Research Tip: Check Your Assumptions


Researching and documenting many of my ancestors have not been accomplished without mistakes from time to time. Mistakes can easily come from drawing the wrong conclusions from one (or more) sources. In other words, some historical conclusions, assertions, or assumptions may be drawn from what many may feel to be from “obvious” research findings. However, the “obvious” may not always be accurate.

For example, genealogist Robyn Smith and I recently discussed one of her research subjects named Johnnie. We automatically referred to “Johnnie” as if Johnnie was a male, without a second thought. Surprisingly, Robyn soon discovered that Johnnie was actually a female named Johnnie Mae.

The following scenario is my most recent situation in which I drew an inaccurate conclusion from what appeared to be “obvious” to me from three sources. I also discovered that others made the same mistake. I’m glad that I caught my mistake. Here goes…..

At least six people, who share a significant amount of DNA (41 to 119 cM over multiple segments) with my father, all have the surname Yarbrough/Yarborough in their family trees, from Franklin County, North Carolina. See DNA diagram at the bottom. They also share DNA with numerous other descendants of my father’s great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy from Leake County, Mississippi. Grandpa Big Bob had been born around 1818, in Nash County, North Carolina, in an area near the Nash/Franklin County line where his first enslaver Jesse Bass had lived. Therefore, these six DNA cousins are related via Grandpa Big Bob, who was brought to Mississippi c. 1837, when Jesse’s youngest daughter, Frances Bass, and her husband, William W. Eley, migrated to the state.

Three of the six DNA cousins descend from a woman named Neppie Yarbrough Wheless (1872-1926) of Franklin County. Her death certificate revealed that her parents were John Yarboro and Miley Yarboro. The other three descend from a man named Fab Yarbrough (born c. 1861) of Franklin County. Fab’s death certificate has not been found. However, both Fab and Neppie were found in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, living in the household of their father, John Yarbrough, and his wife Miley, who was also known as Mira. John and Miley/Mira were born in the mid-1820s. See image below.

1880 John Yarbrough
The 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Franklin County, North Carolina: Fab Yarbrough and Neppie Yarbrough Wheless were found in the household of their father, John, and his wife, Miley/Mira. Source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Cypress Creek, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: 963; Page: 595C; Enumeration District: 092;

Per the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Miley/Mira Yarbrough was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Reddick & Neppie Wheless, that year. The census-taker recorded that she was the mother of 12 children with 9 alive. See image below. Therefore, I had concluded that Fab and Neppie were both among the 12 children that Mira had birthed.

1900 Mira Yarbrough
The 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Franklin County, North Carolina: In the household of Reddick & Neppie Yarbrough Wheless was Neppie’s mother, Mira Yarbrough, also known as Miley, who was recorded as being the mother of 12 children with 9 living. Source: 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Cypress Creek, Franklin, North Carolina; Page: 4; Enumeration District: 0039;

Fortunately, North Carolina has wonderful marriage and cohabitation records that are accessible on Cohabitation records identified and legitimized marriages of those who had been enslaved in North Carolina. These marriage records also indicate the approximate year of marriage or cohabitation for formerly enslaved couples.

I found a marriage record for John Yarbrough, which reports that he and Mara Levister became man and wife on 14 April 1851. This was ten years before Fab was born. This marriage record, as well as Neppie’s death certificate and the 1880 U.S. Federal Census collectively, appear to confirm that John and Mira were indeed the parents of Fab and Neppie. Unfortunately, I could not find John and Mira Yarbrough in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census.

I added this Yarbrough family to my online family tree on I soon got a green leaf hint to numerous other family trees that also had Fab and Neppie as two of the children of John and Mira Yarbrough. This was undoubtedly assumed because of the 1880 U.S. Federal Census.

Weeks later, I continued the research. I researched the 1870 U.S. Federal Census more thoroughly by searching for some of the children, instead of looking for John and Mira again. I then found something that was “weird.” An 11-year-old male named Fabricius Yarbrough was found in a household headed by a woman named Ceily Yarbrough in Franklin County. See image below.

1870 Celia Yarbrough
The 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Franklin County, North Carolina: In the household of Ceily Yarbrough were Maria (15), Turner (13), and Fabricius (11). An elderly couple, Hampton & Gilley Yarbrough, and her son, Matthew Yarbrough (22), lived next door; his marriage record confirmed Celia as his mother. Source: 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1137; Page: 591A; Family History Library Film: 552636;

Shortly afterwards, I more thoroughly researched the North Carolina marriage records on using wild cards. Wild cards are special symbols used in search engines to represent unknown letters in a word. uses the asterisk (*) and the question mark (?) as wild cards. Read more about wild card usage here.

Lo and behold, I found a marriage record for a “Fob” Yarborough. Transcription errors can be a beast sometimes! Fab had married his longtime wife, Lexie Harris, on 22 December 1880, in Franklin County. His marriage record reports that his parents were John Yarbrough and Cely Yarbrough, both living. See image below. Fab was Fabricius. I went back to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census and found Cely living next door to her son, Matthew Yarbrough. She had married a man named James Lewis in 1871.

Fab Yarbrough Marriage Record
North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011, for Fab Yarbrough: Reports his parents as being John Yarborough and Cely Yarborough. Source: North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

Researching probate records on, I determined that a man named James S. Yarbrough had owned an enslaved man named John, as well as enslaved people named Celia/Cely, Celia’s children, and her next-door neighbors, Hampton & Gilley Yarbrough, up until his demise in 1863. James’s father was Archibald Yarbrough, who died in 1841 in Franklin County. His probate record indicates that James had inherited them from his father’s estate. Mira was not found on the slave inventories. However, a slave-owning Levister family lived nearby in the Franklinton district, per the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses and Slave Schedules.

As it turns out, John fathered at least three children with Celia/Cely there on James S. Yarbrough’s plantation – Amy Yarbrough Dunn (c. 1854), Turner Yarbrough (c. 1858), and Fabricius “Fab” Yarbrough (c. 1861). They were named in the slave inventory of James’s estate with Celia. See image below. Their marriage records verified the parents’ names. At the same time, I theorize that John’s wife Mira and their children were most probably enslaved by the Levister Family who lived nearby.

1863 James Yarbrough Slave Inventory
The slave inventory of James S. Yarbrough’s estate, Franklin County, North Carolina, Dec. 1863: Seventy (70) enslaved people were named with their ages. Included were Hampton, 58, Gilly, 50, John, 38, Celia, age 40, her children, Mathew, 15, Anica, 12, Amy, 9, Miranda, 7, Turner, 5, Fab, 2. (Source here.)

To date, the death certificates and/or marriage records of seven additional children of John identified Mira as being their mother. Those seven children were: Louisa Yarbrough McKnight (c. 1851), Matilda Yarbrough Perry (c. 1852), Rosa Yarbrough Harris (c. 1856), Sarah Yarbrough Mann (c. 1857), John Yarbrough Jr. (c. 1863), George W. Yarbrough (c. 1864), and Neppie Yarbrough Wheless (c. 1872).

John had at least two families, and his son Fab by Celia/Cely resided with him and Mira in 1880. This is what threw me off! What may appear to be obvious may not be. Research tip: Always do additional research to verify who was the actual mother of the children in the household (and outside the household). Often, the wife was not the mother of all. This is especially important with families who had been enslaved.

Since I haven’t found any other family connection between these six Yarbrough descendants, this discovery is strongly suggesting that Grandpa Big Bob Ealy was closely related, somehow, to John Yarbrough (born c. 1824). I had previously theorized that the connection was somehow via Mira Levister Yarbrough. I continue to work to try to figure out how! Stay tuned.

Yarbrough DNA
DNA Sharing Between My Father and Descendants of John Yarbrough of Franklin County, N.C.: Overlapping segments on chromosome 7 between my father and Cousin B (orange), Cousin C (gold), and Cousin D (purple), who took the 23andMe DNA test. Cousins A, E, and F took the AncestryDNA test but haven’t uploaded to; therefore, no chromosome info is available for them.

3 thoughts on “Research Tip: Check Your Assumptions

  1. Excellent work, as always, Melvin! It’s so heartwarming for me to see someone else writing about “my” county, and to have it be about names I’ve encountered in my own research, so many times makes it even more endearing. I’m so glad you’re getting this (another of the many distinct, unrelated lines of Yarboroughs in the county) sorted out!

    Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing!



    1. Meeche Clayborne

      Peaceful greetings…My name is “Meeche” aka Dimitris Clayborne, son of Franklin Clayborne, son of Robert (“Richardson”) Clayborne, son of Cleo Hunter, daughter of Frank Hunter and Tempie Mann…Tempie’s parents was Duncan Mann (1847) & Sarah [“Yarbaugh or Yarborough”] Mann living in the Cypress Creek, Franklin, No. Carolina area 1880s through 1900s…children names like: Charity, Roxanna, Lucy, Tempie, etc. I kindly would like to know if we referring to the “same” “Sarah Yarborough”?

      Liked by 1 person

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