Kevin Gilbert (far left) and Kelsey Rushing (far right) with the first scholarship recipient of the Gilbert-Rushing Political Science Scholarship at the University of Southern Mississippi. Picture shared by Kevin Gilbert.
Amazingly, our ancestors have been revealing themselves through DNA technology, enabling researchers to connect dots that they never knew existed. DNA is revealing how incredibly small this world truly is! There may be people within our social circles who are actually blood relatives without anyone having a clue. And these discoveries can literally leave your mouth wide open with amazement. This case is another one. I will present it in two parts.
Part 1 – Establishing the Ancestral Connection
In September, while looking at my DNA matches in AncestryDNA, I noticed that a guy, known as “WestCoastRon,” is considered a “high confidence” DNA match to me. The predicted relationship is 4th cousins. He uploaded a small family tree that only goes back to his grandparents. His father’s family included Gilberts. Well, many Gilberts lived in my Dad’s hometown of Lena in Leake County, Mississippi. In fact, some of my Ealy-Kennedy cousins are descendants of a man named Coleman Gilbert. They had posted Coleman’s picture on Facebook. I wondered if WestCoastRon was from the same Gilberts.
Coleman Gilbert (1863-1937) of Leake County, Mississippi
Picture shared by Pamela Williams
I decided to take a closer look at WestCoastRon’s paternal grandfather, Melody Gilbert (1902-1994). In a nutshell, my findings in the census records led me to determine that his Gilberts were the same Gilberts! They were originally from Leake County! I discovered that Melody was the son of William Gilbert (born c. 1865), who was Coleman Gilbert's brother. William, his wife Mary “Molly” York, and their eight children left Leake County shortly before 1910 and moved to Madison County, Mississippi, my home county. In 1910, they resided on Madison-Pocahontas Road in the southern part of the county near Jackson.
But how could I be related to WestCoastRon’s great-grandparents, William & Mary Gilbert? There had to be some kind of connection since they were from the same community where my paternal ancestors resided. Well, I was able to trace William Gilbert back to the 1870 and 1880 Leake County censuses. William was the son of Willis Gilbert (born c. 1836 in Alabama). In the 1870 census, Willis Gilbert appeared to have been a widower with three young children in his house, Coleman, William, and Fanny Gilbert. Willis soon remarried to Julia Gaddis on Feb. 1872, according to marriage records.
1870 Leake County Census: Willis Gilbert (age 34) and his three young children, Coleman (7), William (5), & Fanny (2)
Then, a light bulb went off! The names “Coleman” and “William” were big clues. While researching my great-great-grandmother, Jane Parrott Ealy (born c. 1829), I found that she had been enslaved by William Parrott, who had moved to Leake County, Mississippi from Lunenburg County, Virginia shortly before 1840 with slaves. In the 1850 Slave Schedule, William Parrott was reported as owning 13 slaves. Four of them were Grandma Jane, John Armstead Parrott, James Parrott, and George Parrott. Repeated names within their families included Sylvester, Coleman, Benjamin, Jessie, Martha, George, and William. Naming patterns often indicate kinship. Recently, another DNA match to me in AncestryDNA confirmed that James Parrott was her great-great-grandfather. Therefore, naming patterns and DNA technology are adding to the preponderance of evidence that William Parrott’s 13 slaves were one family. For more about my Parrott research, read I’m A Parrott – Not the Bird.
1850 Leake County Slave Schedule: William Parrott
You will notice that among the younger enslaved females on William Parrott’s farm in 1850 were Grandma Jane and four females whose ages were 16, 10, 9, and 5. Based on the evidence I’ve presented thus far, one can plausibly assert that those four younger females were likely Grandma Jane’s sisters. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine who those sisters were and what became of them. However, because one of Willis Gilbert’s sons was named Coleman, and the fact that I am a high confidence DNA match to WestCoastRon, one can also plausibly assert that Willis’ first wife, who died before the 1870 census was taken, was one of them.
Also, Willis’ first-born son Coleman Gilbert was born during slavery in 1863. Coleman was born where his mother was enslaved. Therefore, I pondered the following two questions: (1) Who was Willis Gilbert’s last enslaver? (2) Did Willis’ last enslaver live near William Parrott?
Well, the 1860 census and slave schedule provided great clues. On the next census page from William Parrott was a man named James L. Gilbert; he was the only white Gilbert slave-owner in the county. According to the 1860 Slave Schedule, Gilbert only had one slave – a 24-year-old male. To add, an Internet source revealed that James L. Gilbert had migrated to Leake County shortly before 1860 from Shelby County, Alabama. Willis was around 24 years old in 1860, and his birthplace was consistently reported as Alabama in the censuses. Therefore, Willis was very likely the lone slave that James L. Gilbert owned and had likely brought to Mississippi with him from Alabama, settling near William Parrott.
Unfortunately, Coleman Gilbert’s death certificate did not provide his mother’s name. A death certificate for William Gilbert has not been found. Therefore, I haven’t been able to learn the first name of the first Mrs. Willis Gilbert. However, my great-great-grandmother Jane Parrott Ealy and WestCoastRon’s great-great-grandmother being sisters would indeed make us to be 4th cousins, as AncestryDNA predicted.
Part 2 – Let Me Show You How Small This World Is
After establishing the likely ancestral connection, I decided to see if I can learn more about the Gilberts and to see if they still resided in Madison County. In the google search engine, I typed “Melody Gilbert Madison Mississippi.” The first hit made my mouth drop! I came upon the obituary of Rev. Melody Gilbert’s son, Robert L. Gilbert. To my surprise, he was the father of WestCoastRon, my DNA match. He had passed away in 2010. Another huge surprise was that Robert Gilbert was a member of Pilgrim Rest M.B. Church in Madison. Well, my sister is presently a member of this church; she had joined this church over two years ago. Of course, I immediately picked up the phone and called her. She confirmed that the Gilberts were indeed members of her church, and she knew some of them quite well. She almost dropped the phone when I told her, “Well, they are our cousins.”
I was soon put into contact with another grandson of Rev. Melody Gilbert named Kevin Gilbert, a deacon at Pilgrim Rest. After connecting with him on Facebook, I noticed that he knows my cousin, Kelsey Rushing, whom I had just recently met in August at the Ealy Family Reunion in Carthage, Mississippi. Big Bob and Jane Parrott Ealy were Kelsey’s great-great-grandparents. Kevin shared that not only he and Kelsey are frat brothers (members of Alpha Phi Alpha), but Kelsey is also one of his closest friends. They both attended University of Southern Mississippi and recently established the Gilbert-Rushing Political Science Scholarship at USM. Now, they are frat brothers, close friends, and cousins! Yes, DNA makes this world incredibly small!