Wednesday, April 20, 2016

DNA and the Second Middle Passage

“Slave Auction, U.S. South,” Image Reference cass6, as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

With African Americans – the descendants of enslaved people of African descent here in America – one thing is for certain for those who take an autosomal DNA test from 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and/or FamilyTreeDNA. A lot of DNA matches will be descendants of family members who were permanently separated from our direct ancestors during slavery, never to see each other again. This forced migration of nearly one million enslaved people from the Upper South to the Deep South was coined as “The Second Middle Passage.” Many of our enslaved ancestors were sold "down the river" from auction blocks. Many mothers were separated from children, husbands from wives, sisters from brothers, and so on. Many were marched hundreds of miles to their Southern destinations, on foot and in chains, especially from 1830 to 1860. Additionally, many white slave-owning families left the Upper South for the Deep South, taking their slaves with them. Many of them left behind family members, never to see them again.

Such was the case with most of my great-great grandparents. Since both of my Mississippi grandfathers (my maternal grandfather and my father’s biological father) were much older than my grandmothers, I hit the slavery era in the fourth generation – my great grandparents. Let’s look at the years when all of my eight great grandparents were born: 1856, 1865, 1880, 1880, 1846, 1852, 1870, and 1867. Three of the eight were born during slavery. One was born the year slavery ended and never worked as a slave. The remaining half were born within 16 years after slavery’s end. Mind you now, I am only in my early 40s, and I know many people my age or older who knew one or more of their great grandparents quite well. To add, we all have 16 great-great grandparents. Only 4 of my 15 once-enslaved great-great grandparents were even born in Mississippi (one great-great grandfather was European). The rest of the 11 were transported to Mississippi from South Carolina (5), North Carolina (3), Alabama (1), Tennessee (1), and Virginia (1). Hence, I have DNA matches from all over the South, like many African Americans.

A number of my past blog posts show how I have experienced much success finding long-lost family members who were permanently separated from my direct ancestors during slavery, with the help of DNA technology. Check out my July 2015 post called “Repairing Broken Ties: DNA Finds Aunt Barsilla,” or check out my November 2014 post entitled “DNA Does It Again – Another Long Lost Sibling Found!” Read my recent short fictional story, “Losing a Sibling,” which was based on a lot of facts I had revealed in my second book, “150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.” So as you can see, autosomal DNA has been one of my best friends!

However, there are some DNA matches that are driving me crazy! Why? Because we share a good amount of DNA, and I can’t figure out exactly how we are related. Normally, many DNA matches in the first to third cousin range are not “hair-pullers” to find the connection. The success rate of determining the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) is greater with those DNA matches (for non-adoptees), especially if both sides have done some good genealogy research. But because I am confronted with slavery in the fourth and fifth generation (great grandparents and great-great grandparents), this particular case with Mrs. Williamson (fake name to hide identity) is giving me a run for my to speak!

Mrs. Williamson’s daughter tested her with 23andMe. She popped up in my and my father’s relative database over a year ago, sharing a significant 119 cM of DNA over 2 segments. 23andMe gives a prediction of “3rd Cousins.” I got excited because I was immediately confident that I could figure out the family connection. Within seconds, my excitement went to utter confusion when Mrs. Williamson’s profile showed that all of her family was from North Carolina. I sent her daughter a message to learn more. Luckily, her daughter responded, but she expressed that she was a newbie to genealogy and DNA and did not have much information. She also shared that her mother was from Franklin County, North Carolina. I was also able to uncover that Mrs. Williamson is approximately 82 years old.

Since she was born before 1940, I checked the 1940 U.S. Census and found her! Finding her was relatively easy because she possesses an uncommon first name, with a relatively uncommon last name. Mrs. Williamson, her widowed mother, and her three siblings were in the household of her mother’s brother, Hurley Batchelor. They resided in the Cypress Creek district in Franklin County, which touches the Franklin/Nash County line. The 1940 census also reported them residing on “Seven Paths to Spring Hope.” The town of Spring Hope was no more than 5 miles away, over in Nash County. This was great information!

Instantly, I thought of my father’s paternal great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi. He was born around 1817 in North Carolina. His last enslavers, William “Billy” and Frances Bass Eley, transported him to Mississippi around 1835, from Nash County, North Carolina. Family lore claimed that “Masser Billy Eley” had used him as a breeder. Grandpa Big Bob was Frances’ inheritance from her father Jesse Bass’ 1822 will. I had already determined that Jesse Bass’ plantation was located somewhere near Spring Hope in Nash County. So what does further DNA analysis say?

To confirm that Mrs. Williamson was indeed related to us via Grandpa Big Bob Ealy, I triangulated in 23andMe, using their chromosome browser to compare her to known family members. By that time, at least five other descendants of Grandpa Big Bob had tested with 23andMe, too. I smiled when I noticed that Mrs. Williamson matches six of us on the same two chromosomes, 7 and 21! To add, the two chromosome segments that she shares with me and my father are quite long, totaling 118 cM for me and 119 cM for my father. The first shared segment is 89.3 cM, and the second one is 29.3 cM with my father (28.3 cM with me). Our four Ealy cousins are also DNA matches on one of the two chromosomes. One is also a great-great grandson of Grandpa Big Bob, and the other three are great-great-great grandchildren. See diagram below that shows the matching with five of us.

Clearly, when Grandpa Big Bob Ealy was taken away from North Carolina, a close family member was left behind. Was that person a child he had fathered, since he was approximately 17 or 18 years old when they migrated to Mississippi? Was that person a sister or brother? Who? I had deduced that Big Bob’s mother and four identified siblings (John, Gus, Esther, and Lazarus) were taken to Texas and Mississippi. His brother, John Bass, was taken to Gonzalez County, Texas, transported there by Frances’ brother, Jordan Rogers Bass. Frances’ other siblings migrated to Hinds and Washington County, Mississippi, and her sister, Penelope Bass Wilhite, migrated to Meriwether County, Georgia with her husband, Ricks Wilhite. I had found evidence that Lazarus was indeed taken to Hinds County, Mississippi. So who was left back in North Carolina? I haven’t been able to positively identify Grandpa Big Bob’s father. Was he left back in North Carolina?

I decided to research Mrs. Williamson’s family tree back further, in hopes of finding some clues. Researching census records, as well as marriage records and death certificates for North Carolina on, I was able to trace back to all of her 8 great grandparents. I wonder if one of them was Grandpa Big Bob’s closely related family member. They were the following:

(1)  Tom WHELESS (not found in census)
(2)  Mrs. Adline Wheless (maiden name unknown); birthdate reported as March 1830 in N.C.
(3)  John YARBROUGH; age reported as 56 in 1880 (born c. 1824 in N.C.)
(4)  Mrs. Milly Yarbrough (maiden name unknown); birthdate reported as Aug. 1829 in N.C.
(5)  Alfred BATCHELOR; reported as 50 in 1870 (born c. 1820 in N.C.)
(6)  Evaline GAY; reported as 29 in 1870 (born c. 1841 in N.C.)
(7)  Gilford LEONARD; reported as 38 in 1870 (born c. 1832 in N.C.)
(8)  Nancy DAVIS; reported as 24 in 1870 (born c. 1846 in N.C.) 

One of the eight was family! Who? Maybe that family member was Mrs. Adline Wheless, since Grandpa Big Bob Ealy named one of his daughters Adeline. He had also named a son after his brother Gus, a daughter after his mother Annie, and his oldest son was named John, possibly after his brother, John Bass. Hopefully, time, other DNA matches, and more genealogy research will uncover this mystery. If you have further information about any of these eight people, please let me know. I hope that Mrs. Williamson’s daughter will eventually respond to my additional questions, and it would be nice to meet her and her mother. If this happens, we can thank DNA technology for mending broken ties!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Losing a Sibling

There on the Barr farm, just a mile north of Abbeville, South Carolina, Sue and her brothers, Pleasant and Glasgow, labored together, laughed together, played together, prayed together, and always looked out for each other. When Sue was allowed to come back to the slave cabin at night, after working all day in the big house, she couldn't wait to tell her brothers and their parents, Lewis and Fanny, what the "white folks" talk about. She was good at mimicking them, that it usually had everyone rolling on the floor laughing out loud.

Glasgow and Pleasant looked after their only sister Sue. When a white-looking, mulatto young man named Jacob, who was enslaved on the neighboring Leslie Plantation, wanted her hand in marriage, he had to go through her brothers first. Glasgow and Pleasant didn't make it easy for Jacob, either. Pleasant would often taunt him jokingly, often making Jacob nervous. Nonetheless, the brothers soon realized that Jacob was deeply in love with their beautiful sister, and they approved of the marriage. They felt that their late father Lewis would have approved. With every child that Sue was having (Sina, John, Luther, Edmond, Cannon, Louvenia, Clay, Jacob Jr., Lewis, Joseph, Patsy, and Susie), Glasgow and Pleasant waited with nervous Jacob as Momma Fanny delivered another grandchild into the world.

In the midst of bearing and raising children and being a wife to Jacob, Sue was Mrs. Rebecca's prized possession, her trusted house servant. One night in 1859, after a long day of helping Ms. Rebecca polish the silver, Sue ran back to her mother's cabin in tears. Her heart was torn apart. Crying uncontrollably, she was barely able to talk, but she managed these words, “They gonna sell Pleas!”

She had overheard her "massa" William Barr Jr. tell his mother Rebecca that a man named James Giles offered him $1,400 for his slave, Pleasant, her brother. Giles was preparing for a move to Ripley, Mississippi and wanted extra laborious hands to help him build his new farm in Mississippi. William was planning to take his offer. He explained to his mother, “Mom, I really need the money to help me buy the Wilson place in Pontotoc County (Mississippi).” William Jr. was also looking to move to Mississippi. Rebecca nodded her head in approval of the transaction.

The next morning, Momma Fanny received a knock on her cabin door. William Jr. shouted, “Fanny, open the door!” She nervously went to the door and opened it.

“Where’s Pleas,” asked William Jr.

Fanny responded, “He and Isabella is out in the barn milking the cows, massa.”

Babysitting her grandson Bill, he looked up at Momma Fanny and asked, “Grandma, what does Massa want with Daddy?” She immediately grabs Bill and hugs him tightly, too hurt to tell him what was about to happen.

Entering the barn, William Jr. hollered out, “Pleas, come here boy!”

Pleas responded, “Please, massa, Please! Don’t sell me to Mr. Giles. I has a wife and two young chil’ren. Isabella, Bill, and Mary needs me! My sister needs me! Momma Fanny is getting up in age, and she needs me, massa! This is gonna break their hearts!”

William commanded, “Shut up, boy! Jim Giles just need to take care of some business in Mississippi and needs your help. He will bring you back to Abbeville!”

Pleas appeared somewhat comforted by his words, not realizing that William had just told him a bold-faced lie.

As Pleas was being placed on Giles’ wagon, Fanny, Isabella, and Sue run to the wagon! Fanny yelled, “Nooooo!! Please don’t take my Pleas! Please, massa! His young family needs him!”

Fighting back tears, Sue grabbed her brother Pleas’ hand and held it tightly. With tears streaming down her face, she looked up at Pleas and said, “Don’t worry my dear brother. We will see after Momma. I’ll help Isabella with the chil’rens. I will see you again. Yes, we all will. I love you, dear brother.”

As the wagon exited off the Barr farm, loud crying can be heard in the air. Momma Fanny’s heart was too broken, as her crying got louder and louder. Her boy was being taken way, likely forever. His two young children were standing there, in complete shock at what was happening, as they held on to their mother Isabella’s long skirt. She herself was near fainting. This was reminding Fanny of when she was taken from her own family in Virginia and brought down to Abbeville, South Carolina in chains, where the late Rev. William Barr had purchased her at an auction in downtown Abbeville in 1809. She was only 17 years old. She knew the pain of permanent family separation. She also knew that she’ll never see Pleas again.

Today, as many celebrate National Siblings Day, I was compelled to write this fictional story that is based on facts. It wasn’t even a plan. Just a sudden urge and I started typing.

My great-great-grandfather, Pleasant "Pleas" Barr, was in fact sold to a man named James Giles in 1859, and Giles transported him to Tippah County, Mississippi. His son, my mother’s paternal grandfather Bill Reed, relayed to his family years later that Pleas was never seen again. Later the same year, in 1859, Pleas’ sister Sue Barr Beckley, her husband Jacob and their children, and their mother Fanny were taken to William Barr’s new farm in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Glasgow Barr was left back in Abbeville.

Like Pleas, many of our enslaved ancestors were sold away from their siblings, never to see them again. I can’t even imagine the pain they endured. So on this National Siblings Day, I want to pay homage to our enslaved ancestors who suffered that pain. May DNA and genealogy research bring more of the descendants back together! Factual details of this family saga can be read in “150 Years Later” at

One of my Barr/Beckley DNA Matches in AncestryDNA! She shares 15.1 cM with me!

Pictured above are three of Pleas Barr’s grandchildren that he never laid eyes on, Jimmy Reed (1871-1959), John Ella Reed Bobo (1882-1974), and his namesake, Pleasant “Pleas” Reed (1889-1966), of Tate County, Mississippi.