Saturday, October 24, 2015

Trekking the Edwards DNA Trail Back to Madagascar


More definitive conclusions can be drawn when multiple people from one family take an autosomal DNA test, such as 23andMe, and chromosome segments can be analyzed, compared, and triangulated. When I received my maternal uncle John Reed's 23andMe results on April 4, 2015, I immediately looked at his ancestry composition. To my surprise, over 80% of his X chromosome was of Native American descent. I have since figured out that my uncle received nearly all of his X-DNA from my great-grandmother, his maternal grandmother, Mary Danner Davis (1867-1932) of Panola County, Mississippi. I also noticed that his ancestry composition included 0.5% South Asian DNA. At first, I contributed that to him having Native American ancestry since certain forms of Asian DNA have been linked to Native Americans. My theory turned out to be inaccurate. I have since discovered that he inherited his South Asian DNA from his father, my maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed of Tate County, Mississippi.

My Uncle’s 23andMe Ancestry Composition

Fast forward to two months later. In June, I finally identified the father of my grandfather Simpson Reed’s mother, Sarah Partee Reed. She was born into slavery around 1852 on Squire Boone Partee's plantation in Panola County (Como).  Significant DNA matches, oral history, and genealogy research finally pinpointed Prince Edwards (born c. 1830) as being Grandma Sarah's father. Grandpa Prince had been enslaved by William Edwards Sr., who was Squire Partee's father-in-law and neighbor. It was common for an enslaved man to have a wife and children on a nearby farm/plantation. Along with that discovery was the DNA confirmation of a brother of Prince named Peter Edwards (born c. 1835). Nearly all of Uncle Peter's 12 children settled in Oklahoma by 1920. This DNA discovery enticed more of Uncle Peter's descendants to take the 23andMe test. (Others later took the AncestryDNA test.) Collectively, our DNA results have revealed some interesting things about our family history.

Presently, four descendants of Uncle Peter Edwards have taken the 23andMe DNA test. Three other descendants of Uncle Peter recently ordered 23andMe kits! My mother and I, her brother and sister, their paternal first cousin, and three second cousins make up the eight descendants of Grandpa Prince Edwards who have tested with 23andMe thus far. Comparing our DNA in 23andMe with the four currently tested descendants of Uncle Peter has revealed that my uncle inherited that South Asian DNA from his great-grandfather, Prince Edwards. Here's how this was discovered.

Three matching chromosome segments between Uncle Peter’s great-grandson, Brian Edwards, and three of Grandpa Prince’s descendants were on sections where South Asian DNA exists. In other words, Cousin Brian matches my uncle John Reed on chromosome 2, from point 209 to 216 Mbp (6.3 cM). This section of their chromosome 2 is South Asian DNA. See diagram below. Cousin Brian matches my mother’s paternal first cousin Armintha on chromosome 7, from point 3 to 20 Mbp (30.7 cM). South Asian DNA is on this section of their chromosome 7. Also, Cousin Brian matches my mother and her sister on chromosome 10, from point 122 to 127 Mbp (11.5 cM). All three of them possess South Asian DNA in this section of their chromosome 10. This clearly indicates that they all inherited their identical South Asian DNA from a common ancestor – one of the parents of Prince and Peter. Additionally, all descendants, except two, had South Asian DNA in their admixture, from 0.1 to 1.8%. 

Uncle Peter Edwards’ great-grandson, Brian Edwards, shares a matching chromosome segment in his yellow region (South Asian) of Chromosome 2 with my uncle, who is a great-grandson of Prince Edwards.

To be sure of the commonality of having South Asian DNA, I looked at the ancestry compositions of many of my other 23andMe DNA matches of African descent. A small percentage of people possess South Asian DNA. Therefore, having this DNA reflected something. What was it? Did we have an ancestor from India or Pakistan? Or was this South Asian DNA an indicator of something else? On my father’s side, I had already become aware that ancestors from Madagascar, an island located 250 miles off the southeastern African coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean, may transfer Southeast Asian DNA to their descendants. What about South Asian DNA?

T.L. Dixon, a DNA scholar in the Malagasy Roots Project Facebook group, confirmed that South Asian DNA may be an indicator of a Madagascar ancestor. He further stated, “The range seems to be from 0% to 25%, based on my family's Malagasy ancestors….You should also note the Southeast Asian clusters very closely to South Asian (India subcontinent), so the algorithm may show percentages in both categories.” Another DNA scholar, Teresa Vega, who has also extensively researched her Madagascar ancestry, also explained that she has both Southeast Asian and South Asian admixtures in her ancestry composition. Her extensive research can be read HERE.

The ancestry composition of a Malagasy shows 22.2% South Asian DNA
and 20.5% Southeast Asian DNA
(Courtesy of TL Dixon)

Of the approximately 450,000 enslaved Africans who were transported to America over the course of the transatlantic slave trade, only about 4,800 of them were from Madagascar. That is much less than 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. 

In Exchanging Our Country Mark, Michael Gomez describes how those particular Africans transported into Virginia were "yellowish" in complexion and had hair like a "Madagascar's" (p. 41). 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, as well as from Asia, specifically Borneo (Source). As time passed in America, Malagasy Africans were often and mistakenly labeled as “Indians,” or “Black Indians” or even “Native Americans.” Some may have even become labeled as “Blackfoot Indians.”

Interestingly, my great-grandmother Sarah was rumored to have Native American ancestry. Even one of her sons possessed “cold black,” curly hair that many considered to be a Native American trait. Turns out, that was most probably a Malagasy trait, not the Cherokee Nation. 

Malagasy Women in Madagascar

Slave Ancestral Research: Unearthing your Family’s Past Before the 1870 Census

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) published this second article in their latest newsletter, BCALA News, Summer 2015, Volume 42 Issue 3, pp 41-46. I am reposting it here on my blog. This article can also be read at the following link:

You have thoroughly researched your African-American roots all the way back to the 1870 U.S. census. You have even read an article, book, or two about the institution of chattel slavery here in America. Now you are wondering what to do? How can you trace your family history back into the slavery era? How do you find and document your enslaved ancestors? Part two of this genealogy series answers these questions.

First and foremost, you must determine if your African-American ancestors were enslaved. Elderly relatives may be able to shed some light. You can also determine if your ancestors were free or enslaved by researching the 1860 U.S. census. If you find your ancestors in the 1860 U.S. census, residing in a slave state, then your ancestors were “Free People of Color” (FPOC).  Only a small percentage of African-American families, especially in the South, were actually free before the Civil War. Historians have estimated that more than 200,000 FPOC were in the South and in the North before the Civil War. However, most people of African descent here in America were enslaved, especially in the South. More than 4,000,000 were enslaved in the South when the Civil War began in 1861.

If you have successfully located your ancestors in the U.S. census records, all the way back to the 1870 U.S. census, then you have successfully reached the point known in the genealogy world as the “1870 Brick Wall.” If your ancestors were enslaved during and before the Civil War, there is only one way to knock down this infamous brick wall. You must find the name of the last slave-owner to research for information about your enslaved ancestors. This is imperative. Slave ancestral research cannot be conducted without knowing the name of the last slave-owner.

During the early years of my genealogical journey that began in 1993, I presumed that the surnames of nearly all African Americans came from the last slave-owner. While researching my family roots, I found that to not be true.  Some former slaves took the last slave-owner's surname, but a lot of them did not.  Many emancipated people not only chose different surnames after slavery, but many people had surnames on farms and plantations that were concealed from most slave-owners. In The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925, historian Herbert Gutman quoted the following from the 1865 diary of Eliza Frances Andrews, a slave-owner’s daughter in Georgia, “I notice that the negroes seldom or never take the names of the present owners in adopting their ‘entitles’ as they call their own surnames, but always that of some former master, and they go back as far as possible.” (pg. 256), the genealogy website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reports that only 15 percent of former slaves retained the last slave-owner’s surname. The statistics vary on this subject. However, the general consensus, based on a number of sources, indicates that the number of people who did not take the last slave-owner’s surname is greater than the number of people who did.

Here are seven other important facts to remember when starting your quest to document your enslaved ancestors:

1. Slavery ended in 1865, in most areas of the South.
2. Husbands and wives were not always enslaved on the same farm or plantation.
3. A number of African Americans and their families were enslaved by the same family for several generations.
4. Many enslaved people had multiple owners.
5. Some African Americans chose surnames not affiliated with any slave-owner.
6. Slave-owners acquired slaves through the following sources:
a. Estate sales
b. Public Auction, Slave markets, or independent sellers
c. Sheriff sales
d. Inheritance from family members (fathers, fathers-in-law, uncles, grandfathers, etc.)
7. If one of your enslaved ancestors was “mulatto,” and you have no oral history about this ancestor’s parentage, don’t immediately conclude that the slave-owner was the father.

With genealogy, especially slave ancestral research, one is often faced with direct evidence vs. indirect evidence. Evidence only arises when the researcher asks a specific question and then considers whether the information found in a particular record answers that question. Direct evidence is information that directly answers a question, such as ‘what year was Prince born,’ without a need for other evidence to explain or interpret it. Conversely, indirect evidence is circumstantial information that requires additional evidence to devise a reliable conclusion. Of course, direct evidence usually carries more weight than indirect evidence. However, with slave ancestral research, many forms of direct evidence that emphatically proves family relationships, birthplaces, and other happenings are often non-existent because slaves were merely considered “property” and not human beings. Indeed, a number of researchers have been very fortunate to find pieces of direct evidence, in the form of old family letters, diaries, ledgers, Bibles, etc.

With this background information, here are seven basic steps to begin your slave ancestral research journey.

Step 1 – Talk with your kin again.

To begin the journey of finding and documenting enslaved ancestors, you should talk to elderly family members again. I say “again” because you should have already conversed with family elders during the beginning stages of your genealogy research. Record their memories of past family members, especially the ones who lived during slavery. Inquire if the family’s surname has always been used by the family, or if at one time, the surname was said to have been different. If so, record that surname because it will likely serve as a great clue in your quest to find and document your enslaved ancestors. Record any special stories that were passed down in the family, especially if the events happened during slavery. Verify where the family resided during and after slavery. Chances are good that your ancestors remained close to the farm or plantation where they had been enslaved. Note the names of other family members or kinship with other families with other surnames. Those surnames may also serve as great clues. 

Step 2 – Study the Neighborhood.

Once you have found your ancestors in the 1870 U.S. census, go back and study the neighborhood. Look at the white families who lived near your ancestors for suspects. I often advise people to scroll at least the first ten pages before and after your family in that census. As mentioned in the first article, many African Americans on the same 1870 U.S. census pages had likely lived together earlier as a family group on their former enslavers’ farms and plantations. As late as 1870 and further, they continued to depend upon these relationships, even though some people were not blood-related. In 1870, you may often run across other families in the area with the same last names as your ancestors. Some of them may have been blood relatives, and some were not. Elder family members may know which families were blood-related. More importantly, the goal is to also find any white persons who may have been the last slave-owner. Your examination of the neighborhood for clues is a methodology called cluster genealogy. Becoming familiar with the 1870 neighborhood, i.e., family, friends, and associates, just five years after slavery, often reveals great clues to determining who the last slave-owner may have been. Additionally, increase your knowledge about the area and county where they resided through published sources.

Step 3 – Research the 1850 and 1850 Censuses/Slave Schedules.

Armed with clues gained from conducting cluster genealogy, research the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules for the county where your ancestors were living in 1870, to see if any suspected persons owned slaves. Highly suspected persons are whites with the same surname that your ancestors chose to retain, since many people chose to keep the last slave-owner’s surname. However, there is one problem with slave schedules. Outside of identifying the names of potential slave-owners, many researchers feel that the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules are fundamentally useless. Why? When slave schedules were added to the U.S. federal census in 1850 and 1860, census enumerators were not required to list each enslaved person by name.  The name of the slave-owner was reported, with only a scanty description of each slave – age, sex, and color. Enslaved people, age 100 and over, were supposed to be named in the 1860 slave schedules, but only some of them had their names recorded. Despite this inhumane act of not reporting our enslaved ancestors’ names, the slave schedules can provide a plethora of clues. Compare the age, sex, and color of the slaves to that of your ancestors. Also, research the 1850 and 1860 census records to see if there were any white families with the same last names.  Some people were omitted in the slave schedules.

Step 4 – Research the Suspected Slave-owner’s Family.

You may have to do as much (or more) research on the last slave-owner and his family in order to find your enslaved ancestors. Note the following key facts about the suspected slave-owning family.

1. Pay attention to migration patterns. Note the birthplaces of the possible slave-owners to see if they match the birthplaces of your ancestors.
2. Gather the following information on the slave-owner. 
A. Year and place of death 
B.  Maiden name of wife 
C.  Birthplace
D.  Children’s names and the names of sons-in-law
E.  Parents’ names and their dates and places of death.
3. Scour the Internet for others who are researching the same family, i.e. genealogy message boards and family trees on
4. Read county history books to see if there are any written histories on the slave-owning families. 
5. If a possible female slave-owner was found in the censuses and slave schedules, she was likely a widow and her husband may have been the previous slave-owner. Research to determine the name of her deceased husband and his date and place of death.
6. Check the historical society in the county where your ancestors were enslaved or the State Archives to see if any plantation records may exist for that suspected slave-holding family.

Step 5 – Research County Court Records.

Enslaved African Americans were considered “property,” like horses, cattle, furniture, etc. Many of the enslaved were recorded in court records by their first names for any transactions that affected their ownership.  Wills, probate and estate records are the most valuable resources in tracing enslaved ancestors. They often contain the names of slaves frequently listed in the wills and estate inventories. Once you have found the name of a suspected slave-owner, check to see if he left a will. Also, search for his probate and estate records.  When a person died leaving a will, he died testate; his estate was distributed according to his will. These distributions were recorded in the estate records. When a person died without leaving a will, he died intestate. However, his property was distributed according to the inheritance laws of the State. A court-appointed administrator was responsible for taking a complete inventory of the estate. If the person died testate or intestate before 1865, and he was the owner of slaves, his court records should include the names of his slaves, as well their ages and/or value.

Other rich resources in county court records include the following:

1. Probate/Estate Records, Slave Inventories and Appraisements — when slave-owners died, their estates had to be settled. Slaves were often named in inventories and appraisements of the estate.
2. Deed Records — Bills of sale, deeds of gifts, and deeds of trust show the transference of slaves. 
3. Civil Court Cases — Research these records to see if the slave-owner was involved in any lawsuits that may have involved the slaves.
4. Tax Records – some counties’ tax records may list slaves and their monetary value.

These records can be found at the courthouse in the county where the person died. Most state archive departments have these records on microfilm. Also, microfilms containing wills and estate records can be ordered through your local or nearest Family History Center. Many county court records may also be found online, on sites like,,,, and others. Specifically, and are continuously digitizing more of these records and adding them to their online accessible databases.

Step 6 – Research Other Sources to Determine or Verify the Last Slave-owner.

1. Civil War Pension Records – see
2. Freedman’s Bank Applications – see or
3. Freedmen’s Bureau Records – see
3. Southern Claims Commission Records – see or
4. Slave Narratives
5. Church Records
6. Inquire about unique records for your state at your State Archives.
7. Donated family papers – check your local archives, your state archives, and your local historical society.

Step 7 – Read slave ancestral research case studies and genealogy blogs, books, articles, etc.

Although I have placed this as the last step, it can actually be one of the first steps. Slave ancestral research is not an exact science or does not entail a straightforward methodology, even though I list seven methodical steps in this article. Many people have found and documented their enslaved ancestors in a number of ways, utilizing a lot of records. You can garner much insight by reading cases on how enslaved ancestors were found. My two books, Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery and 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, offer two extensive case studies on how my families were traced back well into the slavery-era. One of the purposes for writing these books was to provide readers with solid examples of slave ancestral research. Also, my blog, Roots Revealed, contain many posts on how enslaved ancestors were documented. See Genealogist Robyn Smith’s new book, The Best of Reclaiming Kin: A Genealogy Blog, offer great cases as well.

Additionally, several instructional books are available that outline methodologies for slave ancestral research. Those books include the following:

1.     Finding a Place Called Home by Dee Palmer Woodtor
2.     A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors by Franklin Smith and Emily Croom

Slave ancestral research is not easy. It requires time, money, patience, and knowing what resources are available. Understanding how others tackled their genealogical puzzles can provide researchers with “road maps” to their own enslaved ancestors, who are waiting to be found. Last but not least, never give up. If you become too easily frustrated and give up, your ancestors will remain buried.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Reuniting of Two Sisters, Beady and Brittie Ann


I have come to realize that we are on the ancestors’ time. Therefore, when we embark on a genealogy journey to trace our family histories, we must have patience. We also must never give up. Everything that we want to know will not be found within the time frame that we imagine. If we get easily frustrated and decide that we don’t want to be bothered with genealogy research anymore, then whatever was meant to be found will remain buried. I truly believe that our ancestors want their stories told. At the same time, I feel that they ascertain the perfect time when to drop a major clue out of the blue.

I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in April 2013. Now, I honestly believe that my ancestors were waiting for that move to happen. They had a lot of things in store for me, and being in the D.C. area would be perfect. I needed to be here to also attend the 2015 Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion in Alexandria, Virginia. On the day I moved to the D.C. area, hearing “The Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion” would have meant nothing to me. I was clueless about my connection to this North Carolina family. Two months later, on June 18, 2013, the ancestors obviously stated, “It’s time!” A major clue was revealed. That major clue enabled me to break down one of my brick walls and learn more about my father’s great-grandfather John “Jack” Bass’ family, especially the plight of Jack’s mother, Beady Bass. Previous blog posts disclose the Bass discoveries in greater detail.

However, allow me to summarize in a nutshell. In or around 1849, my great-great-great-grandmother Beady Bass, her children, two brothers, their mother Rose, and possibly her very elderly grandmother Peggy were taken to Hinds County, Mississippi. Persistent research finally revealed that she had a younger sister named Brittie Ann Bass. Aunt Brittie Ann remained in North Carolina because their former enslaver, Council Bass, had bequeathed her in 1830 to one of his three married daughters named Charlotte Holloman; she stayed in North Carolina with her husband, while her two sisters migrated to Hinds County, Mississippi and Madison County, Tennessee with their husbands. Those sisters took nearly all of Aunt Brittie Ann’s siblings away from North Carolina. Sadly, Grandma Beady and Aunt Brittie Ann never saw each other anymore. She subsequently “jumped the broom” with a man named Langley Earley, and they had a large family who lived near Ahoskie in Hertford County, North Carolina after slavery. Aunt Brittie Ann died in 1914. Her death certificate reported that she was “about 100,” and she was definitely in her mid to late 90s when she died.

Shortly after discovering the whereabouts of Aunt Brittie Ann, I was fortunate to find a family tree on that contained one of her sons, Goodman Earley, the same son who was the informant of her 1914 death certificate. Andre Early of New York had uploaded his family tree there. Goodman was Andre’s great-grandfather, and Aunt Brittie Ann was his great-great-grandmother. Soon after making contact with Andre, he invited me to the Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion, a reunion of Aunt Brittie Ann’s descendants! He was the 2015 reunion organizer, and it was slated to be held right here in the D.C. area, practically in my back yard, in Alexandria, Virginia.  

On this past Saturday, while I gazed into the eyes of Aunt Brittie Ann’s descendants, I was in disbelief. All of this happened within a short time frame – from uncovering Grandma Beady Bass’ family and her permanent separation from family members in 2013, to meeting the descendants of one of her long lost sisters in person in 2015! The ancestors were with me as I relayed this unknown history to the family. Mouths dropped while I gave my presentation. Everything seemed so surreal. I had purposely refrained from telling family members how I was related when I was asked before my presentation. I simply stated, “If I tell you now, it may be hard for you to believe, so let’s wait until I give my presentation.” Many understood why I stated that. They never imagined that my connection to the family would be in this manner. I was lovingly embraced, and I felt that North Carolina hospitality. Grandma Beady and Aunt Brittie Ann were happy. They had been reunited.

Here are some pictures from the family reunion:

Andre Early and me

Descendants of Goodman Earley (Brittie Ann’s son)

Descendants of Rev. D. Westley Earley (Brittie Ann’s son)

Naomi Murrell-Bunch of Ahoskie, N.C. delivering the Earley-Jenkins Family Reunion History. She is a great-granddaughter of Aunt Brittie Ann’s son, Rev. D. Westley Earley. Cousin Naomi told me that her grandmother talked about Brittie Ann a lot!

Cousin Naomi Murrell-Bunch

Earley-Jenkins Descendants

Look at that beautiful cake!

With Alice Medford, another descendant of Rev. D. Westley Earley

The Earley-Jenkins Family knows how to dance!

With Cousin Dana Early-Jeune, who wrote on her Facebook page, “Connecting the dots w/ a family member. Sisters separated because of slavery & never knew what happened to each other once the slave owner died & left slaves to his kids. One went to Mississippi & the other one stayed in NC. WOW!!”

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Who’s the Daddy? (Part 2)

Last Wednesday, I posted “My ‘Maury Povich’ Moment with DNA.”  You have to read it to understand this update. In a nutshell, after 21 years, with clues from oral history and genealogy research staring me in the face all that time, DNA is confirming that a man named Prince Edwards (born c. 1830) of Panola County, Mississippi was likely the father of my mother’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed (1852-1923) of Tate County (Senatobia), Mississippi. Then, my cousin, Dr. Jeffrey O. Green Ogbar, sent me turning flips with excitement because of the African history he had uncovered about the Edwards Family. Details are in “My ‘Maury Povich’ Moment with DNA.”

Hooked up with cousin Dr. Jeffrey O. Green Ogbar this past Saturday to rap about our 3rd-great-grandfather, Ogba(r) Ogumba (Luke Edwards Sr.) and future research and DNA verification plans.

Last night, I was able to finally talk with one of my close DNA matches, who had been in my Mom’s relative database in 23andMe for over 2 years. Andre shares 70 cM (0.94%) across 4 segments with Mom, 81 cM (1.09%) across 5 segments with my uncle, and 93 cM (1.26%) across 6 segments with my aunt, with a predicted relationship of 2nd to 3rd cousin. After talking with Andre and his father Albert last night, I see why Andre shares a lot of DNA with us. Albert’s real paternal grandfather's father was Uncle Square Partee, one of Grandma Sarah’s brothers! Therefore, Andre and my Mom are second cousins twice removed.

When I discovered that Prince Edwards was Grandma Sarah’s father, I wondered if he was the father of her three younger brothers, Judge Partee (1854), Square Partee (1858), and Johnny Partee (1864). There may have been another brother, Dock Partee (born c. 1855), but his relationship is presently unconfirmed. They were all the children of Polly Partee, who was known as being the cook on Squire B. Partee’s plantation in Panola County, Mississippi during and after slavery. She was born somewhere in North Carolina around 1832. Again, DNA is coming to the rescue to provide a partial answer to my question – was Prince Edwards also the father of Grandma Sarah’s younger brothers?

One of the close DNA matches in 23andMe that confirmed my family’s connection to Prince Edwards was Elmer Edwards of Alberta, Canada. Both he and his daughter Sandra took the 23andMe test. After Sandra accepted my sharing invitation in 23andMe, I was able to see her father’s profile and compare him to my Mom and her siblings. Elmer was the great-grandson of Peter Edwards (born c. 1835), who was one of Prince’s brothers who left Mississippi and settled in Oklahoma. Elmer’s father, Jefferson Edwards, left Oklahoma in 1911 and migrated to Alberta, Canada. More details are in “My ‘Maury Povich’ Moment with DNA.”

Well, Andre is also a DNA match to Elmer! In fact, they all share DNA on chromosome 16 on overlapping segments, which means that they all share a common ancestor(s). This DNA match is strongly indicating that Prince Edwards was also the father of Uncle Square Partee. To add to this claim, Andre and Elmer have the same paternal haplogroup, E1b1a7a. Paternal haplogroups are Y-chromosome haplogroups, and Y-chromosomes are passed down in tact from father to son for many generations. Therefore, two men, whose fathers were brothers (born to the same father), will have the exact same paternal haplogroup. This was the paternal haplogroup of Luke Edwards, Sr. (aka Ogba[r] Ogumba / Agba Akumba), the proposed father of Luke Jr., Peter, Prince, Jeffrey/Jefferson/Jeff, Jerry, Monroe, Jack, and York Edwards.

One of the matching segments is on their chromosome 16, where they all match in the same location.

I mentioned an unconfirmed brother named Dock Partee. Well, Dock moved to DeSoto County, Mississippi after 1880. I had found him in the 1900 census. Check this out. Someone named John Edwards was living in his household. I ignored this the first time I saw it, but now it is of great significance. John was 25 years old. The relationship was not given but rather John was reported as being a “servant”. Hmmmm…….

Dock’s age was reported as 27 in 1880. Then, in 1900, his age was reported as 55. I guesstimate that he was born around 1855. Interestingly, he also named a daughter Hattie.
 Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Beat 4, De Soto, Mississippi; Roll: 807; Page: 20A; Enumeration District: 0028; FHL microfilm: 1240807

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My “Maury Povich Moment” with DNA

Three of 11 children of Bill & Sarah Partee Reed: Jimmy, John Ella, and Pleas Reed
Tate County, Mississippi

To date, June 2015 will go down in genealogy history as the month that I had the most discoveries, all within 30 days. I won’t go into details about all of them in this blog post. However, I will reveal my first one, which has still left me in utter shock. Not only that, this discovery has led to other mouth-dropping discoveries that I will present. Therefore, in an effort not to write an extremely long blog post and for better flow of information, I will present this discovery in four parts. Part 1 is what led to it all.

Part 1: Who’s the Daddy?

The father of my mother’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed (1852-1923), has been a mystery for me for over 20 years! For years, I speculated that a man named James Partee, born c. 1825 in Virginia, may have been her father, although Grandma Sarah (or someone) reported to the census-takers that her father was born in Tennessee. I even wrote this August 30, 2013 blog post about my speculation of James Partee. In my mind, I had always pictured that her father was another person enslaved on Squire B. Partee’s plantation near Como, Mississippi. I was wrong as two left shoes!

Little did I know, family elders provided great clues all along, but I failed to see the answer. Let me briefly take you back to July 1994, the day I met the late Cousin Isaac “Ike” Deberry Sr., my mother’s eldest paternal first cousin, at the Reed & Puryear Family Reunion in Senatobia, Mississippi. At the time, he was 80 years old, and I was a college youngster deeply interested in my family roots. Cousin Ike was practically raised by his maternal grandparents, Bill & Sarah Reed. That day, during my conversation with him, he claimed that Grandpa Bill Reed (1846-1937) had two sisters named Louvenia Hunter and Hattie Whiting who came with him to Mississippi from South Carolina right after slavery. I soon learned that Grandpa Bill arrived in northern Mississippi from Abbeville, South Carolina in 1866. I was very excited because I now had more clues to take my research further.

During my next trip to the Mississippi Department of Archives & History in Jackson, I searched for those alleged sisters in the census records. My findings didn’t completely jive with what Cousin Isaac Deberry had told me initially. He was partially correct, which is the nature of oral history. In a nutshell, I realized that Louvenia Hunter was Grandpa Bill Reed's niece, his sister's daughter, and not his sister. Prior to marrying Allen Hunter, Louvenia was in the household of her parents, Dave & Mary Pratt, who were both from South Carolina. My Mom remembers the Hunters (Louvenia's children) as being her cousins. So the dots connected with Louvenia.

But what about Aunt Hattie Whiting? When I found Aunt Hattie in the censuses and marriage records, I became even more confused! I discovered that her maiden name was Edwards and that she was born in 1866 in Mississippi. I found her in her parents' household in 1880, before she married Sam Whiting in 1885. Her parents were Prince & Leanna Edwards. No one was from South Carolina. If someone is to be Grandpa Bill's sister, she had to have been born in South Carolina, too.

To make things even more confusing, other family elders corroborated what Cousin Ike said. One family elder recalled that Sam & Hattie Edwards Whiting's two children, Admira & Prince Whiting, were first cousins to my grandfather Simpson Reed and his siblings. What? How could that be? It could not be on Grandpa Bill's side. Hattie's siblings, Jeff, Bly, and Miles Edwards, were also considered to be "close family," according to Cousin Ike. So I began to speculate that the connection was truly on Grandma Sarah's side. Aunt Hattie's mother, Leanna Edwards, was born in Maryland, according to the 1880 census. No one in my family came from Maryland. North Carolina was consistently reported as the birthplace of Grandma Sarah's mother, Polly Partee (born c. 1832). So that left Aunt Hattie’s father, Prince Edwards.

In the 1880 Panola County census, Prince Edwards’ age was reported as 40 years old. Grandma Sarah was around 27 or 28 years old then. What is the connection? I wondered this for over 20 years. It didn’t dawn on me then that perhaps Prince Edwards may have been closer to 50, rather than 40. A rule in genealogy, especially African-American genealogy, is to never consider the reported ages in the census records as the absolute truth. Many formerly enslaved African Americans did not know their exact birthdates.

Part 2: My “Maury Povich Moment”

Now, let’s fast forward 21 years later, to June 25, 2015. DNA technology has entered the scene, and millions of people have utilized DNA technology via 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, and other DNA companies to tell them something about their ancestry. One of those persons is Kemberly Edwards-Morris, Ph.D of Atlanta. Her family is from Oklahoma. She is a new DNA match in my mother, aunt, and uncle’s GEDmatch databases. My uncle John Reed is presently her highest DNA match, at 87.1 cM across 4 segments (76.3 cM when performing an one-to-one comparison), with an estimated MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) of 3.7 generations back. Not only that, their paternal first cousin’s granddaughter Caronde Puryear is Kemberly’s third highest DNA match in GEDmatch, sharing 59.5 cM across 3 segments. Therefore, our connection to Kemberly is via my grandfather, Simpson Reed.

I sent an e-mail to Kemberly introducing myself. I also explained that she is related to my maternal grandfather. She responded excitingly within an hour and included a link to her family tree on In her response, she explained that her only link to Mississippi was via her paternal Edwards family, who left Panola County, Mississippi and eventually migrated to Oklahoma. My heart started pounding! Then, I clicked on her family tree. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed that her great-great-great-grandfather was Peter Edwards!

Why is Peter Edwards so important?  In the 1870 census, Prince Edwards' two oldest children, Harriett and Prince Jr., were in Peter's household. Perhaps Peter and his wife were babysitting when the census-taker came by in 1870, and the census-taker recorded them in Peter's household. In 1880, Harriet and Prince Jr. were in the household of their parents, Prince & Leanna Edwards, as well as other younger siblings. Harriet was Aunt Hattie Edwards Whiting. Prince and Peter appeared to have been brothers. Then, as I thought about it more and re-analyzed everything, a light bulb went off. In my mind I heard Maury Povich’s voice saying, “In the case of baby Sarah Partee, Prince Edwards, DNA says that you ARE the father!” lol Everything began to make sense after 20 years! Hattie and Grandma Sarah were half-sisters! That’s why Cousin Ike had claimed her as a “sister,” but he was apparently confused about whose sister she was. So indeed, Hattie’s children, Admira & Prince Whiting, would have been my grandfather’s first cousins, like the elders had claimed. They were right all along!

Part 3: Cousins Everywhere, Even in Alberta, Canada!

My excited newfound cousin Kemberly further communicated more about the history of her Edwards Family branch. Peter Edwards, his second wife Catherine, and his 12 children (Isaac, Patrick, John, Jeff, Peter, Katie, Henry, Lucy, Jerry, Paul, Silas, and Moses) left the Como and Sardis area of Panola County after 1880 and spent some time in Quitman County, in the Mississippi Delta, near the towns of Sledge and Maston. Even Uncle Prince Edwards, Jr. followed them to Quitman County, where I found him in the 1900 census with his wife and children.  Around 1907, scores of Edwards then left Mississippi and settled in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, in the communities of Wellston, Wewoka, and Lima. Cousin Kemberly further shared that the Edwards Family Reunion, which is held every two years, generates an attendance of 200-500 people! They are preparing for their 2015 reunion in Chicago this month. This is their website:

Kemberly also relayed that there are a lot of black Edwards in Alberta, Canada. I then discovered through Internet sites that Peter’s grandson, Jefferson Edwards, spurned a migration of about 200 African Americans from Lincoln County, Oklahoma to an area outside of Edmonton, Canada in 1910-1911. From Edmonton, Jefferson walked a hundred miles north and staked a homestead east of Athabasca (source). He soon married his sweetheart, Martha Murphy, and the couple were two of the first settlers in the black settlement known as "Amber Valley". He was only 21 years old. They had settled in Amber Valley because Oklahoma Black farmers had been denied the same rights as others. They found the laws in Oklahoma to be more restrictive regarding Black rights (source)

This was another mental "light bulb flashing” moment because the following new DNA match from Canada appeared in my Mom, aunt, and uncle’s relative database in 23andMe over a month ago! She lists Edwards as one of her surnames! She shares the most DNA with my aunt at 62 cM (0.83%) across 2 segments, with a predicted relationship of 3rd cousins. That’s fairly close kin, in my opinion!

Is Sandra a descendant of Jefferson Edwards? Presently, that question remains unanswered, as I wait for her to respond to my message. Based on my and others’ experiences, the wait could be days, months, unfortunately several years, or never. Hopefully, she will eventually respond. Nonetheless, I learned that Jefferson and Martha had 10 children, seven boys and three girls. He died in 1979, at the age of 90. He is remembered as a proud Canadian citizen who exemplified the strong spirit of the Black pioneers who settled the Canadian West. More about the Alberta, Canada Edwards Family can be read in this Alberta Council on Aging newsletter, ACA News Winter 2014.

Update (7/2/15): Sandra saw this post and confirmed that Jefferson Edwards is her paternal grandfather! Yeah! Her father also took the 23andMe test and shares 89 cM (1.20%) across 4 segments!

Part 4: Is Ogba(r) my “Kunte Kinte”??

Another reason why all of this is so shocking for me is because I have been aware of the Edwards Family of Panola County for a long time. My maternal grandmother’s oldest sister, Mae Ella Davis (1899-1975), married Johnny Edwards; they and their children left Como, Mississippi and moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan. Mom and her siblings have fond memories of visiting Uncle Johnny & Aunt Mae Ella Edwards. Uncle Johnny’s paternal grandfather, Jerry Edwards, is believed to be a brother to Prince and Peter Edwards!

In 2011, I learned a lot about the Edwards Family History from my cousin, Dr. Jeffrey O. Green Ogbar, never knowing until now that this is my family, too. Cousin Jeffrey explained to me why he changed his surname to Ogbar. You see, he had started researching the Edwards Family History some years ago. He was very fortunate to gain some invaluable oral history notes from his great-uncle, who had interviewed elderly relatives back in the 1970s. According to those elders, the father of Jeffrey’s great-great-grandfather Jerry Edwards was an African who was given the name Luke. He told his family that his real name was Ogba(r) Ogumba (or Agba Akumba). Cousin Jeffrey changed his surname to reflect his African roots. According to Cousin Jeffrey, geneticist Dr. Rick Kittles' analysis linked a male Edwards' Y-DNA to the Akan people of Ghana. The oral history also posits that the slave-owner, William Edwards Sr., purchased Luke off a slave ship in Virginia and transported him to Mississippi. Census records show that they were in Tennessee for at least two decades before coming to Panola County, Mississippi around 1837. Also, according to the oral history that Cousin Jeffrey was able to garner, Luke's wife was named Reedia (or Rita), with whom he had at least six sons.

We are trying to figure out who all of those sons were. Naming patterns strongly suggest that there may have been at least 8 sons: Jerry, Peter, Prince, York, Monroe, Jeffrey/Jeff/Jefferson, Jack, and Luke. Panola County census records show that there was indeed someone named Luke Edwards living in the vicinity up until after 1900. He was born around 1815/1817 in Tennessee. My theory is that this Luke was probably Luke Junior. The 1850 Panola County slave schedule shows that William Edwards’ oldest male slave in 1850 was a 60-year-old black male (born c. 1790). Of course, his age was estimated. We wonder if this elder male was Luke Senior [a.k.a. Ogba(r) Ogumba]? Is he truly my great-great-great-grandfather?!? I believe so! However, we have so much to figure out! Documents to prove our theories are currently being sought. Also, I think that further DNA testing will help solve the case as well. Nonetheless, all of this has been overwhelming but in a great way!

Last week, I was able to confirm that William Edwards Sr. was indeed the slave-owner. He died on Oct. 2, 1855, in Panola County, at the age of 75. Interestingly, his plantation wasn’t far from Squire B. Partee’s plantation, and he and Squire Partee are both buried at Fredonia Church Cemetery, eight miles east of Como. I was fortunate to find his estate file on, and the names of those 8 Edwards men were inventoried, including my Prince! Yes, it was another “Carlton Banks” dance moment for me. lol

The Slave Inventory of William Edwards’ Estate
December 15, 1855, Panola County, Mississippi (Source)

William Edwards’ gravestone at Fredonia Church Cemetery, Panola County, Mississippi
(Source: Find A Grave)

Me and Cousin Dr. Jeffrey O. Green Ogbar; Taken at the Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection Conference
Robert W. Woodruff Library – Atlanta University Center, Sept. 2012

UPDATE: Also, check out “Who’s the Daddy? (Part 2)” posted on July 7, 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2015

African-American Genealogy: Unearthing Your Family’s Past, From the Present to the Civil War


The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) published my article in their latest newsletter, BCALA News, Spring 2015, Volume 42 Issue 2, pp 56-60. I am reposting it here on my blog. This article answers the question, "How Do I Get Started?" You can also read it at

The late Dr. John Henrik Clarke so eloquently stated, “History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be.”

The words of this great historian, scholar, and educator highlight why many people, especially the descendants of enslaved Africans who were disembarked on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, should research their family histories. Genealogy is life-changing; its effects have many psychological benefits. Knowledge of self is gained by unearthing and studying the ancestors of the past. Discovering how the ancestors contributed to the larger historical picture builds self-esteem and confidence. Additionally for African Americans, genealogy elevates our curiosity level and inspires us to read and learn more facts about our African-American history that have been omitted, distorted, or scantly told in many history books.

But how do we get started? That’s a question that I now hear often. Television shows like Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” and TLC’s series, “Who Do You Think You Are,” have heightened many people’s interest in digging up their own roots.  However, these shows and others typically present the mouth-dropping findings from genealogy research, which causes many people to ask, “How did they find that out?” Therefore, the purpose of this article is to answer those questions. These steps are how many people can get started in unearthing their families’ past, going back to the Civil War era.

Converse with Your Family

First, start building your family tree based on the information you know and the information you can garner from family members.  Blank family pedigree charts or family trees can be obtained from the Internet. Interview the older generations first. Record the names, dates, and places where your ancestors lived. Note any famous family stories. A beginner may be able to go back several generations in his family tree just from interviewing or conversing with parents, grandparents, aunts, great-aunts, great-uncles, cousins, and other relatives or even elder friends of the family. Some people may encounter family members who do not like to discuss the past. They will say, “Honey, let sleeping dogs lie.” Don’t worry. Hopefully, other family members may be willing to recall the past. Filling out your family tree or pedigree chart helps you to decide which family lines you want to research first.

Never rely on your mind to retain the information being relayed to you. At the very least, be equipped with a notebook and pencil. Advances in technology have allowed even our smart phones to be great recording devices. The key is to record the family information as it is being told. Therefore, choose the recording device that works best for you. Also, you can find numerous Internet articles about effective interviewing techniques. But one technique that has always generated great results for me is to just relax and generate conversations about the family elder’s young days rather than continually asking specific questions, like a news reporter. Allow the elders to talk, if they are willing, and sit back and listen, patiently. Pepper the conversation with great questions to get as much information as possible in a relaxed setting. Also, develop a rapport with older family members so that you will be able to reach out to them more as you travel on your genealogical journey. Keep in touch with them. Send them birthday cards or holiday greetings. As they become more comfortable with you, they will share more about the past. This is important because as you begin to research your family roots in the records, more questions will surface.

Gather Existing Records

Invaluable records could be right there, either in your house, your parents’ house, or in the possession of a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or cousin. You may stumble on a historical treasure trove by scavenging in basements, closets, dresser drawers, attics, trunks, file cabinets, and other places where old important papers are kept.  These records may contain genealogical information that will aid in your research.  These records include but are not limited to birth records, obituaries, newspaper clippings, wills, legal papers, old family papers that consist of divorce records, insurance papers, membership cards, military discharge papers, property deeds, and any documents with names and dates, as well as a family Bible, photographs, old photograph albums, school yearbooks, old church programs, old scrapbooks, etc. Old family obituaries are especially helpful because they provide names of deceased and living family members and the names of cemeteries where family members are buried. Your genealogical journey should also include a visit to those family cemeteries to gather names and data from tombstones.

Research and Study Federal Census Records

Census records are the most valuable resource and the nation’s largest record set for genealogy research. A federal census of the nation’s population was authorized and taken every ten years, from 1790 to the present day.  The plethora of data recorded in the census records allow researchers to capture a unique snapshot of their ancestors’ lives and the communities where they dwelled. This valuable data include but are not limited to the following: the heads of households, the people in the households and the relationship to the heads of households, the sex, race, age, and marital status of everyone, the number of years married, the age when first married, the place of birth, the father and mother’s places of birth, occupation, etc. The recorded information varies per census. However, for African-American research, one must rely on the censuses taken after 1860, unless your ancestors were free people of color. The names of all free people of color were included in the 1850 and 1860 census.

Armed with names, dates, and places, head to the place that houses census records. Advances in technology within recent years have allowed people to access census online from sites like,,, and others. The most popular site,, requires a fee-based subscription. However, many main city libraries allow library card-holding patrons to access and others for free. Census records are also available on microfilms at the National Archives, state archives departments, large public libraries, some major university libraries, and family history centers.

The 1940 U.S. Federal Census is the latest census that was made available to the public on April 2, 2012. Work from the known to the unknown by starting with the 1940 census and continue to the 1930, 1920, 1910, 1900, 1880, and the 1870 census. If your ancestors were free people of color, continue researching the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Unfortunately, an enormous 99 percent of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. in 1921.

If you are viewing microfilmed census records instead of the digital images on and other sites, a soundex is available for the 1930, 1920, 1910, 1900, and 1880 censuses.  The soundex is a phonetic index that was generated based on the sound of the surname.  Each surname has a soundex code. Locate your family in the soundex first, which will tell you exactly where to find them on the county census records.  The 1880 soundex only contains families with at least one child who was 10 years old or younger. If you can't find your ancestors in the 1880 soundex, then browse through the 1880 census to locate your ancestors.

The 1870 U.S. Federal Census is very important in African-American genealogy research. It was very often the first official record that recorded former enslaved African Americans by their first and last names. This census is also crucial because it was taken just five years after slavery. Therefore, most African-American adults in the 1870 census had been enslaved just five years prior.  Many African Americans on the same 1870 census pages had likely lived together earlier as a family group on their former enslavers’ farms and plantations. As late as 1870 and further, they continued to depend upon these relationships, even though some people were not blood-related. In 1870, you may often run across other families in the area with the same last names as your ancestors. Some of them may have been blood relatives, and some were not. Elder family members may be able to determine which families were blood-related.

When researching census records, here are some key things to remember:

(1)   A lot of county boundaries changed. Researchers may often find their ancestors residing in one county for one census year and in another county the following census year, but their ancestors never moved.

(2)   When you find your family in the censuses, study that page and several pages before and after. Pay attention to their neighbors. Family members often lived close to each other. Mimicking an African village, rural African-American communities were often filled with relatives or networks of extended kin. Ask older family members about the names of the other families living near your ancestors. They may be able to identify them.

(3)   You will find many discrepancies with names, ages, birthplaces, marital statuses, etc. That is common. Many people, especially former slaves, did not know their exact birthdates. Also, if a family was absent when the census-taker visited, he often retrieved information on that family from neighbors. The neighbors likely guessed the information.   

(4)   Chances are high that your family surnames may be spelled differently in the censuses. Do not disregard people in the censuses because their surnames are spelled another way. Consider all possible spelling variants of your names.

(5)   Be cognizant of the nicknames for official names. Many people were recorded in the censuses under a nickname. If you cannot locate an ancestor under his real name, try to search for him under a nickname. Many genealogical websites have lists of nicknames and official names. Some common nickname/official name variations include Lizzie/Liza/Eliza/Betty for Elizabeth, Mollie/Polly/Mae for Mary, Jack for John, Bill for William, Hank/Hence for Henry, Peggy/Maggie for Margaret, Mattie/Pattie/Patsy for Martha, Bob for Robert, Sally for Sarah, and many more.

(6)   If you find people reported as “M” or “Mu” in the censuses, which is an abbreviation for “mulatto,” do not assume that one of their parents was White or Native American.  A lot of census-takers wrote “M” or “Mu” for a person’s race/color if that person appeared to be of mixed ancestry.  Many of them likely did not inquire about the race of the parents but made assumptions based on appearances.  Older family members may be able to verify a person’s parentage.

Search for other records

Fortunately, for African-American genealogy research, the list of other valuable resources is lengthy. I will cover some of the main records researchers should seek in their genealogical quests. These main resources include marriage records, death certificates, birth certificates, land records, military service records, newspapers, published sources, draft registration cards, court records, church records, school records, Social Security Death Index and Social Security Application form SS-5, city directories, state censuses, and many more.
Maiden names can be learned from marriage records.  Marriage license applications can be found for some counties. The applications often give the parents’ names. Marriage records can be obtained from county courthouses and state archive departments.  Marriage dates may be found online on sites like or On the actual marriage documents, pay attention to the names of witnesses or bondsmen; they were often family members.

Death certificates are valuable because they contain information such as the name of the spouse, the father's name, the mother's maiden name, the birthplace, the birth date, the place of burial, etc. Birth certificates give the parents’ names and the place of birth.  Those records are typically found at state vital records departments and at state archive departments. and have increased their databases to include scanned death certificate for various states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, and more.

In 1863, the United States Army began to enlist free and enslaved African-American men into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Nearly 186,000 African Americans served in the USCT volunteer cavalry, artillery, and infantry units during the Civil War. If you have knowledge that an ancestor or relative may have fought in the Civil War, request copies of his pension record; they are stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  The USCT service records are indexed there. The pension records of many of these brave soldiers often contain a wealth of information. If a personal visit to the National Archives is not possible, you can order pension records online via the National Archives’ website.  NATF-80 applications are used to submit an order for a soldier’s record; these applications are also now online on their website. Not all soldiers have pension records.

Once you are able to uncover names of more ancestors and family members from these vital records, plan to search for them in the census records as well. Additionally, don’t just focus on your direct ancestors. Trace collateral lines or your ancestors’ siblings. You may be able to trace back another generation by doing so, especially if you discover a parent living with an ancestor’s sibling. Also, plan a research trip to your state Archives to research more records that are specific to that state and are not online. Genealogy requires a lot of time, money, and patience, but the rewards are great and life-changing, not only for you but for members of your family. There are many stories to be told and experiences to resurrect.