Monday, January 18, 2016

The Stories I Tell: Finding Your Roots Review Special (Episode 3:1)

Welcome to the ROOTS section of my blog where I focus on general and personal genealogical subjects of my interest. Most of the time these blogs will be short digs where only limited research is performed. Last year I promised to join fellow bloggers covering the sensational "PBS Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr." In order to fulfill my covenant I'm using the next few "ROOTS" blogs to review this award-winning TV series in my creative way. Please join me, and enjoy: 
PBS Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr, Episode 1, Season 3 screenshot. Source:
SEASON THREE'S premier of PBS Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. (FYR) launched on January 5, 2016 (8pm EST) with outstanding success. After a harrowing delay due to Affleck-gate, FYR did not skip (no pun intended Dr. Skip Gates) a heartbeat with fantastic genealogical journeys into the pasts of political strategist Donna Brazile, actor Ty Burrel and artist Kara Walker. This particular FYR episode (view here) focused on each guest's "deep" family mysteries and discussed how slavery may have influenced their identities. Curiously FYR investigations utilized Autosomal DNA testing as in past seasons but opted NOT to include admixture analysis for its guests (perhaps forbidden fruit now because many of us (ab)use it to define our identities). Instead FYR turned to the more reliable DNA relative matching (DNA is not supposed to lie). However this minor shift in programming was majorly compensated by the illustrious stories we learned about Donna's unusual surname Brazile; Ty's free Black great-great-grandmother Susannah Weeks, who became a homesteader in Oregon, and Kara's emancipated great-great-great-grandfather Henry Fordham, a free man of color working for the Confederates during the US Civil War. Of course I've always longed to become famous or successful enough to be featured on FYR and handed a Book of Life. While I'm waiting my turn to sit across from Dr. Gates, I'll pacify the time by finding something on FYR that connects to one my relatives. 

Immediately after FYR's season opener aired I logged on AncestryDNA to research my family tree and to check for new genetic matches for myself and DNA-tested relatives with whom I'm sharing my DNA match list. Pay dirt...sort of. I discovered that Donna Brazile has something in common with one of my relatives -- the surname Brazil(e) and Braswell. It turns out that my relative's granduncle had a daughter whose maiden name was Brazil (variation of Brazile) by a woman with last name Braswell. To rewind, Donna discovered that her last name had originally been Braswell and earlier Bracewell.  FYR showed Donna's family living in Louisiana by way of her ancestor Della Braswell, who was born in North Carolina. Her Brazile ancestors were enslaved by a large slave-owning Brawell family that migrated from Virginia colony to the Tar Heel State; Dr. Gates says they all "descended from one man" Richard Bracewell of England. So I wanted to see if my relative's cousin with the Brazil surname underwent a similar transformation, and if there was evidence my relative cousin's Brazil ancestors enslaved by the same Braswell family that enslaved Donna's ancestors. Here's what I found out: 

(1) The black Brazil's & Braswell's
PBS Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. video  screen-shot; showing Donna Brazile's family tree. 
Meet my relative RO. When reviewing RO's new genetic matches at AncestryDNA I came upon a cousin that I will refer to as D, who was predicted to be a 4th cousin to R.O with  As luck would have it, when I viewed D's pedigree chart I found the same common ancestors as listed in RO's family tree -- relatives known to RO. Their connection begins in Arkansas with the Beets family. Records show that RO's paternal grandmother is a Beets and is the sibling to D's maternal great-grandfather John Henry Beets. So RO and D are more specifically 2nd cousins, once removed (roughly equivalent to a 3rd or 4th cousin). D's pedigree further shows maternal great-grandfather John Beets (RO's granduncle) had a daughter Rosie Brazil (D's grandmother) by Ellen Braswell (D's great-grandmother). They hailed from Calhoun County, which was formed on December 6, 1850, by the Arkansas General Assembly that formed it from portions of Dallas, Ouachita and Bradley Counties "to give the area citizens a more centrally located seat of government." [source: Calhoun Co., Ark @ rootsweb]. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas,"... these geographical features lent themselves to the raising of cotton. Many of the early settlers brought their slaves with them. The 1860 slave schedule lists 981 slaves. The land was rich, yet cheap. In addition, the waterways, especially the numerous steamboat landings on the Ouachita River, allowed farmers to ship their cotton to markets as far away as New Orleans and to receive goods in exchange. The county’s first decade was one of growth and prosperity." It is likely Rosie Brazil's ancestors bearing this transforming surname was enslaved in Calhoun County by Braswell slave owners. And like Donna Brazile's family some of Rosie Brazil's ancestors could've arrived with Braswell settlers from other states. It is also  likely Rosie Brazil's ancestors picked cotton and cash crops of the time.
  • My genealogy alarm off when I was checking RO's new AncestryDNA  matches. In the screenshot below we see that D is predicted to be RO's 4th cousin with 'Extremely High" confidence -- in other words a real relative. [NOTE: AncestryDNA's new sharing feature allows you to invite other AncestryDNA matches to see your list of DNA relatives. To learn how, read my blog here.] RO and D's amount of DNA shared is 29cM on 4 segments, and is consistent for what I've seen on AncestryDNA for relatives who are actually in closer range of kinship; we know they are 2nd cousins, once removed but is predicted as 4th cousins. AncestryDNA's Timber algorithm had done a bang-up job of cutting down our matches and how we share DNA [read more about this @ Roberta Estes blog]. However this record is also where I first saw RO's and D's Beets and Brazil-Braswell connection.
  • Viewing D's pedigree chart (below), I saw that D listed RO's granduncle John Henry Beets fathering a child with Ellen Braswell. The had a daughter and her name was Rosie Brazil (D's grandmother). You will also note that Rosie's mother Ellen has the name Braswell. And perhaps more interestingly Ellen's father William has the surname Brazil
  • Next I checked D's "Shared Matches" (AncestryDNA's new In Common With feature where you can see common relatives that you share with your DNA matches; read my blog about it here). In the screenshot below, D is also related to more of RO's  predicted third and fourth cousins. Well we happen to know these mutually shared relatives belong to the BEETS family because RO knows them. This means it is pretty much unquestionable that D is genetically related to the same family branch and thus confirms the John Henry Beets (D's great-grandfather and RO's granduncle) connection:

  • Let's turn to genealogical records starting with ROSIE BRAZIL (RO's second cousin and D's grandmother). I first find ROSIE (often spelled "Rosy" in census records) BRAZIL on the 1910 US Census (below). She was born about 1904 and is living with her cousin Robert Carr (remember this for later) and several other relatives in Moro, Calhoun, Arkansas; they resided on Fordyce and Somerville Road (but I could not find a map of the area). Rosie is listed as farm laborer on a "home farm" owned by Robert Carr, which probably means he was a share-cropper. I'm not sure why Rosie is living with her cousin Robert and not her mother Ellen Braswell  and/or father John H. Beets, but I wanted to find out why:
  • When I viewed the actual image of the 1910 US census I found RO and Rosie Brazil's grandaunt Lucinda Beets (she is the sister John Beets and RO's grandparent) living on the same census tract as Rosie Brazil, indicating both families had a chance to interact because of living relatively in close proximity of each other:

GENEALOGY TIP: You should ALWAYS view the actual image of an electronic record when available because of potential transcription errors. Also be sure to check the pages BEFORE and AFTER the page where your ancestors are listed because you may find additional helpful information. With US census records, sometimes you must check all of the pages for a specific place as well as the surrounding regions (ie other towns, counties). 
  • This 1920 US Census record (below) shows Rosie Brazil (spelled erroneously as Rose Basgil) living with her aunt Mary Brazil who is most likely the sister of Rosie's mother Ellen Braswell:

  • By 18 years of age, Rosie Brazil had married the 21-year-old Milton Bush where they eventually had several children, including D's parent. Here is the marriage record Rosie and her husband Milton Bush. They continue to live in Calhoun Co., Arkansas  but in a place called Ellisville: 

  • Now I'm going to turn to Rosie Brazil's mother ELLEN BRASWELL. I originally searched for Ellen Brazil but couldn't find any records matching or connecting her the name to Rosie. However when I changed the name to Ellen Braswell I was lucky to find this U.S. 1900 census for her (below). Ellen Braswell was living in Moro, Calhoun, Arkansas, which is the same place her daughter Rosie's father John Henry Beets lived. This alone was not enough to connect Ellen to Rosie definitely. What finally proved for me (and based on limited research) that Ellen Braswell was indeed Rosie's mother is because of a relative whose name I told you to remember. The 1900 US census below shows none other than Robert Carr is also in the household. If you can recall on the 1910 US census Robert Carr is listed as Rosie Brazi's cousin. Moreover we also know that on 1920 US census Rosie was living with her aunt Mary Brazil, who is also listed on the 1900 US census below. This means Mary Braswell and Ellen are most likely sisters; one of Ellen's siblings is Robert Carr's parent, and in absence of more concrete records it's reasonable to infer that Ellen Braswell is indeed Rosy Brazil's mother. Finally if we consider the 1900 and 1910 census reports, Rosie's family changed their Braswell surname to Brazil just like in FYR guest Donna Brazile's family!

  • The actual record of the same 1900 US census reveals Ellen Braswell grew up in close proximity to John Beets's (the father of her daughter Rosie Brazil) family lived as they were on the same census tract. As you can see John Henry Beets was one of 11 children of Eli Beets and Mamie Scott: 

Next I want to see what I could learn about Ellen Braswell's probable father WILLIAM BRAZIL. Here is yet another instance the Braswell surname underwent a change but this time Braswell was previously Brazil according to the record for Ellen's father. If true, then we would see how Brazil the Brazil surnames went through reversions at three times in as many generations (William Brazil to his daughter Ellen Braswell to his daughter Rosie Brazil). I can only speculate that William, born about 1850, was enslaved by the Braswell's and changed his name to Brazil upon becoming emancipated. But this hypothesis would beg the question of why his daughter Ellen's family changed it back to Braswell? There is a possibility the census enumerators recorded this family's surname according to what they selectively heard them say or if they knew Ellen's family's were enslaved by the Braswell family. It was challenging but I did find whom I believe is Ellen's father William Brazil living in Dallas County -- parts of which were used to form Calhoun County in 1850 -- AND  the same year that D has his great-grandfather William Brazil being born. 
  • According to the following marriage record, William Brazil was wed to Susanna Jacob(s) on December 27, 1877, when he was 24 and she just a year younger. They lived in in place called Jackson in Dallas County. Of note, RO cousin D's pedigree chart listed Ellen's mother as Mary Jacobs-Braswell but I could not find any records of her existence; it could be a mistake on D's part. I opine Susanna Jacob is the same person as Mary Jacobs-Braswell because of the Jacob(s) surname.

  • In the 1920 US census below we find a William "Brazell," who is now widowed and living in Caswell, Calhoun, Arkansas, with his son Lamb. There's always a possibility this is another William Brazil, but I'm going to cautiously doubt it at this time. I will note I didn't  see this William Brazell or his son named "Lamb" on any other records in this area: 

  • While this concludes the information I could find on the origins of Rosie's Brazil-Braswell ancestors and surname, I was still curious about why she didn't carry her father John Beets last name. We know that John Beets and Ellen Braswell lived near each other in 1900, but there is no record showing they had a child together. Yet I found a good clue with the U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for John Henry Beets. The record below shows that  John was enlisted in the Army for WW1 in Calhoun County, Arkansas. There is also a listing for his "nearest relative" Octavia Beets. Hmmm. Who was Octavia Beets? (Yes I'm reminiscing Octavia Butler!)

  • The 1920 US census (below) shows John Beets was married to Octavia Rogers  of Union County, Arkansas so she was his wife. The couple lived with Octavia's brother Alfred Rogers in the very familiar Moro, Calhoun, Arkansas at Fordyce and Hampton Roads. John Beets was blot maker. So the simple story is John Beets most likely had a child with Ellen Braswell, but they never married. John Beets did tie the knot with Octavia about a year after Rosie Brazil was born; the newlyweds' child Marshall Beets (Rosie's half-brother) was born in 1907, two years after Rosie. But I also observe that John Beets was 13 years senior to his wife Octavia so we can understand how he might've had previous relationships or marriages:

  • Rosie Brazil's father John Beets and his wife Octavia eventually left Arkansas and migrated to Wisconsin, and later California where John died in June 1963 and Octavia in 1983. It is unclear if Rosy's mother Ellen Braswell had any other children or exactly what became of her. 
(2) The white Braswell's  
PBS Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. video still  showing Richard Bracewll Baptismal Certificate. 
I wanted to investigate if Rosie Brazil's maternal grandfather William Brazil -- born about 1850 in Arkansas and likely a slave -- was held by the same family of slave owners that owned Donna Brazil's ancestors in North Carolina, and how it might have shaped his family's identity. Were there any slave owners with the surname Braswell residing near William Brazil's family?  Were these Braswell slave owners related to each other and ultimately Englishman Richard Bracewell of colony of VirginiaAccording to FYR Braswell progenitor Richard Bracewell was born in 1611 in England as shown in his baptismal record above. He ultimately settled in Isles of Wight, Virginia but his progeny moved to North Carolina, Tennessee, and apparently Arkansas among other states where many of them were land and slave owners. According to a Braswell history posted by a self-identified descendant, in October of 1677, Richard was was among the citizens of Isle of Wight. 

I also made an intriguing observation: Richard Bracwell's namesake son had a "wife SUSANNAH, whose Aunt JOYCE CRIPPS, in her will signed in Isle of Wight County on April 18, 1679,  gave to her mother a "Flake a gold Ringe with a Blew Stone” but  "she cut her neice, SUSANNA BRASWELL, off with only One Shillihng of English money.” This will is pivotal because the year 1679 is arguably the first time we're seeing BRACEWELL spelled as BRASWELL on any records. It is also worthy to note the pronunciation of the Braswell the "w" in Bracewell was silent. According to the Braswell descendant's history, "its function was to separate the two E’s so as to avoid the double-e, e sound. Undoubtedly Bracewell was pronounced, from the first, as 'brasul.' Since American English has no silent w’s (except for such English proper nouns as “Greenwich”) many—if not most—of our American cousins who have the w still in their surname pronounce the 'w.'" [see full Braswell history here]. If the surname Bracewell (later Braswell) was pronounced "Brasul" (BRAY-SIL) then we can see how this might begin to sound like BRA-ZIL.  So Brazil may in fact have been an "African-Americanized" version of this surname based upon pronunciation rather than spelling or separate identity crisis. This might also be why formerly enslaved African-American who adopted the surname Braswell in different regions -- and with no relationship to each other except for same slave-owning family-- evolved into Brazil, of course helped by what US census enumerators ears recorded on paper. 
  • At very start of the 18th century, most of Robert Bracewell's descendants had changed their name to Braswell and began moving southward into North Carolina in search of new land for tobacco cultivation and other such crops as cotton. According to FYR at least 14 slave owners in North Carolina also lived in the vicinity of Donna Brazile's great-grandmother Della Braswell. According to the Braswell history post the slavers was "among those who settled along Albemarle Sound and the lower Tar River valley (in present Edgecombe and Nash counties) where some of them also took up the naval store industry—producing turpentine, itch, and spars for the Royal Navy." 
PBS Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. video still  showing English Brawell settlement in North Carolina. 
  • In fact many Braswell descendants settled in various parts of Arkansas. Yet, the path to Arkansas for them, including the ones who likely enslaved William Brazil, definitely begins with progenitor Robert Bracewell (born 1611 in England), but then follows an unreliable and  rocky path (much more research is needed) via his son Richard Braswell (born 1652, Isle of Whit, Va); grandson Richard Braswell (born 1702); and finally great-grandson Richard Braswell (born 1730 in NORTH CAROLINA), whose offspring particularly settled in present-day Locust Bayou, Calhoun County, Arkansas:
  • According to Encyclopedia of Arkansas, "the first settlement was in present-day Calhoun County was at Chambersville, which claims the first store, first church, and first post office. In December 1850, in response to a need for a more conveniently located place to conduct official business, parts of Dallas and Ouachita counties were taken to form the county of Calhoun, named for statesman John C. Calhoun." It's worthy to note Calhoun County was formed after the 1850 US Census, but the Ouachita County 1850 US Census does show many families that were incorporated into Calhoun County when it was formed. This also means there's a good chance Rosie's grandfather William Brazil may have been enslaved by Braswell slave owners in any of the counties that formed Calhoun County.
GENEALOGY TIP: When researching geographical regions your ancestors lived their lives, it is important to study the history of counties and towns, and how and when the borders changed. Oftentimes our ancestors may live in the same area that may have changed government boundaries or names.
  • According to the Braswell history, the descendants of progenitor Richard Braswell (great-grandson of progenitor Robert Bracewell) and , and at least three of them (in bold) went to Arkansas with the Braswell name:

GEORGE BRASWELL (born c. 1750; married MARY
in Anson County, North Carolina, on May 15, 17__; died
in Saline County, Arkansas, on November 5, 1842)

JAMES BRASWELL (born c.1761; married NANCY HALL(?);
died in Knox County, Tennessee, on July 29, 1799)
in Wilkes County, North Carolina, on January 20, 1784)
VALENTINE BRASWELL (born in 1765; married (2nd) NANCY
JOURNEY; died in Jo Daviess County,, Illinois, on
November 27, 1848)

JOHN BRASWELL (born c. 1770 in Anson County, North
Caorlina; married REBECCA PRUTT in Breenville District,
South Carolina about 1790; died in Tennessee.)
ROBERT BRASWELL (born c. 1771 in Anson County; died in
Madison County, Illinois, on May 17, 1825.)
WILLIAM BRASWELL (born in 1766. Died in Carrol County,
Arkansas, in the decade of the 1850’s—the last of his
family.) [Saunders. The colonial Records of North Carolina. Vol.
VIII,1769-1771. pp. 80-86]

  • From the list above we see that Richard and William Braswell migrated from North Carolina to Arkansas where they died so we know they lived there. Records also show that their other brother Valentine lived in present-day Calhoun County (was then Ouachita County) along with William. They were all slave owners. I can't help but wonder if Rosie Brazil's grandfather William Brazil was somehow connected to William Braswell or his plantation. Or if any of Rosie's family might have gotten their surname from either of Braswell brothers. 
Now let's briefly focus on the two Braswell's brothers closest to where Rosy Brazil's maternal father's lived:
  • The following US census for 1850 US slave census for Ouachita County, Arkansas. Remember Calhoun Country was formed from Ouachita Country after the 1850 US census was taken. The record below both brothers had a small amount of slaves and had plantations/farms in the same area as Rosy's grandfather William Brazil. We can assume he was likely owned by one of them, even William Braswell , a Confederate captain in US Civl War who appeared to live . There were no white Brazil slave owners in the area. 

  • Here is the US 1850 US slave census showing Richard Braswell in Locust Bayou, Ouachita, Arkansas:

  • Here is the US 1850 US slave census showing Richard Braswell in Locust Bayou, Ouachita, Arkansas. NOTE: in the record below Richard Braswell has a son William Braswell born well before Rosie's grandfather William Brazil. This might be another speculative clue that William Brazil could have been owned by Richard Braswell or at least one of his family members:
  • Here is the US 1850 US slave census showing Valentine Braswell in Locust Bayou, Ouachita, Arkansas:

  • Here is the US 1850 US federal slave census showing Valentine Braswell living in Locust Bayou, Ouachita, Arkansas with his family:

FUN FACT: I discovered that Rosy Brazil's paternal grandmother Millie Scott's family was from Alabama  but lived in Saline County, and they may have been arrived with a Scott slave owning family from there. The following 1860 US slave census showing Millie Scott's likely slave owner Patrick Scott with a "mulatto slave" of about one years old. Although Patrick Scott lived in Saline County we know from the Braswell family history, this is the same place Richard Braswell died. At this time I can infer only that Rosy Brazil's parents had direct ancestors living in Saline County, Arkansas:
  • This next 1870 US federal census shows Milly Scott living with her parents Patrick Scott and his wife Azeleit. The lived in Pennington, Bradley, Arkansas, also near Calhoun County:

FYR got off to great start for its third season. There was noticeable absence of ethnicity estimates, which many of us (ab)use to define our identities. Perhaps attitudes are shifting away from the importance of fluctuating ethnicity admixture percentage estimates, especially in the genetic genealogy community (see Judy Russells' The Legal Genealogist blog for more discussion). FYR was somewhat clever to rely on genetic testing to see if their featured guests DNA matched the ancestors discussed in their family pedigrees and to each other (or past guests). Yet the thirst for those admixture analyses we all seem to anxiously anticipate was quickly quelled when I learned that one of my own relatives had something in common with guest-star Donna Brazile -- both had families carrying the surnames Brazil(e) and Braswell. Through my relative's AncestryDNA genetic match, I learned his second cousin was a woman named Rosie Brazil from Arkansas. The paper-trail led to her mother Ellen Braswell and grandfather William Brazil. Rosie's father was John Beets' (my relative's granduncle), apparently his first child. He married another woman two years after Rosie was born and this is why Rosie her mother's maiden name, which changed from Braswell to Brazil. To this extent, we also learned the original surname Bracewell was pronounced  Brasul (BRAY-SIL) so instead of African-Americans trying to separate their identities from their slave-owners, the name could have changed to Brazil because of its original pronunciation.
    Based on a preponderance of evidence I can say with some confidence that my cousin's Brazil relatives were probably enslaved by the Braswell's living in Arkansas and that they were descendants of progenitor Richard Bracewell  -- the same family that owned Donna Brazile's ancestors in North Carolina. I was not able to determine if my cousin's ancestor was genetically related to Donna's Brazile or their Braswell slave owners. Nevertheless the families of Donna Brazile and my relative's Rosie Brazil appeared to go through the same identity issues with respect to their shared last names; had families whose surnames underwent similar transformation, and is probably connected laboriously to the same white Braswell slave-owning clan. I root for FYR!



    1. Thank you for all the specific details; this was very informative

    2. Good analysis! You might want to fix the "210cM" match; as your screenshot show "29.0cM"--unless I'm missing something.

    3. Thanks Marsha. I made the typo change

    4. I came across this while researching the Valentine Braswell who was born in 1765 in NC, moved to TN, then IL, and died in 1848 in Jo Daviess Co, IL. He's my 6th-great grandfather. I have reason to believe his daughter Mary Ann "Polly" Brazil that he brought with him to IL may have been a light-skinned Black woman (she was born in 1783 and died in Jo Daviess, IL in 1850) and her mom may have been enslaved and died before he left. He has a nephew also named Valentine, who lived in Arkansas and owned slaves. In our family history, the older Valentine moved his daughter to IL territory to avoid her being a slave. Her African ancestry was remarked on by a White settler who wrote about her in his memoirs, after she had married a Metis-Ojibwe fur trader, Andre St. Jean, and settled in Jo Daviess, IL. He wrote that the grandchildren did not show the African blood so they were not despised by the community. Valentine was a staunch abolitionist and broke with the rest of his family because of his beliefs, according to oral tradition. I'm trying to figure out who Polly's mother would have been, because I'm not sure she would have been a free woman of color, more likely she was enslaved by the Braswells. Which calls into question if she could truly consent to have a child with Valentine. A lot to reflect on.