After over 150 years, his name is known and is finally being called again! And what better day to do so – Father’s Day and Juneteenth 2022. It took me 28 years to find him. Who was Grandpa Albert Kennedy’s father? Albert & Martha Ealy Kennedy’s third son, Hulen Kennedy of Leake County, Mississippi, was my dad’s biological father; he and his brothers were an integral part of my father’s life. Many conversations with numerous family members over the past two decades always seem to lead to the same conclusion – Albert and his sisters’ father was “some white man.” It seemed obvious from appearances. My Y-DNA test results (67 markers) from FamilyTree DNA seem to corroborate that claim. Nothing else was known.
The death certificates of Albert and his sister Adaline also yielded nothing. The words “Don’t Know” were very disappointing. Perhaps, the family chose to keep this alleged “white man” a secret? I couldn’t find a death certificate for Albert’s sister Mattie, even though I knew she had died in 1922. I was gradually giving up on ever finding out who this man was. Nothing was panning out.
Over the recent years, DNA technology started to reveal the truth more and more, as more people tested with the various DNA companies. It took me awhile to see the genetic evidence clearly. There are so many genetic and genealogical parts to this, and a webinar will probably be given later this year because of the learning opportunities of this case, but here’s a nutshell.
My father, his first cousin, and other cousins have numerous, significant DNA matches to people whose family was from Sugartown, Louisiana, north of Lake Charles, and who had been enslaved by a man named Manson Atkinson. They chose the surname Atkins. Turns out, I discovered that Manson had moved to Louisiana right before or during the Civil War from none other than Leake County, where my family resided.
Over time, and with more genealogical and DNA analysis, two things became apparent. First, these Black Atkins cousins are actually related via the unknown father of Albert and his sisters. Second, their father was not a white man, according to societal rules, but most probably considered “mulatto.” Yet, I didn’t have a name for him – my father’s father’s father’s father.
This past March 2022, Ancestry.com gave me a great hint. They had recently added the index to Mississippi death certificates (1912-1943). I got a hint for a “Martha Elay, Leake County, 1922.” Could this be Albert’s older sister, Aunt Mattie? I had missed this when I first started looking in 1994. I had considered several spellings of Ealy but not ELAY. What a huge omission! A friend at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives & History took time out of his busy schedule to go down to the genealogy room to retrieve the death certificate. I just could not wait until I got back home to get it myself.
Hours later, I almost leaped out of my seat with joy after I opened his e-mail attachment. See below. The words “Oh My God!” immediately came out of my mouth. And I instantly reached out to my friend and genea-buddy, Robyn Smith, in sheer delight! I now know his name! My theory was accurate. And now, on Father’s Day and Juneteenth 2022, I introduce him to the world and to his many descendants, MILFORD / MELFORD ATKINS. An African proverb states, “Ancestors never die until there is no one to call their names.” Grandpa Melford is no longer dead.
I started to understand why my family was somewhat mistaken for generations and why his existence was such a mystery. Even my dear Grandma (Dad’s adoptive mother), who was the daughter of Grandpa Albert’s sister Adaline, had said to us, “My mother’s father was some white man.” Melford, who was born in/near Madison County, Virginia, was only in Leake County for about ten years, c. 1851-c.1861. Manson Atkinson didn’t make Leake County his home. He then moved to western Louisiana with his 20+ enslaved people. But during those ten years Melford was there, he found a wife/mate on Stephen Kennedy’s farm nearby, my great-great-grandmother Lucy, who bore him four children (pictured above).
Their time together was short-lived. He had to go with his enslaver nearly 300 miles away to Sugartown, Louisiana, not far from Texas. He was gone forever. Almost forgotten forever. Hearts were undoubtedly broken. I haven’t figured out what happened to him, but Grandma Lucy remarried after the Civil War. Aunt Mattie was the oldest and was probably the one who remembered him better. She was around eight or nine when Melford forever departed. Fortunately, her husband of 45 years, Uncle Bob Ealy Jr., was able to report his name for her death certificate. Thank God! Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa Melford.
NOTE: This case involves more genealogical findings, autosomal DNA, Y-DNA evidence, X-chromosome matching, etc. I hope to do a webinar on this educational case later in 2022. Stay tuned!