A family matter
So here’s a question for you…
What exactly do these two people have in common?
You may recognize the person on the left. The Legal Genealogist. Blogger. Speaker. Genealogist with a law degree.
Let me introduce you to the person on the right. Tamara Rasheed. Author. Speaker. Budding genealogist.
So… What exactly do these two people have in common?
Well, an interest in genealogy, of course.
But not just genealogy in general.
Genealogy very much in particular.
As in, one particular piece of family history.
One, it would appear, that was lost to my family and to Tamara’s family somewhere back in Mississippi, sometime in the 19th century.
Because, a preliminary analysis of DNA evidence suggests, somewhere back in Mississippi, sometime in the 19th century, ancestors of mine were also ancestors of hers.
And, if history is any guide, slaveowners on my side. Slaves on hers.
We’re just starting the process of trying to prove where our family lines intersect, but the preliminary evidence points strongly towards my Gentry line in early statehood Mississippi.
The first of that line to reach Mississippi, my fourth great grandfather Elijah Gentry Sr., was a Revolutionary War veteran who arrived in what was then the Mississippi Territory just before the War of 1812.1
Elijah Sr. and the next in my line, my third great grandfather Elijah Jr., both served in the War of 1812 in the 1 Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Volunteers.2 Elijah Sr. died around 1818, in what was later Monroe County, Alabama,3 when Elijah Jr. was wrapping up an early career as a circuit riding Methodist Episcopal preacher.4
By 1820, the younger Elijah had married and was enumerated in Wayne County, Mississippi, with a young family.5 Hinds County was formed in 1821,6 and Elijah was on the tax rolls there in the 1820s where — by 1825 — he was recorded as owning one slave.7
By 1830, another new county had been formed — Rankin County8 — and Elijah was there with his family … and with four slaves (one male 36-54, and three females aged 10-23).9
His slave ownership continues to be carefully documented thereafter:
• In 1840, he was in Winston County and owned seven slaves (two males under 10 and one 35-55, and one female under 10, two 10-24 and one 25-34).10
• In 1850, he was in Neshoba County and owned 14 slaves: six males ages 40, 12, four, three, two and one, and eight females ages 32, 31, 18, 15, 10, five, five and one.11
• In 1860, he was still in Neshoba County, and owned 21 slaves — 12 black females, ages 40, 40, 27, 24, 19, 15, 11, 8, 7, 4, 4 and 1, 8 black males, ages 22, 14, 12, 11, 7, 5, 4 and 3, and one mulatto male, age 3.12
And somewhere, likely right around that third great grandfather, the DNA suggests that one of the Gentry family did more than merely own a slave. Whether it was Elijah himself or one of his sons, the evidence surely suggests that some Gentry ensured that Gentry DNA is present in both of our lines.
That evidence suggests that Tamara and I are somewhere in the general neighborhood of third to fifth cousins. She shares segments ranging from 12 to 34 centiMorgans with nine members of my family who descend from Elijah Gentry through three of Elijah’s children and a smaller segment with a descendant of yet a fourth of Elijah’s children.
Now without something of a paper trail, without some documents to back up our theories, the DNA by itself is evidence, not conclusive proof, of our mutual descent from this man. But it is surely something more than mere coincidence that Tamara’s paternal great grandmother was one Gladys Gentry of Hinds County, Mississippi.
There’s more work to be done — records to find and sift through — to determine exactly how Tamara and I are related. We both recognize that it’s still possible that it will turn out that it isn’t through the Gentry line at all.
But as she and I are turning to that paper trail now … we do so with an eye on a dream. It’s a dream articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech at the Washington Monument on August 28th, 1963. It’s a dream, he said he had, “that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
So maybe it won’t be the sons, Dr. King.
Maybe this time it’s going to be the daughters who will sit together.
And, like good daughters everywhere, we’re inviting everyone from every part of the Gentry family to come to this table, to join us as we work together to try to shed light on our common ancestry.
Because, as we sit here today, in 2016, it’s a family table.
And we can’t wait to find out just how our branches of this family tree intertwine.
- His Revolutionary War service is documented in two stub indents dated 18 July 1785, for “duty in the Militia as Private since the reduction of Charlestown” and “Duty in the Militia as Sargeant before, & since the reduction of Chas Town,” South Carolina Commissioners of the Treasury, Stub Indents, Lib U, Nos. 654-655, Elijah Gentry, 17 July 1785, South Carolina State Archives, Columbia. ↩
- Compiled service records, Elijah Gentry, Pvt., and Elijah Gentry Sr., Pvt., Captain Samuel Dale’s Company, 1st Regiment Mississippi Territorial Volunteers, Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, War of 1812; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762-1984, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. ↩
- Monroe County AL Orphans Court orders, 11 May 1818, estate of Elijah Gentry. ↩
- See Methodist Episcopal Church, Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773-1881 (New York : p.p., 1883), 298. ↩
- 1820 U.S. census, Wayne County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 99 (penned), Elija Gentry; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 57. ↩
- Act of 12 February 1821, in Laws of the State of Mississippi (Columbia: P. Isler, state printer., 1822). ↩
- Hinds County, Mississippi, Tax Lists, 1823-1825; Box 3654, Mississippi Department of Archives & History; digital images, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ : accessed 27 May 2016). See particularly the list of 1825, page 2, line 12, entry for Elijah Jentry. ↩
- “An Act, to divide Hinds County…,” Laws of Mississippi (1828). ↩
- 1830 U.S. census, Rankin County, Mississippi, p. 165 (stamped), Elijah Gentry; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 71. ↩
- 1840 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, p. 265 (stamped), Elijah Gentry; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 219. ↩
- 1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, slave schedule, p. 2 of 16 (unpaginated, dated 2 Aug 1850), Elijah Gentry, owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 August 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 387. ↩
- 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, Twp. 12, Range 10, slave schedule, p. 30 (penned), Elijah Gentry, owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 Feb 2007); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 601. ↩
On June 3 and 4, 2016, I will be attending the first integrated Lawton and Allied Families Association reunion. While I am not a blood Lawton, I will have the privilege of attending. It’s time we came to the table.
Time and more than time, Ruth — and an exciting time to be a collaborative genealogist!
Beautifully written and articulated. All of us with relatives that owned slaves need to pursue this invitation.
Beautiful sentiments, Judy. I am now good friends with the wife of a distant cousin in one of our lines that indicates a similar background — different surname, but similar circumstances. We have come to the table and care about each other! I now understand that way too many slave owners took advantage of their female slaves, sometimes in the form of sexual assaults. It is a sad history, but we need to recognize it as reality.
Yep, it’s simply part of what went into making us all one family today.
Maybe instead of saying “relatives that owned slaves” we might instead say “relatives who enslaved people.” It’s a subtle, but powerful shift away from old ways of thinking that may unintentionally dehumanize people into property to new, more sensitive ways of acknowledging the enslaved as human beings who suffered the terrible misfortune of being enslaved.
I accept the shift in its impact on the enslaved, Charles, but will “own” the word “owned” when it comes to the enslaver. The simple fact is, so many of those who bought and sold slaves did so without giving the humanity of what was being bought and sold so much as a second thought. A horse, a cow, a working wench… all the same. And that’s something we need to confront as well.
I am afraid I don’t understand what you are saying Judy and I take issue. Obviously, those who enslaved others did so without any thought of the inhumanity of what they were doing. But we don’t own other human beings and never did. In the past enslavers thought they owned other human beings but as a descendant of enslaved people I can definitely tell you from stories passed down in the family and studied elsewhere, those who were enslaved employed millions of strategies and acts that asserted their dignity and personhood every day, far from concepts of “owned property” imposed on them. It’s not so much a matter of you “owning” the term “own” but instead being sensitive to those who were enslaved and those who are the descendants of these human beings and affirming their dignity as human beings and acknowledging that the concept of owning another human being, whether enslaved/enslaver or old notions of a man owning his wife for women aren’t property nor should enslaved human beings be thought of as “owned” property today by anyone.
Yep, I’m not saying it very well, Charles. I agree with you that from the standpoint of the enslaved it was purely and simply torture, and a daily struggle to survive in body and in spirit under that yoke. What I’m trying to do as well — and not doing it very well — is accept the responsibility not just for the enslavement but ALSO for the mindset that said “I can get away with this because this is just property.” I’m not excusing it at all, just recognizing that it was real — and that it was (and is) such an easy way out for those who don’t want to take responsibility. Does that make more sense in what I intend here?
It is so interesting that your blog post comes on the day on which The New York Times publicized the 2016 peer-reviewed study on “The Great Migration and African-American Genomic Diversity,” which study provides evidence that African-Americans across the US are more related to European-Americans from the South than to those from the North or West.” (page 6), among other findings relevant to genetic genealogy. Your post provides just one illustration of why all American genealogists, of every hue, might care about advancing the goal of reversing the past indifference to enslaved African Americans.
We all need to sit together at this table, LaBrenda — the reality is we are all kin. It really is as simple as that.
Heartwarming and hopeful. It also reminds me to be aware of possible matches from my Georgia, Alabama, NC and SC ancestors, a handful of whom were slaveowners.
And to be ready to have some real fun when (not if) those matches appear! What a joy to see how very human we all are…
What a joy indeed, Judy. Everyone look out – the daughters are getting together at a loaded table, and sharing history!
All the best with your research together.
Good luck on your search to provide a good paper trail to support the DNA evidence. The dinner table is a great place to be with family!
Thanks! We’re going to need the luck, but we’re hopeful!
As painful as our history is, I hope that the historical research that you and Tamara are undertaking will be productive and will bring you joy in your connections and cousinhood. Keep us posted!
So well written! I share an ancestry such as this although I have never met or heard from any of my distant relatives. It puts things in such a wonderful perspective.
What a beautiful post! The best of luck to you and Tamara, and all the relatives you find along the way, as you piece together the paper trail linking you.
I haven’t done my DNA, yet, and my brother’s results haven’t turned up matches who seem to lead us in that direction. But the paper trail suggests it in a collateral line. My brother’s research turned up the SC will from about 1825 of a brother of our 5th g grandfather. We have a 1920s family history book, which tells us that our direct ancestor left the South largely because of his disapproval of slavery (census records show he didn’t own any), while his brother did own slaves. The first item in his will freed one of the women slaves outright. The second item frees the other half dozen at age 21, though all are first to be sold at auction to benefit his heirs (one of whom was his brother, who also served as an executor and bought some minor items at the auction, so he didn’t cut off relations because of their disagreement over this issue). When I read that he freed one slave outright but not the others, I thought, “Hmm. . .” Why did he treat that slave differently? I wonder if there’s a way to learn if he had a child or children by her, and if we could trace them? Ideas?
Again, good luck to you and Tamara in your search. If anybody can follow the paper trail, it’s you!
Shivers down my spine as I read about the journey you two daughters are embarking on. Good luck!
Beautiful! What a story. Thanks to both of you for letting us share this.
How fantastic! Good luck to you both with the paper trail.
Hope you find definitive proof and she can join DAR as Elijah’s blood descendant.
Wow. I got goosebumps and tears while reading your post. I am still processing the words you wrote as finding you is certainly more surreal than I had ever imagined making a connection with someone would be. I started this journey with something completely different in mind – getting information on my father’s genealogy that I knew very little about and tracing my African ancestry to specific countries, and hopefully specific tribes.
What I found in addition is a reminder that my enslaved ancestors have a memory and a voice. I found a reminder of the tragedy of enslavement beyond the research I was doing – because now it is personal and has a name – Gladys.
I also found a reminder that everything is not as cut and dry as it is on paper. It’s easy to read an article about enslavement and get angry. It has to be just as easy to find a genetic connection and give love. Love is where the answers are found.
I am amazed at the advancement of technology. Is it me or do we have some facial features in common? lol
I suspect we’re going to have to look even harder for the name of the enslaved here, Tamara — Gladys herself was likely born in freedom! Looks like she may be just a tad too young to have been born in slavery. Your tree says her husband Henry was born in 1874, and it’s not likely that Gladys was enough older than him to have been born before Emancipation. So… it’s off to the paper trail!!
I will be watching for more articles on this subject. I also am trying to find a paper trail for a person who is a match to me.
With all of the modern strides in detecting relationships, so well put in this and so many other blog posts, it is turning out that the “table” has to be a lot larger than hitherto imagined even ten years ago.
I wish you success with this.
Room at that table for the whole human family, I hope! 🙂
Excellent post! One of the best written books on the challenges of research and the complexities of this subject is Edward Ball’s 1998 book “Slaves in the Family”. The Ball Family was based in Charleston SC and on the rice plantations that fanned out from there. Between 1698 and 1865 the various branches of the family owned more than 4,000 slaves. They were also for a time the largest traders in slave in South Carolina. His research is comprehensive and exhaustive and also deals with the post-Emancipation relationship between those who had owned and those who had been owned. Thank you again for your post.
Ball’s book is excellent — thanks for reminding me and others about it!
Love this piece. I will be sharing with a few of my current clients. Set down with two prominent families Friday that are looking to unscramble and define their connections. Let the sleuthing begin!
Sorry that I’m just getting to this blog now; I’m obviously behind in my reading!! Already knowing that we are members of the same family, I stand ready to come to the table with you and Tamara!!
We’re stuck in the traditional genealogy stuff at the moment, but… 🙂
My highest African-American match is a Gentry, but since we both have Ohio-West Virginia roots, likely that is a coincidence. We both have origins in a WV county where my GG Grandfather was a slave holder, and I’m pretty sure other AA matches descend from him, but this one is a puzzle – our matches in common are not from that branch.
It’s those puzzles that are the most fun to work out. Good luck to you and your match!
I am Black and the blood descendant of Linnear Rankin and the founder of Rankin County Mississippi Christopher Rankin. Linnear would be my fourth great grandfather by blood I can see this type of story repeats across the country. I am not surprised.