Monday, September 29, 2014

Following the DNA Trail Back to South Carolina

On February 17, 1936, in Tate County, Mississippi, my 55-year-old maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed (1881–1955), married my much younger maternal grandmother, Minnie Davis, in front of the fireplace in his house, according to a family elder. Among the family members in attendance was his 90-year-old father, William “Bill” Reed (18461937), who was born into slavery. Subsequently, Granddaddy Simpson’s second marriage produced five additional children; one of them is my mother. As a result, I – a fairly young guy who was born in the 1970s – am only three generations from slavery. That’s why I am faced with a greater challenge in determining genealogically how many of my “DNA cousins” are related. Many enslaved African Americans, including my great-grandfather Bill, were permanently separated from family members. Figuring out DNA connections in 23andMe, Gedmatch, and AncestryDNA necessitates a thought process based on facts, as this blog post will demonstrate. A recent and close DNA match entailed a thought process that encompassed the following 7 major facts; some of the facts are not coincidental, in my opinion.


DNA Sharing – As the diagram above shows, my mother is a fairly close match to Stan B. They share 53.5 cM (centimorgans) across 3 segments. To date, he’s my Mom’s fourth highest match in Gedmatch, with a MRCA of 4.0. That means that based on the amount of DNA they share, Gedmatch estimates that their Most Recent Common Ancestor is 4 generations back. Gedmatch is basically saying that Mom and Stan probably share the same great-great-grandparents. According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), third cousins – who are two people who share the same great-great-grandparents – share an average of 53.13 cM (source). Mom and Stan may be around third cousins, which is close kin, in my opinion. But how could they be related? Fortunately, fact no. 2 narrows it down.


DNA Triangulation – Stan also matches Mom's paternal first cousin's granddaughter, Caronde. Mom, Caronde, and I match Stan on the same spot on his chromosome 6 at 30.8 cM. See diagram below. To add, Stan also matches me in AncestryDNA, with a 95% confidence match and a predicted relationship of fourth cousins. Since Mom is closer related to Stan, she shares two additional segments with him, as the diagram above shows. Therefore, the connection is definitely through Mom's father, Granddaddy Simpson Reed. Albeit close in generations, our connection to Stan obviously takes us back to slavery, a time period full of unknowns due to slavery’s inhumanity. This is another challenge at hand.


Grandpa Bill Reed’s S.C. Beginnings – Mom’s paternal grandfather Bill Reed was born just north of Abbeville, South Carolina on Rebecca Reid Barr’s farm, where his parents and paternal grandparents were also enslaved. Rebecca’s late husband, Rev. William H. Barr, had died in 1843. As a young teenage boy, the Barrs sold Grandpa Bill to Rebecca's nephew, Lemuel Reid. Several months after he became free, Grandpa Bill, his younger sister Mary, their first cousin, Glasgow Wilson, and others migrated to Mississippi in January 1866.

The Reid Place - the old plantation home of Lemuel Reid near Abbeville, S.C., as it stood in 2009. It was built in 1861 while Grandpa Bill was enslaved there.


South Carolina Link – As I studied Stan's family tree on, I became interested in his maternal great-grandfather, Dan Kirkwood (18421920) from Lafayette County, Mississippi, a southeast neighbor to Tate County. As noted in the censuses, Dan was born in Mississippi, but his parents were from South Carolina. Stan did not know where in S.C. his Kirkwoods were from. However, I had seen that surname before while researching Abbeville County, S.C. Hmmm…


The white Kirkwoods – A major clue was found in the 1880 census! Living just two doors down from Dan Kirkwood was a white Kirkwood named Robert Nathan Kirkwood. He was 48 years old and born in South Carolina. This discovery set the wheels in motion. Looking at previous censuses (1870, 1860, 1850, and 1840), as well as Internet sources, I quickly discovered that Robert Nathan Kirkwood, and his brothers, Samuel Reid Kirkwood and William C. Kirkwood, who all resided in Lafayette County, were the sons of a man named Hugh Kirkwood from South Carolina. Can you guess where Hugh Kirkwood was from? Yep, you guessed it. Abbeville County! Hugh Kirkwood had moved to Pontotoc County, Mississippi in the 1830s, and his sons later settled into adjacent Lafayette County.


Back to the Abbeville, SC Neighborhood – Digging deeper, the facts get even more interesting and revealing! I discovered that Hugh Kirkwood's first wife, Hannah Wilson, was the daughter of Matthew Wilson (1766-1834). Matthew Wilson was the maternal grandfather of Grandpa Bill's last enslaver, Lemuel Reid. I soon ascertained that the Kirkwoods were quite interconnected with Grandpa Bill’s enslavers! Hugh Kirkwood was also a neighbor of Hugh Reid, who was the father of Rebecca Reid Barr. Hugh Kirkwood also attended Upper Long Cane Presbyterian Church during a time when Rebecca’s husband, Rev. William H. Barr, was the minister. Bob Thompson wrote this note about Hugh Kirkwood:

A neighbor of Hugh Reid, Hugh Kirkwood was a witness to his will and made the inventory of Reid's estate. Hugh Kirkwood was also a witness to Matthew Wilson's will. He appears in the 1830 Census of Abbeville County, SC, but by 1840 had moved to Pontotoc Co., Mississippi, where he owned two and one half sections of land a mile and a half north of Sarepta. He and his second wife Elizabeth were charter members of Old Lebanon Presbyterian Church . . . Hugh and Elizabeth died the same day, October 11, 1855 and are buried in the Sarepta Cemetery.” (Source)

I retrieved the copy of Hugh Reid’s estate papers (1829) from my records, and indeed, Hugh Kirkwood was noted as one of the estate appraisers.


Confirmed Slave-owner & Transporter to Mississippi – Since Bob Thompson’s note revealed Hugh Kirkwood’s year of death (1855), I searched for his probate records to see if Dan Kirkwood and his parents would be listed in a will and/or slave inventory. Luckily, on, I found that slave inventory dated March 11, 1856:

The slave inventory of Hugh Kirkwood’s estate, March 11, 1856, Pontotoc County, Mississippi
Negro woman and child named Binah, $1000.00 (Dan’s mother Mary who lived adjacent to him in 1870)
Cinda, aged 3 years (Dan’s sister)
Mela, age 4 years (Dan’s sister)
Kitty and Prince (Dan’s siblings)
Boy named Daniel, $850.00 (This was Dan Kirkwood.)

1870 Census, Lafayette County: Dan Kirkwood & his family with his mother Mary (55 years old) living next door

Unfortunately, Dan Kirkwood’s death certificate did not provide his parents’ names. Based on the amount of DNA that Mom and Stan share with each other, how could they be around third cousins? Here are my theories based on the unearthed facts:

Theory 1: As explained in 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, I have always suspected that Grandpa Bill’s mother may have come from Rebecca Barr’s father, Hugh Reid, for a number of reasons.

Theory 2: Perhaps Grandpa Bill’s mother and Dan’s mother, Mary Kirkwood, were sisters? Maybe Grandpa Bill’s sister, Mary (born c. 1850), was named after her Aunt Mary who was taken away from Abbeville, S.C. in the 1830s and transported to Mississippi, never to be seen again.

Theory 3: Since the white Kirkwoods, Reids, and Barrs were all living in the same area of Abbeville County, perhaps Rev. William Barr had sold Dan Kirkwood’s father to Hugh Kirkwood before he moved to Mississippi? Perhaps Dan Kirkwood’s father was Grandpa Bill Reed’s paternal or maternal uncle?

I hope to find additional records to prove one of my theories. Obviously, when Grandpa Bill Reed had moved to Mississippi after slavery, he had close relatives in neighboring Lafayette County, too. 150 Years Later discloses how, unbeknownst to him, his paternal grandmother and other close paternal relatives were taken to Pontotoc County, Mississippi in 1859, while his father, Pleasant Barr, was sold away and taken to Tippah County, Mississippi. Although Grandpa Bill had known those family members that William Barr Jr. took to Pontotoc County, he likely did not know anything about the Kirkwoods, who were taken to Mississippi a decade before he was born. Nonetheless, DNA found them!

This picture was taken in 2004 during my family’s visit to Abbeville, South Carolina. The Rough House in downtown Abbeville is owned and operated by descendants of Lemuel Reid.


  1. Great clue following. You are getting much more from your dna than I am.

  2. Hi Melvin, I wanted you to know that I have nominated you and your blog for the One Lovely Bog Award.

  3. Good stuff, Bro. Exquisite research.

  4. Im a collier and my father was born in mississippi and his father also now i have been looking for years and i have started a family tree and i am lost none of my family will talk about my history of the colliers and i think i have the right to no.where can i start.

  5. You did some amazing research that immediately captured my attention. My grandfather, Arthur Agnew was born in 1880 and grandmother Lizzie Moore Agnew was born in 1887 in the Abbeville SC area. My father Theodore Agnew was raised in Seneca SC. I would love to get your insights on conducting further research. I think my great grandfather was Isaac Agnew born in 1857. I also think my great, great grandparents were Marshall Agnew born in 1820 and Emily Agnew born in 1830. In my research I discovered my grandfather had a uncle named George who I think was born in 1865 based on the 1920 census. Help, I promised my father who died in the before I could conduct further research that I would continue this research until its completed. When I saw the relationship in your research to Abbeville I got motivated once again. Also, since I now live in Atlanta GA Abbeville is within travel distance. Can you provide me with further guidance and direction. My email address is
    Vincent R. Agnew


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