Sunday, June 8, 2014

Got Roots in Madagascar?

Note: This blog post has been updated on 8/7/2018 since its initial posting on 6/8/2014.

Source: TAST Database

How sure are you that your family's alleged Native American ancestry was really Native American?

Several years ago, I read a post on the AfriGeneas African-Native American Genealogy Forum board of someone seeking information on the “Matagascan / Malagascan / Matogascan Creek Indians” because family lore claimed that her great-great-grandmother was from this “Indian” tribe. Another poster commented, “My mother's father always described his mother as being a full blooded Malagaskan Indian woman with long black hair down her back.” I even found a slave narrative of a man who also claimed this heritage. James Brittain of Mississippi relayed the following in his slave narrative about his grandmother:

"My grandma came from Virginia . . . When my grandma died she was one hundred and ten years old. She said she was a Molly Gasca negro. That was the race she belonged to. She sure did look different from any the rest of us. Her hair it was fine as silk and hung down below her waist. The folks said Old Miss was jealous of her and Old Master. I don't know how that was." (Source)

I began to associate the name “Malagascan” and “Molly Gasca” with Madagascar, an island located 250 miles off the southeastern African coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean. Being one of the largest islands in the world, Madagascar is roughly the size of Texas. The sounds of the names were almost phonetically identical. 

Shortly afterwards, another poster in the AfriGeneas African-Native American Genealogy Forum soon wrote, “An elderly cousin told the story of my ggg-grandfather who was from a royal family of Madagascar Africa that was taken as a slave out of Madagascar Africa on a slave ship.” A third poster also recounted oral history of her ancestor being brought to Virginia from Madagascar. A fourth researcher, Monifaa, also communicated the following, “My mom's oldest brother has alleged to me that my ggg-grandmother was captured by slavers from the island of Madagascar and sold to cotton plantation owners in North Carolina.” Researcher Tracey Hughes discusses the discovery of her Madagascar ancestor in her blog post.

In Exchanging Our Country Mark, Michael Gomez wrote about the connection between "Madagascar Negroes" to Virginia; a small number of them were imported into Virginia during the early years of the transatlantic slave trade (p. 41). Gomez describes how those particular Africans were "yellowish" in complexion and had hair like a "Madagascar's." 

Madagascar’s inhabitants are called the Malagasy people, and they speak a language by that name. Sources note that many of the Malagasy people possessed light skin and facial features very akin to people in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Many others possessed darker skin and curly hair. Geneticists have determined that all of the Malagasy people descend from ancestors from Africa and Asia, specifically Borneo (source). I began to realize that, as time passed in America, Africans from Madagascar were characterized as being “Indians,” or “Black Indians.” I also wondered if some of the alleged Native American ancestry that many African Americans claim is actually Malagasy ancestry from Madagascar.

According to 23andMe, I have a small amount of Southeast Asian DNA on five chromosomes, totaling 0.5% of my ancestry composition. Since I have tested both of my parents with 23andMe (and later with AncestryDNA), 23andMe indicated that I inherited my Southeast Asian DNA from my father. His composition includes 1.4% Southeast Asian that's scattered across six chromosomes. I began to speculate if our Southeast Asian DNA came from a Madagascar ancestor. Do I also have roots from Madagascar?

Well, I finally got my answer. A new DNA match, with the surname Ramalanjaona, appeared in my father's 23andMe database of DNA relatives. He shares 10 cM of identical DNA with my father on chromosome 12, with a predicted relationship of 5th cousins. They share a common ancestor at least six generations back. I didn't inherit this particular DNA segment, but one of my sisters did. Cousin Ramalanjaona indicates on his profile that he is Malagasy. I messaged him, and he confirmed that his parents are from Madagascar! 

23andMe shows an ancestry composition chromosome painting, and Cousin Ramalanjaona shares identical DNA on one of the Southeast Asian segments on my father's chromosome 12. See figure below. This confirms that Southeast Asian ancestry is a great indicator of Malagasy ancestry and that my father likely had an ancestor from Madagascar. DNA Historian Fonte Felipe asserts, “The very fortunate circumstance about tracing any possible Madagascar ancestry is that it can be confirmed much more easily by way of the unique Southeast Asian component in Malagasy genetics and the inheritance of these markers among their descendants in the Americas.” (source) In July 2018, my father also gained another distant cousin DNA match from Madagascar in Ancestry DNA. Her last name is Ralalanirina.

My father's ancestry composition chromosome painting from 23andMe. Cousin Ramalanjaona matches him on chromosome 12 in the gold region (Southeast Asian) indicated.

Approximately 400,000 enslaved Africans were transported to America during the transatlantic slave trade, and only about 4,800 of them were from Madagascar. That is just 1%. They were transported via 17 documented slave voyages into New York and Virginia from Madagascar. Of that total, from 1719 to 1725, around 1,400 enslaved Africans from Madagascar were disembarked into Virginia through the Rappahannock and York River ports. Additionally, more were transported to the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados. Because my father had a number of enslaved Mississippi ancestors who were born in North Carolina and Virginia, I am theorizing  that his enslaved Madagascar ancestor was likely disembarked in Virginia. The Madagascar human imports into Virginia included the following:

     May 18 1719; Vessel - Prince Eugene; 340 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
     May 17, 1720; Vessel - Mercury; 466 Africans; Port of Entry – Rappahannock River
     May 21, 1721; Vessel - Gascoigne; 133 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
     June 21, 1721; Vessel - Prince Eugene; 103 Africans: Port of Entry – York River
     June 26, 1721; Vessel - Snow Rebecca; 59 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
     June 27, 1727; Vessel - Henrietta; 130 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
       (Source: Virginia Slave-Trade Statistics 1698-1775 by Minchinton, King, and Waite)

For more research on Malagasy ancestry, check out Teresa Vega's The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan and Fonte Felipe's Tracing African Roots: Southeast Africa.

In Season 3 of the TV series Finding Your Roots, actor Keenen Ivory Wayans learned that his African ancestor in his direct paternal line, who was brought to America, i.e. his "Kunta Kinte," very likely came from Madagascar.

Children of the Malagasy People
(Source; public domain)

I found this nice slideshow of images from Madagascar.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

That Infamous 1890 Sinkhole

In 1921, a huge chunk of the stored 1890 census was destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Building here in Washington, DC. More can be read about that fire here. Genealogist Robyn Smith calls it “The 1880 Donut Hole,” as she brilliantly demonstrates its effect on her research in her blog post. However, I personally would like to call it “That Infamous 1890 Sinkhole” because it has the potential of swallowing up entire family branches, never knowing that they even existed. That “Infamous 1890 Sinkhole” caused a family branch in my Ealy family tree to go unknowingly missing for 20 years. Additionally, that omitted family branch even contains someone quite famous! This is how I stumbled across them and my famous relative.

Recently, I was browsing through an old Ealy Family Reunion booklet that a family member had given me some years ago. The Ealy Family has been having family reunions every two years since 1974. Much of the history and family tree included in past booklets were based on oral history and family recollections. To a researcher, this information can be hugely helpful in tracing the roots of the family. I compared the family tree to the one I had built. My family tree was primarily based on names I had found in census records. Not surprising, the family tree in that reunion booklet contained names that I was unaware of, or had missed, and I had additional names that were not listed. I soon realized that one of the missing from my family tree was a daughter of my great-grandmother’s sister, Annie Ealy Beamon. Her name was simply listed as Jessie Butler. How in the world did I miss Cousin Jessie?

My great-great-grandparents, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy & Jane Parrott Ealy, had at least 13 children, born between 1845 and 1871. Aunt Annie was their second oldest daughter, who was born around 1852. She was reported in their household in the 1870 Leake County, Mississippi census. Also, a marriage record revealed that Aunt Annie married Moses Beamon on January 20, 1874 in nearby Scott County.

I then found Aunt Annie and her budding family in the following 1880 Scott County census. There was no child named Jessie.

Moses & Annie Ealy Beamon with three young children when this 1880 census was taken – Lula (age 5), Edward (known as William Edward) (age 3), and an unnamed son (age 1)

Since the 1890 census was destroyed, the next available census was the 1900 census. Twenty years had passed. The following is Aunt Annie’s house in the 1900 Scott County census. Again, there was no child named Jessie in the house.

Moses & Annie Ealy Beamon with seven children in the house in 1900, including twins, Cora & Dora.
Their oldest son, William Edward Beamon, lived next door with his new bride, Jennie

Although seven of Aunt Annie’s children were in the house, with her oldest son living next door, someone from the house told the census enumerator that Aunt Annie was the mother of 11 children with all 11 of them living. I could only count 9 children. According to Scott County marriage records, her oldest child, Lula Bell Beamon, had married Lafayette (Fate) Ferrell on Dec. 15, 1894. They lived nearby. Therefore, who were the other two children who weren’t living in her house in 1900? Maybe one of them was Jessie?

Luckily, for Mississippi researchers, the Enumeration of Educable Children records are great resources and a great substitute for the missing 1890 census. A school census of all children was mandated by the state of Mississippi.  These records were started in 1878, and they reported the names of all school-age children between the age of 5 and 20 years old for each county.  The age and sex of each child were recorded.  Most of the records were taken every four years.  After 1878, the records were divided into districts and by household with the name of a guardian, typically a parent.  Also, after 1878, the records were racially divided.  Most of these records have been digitized and are now online here at  The 1885-1896 records have proven to be a great substitute for the twenty-year “sinkhole” in the census records that was caused when most of the 1890 census was destroyed.

The earliest school record online for Scott County was for the year 1885. However, when I checked those 1885 school records, there was no school-age child named Jessie listed for Moses Beamon, who was noted in the following two separate entries. Instead, three school-age children between 5 and 20 were recorded: Lula (10), William (8), and Hassie (5). Maybe Hassie was Jessie? Or maybe Jessie was under the age of 5 and therefore not recorded? Which one is it?

1885 Educable Children records – Scott County (Harperville district), Mississippi

I then decided to check the Scott County, Mississippi History & Genealogy Network site to see if I can find a marriage record for a Jessie Beamon to a Butler groom. I hit pay dirt! There was a marriage for a Jessie Beeman to Sam Butler, and the marriage date was Feb. 20, 1900. Bingo! Next, I checked the 1900 Scott County census to see if I could find these newlyweds. Bingo again! I found them.

1900 Scott County, Mississippi Census - Sam (21) & Jessie Butler (17) (newlyweds)

According to the 1900 census, Jessie’s reported birth date was March 1883. Therefore, she was almost 17 years old when she married Sam Butler. She was too young to be recorded in the 1885 Educable Children records. She was born after the 1880 census, and she was married and living in her own house with her new husband when the 1900 census was taken. That’s why I had missed her, and she had been missing for 20 years in my family tree. Later censuses (1910, 1920, 1930, 1940) revealed that she and Sam Butler had at least 8 children: Willie (1903), Austin (1904), Johnnie Mae (1909), Robert (1912), Wilson (1914), L.A. (1917), Cora Lee (1919), and Elizabeth Butler (1920).

A Facebook friend, Davita Baloue, who I knew is connected to the Butlers from Scott County, informed me that this was indeed her family. We then realized that we are cousins! To add, she also informed me that Sam & Jessie’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was the maternal grandmother of the well-known gospel singer, songwriter, and minister, Pastor Marvin Sapp, of Grand Rapids, Mich. So not only did that “Infamous 1890 Sinkhole” caused me to miss this family branch for two decades, but it caused me to not even know until recently that Marvin Sapp is my 3rd cousin-once removed. I hope that one day, someone will alert Cousin Marvin to this blog post for him to learn more about his maternal grandmother’s maternal roots.

In 23andMe DNA, my father and I share 21 cM of DNA across 2 segments with
Annie Ealy Beamon's great-great-great-grandson, Raymond Beamon

Marvin Sapp with his three children, from left, Marvin Jr., Mikaila, and Madisson.
(Source; public domain)

The obituary of Marvin Sapp’s maternal grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Butler Stribling (1920-2000) of Forest, Mississippi, the daughter of Jessie Beamon Butler and the granddaughter of Annie Ealy Beamon
(Shared by Davita Baloue)

Marvin Sapp – “Never Would Have Made It”