Clarification: The Town of Greenwich is taking steps to acquire three abandoned cemeteries, including The Byram African-American Cemetery. My family and I have every reason to believe that the town will do right by the descendants of every single individual who is buried in this cemetery to make sure that this cemetery is maintained as a sacred historical site. Our issue is not with them. I should make that clear.
As descendants of Lyon slaves and slave owners, our position is that any change to The Byram African-American Cemetery was and is a desecration to the cemetery and to the memory of everyone buried there. The Lyon Family specifically created this cemetery as a finally resting place for their slaves as well as free blacks, who were most likely their former slaves, so it is also disrespectful to the memory and original intentions of the Lyon Family who are buried above the Byram African-American Cemetery. There should be no expectations of neutrality on this issue from the descendants of the Green/Merritt family. None whatsoever.
What Do You Say to Your Ancestors When You Find Out That Their Burial Ground Was Desecrated by Greed?
It’s August 30th, 2016 at 3:20 am in the morning and I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because my heart is heavy, my mind is unsettled, and I can hear my ancestors calling out for justice. Almost a year ago, I was able to break through an over decade genealogical brick wall on my maternal Green/Merritt line. I finally located my third and fourth great-grandparents and learned their names. I called their names out loud and clear —Peg, Anthony, Allen and Mary. I was so loud that I brought them all back to life, figuratively speaking, so that now they could officially be remembered. I went even further and took the time to learn all about them. This led me to blog about my proud Green pand Merritt ancestors from Greenwich, CT. They were among my first slave ancestors, both Native – and African-American, who walked the path towards emancipation and onward to freedom—- heads, no doubt, held high.
I am the daughter of Joyce Greene Vega, the granddaughter of Richard W. Greene, Jr., the great-granddaughter of Richard W. Green, Sr., the great-great granddaughter of George E. Green, the great-great-great granddaughter of Allen and Mary Green, and the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Anthony and Peg Green. Hear me now, the Greens ARE from Greenwich, CT and they were African-American with some Native American and European thrown in the mix. Our family history in Greenwich spans over 250 years. Greenwich certainly can be called our hometown. My ancestors were a part of Greenwich before most of the people living there now ever called Greenwich their home. Historical facts matter and my ancestors’, and the other Black lives buried in the Byram African-American Cemetery, mattered …even in death.
Just because my earliest ancestors were born Lyon slaves does not mean their lives were not valid. Just because the cemetery that they were buried in had no tombstones or grave markers does not mean someone had the right to disturb their graves. That ground was hallowed ground. Did they even consider that there were people who were buried there? Did they not know that their descendants were still around waiting until God saw fit to reunite their family? Did they not know that all cemeteries are sacred spaces? Did they not know that to mess with the dead is to invite The Unwanted? Did they think we wouldn’t notice that our ancestor’s remains and other black remains were disturbed? Did they think that a plaque on a tree honoring The Byram African-American Cemetery would make up for their wanton destruction of the cemetery? Or, was the value of prime waterfront real estate just too good to pass up that parts of the oldest Native- and African-American cemetery in Greenwich had to be destroyed and remains desecrated? My inquiring mind would like to know. My ancestors buried there would also like to know.
I can still hear my ancestors calling me at 4:30 am and I just answered them back. It was only appropriate that I did so as I was taught to respect my elders…even in death. I told them not to worry even though truthfully I don’t know how to comfort the restless dead. I can only pray for their spirits to find peace. But, I was able to tell them that, as long as their descendants are still living, we will have their backs. We will be their unified voice to articulate their pain, loud and clear, with our heads held high…just like they showed us when they walked towards freedom.
Reflections On When Yauco Came Calling: May the Circle Be Unbroken
Over a year ago, I wrote a blogpost about Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, my 2nd great grandfather. I dedicated that post to my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, and my cousin Madeline Castanon Quiles and her family, the extended Bonilla Quiles family. Little did I know, that almost 15 months later, I would have the unexpected opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico to film an AncestryDNA commercial to be shown only on TNT. Thanks to Nicka Smith, who gave me the name of a TNT contact of hers, I was able to travel to Yauco, Puerto Rico, on my dad’s birthday, meet my Bonilla Quiles cousins, and join with them in a circle, with all his descendants gathered in spirit, to pay homage to our ancestor, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo. On the evening of March 18th, we honored our bisabuelo/tatarabuelo, Juan Eusebio, the way he deserved to be. May the circle we made be unbroken, may HIS story be known and may we forever be connected to him ….
Bringing Darkness Into Light: Recovering Our Family History
Almost two years ago, I met my 3rd cousin Madeline Castanon Quiles. She was the AncestryDNA hint that led me to discovering our great great grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo. When I first spoke with Maddy over the phone, she told me about his assassination and, when I googled his name, there were only two references to him. One was an urban legend and one was a book reference. Maddy had grown up hearing family oral history about his death, but lacked any concrete account of his death. The day after speaking with Maddy, I went to the New York Public Library to read the book, Asesinato Politico. It was only a 50 page book that was written by the son of Juan Eusebio’s best friend, Venancio Gutierrez. Between the pages of this short book, I learned the reason why Juan Eusebio was beaten, shot in the head, lynched from a Guasima tree, gutted, his penis put in his mouth, his testicles in his pant pockets. He was then cut down from the tree, placed on the stairs leading to the cemetery behind the church, and set on fire. That is where the people of Yauco found his body smoking and wreaking of gas. Tears, tears, tears…. How many times can you kill a man?
As the great great granddaughter of Juan Eusebio that was a lot to process to say the least. I grew up with my maternal great-grandmother so a great great grandfather seemed very close to me. I went from doing a happy dance because I found his maternal surname to utter despair. To learn that he was assassinated in such an “overkill” way just because he was a member of the Puerto Rican Autonomous Party, was of Taino descent, had chosen to speak out against the abuses of the Spanish Civil Guard, and had spoken up for the rights of the Boricua people, was an eye-opener for me. It was between the pages of this short book that I found out that I descended from a true Boricua hero. However, he had been left to languish in historical oblivion. That is when I decided that I had to pay homage to him by telling his story in a blogpost. I felt a real need to bring what happened to him back to life—even if it was after 125 years. There is no time limit on bearing witness to the atrocities that were committed against him. I just couldn’t have my great great grandfather be a backdrop to an urban legend or hidden behind the covers of a book. I truly believe that, as descendants of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, we owe it to our ancestors to remember them as they were. If we don’t, who will? We are because they were. I am because he was.
The story of what happened to Juan Eusebio was never meant to be told. I know because Asesinato Politicotells us that the Spanish Civil Guard threatened the people of Yauco if they said anything about how he died and if they mentioned that the Civil Guard was involved. But, the book also tells us that the people of Yauco, at great personal costs, still testified as to what happened to Juan Eusebio nonetheless. They did this because they knew what a good man he was and that the spectacular way in which he was found was a message directed at them. Throughout this book, Juan Eusebio is described as un hijo del pueblo, valiant, humble, dignified, religious, honorable, had a character above reproach, was a true gentleman, etc. After his death, he was remembered in songs and in poems. We were lucky to have found the book Asesinato Politicoas it is the closest thing my family has to a first person account for it was told by the son of his best friend. It told me everything we needed to know about what happened to Juan Eusebio. My family is blessed to even have such a resource despite the subject matter. And thus darkness was thus brought to light.
God’s Amazing Grace
As I was on the plane traveling to Puerto Rico, I realized that, although I am Antonio Vega Noboa’s daughter, I am just as equally Joyce Green’s daughter. I may not have been raised Catholic, but I was raised Christian—Baptist actually. I am still that girl who grew up going to Messiah Baptist Church, 80 Legion Parkway, Brockton, MA— the church of my mother, maternal grandparents, and maternal great grandfather. I never knew if my father had religion, but, rest assured, I know my mama and her family did. I grew up learning about what faith is. I grew up singing the old gospel songs “We’ve Come This Far By Faith, Leaning on the Lord”, “Going Up, Yonder,”and “Never Alone.” I will forever be Rice & Beans & Collard Greens.
One of the things that I learned from the book was just how religious Juan Eusebio was and what great faith he had. The God in him definitely spoke to me. The book tells us that Juan Eusebio was imprisoned for three years during the El Componte Era, an era when the Spanish colonial government rounded up members of the Puerto Rican Automomous Party, jailed, and tortured them. He was jailed from 1887-1890. Once he got out, he wrote to the man who tortured him and challenged him to a duel now that he was free— because he believed in an honor code among gentlemen. I am sure he relied on his faith to get him through those horrible three years and after.
The night before his assassination he was at church attending a baptism for one of the neighborhood children. That same night, his friends gathered and warned him not to go to the duel he had set up because they knew he might not return. Juan Eusebio had such an unshakable amount of faith that he left his best friend Venancio Guitierrez with an account of all the torture he had withstood in jail as well as the info about how his duel was set up. There is no doubt in my mind, and never will be, that my great great grandfather KNEW what may happen to him and was prepared to die. He clearly wanted his friend to bear witness so he left him with evidence just in case—evidence that was “lost” after being turned over to the powers that be when the investigation into his death was launched. He was prepared to die and was not afraid. Psalms 23 states, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and they staff they comfort me.” Juan Eusebio had no fear for he walked with God EVERY step of the way.
The devil’s minions wanted the people of Yauco to have the image of Juan Eusebio’s body lying down, smoking and wreaking of gas on the steps leading to the cemetery forever seared in their memories. It’s an alarming image to have indeed. But, I know that the only image that I will have is the image that wasn’t seen. It’s the image that God’s amazing grace provided. The image of the doors of Heaven opening up and the angels coming down to carry Juan Eusebio’s spirit home to meet the God he served so well. Amen! Amen! Amen!
The Making of a Libation Ceremony
I knew when I was going to Yauco that I wanted to remember Juan Eusebio with his other descendants, my Bonilla Quiles cousins, and that I wanted to have a libation ceremony in his honor. A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid in memory of a person. Prior to this, I had never done a libation ceremony. I reached out to my cousin Luis Sanakori Ramos, whom I lovingly refer to as my “cousin preacher Taino teacher.” Luis is a Taino shaman and educator. I thank God for his presence in my life because he is the resource I go for all things Taino. When I told him that I wanted to do a libation ceremony, part of which was to celebrate Juan Eusebio’s Taino ancestry, he told me what I needed to have with me. My cousin Theresa Delgado-Tossas, when she heard that I was going to do a libation ceremony, she said she wanted to take part in the ceremony. Unbeknownst to me, she had also contacted Luis, her cousin as well, and learned the Taino welcoming song, got the items that were to be used in the ceremony, and took it upon herself to make sure things were done correctly.
Theresa and her husband Ralph, will forever be known to me as the first Puerto Rican cousins that I met in Puerto Rico and who were also instrumental in making Juan Eusebio’s honoring ceremony happen. I will never forget the songs that Theresa sang during the ceremony. She has a voice of an angel for sure. My cousin Ralph also stepped up and translated when I was speaking and I am equally grateful to him as well.
When I was off shooting scenes for the AncestryDNA commercial in Guanica, Theresa and Ralph went down to the ocean and gathered up the sacred water that was used in the ceremony. Guanica is a beautiful place. Since Luis has roots in Yauco and Guanica, we brought him gifts back from the ocean as well as the mountains of Yauco. He was with us in spirit guiding us along.
On the second day of filming we went up to Susua Alta, Yauco, the place where my paternal grandfather’s family resided for centuries. My Vega, Bonilla, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Toro/Del Toro Del Rosario/Rosario, and Bracero lines are all from Susua Alta and Yauco. I truly felt their spirit and I am proud to have roots that are jíbaro puro.
What a great feeling it was to walk where my Boricua ancestors lived for thousands of years. Yauco is the birthplace of the great Taino cacique, Agueybana. In between filming, I looked around and found some stones to bring back with me.
On Friday afternoon on March 18th, 2016, the descendants of Juan Eusebio, in person and in spirit, gathered together. I will forever remember the day I first met my Bonilla Quiles cousins. The TNT film crew had been filming me walking up to Tia Lucy’s home over and over again to get the perfect shot. With each take, the tears flowed. Here I was getting ready to meet my cousins FINALLY!
I will NEVER forget the moment when I walked into her home. My cousins — Tia Lucy and her husband Tio Pedro, Tio Becco and his wife Tia Nilsa, and my cousins Ivonne and her son Javier—were clapping and singing in Spanish, “Welcome to the family, Teresa” over and over again. We then gathered in a circle and got to know each other. Over lunch, I shared photos of my parents, my siblings, nieces and nephews. An extended family was reunited. And as God and the ancestors willed it, so it was.
Acknowledging Family Facts and Truths
At sunset, after filming was finished at La Guardarrayarestaurant, we gathered in a circle again, on the grass off to the side of a parking lot, to begin the ceremony. This was the highlight of my trip. I began by stating that we, as descendants of Juan Eusebio, needed to acknowledge certain facts as truths. Speaking from the center of the circle, I acknowledged the following and the others nodded in agreement:
That the blood Juan Eusebio shed in 1890 is the blood that we still have and it was this blood (via a DNA test) that reunited us here today.
That, while we stand here in person, we also represent all the descendants of Juan Eusebio who couldn’t be here today in spirit.
That the book Asesinato Politico must be included in our family history because this book is the closest thing we have to the truth for it was written by Juan Eusebio’s best friend’s son. It is between the pages of this book that we learn about who our bisabuelo/tatarabuelo was. That he was a humble man, valiant, dignified, religious, above reproach, etc.
That Juan Eusebio was a good Christian. That he had a remarkable faith in God. That it was his faith in God that caused him to fear no evil. Blessed be the name of the Lord. How great thou art!
That our Bonilla line is our Taino line.
That we are here in Yauco today honoring Juan Eusebio, un hijo del pueblo.
That Yauco is, and will always be, the birthplace of the great Taino cacique, Aguebana, and our ancestral homeland.
After I acknowledged all of the above, I returned to my spot in the circle of descendants. Ralph then played a song using a Peruvian pan flute and Tunisian tarbuka drum. After which, Theresa sang the Taino welcoming song for the Cemi, the Taino ancestral spirits. While she sang, I returned to the center of the circle and greeted the Cemi in all directions and offered up tobacco to them. This is the way Luis instructed us.
The video clip below is the full Taino welcoming song as sung by our cousin Luis Sanakori Ramos.
After Theresa finished welcoming our Taino ancestral spirits, I again stood in the center of the circle and gave thanks to Juan Eusebio in this manner.
Thank you, Juan Eusebio, for the blood you spilled in 1890 for it is the blood that still flows through our veins and the blood that was instrumental in reuniting your descendants today.
Thank you for showing us how to be a good Christian. By your example, you showed us how to walk with God and fear no evil. Your faith in God was remarkable and we know that you earned your wings to fly. Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God. May you always enjoy being in the presence of God.
Thank you for speaking up for the social, political, and economic rights of the Boricua people despite paying the ultimate cost. We are forever indebted to you and other Puerto Rican freedom fighters for having the courage to speak truth to power.
Thank you, Juan Eusebio, for being our Puerto Rican patriot.
Thank you for leaving us with the blood of the Taino …blood that will never be exterminated as long as we are here. It was because of you that we are, that our children will be also.
Thank you for having been born in Yauco, the birthplace of the Taino and our ancestral homeland.
With that, I returned to the outer circle and we had a moment of silence in his honor.
We then began the libation ceremony. We only recorded part of it. I began by pouring water inside the circle we made. I also decided to pour water outside our circle to signify that, as we honor the memory of Juan Eusebio, that we also recognize how we, his descendants, have been reunited and are now bound to each other. We may not have grown up with each other, but we can now grow old with each other knowing who brought us together. Theresa then sang Amazing Grace as a tribute to his Catholic faith.
After Theresa sang Amazing Grace, she started the Taino ceremony in honor of Juan Eusebio. We first called out and acknowledged the Cemi Makatarie Guayaba, the Lord of the Underworld, to pay our respects. She then dug three holes in the ground and buried guava. Guava (guayaba) is the food fed to the departed. In this case, we buried guava in honor of Juan Eusebio. Theresa then placed tobacco over the holes and lit the tobacco on fire. The smoke from the tobacco is the vehicle that allows the message to be sent to the ancestors. As the tobacco was lit, we called his name. Juan Eusebio, Juan Eusebio, Juan Eusebio….
We then hug each other and said goodbye for now…..
But There Are No More True Goodbyes, Only Hellos….
When I got back to Ponce later that night, I couldn’t stop crying tears of joy . Gratitude was all I felt. What was seemingly lost was found.
I took my first DNA test three years ago. I will always tell people that the greatest thing ever was finding my Puerto Rican side of the family. To go from knowing only my dad to having cousins in the thousands was beyond anything I ever imagined. To have lived in NYC for over 20 years thinking the I had no relatives here to now being able to hang out with my NYC cousin crew all the time is awesome. That some of my NYC cousins live only blocks from me makes it sweeter. Now, I have connected with my PR cousins in Puerto Rico— cousins who will welcome me back with open arms. My Boricua branches continue to expand each day.
When I left Puerto Rico, my cousins Pedro and Kelly sent me off. Meeting Pedro and Kelly completed my visit. We shared a quick visit and I showed them part of the libation ceremony as well as family photos. I also learned that Kelly may also be related to me twice— such is Puerto Rican endogamy. There will never be any goodbyes, only hellos until we meet next time. Because of all my cousins, I was able to come home….finally.
May the circle be unbroken!
PS: Before I left, my cousin Emma told me that the Guasima tree was a healing tree, a medicinal plant. She said my visit would be a healing visit. Emma, you were right. My soul has been healed.
This blog post is dedicated to my M23 Malagasy ancestors who survived the Middle Passage and made it to New York and New Jersey. This is Part I of a two part series and is focused on my family’s Malagasy ancestry. My next blog post will discuss how my ancestors arrived in New York based on the actions of unscrupulous NY merchants and pirates.
About Madagascar and DNA
Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies done that describe the origins of the Malagasy, the people of Madagascar. For example, in 2005, Hurles et al.discussed the dual origins of the Malasy people as being Southeast Asian and East African. His study was followed by one done in 2009 by Sergio Tofanelli et al. In this article, they wrote:
“Our results confirm that admixture of Malagasy was due to the encounter of people surfing the extreme edges of two of the broadest historical waves of language expansion: the Austronesian and Bantu expansions. In fact, all Madagascan living groups show amixture of uni-parental lineages typical present in African and Southeast Asian populations with only a minor contribution of Y lineages with different origins. Two observations suggest that the the Y lineages with “another origin” entered the island in recent times: 1) they are particularly frequent in the Tanosy area (Fort Dauphin), and around Antananarivo, where commercial networks and the slave trade had a focus; 2) they matched with haplogroups typical of present Indo-European (Europeans) and Arabic speaking (Somali) people.”
In addition, a 2012 study by Cox, et al.noted that most Malagasy people can trace their mtDNA back to 30 Indonesian women who made up the founding population of Madagascar. Given the fact that Southeast Asian Y-DNA was also found among the Malagasy, it is assumed that there were also some Indonesian men among this group of women. These women went on to have children with the Indonesian men present as well as men from Africa. Later migrations from Africa also included Southeast African Bantu mtDNA haplogroups from north of the Zambezi River. In 2013, Melanie Capredon et al.also discussed the Arab-Islamic contribution to the Malagasy gene pool as a result of Indian Ocean slave trade.
In addition to the Indonesian and African genetic links found among the Malagasy, there are also linguistic and cultural links to these regions as well. 90% of Malagasy vocabulary come from Maanyan, a language spoken in the Baritone River region of southern Borneo. The other 10% comes from the vocabulary of the Bantu, Malay, South Sulawesian, Javanese, and Sanskrit. Tofanelli et al. also raised the possibility that Indonesians may have reached East Africa and were admixed before their arrival in Madagascar probably around 2,300 years ago This initial mainland contact could explain the occurrence of banana cultivation (Asian Musa spp. phytolits) in southern Cameroon and Uganda before 500 BCE; the introduction of Bos indicus, a cattle of Southeast Asian origin, into East Africa from Asia; and the excavation of chicken bones, originating in Southeast Asia, from Neolithic limestone cave site at Zanzibar. They write, “This Malagasy admixture could have had a history in East Africa before it crossed the Mozambique Channel, even though genetic signatures of these first mainland contacts are still missing (2009:21).”
Madagascar and the Slave Trade and After
Madagascar was part of both the global trade in slaves in both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The Indian Ocean slave trade existed before European colonization and even before the emergence of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. It saw Malagasy slaves taken to the Mascarene Islands, the Seychelles, Comoros Islands, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and India. The European-driven Indo-Atlantic slave trade began in the 16th century. The Portuguese, Dutch , French, British and Americans brought Malagasy slaves to the shores of South Africa, St. Helena’s Island, Brazil and other South American countries, the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados, and North America. It should be noted that both slave trades were facilitated in part by different Malagasy ethnic groups who engaged in the selling of slaves to outsiders in exchange for arms and material goods. As a result of both slave trades— and later as free immigrants— Malagasy DNA spread around the globe.
On Finding Our Malagasy mtDNA
Over two years ago, my cousin Andrea and I decided to take the 23andme DNA test. We were desperate to find more information about our Thompson family history and felt that a DNA test would provide us with more clues. I knew beforehand that my mtDNA was European as my maternal 2nd great-grandmother was a first generation Irish-American. However, Andrea and I were excited to see what her mtDNA would be because she was a matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, while I was not. Well, imagine our surprise when her mtDNA came back M23, a haplogroup that is only found in Madagascar. We were shocked as this was totally unexpected. It seems that our Malagasy ancestors came to the New York City/New Jersey area between 1678-98 or 1716-21. The knowledge that our 2nd great-grandmother had matrilineal ancestry that traced back to Madagascar necessitated that we do further research. Several questions came to mind. Did our Malagasy ancestry still show up in our genes? When did our Malagasy ancestors arrive in the States, specifically NY/NJ? Why did slave traders go to Madagascar to procure slaves?
Our Malagasy Roots and DNA Admixture
We can trace our Malagasy ancestry back to our 5th great-grandmother, Jane Pickett, who was born a slave in NJ or NY around 1775. Her daughter was Tun, also a slave born around 1790 in Tappan, NY, according to a 1860 census record, though she may have also been born in NJ. Both Jane and Tun were born slaves and eventually worked as house servants in their later years. Tun had a daughter named Susan Pickett, our third great-grandmother, who was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Susan was born under The Gradual Emancipation Actand thus had to serve her master for 21 years. We don’t know who her father was, but Susan is listed as being “mulatto.” Once freed, Susan married our third great-grandfather, Cato Thompson. Susan and Cato had six children.
Their children were Richard, Thomas, Jacob, Laura, Mary, and Catherine. My three maternal siblings, my aunt Helen, my first cousin, and I are the descendants of Laura’s son Richard. Andrea, her mother Mildred, uncle Robert, brother, and daughter are the descendants of Laura’s daughter Goldie. My cousin Yvonne and her grandson are the descendants of Laura’s son Stewart. My cousin Helen is a descendant of Laura’s sister Mary and my cousin Lillian is a descendant of Laura’s sister Catherine.
As of today, we have had 15 descendants of Susan Pickett DNA tested, of whom six have mtDNA M23. Having so many relatives DNA tested allows us to see how Malagasy ancestry is passed down generationally. According to 23andme, all of us have ethnic admixture, in varying amounts, from Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Those cousins who are matrilineal descendants of our shared M23 ancestors do show higher amounts in these admixture areas. While I don’t think any DNA test can tell you with 100% certainty what your admixture is, I do believe that they can provide clues about your ethnicity especially when combined with knowledge of local and family history.
Please note that I have previously blogged about my own admixture tests. In this blog post I will be mainly discussing my relatives’ admixture results.
Here are the 23andme Ancestry Composition results of my cousins Helen, Mildred, and Robert. You can clearly see the indicators of Malagasy ancestry.
As a comparison, here are the Ancestry Compositions for my aunt Helen and cousin Lillian. As you can see, their admixture is from the same areas, but in lesser amounts.
A look at the X chromosomes of Mildred, Robert, Lillian and Helen also show how our Southeast Asian ancestry (in yellow) has been passed down from our Malagasy ancestors. All four are the descendants of all three of Susan Pickett’s daughters—Laura (Mildred and Robert), Mary (Helen), and Catherine (Lillian).
In addition to testing at 23andme, my cousins Mildred and Andrea, aunt Helen, and sister Elisa also had a DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done in 2013. Again, the Malagasy indicators tend to be Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Please note that Bantu, Pedi, and Nguni are all Bantu-speaking groups that were part of the Bantu expansion.
Here are their Native Populations Admixture Analysis from DNA Tribes:
In 2014, I had my DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done again after they instituted their regional clusters. Here are my results as a Malagasy non-matrilineal descendant:
On chromosome 20, you can see how our Malagasy DNA, represented by our Southeast Asian admixture in yellow, has been inherited by the same ancestor.
A Word About Our Malagasy vs. Native American Ancestry
My family’s Malagasy (M23) ancestry is separate from our Native American ancestry. I make note of this because there have been claims made that haplogroup M was found in North America, and thus was Native American, based on a 2007 articlethat has since been debunked. I have written two prior blog posts on M23 and other M subclade haplogroups that mention how I disagree with this assessment and provide comments from well-known genetic genealogists and mtDNA experts about the M haplogroup. In the chromosomal view below, you can see how the Southeast Asian admixture (in yellow) is separate from our Native American admixture (in orange).
As it relates to my discussion of my family’s Malagasy ancestry in my next blog post, Esther J. Lee et al. note in their article “MtDNA Origins of an Enslaved Labor Force From the 18th century Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground in Colonial Albany, NY: Africans, Native Americans, and Malagasy?,” “individuals identified as haplogroup M7 and M resemble lineages found in Madagascar. Historical documents suggest several hundred people were imported from Madagascar through illegal trading to New York by the end of the 17th century. ” Though Lee had access to the now debunked 2007 article, she rightly acknowledges that the M7 haplogroup is found in East Asia, Southeast Asia and Madagascar. It is so important, as the Lee article shows, to look at local historical events to see how individuals with M haplogroups may have arrived in the Americas via the slave trade and who are NOT Native American.
I should also note that African-Americans, with the help of DNA tests, are now discovering their Malagasy ancestry. For example, my 98-year old cousin Helen has 5 DNA cousin matches with Malagasy ancestry from Madagascar, South Africa, and France on her 23andme DNA Relatives List and many of my family members have DNA cousins with known Malagasy haplogroups. Likewise, my friend Melvin Collier has written an excellent blog postonfinding and confirming his Malagasy ancestry via a Malagasy DNA cousin. As a result of these Malagasy ancestral discoveries, there is a now a Malagasy Roots Project at FTDNAthat seeks to connect African-Americans with their Malagasy DNA cousins.
Using Gedmatch Admixture Calculators to Detect Malagasy Ancestry
I have been asked repeatedly how one can tell if they have Malagasy ancestry in the absence of a known Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA. One of the ways is to take an autosomal DNA test from any of the three major testing companies — 23andme (highly recommended as you also get your haplogroups), AncestryDNA, or FTDNA Autosomal Family Finder— and then upload the results to Gedmatch, a free site, where you can run additional admixture calculators.
Based on my family’s known Malagasy ancestry, I feel confident enough to state that Malagasy indicators are Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. It is crucial to realize that it is a combination of all these admixtures that may indicate Malagasy ancestry. Just having Southeast Asian, South African, East African ancestry or any one individual admixture is not enough to indicate Malagasy ancestry. I would also mention that one should research the local history/area where your ancestors resided. Slaves from Madagascar were known to have been imported into Boston, New York/NJ, and Virginia. However, there were many Malagasy slaves who may have arrived in the States via the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe, India, as well as a host of other countries. Many Malagasy also came to this country as free immigrants. In essence, you need to really do your research.
Some additional things to do would be to also have other relatives tested to confirm your Malagasy ancestry as well as to check your Gedmatch One-To-Many list to see if your DNA cousins have a Malagasy haplogroup.
Below are some of Gedmatch admixture calculators that I use to detect indicators of Malagasy ancestry. I am going to use my mother Joyce as an example because you can easily see her Malagasy admixture indicators. Plus, I think it is really cool to use a Gedmatch Lazarus recreated genome based on her four children, sister, niece and a host of 2nd and 3rd cousins. For the record, I use the following Gedmatch admixture calculators: MDLP-World 22, MDLP-K23b, Dodecad v3, Dodecad World9, Dodecad Africa9 (to detect South African and East African ancestry), Eurogenes K13, Eurogenes K36, and HarappaWorld. Most of these calculators detect Southeast, Oceanian, Austronesian, South Asian, Melanesian/Polynesian, Papuan, Malayan, South African, and East African admixture.
Malagasy MtDNA and Y-DNA Haplogroups
Disclaimer: Please note that the list below has some of the haplogroups found in Madagascar that come from several scientific studies (see references below). The nomenclature of these haplogroups may have changed since the articles were written. Also, if you have taken a 23andme test, their v4 chip may not give a definitive haplogroup assignment. For example, I am H1 on 23andme since I tested with their v3 chip, however, my siblings are just H since they tested with the v4 chip. Likewise, some folks who are B4a1a1b may show up as only B4a1a1 on 23andme. Note these haplogroups can be found in other places as well. There are only two haplogroups that I know for sure that are found only in Madagascar and they are M23 and B4a1a1a haplogroup subclades. I am by no means an expert on mtDNA or Y-DNA, but I think this list is valuable to those seeking more answers on their Malagasy ancestry.
Update on 1/12/2015: I am again responding to a new blog post written by Robert Estes on 1/5/2015. Her post Anzick Matching Update is her admission that she used an old Gedmatch kit number for her Clovis Anzick research protocol. In this post, she again reiterates her methodology as well as her justification for including the M haplogroup on her list all the while ignoring the facts. The facts are below. She has also failed to answer any of my questions so I have also listed them below.
1) It is unwise to compare mtDNA haplogroup assignments to autosomal DNA. The main reason is that we are talking about two different types of DNA. Extrapolating mtDNA info from living people who have multiple ethnic admixtures and then comparing to an ancient Native American sample is seriously flawed. One can, in fact, match an ancient Native American, like Clovis, and have a non-Native American DNA. Roberta somehow conveniently misses the fact that on the F999919 Clovis Gedmatch One-To-Many list, there were a lot of people who matched Clovis who did not have a Native American haplogroup. Why did she not include these matches on herNew Native American Haplogrouplist?Was it because they are well-known non-Native American haplogroups? Is her continued inclusion of the some of M haplogroup subclades her attempt to discover something new? Why does she assume that just because someone matches a Native American autosomally that this means that they automatically have a Native American mtDNA?
2) The 2007 article she references has been brought into question by several known genetic genealogists, who are also experts in mtDNA analysis, like Ann Turner, Ugo Pereto, James Lick, Claudio Bravi and others. The M sample was not fully sequenced and was more likely to be an X haplogroup upon further analysis. I may not be an expert in genetic genealogy, but I certainly reached out to some of the best before I even wrote my posts. How come Roberta has not commented on their responses which I have reported in my blog posts?
3) Her continued inclusion of M subclade haplogroups on her Native American Haplogroup list, all the while maintaining that M has not been proven to be Native American, is very misleading and disingenuous because it gives people the false impression that they are Native American haplogroups. Lay readers will just look at the headline and make that assumption without reading the small print. Why is Roberta ignoring the fact that her posts are misleading? Is it really enough to justify the inclusion of M haplogroup, without a shred of evidence, just because she can? Should one even publish “research notes” that are not based on current data/facts?
These are questions my inquiring mind would like to know. However, Roberta has failed to answer any of my legitimate questions for months so I don’t see her changing her modus operandi today. This is what has led me to write my posts in the first place.
Update on 12/24/2014: I felt the need to share this with my readers. I was just made aware of the fact that Roberta Estes admitted today that she ran her initial results using one of the older Clovis Anzick Gedmatch kits numbers. As a result, the methodology she used calls into question her whole research protocol. I am taking her admission below that what I wrote in this blog post is correct.
A continuation of my previous blog post…
I did not address the other M subclades that were mentioned in Roberta Estes “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” list in my last blog post because it focused specifically on M23. This blog post, however, seeks to do just that because I really don’t want the public to be misled into thinking that these other M subclades are, in fact, Native American as well. Given the stature that Roberta Estes has in the genetic genealogy community, I would really like to see her to remove these M subclades from her working hypothesis. The facts just don’t add up to them being Native American at all.
I tried to replicate how Roberta Estes did her research to come up with her inclusion of the M haplogroup subclades in her hypothesis. I went back and looked at all the Clovis matches to see what M haplogroup subclades showed up and if they matched the ones Roberta mentioned on her blog (M1a, M1a1e, M1b1, M23, M3, M30c, M51, M5b3e, M7b1’2, M9a3a/M9a1ac1a). In order to accomplish this, I repeated the steps Roberta used to make her hypothesis. This meant bringing up the One-to-Many matches of the last known Gedmatch kit number we have for Clovis Anzick (F999919)and looking at the mtDNAs of the Clovis matches. When I reduced the cM level to 1 cM, I was able to pull up 1500 matches. However, only one had a M subclade of M7b1’2. I did not find any indication of any of the others she mentioned.
I can only assume that Roberta used a previous version of the Clovis DNA profile. I know there were several as I matched the first Clovis DNA profile on Gedmatch, sharing 20 cMs with 7 cM as the largest segment, but did not match later Clovis DNA profiles. If this is in fact the case, than I believe Roberta should have taken this new Clovis match info into account when she updated her list on 12/7/2014.
I looked up the geographical locations of each M subclade Roberta mentioned and found that they were not Native American or were out of the timeframe to be relevant for any comparison to Clovis Anzick. For example, M9a1a1c1a (formerly M9a3a), though geographical close– if you consider Siberia– to being Native American is dated by Behar to be 4221.4 years +/- 3456 old and therefore is nowhere near the 13,000-15,000 age range of Clovis.
The M subclades Roberta mentioned on her blog cover the following geographical areas:
M1a, M1a1e, M1b1 -North Africa, East African, and the Middle East
M23 – Only Madagascar
M3- Southeast Asia
M30c- South Asia
M51- Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, and Laos
M5b3e- I could not locate this subclade so it may be an error
M7b1’2- East Asia
M9a3a ( now known as M9a1a1c1a)- Japan, Siberia, Tibet, China, and Mongolia.
The M Haplgroup and Native Americans
I received some great feedback on my last blog post. One was from Ian Logan, another mtDNA expert, who likewise confirmed the Malagasy origins of the M23 haplogroup. Perhaps, one of the most telling comments that I received came from Dr. Ann Turner, a well-known genetic genealogy pioneer and mtDNA expert herself. I had included, in my blog post, the 2007 article titled “Mitochondrial Haplogroup M Discovered in Prehistoric Native Americans” by Ripan Malhi, et. al. This article is the one that Roberta cites in order to include M subclades as Native American in her hypothesis. Dr. Turner made the following comments:
Dr. Ann Turner also consulted with Dr. Ugo Perego, another expert on Native American mtDNA, about the results of the 2007 M sample. Dr. Perego stated:
“Unfortunately, we might never know the true answer [because the remains have been reburied], but I am with you in thinking that it was probably a false positive for M and most likely an X, which would have been still quite interesting as ancient X’s are not that common.”
Both Dr. Turner and Dr. Perego believe that the M sample the article was based on most likely tested false positive for M when it was probably an X sample. Again, the M sample was never fully sequenced as Roberta herself acknowledges.
In conclusion, I have no idea how Roberta came up with her “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” list. Several people have asked her for an explanation of her methodology to no avail. I could not duplicate Roberta’s methodology as much as I tried. Because of this and the fact that the M sample she refers to was probably an X, I would like to see her remove the M subclades from her list of “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups.” The evidence is simply not there to make that claim that they are “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups.”
We need to remember that individuals today have complex, multiple ancestries that may not be reflected in their mtDNA. I am one such person. I consider myself culturally African-American and Puerto Rican and my ethnic admixture is tri-racial (46% Sub-Saharan African, 46% European, and 8% Native American). But, when you look at my H1ag1 mtDNA, it is European. I am a perfect example of why it is so difficult to make vast, overarching conclusions about my mtDNA without knowing all the colors of my autosomal rainbow…The same holds true for all the other Clovis Anzick matches—who also had non-Native American haplgroups like E, L, H, T, U, J and K,—who did not make her list either.
[Update: On March 2, 2017, Roberts Estes updated her Native American Haplogroup blogpost and eliminated all references to M haplogroups—years after I informed of her mistake. I was glad to see that finally.]
This was not the first post that I wanted to write on Madagascar, the land of my ancestors, but I felt it necessary to do so. In the future, I will be writing about my Malagasy ancestors and how they ended up in colonial NY and NJ.
(Just a reminder, there are hyperlinks wherever you see RED highlighted text.)
In early October, I attended The Genealogy Event in NYC that featured a lot of well-known genetic genealogists, including CeCe Moore. In her talk about what goes on behind the scenes of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, she discussed Ben Jealous’s Malagasy mtDNAand how slave ships directly imported Malagasy slaves into VA. I immediately, and proudly, told her that I, too, was a descendant of Malagasy slaves directly imported into NYC/NJ in the late 1600s-early 1700s. Ever since my cousin Andrea, a direct matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, found out her mtDNA was M23, the two of us have researched everything Madagascar. Surely, we both felt the call of our ancestors. Basically, in finding our mtDNA M23 ancestors, we felt our ancestors calling out to us—-telling us to speak for them, urging us to tell the world about how they arrived in NYC as slaves, under what conditions they lived and labored in NY/NJ, etc. In all of my blog posts, I have tried to do my best to appease our ancestors. How can we not listen to them? So, when CeCe asked me to be the Co-Administrator of FTDNA’s new Malagasy Roots Project, I happily accepted. My mama didn’t raise no fool. Besides, I firmly believe that my ancestors would be a little annoyed with me if I hadn’t accepted the position. And we can’t let that happen. No, we can’t.
As a descendant of Madagascar slaves brought to this country, I am particularly disturbed to see M23, a haplogroup found only in Madagascar, be placed under the rubric of“New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups”by Roberta Estes, a person who is well-known in the field of genetic genealogy. In no way, shape, or form, do I want people to be misled into thinking that this haplogroup has anything to do with it being a Native American one. Her hypothesis goes against current literature on M23. As a result of several of her recent blog posts, I have included references to the Malagasy origins of M23 at the end of this blog post.
On September 18, 2014, Roberta posted “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups”on her blog, DNAeXplained-Genetic Genealogy. These known Native American founder haplogroups were A,B,C,D, and X. I had no problem with her designation of these haplogroups as being Native American ones, as there is enough literature to back up her claim and I was already aware of those Native American haplogroups. To be honest, I only read the beginning of her blog post back on Sept. 18th which didn’t mention haplogroup M.
Even the haplogroup diagram, at the beginning of her blog post, made no mention of haplogroup M.
It was only further down her blog post, when she listed all the Native American haplgroups alphabetically, that I now see mention of the M haplogroup.
“Given that, and given the autosomal ethnicity analysis of several individuals, and given that mitochondrial haplogroups A, B, C, and D are not known to be routinely found in the European population, I decided to extract all of the associated mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. Furthermore, parts of haplogroup X are known to be Native, and haplogroup M, which is quite rare, has long been suspected, but unproven.
In some cases, looking at the Anzick matches, we know that because of the very high level of Native heritage, the individual is either not admixed or only very slightly admixed. In other words, it makes perfect sense that their mitochondrial DNA is indeed Native as well as their Y haplogroup. At nearly 100% Native, both of those lines would have to be Native.”
In the same blog post, she continues:
We found repeated instances of many mitochondrial haplogroups not previously identified as Native. In fact, with the exception of a couple subgroups of the M and X haplogroups, all of the Native haplogroups were found repeatedly in these samples.
“The discovery of haplogroup M in the Americas is consistent with the hypothesis of a single colonization for the Americas since this haplogroup is found in Southern Siberia, the presumed homeland of the ancestors of North Americans (Bonatto and Salzano, 1997; Meriwether et. Al., 1995a). However, it also demonstrates the limitations of using genetic data solely from contemporary populations to infer the events and early population history of the Americas. Using genetic data from contemporary populations to infer early prehistoric demographic events is even less accurate when the population history has been variable over time….Therefore data based on living Northwestern North America might bias interpretations of population prehistory in the Americas (p. 646-647).”
Second, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because someone matches Clovis Anzick autosomally that their mtDNA is a Native American given. For example, I have mtDNA H1ag1 which is a European mtDNA, however, when the first Clovis Anzick matches came in, I matched Clovis Anzick at just over 7 cMs. Likewise, someone with mtDNA M23, like anyone of my 5 DNA tested M23 cousins, could have Native American ancestry from a completely different source other than their mtDNA. Her hypothesis just doesn’t add up. Besides, Roberta herself mentions over and over again that haplogroup M has not been proven to be Native American. In fact, there is also a great body of research about the East Asian to East African geographical distribution of haplogroup M.
The same day that Roberta published her blog post on “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups,” she also crossed posted it in the Facebook Group, Native American Ancestry Explorer:DNA, Genetics, Genealogy, and Anthropology. I immediately posted a comment indicated that I thought M23 was only found in Madagascar and I asked her if M23 was now associated with being Native American. I must admit I was a little taken back because her inclusion of M23 as a Native American haplogroup went against everything I have read about M23—-that M23 is only found in Madagascar.
Her response back to me was:
What I gleaned from her response was that she included haplogroup M on her list because M was found in a Native burial BEFORE Full Sequencing of that mtDNA. I still am not sure if she was referring to haplogroup M in general, or M23 in particular, but anyone who has taken a Full Sequence mtDNA test knows that this test is the most definitive test regarding a person’s mtDNA. Again, how can you include haplogroup M on a Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup list if the one sample referred to has not been fully sequenced? What if the sample was a mistake or was related to a different subgroup? Roberta herself states that she spoke to a scientist who would have loved to have more full-sequencing and more advanced haplogroup designations. At the same time, she also states that haplogroup M is “waiting in the wings” for more confirmation that it is a Native American haplogroup????
Roberta then asked me if my mtDNA ancestors had Native American ancestry. As you can see, I clearly pointed out that my M23 ancestors were “mulatto”, a classification that also included Native Americans. However, I thought I was clear in differentiating between my M23 Madagascar ancestry and the fact that my family also has Native American ancestry that comes from a different source. As you can see, her response back to me was just a ” You know, it can never be easy, can it 🙂 Thanks.” I decided to let the matter rest a few months ago. I just discussed her position among friends and let it go. In retrospect, I should have been more adamant in questioning her. I just didn’t hear my ancestors calling out to me then. Not hearing them was a big mistake on my part!
Early this past Sunday, December 7th, when I logged onto FB and checked the Native American Ancestry group posts, I then noticed Roberta had updated her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup”list and I immediately felt déjàvu. But, this time, I heard my ancestors calling out to me LOUD and CLEAR to set the record straight. So, I immediately responded back to her.
As you can see, I was more to the point and asked her directly if she was saying that M23 was not a Malagasy haplogroup, but was a Native American one. I even attached a well-known, accepted, and peer reviewed article indicating the Madagascar origins of M23. Up until that day, she only listed her own blog post as a reference for M23. My response was followed by TL Dixon asking her more pointed questions, as he had also done last September, not only about M23, but also about other haplogroup subclades also found in Madagascar, like B41a1a.
In addition, later on Sunday, I started reaching out to genetic genealogists like CeCe Moore and Claudio Bravi, who has been analyzing Native American haplogroups since 1993, as well as James Lick, asking them about the origins of M23. They all agreed that M23 was only found in Madagascar, a fact I already knew. Somehow, I wanted a confirmation from others before I wrote this blog post.
On Tuesday, December 9th, I again responded to Roberta’s post in the Native American Ancestry FB Group. This time I also cut and pasted my response to her blog. Roberta did respond to my post on her blog:
After reading her response, I went back to her blog and re-read it. I also started reading the responses to her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” posting. I was happy to see that on Monday, December 8th, Angie Bush, a well-known molecular genealogist,also stated that M23 had a Madagascar origin and she also posted the link to the same article I had made reference to a day earlier in the Native American Ancestry Explorer FB Group.
Her response to Angie was more detailed:
Roberta finally linked the article on M23 having Madagascar origins after Angie referenced it to her. She now indicated M23 as being a “Madagascar Motif” when it is in fact the Madagascar haplogroup unquestionably. Angie also let Roberta know about the FTDNA Malagasy Roots Project as well. That being said, I still find it highly problematic that Roberta still links her “Anzick Provisional Extract”, along with the peer reviewed article that Angie and I both referenced to her, to the M23 haplogroup on her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” list.
In conclusion, I am left with the following unanswered questions:
1) How does one arbitrarily decide to designate mtDNA haplogroups as Native American based on autosomal DNA comparisons to an ancient DNA sample—with some comparisons at very small segments?
2) How does one initially ignore a body of literature about the Madagascar origins of M23 and, after finally acknowledging its origins, still decide to link it to being a “potential” Native American haplogroup?
3) Why insist on repeatedly stating that haplgroup M isn’t proven to be a Native American haplogroup, but still link certain subclade M haplogroups to them being “possible” Native American haplogroups?
4) How does one attempt to publish a hypothesis on “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” without the hypothesis being analytically challenged and peer reviewed?
As a genealogy/DNA blogger and speaker and, as someone who is also tri-racial, my obligation is to correct the misinformation out there, pinpoint inaccurate statements automatically assumed to be facts, and elucidate the flawed analyses/methodologies that I come across as they relate to my own genealogy/family research. I want information out in the public realm that is reliable as it is true. I don’t know the answers to these questions. But, what I do know is that the M23 haplogroup is not a “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup.” My M23 mtDNA ancestors called me out and told me so. So, I am now telling the world.
If you have any of the Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA haplgroups below, please consider taking a FTDNA Full Sequence mtDNA test or a Y-37 DNA test and then join the Malagasy Roots Project. Please click on the title link below for more details.
I dedicate this post to all my Blanchard cousins..To those whom I have already met and to those whom I will hopefully meet in the future. I want to especially single out my 98 year old 2nd cousin 2XR, Helen Blanchard Hamilton, who is still shining brightly for all to see.
My third great grandparents, Cato Thompson and Susan Pickett Thompson had three daughters (Laura, my 2nd great-grandmother, Catherine and Mary) and three sons (Richard, Thomas and Jacob). My family affiliation with the Blanchards is via their daughters, Catherine (1842-1891) and Mary (1849-?), who married two Blanchard brothers, George (1844-?) and William (1845-?). Catherine and George were the parents of 5 sons: Edward , George, William, James and Frederic. Mary and William were the parents of 11 children: William, Thomas George, Katie, Sarah Elizabeth, Susan, Daisy, Walter, Christina, Eugene, Carrie, and John Franklin. Some of the surnames linked to the Blanchards include Hamilton, Hammond, Remson, Baldwin, Hicks, Dorsey, Van Duyne, Roberts, Mickson, Smith, Lynn, DeGroat, Thompson, Green/e, among others
Over a year ago, I started to research the Blanchard line in earnest. I wanted to know where they came from and how two sisters ended up marrying two brothers. We know from census records that the Blanchard brothers were from Orange, NJ and worked as teamsters. What more could I find out? A lot more it turned out….a whole lot more.
George and William were two of 5 children— in addition to Charles, Jr., Elizabeth, and Louisa– born to Charles Blanchard, Sr. (about 1792-1872) and Sarah Berry (1794-1879). Charles was born a slave in NJ sometime around 1792 and it can be assumed that Sarah was born a slave as well.
Charles was born before NJ’s 1804 Gradual Emancipationlaw which meant he was a slave for life. If he had been born after 7/4/1804, he would have had to serve his master for a term of only 25 years as stipulated in this new law. I didn’t know how long he was a slave until I came across his manumission record at the Newark Public Library. He was manumitted on April 1, 1824. He spent 32 years a slave which qualifies as a lifetime for many. His last slave owner was a John Harrison, of Orange, NJ who was a descendant of the Harrison Family who founded the Oranges in New Jersey.
Three years after Charles was manumitted, he married Sarah Berry in the First Presbyterian Church in Orange, NJ and they went on to have five children and live their lives as free Blacks.
Charles became a paid laborer and worked in various stables in and around Orange, NJ. He was also a property owner. On Ancestry.com, Charles’s NJ Death Record occupation states that “He was Born a Slave”. But, we all know that he was so much more than the circumstances of his birth. Regarding Sarah, we have no idea when she became free or who her parents were.
Going further back, we find out that Charles’s father was Robert Blanchard (1765-1865?). In the 1860 census , we see Robert, age 95, living with his son Charles, age 68, and his family. None of the prior census records indicate who Charles’ mother was.
Regarding lost names due to slavery, if I find out the names of our unknown ancestors, I will call their names out loud and clear. You can bet they will be nameless no more. We owe it to our ancestors to remember there names whenever possible.
I was able to find a lot of information about our Robert Blanchard. For the most part, what I learned about Robert and his wife Dinah was due to the fact that their slave owners were from quite prominent families in both NJ and in NYC. At the NY Historical Society Library, I was able to find five critical documents that mentioned Robert and Dinah. These documents provide us with a view of slavery as it affected The Blanchard family.
The first document is a bill of sale for Dinah when she was 13 years old. She was sold for 20 pounds and 10 shillings. Her slave owner was Robert Whiting whose family was one of the founding families of Hartford, CT. Whiting sold her to John Ramage (1748-1802), an Irish Loyalist, who become the first artist to paint a portrait of President George Washington in 1786.
In 1793, Dinah was sold again at the age of 15 years old for 30 pounds. Ramage sold her to Catherine Bradford (1742-1822).
Catherine was the widow of Cornelius Bradford (1729-1787). The Bradfords were the proprietors of the Merchant Coffee House, a very interesting, intriguing place to say the least. In addition to serving coffee, the Merchant Coffee House was the meeting place for merchants, shipbuilders, captains of vessels as well as various organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Bank of New York, Free and Accepted Masons, Knights of Corsica, Whig Society, Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, Society of New York Hospital , etc. On the eve of the Revolutionary War, it was a gathering place for Patriot sympathizers in NYC and during the British occupation of the city, the British auctioned off captured American vessels. The coffee house was the place to be until 1804 when it was destroyed by a fire.
In 1794, Catherine Bradford retired from the Merchant Coffee House and moved to Cortland, NY. We are not certain what happened exactly, but Dinah ended up back with Catherine Ramage as her slave. Was Dinah’s sale to Catherine Bradford a conditional one with a set term? We have no idea.
In 1801, there is a document that mentions Robert Blanchard being the slave of John Blanchard of Morris County, NJ. John Blanchard was writing to Catherine Ramage giving permission for his “boy” Robert to marry Dinah. By the way, his “boy” Robert was 36 years old and Dinah was 22 years old.
This would be the first “legal” marriage for Robert. However, we do know he had other children, like Charles, prior to his marriage to Dinah. In addition, we now know that Robert and Dinah re-wed in 1819 as their marriage was officially recorded in the Essex County, NJ Marriage Records.
The years between 1801-1814 are somewhat of a mystery regarding Robert. At some point, he became free. His slave owner, John Blanchard died in 1811 in Chatham, NJ, however, Robert is not listed as being freed in John Blanchard’s will.
All we know is that, by 1814, Robert is already paying taxes in Orange, NJ as a free Black. We don’t know how he became free, but he he did and he made enough money to be able to pay taxes.
Sometime during this period, Robert also became a stagecoach man. He was a contemporary of my own 4th great-grandfather, Thomas Thompson, another Black stagecoach man. It is more than likely this is how The Blanchards met The Thompsons and ultimately how their grandchildren ended up marrying each other. The world of free Blacks in NJ was a very small one indeed.
The 4th document that was found pertained to the conditional sale of Dinah and Robert’s son, Robert, Jr. In 1813, Robert, Jr. was sold to an Ephraim Sayre by Catherine Ramage for a term of up to 18 years. In the bill of sale, she indicates that one quarter of Robert, Jr.’s day be spent on his education as well as him learning a trade.
This document doesn’t mention how old Robert, Jr. was, but if he was born after 7/4/1804, he had to serve 25 years as a slave before being granted his freedom. While Robert was free, it is clear that Dinah was still a slave, as were their children. We don’t know what ever happened to Robert, Jr.
Reading these four documents made my heart heavy. Sometimes when I do family research, I can’t help but to put myself in the shoes of my ancestors so to speak. What was it like being sold as a human being, to see your children taken from you, to have no control of your body, to have no control over your personal freedom, etc. Sometimes I wonder how they got over… Just when my heart was at it’s heaviest, I read the 5th document.
SAY AMEN SOMEBODY!!!
The 5th document was another bill of sale dated 1815 written by Catherine Ramage to ROBERT BLANCHARD! Robert ended up purchasing his wife Dinah’s freedom along with their three youngest children Cyrus, Jep and Hannah for $125 dollars (i.e., $31.25/person)!
You cannot imagine the sheer joy I felt when I read this document. I can’t lie. I was doing my happy dance all over the NY Historical Society Library. Many tears of JOY were released just knowing that, in spite of the degradation of slavery, Robert Blanchard found a way to buy his family out of slavery. Not only that, but years later he was able to reunite with his other children who had either been gradually emancipated or manumitted at some point. Robert did what he had to do to keep his family together to survive slavery, freedom and beyond.
About the Blanchard Surname
Robert Blanchard’s last slave owner was Captain John Blanchard (1730-1811) who was born in Elizabethtown, NJ in 1730 and died in Chatham, NJ in 1811. Captain John Blanchard was an American Patriot during the Revolutionary War. He was married to Joanna Hatfield (1735-1786). His father was Jean “John” Blanchard, a lawyer, who was born in New York in 1699 and died in Elizabethtown, NJ in 1747. The first John Blanchard was Jean “John” Blanchart/Blanchard who was born 1655 in St. Michel, Rouen, Normandy, France and died in Elizabethtown, NJ in 1730. It is this French immigrant from which the Blanchard surname originates.
UPDATE: On May 22,2017, I found out that I had a 100% West African DNA cousin match on AncestryDNA. My new DNA cousin’s name is George Graves-Sampson and we are related on my paternal Puerto Rican side. His family is from the Sekondi region in south-western Ghana. They are part of the Fante tribe of the Akan ethnic group, which also includes the Ashanti. His father was from Elmina, home of the infamous Emlmina Castle, and his mother was from Otuam. Now, I know part of where my Afro-Boricua ancestors originated for certain. Little by little, DNA testing is leading us back to our ancestral homelands. Feeling blessed to finally connect to a place, a people, and a cousin. Thank you, cousin George, for being the vehicle that made this blessing possible.
For more info on Afro-Boricua admixture, please read my friend Fonte Felipe’s blogpost:
This post is in memory of my cousin, Serafin Rios Santiago, who recently joined the pantheon of ancestors. It is also dedicated to his daughter, my cousin Carmen, who will carry on his legacy with love. He is our newly-appointed ancestor angel watching over us. Amen!
I have always wanted to know more about my Afro-Boricua roots. I knew I had African ancestry on my PR side. But where did my African ancestors come from? Would I ever be able to find out what country/countries they came from or would I be at a loss as to their origins as I am with my African ancestors on my maternal side? Hmmm. Well, thanks to my PR cousins and the wonderful world of genetic genealogy, I have begun to put some pieces together. My family history is slowly unveiling itself to me —not completely, but just enough to put a smile on my face and let me know I am on the right track.
Carmen & Me
I met Carmen last year when she reached out to me after receiving her FTDNA results. We immediately connected with each other and began the task of trying to find out our common ancestor. We exchanged photos of our relatives as well as the locations of our ancestors. Carmen and I are predicted 3rd cousins so we share a set of 2nd great-grandparents in common.
I found out that Carmen’s mother was born in the same town, Anasco, Puerto Rico, as my paternal grandmother. Her maternal family was from Greater Aguada in Northwest Puerto Rico which was where my paternal grandmother’s ancestors resided. As an FYI, Carmen lost her mom, Rosa Peres Ponce, when she was very young so she was excited to meet a relative on her mom’s side. I have to say that I was taken back when I saw her mom’s photo as she very strongly resembled my youngest sister Joanna. Even Joanna had to admit that Carmen’s mom looked more like her than her own mother. Clearly, our genes had a story to tell.
Whenever someone with the surname Rios popped up on my 23andme DNA Relative list, I would call Carmen to see if that person was also on her list. Imagine my surprise when I asked her if a Serafin Rios Santiago was on her list. “Oh, that’s my dad”, she said. I was shocked that I was related to her dad. I thought I was related to her via her mom. Well, it turns out that I am related to BOTH her mom and her dad.
Looking at our shared segments in Family Inheritance Advanced, I am sharing a lot more DNA with Carmen than with her father. I am also sharing DNA on completely different chromosomes which indicate that I have a different ancestor in common with each of them. Carmen and I share a Spanish ancestor on her mom’s side.
Once I knew that Serafin was related to me, I knew I had to meet him. Carmen explained that, although he was not in the best of health, I was more than welcome to come over and see him.
On the morning that I was heading to Brooklyn to see my cousins, I received my AncestryDNA results. I had taken this DNA test to see if I shared DNA with Lee and Carter descendants as my 3rd great-grandmother, Crittie Anna Lee, was said to be the daughter of Charles Carter Lee, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s older brother, and a Black/Native American slave. As my Carter and Lee DNA matches popped up, I couldn’t help to be envious at how easy it was for my Euro DNA cousins to trace their ancestry. Those of us with African ancestry have a much more difficult time doing just that. Well, I certainly hopped on the train to Brooklyn hoping to forget my envy.
My first impression of Serafin was that he had such a sweet soul and a gentle spirit. Because of his ill health, we didn’t chat for long. However, he did mention his upbringing and then he dropped a bomb— a beautiful bomb. LOL He told me that his grandfather, Federico Cabrera, was a slave until 1873, when slavery in Puerti Ricowas abolished, and that he had been born in SENEGAL. Just like that, my earlier envy flew out the door. Envy who? Envy what? I think the ancestors were sending me a sign that day that all was not lost. Their stories were determined to be told even if it took time.
From what Carmen and Serafin told me, Federico was purchased in Senegal by a Portuguese man and then sold to a Spaniard, Lorenzo Cayol, and shipped to Puerto Rico. Cayol, an immigrant from Spain, was one of the original inhabitants of Barceloneta (Little Barcelona), a town in Northern Puerto Rico. He was also the owner of Hacienda Plazuela, a sugarcane plantation. Federico was one of the many slaves who labored on this plantation.
Not only did Cayol purchase slaves directly from Africa, but he also purchased them from other countries in Latin American and the Caribbean. Below, you can see that he purchased slaves from Venezuela and St. Thomas. I have other cousins whose ancestors came from Martinique and Guadeloupe. Puerto Rico was definitely part of the active Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Both Carmen and I have another cousin in common, Dr. Ana Oquendo Pabon, who is my predicted 3rd cousin and possible 2nd cousin to Carmen. Ana was so kind as to provide more info about Federico to us. In an email, she wrote:
“According to that death record we all have for Federico, he died on the 05 of April 1905 which would have made him born about 1795 not 1820. María Salgado Nieves [Federico’s wife] died at 100 years of age on the 26 of June 1907 and her birth as 1807. At the same time, María’s sister Dorotea Salgado Nieves married Zoilo Cabrera who was also born África. I have always suspected he was Federico’s brother. Dorotea died at the age of 65 of yellow fever on the 15 April 1907 (two months before María) and it mentions their parents (Sabás Salgado Cruz and María de la Cruz Nieves).”
So, it is quite possible that Federico had a brother named Zoilo who was also bought in Africa and sold into slavery in Puerto Rico.
When I look at my DNA matches on 23andme, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA, I see the surnames Cabrera, Salgado, Nieves, Cruz and others that may link me to Serafin via his African ancestor. When I see that 1% of my DNA admixture is from Senegal, I now know that this is real. I also remind Carmen that she is only 2 generations from slavery. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t that long ago. Serafin has now passed the torch to her as keeper of their family history.
[I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great contribution of Ana and her brother, Padre Jose Antonio Oquendo Pabon. They were the founders of the geographical Proyecto ADN de Apellidos Puertorriqueños (Puerto Rican DNA Project at FTDNA). Ana has been the sole Administrator for the project for over 11 years, recruiting, educating and promoting genetic genealogy. Thanks to their pioneer work, FTDNA finally conceded to adding the Taíno to their Native American ancestral groups for matching and reporting. Their website is Muertito Heaven. ]
The Rodriguez Family of Yauco
I have another distant cousin, Alex, whom I am related to on his paternal Rodriguez line. My sister Elisa and I match him, his father, his paternal aunt as well as a couple of his cousins who share the same 2nd great-grandmother, Domitila Rodriguez (1843-1914). Alex’s paternal family was from Yauco which is where my paternal grandfather’s family resided. Yauco encompassed a much larger area in the 18th and 19th centuries. Guayanilla, where Alex’s family was from, was part of Yauco back then. I can trace my Rodriguez line back to the late 1700s-early 1800s to my 4th great-grandfather, Isidoro Rodriguez who was born in Yauco. All of my Rodriguez ancestors are from Susua Alta and Susua Baja, Yauco.
Alex told me that we are definitely related on his Rodriguez line though we haven’t found our common ancestor. What he did tell me was that his 2nd great-grandmother Domitila was born a slave. She had twin boys, Marcial and Marcelino, with Alexandre Sallaberry, a Frenchman, who were also born into slavery.
Alex mentioned that all his Rodriguez ancestors were owned by a Spanish Catholic priest, Padre Andres Avelino Rodriguez y Pacheco, a member of one of the founding Spanish families of Yauco. They labored on his plantation. Domitila’s mother, Rita Pacheco, was a slave of Andre’s mother, Maria Monserrate Pacheco y Rodriguez. Rita’s mother, Eusebia Rodriguez, and grandmother Maria were also slaves. We don’t know where in Africa the Rodriguez ancestors came from, however, it is this Rodriguez line that is related to my ancestors.
I should also mention that Yauco County was the capital of Boriken, the Taino name for Puerto Rico, when the Spanish arrived on the island. Yauco was governed by Agüeybana, the most powerful Taíno “cacique” (chief) and he controlled all the other caciques on the island. On my Rodriguez side, I also have Taino ancestry. When I look at photos of my great-uncle, Enrique Vega Bonilla, whose grandmother was a Rodriguez, I also see my Taino ancestors looking back at me. One day, I hope I will be able to trace my Taino ancestry as well.
My Pellot Primos
On AncestryDNA, I have 3 4th cousin Pellot matches and another 7 5th to distant cousin Pellot matches. I also have 2 5th to distant Pellot cousins on FTDNA. All of these DNA cousins can trace their ancestors back to Moca and many have the same ancestors. This tells me that somewhere on my paternal grandmother’s line there is an ancestor that I have in common who was a Pellot.
My 4th cousins, Ernie and Frances, have told me that the Pellots were slaves on the Hacienda Irurena plantation near Aceitunas, Moca in Northwest Puerto Rico. This plantation was built by three Pellot (Peugeot in a French) brothers in the early to mid-1800s after the Spanish Crown signed the Royal Decree of Graces. They were from the Basque region of Spain and, in fact, Irurena means “three siblings” in the Basque language. The Pellots purchased roughly 1,300 acres and built a coffee plantation though they raised other crops. Of course, slaves were imported to work on the plantation.
The Pellots sold the hacienda to another Frenchman, Juan Labadie, who had been the caretaker of the plantation under them. Labadie was married to the daughter of Juan Pellot and a freed slave, Cornelia Pellot y Pellot.
After Labadie passed away in 1893, Cornelia began making plans to build a mansion which was actually built in 1905. By that time, it had become a sugar plantation. After decades of disrepair, the municipality of Moca bought the plantation in 1993. Today it is known as Palacete Los Moreau and was named after Enrique LaGuerre’s novel, La Llamarada. LaGuerre had spent time at Hacienda Irurena and based his characters on a family that lived at the fictionalized Hacienda Irurena.
All of the African ancestors of my Pellot DNA cousins came from the Guinea Coast. In fact, prior to the emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves, there was an area on the grounds of Hacienda Irurena that was called “Petit Guinee.” Below are the Ancestry.com records for my cousin Frances’s ancestors Julian and Ana Pellot that indicate that they were from Guinea, Africa.
When I look at the surnames on my Pellot DNA cousins family trees, I do see surnames found on my grandmother’s side like, Roman, Soto, Mercado, and Nieves. It is just a matter of time before I find my link to the Pellots.
So, my search for my Afro-Boricua roots will continue….