Sunday, November 11, 2018

Veterans Day Tribute: Honoring My Look-Alike and Others’ Service in World War I

John Wesley Davis & Jessie Franklin Davis - This picture was taken shortly before they were drafted to serve in World War I.

When I first posted this picture of my great-uncles, John Wesley Davis and Jessie Franklin Davis of Panola County, Mississippi (L to R), a number of people, including family members, remarked that I bear a strong resemblance to Uncle John Wesley. I see some resemblance, but I wasn’t surprised by their observation. I am known to bear a strong resemblance to other members of my maternal grandmother’s family.

Nonetheless, for Veterans Day this year, on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of World War I, I also pay homage to them, who were both World War I veterans. Born on 13 December 1893 and 22 February 1896, respectively, near Como, Mississippi, Uncles John Wesley and Jessie were the first two children born to my great-grandparents, John Hector Davis & Mary Danner Davis. My grandmother, Minnie Davis Reed, was the youngest of their nine children. Great-Grandpa John had four additional children.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

25 Do’s and Don’ts of DNA

I first wrote this in January 2015 with 20 tips. Advancements in DNA technology and more DNA options have surfaced since then, making it necessary for me to update this blog post. Keep in mind, the comical yet serious tone of this post reflects my love for DNA technology. Maybe “addiction” or fanatic is a better word. I don’t desire any professional help for this. Also, these 25 tips are my perspectives. Of course, adoptees are exempt. You don’t have to agree with some of these. However, a written lecture on why I should be thinking the way you do about some of these dos and don’ts may get ignored. You’ve been forewarned. Well, here goes again ……

(1) Please do not take any DNA test without first trying to put together your family tree. DNA test-takers need to have started working on their family tree before jumping to DNA. DNA alone will not magically generate your family tree for you. I’m actually glad it doesn’t because researching is fun. Genealogy research + DNA technology = An Indelible Marriage.

(2) After you get your DNA results from either AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA), or etc., some of your DNA matches may send you a message. Please respond. Also, if you took the 23andMe test, please accept invitations to share ancestry reports. It’s your choice if you want strangers to also see your health reports. To ignore someone’s message is just rude and disrespectful, in my opinion. The “I Don’t Have Time” excuse will likely fall on deaf ears. Utilizing DNA to uncover family histories and to solve family mysteries is a serious matter for many. If you are not interested in communicating with DNA matches, think about opting out of making yourself visible. We don’t need to see your name and be reminded how rude you are being by not responding, especially if we share a lot of DNA.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Dropped Off in the Caribbean: DNA and the Middle Passage


Many of us African Americans have Caribbean roots. We may fall into one of four categories: (1) Born in the Caribbean and emigrated to America; (2) Had parents and/or grandparents who were originally from the Caribbean; (3) Had a great-grandparent or a further ancestor whose Caribbean origins are known and documented; or (4) Have no known Caribbean-born ancestors within several generations of our family, but we plausibly theorize that at least one enslaved ancestor may have been from the Caribbean, or a distant family member ended up in the Caribbean, based on what we know or think we know about the transatlantic slave trade. I am in category 4.

Many seem to believe that a majority of our African ancestors, who were brought to the United States, were in the Caribbean first for a period of time. That is not the case. Historians estimate that the vast majority, over 80 percent, of enslaved Africans disembarked in the United States came directly from Africa. The majority had never stepped foot on Caribbean soil. However, many of us, who are in category 4, are garnering DNA evidence that suggests strong ties to the Caribbean. In our databases of DNA relatives from, 23andMe, MyHeritage, etc., some of our genetic cousins or their parents are from Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Haiti, Grenada, and other places in the Caribbean. Here’s one example I discovered that involves DNA triangulation.

Per 23andMe, a DNA cousin, who I will call “Cousin Alvarez,” shares 23 cM [4553 SNPs] of identical DNA on chromosome 4 with my mother, her brother, and their first cousin, who is my grandfather’s niece. That amount of DNA is in the predicted 4th cousin range, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Cousin Alvarez is their 4th cousin, who shares the same third-great-grandparent(s). But what is most interesting about Cousin Alvarez is what he wrote on his profile: “My Dad is paternal Filipino and maternal Chinese/Panamanian, and my Mom is paternal Guamanian and maternal Mexican.” Under “Ancestors Location,” he indicates that his Mom’s Mom was born in Mexico, his Mom’s Dad was born in Guam, his Dad’s Mom was born in Panama, and his Dad’s Dad was born in the Philippines. What a mix! How on earth are we related to him?

Additionally, his ancestry composition includes 6.7% Sub-Saharan African, 52.6% Southeast Asian (Guam), 24.9% European, 6.6% Native American (Panama), 1.4% Chinese, and etc. 23andMe shows an ancestry composition chromosome painting, and a large segment on his chromosome 4, where he matches my family, is Sub-Saharan African. Therefore, we share a common African ancestor from which that identical DNA on chromosome 4 originated from. Interestingly, many people of African descent from Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Barbados and Jamaica were brought to Panama to build the Panama Canal, which started construction in 1881.

Under “Relatives in Common” are six other people who are marked as "Yes" under “Shared DNA.” Having shared DNA means that you and your genetic relatives share a portion of the same identical DNA segment. In other words, each of those six DNA relatives inherited portions of that same identical Sub-Saharan African segment on chromosome 4 that Cousin Alvarez and my mother (and her brother and first cousin) inherited. All 10 of them represent a “DNA triangulation group,” roughly defined as three or more people who share a valid chromosome segment that came from a common ancestor. Three of those six people indicate close ties to the Caribbean! Let’s look at the chromosome matching with those three people.

DNA Sharing with Cousin Alvarez and My Family, Cousins A, B, & C on Chromosome 4

My Family (purple) – This is my mom, her brother, and their first cousin.

COUSIN A (orange) – She stated that her mother is from Asheville, North Carolina, her father is from Oklahoma, and her paternal grandparents are Creole from Louisiana. She also speculates that her grandmother had roots in Haiti. Sharing 64 cM on chromosome 4, Cousin A and Cousin Alvarez share a total of 115 cM over 3 segments, which is in the range of second cousins once removed to third cousins. However, she doesn't have any idea how she could be this closely related to him.

COUSIN B (gold) – On her 23andMe profile, she indicates that her Mom’s Mom was born in the U.S., her Mom’s Dad was born in Barbados, her Dad’s Mom was born in Honduras, and her Dad’s Dad was born in Belize.

COUSIN C (green) – On her 23andMe profile, she indicates that her Mom’s Dad was born in Jamaica. The other three grandparents were born in the U.S.

Fortunately, Cousin C uploaded her raw data file to, which enabled me to compare her to other relatives who had taken other DNA tests and had also uploaded to GEDmatch. To aid in solving genealogical mysteries, this process is highly recommended. I figured out that my mother, her brother and their first cousin likely inherited that matching DNA segment on chromosome 4 from their great-grandmother – their fathers’ maternal grandmother, Polly Partee of Panola County, Mississippi.

According to the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Federal Censuses, Grandma Polly was born around 1830. Her birthplace was reported as being North Carolina. By 1850, she had become enslaved by Squire Boone Partee of Panola County. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to unearth where in North Carolina she came from and how Squire Partee obtained her. In my mind, I envision a young enslaved girl being placed on the auction block somewhere in North Carolina, sold to a speculator who takes her to Mississippi, never to see her family again, and subsequently purchased by Squire Partee. According to oral history, Grandma Polly was the head cook on the Partee plantation during and after slavery. DNA sleuthing indicates that she had family ties to once-enslaved Bullock families from Granville County, North Carolina (for a future blog post).

This discovery reminded me of a conversation that I had with my cousin’s Jamaican wife, who also tested her DNA. She observed, “I have a lot of DNA relatives from North Carolina.” North Carolina played a very small role in the transatlantic slave trade because of its geography. Just over 3,000 of the nearly 400,000 enslaved Africans who were brought to the U.S. during the Middle Passage were disembarked in North Carolina. The string of islands on the Outer Banks created dangerous conditions for slave ships to land. Consequently, most ships opted to dock in ports to the north or south of the state. One exception was Wilmington, which is located on the Cape Fear River. Wilmington became a slave port because of its accessibility. Other accessible North Carolina ports that saw some slave importation activity were Brunswick, Edenton, Beaufort, and New Bern.

Therefore, slave trading in North Carolina has largely gone unstudied. I found some slave trading data that provided a snapshot of slave trading activity in the state. It shows a strong link between the Caribbean and North Carolina. See chart below.

According to historian Walter E. Minchinton, this record of the number of enslaved people imported into North Carolina is still incomplete. However, this snapshot reveals a small yet steady flow of trade into the state during the 18th century. Enslaved people were disembarked into the state almost every year between 1720 and 1775, except the periods of war in the 1740s and 1757-1761. After the American Revolution, the trade revived and continued until 1790. Enslaved people were brought into North Carolina from both other mainland colonies and the Caribbean, with the largest percentage (48%) coming from the Caribbean. Much fewer (16%) came directly from Africa. 

Although I can’t definitively pinpoint Grandma Polly Partee’s origins in North Carolina at the moment, one thing I can plausibly assert from this DNA discovery – someone in her family was dropped off in the Caribbean and procreated there. One of Minchinton’s notations about one of the slave ships that unloaded its human cargo in North Carolina stated: The sloop Polly (104 tons) of Montego Bay, Jamaica brought Negroes from thence in 1787 and twice in 1788. Maybe a coincidence?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Research Tip: Check Your Assumptions

Researching and documenting many of my ancestors have not been accomplished without mistakes from time to time. Mistakes can easily come from drawing the wrong conclusions from one (or more) sources. In other words, some historical conclusions, assertions, or assumptions may be drawn from what many may feel to be from "obvious" research findings. However, the "obvious" may not always be accurate. For example, genealogist Robyn Smith and I recently discussed one of her research subjects named Johnnie. We automatically referred to “Johnnie” as if Johnnie was a male, without a second thought. Surprisingly, Robyn soon discovered that Johnnie was actually a female named Johnnie Mae.

The following scenario is my most recent situation in which I drew an inaccurate conclusion from what appeared to be “obvious” to me from three sources. I also discovered that others made the same mistake. I'm glad that I caught my mistake. Here goes.....

At least six people, who share a significant amount of DNA (41 to 119 cM over multiple segments) with my father, all have the surname Yarbrough/Yarborough in their family trees, from Franklin County, North Carolina. See DNA diagram at the bottom. They also share DNA with numerous other descendants of my father’s great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy from Leake County, Mississippi. Grandpa Big Bob had been born around 1818, in Nash County, North Carolina, in an area near the Nash/Franklin County line where his first enslaver, Jesse Bass, had lived. Therefore, these six DNA cousins are related via Grandpa Big Bob Ealy, who was brought to Mississippi c. 1837, when Jesse’s youngest daughter, Frances Bass, and her husband, William W. Eley, migrated to the state.

Three of the six DNA cousins descend from a woman named Neppie Yarbrough Wheless (1872-1926) of Franklin County. Her death certificate revealed that her parents were John Yarboro and Miley Yarboro. The other three descend from a man named Fab Yarbrough (born c. 1861) of Franklin County. Fab’s death certificate has not been found. However, both Fab and Neppie were found in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, living in the household of their father, John Yarbrough, and his wife Miley, who was also known as Mira. Both of them were born in the mid-1820s. See image below. Per the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Miley/Mira was living her daughter and son-in-law, Reddick & Neppie Wheless, that year. That census reports that she was the mother of 12 children with 9 alive. Therefore, I had concluded that Fab and Neppie were both among the 12 children that Mira had birthed.

1880 U.S. Federal Census – the household of John Yarbrough
Fab Yarbrough and Neppie Yarbrough Wheless were found in the household of their father, John, and his wife, Miley/Mira.
Source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Cypress Creek, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: 963; Page: 595C; Enumeration District: 092;

Fortunately, North Carolina has wonderful marriage and cohabitation records that are accessible on Cohabitation records identified and legitimized marriages of those who had been enslaved in North Carolina. These marriage records also indicate the approximate year of marriage or cohabitation for formerly enslaved couples. I found a marriage record for John Yarbrough, which reports that he and Mara Levister became man and wife on April 14, 1851. This was ten years before Fab was born. This marriage record, as well as Neppie’s death certificate and the 1880 U.S. Federal Census collectively, appear to confirm that John and Mira were indeed the parents of Fab and Neppie. Unfortunately, I could not find John and Mira Yarbrough in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census.

I added this Yarbrough family to my online family tree on I soon got a green leaf hint to numerous other family trees that also had Fab and Neppie as two of the children of John and Mira Yarbrough. Weeks later, I continued the research. I researched the 1870 U.S. Census more thoroughly by searching for some of the children, instead of looking for John and Mira again. I then found something that was weird. An 11-year-old male named Fabricius Yarbrough was found in a household headed by a woman named Ceily Yarbrough in Franklin County. See image below.

1870 U.S. Federal Census – the household of Ceily Yarbrough
Maria (15), Turner (13), and Fabricius (11) resided with Ceily. An elderly couple, Hampton & Gilley Yarbrough, and her son, Matthew Yarbrough (22), lived next door; his marriage record confirmed Celia as his mother.
Source: 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1137; Page: 591A; Family History Library Film: 552636;

Shortly afterwards, I more thoroughly researched the North Carolina marriage records on using wild cards. Wild cards are special symbols used in search engines to represent unknown letters in a word. uses the asterisk (*) and the question mark (?) as wild cards. Read more about wild card usage here. Lo and behold, I found a marriage record for a “Fob” Yarborough. Transcription errors can be a beast sometimes! Fab had married his longtime wife, Lexie Harris, on Dec. 22, 1880, in Franklin County. His marriage record reports that his parents were John Yarbrough and Cely Yarbrough, both living. See image below. Fab was Fabricius. I went back to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census and found Cely living next door to her son, Matthew Yarbrough. She had married a man named James Lewis in 1871.

North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011, for Fab Yarbrough
Reports his parents as being John Yarborough and Cely Yarborough
Source: North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

Researching probate/estate records on, I determined that John, Celia/Cely, Celia’s children, and her next-door neighbors, Hampton & Gilley Yarbrough, were enslaved by James S. Yarbrough, up until his demise in 1863. James’s father was Archibald Yarbrough, who died in 1841 in Franklin County. His estate record indicates that James had inherited them from his father's estate. Mira was not found on the slave inventories. However, a slave-owning Levister family lived nearby in the Franklinton district, per the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses and Slave Schedules.

As it turns out, John fathered at least three children with Celia/Cely there on James S. Yarbrough’s plantation – Amy Yarbrough Dunn (c. 1854), Turner Yarbrough (c. 1858), and Fabricius “Fab” Yarbrough (c. 1861). They were named in the slave inventory of James’s estate with Celia. See image below. Their marriage records verified the parents’ names. At the same time, I theorize that John’s wife Mira and their children were most probably enslaved by the Levister Family who lived nearby.

The slave inventory of James S. Yarbrough’s estate, Franklin County, North Carolina, Dec. 1863
Seventy (70) enslaved people were named with their ages. Included were Hampton, 58, Gilly, 50, John, 38, Celia, age 40, her children, Mathew, 15, Anica, 12, Amy, 9, Miranda, 7, Turner, 5, Fab, 2.  (Source here.)

To date, the death certificates and/or marriage records of seven additional children of John identified Mira as being their mother. Those seven children were: Louisa Yarbrough McKnight (c. 1851), Matilda Yarbrough Perry (c. 1852), Rosa Yarbrough Harris (c. 1856), Sarah Yarbrough Mann (c. 1857), John Yarbrough Jr. (c. 1863), George W. Yarbrough (c. 1864), and Neppie Yarbrough Wheless (c. 1872).

John had two families (at least), and his son Fab by Celia/Cely resided with him and Mira in 1880. This is what threw me off! What may appear to be obvious may not be. Research tip: Always do additional research to verify who was the actual mother of the children in the household (and outside the household). Often, the wife was not the mother of all. This is especially important with families who had been enslaved.

Since I haven't found any other family connection between these six Yarbrough descendants, this discovery is strongly suggesting that Grandpa Big Bob Ealy was closely related somehow to John Yarbrough (born c. 1824). I had previously theorized that the connection was somehow via Mira Levister Yarbrough. I continue to work to try to figure out how!

DNA Sharing Between My Father and Descendants of John Yarbrough of Franklin County, N.C.
Overlapping segments on chromosome 7 between my father and Cousin B (orange), Cousin C (gold), and Cousin D (purple), who took the 23andMe DNA test. Cousins A, E, and F took the AncestryDNA test but haven't uploaded to; therefore, no chromosome info is available for them.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Juneteenth Celebration: Our Freedom Day Story

My cousins, Armentha Reed Puryear and the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry of Senatobia, Mississippi, both listened to their grandfather Bill Reed talk about that day in 1865 when Lemuel Reid stood on this very porch they are standing on and announced to all who were enslaved on the Reid Place that they were free.

The Reid Place, the old home of Lemuel Reid, near Abbeville, South Carolina, as it stood in 2004.

JUNETEENTH is a special holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. On that day, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order #3:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” that soon evolved into a national celebration of the emancipation from chattel slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, did not immediately emancipate most enslaved African Americans in the South, especially in Texas.

I often wonder about the day my enslaved ancestors were told that they were free. How did they feel? What did they do? Did they cry a river of tears? This day was undoubtedly a dream come true. After Alice Marie Johnson was recently pardoned after serving over 20 years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense, she stated that she performed a “Pentecostal holy dance” upon hearing the news from Kim Kardashian. I imagine the same type of jubilation that my enslaved ancestors displayed when they heard, “You are now free.” What an emotional day that must have been! The only difference here is that my enslaved ancestors had not been too-long imprisoned for a crime they committed; they and their ancestors had been held in inhumane yet legal bondage against their will for over 200 years.

Fortunately, my cousin, the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry Sr. (1914-2009), recalled a special story that his maternal grandfather – my mother’s paternal grandfather, William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) of Senatobia, Mississippi – had shared with the family about his “Freedom Day.” Cousin Ike had a very close relationship with Grandpa Bill and remembered many accounts he shared with him. Although Grandpa Bill was a reserved man, I’m told, he was not tight-lipped about his experiences during slavery in South Carolina. Cousin Ike voiced so many mouth-dropping stories to me, that this vast amount of valuable oral history served as the solid foundation of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.

I listened with excitement as Cousin Ike recalled Grandpa Bill’s “Freedom Day.” He shared, “Grandpa told me that on the day they got freed, Lem Reid came out on his porch and called all the slaves up to the house and said to them, ‘Y’all is as free as I am.’ He asked them to stay on the place to help him bring in the crop and he promised to pay them. Grandpa said that they stayed for a lil while and then they decided to follow this man to Mississippi to make a better living for themselves.”

In an earlier recollection, Cousin Ike had shared that an unknown man from Mississippi came to Abbeville, South Carolina. He saw Grandpa Bill and others taking a break from working in the field, approached them, and told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.” Cousin Ike humorously shared, “Hearing that Mississippi had fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths got them all excited.” Grandpa Bill, a younger sister Mary, and others packed up their wagons and moved to near Senatobia, Mississippi around Jan. 1866. (DNA is indicating that another sister, Louvenia, remained in Abbeville; more later.)

Grandpa Bill Reed married Sarah Partee-Edwards in 1871, and they had eleven children. He died on Nov. 30, 1937, at the old age of 91. During the week of his death, he had been out chopping wood. He lived to see 53 of his 57 grandchildren, as well as a number of great-grandchildren. Many of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren listened to his stories while sitting underneath his sycamore tree. His stories were not forgotten. On July 8, 2004, members of Reed Family visited Abbeville, South Carolina for the first time. We finally saw what Grandpa Bill had talked about for many years.

The descendants of Lemuel Reid placed this Welcome sign in their storefront to recognize our return back to Abbeville, South Carolina after 138 years.

Standing on the steps of the Abbeville County Courthouse, July 8, 2004

(All pictures are the property of Melvin Collier.)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Jayson’s Journey: A Slave Schedule Story

Slave schedules are censuses taken in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses that contain the slave-owners’ names and the age, sex, and color of each of their slaves. Columns also report the number of fugitive and manumitted slaves. There is also a column that noted enslaved people who were “deaf, blind, insane, or idiotic.”  Unfortunately, very few names of the enslaved were recorded. First names were only recorded for most who were 100 years old or older. The slave schedules are available for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. They are not available for other states.

This week, author and genealogist Robyn Smith and I talked about historians’ frequent usage of the slave schedules in the TLC television series, Who Do You Think You Are, as well as Henry Louis Gates’ PBS television series, Finding Your Roots. This has been and continues to be a frequent dialogue in the genealogy community; many researchers express their concerns about how the slave schedules are used and what conclusions should not be drawn from them. I decided to present this hypothetical research story as an eye opener. I use the word “hypothetical” because the research scenario itself and Jayson are fictional, but the ancestors, documents, and conclusions presented in this blog post are factual. This scenario is a common occurrence.

Jayson Boyce, a journalism major in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Howard University, was given an assignment in his sociology class to write a comprehensive research paper. The class had a choice – either a research paper detailing a social aspect of a community or a research paper uncovering the history of a family, from slavery to the present. The class had to utilize primary sources. Since Jayson had always been curious about his family roots, he chose the latter. He was confident that his father’s father could get him started.

Two weeks later, Jayson flew home to Cleveland, Ohio to talk to his grandfather, who was 81 years old. His grandfather relayed to him how his father, Willis B. Boyce, was born in 1909, near Poplar Grove, Arkansas, but his family moved to Cleveland in the mid-1920s, when Willis was a teenager. Jayson did not know that his family was originally from Arkansas. However, his grandfather gave him another piece of valuable information. He shared that his father Willis always talked about a cousin named Tony Boyce who would often come to Arkansas from Mississippi to visit them. He was famously known as “Cuttin’ Tony from Como.”

After gathering these important tidbits of oral history, Jayson went to to see what he can find out. With relative ease, he was able to find his family in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. Federal Census records. They were living in Phillips County, Arkansas. By the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the family resided in Cleveland, Ohio, confirming his grandfather’s account. Jayson also observed that his great-great-grandfather, John Boyce, was reported in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census as being born in January 1872 in Mississippi. Several of John’s siblings were also in his household, and they were born in Mississippi, too. Jayson discovered that his family had migrated to Arkansas from Mississippi around 1885.

Since much of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was destroyed in a fire, Jayson tried his luck with the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. He found his great-great-grandfather John Boyce in the household of his father, Mack Boyce, as well as two of John’s siblings who were in his household in Arkansas in 1900. They resided in Tate County, Mississippi. Jayson observed on a map that Tate County is adjacent to Panola County, where the town of Como is located just five miles from the Tate-Panola County line. Therefore, he successfully traced back to his three-times-great grandfather, Mack Boyce, whose age was reported as 35 in 1880. South Carolina was reported as the birthplace of Mack’s father and mother, as noted in the last two columns of the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. Undoubtedly being born around 1845 in Mississippi, Mack had been enslaved, and the family’s roots go back to South Carolina.

The 1880 U.S. Federal Census of Tate County, Mississippi – the Boyce Family
Two of Tony Boyce’s children, Mack Boyce and Nancy Boyce Rice, lived next door.
1880 U.S. Federal Census; Census Place: Beat 1, Tate, Mississippi; Roll: 665; Family History Film: 1254665; Page: 169D; Enumeration District: 181

Jayson couldn’t help but notice that Mack’s next-door neighbors were an elderly couple named Tony Boyce & Lucy Boyce (see above). Tony’s reported age was 64, and his birthplace was noted as South Carolina. Jayson concluded that Tony Boyce was Mack’s father and therefore his 4-times-great grandfather. He also discovered that “Cuttin’ Tony Boyce,” who used to visit his great-great-grandfather John in Arkansas, was also another grandson of Tony Boyce whom he was named for. Jayson was excited. Since his research paper should start with slavery, he decided to gather more information on pertaining to Tony’s history, if possible.

Unfortunately, Jayson couldn’t find his family in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, which is a pivotal census for slave ancestral research. He was disappointed since that census is very often the first official record that recorded formerly enslaved African Americans by their first and last names. But Jayson didn’t let that deter him. He decided to see if the Boyce surname came from a Boyce slave-owner.

Only one Boyce showed up in the area from his search of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. A man named John Boyce, who was also born in South Carolina, resided in the Como district during slavery. Columns 8 and 9 of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census reported John Boyce’s real estate value as being worth $41,000 and his personal estate value as being worth $34,000. Therefore, Jayson theorized that John was a fairly wealthy man who likely owned slaves, including his family.

1860 U.S. Federal Census of Panola County, Mississippi – John & Martha Boyce 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:, 2009; Census Place: Panola, Mississippi; Roll: M653_589; Page: 275; Family History Library Film: 803589

Jayson soon learned about the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules and decided to research those records, too. John Boyce was reported as owning 30 slaves in 1860 in Panola County. Among those 30 enslaved people is a 42-year-old Black male. This closely fits the profile of his 4-times-great grandfather, Tony Boyce, who was born around 1816. Jayson knew that the ages for enslaved people or former slaves were often estimated. 

Jayson was very elated with his research findings. He organized his numerous sources and wrote his 18-page research paper that documented his family, starting with Tony Boyce as likely being enslaved by John Boyce during slavery in South Carolina and Mississippi, to sharecropping on a farm in the Arkansas Delta, to being part of the Great Migration to the North, and to the present in Cleveland, Ohio. He added a lot of anecdotes from his grandfather. He also included maps showing the migration pattern of the Boyce Family, from South Carolina to Panola County, Mississippi to Phillips County, Arkansas, and then to Cleveland, Ohio. Jayson’s professor was impressed with his research paper and gave him an A.

A year and a half later, Jayson noticed that a researcher named Melvin Collier also has Tony Boyce in his family tree on He contacted Melvin to see how he is related to Tony. Melvin revealed to him that Tony Boyce was an older brother of his great-great-great-grandmother, Clarissa Bobo. This made them to be 5th cousins once removed. Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery details how this relationship was uncovered.

Like Tony Boyce, Clarissa also resided in Tate County, Mississippi in 1880, just a few miles from Como. Melvin also communicated to Jayson that Clarissa had been enslaved by Dr. William J. Bobo, who brought her and her family to Panola County, Mississippi in 1858 from Union County, South Carolina. Clarissa had been previously enslaved by Dr. Bobo’s father-in-law, David Boyce (1781-1830) of Union County. Two of David’s daughters, Margaret and Mary Marjory Boyce, married two brothers, Dr. William Bobo and Barham Bobo Jr., respectively. Melvin also e-mailed to Jayson more information that documented Tony Boyce in slavery. This is what Melvin revealed to Jayson.

EVIDENCE #1: Thirty (30) enslaved people appraised on the inventory of David Boyce’s estate, February 23, 1831, Union County, South Carolina (transcription)

Toney was inventoried in the late David Boyce’s estate in 1831. His estate record show that David Boyce’s wife, Agnes Turner Boyce, inherited Toney from the estate. David died intestate (without having made a will) on Nov. 22, 1830, and 25 of the 30 slaves went to Agnes. She later moved to Panola County, Mississippi with some of her children around 1845.

South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980; Author: South Carolina. Probate Court (Union County); Probate Place: Union, South Carolina; Estate of David Boyce, 1831.

EVIDENCE #2: The 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Panola County, Mississippi, Agnes Boyce

This census shows Agnes Boyce as the head of household, with her daughter, Mary Marjory Boyce Bobo, and Mary’s son, Barham Bobo, living with her. Mary was the widow of Barham Bobo Jr. of Union County, S.C., who died shortly after their son’s birth. 1850 U.S. Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:, 2009; Census Place: District 13, Panola, Mississippi; Roll: M432_379; Page: 341A; Image: 303.

EVIDENCE #3: The 1850 Panola County, Mississippi Slave Schedule, Agnes Boyce

This slave census shows that Agnes Boyce owned 37 slaves in 1850 in Panola County, Mississippi. 1850 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:, 2004; Census Place: District 13, Panola, Mississippi; Roll M432; Page: 157.

EVIDENCE #4: Slave Deed, Dec. 31, 1857, Panola County, Mississippi (transcription)

This deed record was found while researching microfilmed Panola County deed records at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History in Jackson. This deed shows that 21 named enslaved people, including one named TONEY, were transferred from Mary Marjory Bobo to her son, Barham Bobo, in Dec. 1857. This deed also states that Mary had acquired them from her mother, Agnes Boyce, on May 2, 1855. Agnes died two years later on Dec. 28, 1857.

EVIDENCE #5: Southern Claims Commission Record, Barham Bobo, Claim No. 16710, Sept. 17, 1872, Panola County, Mississippi

Southern Claims Commission. Roll: scc_1071_1248_0001; Place: Panola, Mississippi; Claimant: Barham Bobo; Claim Number: 16710; Claim Date: 17 Sep 1872;

On March 3, 1871, Congress established the Southern Claims Commission to compensate individuals who claimed to have had stores and supplies, such as horses and crops, taken by or furnished to the Union Army during the Civil War. Testimonies were taken by neighbors, friends, and former slaves to prove their claims. Additionally, hundreds of African Americans filed claims, and their files contain extraordinary personal data.

In 2006, digitized and released the Southern Claims Commission records. Their online database contains images of every claim and all accompanying paperwork. Barham Bobo was one of 22,298 claims that were filed. His papers, dated Sept. 17, 1872, stated that several mules, mares, and horses, valued at $1,900, were taken during the Civil War by the 11th Illinois Calvary Regiment from the plantation of his mother, who died on Sept. 15, 1870. Being her only child, Barham was the administrator of her estate. His claim was denied.

However, on the line for the “Names and residences of witnesses who will be relied upon to prove the other facts alleged in the foregoing petition” were the following names: Tony Boyce, Jeff Williams, Wat Boyce, William Boyce & others. This document was additional proof that Tony Boyce was enslaved on the plantation that was once owned by Agnes Boyce and that fell into the hands of her daughter, Mary M. Bobo, and grandson, Barham Bobo.

Conclusion: One might understand why Jayson Boyce was confident that his 4-times-great grandfather, Tony Boyce, had been last enslaved by John Boyce. It was easy to conclude that. However, more research revealed that Tony’s last enslaver was Barham Bobo III (1833-1900). He chose to retain the Boyce surname likely because he had been born on David Boyce’s farm in South Carolina, and he had remained enslaved by David’s widow, Agnes Boyce, after his death, up until 1855. He was eventually transferred to Agnes’ grandson, Barham Bobo, in 1857. Tony was not the 42-year-old Black male reported for John Boyce in 1860. Therefore, slave schedules should never serve as direct proof of one’s enslaved ancestor and their enslaver, simply because they don’t contain the names of the enslaved.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day: Honoring the Slain Black Milliken’s Bend Soldiers Who Made A Huge Difference

Illustration of African American Soldiers Repelling the Confederate Troops at Milliken's Bend
(Source: Harper's Weekly, public domain)

Last weekend, as my father, oldest sister, nephew, and I toured the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, we conversed about the participation of my father’s great-grandfather, John “Jack” Bass of Warren County (Vicksburg), Mississippi, in the Civil War. I had confirmed that he served with the 49th Regiment, formerly the 11th Louisiana Infantry, of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). According to his service record, he enlisted on May 16, 1863, at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. He was promoted from Private to Corporal on February 1, 1865, by order of Lieutenant Colonel Cyrus Sears.

Just three weeks after his enlistment, Grandpa Jack Bass, who was born into slavery in 1844 in Northampton County, North Carolina, and who descended from the Igbo people of present-day Nigeria on his mother’s side, fought in a significant battle – the Battle of Milliken's Bend, fought on June 7, 1863. Colonel Hermann Lieb situated his men into a battle line at Milliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River, the opposite side to Vicksburg, and prepared them to meet the pursuing Confederate troops. His units comprised of the 8th, 9th, 11th, and 13th Louisiana Infantry Regiments (African Descent), 1st Mississippi Infantry (African Descent), and the 23rd Iowa Infantry that totaled 1,061 men. The Battle of Milliken’s Bend became one of the first Civil War battles to involve African-American Union Army troops.

With two gunboats docked in the river to assist, Lieb strategically positioned his recently-recruited and poorly-trained men on the levee behind bales of cotton. When the Confederates troops arrived, hand-to-hand combat ensued. The Confederates pushed over the cotton bale barricades with their clubbed muskets and bayonets. Adrenalin undoubtedly kicked in, and Grandpa Jack and his USCT comrades bravely fought for their freedom.  One soldier, Joseph Blessington, reported in his 1875 memoir, "The enemy gave away and stampeded pell-mell over the levee, in great terror and confusion. Our troops followed after them, bayoneting them by the hundreds." (Source)

Grandpa Jack’s service record described him as being a short 5 ft. 3 inches in height. I don’t have to wonder why my late great-aunt Pearlie Spicer, his granddaughter, was very short. So in my mind, I envision a short, brave man, probably resembling the comedian Kevin Hart, in fierce battle alongside his many USCT comrades who were being brutally slayed around him. They successfully scared away the attacking Confederates. Although Grandpa Jack luckily survived the ferocious battle, the casualties at Milliken’s Bend were severe on both sides.

According to Linda Barnickel, author of Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory, the 9th Louisiana lost a whopping 68% of their men, which was the highest total of any of the Black regiments during the Civil War. Sixty-six (66) of their men died, and it was the highest loss in a single engagement by any Union unit during the entire Vicksburg campaign. The 23rd Iowa Infantry lost 54% of their unit, which had comprised of only 120 men. Numerous officers on both sides reported that their companies sustained nearly 50% casualties.

Despite the numerous casualties, the bravery and tenacity of the African-American soldiers showed the nation that African-American men could fight as well as the best white soldiers. Being regarded as outsiders, they made the great Vicksburg victory possible for the Union, and they earned the official praise of Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Also, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wrote the following in a letter to President Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 5, 1863:

“Many persons believed, or pretended to believe, and confidentially asserted, that freed slaves would not make good soldiers; they would lack courage and could not be subjected to military discipline. Facts have shown how groundless were these apprehensions. The slave has proved his manhood, and his capacity as an infantry soldier, at Milliken's Bend, at the assault upon Port Hudson, and the storming of Fort Wagner." (Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of War. 1899. p. 1,132.)

Afterwards, the Union pushed to enlist thousands of African Americans into newly-formed regiments. When the Civil War ended in 1865, nearly 180,000 African-American men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. Close to 10,000 of them died in battle. Another 30,000 African-American men died as a result from illness or infection. They are not forgotten.

Pointing to Grandpa Jack Bass’ name at the African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D.C.


“Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory,” Link:, accessed 25 May 2018.

Barnickel, Linda. Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2013.

National Park Service. “The Battle of Milliken's Bend, June 7, 1863.” Link:, accessed 26 May 2018.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of War, 1899.