Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sisters Torn Apart But Kept Their Memories Alive

Estate Records Book, 1825-1833, Northampton County, North Carolina
State Archives of North Carolina

Back in June, after two decades, I was able to trace my great-great-grandfather John (Jack) Bass back to North Carolina. He was born there around 1845, and he, his mother, and siblings were taken to Jackson, Mississippi around 1849.  His 1871 Freedman’s Bank application gave his parents’ names, Tom Bowden and Beady, and the names of three siblings, Eliza Newman, Mima Hatcher, and Oscar Birdsong (aka Oscar Hatcher). As explained in my blog post The Ancestors Spoke: Another Longtime Brick Wall Crumbles!, a rare court document, that was transcribed and placed on the Internet in 2008, led me to look for the will and estate record of Council Bass at the State Archives of North Carolina during my trip to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina to speak at the Pratcher Family Reunion. 

Council Bass had died in 1830 in Northampton County, North Carolina. Knocking down a huge brick wall that had been standing for two decades, his will named my great-great-great-grandmother, Beady! Also, other enslaved people named in his will were likely relatives because of naming patterns. Among Grandma Beady and the rest of the 22 named enslaved people was Mima, which is a short version of the name Jemima. I knew she wasn’t Jack Bass’ sister, Mima Hatcher, who was born around 1845/1850. Therefore, chances are great that Grandma Beady and Mima were sisters.  Let’s look at other research findings that led me to strongly believe that they were sisters and how they kept the memories of each other alive.

While Council Bass bequeathed Grandma Beady to his daughter Elizabeth Bass, who had migrated to Hinds County, Mississippi with her cousin/husband Jesse Bass Jr., he bequeathed Mima to his other daughter, Martha Bass Mayo. From postings on the Internet, I learned that Martha was married to a man named Frederick Mayo, and they migrated to Madison County, Tennessee after 1830.  Consequently, Mima and her children were taken to Tennessee, and this is when Grandma Beady and Mima became permanently separated.  Luckily, the will of Frederick Mayo had been transcribed and posted to Rootsweb. He had died in 1856 in Madison County, Tennessee. Jemima/Mima was also named in his will, as well as 13 other enslaved people. He wrote the following on Feb. 16, 1856:

Tenth - I give and bequeath to my children, Council, Polly, and the heirs of Hardy Mayo, the following Negroes, viz: Jemima, Mary, Little Willis, to be equally divided between the three -  the heirs of Hardy having one-third.

Also, recorded in the Madison County, Tennessee Minutes Book 8 (pg. 177) on March 3, 1858 was the following petition to sell the following people for division:

Fredrick Mayo, late of said County and State, departed this life on the ?? day of May, 1856, after making his last Will and Testament. That said Will has been proven and admitted to record. He bequeathed the Petitioners the following named slaves, to wit: Jemima, aged about 61 years, Mary about 17 years, and Willis, about 14.

Slaves sold at Court House door by bid 5 Apr 1858
James Wilson Givens bought Mary for $1,200.00.
Council B. Mayo bought Jemima for $310.00.
Council B. Mayo bought Willis for $1150.00

The age reported for Jemima in 1858 placed her year of birth around 1795. However, a finding in the 1880 Madison County, Tennessee census raised eyebrows. (Unfortunately, the 1870 Madison County census-taker reported many people by their first initials and last names.) An elderly woman named Mimi Mayo, reported age of 70, was living with someone named Bedie Mayo, whose reported age was 44.  No relations were reported, as seen in the following census image. Was Bedie the daughter of Jemima? Could it be that while Grandma Beady Bass named one of her daughters Mima (Jemima), Jemima Mayo also named one of her daughters Beady? If so, there’s very little doubt in my mind that they were sisters.

 1880 Madison County, Tennessee Census, Bedie and Mimi Mayo
Relationship was not reported.

However, to my genealogical fortune, I found the answer to my questions. A Freedman’s Bank application was found for a man named William Mayo of Marion, Arkansas. He was originally from Madison County, Tennessee.  He was Jemima’s son!  I believe he was “Little Willis” named in Frederick Mayo’s will.  Fortunately, his application named his father Willis Mayo, his mother Jemima Mayo, and his siblings, Dick, Hal, Archie, Beda, Mary, and Sylvester!  Indeed, Grandma Beady and Jemima, who both ended up in different states after they were taken away from Northampton County, North Carolina, named one of their daughters after each other.  They kept each other’s memory alive.  This naming practice was quite common among enslaved African American families who often suffered the loss of family members by sellings, estate divisions, and migrations.  Unsurprisingly, DNA technology is linking many African Americans from different states who are totally unaware how they are related to each other. Perhaps, a Mayo descendant will show up in my relative database on 23andMe or AncestryDNA one day.

The Freedman’s Bank application of William Mayo of Marion, Arkansas, Nov. 28, 1871. Interestingly, his first cousin, John Bass, my great-great-grandfather, also completed a Freedman’s Bank application on Jan. 16, 1871 in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The following is Jemima Mayo’s son, Archie Mayo, who was found in the 1880 Madison County, Tennessee census. He named one of his daughters Jemima.  Archie was also named in Council Bass’ will in 1830. 

UPDATE – 10/20/2014: DNA technology is UNBELIEVABLE! I am overwhelmed! I’ll try to explain what has transpired recently in a nutshell (I hope!). The ancestors were working overtime.

(1) I gave two presentations this past weekend at the Indiana African-American Genealogy Conference in Indianapolis. My 2nd presentation was entitled "Mending Broken Ties: Reconstructing Family Trees Sawed by Slavery." For that presentation, I explained and presented more details (and amazing court records not shown in this blog post) recounting the forced separation of my paternal 3rd-great-grandmother, Beady Bass, and Jemima Mayo, whom I’d concluded was likely her sister who was taken away to Madison County, TN during the 1830s. Grandma Beady and her children were taken to Hinds County (Jackson), Mississippi around 1849.

(2) After delivering my presentations, an audience member (Jakobi) approached me to inform me that his family is also from Madison County, TN, and he was close to two people who had Mayos in their family trees. He had assisted them with their family trees. He stated that he was going to check to see if his friends are connected to Jemima Mayo.

(3) Jakobi soon e-mailed me with great news! His friends are the great-grandchildren of Samuel Mayo, who was born in 1868, Madison County, TN. I checked my info, and low and behold, Samuel was the son of Archie Mayo (born c. 1826), who was the son of Jemima! See 1880 census report above. They discovered today that Jemima was their 3rd-great-grandmother. 

(4) One of them had done DNA testing, and her results had been uploaded to Gedmatch. Turns out, she matches me and my Dad! This diagram below is her match to us on two chromosomes. She soon called me this evening, and we were both overwhelmed! She would be my father’s 4th cousin-once removed and my 5th cousin. Still speechless…


  1. Thanks Melvin, so much for continuiing this search and extending it as you have to include relatives who are not 'only' your direct line relatives but your extended family. This affects so many of us both directly and indirectly regardless whether we are DNA related or not our ancestors still may have shared a common slaveowner and learning their unions and their migrations is needed and beneficial information. I have ancestors who also adopted the Bass and Mayo surnames. So for me this is superb!

    Thanks again.

  2. hey nice post meh, I love your style of blogging here. this post reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: Guy That Talks Too Much .
    keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.



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