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.
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.
Fortunately, North Carolina has wonderful marriage and cohabitation records that are accessible on Ancestry.com. 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 Ancestry.com. 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.
Shortly afterwards, I more thoroughly researched the North Carolina marriage records on Ancestry.com using wild cards. Wild cards are special symbols used in search engines to represent unknown letters in a word. Ancestry.com 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.
Researching probate records on Familysearch.org, 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.
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.