Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Adventures in DNA - A Journey of Revelations and Caution

My Ethnic "Percentages" broken down from 23andMe

A recent article  by  Nicka Smith about DNA and a conversation with her about our experiences has prompted me to write an article about my own experiences with DNA testing as well.

Several years ago, I took the first of several DNA tests. I tested with the National Genographic Project and was delighted to learn about that my maternal line reflects HaploGroup L3. Over time that has morphed into L3e2b.

National Genographic Project illustration of L3 haplogroup

I then upgraded and took the FamilyTreeDNA test and was thrilled to find DNA "matches" both high and low resolution. (HVR1 and HVR2) Being naturally curious about ties to Africa, I decided to take the African Ancestry DNA test which would follow one single line and provide a glimpse into the origin of my maternal line, thus taking the mtDNA test. I was excited to learn about a line that possibly extends to the Yoruba/Fulani people of Nigeria and Niger. And yes, I also took the favorite test that would provide some percentages of one's ethnic makeup, so 23andMe was taken and over the past 2-3 years I have found a large number of "matches".

But when I am asked if DNA has helped me genealogically I answer the following questions:

With all of those tests taken, has the new information opened doors in a genealogical sense? No.

Have I had new breakthroughs in my genealogy because of DNA? No.

Have I been able to solve any puzzles by finding a common ancestor with a stranger? No.

Have a I found a common ancestor with any of the DNA matches? No.

Now, I belong to a number of communities some of which include DNA discussions, and I am always happy for those persons who have met an unknown 2nd or 3rd cousin and they have been able to determine who the common ancestor was. I am excited when I see that they find so many matches on multiple segments.

However, my matches are not close cousins, and a majority of my matches are described as "4th to distant" cousins. I have not found any "new cousins" that I can prove with any documentation and I feel that there are several critical reasons for this.

1) Many if not most of the "DNA Matches" fall outside of an easily solvable research range. A person who is 4th or 5th cousin or even higher means that we have a common ancestor--but pretty far back.  I have documented several of my lines fairly well, and of course am always looking for more data. But also note that researching ancestors who were enslaved, does bring challenges---many of the names are not always known and not easily found.

So far, I have identified:
2 of 2 parents
4 of 4 grandparents
6 of 8 gr. grandparents
8 of 16 gr. gr. grandparents
6 of 32 gr. gr. gr. grandparents.

And all of this has been done with pure research. DNA testing has not taken me back any further.

2) Many of the common ancestors I share with my DNA matches are also unknown to my DNA matches. Many of the individuals with whom I share a very slight overlap in DNA have not done much family history research. I know this because I have communicated with those who are interested. In addition, the most that has emerged has been speculative, and not definitive.

3) Many of the common ancestors that I share with my matches are possibly unknown white ancestors, never to be revealed.
It is understood that during the slavery era that existed for more than 240 years, there were many children fathered by Caucasian men. Some were slave holders, some were overseers, some were other laborers who had access. So this is no surprise to learn that I have almost 20% European ancestry. (see chart at the top of this post)

But often during conversations with DNA matches even with African American matches, the search often involves looking for the common black ancestor when in reality we could also share a common white ancestor, name unknown and unspoken for generations. And there are many DNA matches in my lists of matches who are Caucasian. They may or may not be aware that there are ancestors who had children with enslaved women, and therefore have black cousins. And--it must be remembered--they do have the same number of ancestors. Which of their 32 gr. gr. gr. grandparents might be the common ancestor that we share? Or which of their 64 gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents might match one of my unknown 64 gr. gr. gr. gr. grandparents?

And with some my African American matches, there is a possibility that our common ancestor may also be white as well.  In my own case, I have close to 20% DNA that is European. There is a strong possibility that many of the matches on my list of 900+ could be through an unknown and unidentified white forbear. So when that person is unknown to two black people who descend from the same white person unknown to both, and never named, the discovery  of a common and unknown white ancestor is slim.

4)  Construction of one's pedigree is an ongoing process, so asking a stranger to hand it over because you are suddenly "cousins" is not going to take place.

Now, I do believe in having a dialogue and with sharing information. I have had several good interactions, emails, and conversations with persons with whom I have learned that we match. We have chatted and asked questions of each other, and once we realized that our own lines have little documented overlap with the data that is known, we have politely wished each other well and moved on.

But, there has been one DNA match who simply thinks that by handing over my carefully researched data that they will be able to "figure it out". But must all be wise---a new name on a chart is still a stranger. Having a new DNA match does not mean that you are going to be unlocking genealogy doors!

A year or two ago, when I did not eagerly hand over my pedigree chart to a stranger, one of my DNA matches went out of their way to even dig up some of my online writings in order to construct my pedigree for their own use, just to "figure it out", since I did not readily hand it over. (I refrained from pointing out some of the errors that were made in their construction, and I have maintained a polite distance from this person, preferring to stick to research. Part of my hesitancy was based on the fact that there was no seeming connection to their published profile of their ancestral history.) And, the assumption that having a match means that we are now "fast family"---well, it is simply not wise in my opinion and could, in fact be a dangerous practice. How ironic it was to learn that others in my genealogy circle have had the same experience with the same DNA match.

But giving it all much though, here are a few guidelines for behavior that I propose:

1) Understand that people take DNA tests for different reasons. Some don't want to find a new cousin.
2) Refrain from asking for detailed research data from  new "distant cousin" matches, at least until some kind of rapport has been established. A new contact is still a stranger.
3) If someone clearly wishes to share limited data accept their caution and do not pry.
4) Do not try to construct a DNA cousin match's family history without him/her giving you permission. Avoid being a DNA "stalker".

If there is a DNA match that appears to be close: (1st to 3rd cousins) I suggest the following:

1) By all means reach out and see if that person wishes to share genomes and data and more.
2) If there is a connection that one is seeking and the other party wishes to help, then proceed.
3) If there is a case of adoption where an adoptee is finding matches and reaching out, proceed with caution in case the birth parent has concerns or does not wish to be contacted. All parties should be respected.

This is a new world for many of us. I have enjoyed examining the data that I have received, however, nothing has been able to top old fashioned research, and documentation for me.  DNA is an interesting tool, but it has yet to take me back one generation further, or to connect me to an individual who has been able to take me to a new person on any line.

We should all tread with caution with DNA. I have enjoyed the journey and have enjoyed the data on my deep ancestral history that has emerged. But DNA does not provide shortcuts to the genealogical process. Have fun with DNA, but also continue full speed ahead with our research.

* * * * *

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Freedmen's Bureau Office Locations in Arkansas

When researching African American families, one essential part of the family is the story of their transition to life as free people, if they were once enslaved. This story is often overlooked and many researchers will research the family to 1870 and immediately start to look for the last slave holder. But many things occurred in those families between freedom and being enumerated in 1870. Some of those stories will be found in Freedman's Bureau records, also known officially as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, or simply Record Group 105

These records can be a challenge, as they are basically un-indexed, but beyond that, many researchers are not sure that if their even family used the services of the Bureau. The question arises, "if they were served by the Bureau, which Field Office would they have used?" In addition, many researchers are not aware of the location of the various field offices within their own state.

Since Arkansas is one of my ancestral states, I decided to locate a map of Arkansas, that reflected the various counties, and I have put a red symbol ( ) to mark the location of the offices.

It is understood that maps are essential tools in genealogical research, and in this case a clear understanding of the location of the bureau's offices should be considered a part of the historical geography of the state. If one has ancestors who lived near more than one Field Office, it would be wise to explore the offices of the "other" Field office as well, to see what is there.

To determine where they offices were I used the Descriptive Pamphlet produced by the National Archives. 
(This booklet can be downloaded directly from the National Archives website.)

I then located a map from the Arkansas Genweb page, that reflected the counties of the state. I then placed the red symbol near the township where the office was once located. In some of the counties this was a challenge as some of the townships no longer exist.

However, by marking the location of the field offices I now have a better idea of where to research. Also when learning the early history of the county, seeing these records can be useful to learn about the lives of the associates and neighbors of one's ancestors.

The Freedman's Bureau locations that I have marked on the map are:

Arkadelphia (Clark County) 
Augusta (Woodruff County)
Batesville (Independence County)
Camden (Ouachita County)
Lewisburg (Conway County)
Duvall's Bluff (Prairie County)
Ft. Smith (Sebastian County)
Hamburg (Ashley County)
Hampton (Calhoun County)
Helena (Phillips County)
Jacksonport (Upper White River - Jackson County)
Jacksonport (Jackson County)
Lake Village & Luna Landing (Chicot County)
Lewisville (Lafayette County)
Little Rock (Pulaski County)
Madison (St. Francis County)
Magnolia (Columbia County)
Marion (Crittendon County)
Monticello (Drew County)
Napoleon (Desha County)
Osceola (Mississippi County)
Ozark (Franklin County) Served Franklin and Johnson Counties
Paraclifta (Sevier County) Served also Little River County
It should also be pointed out that not only were former slaves served by the Bureau, but hundreds of white families also received rations and supplies in those days immediately after the Civil War. So those who have ancestral ties to the communities marked on the map above should pay close attention to those communities where such offices existed. Also note that wealthy white landowners are also reflected on the many labor contracts, as they were the employers of record.

Slowly, more records are becoming digitized, and this critical record set should become essential for all researchers of southern history.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sometimes There Are No Words, But I Still Call Their Names

Slave Receipts from an Atlanta Merchant and "Negro Dealer"

Someone suggested that I look at the image above, and when I did, I was almost without words. But I did look and then I began to see them.

Recently four documents were shared on AfriGeneas, on one of the message boards. They are images of four receipts for the sale and purchase of human beings. The receipts were dated 1862. And they stood out to me, because  and even in spite of the turmoil of the Civil War, slavery was clearly a business that was still thriving in Atlanta, war or no war.

Upon closer examination, there was a lot more to be learned. These were pre-printed receipts documenting the slave of human beings by one Robert M. Clarke of Atlanta to the purchaser Joseph Silver. Pre-printed receipts where one only had to write in the name of the person being "sold" and the amount pad. How horrible and how sad, but we need to see them.

 There are so many things jump off from these four receipts that demand scrutiny. First of all, this is the first image of a pre-printed slave sales receipt that I have ever seen. Upon discussion with a genealogy friend and mentor, the first question to emerge was whether this image of the four receipts was even real. And not only was the transaction on a pre-printed, receipt,but also the name of the seller was also included as if this was from an ordinary local downtown merchant. The dealer's name on the document, was a man called Robert Clarke.
The Negro Broker Robt. M. Clarke's name appears on this pre-printed receipt

So the question arose, "Can more be learned about him?" Clearly to be a merchant and slave broker, this suggests that he might have been considered a strong business man and member of the community. So I searched for Robt. M. Clarke, and surprisingly I found such a name in a book entitled Pioneer Citizens, History of Atlanta 1833-1902.

In February of 1848 shortly after Atlanta began to organize the first city council, Robert M. Clarke's name appears when he assumed the position of city clerk. The position was held briefly by L.C. Simpson, but in February of that year, he resigned and the position was then filled by Robert M. Clarke.

Robert M. Clarke was also known in Atlanta because of a strong religious faith. In fact he became active in the first Sunday school of Atlanta, and was secretary and treasurer of the Atlanta Union Sabbath School.

Was this man of faith truly the same man who made a living in the trade of selling enslaved men, women and children? Was this human broker truly the same man who was a man of God and who established the first Sunday school in Atlanta?

Or could there have been other people in the city with the same name? 

I decided to conduct an 1860 Federal census search for Robert M. Clarke, but did not come up with anyone in Fulton County or Dekalb County Georgia, with that name. So I then decided to search for anyone called Clarke in Fulton County, and I saw the name of R. M. Clarke for Fulton County. I looked more closely and I was certain that I had located the trader Robert Clarke. The occupation was clear. Negro Trader.

Source Citation: Year: 1860; Census Place: Atlanta Ward 2, Fulton,Georgia; Roll: M653_122; Page: 748; Image: 52; Family History Library Film: 803122.

There were also no other Robert Clarkes, or R.M. Clareks in the Atlanta area. But as I was trying to find more online learn more about the document, I saw an auction house that had offered these same receipts for sale. They were were offered for sale in 2009

It appears that a large collection was possibly broken apart and each one sold separately, as I found one of the receipts sold in 2010 for $1000. It is hard to think that once again the sale of an item that reflected the slave trade made a profit for someone in the 21st century. I looked at the item from the 2010 sale it was for a slave not part of the original four receipts. This one was for a  young woman called Ann, being sold by the same dealer Robert Clarke, to the same purchaser, Joseph Silver.
Receipt for purchase of enslaved woman Ann by Joseph Silver & sold by Robert Clarke

I wondered what was happening in them middle of the Civil War that made Robert Clarke decide to sell so many slaves. 

-Was the turmoil of war making his business slower than before?  
-Was this simply business as usual? 
-Or was he selling a number of slaves in anticipation of things to come?

The transactions occurred in December 1862. Or was something else taking place that was prompting this sale of slaves? I noticed that even one of the sales occurred on Christmas Day. Perhaps the approach of January 1st was the motivation.

January 1st 1863 was significant, because that was the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was to have taken effect.  The document proclaimed freedom for all enslaved who lived in the ten states that were in rebellion. That would have included Georgia. Of course the proclamation did not mean that slave holders were going to comply. But I cannot help but ask whether these transactions were business as usual for Clarke, the Negro Trader, or was he seeing ahead and choosing to make his profit while he could and collect his funds before the eventual release of the enslaved from bondage?

I mentioned that I had to note that I was not familiar with pre-printed receipts for the sale of slaves. I have seen many bills of sale, and many ads announcing sales, but I was thrown off when I first saw Robert Clarke's receipts. But as I investigated the sale, I was surprised to come across additional pre-printed receipts as well! And the strangest thing is that these receipts also bore the name of the same purchaser--Joseph Silver.

Two additional receipts from Richmond Virginia, showing the purchase by Joseph Silver 
of two enslaved women Joane and Caroline, in February of 1861

Clearly Joseph Silver left an amazing paper trail of receipts from Richmond to Atlanta to wherever his estate may have been. He was a man who could easily spend a thousand or more when he felt he had to increase his supply of workers. I don't find him in Atlanta, and he was not a resident of Richmond. I wonder if by any chance he may have been the Joseph Silver of the Silverdale plantation in Mobile? I was surprised to see a large slave holder by that name, and even a site selling an image of the old Silver plantation in Mobile Alabama.

But before I began to study his history I had to stop myself and ask the question---- What is the story here? What is my focus?

-Is it about Robert M. Clarke the Negro trader? 
-Or was it about Joseph Silver a man who regularly purchased slaves? 
-Was it about the business which was so prolific that traders needed pre-printed receipts to keep track of their human inventory being traded?
- Or is there possibly another story?

I have chosen to end this piece with the other story. 

Though there are not facts known about them, they were the target, and apparently even into the 21st century, 150 years after their bondage officially ended, and more than a century after their death, they were still the commodities, on sale to the highest bidders. 

They were the forgotten victims that Atlanta's Sunday school founder could not see. 
They were workers who would toil endlessly for Joseph Silver, with no hope of finding family again. 
They were the men and women whom I can only hope, chose to survive.

 I want to remember them as people. I have no words to provide details about their lives. And I have no words to describe the feeling of shock and sadness when I look at those receipts. But we all need to look at them. And we need to see them and hear their names called aloud.

So, in their honor, I must call them by name, for they were more than commodities on a receipt. They were Lavenia, Simon, Dick, Irving, Ann, Joane and Caroline. 

Their dreams were deferred so long, but my hope is that they made it through the storm.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Little Rock Arkansas Freedman Marriages 1864-1866 (N-Z)

This is part 2 of a post from February 11th where I found some early marriages from Pulaski County of African Americans. These marriages were performed between 1864-1866. They were found in the Field Office of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Today's posts reflects the marriages sorted by Groom's surname with the letters N - Z.

(Surnames A - M can be found HERE. )

All images are found on the Internet Archive reflecting National Archives Publication M1901 Roll #14. This microfilm publication is part of the massive collection of data from the Freedman's Bureau, RG 105. 

For anyone who finds a marriage that interests them, I can email the full data about the Bride and Groom. For such information contact me HERE.











(No surnames with Z)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Little Rock, Arkansas Freedmen Marriages 1864-1866 (Surnames A - M)

One of the first acts of self determination when Freedom came to those formerly enslaved was the right to marry, a person of their own choice. Many of these men and women had considered themselves already husband and wife, but their personal relationship meant nothing when they lived in enslavement. If a slaveholder chose to sell one from one's spouse this was done with no consideration of the parties involved. So even before the end of the Civil War, as Union soldiers moved into those communities, appeals were made to those emampments where many found freedom, and one of the first duties was to employ the chaplains and to perform marriages.

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, often became the site where most of these marriage ceremonies were held. The records that remained recorded these marital union and these records are the very first records of African American marriages, even before the local courthouse welcomed black men and women. In the state of Arkansas, at the Little Rock Arkansas Freedman's Bureau, many such marriages were performed, and what follows is a list of the marriages performed. Some of the ceremonies were conducted a early as 1864, well before the war ended.

From a genealogical perspective, this data is priceless. While going through reel 18 of Arkansas Freedman's Bureau records of Pulaski County, I found several ledgers that reflected the marriages. Many of those whose marriages were recorded lived in Little Rock, but others lived in other communities such as Pine Bluff, Duvall's Bluff and even a few were recorded as residents of Ft. Smith, in the western part of the states.

This is the first half of the images of the marriages performed and recorded by the Little Rock Arkansas Field Office.
Source of documents:

National Archives Publication M1901 Roll 14, 
Little Rock Pulaski County, Register of Marriages, 1864-1866














M (continued)

These pages are presented merely to provide a preliminary glance at these valuable records. There is so much more data that is recorded, included ages of bride and groom, and interestingly the complexion of the parties getting married.  In addition to that, the complexion of the parents is also noted on these ledgers.

One will also note that some of the marriages recorded were those of men who were on active duty as soldiers in the US Colored Troops. 

In other cases, some of the parties that were marrying had long been married, and were in the latter years still having their marriages recorded, and several of the parties were in advanced  years.

Data on previous spouses was captured including those who had been separated. The most heart-breaking ones to see were those who were separated by the whim of the slaveholder, and simply sold away.

The list above represents the first half of the Little Rock marriages, recorded at the Field Office if Little Rock Arkansas, between 1864 and 1866. They are partial images of the marriage pages that were recorded. These are found digitized on the Internet Archive

Monday, January 20, 2014

He Extended the Hand of Friendship and I Accepted It

Meeting Colin Kelly in Arkansas in 2010
A man extended a hand of friendship to me, and I accepted it. 

In 2009, I received an email message from a man who lives near Tulsa Oklahoma. The message was short, and to the point. It said:

"I recently learned about you in an article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma about Jackson Crow. Nail Perry also mentioned in the article is my ancestor. I would appreciate any correspondence with you regarding the Perry family and would gladly share what I know of them." -Colin Kelley

I think after reading the message I simply said, "Wow--Nail Perry?" The name was familiar to me, because Nail Perry had testified on behalf of my gr.grandparents,Samuel and Sallie Walton when they appeared in front of the Dawes Commission. And Nail Perry was part of the Choctaw Family that had been the family where my ancestors were enslaved. Right away I replied to him, and he was gracious and kind and sharing. 

Well, In February 2010 I met this man. Was I nervous? Well yes a bit. But when I was on a trip to Arkansas, he and a cousin Dick Perry, both came to meet me. This was the first time I had been able to have such a conversation with a descendant of a slaveholder. They were both citizens of the Choctaw Nation. 

When he arrived at the home of a friend Tonia Holleman of Van Buren Arkansas, where I was staying there was a light rain. I had worried that the rain might cause him to change his mind about coming, but it did not. He drove from his home near Tulsa Oklahoma, and with him he brought some photos of his own ancestors and documents that might be of interest to me. 

We talked, we laughed and we shared. I taped part of that meeting, and I am still grateful that we had the chance to meet, and that this man truly came to the table with an outstretched hand of friendship with me. I accepted it, and truly appreciate the spirit of sharing and giving that I received. 

So,  on this day in which we remember the words and actions of Dr. King, I thought I would share my experience here in the video above. day the sons of former slaves and 
the sons of former slave holders 
will be able to site down at the table of brotherhood."      

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1963-

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Till Justice Rolls Down Like Water..........."

Although today is not the holiday, today is his birthday.

I never met him or saw him, or heard him in person, but I was still impressed by him. And when I was a child, I was at a loss of words, I only knew he was a leader among leaders, and though I did not have the words to articulate what I saw and felt, but I was glad he was there.

I learned that he was a man of faith, word, courage, and action. He was also a son, a husband, a father, a brother, and to so many he was a leader. And as I grew, I continued to hear about him, and learned that he was making changes in the world. A movement had begun. I didn't fully understand it, and I never had the words to articulate what I was seeing, but I knew it was going on, he was part of it, and he was making a difference.

I had heard what he did in Montgomery, and I remember watching the March in 1963, on our black and white television, and I knew that changes were quickly coming. I heard my parents compare the changes that they had witnessed in their lifetime, and I also saw the transformation of a society to something different.

I was never sure how to articulate the changes that I saw--but they were there. The signs of "white" and "colored" began to disappear in my hometown, and little did I know that even in my tiny world as a child, the old order was fading.

Then the man of courage and wisdom was taken by an assassin's bullet, but yet, the movement could not be stopped. The movement was bigger than the man himself. I marveled for some time at how even his death could not stop the progress that had begun. I never had to words to articulate what had happened.

The world continued to change and still evolves. I am still baffled by many of those changes, but I finally found the right words. The words came from the same man. He was part of a movement that was destined to bring about change, because he was willing to fight "till justice Rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream"

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!