Monday, September 1, 2014

This Genealogy Stuff is Driving Me Crazy!


For a while, I had concluded that my great-great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi, was born in Nash County, North Carolina. Research and oral history identified his last enslaver as a man named William “Billy” Eley, who brought him to Mississippi and used him as a breeder. Further research found that Grandpa Big Bob was an inheritance to Billy Eley’s wife, Frances Bass, from her father, Jesse Bass of Nash County. In 1822, young Bob was bequeathed to young Frances. That’s why I had placed Grandpa Big Bob’s birthplace as Nash County.

However, after uncovering more in July, as I explained in “I Found the Last Slave-owner’s Will, Now What?”, I realized that Grandpa Big Bob may have been born in either Nash County or neighboring Halifax County in North Carolina. The birthplace can be determined when I know exactly when he was born. As many are aware, the word “exactly” with African-American genealogy research is especially speculative in many cases when it comes to birth years and birthplaces. Most enslaved African Americans did not know their exact age. They often based it on how old they approximated themselves to be when an event in history happened during their early years. For example, my maternal great-grandfather Bill Reed told my late cousin Isaac Deberry Sr. (1914-2009) that he was a young teenager when the Civil War started. Cousin Ike had recounted to me the story that Grandpa Bill told him of how he helped his last enslaver Lemuel Reid bury his gold on top of a hill near Abbeville, South Carolina to keep the Union soldiers from taking it. According to the censuses, Grandpa Bill Reed was born in 1846, so he indeed was around 15 years old when the Civil War started.

Well, Grandpa Big Bob Ealy’s ages were reported in four censuses. One can easily deduce that he was born sometime between 1814 and 1820 in North Carolina. However, nearer to what year? The answer to that question, if I can find it, is pivotal in determining exactly where he was born. Shortly, you will see what I mean with this unique situation. The following ages for Grandpa Big Bob were reported in the censuses:

1860 Leake County Slave Schedule: 42 years old --- around 1818
1870 Leake County Census: 51 years old ---- around 1819
1880 Leake County Census: 63 years old ---- around 1817
1900 Scott County Census: 86 years old ---- reported birth month and year were March 1814

Would taking the average of these four approximated years (1814, 1817, 1818, 1819) be considered the “best guess”? Can mathematics and statistics be applied to genealogy when the events of history are based on exact times? However, just for information purposes, the average (mean) of those years is 1817. The median of those four years is 1817.5. Was Grandpa Big Bob born in mid-1817? Probably. Considering the unique situation at hand, I need more than “probably.”

In a nutshell, in July, I had discovered that Grandpa Big Bob’s mother was an enslaved woman named Ann (Annie). Like him, she too was an inheritance to her enslaver’s wife. Grandma Ann was first enslaved by Benjamin Pearce of Halifax County, North Carolina. Benjamin willed her and slaves named Ned and Augustine to his daughter, Frances Pearce, in 1810. Eight years later, on May 20, 1818, Frances married Jesse Bass, who lived in adjacent Nash County. Therefore, one can reasonably surmise that either on May 20th or shortly thereafter, the new bride Frances packed up all of her belongings and moved over into Nash County to live with her new husband and his 11 children from his previous two marriages. She certainly took on a lot, and her property, including Ned, Augustine, and Grandma Ann, became Jesse Bass’ "property." However, the questions in my head are:

(1) Was Grandpa Big Bob an infant when his mother was moved to Nash County? Remember, the mean and median say that his birth year was 1817, if that counts for anything.
(2) Was Grandma Ann pregnant with Grandpa Big Bob when she was moved to Nash County?
(3) Or was Grandpa Big Bob conceived after his mother Ann was moved to Nash County?

How in the world will I find my answer! If family members and I wanted to visit the vicinity of his birthplace, where would we go? Wish me luck with that one!


  1. Good Luck on your search Melvin.

  2. I love the title of this post and beg your indulgence because I think I'll probably use it. I wish you luck in your continued quest.

  3. Better visit both places. See if either one seems "right". and good luck with the research. If you could just find some notes to the overseer or something where he is mentioned and his age given.

  4. Good luck on your search Melvin! I agree with Kristin, visit both places and continue to allow the Ancestors to guide you!


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