Sunday, June 19, 2016

DNA Uncovers an Unknown Brother

Recently, this new “predicted 4th cousin” DNA match appeared among my AncestryDNA matches:

Fortunately, "Ms. Herron" had a small public family tree. It only contained the names of her deceased parents, Richard Herron (born in 1913) and Nunnie Mae Sargent (born in 1929). Both were born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. It also contained the names of her maternal grandparents. Since she was sharing 49 cM over 4 chromosome segments, I assumed that our MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) may be discoverable. That amount of DNA falls in the range of third to fourth cousins. See ISOGG sharing chart here. However, I was not aware of anyone in my family being in Tallahatchie County. (Note: I have tested my mother with AncestryDNA, and Ms. Herron shares 65 cM/5 segments with her.)

Have you ever seen or heard a name, and you swear that you have seen or heard that name before? You think hard about where you have encountered the name, but to no avail. Then, out of the blue, your memory is jarred. That happened upon seeing the Herron surname. It looked familiar to me. Where on earth have I seen that name before? I wondered.

Several weeks later, my memory was suddenly sparked when I was not thinking about it. I was looking at the profile of one of my DNA matches, named Ivy, whose connection I was aware of. Ivy shares 15.9 cM over 2 chromosome segments with me. Her great great grandfather, Random Briscoe of Marshall County, Mississippi (born c. 1816), and my mother’s great great grandmother, Margaret “Peggy” Milam of Tate County, Mississippi (born c. 1829), were siblings. She’s my mother’s 4th cousin and my 4th cousin once removed.

Uncle Random and Grandma Peggy’s parents were Adam (born c. 1783) and Sarah (born c. 1798). The family had been previously enslaved by Edward Warren (1775-1842) in Williamson County, Tennessee and Marshall County, Mississippi, before the family was split up in several different directions by 1845. I clicked on “Shared Matches,” and “Ms. Herron” appeared. She also matches Ivy. I suddenly remembered that the Herron surname was connected to Edward Warren. One of his daughters, Nancy Ann Warren (1810-1845), married a man named John Herron (1806-187?).

I quickly retrieved the genealogical information I had collected on Edward Warren’s family, to verify the migration of John & Nancy Herron. Lo and behold, they had migrated to Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Nancy had died there in 1845. John died there after 1870. Therefore, I started to focus on Ms. Herron’s father’s lineage. However, before I reveal my findings, I feel that I need to recap more about Grandpa Adam and Grandma Sarah and their children to highlight a few significant things first.

After Edward Warren brought them to Marshall County, Mississippi in the 1830s from Tennessee, he fell on hard times. He wrote a bill a sale on August 14, 1839, to sell Adam (age about 55), Sarah (age about 40), and their children, Random (23), Sam (14), Margaret (10), and Caledonia (8), to his cousin, James Warren Briscoe. See below. I don’t know what transpired after the bill of sale, but they were never sold to James. Random was sold to his brother, Notley Warren Briscoe. Read more about that discovery here. My great great great grandmother Margaret (Peggy) and her brother Sam were sold to Joseph Milam of Tate County. My November 2014 blog post, DNA Does It Again – Another Long Lost Sibling Found!, discloses how DNA led me to find Aunt Caledonia in Arkansas.

. . . the party of the first part (Edward Warren) do hereby bargain sell and confirm to the party of the second part (James W. Briscoe) all the following described property to wit: six negroes viz; Adam aged about 55 years, Sarah aged about 40 years, Sam aged about 14 years, Margaret aged about 10 years, Calidonia aged about 8 years, Random aged about 23 years and one half of the growing crop of cotton in cultivation by the party of the first party...

After finding this bill of sale, I wondered if Grandpa Adam and Grandma Sarah had more children who were not named in that deed record. Edward Warren’s estate record verified that they were a longtime married couple, although their marriage was never legally recorded due to the unjust laws of the land. Also, I should add that both Grandma Peggy Milam and Aunt Caledonia Ellis named one of their sons Henderson, but Grandma Peggy’s son was mostly called “Hence.” The great great granddaughter of Aunt Caledonia’s son, Henderson Ellis of Camden, Arkansas, shares 51 cM over 4 chromosome segments with my mother and 42 cM over 3 chromosome segments with me. I wondered about the name Henderson.

Now, I will reveal my findings of Ms. Herron’s paternal family tree. Researching census records in, I found her father, Richard Herron, living in a household headed by his father, Eddie Herron, in Tallahatchie County. Eddie was born around 1878 in Mississippi. Therefore, I decided to research the 1880 census to find the name of Eddie’s father. My eyes bucked when I saw 2-year-old Eddie Herron living in the household of his father, Henderson Herron! His age was reported as 65, and his reported birthplace was Tennessee. They were enumerated in the Oakland district of Yalobusha County, Mississippi. The western city limits of the town of Oakland is the Yalobusha/Tallahatchie County line. Eddie’s Social Security application in verified that Henderson was his father. Let’s look at the names of Henderson Herron’s young children, particularly the ones with the red arrows.

Source: 1880 U.S. Census, Oakland, Yalobusha County, Mississippi. Household of Henderson Herron, Line 8-17. Year: 1880; Roll: 669; Family History Film: 1254669; Page: 202A; Enumeration District: 208; Image: 0607. Source: Ancestry.Com. 

Henderson Herron named three of his children ADAM, SARAH, and MARGARET! Naming patterns are very often great clues to identifying family members. Many enslaved African Americans named their children after their parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, etc. Historian Herbert Gutman wrote extensively on the topic of naming patterns in his book, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925.

To be sure that John Herron owned “human property” in Tallahatchie County, I researched the 1850 slave schedule. Indeed, twelve (12) African Americans were enslaved by him. His oldest enslaved male was reported as 34 years old. Since the slave schedules do not contain their names, we can only assert with high certainty that the 34-year-old male was most probably Henderson. John Herron died after slavery, so his estate/probate record will not contain “human property.” Fortunately, his son’s picture, grave, and biography were in FindAGrave, which provided the following information:

“From Panola County History, p. 372: William Andrew Herron's paternal grandparents were Thomas Herron (1786-1823) & Mary Herron of Williamson County, TN. They had 8 children. John Herron (1806-?) was the second child. He married Nancy Ann Warren on Dec. 20, 1832, in Williamson County, TN. After Thomas Herron died in 1823, his widow Mary moved in 1836 with her family to the Long Branch community of Yalobusha County, MS. John & Nancy Warren Herron accompanied his mother Mary Herron to MS, and their first child, William Andrew Herron, was born in Hardeman County, TN, en route to MS. Mary and her son John and their families later moved to Tallahatchie County. After Nancy's death, John remarried and moved to Panola County, and his mother, Mary Herron, moved to Ellis County, TX.” (Source)

Based on the evidence presented, as well as the DNA evidence, I theorize with much certainty that Henderson Herron was another son of Adam and Sarah and Grandma Peggy Milam’s older brother. Henderson was Ms. Herron's great grandfather. This would make us to be third cousins twice removed who share 49 cM of DNA over 4 chromosome segments. Perhaps, when Nancy Ann Warren married John Herron in 1832, her father may have "gifted" or sold Uncle Henderson to them. He was around 17 years old. I hope to find a deed of gift, bill of sale, or similar record in the future. I can’t help but wonder if Grandma Peggy ever saw him again. The area in Tallahatchie County where the Herrons resided was about 40 miles south of where Grandma Peggy eventually ended up in Tate County. She became the mother of 13 children. If they didn’t reunite then, they are now reunited, spiritually. Thanks to DNA!

Slave Ancestral Research Tips From this Discovery:

(1)   Study the slave-owner’s family tree. Note the names of his daughters and their husbands. Document the migration patterns of the former enslaver’s children. Some of your family members may have been taken to those places.
(2)   A genealogical record, such as the enslaver’s will, estate record, deed record, etc., may not always contain all of the children of a particular enslaved woman. Consider the possibility that some children may have been sold or transferred to an enslaver’s son or daughter before he died.
(3)   Pay attention to the names that your enslaved ancestors gave to their children. Naming patterns are solid clues.
(4)   Google searches can led you to some great information. Do effective “googling”. However, try to verify all found information.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Resurrecting My Grandfather


Simpson Reed, my mother’s father, died years before I was born. If he had been alive when I was born, he would have been in his 90s. He was born just over 15 years after slavery in Tate County, Mississippi. My mother, aunt, and uncles adored him. Mom once stated, “If a man is even half the man my father was, he'll still be a great man.” Grandpa Simpson was 43 years old when he married his first wife, Addie Person. They had three children, with only their oldest surviving. Addie died in childbirth. Several years later, he married my much younger grandmother, Minnie Lee Davis. He was 55, and she was 27. Five additional children were born, including my mother. Unfortunately, the only picture the family had of him got lost before I was born. The best I can do is display this picture of three of his 10 siblings, his oldest brother, Jimmy Reed (1872-1959), his sister, John Ella Reed Bobo (1882-1974), and his youngest brother, Pleasant “Pleas” Reed (1888-1966).

Jimmy Reed (1872-1959), John Ella Reed Bobo (1882-1974), & Pleasant “Pleas” Reed (1888-1966)

Although a picture of him cannot be found, I now have something that’s even better – his DNA! I have been able to recreate 73.7% of my grandfather’s genome, sort of like resurrecting him from the grave. I personally think that this “resurrection” is a great Father’s Day tribute to him. If someone had told me five years ago that I would be able to do this, I would have given them a blank stare. How was this “resurrection” possible?

Well, I certainly didn’t have to drive down to Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery near Como, Mississippi with a shovel to dig up his grave. I wouldn’t have done that anyway. I think. However, a cool tool in GEDmatch, called Lazarus, made this possible. It is GEDmatch’s Tier 1 tool that allows users to create pseudo-DNA kits. Tier 1 utility tools are only available to people who donate at least $10. (GEDmatch’s creators produced a great and free DNA utility tool, so I happily donated.) These pseudo-DNA kits can be surrogates for a deceased ancestor. Lazarus was added to GEDmatch in 2014, and I finally decided to explore it. How does it work?

Lazarus creates a pseudo-DNA kit by comparing and identifying DNA shared between the people in Group 1 and the people in Group 2. Up to 10 people can be in Group 1, and they must be the target Lazarus ancestor’s children or grandchildren only. It’s not recommended to place a grandchild, who is a child of one of the children being used, in Group 1. Why? Any DNA that he/she could contribute is already in the parent’s DNA. Up to 100 people can be in Group 2. They must be relatives of the target Lazarus ancestor who are not direct descendants. This includes siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. Never place children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren in Group 2. This “resurrection” was done in just three steps.

Step 1: I kept the default threshold settings at 700 SNPs and 6 cM.

Step 2: I entered the kit numbers for my mother, aunt, and uncle in Group 1.

Since my grandfather is the target Lazarus ancestor, my Group 1 contained three of his children, my mother, her brother, and her sister. A parent gives half of his DNA to each child randomly. However, each child doesn’t inherit all of the same DNA from that parent. Different children will have some of the same DNA from a parent, as well as some different DNA from that parent that his/her other sibling(s) didn’t inherit. My aunt inherited DNA from my grandfather that my mother didn’t inherit. My mother inherited DNA from her father that my uncle didn’t inherit. You get the picture? Therefore, because three of his children were in Group 1, more of my grandfather’s DNA was identified. 

Step 3: I entered the kit numbers of 15 family members in Group 2.

These family members included my grandfather’s niece (one of Uncle Pleas Reed’s daughters), his oldest brother Jimmy Reed’s great-grandson, and 13 of his paternal and maternal cousins. These cousins range from first cousins twice removed to third cousins once removed. That’s one of the advantages of testing multiple family members and having their raw data in GEDmatch. If a spouse of the target Lazarus ancestor is living and is in GEDmatch, you can also place them in the optional SPOUSE field. The Lazarus program will extract out that spouse’s DNA from Group 1.

After you click “GENERATE,” Lazarus will perform its magic! When a kit is processed, the results page will contain three charts. The first chart (Contributions) will show every matching segment between the people in Group 1 and the people in Group 2. The second chart (Resulting Segments) will be an accumulation of all of the segments that were used to create the new pseudo-DNA kit. The end of this chart will show the total number of cMs that were generated. See below. The final chart will show the original kits with the utilized segments.

If at least 1,500 cM (centiMorgans) of DNA are not extracted from the groups, Lazarus will not produce a pseudo-DNA kit. Adding additional children or grandchildren in Group 1 and/or more relatives of the target Lazarus ancestor in Group 2 can increase the number of generated cMs. To my pleasure, 2,726 cM of my grandfather’s genome were extracted. A person’s full genome contains 3,700 cM. Therefore, my 18 family members yielded 73.7% of my grandfather’s DNA. Cool, huh?

Now, I have a new DNA kit in GEDmatch, as if I had collected my grandfather’s saliva, sent it to an autosomal DNA company such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA, and uploaded his raw data file to GEDmatch. Well, almost. But 73.7% of his DNA is a significant amount to work with, right? If you match kit no. LL802351, then you are related via my maternal Granddaddy! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Special Homecoming Birthed by DNA

Peter Edwards’ Descendants Come Back “Home” to Mississippi
Front row (L to R): Verena Thomas-Hooks, Myra Bryant, Donna Edwards
Back row: James Johnson, Harriet Edwards, Brian Edwards (aka Keith), and Pastor Lee Edwards
(Picture by Verena Thomas-Hooks)

DNA was the catalyst to a very special homecoming on this past Memorial Day weekend in northern Mississippi. On June 25, 2015, a new and close DNA match appeared in my GEDmatch accounts. Dr. Kemberly Edwards matches my mother, her sister, her brother, and their father’s niece, Cousin Armintha, sharing the most with my uncle at 87 cM. Kemberly also tested her father and uploaded his raw data file to GEDmatch. He shares 138 cM of DNA with my uncle, 108 cM with my aunt, 73 cM with my mother, and 64 cM with Cousin Armintha. That’s considered a significant amount of DNA in genetic genealogy. The Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) is genealogically discoverable and within four generations. Another Edwards from Canada had already been among their matches in 23andMe, and I had been wondering, “Who in the world went way up north to Canada?” I was clueless. Additional Edwards subsequently tested their autosomal DNA, with all sharing significant amounts of DNA with the Reed Family. Brian Edwards, the president of their National Edwards Family Reunion Board, even shares 181 cM of DNA with my mother. The predicted relationship in 23andMe was “second cousins.”

These DNA matches, along with oral history clues that had been there all along, led me to definitively unearth the father of my mother’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed (1852-1923). For 23 years, I had assumed that Grandma Sarah’s father was someone who had also been enslaved on Squire Boone Partee’s plantation in Panola County, Mississippi, with her mother, Polly Partee, who was the head cook during and after slavery. My assumption was wrong as two left shoes! Grandma Sarah’s father was a man named Prince Edwards, born c. 1830. He was also the father of her brother, Square Partee Sr. (1858-1904). Utilizing DNA triangulation, I discovered that the same Edwards DNA matches also closely match three of Uncle Square Partee’s descendants on overlapping chromosome segments. A subsequent 67-marker Y-DNA test from FTDNA also verified the paternity.

Grandpa Prince Edwards had been enslaved nearby on William Edwards’ plantation with his parents and siblings. One of those siblings was a younger brother named Peter Edwards, born c. 1835. The new DNA matches were all descendants of Peter Edwards. My contact with Kemberly revealed a very large family branch in Oklahoma, begotten by Uncle Peter. I had no idea that they even existed, prior to the DNA discovery. Discovering Grandpa Prince and learning about this family branch transpired at the same time, leaving me speechless. Uncle Peter's descendants had heard that Panola County was where their family roots originated. It was a fact documented in their family reunion books.

Uncle Peter Edwards, his wife Catherine, and his 12 children left the Como area and moved to near Sledge, Mississippi sometime before 1900. Taking advantage of land ownership opportunities, his children started their exodus to the West, migrating to Wewoka, Oklahoma around 1908, after the territory gained statehood in 1907. They never returned to Mississippi. A grandson, Jefferson Edwards, even migrated to Alberta, Canada in 1910, where many descendants reside today. As one of the pioneers of Amber Valley, he is noted in Black Canadian History. His son Elmer and Elmer’s daughter are the Canadian DNA matches in our 23andMe accounts, with Elmer sharing 89 cM of DNA with my aunt. Descendants of Uncle Peter Edwards from Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Bakersfield, California decided that it was time to visit "home," after over 108 years.

The homecoming began with a Welcome Ceremony at the Jessie J. Edwards Coldwater Public Library on Saturday morning, in Coldwater, Mississippi. The former Mayor Dr. Jessie J. Edwards formally welcomed them back home – cousins he never knew about, too. Dr. Edwards is also a great great grandson of Grandpa Prince Edwards. Other descendants from Mississippi, Memphis, and Kansas City, Missouri also welcomed our new-found cousins back home. This group picture was taken at the library.

Family group picture at the Jessie Edwards Public Library in Coldwater, Mississippi

After the welcome, we visited Fredonia Church, to view history beyond the genealogical paper. Fredonia was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. We viewed the grave of William Edwards, who died in 1855. After his death, his son Dr. William Edwards Jr. inherited the plantation and 33 enslaved people, including Grandpa Prince and Uncle Peter. We also saw the grave of Squire B. Partee, who died during the Civil War, in 1864. We reflected on what it must have been like for our ancestors to be enslaved in a land that regarded them as property and subhuman. We felt their spirit during the homecoming. We now stand on their shoulders.

Established in 1836, Fredonia is considered to be the oldest church in Panola County. It is located six miles east of Como. A number of slave-owners in the area attended this church. A slave gallery extends along the east wall of the church. We saw it through the windows. The local librarian had volunteered to retrieve the key and give us a tour inside of the locked historic church, but her unexpected, uninformed absence certainly did not dampen the energy, spirit, and purpose of this great homecoming. Our enslaved ancestors likely dug most or all of the graves there, over 150 years ago. This is a picture we took after William Edwards’ grave was located. It had broken over time and was laying flat on the ground.

Family group picture at Fredonia Church near Como, Mississippi

We also stood on the land where William Edwards’ plantation was located. A cooling cloud with a nice cool breeze hovered over us as we read a litany and poured libation on the land to commemorate our ancestors. Luke (aka Ogbar Agumba) and Lucy, the parents of Peter, Prince and more, were likely buried somewhere on that land. Flowers were placed on the property. Based on William’s 1850 will, he left 320 acres of that property to his wife Margaret, which was to be inherited by their son after her death. The exact coordinates (range, township, & section) of the property were recorded in his will. Great great grandson, James Johnson of Oklahoma City, wrote this poignant note on social media, “From the toils and heartaches of our ancestors working this land, we exist and prosper today, from coast to coast and from Canada, through the big state of Texas.” This group picture was taken on that land.

Family group picture on the land where William Edwards’ plantation was located near Como, Mississippi. We suspect that the "big house" was located on top of the hill behind us.

After the libation ceremony, we toured the small towns of Como, Crenshaw, and Sledge, retracing the steps of Peter Edwards. Afterwards, the descendants of Bill & Sarah Reed sponsored a Soul Food dinner for our newfound Edwards cousins in Horn Lake, Mississippi. We ate, laughed, talked about our respective histories, and made plans for the future. Dr. Leroy Frazier, a descendant of Grandpa Prince Edwards, even encouraged the family to consider going full circle, back to Ghana, West Africa in the future. For more info about the DNA discovery of our Ghana roots, read my blog post, Trekking the Edwards DNA Trail Back to Ghana. Then, on Sunday, we worshiped at the Simon Chapel Baptist Church near Como, where many other Edwards family members, who remained in Mississippi, were laid to rest. Uncle Peter’s great grandson, Pastor Lee Edwards of Dallas, Texas, delivered a powerful, encouraging message.

Although we believe Uncle Peter died in Mississippi before 1910, his family grew by leaps and bounds out in Oklahoma and California. He now has over 2,000 descendants in the United States and Canada. The family boasts a number of notables, such as Dr. Lee Patrick Brown, the first African American mayor of Houston, Texas (1998-2004), who is a great grandson. He was also the first African American commissioner of police for Atlanta, Georgia, during the infamous Atlanta Child Murders, and he also became the first African American Police Commissioner of New York City, leading the largest police department in the nation. A grandson, the late Walter James Edwards, became the first Black millionaire in Oklahoma City during the 1940s, owning a number of businesses, including a hospital, a real estate company, and other businesses. He was featured in an Oklahoma City television news special during this past Black History Month. See this link. We never knew that they are our cousins until the DNA discovery!

This will certainly be a homecoming that we will never forget. Verena Thomas-Hooks of Oklahoma City, a great great granddaughter, wrote the following on social media, “The end of a most memorable weekend and the beginning of lasting relationships, meeting new cousins.” Uncle Peter’s great grandson, Brian Edwards, also wrote, “I can't tell you how much it meant to us to be able to retrace the steps of our ancestors in that region. We will share all of our experiences on our next National Family Reunion board conference call.” This homecoming happened because of the wonderful technology of DNA.

Here's a short video clip during our tour of the grounds of Fredonia Church after discovering William Edwards’ grave.