Chances are, most of us have heard those Native American ancestral claims before from many people. Such stories like, “My great-grandmother was Blackfoot; my great-granddaddy was half Creek Indian; my grandmother’s mother’s daddy was a full-blooded Cherokee,” and so forth. We hear these stories so often that genealogist Sedalia Gaines jovially expressed the following last year during her genealogy presentation in Atlanta, “I am sick of hearing all of these damn Indian stories! What about the Africans in your family tree?” The audience erupted with laughter.
Nonetheless, some of these Native American ancestral claims are true; many are not. Even I have one that at least two family members have shared with me over the years. One expressed, “Grandma Sarah was part Indian”. Another family member was even specific, as she relayed, “Grandma Sarah was half Cherokee I heard.” Grandma Sarah was my mother’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed (1852-1923) of Tate County (Senatobia), Mississippi. One of my mother’s paternal uncles, Doctor Rogers “Dock” Reed (1878-1958), was known to have “straight, ‘cold black’ hair” in which family members attributed to Grandma Sarah’s Native American ancestry. I had uncovered some circumstantial genealogical evidence some time ago, as I will show in this blog post. Now, DNA evidence has surfaced.
According to 23andMe, my ancestry composition includes 1.3% East Asian & Native American ancestry. They further analyzed that 0.8% of that was purely Native American ancestry. Yes, this seems like a small amount for someone whose great-grandmother was allegedly “half Cherokee”. However, Linda Threadgill asked me recently if I had noticed that my entire Native American segment was on my X-chromosome and not on any of my 22 chromosomes. In her opinion, this was revealing, especially since my Native American segment (in dark orange below) comprised a good portion of my X-chromosome. A male inherits his X-chromosome from his mother and his Y-chromosome from his father. Since my Native American segment was all on my single X-chromosome, it definitely meant that my Native American ancestry is on my mother’s side. Perhaps, the claim about Grandma Sarah’s Native American ancestry was true?
My Native American segment (in dark orange) fell entirely on my X-chromosome and comprises about 1/3 of my X-chromosome.
Well, I recently received my mother’s 23andMe DNA results. Her ancestry composition includes 1.6% Native American ancestry. I noticed that most people seem to fall under 1.0% of Native American ancestry, so my mother’s measly 1.6% seems fairly significant, in my opinion. To add, 23andMe says that African Americans average around 0.6% Native American ancestry; 80% of African Americans have less than 1.0% Native American ancestry, a statistic that surprised many people (source). Also, what really caught my eye was that a major portion of my mother’s Native American segment was on her X-chromosome. This was revealing. Why? Females have two X-chromosomes; one came from their mother, and the other one came from their father. A female’s paternal X-DNA came directly from her father’s mother. Therefore, 50% of Mom’s X-DNA came from her Grandma Sarah. DNA analysis seems to be supporting my family’s Native American ancestral claims.
A significant portion of my mother’s Native American segment is on her X-chromosome. The other small segment is on her 7th chromosome.
Grandma Sarah was born into slavery around 1852 on Squire B. Partee’s plantation near Como, MS (Panola County). In the 1870 census, she was found in her mother Polly Partee’s household with her three younger brothers, Judge, Square, and James Partee. James was known as “Uncle Johnny Partee” to elder family members, and his name was reported as Johnny in 1880. Polly Partee was also the head of her household in 1880. She was born around 1830 in North Carolina. Well, who was Sarah’s father? Which parent could she had inherited Native American ancestry?
Well, a circumstantial clue was found some time ago. In the 1880 census, a man named James Partee was found; he also lived in Panola County. His age was reported as 55. His birthplace was reported as Virginia, and his race was noted as “I” for Indian. James was married to a woman named Mary (not my Polly), and the children in his household were George, Eliza, Hattie, Sarah (not my Sarah), Grant, and Nancy. Was James Partee the father of Grandma Sarah, even though another Sarah, aged 14, was in his household? Perhaps, James was an uncle? Was James Partee truly a full-blooded Native American? Apparently, the census-taker saw and heard something for him to report James’ race as “I” or someone reported this to the census-taker.
James Partee’s race was noted as “I” (Indian) in the 1880 census. Everybody else in his household was noted as “B” (Black). James was not found in any other censuses.
For James to have taken the Partee surname, this indicated that he too was likely enslaved by Squire B. Partee. Would Squire B. Partee have full-blooded Native Americans as slaves? I personally don’t think so. Nevertheless, naming patterns seem to suggest a possible link to this James Partee. Grandma Sarah named her first-born son James, my great-uncle Jimmy Reed. Her brother, Judge Partee, also named his only child James, too. Also, the birthplaces of Uncle Judge’s parents were consistently reported in the censuses as Virginia (father) and North Carolina (mother). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find death certificates for Grandma Sarah’s three brothers or any records that document their father’s name. Also, her death certificate reported that her father’s name was Pleas Partee. I believe that this was an error told by the informant, her son-in-law, Uncle Eli Bobo. I believe he confused his wife’s two grandfathers’ names, as her paternal grandfather was named Pleas Barr.
Nevertheless, this recent DNA discovery has caused me to take a closer look at my family’s Native American ancestral claims. I need more concrete evidence to positively link Grandma Sarah to James Partee, who was most probably not a full Native American but partial. Since my mother’s Native American composition was only at 1.6%, I speculate that maybe one of Grandma Sarah’s grandparents was half Native American. Probably.