When black and white DNA cousins meet online: A tale of two very different experiences

Genealogy is an adventure. There is no two ways about it. The adventure was something I mentally and spiritually prepared myself for prior to diving in at the deep end. I’ll explain.

Approaching genealogy like it’s a Norman Rockwell painting is never a good idea.

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Credit: Freedom from Want | Norman Rockwell | Oil on canvas | 1943 Story Illustration for the Saturday Evening Post | SEPS Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

It isn’t. Picture perfect genealogy doesn’t exist. Our ancestors and ancestral kin were real people. They lived. They breathed. They flourished…and they made mistakes. They had their strengths. They equally had their faults and shortcomings. They were human and, as such, they were subject to the same foibles, pressures, life events, choices and decisions, and predilections as any other human being.

I knew before I began this journey that I was going to have a multitude of white relations who would be utterly unknown to me. How? From my complexion, my freckles, my hair, and just about every other external aspect of my being…there was more than enough evidence of it. If I had any doubts, all I need do is to look at the wide circle of my immediate family. The evidence of numerous cross-ethnic unions down the generations abound.

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Credit: from The Genetic Genealogist via Visualizing Data From the Shared cM Project, https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/05/29/visualizing-data-from-the-shared-cm-project/

So I was prepped and ready. While I didn’t have a name for a single white ancestor in my direct line before I began my journey, I knew that DNA testing would eventually uncover the identities of my unknown white forebearers. And it has, more than I could have ever imagined, much less anticipated.

On the whole, it has been a positive and affirming experience. It’s certainly underscored various family quirks. I will also admit that I was exceedingly spoiled when it came to meeting my first groups of white DNA cousins on the Sheffey and Roane sides of my father’s family, both online and in person. The words ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ don’t adequately describe how I was greeted. They will do for the time being. Were those initial exchanges awkward in the beginning? Yes, in all honesty, but only for a hot minute. The author of that initial feeling will always centre around the how’s and why’s of how we’re related: slavery. Yet, we immediately found common ground. And in the intervening years since we first met? We have a genuine fondness for one another. We are family. So I kind of relaxed into a mood that other white DNA cousins would be equally receptive and welcoming. However, America being America, that halcyon experience didn’t last for long.

When it came to white family members I shared deep roots with in Virginia, North Carolina, and the Quaker communities that dotted the US Eastern seaboard, my experience in meeting cousins from a different ethnic group was truly pleasant. However, cousins who came from states to the south of North Carolina, that experience was split between it being 40% positive, and 60% negative. Those numbers haven’t changed much over the past few years. Given the current zeitgeist in America around the subject or race and race identity/politics, the negative responses have verged on the outright hostile.

I’ll always remember my first negative reaction from a white DNA cousin in South Carolina. She was adamant that she wasn’t related to black people. She even went as far as to suggest that AncestryDNA had swapped my DNA test with someone else. I was far from being the first person this individual said this to. While she wasn’t directly hostile, it was clear she just wasn’t having it. I found this curious at the time. If you know you come from a long line of American chattel slavery enslavers, you ought to be prepared – especially if you do DNA testing – to discover relations who are people of color. Truly, that shouldn’t come as a scud missile to your reality. Nor should a person act like that this is the worst news they have ever heard in the entirety of their lives. As someone who has experienced four miscarriages with a partner, two of them being late term, discovering you have relations who are people of color doesn’t even register on the pain stakes. An awkward experience? Perhaps. I’ll give you that. The worst experience ever? No. Far from it.

I can’t speak from the other side of the coin. For my own part, I have always been open and receptive to white DNA cousins who introduce themselves. That’s just me. I can’t speak about negative reactions from people of color towards newly found white DNA cousins. I don’t doubt that this happens. It’s merely a situation I haven’t come across within my own family.

Let’s fast forward to the past four weeks. I have had two starkly different reactions from white Holloway DNA cousins. The first ran along the lines of my Sheffey, Price, and Roane cousins. She wasn’t fazed in the least. So much so that she felt comfortable enough to send a Facebook invite, which I accepted. I’m certainly looking forward to chatting more in depth about our mutual Holloways. That’s the way it ought to go.

Then there was my second experience with a Holloway family descendant from a different Holloway family line. Ms K sent a fairly passive-aggressive message to me in Ancestry. I can only guess that she felt the message she sent me was perfectly normal and acceptable. You can decide for yourself. Her request was absolutely unambiguous: “Please remove all details of my family’s line from your tree. I don’t want anyone to know I’m related to black people.” I had to re-write my response a few times before I sent it. My first reaction veered towards the “Hell no” variety of response. I was offended and outraged. This was my family too. Thorough research on the Holloways will enable me and the GA team to do some overdue DNA segmenting analysis in order to break through some very stubborn Holloway family brick walls. The more lines you have to work with, the better able you are to do the genetic work needed to tackle this monumental task.

Instead, I counted to ten, took a few deep breaths, and merely responded with: “Sorry, love, but this is my family too. I can’t help how you feel about having black relations. You’re just going to have to wrap your head around it.”

If I could be bothered to do so, I’d try to wrap my head around what the fear factor is with this brand of knee-jerk reaction. I am not looking to be added to Christmas card lists. I don’t expect birthday presents. Nor am I going to hit anyone up about paying my student loan. There is nothing that Ms K, nor those like her, has that I want or need…apart from information. Information is the only thing of value that individuals like Ms K might have. Items like slavery-era probate records that a family member might still have. Or slave deeds. Or old family pictures with black household members who might be my ancestors, or ancestral kin, who were enslaved by their family during slavery, or worked for them after Emancipation. Or information about members of the enslaved families held by their ancestors. You know, fairly basic things that would make my genealogical research a far easier process. That’s pretty much it.

Even better is finding out about family quirks and characteristics. For instance, I can say beyond a shadow of doubt that I get my sense of determination, entrepreneurialism, pioneering spirit, drive to succeed, and hard graft from my Quaker ancestors. I’d say the same thing for my sister and a whole host of first cousins I’ve known all of my life. I probably inherited my sense of humanitarianism from my Quaker ancestors too. My political views are absolutely Sheffey in nature. I’m going to embarrass them, but my Sheffeys re-affirm my belief in decency and basic goodness. I also couldn’t imagine life without my cousin Bill Sheffey. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t crack me up with laughter online. I simply couldn’t imagine life without them.

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I would have never imagined myself chatting on the phone with an elderly Roane cousin from Tennessee who describes himself as a mountain man redneck. I look forward to our monthly chats on the phone. He too is an endless source of good-natured humor and running commentary on day-to-day affairs in the US.

Where did I get my eye for finely made things and my sociability? That’s pure and undiluted Roane. My belief in humanism? That probably comes from so many of the American founding fathers I am either directly descended from or related to (and yes, I openly acknowledge the cognitive dissonance between those founding fathers who were enslavers and their belief in humanism during The Enlightenment). Where did my quick-fire temper come from? Ohh, that’s definitely and undeniably Edgefield County, South Carolina…which I’m guessing sits next to my Scottish and Irish side. That last one has actually spawned a new saying: ‘Don’t make me go Edgefield. You won’t like me if I go Edgefield’. If you don’t know what that means, do a little reading on my ancestor Representative Preston Brooks (D, SC).

I can’t neglect my African-descended ancestors. From those I have researched, studied, and come to know, I inherited an endless resilience, mental fortitude and strength, as well as a dedication towards striving for a better future. You don’t survive 245 years of chattel slavery without these characteristics.

Learning about, and understanding, the various traits I’ve inherited enables me to better understand myself. That’s always a cool thing.

Perhaps, just perhaps, acknowledging you have relations from an ethnicity other than yours will be one way America can demolish a seemingly insurmountable wall of difference and “othering”.

It all begins by conversing.

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Genealogy challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams (Old Ninety-Six, SC)

My cousin and research business partner, Donya, hit me me with a small newspaper clipping packed with some major family history implications for our Edgefield County/Old Ninety-Six County, South Carolina family:

Edgefieldians already know we’re connecting to one another in a myriad of ways from 1800 onwards. Whether our Old Ninety-Six  ancestors were white, Native American, or black…everyone in the Old Ninety-Six region is related. With a long history of cousin marriages,  most of us are related to one another at least three or four ways.

My 4x great-grandfather Moses, and his 43 children, connects many of us at a much earlier date than any of us could have imagined. This one man pushes our combined ancestry back to around 1769, the year Moses was born. We reckon this one man is going to connect around two-thirds of the black and mulatto residents of 19th Century Edgefield/Old Ninety-Six.

Two. Thirds. I’m still wrapping my noggin ’round that one.

This journey of discovery will be far from straightforward.  Honestly, though? It has the makings of a brilliant documentary.

The first challenge is the fact that Moses, his children, and their respective mothers, were enslaved. So it’s not going to be a matter of diving into census records between 1790 and 1870. Moses and his descendants won’t appear in their own right until the 1870 census. If we’re lucky, some of them may appear in the Freedmen Bank Records between 1865 and 1870…if we’re lucky. Most of our formerly enslaved ancestors from Old Ninety-Six didn’t open Freedmen Bank accounts unless they lived near to a city or large town.

At this stage of our research, we have identified the family who held them in slavery. Not unsurprisingly, this was the Welsh – descended Williams family of Hanover County, Virginia; Caswell, Granville, and Pasquotank Counties in North Carolina; and Laurens, Newberry, and Old Ninety-Six /Edgefield Counties in South Carolina.

The relationship between Moses and the Welsh – American Williams family wasn’t just one based on enslavement. DNA is already giving us an insight into which Williams family member fathered Moses. However, that reveal is planned for a forthcoming book.

In the meantime, I thought this would be an opportunity to outline the various stages we’re preparing to tackle this behemoth of a genealogical conundrum.

First up is creating a family tree for the Welsh-descended Williamses:

I’ve adapted our Ancestry.com tree to an old school pen and paper format, concentrating on the specific line of Williams who held Moses and his children in bondage. Millennials will be horrified. However, sometimes, the pen and paper approach is necessary. This step came after a week of reading countless Williams family Wills, estate probate records, tax records, and deeds of sale and/ or deeds of transfer.

The next step was literally sketching out the enslavement of our ancestors within this family, one generation at a time. The image above gives an overview of our ancestors enslavement within the second generation of the Williams family.

The next step was mapping out enslavement based on Wills and Deeds. In the image above, I’ve made a special note regarding the date and location of the Deed. In a way, I’m treating Deeds like they were a census. We know exactly where these ancestors were in 1795 based on this record.We also know exactly where they were going at this date.

While this deed doesn’t offer clues about the family relationships between these people, it does tell us these souls left Pasquotank, NC for Newberry, SC at this date in one large group. We know who went to South Carolina, and who remained behind in North Carolina.

The image above explores our kinsmen and women’s fate within the third generation of the Williams family.

These series of Deeds have been an invaluable information gold mine. Almost all of them gave our enslaved ancestors and kin’s ages (all of those numbers in parentheses). In other words, we could extrapolate birth years. I can’t begin to convey how rare this information is when it comes to enslaved people’s history.

The superscript numbers are tracking numbers that allow us to follow a person through a series of inter-family deed transactions and transfers through subsequent Wills.

The images marked ‘4’ and ‘5’ mark what I refer to as ‘outlier deeds’ within the Williams family. At this stage, were not entirely certain who the enslaved individuals are, or how they fit into the overall history or narrative of our Old Ninety-Six family. It’s my practice to always record, and make notes, even if the information – or its impact – is unknown. You never, ever know if you can re-find such information. From my experience, I know nothing is ever wasted. There will come a point and time in the research process where I will be mighty pleased I took the time to record this information.

The above is a pretty straightforward representation of the dispersal of our enslaved kin by their owner-relative. I’ll admit my heart went out to poor Rose. Her life was spent going back and forth between various Williams family members.

So, at this point, we’re still tracking down Wills, estate inventories, land records, tax records, and deeds for a handful of Williams family members…as well as sketching out more Generation 3 transfers. Then, it will be time to sketch an outline of the same for Generation 4.

Once Generation 4 is complete,  that will bring us to the 1870 Census. Then? Well, we’ll know where our newly freed kin were from the last set of Wills and deeds. We can map their known last location from such Wills and Deeds, along with ages, to individuals and family groups in South Carolina in the 1870 Census for the Old Ninety-Six region.

And then start the whole process over again for our kin who remained in North Carolina from 1795 onwards.

Yep. This is an enormous undertaking. Which, in its own way, is historic.

If researching an enslaved man and his 43 children wasn’t challenging enough, good ole 4x grandad Moses has provided us with even more challenges:

  • We’re seeking Moses, his 2 wives, and 43 children in at least 6 different known counties in two states;
  • There’s an even earlier generation of this family. Their story begins in Hanover County, Virginia;
  • Born about 1769, we know Moses had at least one child named Moses, Jr by 1791. We estimate Moses, Sr began having children from 1784 onwards;
  • The birth of 43 children covers quite a span of time. If our Edgefield family trait of 1 child every 18 months holds true for Moses, were talking nearly an 80 year time period. This means no one white Williams held all of them. These children would have gone to various members of the Williams family over a few generations. And could have been relocated as far afield as Texas, Arkansas,  and Missouri;
  • 40 girls means 40 different surnames, if each one married. Their daughters would also go on to have different last names due to marriage…and their daughters. You get the general idea;
  • Moses, Sr was definitely fathering children when he was a grandfather. We have reason to believe he was also having children when he was a great-grandfather. In other words, some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be older than his youngest children. Yeah, I’ll let that one sink in for a moment. Heck, the man lived to the august age of 115 after all! Basically? We have to be extra careful when looking at the birth years on census returns; and
  • This is a big swathe of time to cover for 1 person.

So please bear with me. There are going to be quiet spells in terms of my publishing. Our Twitter feed and Facebook page are always busy. You’re always free to keep in touch with us via those routes.

In the meantime, please do wish us well. We can certainly use the positivity.

Namaste

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

The time has come for us to hit the road and begin to research undigitized documents in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina that are related to this project. Part of this project’s output will be making these newly digitized documents publicly available…and buy around 200 or so DNA test kits. Towards that end, we’ve set up a Go Fund Me campaign to the raise the $10,000 we need: Stronger Together:  The Moses Williams Family Project https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

All donations will be gratefully received. And your support, no matter what form it takes (likes and shares on social media), will mean so much to the team.

From Northampton County, NC to Roberts Settlement, Indiana: the hidden history of fpoc

Timing seems to be everything when it comes to genealogy. You can search and search for clues to mysteries for ages.  And then *BOOM*, out of the blue, something amazing can happen.

I’ve been engaged in deep research on ancestors who lived in early 19th Century Northampton, Warren, and Halifax Counties in North Carolina. Out of the blue, Fontaine, a Sheffey cousin, forwarded a video to me. He’d had no idea I’d returned to researching these North Carolina counties. He’d forwarded it to me in the hopes it might have some answers when it came to his father’s maternal lineage. At that point, we had no idea that we were related in any other way besides the Sheffey family of Wythe County, Virginia. It turns out, we share some North Carolina lineages too.

The video below is the one he brought to my attention. The video didn’t specifically, help me in my research with his father’s maternal line.  However, it certainly answered some questions about what became of some of my own maternal ancestors who had seemingly vanished into the ether. The families involved were: Bass, Byrd, Scott, Stuart/Stewart, and Walden/Waldron.

The answer to what happened to them was pretty simple in the end. They had removed themselves from North Carolina to settle in Indiana. I won’t spoil the video. Their journey is a remarkable story.

Genetic genealogy, DNA triangulation, and the search for my missing Futrell ancestor

When it comes to my genealogy adventures, more often than not, I feel like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot when it comes to uncovering the identity of missing ancestors who lived in the 17th, 18th and early 19th Century. Paper trails invariably run out, especially when it comes to my ancestors who were either working class whites, blacks, mulattos, Native American, or free people of colour. There are various reasons for this. Either records were lost, destroyed during times of upheaval (i.e. Revolutionary War, Civil War, Bacon’s Rebellion, etc) or were lost due to things like courthouses burning down. Given the remote areas some of ancestors lived, records may have never been produced at all. Or, if enslaved, full names weren’t provided. Or, due to ethnicity, they weren’t seen as people.

DNA testing is one key to uncovering the identities for ancestors where paper documents never existed, or no longer exist…or have yet to be digitized.  The process of DNA triangulation is key to this process:

Triangulation for autosomal DNA is kind of a chicken and egg thing.  The goal is to associate and identify specific DNA segments to specific ancestors.  The easiest way to do this, or to begin the process, is with known relatives.  This gets you started identifying “family segments.”  From that point, you can use the known family segments, along with some common sense tools, to identify other people that are related through those common ancestors.  Through those matches with other people, you can continue to break down your DNA into more and more granular family lines. (DNAeXplained, “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA” via https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna)

Regular readers will know I’ve developed a talent for triangulation over the years. In truth, much credit goes to my team of genetic genealogists who spent long and patient hours explaining how genetic genealogy and triangulation work; and mentoring me through my first forays into triangulating with my own DNA.

I’ve saved one of the most challenging triangulation tasks for last: discovering the father of my 2x great grandmother, Selinda Futrell, born about 1842 in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina. This falls on my mother’s side of the family tree.

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There are a couple of phases when it comes to organizing how I approach working with DNA and vital documents identifying a parent, or parents, for an ancestor. I’m still very much in the early phases with Selinda.

A preliminary to Phase I

Let’s start with her mother, Melinda, whose name appears as Melinda Futrell in official documents. Melinda was born around 1824 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  The first question I had to tackle was whether or not Melinda was a Futrell by birth, or was it a name she assumed after Emancipation.  In short, what was her connection to the Futrell name?

The three documents I have for Melinda, including the 1870 Census, cite that she is black.  All three documents are consist in this fact. There is nothing to-date to indicate that she was of mixed race. Now this could be for one of two reasons: either she was born of mixed parentage and simply didn’t appear to be.  Or, as I strongly suspect, she wasn’t born of mixed parentage. I am satisfied on the score that she was not a Futrell by birth.

Melinda’s children, on the other hand, are consistently cited as being mulattos. All of them. Which indicates that, unlike Melinda, her children had a white father. Given some 20+ DNA matches with white Futrells and Futrell descendants with roots in Northampton County, North Carolina, the team and I are very confident that man was a Futrell. This would explain Melinda’s adoption of the Futrell name, which she passed on to her children.

This is a prelim into Phase I.

Phase I: The Futrell family tree

So, the preliminary to Phase I was all about determining if Selinda Futrell was indeed a blood relation to the Quaker-descended Futrells in Northampton, NC.

Phase I, which is still ongoing, requires me to do a full and thorough work-up on the Quaker-descended Futrell family tree. This is easier said than done.  I’m not going the lie. The Futrells are a nightmare to research.

Let’s just start with the surname. When it comes to misspellings and variants of the name, it’s in a league of its own: Fewtrell (the old English spelling of the name), Futral, Futrill, Fetral, Tutrill, Titrill, Futrelle…the list goes on and on.

Then there are the beloved family names that were commonly used among numerous branches: Shadrach, William, Charity, Daniel, John, Nathaniel, and Mary, just to cite a few. Online family trees are aren’t an option – too many have confused or merged individuals who borne the same first name and were born within a few years of each other.

The one book I hoped to get a hold of, 12 Northampton County, North Carolina Families
Bridgers, Daughtry, Futrell, Jenkins, Joyner, Lassiter, Martin, Odom, Parker, Stephenson, Sumner, and Woodard by Rebecca L. Dozier is no longer in print.

But then, as luck or providence would have it, I discovered a second book: The Futrell Family Revised by Roger H. Futrell (available to read and/or download via: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE99258)  This book has been an absolute godsend. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we couldn’t have done an accurate family tree without it.

The book allowed us to ramp up Phase I, and begin Phase II.

Phase IIa: Eliminating and shortlisting paternity candidates

The 18th and early 19th Century Futrell family is huge. The family was not only prolific, it produced an unusual number of male children generation after generation.

At the moment, we’re just shy of 60 Futrell men born between 1650 and 1820. In order to have the fullest list of possible paternity candidates, we’re required to try and trace as many descendant lines for Thomas “The Immigrant” Futrell (born 1659 in Shropshire, England, lied for a period in Surry County, Virginia –  and died in 1693 in Bertie County, North Carolina). Once this has been done, we can begin to specifically look at Futrell men who were old enough, and resident in Northampton County, NC prior to Selinda Futrell’s birth in 1842.

I don’t know if ‘luck’ is the right word, but I’m going to use it anyway.  As luck would have it, around two-thirds of the Futrells who were in North Carolina had moved to Trigg and Christian Counties in Kentucky by 1814. Why is this lucky?  These Futrell men are automatically eliminated as possible descendant lines who could have fathered Selinda and her siblings. These Futrells didn’t moved back and forth between Kentucky and North Carolina.  Once they arrived in Kentucky, that was it.

We next looked into the proximity of Futrell men to Melinda and her family in Rich Square.  There were a dozen or so men of the right age either living in Rich Square. Another 8 Futrell men lived within a day’s horse ride away from Rich Square. Then there was the extended family group of Futrells who lived in Onslow County, NC.

Next we looked at which Futrells owned slaves.  This ruled the Onslow County group of Futrells out almost immediately. None of them had enslaved people.

This, again, helps us narrow the field of identifying the best, most likely paternity candidates on paper before we begin using DNA to triangulate.

After eliminating so many Futrells from consideration, we are left with a few family lines to investigate more closely:

  1. Male Futrell descendants of John W Futrell (1715-1788) and Martha “Polly” Daughtry;
  2. Male Futrell descendants of Benjamin Futrell (1720-1790) and Mourning Smith; and
  3. Male Futrell descendants of Thomas Futrell III (1713-1770) and Elizabeth Dickinson.

Work continues in investigating these three family groups.

Phase IIb: Wills and probate…and more Wills and probate

Wills and probate records are a vital – and rich – source of ancestral information. On the one hand, they provide the names of surviving family members, including grandchildren (e.g. I bequeath to my grand-daughter Hezekiah Heathcock, the daughter of Anne,…)

Next, Wills and probate are important for my Futrell ancestry for another reason. Wills and probate tells me who held enslaved people and who did not. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule.  My formerly missing German-American Sheffey 4x grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, was the only 18th Century Sheffey to not own slaves.  However, his brothers did. Yet, as far as DNA is showing, only John Adam Sheffey seems to have fathered children with Jemimah, an enslaved woman in the household of his brother Maj Henry Lawrence Sheffey. Slave ownership isn’t always a reliable factor when it comes to determining paternity.

For the Futrells who held enslaved people, the names of the enslaved are cited in their Wills.  It is actually possible to follow the trail of the enslaved from generation to generation through subsequent Futrell family Wills.

Using an example, let’s say Futrell #1 had an enslaved woman by the name of Amey. She goes from him to his son, Futrell #2.  Next, we might see in Futrell #2’s Will that Amey and her children, Patsy and Shadrach, pass to his son, Futrell #3.  Not only can I track Amey, I can now see that she has two children. Further Wills will provide further clues and information about Patsy and Shadrach.

The above is an illustrative example.  The Will of Elliot Futrell below, is a real-world working example:

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I’ll go ahead and say.  Creating family trees from Wills is a strange and unsettling business. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself to it. With that said, it is a critical skillset to acquire when it comes to genealogy.

As part of my genealogy practice, I add this information my Ancestry.com family tree for the respective individuals who held and inherited enslaved people.  I do this in the hopes that it helps other African Americans  researching their own family trees. I include the names of the enslaved and how that individual came by them (i.e. inheritance or purchase) with links back to the original course. The two images below show my working practice using the Will above:

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The image above shows notes I add to respective Ancestry.com pages to track the movement of enslaved ancestors from generation to generation.

Now, in the instance above, I don’t know if any of the enslaved people cited are part of my Futrell family’s story. However, they will be part of someone’s family story. So many have helped me along my way in my adventure, it would be churlish for me to not pay it forward.

Phase IIc: Identifying Futrell DNA segements

While I grapple with the traditional genealogy required in Phases IIa and IIb, the team is working on identifying my Futrell DNA segments and the Chromosome(s) associated with this segment or segments. While I’ve become adept at this part of the process, it is time consuming. And, in this instance, exceedingly tricky due to endogamy (cousin marriages, in short). I’m going to say it: the professionals are far quicker at this than I am!

This article from DNAeXplained gives you a glimpse into what’s involved: Concepts: Match Groups and Triangulation https://dna-explained.com/category/triangulation.

Phase III: Working with online DNA cousin matches

This final phase will do one of two things.  It will either identify the father of Selinda Futrell and her siblings. Or, it will narrow the search down to a single family group, a father and his sons, in other words. Most of the time, we get a solid hit and there’s no doubt about it.  Other times – and this is largely due to endogamy – we can only narrow it down to a father and/or his sons.

For example, it’s not unusual in my family tree for two brothers from one family to marry sisters from another family – and both sets of couples were cousins. Add the fact that the parents of the 2 brothers and 2 sisters were 2nd or 3rd cousins. Nothing skews DNA triangulating quite like this. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Less frequent is a father and a son marrying a mother and a daughter from another family, who may or may not be related to them.

Part of Phase III includes me relaying any possible DNA overlaps back to the genetic genealogists. For instance, the Quaker descended Futrells married Outlands, Exums, Vinsons and Lassiters quite often In Northampton, NC. I know already that I have Lassiters and Exums in Virginia on my father’s side of the family. I also have Outlands from Pennsylvania and Virginia on both my parents’ ancestral lines. Regardless of which colonial territory or State they lived in, these Outlands, Lassiters and Exums are part of the same family. Add in the Quaker White family, which links all of these families and more…and you have some tricky triangulation to do.

This information is crucial for the genetic genealogy team to reduce the risk of them arriving at a false positive. They need to find ‘pure’ lines – lines that don’t share common DNA with any other, in order to successfully identify Selinda Futrell’s father.  We use this as a benchmark against which we compare every other line.

Each Futrell line will be examined individually to see which one matches me closer, in terms of generation, than any other. For instance, if all of my DNA matches are at the 5th, 6th and 7th cousin level, save one that matches me at the 4th generational level or less – the most recent shared match is the one we need to investigate more closely. The identity of her father rests on Futrells who match me more closely in terms of generational distance than any other Futrell descendant line.

Normally, we’d also rely on the length of DNA segments shared, and the number of segments shared, between me and my Futrell DNA matches.  However, because of cousin marriages, I already know we’ll share more DNA in common than is typical for 4th to 8th cousins.  As an example, I have a Quaker cousin in Pennsylvania who Ancestry.com suggests is a 3rd cousin. We know a number of the ways we’re related, which makes us 5th, 6th, and 7th cousins respectively (due to endogamy within the colonial Quaker communities, we share at least 6 sets of common ancestors). We share a crazy amount of DNA segments for two people whose common ancestors lived between 1660 and 1770. It’s not Ancestry.com’s fault, it can only go by what the genetic numbers are telling it.

Yep, I know, it sounds like a whole lot of work to identify one ancestor. It’s what you do when the paper trail runs out.

And why spend so much time and effort to identify a father-owner ancestor?  I’ll touch on that in the next article.

Me, Quaker manumissions – and an 1828 voyage to Liberia

This post is a companion piece to my previous post, Quakers & Slavery: 50 shades of gray and then some.  It’s more or less the other side of American Quaker’s history with slavery. The theme of this post is the practice among a growing number of slave owning Quakers who freed their slaves.

What I uncovered had me doing a dad dance…not too unlike Matt Bomer’s smooth moves in the TV series American Horror Story. Yeah, I had a revelation so unexpected, so cool, that, well, I just ‘went there’.

I’ve spent the past month tracking down and reading the Wills of my slave owning Quaker cousins; those who not only sired many of my mother’s Carolinian ancestors, but also owned them. I’ve begun tracing ownership of her more distant African descended ancestors from the Colonial Pennsylvania of the 1600’s to Maryland, Delaware and 18th Century Virginia…down to the Carolinas . And yes, that’s a whole lot of probate to read. I’m still working my way through quite a batch of them.

I won’t re-hash what I wrote in the last post. Suffice to say that there was a growing movement within the Quaker faith to end slavery within its ranks. Quakerism and slavery were no longer compatible. I’ve read around 50 Last Wills and Testaments written by Quaker ancestors who owned slaves and died between 1690 to 1790. 90% of these cousins freed their slaves when they died. No caveats, no indentures. They freed their slaves.

The remaining 10% were split 50/50 along two lines.  Those who moved into Virginia and the Carolinas became ever larger slave owners. Not surprisingly, all either left the Quaker faith or were removed by the Quakers for various reasons.

The other camp were Quaker cousins who had an unusual paragraph that kept appearing in their Wills. This paragraph, phrased in slightly different ways in the Wills it appears in, transferred ownership of their slaves to their local Quaker Meeting House until such a time that it was safe for said slaves to be officially freed. This paragraph is telling. It speaks about the concerns for the safety and security of freed slaves in the American south throughout the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Another variation of this paragraph typically requested that slaves were deeded to a family member who was instructed to keep the slaves together until such a time that it was safe for them to be freed, with further instructions that the slave owner’s heirs should assist these slaves in relocating to other states, notably Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.

Slaves held by either the local Quaker Meeting House or by designated family members were to be paid, with their wages being held for safekeeping to support them once they were freed. Slaves in this scenario were either hired out or had enough say of their own to hire themselves out.

What the Wills don’t clarify, however, is defining what constituted a ‘safe environment’ in which the slaves could be freed. I’m still researching what those qualifiers would have been. The more of these Wills I read the more I get the impression that some Quakers who had slaves were actually shielding their slaves from the criminal acts that could take place in the hands of other less thoughtful owners or the agents of less thoughtful owners.

I’ve found a cousin, Robert Peelle (1709), who was a very politically astute person. He seems to have possessed good knowledge of the then current laws because he could see the ultimate impact that changes like The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northwest_Ordinance) would have upon the South. I won’t get into what this Ordinance was. Suffice to say it set forth how new states would be admitted in to the new Republic. The formal slave state vs free state argument was still a ways off, however, the roots of this future argument can be seen in the Ordinance.

In his will dated 21 January 1782, Robert Peele included the following:

Item: It is my will and desire that all my Negroes to wit, James, Pen and Kader, Dinah and her four Children, Viz., Heather, Molly, Ginny and Teressa and all the increase of said Dinah and four children if any, shall have their freedom if ever the Laws of the Land should admit of their having that privilege freely, clearly and absolutely….

Robert wanted all slaves to be free. He wrote his will five years before Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. I believe that he knew that, once there was a slave-free area established, it would eventually expand into the entire South and that it would not be a quick process.

Now, what got me doing a dad dance? It all has to do with four ancestral cousins – three of them are a father and his two sons – John Jellory Peele and his sons, Edmund and Thomas. The fourth is another cousin, Thomas Outland.  All of these men were resident in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina…a town founded by some very old Quaker families.

John Peele (1729-1804), originally from Nansemond, Virginia, was a Quaker Minister at Rich Square who also owned slaves but felt very strongly about their freedom. John came to own slaves via his wife, a Nansemond, Virginia plantation heiress. By all accounts, slave ownership did not sit easily with her. I don’t have contemporary correspondence or written thoughts from John. His Will, however, speaks, volumes.

He stated the following in his will written 29 January 1799:

Item. I leave all the Negroes that have been or now are under my care (living) in trust altogether of my two sons Edmund and Thomas Peelle, for them to take care of and place as they may think most proper, as also to direct as they may from time to time find necessary, until the Laws of the Land will admit of their freedom and that they may then enjoy it fully, and all necessary expenses accruing there from to be paid out of my Estate.

It’s what came next that made me giddy.

So what happened to the many slaves that John Peele owned and passed to his sons Edmund and Thomas?

The Quaker Monthly Meeting House in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina

The Quaker Monthly Meeting House in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina

The Peeles, along with cousin Thomas Outland, being legally authorized and empowered by trustees of the yearly meeting of the Society of Friends of North Carolina, conveyed 58 freed slaves to the states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, to areas deemed safe for them as they were to be settled in areas of these states largely peopled by Quakers. The Quakers, would keep these freed slaves safe.

Edmund Peele, a prominent Friend of Rich Square, liberated a further 125 slaves in 1827. However, he didn’t just free them. He arranged for their safe passage to Liberia, Africa. At his own expense. He also gave each $25 with which to start their new lives. That’s approximately $650 per freed slave in today’s money (https://books.google.com/books?id=MWFHAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA64&dq=edmund+peele+slaves&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj0s72yzITLAhVCWT4KHaklBMsQ6AEIOzAE#v=onepage&q=edmund%20peele%20slaves&f=false). I’ve read hundreds of Wills from ancestors who owned slaves. This is a first. I have never come across anything remotely like this.

Illustrative image of African Americans arriving in Liberia. This is not a picture of the Nautilus.

Illustrative image of African Americans arriving in Liberia. This is not a picture of the Nautilus.

Liberia. Now that’s a thing I’ve never considered in my many genealogy adventures. My curiosity piqued, I had to know the names of the freed men, women, and children who made that journey. It took plenty of perseverance…but I finally found their names.

I needed to find the name of the ship these souls sailed aboard. I Googled all manner of search strings based on North Carolina slaves, 1827 & 1828 and Liberia. Nothing much turned up. And then I struck gold: the US Brig Nautilus, which set sail from Hamtpon Roads, Virginia and arrived in Liberia on 19 February 1828. The voyage had lasted 54 days:

Now that I had a date, and the name of the ship, I could start searching for passenger manifests. Two family groups immediately leapt out at me: the Outlands and the Peeles. These freed slaves who had journeyed to Monrovia Liberia were my cousins on my mother’s side of the family tree.

All of the individuals below, highlighted in red, are my ancestral cousins (apologies for any formatting glitches. WordPress doesn’t make it easy to create tables):

Names
Age
State or place from which they emigrated
Free born or otherwise
Emancipated in view of emigrating to Liberia and by whom
Where located on their arrial in the colony
Extent of education
Profession
Date of death
Cause of death
Removed to what place
Removal date
Lucretia Outland
70
North Carolina
Unknown
Millsburg
1830
Old age
 
 
Bryan Outland
20
do
do
do
1837
Pleurisy
 
 
Joseph Outland
40
do
do
do
1838
Consumption
 
 
Jane Outland
30
do
do
do
1838
Consumption
 
 
Annet Outland
15
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
Kader Outland
13
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Allen Outland
12
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Byas Outland
9
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gatsy Outland
7
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Owen Outland
5
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Zachariah Outland
3
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Dorothy Outland
42
do
do
do
1843
Decline
 
 
Isabella Outland
12
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Penina Outland
10
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Rufus Outland
8
do
do
do
1829
Pleurisy
Olin Outland
6
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Harry Davis
45
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Darcus Davis
45
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Tabitha Davis
14
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Cherry Davis
12
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Joseph Davis
10
do
do
do
Stephen Davis
9
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Mary Davis
7
do
do
do
Marinda Davis
5
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Council Davis
3
do
do
do
Penina Davis
2
do
do
do
Rhody Outland
18
do
do
do
1829
Unknown
 
 
Jane Outland, infant
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Rosetta Outland
22
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reddick Outland
8
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Tobias Outland
6
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
Maria Outland
4
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Garcy Outland
1
do
do
do
1837
Pleurisy
 
 
Phoebe Outland
16
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Erone Outland, infant
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
Luke Kennedy
32
do
do
do
Jesse Kennedy
38
do
do
do
C. Kennedy, twin
12
do
do
do
B. Kennedy, twin
12
do
do
do
Asbury Kennedy
10
do
do
do
1836
Anasarca
William Kennedy
8
do
do
do
Shedrick Kennedy
6
do
do
do
Wiley Kennedy
1
do
do
do
1840
Unknown
Christian Outland
17
do
do
do
Farmer
 
 
 
 
Hilliard Outland
1
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Delila Outland
20
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
Zaney Overman
1
do
do
do
Joseph Peele
37
do
Mr. Peele
do
1840
Consumption
 
 
Chany Peele
23
do
do
do
1840
Consumption
 
 
Mary Peele
5
do
do
do
S. Leone
1837
Parthena Peele
4
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
William Peele
1
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Catharine Peele
56
do
do
do
1839
Consumption
 
 
Isaac Peele
15
do
do
do
1839
Anasarca
 
 
Wiley Peele
12
do
do
do
1840
Anasarca
 
 
William Peele
19
North Carolina
Mr. Peele
Millsburg
U. S.
1828
Venus Peele
30
do
do
do
1833
Anasarca
 
 
Abraham Peele
7
do
do
do
1840
Pleurisy
 
 
Peter Peele
5
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lydia Peele
3
do
do
do
1836
Pleurisy
 
 
Catharine Peele
1
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Bridget Peele
30
do
do
do
1837
Diseased lungs
 
 
Winney Peele
14
do
do
do
1838
Diseased lungs
 
 
Charles Peele
10
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Judith Peele
7
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rachel Peele
38
do
do
do
1843
Consumption
 
 
Penina Peele
5
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
Harriet Peele
3
do
do
do
1828
Fever
 
 
Edmund Peele
1
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ceily Peele
57
do
do
do
1829
Decline
 
 
Loretta Peele
14
do
do
Monrovia do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chaney Peele
63
do
do
do
1829
Decline
 
Edith Peele
35
do
do
do
1836
Decline
 
 
Peggy Peele
41
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Edney Peele
14
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Anaka Peele
12
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Edward Peele
10
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sylvia Peele
1
do
do
do
 
1828
Fever
 
Ceily Peele
61
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nancy Peele
14
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Olive Peele
11
do
do
do
 
1837
Pleurisy
 
 
Rachel Peele
9
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Willis Peele
17
do
do
Millsburg
 
Farmer
1839
Casualty
 
 
Sarah Peele
21
do
do
do
 
1836
Pleurisy
 
Elizabeth Peele
5
do
do
do
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Allen Peele
18
do
do
do
 
Farmer
1828
Fever
 
 
Mary Peele
16
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reuben Peele
29
do
do
do
 
Farmer
 
 
 
 
Abraham Peele
20
do
do
do
 
Farmer
 
 
Patience Peele
25
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Richard Peele
8
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Charity Peele
16
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
Benjamin Lawrence
26
do
Unknown
Caldwell
Farmer
1838
Diseased lungs
Adeline Lawrence
1
do
do
do
Judith Lawrence
46
do
do
do
1839
Diseased lungs
Isaac Outland
16
do
do
do
 
Farmer
 
 
 
 
Edward Outland
48
do
do
do
 
Farmer
1839
Diseased lungs
 
 
Hester Outland
30
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jeremiah Outland
15
do
do
do
 
S. Leone
1837
Elizabeth Outland
13
do
do
do
 
1836
Unknown
 
 
Penina Outland
12
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Henry Outland
5
do
do
do
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Dempy Outland
27
do
do
do
 
Farmer
 
 
 
 
Winney Outland
23
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Samuel White
48
do
do
do
 
Farmer
 
 
 
 
Axem White
22
do
do
do
 
do
1829
Diseased brain
 
 
Hester White
15
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Penina White
13
do
do
do
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Lucinda White
11
do
do
do
 
1828
Fever
 
 
John White
1
do
do
do
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Margaret White
17
do
do
do
 
 
 
Morning Toms
27
do
do
Monrovia
1843
Decline
Jacob Toms
1
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Cambridge Toms
77
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Francis Toms
56
do
do
do
Farmer
1828
Fever
Charlotte Toms
15
do
do
do
1830
Decline
Marinda Toms
12
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Dempsy Toms
9
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Mary A. Toms
5
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Emily White
15
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
Chancy Fletcher
30
do
Mr. Fletcher
do
1833
Anasarca
Lydia Fletcher
12
do
do
do
C. Palmas
Matthew Fletcher
5
do
do
do
Mary Fletcher
3
North Carolina
Mr. Fletcher
Monrovia
Ann Fletcher, infant
do
Unknown
Caldwell
1828
Fever
Rhody Jordan
27
do
do
do
 
 
1832
Consumption
 
 
Chancy Jordan
8
do
do
do
 
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Nixon Jordan
6
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lusanna Jordan
4
do
do
do
 
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Miley Jordan
2
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Solomon Jordan, inf.
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
Ruth Trublood
12
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Hannah Trublood
10
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Diver Fletcher
22
do
Mr. Fletcher
do
Thomas Fletcher
20
do
do
do
1840
Drowning
Jesse White
21
do
do
do
Gilley Toms
18
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Ceiley Fletcher
30
do
do
do
1840
Consumption
Annis Fletcher
25
do
do
do
1840
Consumption
Calvin Fletcher
7
do
do
do
Clarissa Fletcher
3
do
do
do
Dempsy Fletcher
51
do
do
do
1832
Decline
Cave Jones
55
Virginia
Unknown
do
 
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Winney Jones
65
do
do
do
 
 
1834
Decline
 
John Brisbane
29
do
do
do
1830
Consumption
Jane Brisbane
27
do
do
do
1833
Consumption
John Brisbane, jr.
5
do
do
do
Catharine Brisbane
3
do
do
do
1838
Consumption
Francis Brisbane
1
do
do
do
1828
Fever
Wiley Reynolds
24
do
do
do
U. S.
1828
Remus Harvey
30
Maryland
Free born
do
 
 
1836
Diseased lungs
 
 
Malvina Harvey*
25
do
do
 
 
1838
Decline
 
 
Rebecca Harvey
6
do
Free born
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
Susan Harvey
3
do
do
do
 
 
1828
Fever
 
 
Elizabeth Harvey
1
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
 
John Stansbury
19
do
do
do
Maria Stansbury
22
do
do
do
1833
Consumption
Jane Bryant
4
do
do
do
 
 
 
 
 
Jane Bladen
30
do
do
do
1828
Unknown
Richard Prout*
45
do
do
1828
Fever
Susan Prout
12
do
do
do
William Prout*
8
do
do
do
C. Palmas
1834
John Brown
37
do
do
do
do
1836

Source: Christine’s Genealogy Website – Emigrants to Liberia – Ship Lists
http://www.ccharity.com/contents/roll-emigrants-have-been-sent-colony-liberia-western-africa/emigrants-to-liberia-ship-lists

This document is illuminating for a few reasons. There seems to be a high mortality rate amongst those who arrived in Liberia via the 1828 trip. The illnesses which they died from pretty much speak for themselves.

The other reason this discovery is so profound for me, yet equally simple: There were enormous holes, dead ends and brick walls in my genealogy research for many of my Rich Square black ancestral lines. Hundreds of people simply vanished from all of the usual American records just before 1830. Now I know why. These people were no longer living in America. They were living in Liberia. Now I can update the information I have for them in my family tree. And, hopefully, connect with some of their descendants in Liberia.

Next will be researching the freed families who quit Rich Square for Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. And, of course, reading up on what it was like in Liberia when these Americans arrived.

For now? It’s dad dance time. And I’m fine with that.

My first African ancestor discovered

When it comes to African American genealogy, finding an African ancestor seems like a pipe-dream. It’s like winning the lottery jackpot. It’s the holy grail. The idea of it seems so impossible, it brings to mind an image of Don Quixote fighting windmills – well, it does to my literary mind at any rate.

Thanks to three Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina Josey family cousins…I have my ancestral lottery mega millions win. I have my first direct ancestor who was born in Africa.

I have found African progenitors for other ancestral lines like Goins/Gowen, Christian, Cumbo, Barbour and Munzingo. I was pretty excited to find them too. However, these were families that my various ancestral lines married into. Finding my own African ancestor…well, I’m still somewhere circling Cloud 9.

So who is this ancestor? One of my maternal 4x great grandmothers, Venus. Venus “The Elder” would go on to take the last name Josey, the name of family who owned her. It’s also the surname of James Henry Josey, the man who fathered the four children of her daughter, Venus Josey “The Younger”. To distinguish between the two Venuses, I’ll refer to the elder Venus as “Venus” and the younger Venus as Venus Josey.

I’ve spent a few hours chatting with 3 newly discovered cousins from the wider Josey family. While they didn’t have many stories about Venus, what they did tell me shed some interesting light on her life.

Born around 1806, Venus arrived in South Carolina around the age of 13. That is a very useful, seemingly insignificant factoid. It will (hopefully!) help me identify the slave ship she arrived on. I can start researching slave ships that left the west coast of Africa for the southern states between 1817 and 1822. This 5 year spread takes into account her age – she might not have been 13 when she made that Trans-Atlantic slave ship voyage. And 1806 is only an estimated year of birth, given in 1870. Her first child was born in Rich Square, Northampton, NC in 1825. 1824, the year her daughter Venus Josey was conceived, would be the uppermost limit for the slave voyage search range.

mtDNA tests suggest Venus either came from Gabon or Cameroon.

Now that all seems rather straightforward in terms of research parameters. However, looks can be deceiving. The US Congress passed the Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves on 2 March 1807. Thomas Jefferson promptly signed it and it came into effect on 1 January 1808. This was about a decade before Venus’s transportation from Africa to South Carolina. And this is where things will get murky. This means she was illegally transported across the Atlantic and sold. Like any illegal activity, the chances of any documentation is slim. Very slim.

Trans-Atlantic slave trade map

Then there’s the question of what port this ship arrived in. Wilmington was an established slave port before the importation of slaves was outlawed. South Carolina, particularly Charleston, seems a more likely port prospect. Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana are just as likely in terms of ports of arrival. However, my instinct tells me that she arrived somewhere in South Carolina, where many of the North Carolina slave owning Joseys had purchased slaves previously.

illustration of a slave ship hold

That’s the historical aspect of this discovery. There is a human element too. I try to think of that 13 year old child crammed into the dark, dank hull of a slave ship for approximately a month with all the foul smells and filth that journey entailed. I can’t. I try to touch upon the fear she felt. I can’t do that either. It’s unimaginable. There are no family stories of any family members accompanying her on that journey. Presumably, she made that journey alone, leaving everything and everyone she knew behind. That she survived is a testament to her fortitude. There’s a glimpse into that fortitude in one last story about her.

Another family tale is that Venus was a princess or, at the very least, a younger daughter of an African chieftain.  While it would be a sensational find, I’m remaining sceptical. Like the many tales in my family of Native American ancestry – which DNA testing has over-ruled – I’m not going to get too excited by this claim 😉

There is one history sliver that my white and black Josey cousins have relayed to me. James Henry Josey freed Venus “The Younger” and her mother when Venus “The Younger” gave birth to the first of their four children. He freed their children too. James’s mother was, by all accounts, very fond of her mulatto grandchildren. She paid for their education and ensured that the money her husband had bequeathed to their grandchildren and Venus “The Younger” was safeguarded and duly handed over. In short, she ensured her grandchildren’s future prospects.

There is one story that I absolutely love. Venus came to understand English. However, she refused to speak it. Nothing could compel her to do it. That snippet of her history speaks volumes to me.

Descendants of John Stephen Josey of Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina

Updating the various family trees I posted a few years ago has been a long overdue task. These trees have grown so large, that a nice graphical representation is impossible. Hence using the traditional generational list format. One day Ancestry.com will have an embeddable family tree widget. ;o)

Family Tree Key:

This family tree is arranged by generations. The numbers that appear before are name refer to generations.

For instance:

  1. John Smith (The ancestor whose descendants have been documented)
  2. Adam Smith (This is the 1st generation level. He would be John Smith’s child)
  3. Carrie Smith (This is the 3rd generation level.She would be John Smith’s grand daughter)
  4. Robert Smith (This is the 4th generation level. He would be John Smith’s great grandson)
  5. Helen Smith (This is the 5th generation level. She would be John Smith’s 2x great grand daughter)
  6. Randolph Smith (This is the 6th generation level. He would be John Smith’s 3x great grand son)

Privacy Note:

I have made every effort to delete details for living people. I’ve also made every effort to delete details of people who would make it easy to find their living descendants. I may have missed a handful. If I have, please accept my apologies and let me know. I will remove them from this list of descendants.

Descendants of John Stephen Josey

with roots in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina

john-stephen-josey

“I’m white, your family is black. We can’t be related!”

“I’m white, your family is black.  We can’t be related.”  In the words of President Obama….Oh yes we can!

It was bound to happen. I received an email this from a gentleman on the white side of the North Carolina Josey family who – politely, I have to add – enquired about my connection to the Josey family. “I couldn’t help but notice that your family is black. I’m sorry, but I don’t think we can be related”.

I could almost imagine his face when I kindly pointed out that not only were we related…but he was also related to the African-American Joseys who lived in his North Carolina town as well as the African-American Joseys who lived in at least three towns near to his own.

A subsequent flurry of emails passed back and forth and his denials became more entrenched. “It’s just not possible”. Airplanes weren’t possible – until they were. Sending rockets to other planets weren’t possible, until they were. Given the things we now take for granted which weren’t possible two to three generations previously, I think intimate relations between races the most probable of anything on the planet. Well, that’s the way I believe I phrased it in one of my later replies.

It all goes back to one John Stephen Josey. Me and mine, on my maternal great-grandmother’s side of the family, are descended from John Stephen Josey and a mulatto mistress. This gentleman was a descendant of John Stephen Josey and his wife Martha’s only surviving son.

It was only when I replied “Well, if my great-great-grandfather George Josey‘s existence didn’t bother Martha, why should it bother you? If anyone has or had a right to be aggrieved, it was her. He cheated on her, not you or yours.” And it is true. If certain accounts are to be believed, Martha Josey was kindly disposed to her husband’s mulatto children.

Yesterday, I received an email where this gentleman said “You’re absolutely right”.

Now he’s busy making plans to contact and meet his African-American cousins who live nearby. And we’ve inspired each other to trace the Josey/Jowsey/Jossie family lineage from 14th Century Scotland back to their Norman roots – a daunting prospect if ever there was one.

Oscar Josey & George Washington Josey of Rich Square, North Carolina: finding ancestors in books

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ddrLtJF9uHgC&lpg=PA25&dq=oscar%20josey%2C%20William%20Norwood%2C%20rich%20square%2C%20north%20carolina&pg=PA25&output=embed
Finding the name of an ancestor or distant relation in a publication never ceases to give me a little thrill. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Seeing their name in print somehow makes them seem a bit more real. They stop being just a name with dates on a family tree. Such things remind me that they had lives, every day lives, and seeing their names in a book or a publication with snippets of their personal history is a priceless experience.

This is the case with one of my maternal great-great-grandfathers, George Washington Josey, and his brother Oscar. They appear in the book “Divine Will, Restless Heart” by Mary E C Drew (book details are at the end of this post). Okay, there is only a few sentences which discuss the..but those few sentences are like gold dust to me.

Both boys were openly acknowledged by the white planter father in his lifetime. And the seemingly simple fact that they “lived with” a white family raises all kinds of questions. It doesn’t say they were slaves – nor does it say they were free.  So the question remains, in what manner did they live with the Norwood family? It’s the eternal see-saw of genealogy: no sooner do you answer one question (in this case, the name of the boys’ father), another one presents itself.

A screen grab except follows below (my apologies Ms Drew, WordPress doesns’t allow iframe widget embeds from Google Books and I have tried every which way to make that widget work in this post):

Excerpt detailing Oscar Josey & George Washington Josey

Excerpt detailing Oscar Josey & George Washington Josey

Unfortunately, the book isn’t available as an eBook. However, here’s the link to the book on Google Books. I believe print copies are still available to buy. A number of Rich Square, North Carolina African-American families are mentioned in the book – including the family of Oscar Josey’s wife, Emma Smallwood.

Google Book link:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ddrLtJF9uHgC&lpg=PA25&dq=oscar%20josey%2C%20William%20Norwood%2C%20rich%20square%2C%20north%20carolina&pg=PA25&output=embed

Book details

Title: Divine Will, Restless Heart
Author:  Mary E. C. Drew
Publisher:  Xlibris Corporation, 2010
ISBN:  1453511962, 9781453511961
Length 292 pages

Passing for white: ancestors who jumped the colour line

It’s that time in the university academic calendar where my schedule has been hijacked by a mountain of postgraduate and undergraduate marking and assessments. So my posts will be a bit sparse over the coming weeks.

However, in the meantime, I do have one intriguing find to share.

“Passing for white”. Now there’s a phrase that tends to hang suspended in space if ever there was one. The fact is, there are African-Americans who did so for a variety of reasons – and continue to do so today. There were more than a few instances of ‘passing’ on my maternal side of the family.

I grew up hearing the tale of how, in the depths of the 1930s depression, my maternal Turner grandfather ‘passed’ in order to get work and provide for his family. As any child, I took this as a simple family anecdote, one amongst a number of tales told during family gatherings during the holidays. It was only as an adult that I understood the significance of that act and what the potential repercussions could have been had my grandfather been rumbled.  I began to wonder if my grandfather had ever been tempted to make those forays into a white identity permanent…and asked myself what I would have done.

In researching the African-American Turners of Charles County, Maryland, some interesting facts have come to light. Death records between 1850 and 1870 cite a number of Charles County, MD Turners as having ‘very light’ or ‘white’ complexions. However, these records are for the Turners I traced who declared themselves as mulattoes during their lifetime. There were a number of their kin who moved from Charles County, MD and passed for white, their descendants entering into the white race. With respect to their descendants, who most likely have no idea they are descended from African-Americans, I won’t be posting specific family individuals I’ve found from the Turner clan who left their black roots behind.

There are other Turner lines I suspect followed in their footsteps and also ‘passed’. However, due to the popular nature of their names, it’s difficult to know if I’m looking at records for the same individual or different people born roughly in the same year bearing the same name as one another. What is interesting, for me, is the fact that my Turner antecedents had a complexion cited as ‘white’ who were born as early as 1825. That would suggest mixed race relationships had occurred for generations beforehand. This has presented an interesting genealogy hurdle to be overcome. Finding the names of fathers for many of the Charles County, MD Turners born before 1850 has been next to impossible. The reason for this is more than likely because the fathers of these mulattoes with such light complexions were white.

On my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, the Harlings, the same pattern emerges. A small number of Harlings caused all manner of confusion for doctors issuing death certificates. I’ve found three death certificates which first stated the deceased was ‘white’, which was crossed out and substituted with ‘black’. One individual went from ‘white’ to ‘black’ back to ‘white’ and then ‘black’ on the same death certificate. Like the Turners, many of my direct Harling antecedents had a complexion noted as ‘very light’ or ‘white’ as far back as the 1830s. Again, suggesting relations had existed between Harling slave women and white men for a number of generations. Unlike the my Turner ancestors, a number of the children born of these unions were openly acknowledged by their fathers (but more on this in a future post).

Like the Turners, a small number of Edgefield County-born Harlings jumped the colour line after the end of slavery and passed for white. However, unlike Charles County, MD Turners, documenting this amongst the Harlings has been fairly easy and straightforward. The Harlings seemed to prefer using distinctive names which has made tracing this family’s descendants far easier than tracing the Turners.

Again, staying with my maternal ancestors, my Josey great-grandmother’s extended family had a number of family members who permanently passed for white at the end of the Civil War. Like the Turners and Harlings, my Josey ancestors in Rich Square, North Carolina , could also pass for white from the 1820s onwards.

I’ve deliberated over publishing this post for quite a few months. “Passing” still remains a prickly subject. However, it did happen and shouldn’t be ignored. I decided to publish it, in the end, as it presents another set of genealogical challenges for Americans with roots in the ante-bellum Southern states. And I use the word ‘American’, without any ethnic qualifier, deliberately. An African-American tracing his or her family might come across individuals who seem to drop off the radar in terms of the official records. If that person comes from a long line of mulattoes, one reason you might have to consider is that person ‘passed’. So instead of seeking someone who is black in the official records, take a punt and look for someone with the same, or similar, name born around the same year. Of course it helps if they have a somewhat distinctive name. Or, if you’re white, and the trail runs cold for a specific ancestor, it just might be because the individual you’re researching was a mulatto who decided to ‘pass’. This won’t always be the case – but it is a possibility, no matter how remote.