, William, Robert, Hulen, and Wilson) were rather young.  This happened around 1895.  She never called her aunt’s name because this tragic event occurred before she was born.  Still, that “double kinship” between her and Hulen didn’t become very clear to me until I started researching my family history two and a half years after Grandma had passed away.  It didn’t take long to figure out why she would say “brothers and sisters married brothers and sisters.”  To better understand this, here’s a diagram: 

       However, finding the marriage records for these three “siblings marriages” made Grandma’s statement very clear.  Indeed, siblings had married siblings.  Also, my grandfather Hulen’s 1940 social security application, one of many genealogical sources to learn the names of parents, also revealed his parents’ names. You can click here to access the Social Security Death Index. 

 Hulen Kennedy's Social Security application, Nov. 4, 1940

        On Sunday night, March 26, 2012, over 20 years later, this double kinship was confirmed by DNA analysis that was conducted by 23andMe.  Three weeks prior, a new male relative appeared in my Relative Finder database, and our predicted relationship was second cousins. I was excited. This was close kin!  Who could this person be?  Names are not shown until an invitation to connect is approved, so I immediately sent an introduction in order to find out this male relative's identity and to determine how we could be second cousins.  After three weeks of anxiously waiting, he finally accepted my invitation that Sunday night, and his name became visible.  I was lucky because many people have reported that their invitations are not being answered.  He was Lenro Morgan of Seattle, Washington. Although Lenro and I have never met in person, I knew exactly who he was and how we're related.  We had been Facebook friends for several months, but I didn't know that he had also taken 23andMe's DNA test.  Lenro is the grandson of Bobbie Ann Ealy Morgan, the daughter of couple no. 3 in the diagram above – Robert Ealy Jr. & Mattie Kennedy.  Bobbie Ann, Grandma, and my grandfather Hulen were all double first cousins; therefore, we were actually double third cousins, not second cousins. 

       Geneticists have calculated that third cousins share an average of 0.781% DNA.  Click here to see a complete DNA sharing chart. Therefore, the average for double third cousins will then be 1.562%.  23andMe determined that Lenro and I share 2.07% DNA across 7 chromosome segments (155 cM), which is greater than the average and enough to be classified as second cousins.  When I compared our numbers to the average and saw how much DNA that we share, I could hear Grandma’s words loud and clear, “You have plenty of my blood in you.”  Grandma was right!

(Update: My father's DNA results are in, and he and Lenro share 3.68% across 14 segments [274 cM]. My father also shares 2.30% across 6 segments [171 cM] with Violet Jones, the great-granddaughter of couple no. 1 in the diagram above - Paul Ealy and Adaline Kennedy.)

 Couple no. 1 – Paul Ealy & Adaline Kennedy Ealy (Grandma's parents)
Paul's picture was shared by Lynda Rowe-Campbell. Adaline's picture was shared by Helen Crump.

 Couple no. 2 – Albert Kennedy & Martha (Sissie) Ealy Kennedy (Hulen's parents)

Couple no. 3 - Robert Ealy Jr. & Mattie Kennedy Ealy (Bobbie Ann's parents)

Click HERE to read the full history of the Ealy Family of Leake County, Mississippi.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Name Discrepancies Can Often Lead to More

This revised research article, originally entitled Name Discrepancy Unlocks Ancestral Doors, was written on 01/03/2011. I am transferring it to my blog because it chronicles how the name of the previous enslaver of a female ancestor was identified. This article expounds on research methodologies that others can employ to trace a formerly enslaved female ancestor who lived passed 1870.

 John Hector Davis
1870 – 1932
(My great-grandfather, who was the grandson of Grandma Peggy Milam, Como, Mississippi)

     Since I was 19 years old, when I first walked into the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in Jackson, I've always felt that my ancestors had this peculiar hold on me. I have always sensed that they wanted their names to be called.  An African proverb states, "As long as you are remembered, you never die."  My ancestors wanted to live again by having their names spoken and the stories of their lives uncovered in order to make me a stronger person, as well as their descendants, giving me a sense of who I am and the powerful knowledge of whose blood flows through my veins.  Nearly two decades later, that "hold" is still very strong today, and it won't let go.  Frankly, I don't want it to go.  While I was home in Mississippi for the holidays, that "hold" coerced me to get out of bed and head down to the MDAH. I had not planned to visit the Archives before I went back to Atlanta. However, my ancestors had other plans. They had something in store for me.

     When I started researching my maternal grandmother's family back in 1993, while I was in college, I was fortunate to have a number of elder family members alive who happily clarified and corroborated information I was unearthing in a plethora of records. They also provided valuable clues.  Oral history is extremely valuable.  With relative ease, I was able to trace back to my grandmother's paternal and maternal grandparents -- my great-great-grandparents. I was even able to go back to my great-great-great-grandparents.  One was Margaret "Peggy" Milam

     Grandma Peggy was found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses living near my Mom's hometown of Senatobia, Mississippi (present-day Tate County).  In 1870, her age was reported as 35; ten years later in 1880, her age was reported as 54.  Age discrepancies were common since many enslaved African Americans did not know their birth dates due to the unjustly laws of the land. Grandma Peggy had to have been older than 35 in 1870, since my great-great-grandmother "Mama Lucy," her oldest daughter, was around 24 years old that year.  Nevertheless, I had placed Grandma Peggy's time of birth as sometime between 1826 - 1830. She was born somewhere in Tennessee and ended up in northern Mississippi by 1846. 

     Although my elders did not remember Grandma Peggy, they knew that her daughter, "Mama Lucy," had "come off the old Milam place" in Tate County. Further research revealed that the "old Milam place" was the farm of Joseph Randolph Milam, who had settled in northern Mississippi from Madison County, Alabama around 1835.  Fortunately, his family history was included in a book I found at the MDAH entitled The Heritage of Tate County, Mississippi, published by the Tate County Genealogical & Historical Society in 1991.  By 1860, Joseph amassed many acres of land and 30 enslaved African Americans, according to the 1860 DeSoto County slave schedule (Tate County was part of DeSoto County prior to 1873).  "Mama Lucy," her father Grandpa Wade, her mother Grandma Peggy, and her younger siblings were among that number.

     One of many records that had been instrumental in tracing back another generation was death certificates.  Death certificates provide the father's name, the mother's maiden name, birthplaces, and other great information.  I had decided that I wanted to know more about Grandma Peggy's origins. Where in Tennessee did she come from?  Under what circumstances during slavery were she brought down to northern Mississippi?  Was she separated from her own parents and siblings?  Who were they?  The questions were mounting, and I wanted answers.  I'd deduced that if I'm able to figure out what her maiden name was considered to be, then it may open up doors.  Luckily, I located three of her children's death certificates.  All of them reported something differently. It left me bewildered. 

Death Certificate No. 1
Her son, Hugh Lewers, who died in Memphis, Tennessee in 1938

Name of Father: George Lewers
Maiden Name of Mother: MARGARET WARREN

Death Certificate No. 2
Her son, Will Milam, who died in Tate County, Mississippi in 1950

Name of Father: Wade Milam
Maiden Name of Mother: MARGARET BRISCOE

Death Certificate No. 3
Her daughter, Lucy Milam Davis (my great-great-grandmother), who died in Tate County, Mississippi in 1927

 Name of Father: Wade Milam
Maiden Name of Mother: NOT GIVEN

     One death certificate reported that Grandma Peggy's maiden name was WARREN.  The second one reported that her maiden name was BRISCOE.  The third one did not report her maiden name.  Apparently, my great-grandfather's brother, Uncle Tom Davis, did not know his grandmother's maiden name.  Interestingly, a fourth death certificate was found, and it was of Grandma Peggy's son, Hence Milam, who died in Memphis, Tennessee in 1937.  The father's name was reported as Wade Milam, and the mother's maiden name was reported as "Peggie ------".  Like Uncle Tom Davis, Hence Milam's son did not know Grandma Peggy's maiden name.

     Why did one person think that Grandma Peggy's maiden name was Warren, and why did another person think that her maiden name was Briscoe?  I strongly felt that there had to be a reason why those two surnames were recalled by Margaret Quick (Uncle Hugh Lewers' daughter) and Ruthine Milam (Uncle Will Milam's wife).  How on earth would I be able to piece together this difficult puzzle?

     I decided to look for any slave-owners in Tate and Panola County with the Warren and Briscoe surnames. None were found.  Since the "old Milam place" was just eight miles from the Marshall County line, I researched the censuses for that county and discovered that there were white Warrens and white Briscoes there.  Even more interesting, the white Briscoes that lived there were Notley Warren Briscoe and his brother, James Warren Briscoe.  The Briscoe brothers had settled in Marshall County around 1840 from Maury County, Tennessee.  This was indeed an eye-opener, as Grandma Peggy was born in Tennessee circa 1826 - 1830.  Perhaps, they brought Grandma Peggy down to Mississippi with them?  Also, other research findings revealed that Joseph R. Milam conducted a lot of business in Marshall County, where his parents and brothers resided.  Perhaps, he went to Marshall County to acquire slaves for his Tate County farm?   Did he purchase Grandma Peggy from one of the Briscoe brothers?  That possibility seemed very real, considering the Warren and Briscoe name confusion.  Again, I asked the question -- How on earth would I be able to piece together this difficult puzzle?

     The aforementioned research discoveries were all uncovered prior to 2003.  Now, seven years had passed, and I hadn't attempted to find the missing pieces of the family history puzzle.  I had placed it on the back-burner, and my ancestors were not happy.  On the morning of Thursday, December 30, 2010, at my parents' home in Canton, I awoke to the sound of my nephew Jordan talking on the telephone with his buddy, Josiah.  As I comfortably laid in the bed thinking about my plans for the day, I got this sudden urge to visit the MDAH to conduct some research.  Grandma Peggy's mystery popped in my mind.  She was nudging at me, so I decided to answer her call.  I suddenly got dressed and made the 30-minute drive down Interstate 55 to Jackson.  My goal was to research the microfilmed deed records (bills of sale, deeds of gift, deeds of trust, etc.) for Marshall County.

     Many people who research their histories know exactly what I mean when I say that an ancestor was "nudging at me."  We can't explain the feeling in specific details.  Just take our word for it.  Well, Grandma Peggy's nudge yielded an amazing find in the Marshall County deed records.  On August 14, 1839, Edward Warren, Jr. deeded six slaves to his second cousin, James Warren Briscoe.  It was apparent from the deed that Edward had accumulated a lot of debt, and his property (slaves) were his means of settling some of his debt.  Edward had recently settled in Marshall County from the Tennessee hills of Williamson County, bringing his slaves with him.  The deed states the following:

. . . the party of the first part (Edward Warren) do hereby bargain sell and confirm to the party of the second part (James W. Briscoe) all the following described property to wit: six negroes viz; Adam aged about 55 years, Sarah aged about 40 years, Sam aged about 14 years, MARGARET aged about 10 years, Calidonia aged about 8 years, Random aged about 23 years and one half of the growing crop of cotton in cultivation by the party of the first party, also three heads of horses, 6 head of cattle, fifty head of sheep, 46 hogs, also all one bureau with all the household and kitchen furniture to have and to hold all the before mentioned property . . .

     I was not able to locate the slave purchase transaction between Joseph R. Milam and James W. Briscoe, but Grandma Peggy (Margaret) was enslaved on Joseph Milam's farm by 1846, the year she gave birth to my great-great-grandmother "Mama Lucy," who was fathered by another Milam slave, Wade.  That document would be crucial to this research.  However, what also caught my eye about this finding was the naming pattern.  The six slaves named in the deed most likely represents a family, and Edward Warren's probate record (he died three years later in 1842) verified that Adam and Sarah were indeed husband and wife.  Sam, Margaret, Calidonia, and Random were most probably their children.  Remarkably, Grandma Peggy left behind clues by naming one of her daughters "Sarah" (Sarah Milam Mabry), and the unique name "Caledonia" was given to at least two of her granddaughters.  As I sat and gazed at the Warren-Briscoe deed, reality sunk in -- I had finally solved the mystery!  Grandma Peggy was pleased.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ain't Gonna Take Massa's Name

This revised research article, originally entitled "Playing the Name Game: African-American Genealogical Research In Motion," was written on 2/27/2011. I have transferred it to my blog.

My great-great-grandparents
Hector Davis (1842-1925) & Lucy Milam Davis (1846-1927)
Panola County (Como), Mississippi


     When Africans were forcibly taken from Africa and transported to the Americas, their freedom was not only eradicated, but they were systematically stripped of their African heritages. English colonies developed a series of laws to define chattel slavery in America, which included the outlawing of African religious rituals, the banning of the use of drums, and the barring of African languages. The children of Africa entered the New World with names that represented their family heritage in their homeland. However, the vast majority of those names were replaced with European names forced upon them by slave traders. Only a very small percentage of enslaved Africans were able to retain African names. The enforcement of the use of those European names was depicted in the 1977-movie, Roots. In a tearful scene, Kunte Kinte was brutally whipped for refusing to take his given name, Toby. As Africans acclimated to the abhorrent life situations that were forced upon them by American chattel slavery, they and the successive generations began to establish their identity in the New World by adopting surnames, especially after the Civil War.

     One of the most common and often erroneous presumptions is that when enslaved African Americans were emancipated during and after the Civil War, a vast majority retained the surnames of their last enslavers. Many freed African Americans not only chose different surnames after slavery, but many 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)

     I researched the slave narratives of Mississippi to test Eliza Andrews' observation. My research findings appear to corroborate her claim to a degree.  Eighty-one African-American men from Mississippi were interviewed with only two of the interviewees not disclosing the name of their last enslaver. Of the 79 men who disclosed their last enslavers’ full or last names, 57% of them did not take their surnames.  These are the results of my findings:

            Surname Pattern                                    Number             Percentage
            Same surname as last enslaver                35                      43%
            Different surname from last enslaver          44                      57%
            Total number of interviews                         79

     In a similar study, Gutman investigated the slave narratives for the states of South Carolina and Texas. He found from those narratives that former slaves from those two states or their parents had often either retained or chosen surnames different from their last enslavers’. From the interviews of 181 African Americans in South Carolina, nearly three out of four had different surnames. In Texas, two out of three African Americans who were interviewed chose different surnames.  These were Gutman's results:

            Surname Pattern                                    Number             Percentage
            Same surname as last enslaver                 49                       27%
            Different surname from last enslaver          132                      73%
            Total number of interviews                         181

            Surname Pattern                                    Number             Percentage
            Same surname as last enslaver                 74                        34%
            Different surname from last enslaver          143                       66%
            Total number of interviews                         217

Taking A Different Surname

     In my research over the years, I found that a number of my ancestors did not retain their last slave-owners' surnames.  Here's how I stumbled on that fact for one of my ancestors, Hector Davis.

     I've spent a lot of days at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History (MDAH) in Jackson turning miles of microfilm. The night before one of those visits, I listed several things I wanted to research. After spending several hours at the MDAH the next morning, I had completed my research list. Some information I was able to find and some I didn't. However, before I got up to head home to enjoy the rest of the day, another "nudge" from the ancestors coerced me to stay put and take a look at the DeSoto County, Mississippi marriage records of the early Black marriages (1866-188?).  I'd researched that microfilm several months before in search of a marriage record for my great-great-grandparents, Hector & Lucy Davis. The 1900 Panola County, Mississippi census reports that they had been married 34 years that year, so I was hoping to locate their marriage certificate. Unfortunately, I couldn't.

     Although this was not on my research agenda, I retrieved the microfilm again, placed it on the microfilm reader, and started to browse through the marriage records again. This time, I noticed that I had missed the bride's index. Before, I had only browsed the groom's index without any success and didn't notice that there was a bride's index. Well, minutes later, I came upon a name - Lucy Milam. I knew my great-great-grandmother's maiden name was Milam, so I quickly got excited. I then turned to the page the marriage certificate was on and found the following:  Hector BURNETT to Lucy Milam, July 3, 1866.

     I became elated and bewildered at the same time.  I said to myself, "His name is Hector Davis not Hector Burnett! Where in the world did this Burnett name come from? Somebody made a huge mistake!" I sat there for a while staring at the marriage certificate, wondering why Grandpa Hector's name had been recorded as Burnett. Amazingly, the next certificate was of Huldah Burnett (Hector's sister) marrying Spencer Milam (Lucy's cousin, I believe). The two Burnett/Milam couples had married on the same day. Interesting!

     After finding those marriage records, I just couldn't leave there without taking a look at the 1870 & 1880 DeSoto (Tate) and Panola County censuses again to see if I could find any persons with the last name Burnett, a name I had never heard of in my family history from my family elders.  I had to research both counties because my ancestors lived less than a mile from the Tate-Panola County line. Tate County was part of DeSoto County prior to 1873.  To my surprise, I found Grandpa Hector's brother, Jack Davis Jr., in the 1870 DeSoto County census, and his name was reported as Jack Burnett!  See image:

     I could never find Uncle Jack prior to 1880 because I had been looking for a "Jack Davis."  By 1870, Grandpa Hector and their parents, Jack Sr. & Flora, had already changed their names to Davis, but Uncle Jack was still reported as Burnett.  However, by the time the 1880 census was taken, all of the family had changed over to Davis.  When I found Uncle Jack and his family in the 1870 census, guess who lived near him?

     You guessed it - a white Burnett.  An elderly lady named Anna Burnett, age 74, was in the same area in 1870.  Just like Grandpa Hector Davis, his parents, and his siblings, Anna Burnett had also come from South Carolina. Hmmmm....  I wasn't going to leave the MDAH until I started researching for the answers to following questions:

     (1) Who was Anna Burnett's husband and when did he die?

     (2) Were they indeed the last enslavers of Grandpa Hector, his parents, and siblings?

     (3) Where in South Carolina did they come from? Census analysis revealed that my Davis ancestors arrived in northern Mississippi from South Carolina around 1861, probably shortly before the Civil War began. Did the Burnetts bring them to Mississippi?

     (4) Why did my ancestors change their surname to Davis?

Tackling the Questions

(1) Who was Anna Burnett's husband and when did he die?

     I found a book at the MDAH entitled Cemeteries of Panola County, Mississippi, published by the Panola Historical Society in 1994.  Their members had visited numerous cemeteries throughout Panola County, transcribed names and dates from tombstones, and published this information in a book.  God bless them!  In it, I found the following:

BURNETT, John 1/7/1795 - 10/23/1862
BURNETTE, Anna, wife of John, 11/7/1797 - 9/7/1878
(Special notation: Anna's stone has an "e", John does not.)

(2) Were John & Anna Burnett the last enslavers of Grandpa Hector Davis and his family?

     Thankfully, John Burnett had died in 1862 - before slavery had ended in 1865.  He had died around a year after they migrated to Mississippi.  Therefore, if there's a will and/or probate records for him, it may include the names of any slaves he had owned since slaves were considered property -- very valuable property.  Instead of going to work one Wednesday morning, I decided to drive down to Hernando, Mississippi to the DeSoto County courthouse to search for Burnett's will and estate records, which was just a 30-minute drive from where I lived in Memphis.  The courthouse worker led me to a room filled with file cabinets that contain estate dockets.  Within a few minutes, I was happy to see that there was one for John Burnett.  I carefully opened his estate docket and browsed through the fragile documents within it.  My heart started pounding when I held two old blue/greenish pieces of paper, held together by a rusty stickpin that was probably over 130 years old, and realized that it was the following slave inventory dated March 20, 1863:

                                    1 Negro man named Jack             $700
                                    1  "        "          "     George        $1400
                                    1  "        "          "     Young Jack $1400
                                    1 "         "          "     HECTOR      $1200
                                    1 "         "          "     Cato            $1300
                                    1 Negro girl Nancy                       $1100
                                    1 old Negro woman Flora             $400
                                    1 girl Julia                                  $1100
                                    1 boy Wesley                             $700
                                    1 boy Jim                                   $800
                                    1 boy Lewis                               $700
                                    1 girl little Nelly & old Nelly        $800
                                    1 boy Bob                                  $1200

     I was so overwhelmed that I just had to sit there still for a moment to digest the document that I was viewing. It was the first time I found a slave inventory with my direct ancestors' names on it.  I was amazed as well as sad. The amazement came from the fact that I had documented my Davis ancestors during the slavery era, but the sadness came from when I saw how my enslaved ancestors were listed in that inventory among horses, cows, household items, and etc. with a price value beside their names. 

(3) Where in South Carolina did they come from?

     In an oral history interview with my maternal grandmother's first cousin, the late Sammie Lee Davis Hayes, she shared with me the following about her grandfather Hector's history, "I remember Grandpa Hector telling us how they were brought to Mississippi in wagons from South Carolina."  Cousin Sammie Lee was accurate. Census records verified that claim.  She further relayed, "I remember Uncle Jack (her great-uncle) well, and he and Grandpa Hector had a first cousin named Cut'n Wesley Johnson, who was also brought to Mississippi with them from South Carolina.  Cut'n Wesley and Grandpa Hector were real close like brothers."  Undoubtedly, Cousin Wesley Johnson was "boy Wesley" on the slave inventory.  Like my Davis ancestors, Cousin Wesley also took a different surname after slavery -- Johnson.  Where in South Carolina did they come from?

     To try to find the answer to that important question, I viewed the 1850 South Carolina census index. There were five John Burnetts living in different counties in South Carolina. Luckily, I found John & Anna Burnett residing in the Saluda district of Abbeville County, South Carolina. I then checked the 1850 Abbeville County slave schedule and found John Burnett with 18 slaves.  Slave schedules only report the names of slave-owners and the age, sex, and color of each of their slaves.

     Looking more closely at the schedule of John Burnett’s slaves in 1850, I noticed the unique way the census enumerator listed them in the slave schedule. An adult female was listed first with eight much younger slaves (children) listed after her.  She was my great-great-great-grandmother, Flora Davis. A second adult female slave, likely Nelly, was listed next with eight much younger slaves (children) listed after her. John Burnett obviously had owned two adult females and their 16 children, collectively.  Since there was not an adult male slave, Flora's husband, my great-great-great-grandfather Jack Davis Sr., was not enslaved by John Burnett in 1850. Where was he?  Hmmmm......

(4) Why did they change their surname to Davis?

     In the 1850 Abbeville County census, I discovered something that really caught my eye. There was a Davis family living in the same neighborhood as the Burnetts.  The family was headed by a man named Ephraim Davis. I checked the 1850 Abbeville County slave schedule to see if Ephraim Davis had owned any slaves. He had five slaves; one was a 35-year-old male which matched the profile of Jack Sr.  More questions entered my mind. Did Ephraim Davis “own” Jack Sr. in 1850?  Could Ephraim Davis be the person from whom the Davis name came from?  More research will be done to uncover this mystery.  If Ephraim Davis was the one, he undoubtedly sold Jack Sr. to the Burnetts before they migrated to Mississippi with Flora and her children so that Jack Sr. would not be separated from his family.  After slavery, Jack Sr. and his family decided to take the Davis surname instead of Burnett.


     As the number of their public transactions increased after 1865, the surnames of many once-enslaved African Americans had to be written into a record – whether as depositors in one of the Freedmen’s Banks, as signers or X-markers on a labor contract, as interviewees of the 1870 census enumerator, or as couples getting married by a county clerk. An in-depth research of these records, as well as the genealogy research of many African-American families, will show that many desired to take a surname that differed from their last enslaver. This revelation dispels the myth that the surname of an African American most likely represents the surname of the owner whose farm our ancestors resided on at the time of Emancipation. In registers recording 360 marriages at Davis Bend, Mississippi in 1864-1865, only a few of the enslaved carried the names Quitman, Jefferson, and Davis, the surnames of the prominent Davis Bend planters. Many African Americans' desire to detach themselves from their last enslavers by rejecting their surnames undoubtedly symbolized the independence that they longed to have for many generations.