Monday, July 13, 2015

Repairing Broken Ties: DNA Finds Aunt Barsilla

My “new” cousin, Nettie Gloster (Courtesy of Nettie Gloster)

Earlier this year, I decided to investigate a predicted 4th cousin DNA match in my AncestryDNA account.  I match Nettie Gloster of Maryland, as well as her mother Ruth. Thankfully, Cousin Nettie’s family tree is viewable to the public. On her family tree I noticed that most of her mother’s ancestors were from Maryland. I have not found any ties to Maryland in my family history to date. However, Cousin Nettie’s maternal grandfather, Albert Cartwright, was born in North Carolina in 1894. Therefore, I decided to investigate his lineage since I had ancestors who were from North Carolina.   

From census records and online marriage data on, I determined that Albert's parents, Dempsey & Zilla Ann Cartwright, had moved to Norfolk, Virginia from Bertie County, North Carolina shortly after marrying in 1890. Bertie County is adjacent to Northampton and Hertford County, where some of my father’s enslaved maternal ancestors had resided. Zilla Ann’s maiden name was Williford. In the 1880 census, Zilla Ann was found in her parents' household, Randall & Mary Williford, in Bertie County. Living next door to Randall and Mary in 1870 was Zillie Willerford; her reported age was 40. She was Randall’s mother. When I found the elder Zillie, my mental light bulb started flashing. Could this be Aunt Barsilla?!? I wondered.

Dempsey Cartwright in the 1899 city directory of Norfolk, Virginia
(Source: U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.)

Who is Aunt Barsilla? Let me briefly explain. My 3rd-great-grandmother Beady Bass was first enslaved by Council Bass before he died in 1830 in Northampton County, North Carolina. In his will, he divided his slaves among his three daughters and two granddaughters. Those enslaved people included Grandma Beady, her mother Rose, a number of siblings, and even Grandma Rose’s mother Peggy.  Council Bass bequeathed “two negro girls” named Barsilla and Brittiana to his daughter, Charlotte Holloman. She resided in Hertford County, N.C. with her husband James Holloman. Brittie Ann/Brittiana was found after slavery, and her 1914 death certificate confirmed that she was also a daughter of Grandma Rose. Read about that huge discovery in Many Family Trees Are Wrong as Two Left Shoes.” I speculated that Barsilla was also another daughter.

“Item 5th: I give and bequeath unto Charlotte Holloman my daughter two negroe girls named Barsilla and Brittania to her and her heirs forever.” (Council Bass’ will dated Sept. 2, 1830, Northampton County, N.C.) (Source)

Council’s daughter, Charlotte Holloman, was the only one of his three daughters to remain in North Carolina. His daughter, Martha Bass Mayo, and her husband Frederick Mayo took Grandma Rose’s daughter, Jemima, and her children to Madison County, Tennessee shortly after 1830. His daughter, Elizabeth (Bass) Bass, eventually had Grandma Rose, Grandma Beady and her children, and two of Grandma Rose’s sons, Harry and Jackson, transported to Hinds County, Mississippi around 1849. They had been held in North Carolina by a legal trust set forth by Council’s will. Read more about that in Four Generations of Enslaved Ancestors Held By One Trust.” Therefore, one can plausibly assert that Aunt Barsilla would have also been left back in N.C., too. Also, doesn't the name “Barsilla” sound like “Barzilla”? Wouldn't Zillie be a short version of Barzilla? My theory was that Zillie Williford may have been Aunt Barsilla. How was I going to prove or disprove it?

Well, DNA came to the rescue! No other clues could be found online on, such as a marriage record giving her maiden name or even a death certificate for her. Luckily, the following DNA events occurred so smoothly in the following chronological order within the past 4 months that allowed me to answer the question.

(1)   Cousin Nettie took my advice and uploaded her and her mother’s AncestryDNA raw data files to GEDmatch. I was then able to confirm that they are a DNA match to my father. They did not match any of my father’s paternal cousins on GEDmatch. So far, so good! (See this blog post on clear instructions on how to upload to GEDmatch.)

(2)   Several weeks later, I obtained a brand new predicted third cousin match in AncestryDNA named Mary. Luckily, she is on my father’s biological mother’s side! My father’s maternal grandmother, Angeline Bass, and Cousin Mary’s great-grandmother, Maria Bass, were sisters – the daughters of Jack & Frances Bass. She is my father’s second cousin once removed and my third cousin. Our Grandpa Jack Bass was the son of Grandma Beady. Now, I had a known relative on my father’s mother’s side with whom I can compare with Cousin Nettie’s mother Ruth, if she uploads to GEDmatch.

(3)   Thankfully, Cousin Mary also took my advice and uploaded her AncestryDNA raw data file to GEDmatch. She and my father share 180.8 cM over 8 segments. Using the one-to-one comparison feature in GEDmatch, I compared her and Cousin Ruth. They match! They share just only 7.3 cM (2,010 SNPs). Cousin Mary also matches our cousin, Janice, whose 3rd-great-grandmother was Jemima Mayo. Aunt Jemima was Grandma Beady’s sister and another daughter of Grandma Rose. Janice and Mary share 15.3 cM of DNA.

(4)   Then, using the chromosome browser feature in GEDmatch, I “triangulated” Cousin Mary with my father, me, Cousin Nettie, and Cousin Janice. With DNA triangulation, one has to ensure that all people being compared are related to each other. See this post to learn more about DNA triangulation. Cousin Janice does not match Ruth. However, comparing everyone revealed something interesting!

Triangulating Cousin Mary with my father, me, Nettie’s mother Ruth, and Janice

Those long chromosome segments in yellow on our chromosome 18, measuring 45 cM, is what my father, Cousin Mary, and I inherited from our common ancestor, Grandpa Jack Bass. He inherited it from his mother, Grandma Beady Bass, which came from one of her parents, Seneca or Rose Bass. To explain it another way, Seneca or Rose is the source of that long chromosome segment in yellow on our chromosome 18 that my father, Mary, and I inherited. How do I know this? Because we match Cousin Janice on one end of that segment at 15 cM, and she is also a descendant of Seneca and Rose Bass (See green line). I smiled when I noticed that Cousin Ruth matches Mary, Dad, and me on the other end (See blue line). This is called "overlapping segments". Therefore, Cousin Ruth is indeed related to us via Seneca and/or Rose! This is DNA proof that Aunt Barsilla from Council Bass’ 1830 will was very likely Cousin Ruth’s great-great-grandmother, Zillie Williford!

However, more proof was found! I learned that Charlotte Bass Holloman’s husband James Holloman died in 1855 in Hertford County, N.C. I searched for his will or estate record, and I found his will, which was written on April 11, 1855. I wanted to see if I can find both Barsilla and Brittie Ann, whom his wife inherited in 1830 from Council Bass. He only mentioned four slaves in his will, who were called “Negro boys.” One of them was named Randall! Randall and another boy named Basil were bequeathed to daughter, Lavina Holloman, who had married her relative, Joseph Holloman. In the 1870 census, Joseph & Lavina Holloman were enumerated in the same district as Zillie Williford in Bertie County. Proximity is always great additional evidence!  

“. . . In the first place I give to my daughter Lavina Holloman wife of Joseph Holloman two negro boys one by the name of Randal and the other Basil to her and her heirs forever.” (James Holloman’s will dated Apr. 11, 1855, Hertford County, N.C.) (Source)


  1. Awesome post Melvin and clearly outlined for all to understand clue by clue! This is very exciting to read and I am always amazed at your research, especially your attention to detail!! And it shows thru your work in which you freely share with your family, friends, and genealogy circle. I am very excited for you and your family as you continually break down any brick walls! As always, thank you for sharing! The Ancestors are rejoicing! #RootsRevealed #AncestryDNA #UnitingThePastandPresentGenerations

    1. Thanks, Dante! I always hope and desire that many people learn from these experiences and then are able to find their ancestors and make connections!

    2. Hello cousin (Ruth is my grandmother and Nettie my aunt). Thanks alot for your hardwork. I too am in the DMV area : )

    3. Hello cousin (Ruth is my grandmother and Nettie my aunt). Thanks alot for your hardwork. I too am in the DMV area : )

  2. I was one my way home when my phone beeped. When I got to the stop light and checked, I saw that you had posted another blog piece. As soon as I got home I read it. Way to go Melvin! Another fantastic discovery! :)

    1. It's great that you didn't try to read it while driving! LOL! Thanks!

  3. Wonderful!

    I love reading about DNA success stories -- but what also caught my attention was the name "Barsilla". Because outside of my family I had never come across that name. You see, I have a 2nd great grand aunt named Emma Barzilla Richardson. (Family was in Hendricks County, Indiana and were partly Quakers from NC). She was born in 1867. I never knew where the name "Barzilla" came from, until I was looking at her mother's family. Mary had a sister named Priscilla -- which was often written as Barzilla in records. I didn't get it until someone pronounced the names the way they would in rural Indiana. Priscilla = Parcilla = Barzilla !!!

    (That same way I discovered how the normal names of Alfred and Harold became "Halford" and "Hurrell"!)

    --Elizabeth E.

  4. Enjoyed reading this blog and knowing I have a new cousin. Thank you cousin Melvin for your dedication to finding the roots of our great African tree. Your willingness to share, educate and allow your abilities to help others in their quest to better understand the road you have traveled is awesome. I salute you.


Thanks for visiting and commenting on Roots Revealed!