Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Balanta of Guinea-Bissau---Again!

        Louis Mitchell Bass, born in TN about 1846                

Georgia Ann Houston Bass  born in Arkansas About 1857

Louis Mitchell Bass was my gr. grandfather.  His daughter was my grandmother, Sarah Ellen Bass Walton. 
Now, I have been researching the history of the Bass family for many years, and became interested in the African Ancestry of his line.  Since my brother and I are connected to him through our father's mother,  it was necessary to have a direct male descendant of Gr. Grandpa Mitchell to take the test, in order to follow the direct line, back, hopefully to an African community.   My cousin in Texas, (also known as Mitchell Bass) agreed to be tested, and so I ordered the test and sent the kit to him.  I laid out all details on what was to be done and how to submit the sample and where it was to be mailed. He complied with this, and after several weeks of waiting---the results came.   

So, when that line was tested, it was learned that the direct male lineage of Louis Mitchell Bass indicated that the genetic markers are identical to those of the Balanta People of Guinea Bissau, in West Africa..  How wonderful to also learn that there was a 100% Sequence Similarity Measure.

Certificate Reflecting the African Ancestry of Mitchell Bass 
a direct male descendant from our ancestor, Louis Mitchell Bass

I was glad to have researched this male line already. My dad's mother Sarah Ellen Bass, was Louis Mitchell's daughter. Louis Mitchell's father was a man in Giles County Tennessee, a slave known as Irving Bass. (Note----Irving was also the father of Uncle Sephus Bass and Uncle Braxton Bass---the Civil war soldiers who I wrote about several months ago.) They lived on the Bass estate near Elkton Tennessee.  By testing the DNA lineage, I was learning a small bit about what part of Africa, Irving, or his father, or grandfather may have been from.  Guinea Bissau, is a small poor country in West Africa, and the Balanta people are the largest ethnic group in that small country.

Now the other side-----My grandmother's mother was Georgia Ann Houston.  She was said to have been a slave of Elizabeth Houston Milwee, part of the Houston clan that who moved into SW Arkansas from Alabama.  

Georgia Ann died in the 1930s and I obtained her death certificate.  I was delighted to learn that her mother's name was on the death certificate, and her mother's name was Minerva. Minvera, it was said, was born in Alabama. That matched the movement of the Houston-Millwee slave owners, for they moved into SW Arkansas from Morgan County  Alabama in the 1850s. 

The Houston-Millwee line was said to have originated from South Carolina.  Did they bring slaves with them---Minerva in tow?  

Or did they acquire slaves after arrival in Alabama?  I don't know the answer to that question. However---I did have an interest in learning more about Minerva's line.  Because Minerva's line would reflect her daughter Georgia Ann who was Mitchell Bass's wife and my gr. grandmother.

A word about Georgia Ann. She was the second wife of Louis Mitchell Bass.  His first wife was Susan Houston.  Yes, she too was a Houston, and as fate would have it----Susan (or Susie) as she was called---was the sister of Georgia Ann.  Yes-------Louis Mitchell Bass married two sisters.  Now hold it-----NOT at the same time!

Susan died after her second child was born.  In 1877, Louis Mitchell then married her younger sister Georgia Ann.

Slavery, we all know, produced complex families and this one is not without its complexities.  Susie (the first wife) brought two children into her marriage to Mitchell Bass.  She had two children---Mary and Thomas Dollarhide. They were said to be the offspring of the slave master Judge J.S. Dollarhide. Those children were raised by Mitchell Bass, and later by Mitchell and Georgia Ann after Susie died in the 1870s.  Georgia Ann married Louis Mitchell Bass in 1877, and she brought in one child into the marriage, John Martin, whose father was Adam Martin of Foreman, Arkansas.

The 1870 Federal Census reflects Louis M. Bass and 1st wife Susan
Source Citation: Year: 1870; Census Place: Clear Creek, Sevier, Arkansas
Roll: M593_64; Page: 259A; Image: 513; Family History Library Film: 545563.

In 1877, Louis M. Bass married Georgia Ann Houston.

Record Reflecting marriage of Louis M. Bass and Georgia Ann Houstonm 1877

I mention all of this because by the 1890s, the family had expanded into 3 large clans---Bass, Martin and Dollarhide. The family reunions over the years have been families that descended from either Mitchell  & Susie, or Mitchell & Georgia Ann---and they always included the families that descended from the Dollarhides and the Martins as well.

But when I had cousin Mitchell to take the DNA test for the line of Mitchell Bass----I knew that the results reflected only those with a blood tie to Louis Mitchell and his father Irving.  This would not have included those cousins who connect to us through Susie, and it would not include those who connect to us through Georgia Ann's son, John Martin.

So-----to have a DNA test done that would reflect her ancestry---I needed to have a female---a direct female descendant, of  Georgia Ann Houston, whose markers would be the same as hers and as her mother Minvera's.  

I was not a candidate, because Georgia Ann is my father's mother's mother. My grandmother had only two sisters that had children, and only one of my grandmother's nieces was still living.  There might be other cousins---but I don't know them.  But----Aunt Janie---Grandma's sister---had a daughter Hazel. And Hazel is still living!  She is in her 80s  and has no children of her own---but she carries the marker needed to be tested! Cousin Hazel----we had to get the test to her.

Cousin Hazel Burris proved to be the only direct female descendant who could take the DNA test.

Well, Cousin Hazel is in a nursing home in DeQueen, Arkansas.  About once a month or so, a few cousins who live in SW Arkansas do get to visit her.  So---a kit was purchased---thanks to cousins Norma Jean and Mary Ann---both of whom are granddaughters of Georgia Ann----both pitched in and a kit was purchased!  It was mailed to Arkansas, and several months passed, and nothing came.  

Over the holidays when I got a New Year's phone call from cousin Mitchell, I mentioned that I had mailed a kit to Arkansas for Cousin Hazel, but it was never received.  He knew the person who had the kit, so he agreed to drive from Dallas to Arkansas, to meet the cousin with the kit and they went to see Cousin Hazel and to insure that the sample would be obtained. They got it!!!   And then came the wait!!!!

Well------------today it came!!!!!!!!    

My husband knew I was excited to receive it, so he grabbed the camera as I opened the package.

The package arrived and I was anxious to see what was inside!

I pulled out the familiar packet from African Ancestry.

I then began to read the contents of the letter enclosed.

Reading the details of the letter from African Ancestry

When I read the results---they were the same as Gr. Grandpa Louis Mitchell Bass---they were from the same country, and the same people!

Certificate Reflecting the African Ancestry of Hazel Burris Walker 
a direct female descendant from our ancestor, Georgia Ann Houston

How amazing!!!!  Georgia Ann Houston female ancestor brought to America, had the same DNA ancestry as her husband's.  He had a direct male ancestor brought to America.  Georgia Ann was born in SW Arkansas, and her mother was born in Alabama-- around Morgan County.  Her husband, Louis Mitchell Bass was born in Giles County Tennessee as were his parents. His father was Irving Bass and Irving Bass's ancestry went to the Balanta people of Guinea Bissau.  Georgia Ann's mother was Minerva Houston, and her maternal line went to----the Balanta people of Guinea Bissau.

What are the chances of that happening?  In some places it is not that odd---but slavery, American slavery separated people in such painful ways!!  And yet, in the 1870s, in freedom, two people married, and unknowingly they were the direct descendants of two slaves who came from the same part of Africa.

I marvel at what the chances might be of finding the same country of origin of two people both born enslaved, both with different histories---and later marrying and then----as it turns out----they both had the same ancestral homeland.

Wow!!  I feel so moved that I have been able to find the ancestral home of both of those ancestors--both born enslaved.

My husband as many of you know is from West Africa---and he speaks 5 languages.  As we were discussing this situation about the Bass DNA---he said there is a word in his Yoruba language---that is very appropriate in this sitiation. The word is actually a name:  Omowale 

This is a name found among many people who are Yoruba people and the name has meaning:  The child has come home. I feel that this is a special day, because with both of my ancestors---Louis Mitchell Bass & Georgia Ann Houston---they were both somebody's child and now with this knowledge of who we are, we can proudly say, for both of them, and for their parents and for their descendants "we have come home."  

Omowale !!!

Louis Mitchell Bass, and Georgia Ann Houston Bass, and youngest son, George N. Bass
All are Balanta People!  And now that we know----we too, as their children, have come home!


Mavis said...


How wonderfully amazing that is. I've not done the African DNA yet, although one of my younger cousins has.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

When you decide to use DNA, I recommend testing a line that you have researched the most-or at least starting there with the testing. I also recommend both African Ancestry and FamilyTreeDNA, but make sure you get the right person to take the test.

Robin Foster said...

Simply breathtaking!

Freedom is knowing who you are and where you came from!

Thanks for sharing this very sacred experience!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...


How correct you are. Just knowing this little bit of information on my gr. grandparents---both of them having ties to Guinea-Bissau--does wonders for the sense of self, and self knowledge! I also wonder about the male and female Balanta ancestors---were they brother and sister taken at the same time, then separated later to have their descendants meet generations later? Oh my my my!!!

Terry said...

All I can say is OMOWALE!!!

Tell the cameraman good work ;-D

Jackie said...

This is wonderful and exciting news. My cousin's DNA shows our Grandfather's line is Blanta Guinea-Bissau. Our roots are Hempstead, Howard, and Garland County Arkansas. Small world

Leonard said...

I am still stunned. I just learned my people are also the Balanta on my mothers side.

Tarik said...

So glad to find Balanta people just like me. I too was shocked when I received the letter in the mail. It's a small world out here.

What a coincidence that both your great grandparents are from the same country. And to think, they "split" us up. Seems like our ancestors had much more sense than we do today.

If there are more Balanta people out there, then please join our forum:

We are special, unique people from all over West Africa, not just Guinea Bissau!

Thank you for the lovely post, Angela! God bless :)

YellaDuck said...

My cousin just did this and we are from the Balanta People Of Guinea-Bissau, Mende People of Sierra Leone, and Mandinka People of Senegal.

Sylvia P Thomas said...

Omowale Balanta Peoples!!! I just got my DNA results & they indicated by lineage is 99.7% Balanta in my mother's line. I was told her people were from Jamaica, before that I don't know. Anyone who knows anything about western statistics knows that anything above 95% is extremely excellent! I am just thrilled, as is my baby girl who suggested I be tested!!! Glad to meet both my ancestors & my new relatives! Omowale!!!