The best-selling Country Western female singer of all time, as well as actress, Reba McEntire, is the focus of the Who Do You Think You Are episode which aried this evening at 8pm (EST). As a long time fan of McEntire's singing, there was no way I was going to miss this one!
McEntire lives in Tennessee with her husband, Norval Blackstock, and their child. She grew up in a mans world of ranching and rodeo riding, in Oklahoma. She had to be strong to survive. "I get my strength from both my Mama and my Daddy," she stated in her distinctive country accent.
McEntire stated that when she wrote her biography she got about all of the information available on her father's side of the family. "And now I want to know all I can find out about Mama's side. Where we came from. Why I am like I am. Who was the first ancestor I had that stepped on American shores."
She stated that she wanted to know why she feels so comfortable when visiting countries like Ireland and Scotland, but feels such unease whenever she visits England. "I feel at home in Ireland and Scotland, but not in England."
So, off she headed to visit with her Mama in Stringtown, Oklahoma.
Reba's mother, Jackie McEntire, was there to welcome her daughter with open arms. And they two sat down and began to dicuss Reba Estell Brassfield Smith, Reba's grandmother, and the woman for whom she was named. Jackie showed Reba a photo of the two, grandmother Reba, and baby Reba together.
"Was she glad you named me after her?" Rebas asked Jackie. "She was so pleased," stated Jackie.
Then Jackie brought out a photograph that Reba said she'd never seen before. It was a photograph of young Reba Brassfild, along with siblings and her parents, BW Brassfield and her mother Susan ["Susie"] Raper.
Reba was obviously not a new comer to searching for her ancestry, as she immediately went to the computer, and Ancestry.com where she searched the 1910 Census for Monroe County, Mississippi, in hopes of finding more information regarding BW. They found Susie and her children. Susie was listed as a widow. So they brought up the 1900 Census, but were unable to locate him again.
And so it was decided Reba would head to Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. There she went to the Evans Memorial Library, where she was to meet a genealogist. But before that person arrived, Reba decided to look at the early 1900's obituaries for the county. But she was unlucky. And then genealogist D. Josh Taylor arrived.
Josh had located BW, and gave Reba a family tree scroll. He noted that one of the reasons she had probably not located him, was because BW spelled his name with a single "s", whereas those born after him seemed to have the double "s" in theirs. "You're likely to find it spelled either way," he alerted Reba.
BW died in 1906 in Monroe County.
The family scroll that Josh had given Reba, traced her ancestors back to her 4-times great-grandfather, George Brasfield, who had lived in Wake County, North Carolina. He suggested Reba head to the state capitol in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, where George had lived, to see what records they might have for her. And so she was off to Raleigh, and the State Archives. There she met wth historian Prof. Phil Otterness. He showed Reba the plans the city founders had drawn up laying out the city. There, at Lot #15 in 1815, she found George Brasfield, just a short distance from the capitol building.
Next Otterness showed her Land Records from 1846-1849, and it indicated that on 21 Nov 1845 George had died. But it also gave a description of the lot he owned, and that a tavern had sat there. So, Reba discovered that not only was he a landowner, but also a business man!
The Tax Records for 1810, showed that in Lick Creek District, George had owned 1,716 acres, he was taxed for 1-W Poll [white males over 21 years of age], and 10 B Poll [slaves both male and female of all ages]. And so George was not only a landowner, but also owned chattel.
Otterness directed Reba to the Granville County, North Carolina courthouse, and historian Prof. Harry Watson, who had been doing some research on the family.
He located a newspaper clipping dated 05 Nov 1820 where George Brasfield described a runaway slave who had called himself Willie Tripp. Brasfield was directing others to attempt to capture Tripp.
He also brought out records where George had bought a 26-year old slave, a male, named Davey.
There was also two records for slaves sold: Rachel a 20-year old female, with child, and Peter, a 3 year old male. Reba was appalled that her ancestor was in the slave buying and selling trade.
It appeared she had now found out all she could about George, and so Watson directed her to the Essex County, Virginia courthouse in Tappahannock, Virginia. Here she met with historian Prof. Warren R. Hofstin, who told Reba that not only did she know that her 4-times great-grandfather was named George, but so was her 6-times great-grandfather. [The elder George having had a son, Thomas, who named his son after his father.]
Hofstin showed Reba record whereby Richard Carver sold to George Brasfield 300 acres of land, for the sum of over 1,000 pounds of tobacco.And so George came to be a landowner.
Next Hofstin handed Reba the Orders for Essex County, 1695-1699. This log holds the court decisions that were made. Here she learned that George had arrived in this country as a 9-year old boy, who was made an indentured servant to one Bernard Gaines. Reba learned the truth that African slaves and indentured servants worked side by side under horrifying conditions at times. [As the descendant of an indentured servant - my gr-gr-grandfather - I felt the initial shock and even heartache that Reba felt learning this information.]
Young George is found in a list of indentured servants, and is listed as George Brasfelld, with 11 years to serve his passage. This would indicate he was actually ten-years of age, rather than 9. A common practice of the time was for sellers to skim a year off the age of indentured children, which would give them more money from the buyers.
"This breaks my heart! He came by himself to this country as a nine year old! Who does that? Who sends a child that young off on their own?" she asked.
Reba noted that many of the children who arrived on the same ship that George arrived on had come from County Cheshire in England. So, off she headed to Chester, England to the Records Office. Here she met with researcher Brett Weston, who had found more information for her.
Looking at the records for Macklesfield, England on the computer, they found George Brasfield [listed in the latin as Georgius] in the 1698 Baptisms. Weston excused himself to get the record. When he returned, he came back with several records.
In the Baptisms, they found Georgius as the son of Thomas, and he was christned on 17 Jun 1688. And so they had an approximation of his birth [christenings were held very shortly after birth in those days].
Next, under Marriages, they found a record for Thomas, who had married a woman named Abigail.
"But what happened to them?" Reba wanted to know.
Burial records for Macklesfield indicated that Abigail had died in 1696, just two years prior to George being sent to America. And Thomas had been buried, also at Macklesfield on 20 Jun 1720.
And so Reba headed next to Mackesfield to the church where George had been christened, and where his parents were both buried. Here Reba met with Indenture Researcher James Horn from Williamsburg, Virginia.
Reba qestioned why Thomas would not have kept George rather than send him away. She had indicated her anger at Thomas for sending young George away alone, on several occasions. Horn explained to her that at that time, it was certain Thomas had no money, and men were simply not child caretakers then. George's opportunities for making something of himself in Macklesfield were slim to none. And so Thomas took the best route he could have in giving George the opportunity to come to America, and become the successful landowner he did.
Reba asked to see where George's parents were buried. A small grassy plot of land indicated the poor section of the cemetery. Since these were the poor burials, there were no markers. "There may have been a simple wooden cross at first, but, of course, these have long since fallen away," Horn explained. Here Horn left her to her thoughts, and her ancestors.
"I'm not mad at you any more Thomas. Forgive me for being mad at you," Reba asked her 7-times great-grandfather, as she wiped away tears.
And so it was back to Stringtown, where Reba shared all of her information with her mother.
"We have so much to learn from those who came before us," she told her mother.
"Yes, we certainly do," Jackie replied smiling to her daughter.
This was a beautifully touching reveal of ancestry tonight. And you can be sure I will be watching again next Friday night when another celebrity will find out their ancestry. Be watching on NBC at 8pm (EST), on March 9th for an all new celebrity reveal. I'll be there.