Thursday, May 3, 2012

How “150 Years Later” Came To Be

 (See reunion documentary below.)

     150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended takes the reader on the journey of solving my great-grandfather Bill Reed’s mysterious history.  I call it a historical mystery novel that incorporated a great deal of genealogy research....and patience.  I am still in awe of the amount of records and the types of fascinating records that fell into my lap during the years when I would often pray to God and ask Him to help me with this mystery. One of the unique records was a very revealing letter written by the slave-owner’s widow, Rebecca Reid Barr.  The stories that my family elders told me of Grandpa Bill’s experiences as a slave in South Carolina stayed fixated in my mind since high school.  Because of that, I felt that it was my life mission to unravel this mystery.  I never imagined in a million years that the ultimate outcome of solving this mystery would culminate into an unprecedented, emotional reunion....150 years later.

     You see, in 1859 near Abbeville, South Carolina, my 12-year-old great-grandfather was forever separated from his family. Grandpa Bill's father was sold away, and his mother, grandmother, and other family members were all transported away from the state soon afterwards. He never laid eyes on them ever again, and he and a younger sister Mary were soon sold to a local Reid slave-owner. Shortly after becoming free people, he and others left South Carolina on a wagon train pulled by mules and migrated to northern Mississippi.  Family elders remarked jovially of how they had been told that Mississippi was the “land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.” Grandpa Bill died near Senatobia, Mississippi in 1937, at the age of 91, never learning the whereabouts of his family members, who were actually living not too far from him . . . in the same state!

     Before his demise, Grandpa Bill sat underneath his sycamore tree on his 300-acre farm and told his children and grandchildren many stories about his early years in South Carolina.  He was not a tight-lipped man, and my family elders remembered many stories that he shared, especially my late cousin and his grandson, Isaac Deberry, Sr. (1914–2009).  That overwhelmingly valuable oral history propelled the research and led to me solving this longtime mystery.  Despite the stories, no one knew why Grandpa Bill was separated from his family. No one knew where his family members ended up.  He told his family who his father was – a man named Pleasant Barr – and recounted the day he watched with great sadness as his father was placed on a wagon and forever taken away, but even Grandpa Bill never knew where he ended up, according to my elders.  And before I started to research it, no one could remember exactly where in South Carolina they were all from. 

     Ultimately, the mysteries were solved, many descendants were located, and a family reunion of a lifetime was held in Atlanta and in Abbeville, South Carolina beginning August 7, 2009, a day after my birthday.  Over 250 descendants came together for the first time.  My cousin and video producer, Kristina Hayes of Atlanta, produced this wonderful documentary about the reunion.  Yet, after the reunion, I pondered over the thought of writing a book about the entire experience the good, the great, and the not-so-great.  The ancestors were tired of me pondering about it.  “You must do it” was the feeling that I was getting. 

     And so I finally gave in. On one Saturday morning in October 2009, I sat at my table and started writing.  The ancestors immediately took over and guided my fingers across the keyboard of my laptop.  How do I know that they guided this?  Well, even now when I pick up the book to re-read various parts, I honestly do not remember writing it.  That’s how I know.  The ancestors had intervened, and 150 Years Later was written in about five months and ultimately released on July 28, 2011. They wanted the story told, and I honored their wishes.  

Documentary:  Families Reunited After 150 Years of Separation, Part 1 of 5


(Total: 30 minutes)

Book website:


  1. Great post as usual. Are you related then to the DeBerrys of Marshall County?

    1. Thanks! I remember asking my cousin if he was related to the Marshall County Deberrys, and he wasn't sure.


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