Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This is Frustrating!

Albert Kennedy
(1857 – 1928)

The picture above is that of my Dad’s biological father’s father, Albert Kennedy, of Leake County (Lena), Mississippi. He was born into slavery around 1857 near the Leake/Scott County line in Mississippi on Stephen Decatur Kennedy’s small farm.  As you may have noticed, Grandpa Albert is obviously of mixed heritage. He was born to an enslaved mulatto mother named Lucy and a white father. For nearly 20 years, I have not been able to identify his father. I have only referred to this unknown man – who is technically my great-great-grandfather – as the “sperm donor”. Admittedly, I felt no connection to this unknown man because I speculated that my great-great-grandmother Lucy, who was born in Alabama c. 1828, was used as a concubine.  Of course, my speculation could be inaccurate. According to renowned geneticist Rick Kittles, I am among the approximately 35% of African-American men whose Y-chromosome originated out of Europe because of miscegenation during slavery.  Indeed, 23andMe DNA company determined that my haplogroup is R1b1b2a1a1, a subgroup of R1b1b2. It is the most common haplogroup in Western Europe.

According to family lore, Grandpa Albert Kennedy was often mistaken for a white man. However, my great-grandfather was Black, according to society. Discriminatory societal rules proclaimed that anyone with a drop of African blood is Black. However, he was able to fool people whenever he took the train to Louisiana to visit his sisters, according to an elderly relative. Pullman porters allowed him to sit in the front of the train. Also, family lore claimed that his sisters had to wear bandanas or hats over their heads whenever they went to town so that folk wouldn’t confuse them for white women. However, my great-grandfather and his sisters chose not to pass, and he and two of his sisters, Mattie and Adaline, actually married dark-skinned people from the Ealy Family of Leake County, Mississippi. Grandpa Albert married my great-grandmother, Martha Ealy, in 1881.

I ascertained early in my research, after interviews with family elders, that the father’s identity was a well-guarded secret. So much so that no one today remembered a name!  Also, I found the death certificates for Grandpa Albert and three of his sisters. On all four death certificates, “Don’t Know” were the words written for the father’s name. Even Grandpa Albert was the informant for his oldest sister Elvina “Viney” Kennedy’s 1917 death certificate. Yet, he too chose not to disclose her father’s name.  It was common for many formerly enslaved African Americans of mixed parentage to keep their white father’s name a secret.

Although it didn’t help me to determine the paternity, I found the enslaver, Stephen Kennedy, in the 1860 Scott County, Mississippi slave schedule. Some family members speculated that he was the father, but that was only based on the fact that Albert and his sisters chose to take the Kennedy surname. In genealogy research and historical interpretation, it is a fallacy to assume that the slave-owner was the father.  However, I never felt that Stephen, who owned only 9 slaves in 1860, was the father.  Nonetheless, the ages reported for Grandma Lucy and her children were fairly accurate, and all of them were noted as “M”, which meant “mulatto”.  The following is that census report:

1860 Scott County, Mississippi Slave Schedule – Stephen Kennedy
(Note: Lucy, age 31, was pregnant with her sixth child, Adaline Kennedy, at the time.)

Recently, I moved to the Washington, DC area (hence the lapse in blog postings).  Upon arrival, I was informed by a cousin that my Dad’s first cousin, Mavis Kennedy Currie, would like for me to call her. She and her husband, the late Dr. Julius Currie, have been living in DC for decades. I had only met her once, and that was back in 1988 at her father’s funeral. Her father, Uncle Wilson Kennedy (1891-1988), and my Dad’s biological father, Hulen Kennedy (1888-1970), were two of five children born to Grandpa Albert Kennedy and Martha Ealy Kennedy.  Cousin Mavis wanted to share some family history with me, including what she had heard about Grandpa Albert’s father from listening to her father and uncles.  Yet, like everyone in the family to date, she didn't remember his name and the secret continues, which is rather frustrating.  This is what she recalled about his identity:

1.     He as an educated man whose roots were from Massachusetts.
2.     He owned thousands of acres of land near the town of Morton, Mississippi (Scott County). She further stated, “He practically owned the town of Morton.”
3.     He was not a white Kennedy.
4.     He owned the cotton gin in Morton, as well as other businesses.
5.     He acknowledged Grandma Lucy’s children, but they kept quiet about his identity because he was very well-known throughout the county.

Although this is much more information that I had ever heard about this man, I am still left frustrated because I don’t have a name. Perhaps, these clues will one day lead me to the truth. I will remain hopeful…..and frustrated.

There's a Part 2 to this genealogical mystery! See


  1. Don't you just hate it when a death certificate says "Don't know." Yes it is frustrating but you have clues. I think you will find out his name.

  2. Those are some good clues. How many white men, not named Kennedy, owned thousands of acres and the town of Morton, not to mention the Cotton Gin.

    I hate those blank spaces with unknown too.

  3. Research the town's history and businessmen. You will find him. I know one thing is certain, you are great researcher and it will not take you very long to unravel the mystery.

    1. Thanks, Alta! Yes, I need to get a hold of the Scott County, Mississippi Heritage Book, if one exists. My cousin claims that if she heard the name, she'll remember. But right now, she can't recall the name her father told her.

  4. Congrats again on your move, Melvin. We miss you here in the ATL. I know those elusive ancestors just want you to try a little harder. Don't give up because they're waiting! Doris

  5. This is wonderful! You have several clues that once added up will lead to the name of your ancestor. Remember to check newspapers for that time period too. Someone who was as important as he was would certainly be mentioned, most likely in connection with the cotton gin. So glad you were able to have that conversation with your cousin!

  6. you said Massachusetts and he is a Kennedy have you dug into the famous Kennedy roots?

    1. I mentioned that he is not a Kennedy. See no. 3. Thanks!

  7. I hate seeing "don't know" on death certificates especially when I believe the informant knew the name.

  8. I think in Mississippi at that time it was common even if they really did know

  9. I appreciate your tenacious efforts, you will eventually solve this mystery. Your research has helped me in my own family tree. I will admit, I was thinking ill of my Great-great grandmother Alice Whitfield-Hill-Floyd; it was through you that I discovered that your grandfather Albert Kennedy was the "paramour" of by GG-grandma and the father of the rest of children.
    Keep pressing on my geneological brother!

    1. Thanks Denise! Did you see Part 2 of this story?


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