Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Family Was Broken but the DNA Wasn’t

In 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, I wrote the following about how I learned that a man named Pleasant (Pleas) Barr (1814-1889) of Tippah County (Ripley), Mississippi was the father of my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Tate County (Senatobia), Mississippi. Grandpa Bill’s death certificate provided his name. He, his sister Mary, and others came to northern Mississippi in 1866, from Abbeville, South Carolina, shortly after gaining their freedom. Grandpa Bill Reed told stories to his children and grandchildren about his experiences as a slave in South Carolina. Many of those stories are in the book. Here’s one account:

After discovering Pleasant Barr, I called Cousin Ike and expressed ecstatically, “I found out Grandpa Bill’s father’s name!  It was Pleas Barr!”

The name jarred his memory. He immediately shared, “Yeah, that’s right!  Boy, you are sure digging up some history! Grandpa Bill told us that his father was named Pleas, and that’s where Uncle Pleas’ name came from.”

“So he talked about his father,” I questioned.

“Oh yeah, all the time! He told us that his father was sold away, and they never saw him again. He used to talk about the day it happened. He said that they loaded his father on a wagon, and as the wagon was leaving the place, Grandpa just stood there and watched until the wagon was out of sight. It crossed some creek near the place where they were at, and it went down into a valley, and went off into the sunset. His father was gone but not forgotten. He talked about that so often because he always wondered where they took him. He was a young boy at the time.”

I was floored by this vivid account but saddened by what it gave an account of.

“What about his mother? Did he talk about her, too,” I asked with grave curiosity.

Bewildered, he stated, “You know, he didn’t talk about his mother much. He talked about an older sister that took care of him, but I don’t recall much of anything ever being said about his mother. I don’t know what may have happened to her.” 

Apparently, Uncle Jimmy Reed also did not know much about Grandpa Bill’s mother since the words “not known” were written on his death certificate.

Cousin Ike’s account sent chills through me like water flowing down the mighty Mississippi River. He continued, “Grandpa sure did love his father though. I remember him telling us how he was such a fun-loving man who would always joke around with the other slaves there on the place. You know that was really hard on him to be separated from his father like that, never to see him again and never knowing where his father was at. He would always say that he watched his father being taken away, off into the sunset.” (Chapter 3, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” pp. 44-45)

In 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, I chronicled how years of connecting the dots through oral history, genealogy research, and slave ancestral genealogy research enabled me to reconstruct Grandpa Bill Reed’s family story and family tree – one that got broken in 1859 in Abbeville, South Carolina. That year, his father was sold away and taken to Ripley, Mississippi, and William Barr Jr. took his mother, Isabella Barr, his paternal grandmother, Fanny Barr, and his father’s sister, Sue Barr Beckley (born c. 1812), her husband Jacob Sr., and their twelve children to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Barr had sold Grandpa Bill and his sister to his first cousin, Lemuel Reid, there in Abbeville. Grandpa Bill never laid eyes on them again, but he told his family about them, particularly his father, Pleas, and his first cousin, Cannon Beckley, with whom he had a brother-like relationship. I told the story of this discovery and presented a great amount of documentation.

Although the preponderance of evidence was quite abundant, I would sometimes ask myself, “What if?” Sometimes, the truth is not always what the paper records indicate. What if I misinterpreted my research findings? What if I had missed something? What if I saw something that really wasn’t there? What if I drew the wrong conclusions? These were usually just quick thoughts because the amount of genealogical records and oral history I presented in the book left my shadow of doubt at a very low 5%.

Now we have autosomal DNA testing (AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or Family Tree DNA) to not only learn about what is in our DNA and who our biological relatives are, but we can also prove some of our research through DNA matches. We can also connect with family branches of our family tree that we never knew existed. We can add more narrative to our ancestors’ stories. This is what makes autosomal DNA and genetic genealogy very exciting for me. As descendants of enslaved people of African descent in America, African Americans will undoubtedly have numerous DNA matches to people whose ancestors were forcibly separated from their loved ones during slavery.

DNA now has my shadow of doubt at ZERO percent with Grandpa Bill Reed’s family roots. When his father was sold and taken to Ripley, Mississippi, Grandpa Pleas Barr continued on with his life as best as he knew how. He remarried to a widowed lady named Amanda Young, and they had one child together, Elijah Barr, who was born about 1866/1867. I can’t help but wonder if Grandpa Pleas told Elijah about his children back in Abbeville, South Carolina. Sadly, before he died in/around 1889, Grandpa Pleas never learned that Grandpa Bill Reed and Aunt Mary Pratt had left South Carolina shortly after slavery and were just sixty miles away from him, over near Senatobia, Mississippi. They were so close but still so far.

Uncle Elijah Barr eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he married Lula Winston on March 16, 1908. Before Elijah died in 1918, he and Lula had two children: Frances Barr Evans (1909-1991) and Rev. James Matthew Barr (1913-198?). His descendants, via his daughter Frances, were finally found last year after I clicked on a “Shaky Leaf” family tree hint in ancestry.com. That “Shaky Leaf” led me to a family tree uploaded by Ivy of California, indicating that the same Elijah Barr was her great great grandfather! Soon afterwards, another descendant, a great great grandson named Keith of Chicago, shared pictures! One of them included this old picture of Elijah’s widow, Lula, and their two children.


Elijah Barr’s widow, Lula Winston Barr, and their two children, Frances & James Barr. Shortly after Elijah’s death, she and her children moved to Chicago, Illinois. Shared by Keith Evans

Subsequently, I also learned that another descendant, a great great granddaughter of Elijah, had taken the 23andMe DNA test. Lo and behold, Jessica was among our DNA matches, matching me, my mother, my aunt, and their paternal first cousin Armintha on overlapping segments on chromosomes 3 and 4. To add, and not shown here, she also matches my mother's paternal first cousin's grandson, Dr. Leroy Frazier, at 23 cM.


As mentioned earlier, William Barr Jr. took Sue Barr Beckley and her husband Jacob and their twelve children to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. The preponderance of evidence led me to conclude that she was Grandpa Pleas Barr’s sister and both of them were children of Lewis Barr (born c. 1780) and Fanny Barr (born c. 1790). To date, at least six descendants of Sue have taken an autosomal DNA test, and they are DNA matches.

(1)  In AncestryDNA, wa7860 shares 42 cM over 2 segments with my mother. Sue is his 4th-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). He and my mother are third cousins three times removed.


(2)  In AncestryDNA, kismo7185 shares 30 cM over 2 segments with my mother. Sue is her 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). She and my mother are third cousins twice removed.


(3)  In AncestryDNA, M.G. shares 28 cM over 4 segments with my mother. Sue is her great great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). She and my mother are third cousins once removed.


(4)  In AncestryDNA, OnreaR shares 30 cM over 2 segments with my mother. Sue is her 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). She and my mother are third cousins twice removed.


(5)  In AncestryDNA, J.R. shares 8.5 cM with my mother. Sue is his 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Cannon Beckley (1840-1903). He and my mother are third cousins twice removed.


(6)  In 23andMe, Arlene shares 21 cM with my uncle and my aunt on overlapping segments. Sue is her 3rd-great grandmother via her son, Clay Beckley (1846-1903). They are third cousins twice removed. Arlene also shares DNA with Jessica at 25 cM. They are fifth cousins.

Since Ancestry.com has refused to provide their millions of DNA customers with a chromosome browser, like 23andMe and Family Tree DNA have done, and since three of the seven haven’t uploaded their raw data files to GEDmatch.com, I am unable to do more DNA triangulations. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this is DNA from Lewis & Fanny Barr, our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA), that is shared among them. The family was broken during slavery, but the DNA wasn’t. 

1880 Pontotoc County, Mississippi Census: Grandpa Bill Reed’s paternal grandmother, Fanny Barr, was still alive when the 1880 census was taken. Her age was reported as being 100 years old. She was living with her grandson, Rev. Jacob Beckley Jr.



11 comments:

  1. Wonderful! I've been making generational reconnecting finds with 23 an Me lately. I need to write them up.

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  2. Another Teachable! Thanks for sharing Professor :)

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  3. This is some awesome information for our family, Mel!

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  4. and my GILMER family lived right next door to your BARR's in Pontotoc 1870 census..I wonder what kind of relationship they had!

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  5. This is some awesome family information. I was deeply touched by the contents.

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  6. Amazing! I want to be like you when I grow up!

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  7. Just awesome and breathtaking! Congratulations on your confirmations!

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  8. I learn so much from you. Thanks for sharing Melvin!

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  9. This is beautiful work. So inspiring!

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  10. Thanks, again for sharing more of your new found family genealogy. And, may the Most High Creator YAH continue to guide you in your research.

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