Rest in Peace Mama Frances

With great sorrow I am sharing the unfortunate news that Kalonji’s grandmother passed away yesterday, August 6, 2014.  Lovingly called “Mama Frances,” she was nothing but the kindest and sweetest person you’d ever want to know. We named our daughter Kaleya after her, giving her the middle name of Frances, so whenever we’d go to Alabama there was “Mama Frances” and “Little Frances.”

This picture of Mama Frances and Kaleya is one of my favorites. It was taken in September 2005 when Mama Frances came to visit us for a week while we were living in the Memphis area. It was so great to have her staying with us! We even traveled to Indiana to visit Kalonji’s mom so they had a chance to see each other again.

Mama Frances was born December 20, 1924 to Champ McClellan and Leola (Coleman) McClellan. She and her twin brother Frank were two of Champ and Leola’s 10 children.  Mama Frances was the last surviving child. Mama Frances was born and raised in Talladega and lived there a majority of her life. She did spend some time up north in Detroit, but Talladega was definitely her home.  She married her husband Curtis Morrow in March of 1951 and he passed away in 1971.

We will miss you tremendously Mama Frances. We were on our way to visit you in just a week from now and are so sorry we were not able to spend that time together in life. But, we will spend it with you anyway as we come down to Talladega for your homegoing service.

Rest in peace, we love you very much. Kaleya carries your name, and now she will carry your spirit.

McClellan DNA Mystery Step 1

In my ongoing mission to seek the paternal lineage of Kalonji’s great-grandfather, Champ McClellan, I am another step closer tonight.  My suspicion is that Champ is descended from a white slaveholder of his family – William Blount McClellan (1798-1881) – I like to call him “WB.” 

Thanks to the generosity of one of WB’s direct-male descendants, I now know WB’s yDNA STR markers and haplogroup.  WB’s descendant tested as part of the FamilyTree DNA McClellan Project.

I don’t have a yDNA sample from the right person in Kalonji’s family yet for comparison, but the DNA testing has yielded some insight into the lineage of WB. Until today, all I knew is that WB was a grandson of Capt. William McClellan of Loundon County, Virginia and I had no other information about the Captain’s parents, but that the family came from Ireland or Scotland.  With the matches to others in the McClellan project, we now have more relatives for WB. 

WB’s markers match in 36 out of 37 locations to 4 other individuals in the project so far:

  • Kit #129602 – descends from John McClellan and his wife Jane Lynch who were both born about 1798 in Ireland and immigrated to New York about 1820.
  • Kit #N72978 – descends from Samuel McClelland who was born about 1806 in Ireland and his wife Margaret.  This family lived in Canada in 1871.
  • Kit #183073 – descended from Archelaus D McLeland who was born about 1799 in SC and relocated to Adams Co, MS by 1818 and then to Simpson Co, MS. His wife was Nancy Pratt and they relocated to LA before 1843 and to TX in the 1850’s.
  • Kit #193494 descends from Samuel McClellan, most likely a brother of ArchelausD McLeland. This kit is a 37/37 marker match for Kit #183073.

Not having known anything else about the Captain’s family lineage, this is interesting as all these matches trace back to Ireland or Scotland at some point.  I found an article that indicates WB’s ancestors came from Scotland, so I’ll have to verify if I can. I have no familiarity with working with Irish records, but if Kalonji’s cousin’s yDNA turns out to match these individuals, I may very quickly gain some experience! More to come in a few more months.



Which Test Do I Use?

I have a goal to do a DNA comparison test this month.  There are two individuals I want to test so that I can find out if they descend from the same male ancestor – one is black (Person A) and one is white (Person B).  My primary genealogical research leads me to believe there is a strong possibility they both descend from a male white male who lived from 1798-1881.  I want to compare their Y chromosome DNA.   My dilemma is this — which DNA testing service should I use?

Here are the considerations:

a) 23andMe – I have a free 23andMe testing kit I can use for Person A.  I ordered it for him as part of the Roots into the Future Initiative.  I would love to use this b/c the test is free.  For Person B, I would then order another 23andMe test for him and pay for that one ($99).  The benefit of having them both in 23andMe is that I could compare both Y-DNA and autosomal DNA.  I know that 23andMe will tell me if their Y chromosomes are the same or not — is it as good as what I could learn from FamilyTree DNA?

b) FamilyTree DNA — is my other option – they are so well-known for the Y marker tests.  Since I have the kit for Person A already, I could then pay $50 to submit his DNA to FamilyTree DNA.  Then, I would purchase the 37-marker yDNA test for Person B.  The benefit of using FamilyTree DNA is that if  Person A turns out not to be related to Person B, then there would be other surnames in the database that *may* come us as matches.

Which would you use in this situation and why?

Update 11:30pm —  I have my answer! FTDNA it is.  Turns out that 23andMe does not test markers on the Y Chromosome like I thought they did so I’ll be ordering the 37 marker test for both men.  Thanks everyone!


23andMe Results: Kalonji’s Ancestry Painting

Continuing my posts on our 23andMe testing, I continue with a brief description of Kalonji’s Ancestry Painting and what we’ve learned from it.

The Ancestry Painting is a feature of 23andMe that shows an analysis of the 22 non-sex chromosomes we inherit from our parents.  The result is a beautifully colored image that illustrates DNA segments and gives a report of if the DNA is likely inherited from Africa, Europe or Asia.

The first part of the Ancestry Painting gives the overall breakdown.  Apparently, Kalonji’s DNA is 78% African origin, 21% European origin and 4% Native American (shows up as Asian but is very likely Native American or else statistical noise).

It is not uncommon for African-Americans to have 20% or more European DNA given our history of slavery, so the results were not really surprising.  What I found most interesting about the painting was the distribution of the European DNA.  If a DNA segment is bi-colored, it means each of the chromosome pairs came from different parents.  From reading blog posts from 23andMe, I learned that the coloring is consistent in that the top half of the chromosoume represents one parent, while the bottom half represents the other.  23andMe cannot tell you which half is which parent, but clues in a person’s family history may provide that.   In this case, it was true for Kalonji.

When you look at the Ancestry painting, it is clear that one half of all the chromosomes contains more European DNA than the other half for there are more blue segments on the bottom halves of the 22 than their are on the top.  This is consistent with what we know of Kalonji’s paternal ancestry and that of all of Kalonji’s 2nd great-grandparents, we are fairly sure that one of them in particular was white and he was on Kalonji’s paternal side (see previous posts on Kalonji’s McClellan ancestry).  Given Kalonji’s father’s complexion, paternal grandmother’s complexion, and her father’s complexion and features, we are pretty sure most of the European DNA is coming from that lineage.  Thus, we hypothesize that the bottom halves of the Ancestry painting are the portrait of DNA Kalonji inherited from his father.   We kinda knew this already, but it was neat to see it in the DNA analysis. 🙂

McClellan Connections

Researching my husband’s potential McClellan slaveholding family has been an ongoing research process for me.   This week,  I have an exciting potential lead for our wish to do DNA comparisons.

On Wednesday I was contacted by a white McClellan descendant – turns out that she is a 2nd great-granddaughter of General William Blount McClellan (see previous posts here).   We exchanged several emails, on which she engaged her sisters as well, and I’ve added more on her branch to the overall family tree I’ve been working on.  What was particularly exciting is that she has male cousins that may be willing to take a DNA test for us!  I’ve been looking for male descendants of the general to compare DNA against Kalonji’s male McClellan DNA to check for matches.  I’m so glad that she found us and I do hope this works out in the end.

Then, prompted by this exchange, I decided to do some additional searching for the white Champ McClellan (grandson of the General) that I had some information about.  Given that Kalonji’s great-grandfather was also named Champ McClellan, I’ve been particularly interested in knowing more about the white Champ.   I found a new Ancestry Member Tree that included him, as well as information about his descendants, so I contacted them to learn more.  As another measure of checking, it would be great if we could get a DNA sample from a male descendant down this line too.

In summary – here’s the family lineage trail

a) General William Blount McClellan — father to Walter Groce McClellan — father to Malcolm Allen McClellan — the lady who emailed me is Malcolm’s granddaughter.

b) General William Blount McClellan — father to Augustus Roby McClellan – father to Champness McClellan — father to Harry Augustus McClellan — father to Mildred McClellan Colonna — the person I emailed is descended from Mildred.  I hope they can help me find a male to test.

So — that would be down the lineage of two of the Generals’ sons.

I remain hopeful that this works out.  Whether we can support the hypothesis that someone in the General’s family was the father of Kalonji’s great-grandfahter or not, I still would love to know!

Keep your fingers crossed for us! It will probably not happen for a few more months but I remain hopeful.

Great Ebenezer Baptist Church

This post continues my posts describing our family vacation from August 1- 7, 2009.

On our last day in Talladega during our family vacation back in August, we also took some time to visit the church of Kalonji’s great-grandfather, Champ McClellan.  Champ was a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church and his daughter, Kalonji’s grandmother,  is still an active member there.

The church is located one block away from the family homes on the street named after Champ, McClellan Avenue.  I’d originally wanted to go take a few pictures, but we decided to go inside and see if we could look around.  We were met by a lady named Helen who was nice enough to show us around.  How fortunate for us because she knows Kalonji’s grandmother well and had nothing but great things to say about Mama Frances.  🙂

This particular building was not the original from when Champ ministered there, but we went into the main chapel area where the choir was rehearsing – they were preparing for homecoming weekend.

As Helen showed us around, she also pointed out the markers dedicated to Champ.  His name appears in the foyer on a photo montage of church members, upon which is a list of pastors.  Champ is listed as the 2nd pastor, having served in 1919.

I know from census records that in 1920 Champ was a student at Selma University in Selma, Alabama.  Prior to 1919, Champ served as an assistant pastor with one of the Alabama regiments fighting in World War I.  Guess religion was always in his blood!

Champ would continue to be an active member of the church when he returned back home to Talladega.  When he died, his funeral services were conducted there and he was buried in the nearby Knox Cemetery (aka McClellan Cemetery) which I posted about previously.

Cemetery Clearing

This post continues my posts describing our family vacation from August 1- 7, 2009.

Wednesday, August 5th was supposed to be our last day in Talladega for our family vacation last month.  But, we decided on Tuesday that we’d stay another day.  Well, instead of leaving on Thursday, we didn’t leave until Friday. Why? Because we needed to do some cemetery work!

On Wednesday of that week, we took the kids by the family cemetery to visit the gravesites of family members.  On this trip to Talladega, we were ecstatic to learn that a local masonic lodge was now taking care of the cemetery and had even placed a sign at the entrance! This cemetery has often been left neglected so we were very happy that a local group was taking ownership.

We started in the cemetery by going to the tombstone of Mama Frances’ husband, Curtis. He passed away in 1971.

Then, we went over to the see the grave of Mama Frances’  father, mother & sister and guess what? We couldn’t find them! This was highly disappointing to us because three years ago, in November of 2006, Kalonji and I cleared out the thicket of branches that was around their headstones. The area was very overgrown.  We had cleared it out so that you could see the three tombstones quite well and this is what it looked like then.  These are the headstones of Champ McClellan, his mom Fannie McClellan, and his daughter Louise.  Fannie would have been a slave on the McClellan property I posted about previously about our visit to the home.

Well, a lot can grow in three years. When we went back to it during this trip, the area was completely grown over again. This is what it looked like and despite the gaps you see in the picture, there was actually more brush so we couldn’t see anything.

So, we decided to stay another day so that we could get to work clearing it out again. This time, we took out more than just branches. We got an axe and started chopping down small trees. After a few hours of work (including work from the oldest two boys), we were able to do a very effective clearing of the gravesites again. And this is what it looked like when we finished this time.  You can see some of the tree stumps from our use of the axe.

From the work this time around, we realized that there was another grave there that we didn’t know about before, and it was a child grave, unmarked. When we told Mama Frances about this, she said that it was a stillborn that had been born to her mom – so that was an birth previously unknown to me. This is the mess we left behind

Kalonji’s stepmom was going to tell the masonic lodge about out our work and they were going to come clear it out. At least they now know that the graves are there and can continue to keep the area clear. Since we had done so much clearing, we were also able to see further back in the thicket and realize that there were even more graves up in there. It was so sad to see how much this area of the cemetery had overgrown. We couldn’t make it back there ourselves, but I sent Miles in to take pictures of some of them.

This is the headstone of Epluribus U. Lee who lived from 1909-1976. Don’t you just love the name! However, his marker is completely hidden in the thicket. Very sad.


Needless to say, we were all very tired that evening. But, we are so glad that we did this. It is only a start, but hopefully the lodge can get more people involved to do more clearing. This cemetery has many of Kalonji’s family buried there. It is a black cemetery and the only one in the city not maintained by the city and has a lot of history. There are slaves buried there and many family members of the families in this part of town, including those of another, unrelated so far as we know, McClellan family. I think we made our ancestors proud this day.

Another Antebellum House

This blog post continues the recounting of events from our family vacation of August 1-7, 2009. 

In my last post, I described visiting the home of General William Blount McClellan, the residence of my husband’s ancestors down in Talladega, Alabama. 

The next day, after our trip to Birmingham to the Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Church, we drove by the home of one of the General’s daughters,  Elizabeth Idora McClellan.  Elizabeth became known as a writer and her papers are inventoried as part of the UNC North Carolina Collection.  

During my visit to the Talladega Public Library a two days earlier, I’d found an architectural description of the home along with a picture. I’d also had a picture that another researcher sent to me.  So, off  we go driving around the area of Talladega in which we knew the home to be located. 

We found the home, it is at 511 East Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   Idora lived in this home with her first husband, Albert Plowman.

No knocking on doors this time to see it; I just wanted to know where it was 🙂 Maybe next time!

Visiting the Plantation

I’ve had some difficulty posting to my blog, but it looks like I’ll have success tonight.

In my last post, I talked about my research at the Talladega Public Library.  After leaving the library on the Monday afternoon of our family vacation,  we went back to our hotel, had pizza and relaxed for awhile.  After dinner, we had what really was one of the best genealogy highlights of the trip.

My husband had a great-grandfather named Champ McClellan. Champ was born June 3, 1887 in Talladega.  Though he never talked about it, it is the family’s belief that his father was white. Champ’s mother was named Fannie and his grandmother was named Rebecca.  From past research, I’ve tied Champ and his family to the lands of General William Blount McClellan and I believe he Genral to be Kalonji’s slaveholding family, and one of the McClellan men to be Champ’s father.  From past research and correspondence with a historian researching the General’s daughter, Idora,  I knew that the home of the general was still standing in Talladega.  So, after an email exchange with the historian she informed me on which road the house stood.  We decided to go look for it.

The General’s home was called Idlewilde and since I had a picture, we were able to locate it pretty easily after a few minutes drive on the Eastaboga Road. There was even an iron sign to mark the spot.

It certainly is a beautiful home on the outside. We drove along the driveway to take some more pictures and as we got around to the back, we saw a car there. Hmm… to knock on the door or not? Well, knock on the door we did! Especially since it was open. It took a few minutes, but eventually a lady came to the door.

Now, how do you explain to a complete stranger that you’re visiting their house b/c this is the property of your enslavers. Well, I explained just that and upon hearing Kalonji’s last name of McClellan, she immediately perked up. And, she even invited us inside to see the house!

OMG. I was so excited! It turns out that the home is owned by the McGehee family and her father bought the home around 40 years ago from one of the McClellans, Marcus McClellan. I’m not entirely sure, but I think the Marcus she referred to was the General’s grandson, but there was more than one Marcus in the family. Her father had been friends with the McClellan family and it was through that association which he was able to buy the home. She toured us around showing us the various parts; the wing she had built on, the breezeway between the two original buildings which her father had enclosed, the marble table in the breezeway that was designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti – the designer of the Vulcan statue in Birmingham; the original rooms of the house – both upstairs and downstairs.  She really spent quite a bit of time with us and we were so grateful!  The home is a private home, not on any register of historic places, but she took the time to host us that evening telling us, “if you’d gotten her 5 minutes earlier, you’da caught me in the pool!”

After our visit, we thanked her profusely and then I had everyone take a picture on the front steps.

It truly was a memorable evening.  When I think of Kaleya being able to grow up with this, it amazes me. Her 4th great-grandmother, Rebecca McClellan & 3rd great-grandmother Fannie McClellan were on these grounds before the Civil War. It really makes you pause for reflection.

When we got back to the family and shared this experience, they were all amazed. Kalonji’s grandmother, Frances, never knew about the home though having lived all of her 84 years in Talladega, living less than 5 miles away. Truly astonishing. This is definitely a visit that I have to do scrapbook pages for and share them with the family.

Research in Talladega

Earlier last week I posted about Day 1 of our family vacation at the beginning of the month and what we did on Day 1.  Day 2 we spent on the road all day as we drove from Indiana to Alabama. Day 3 was much more interesting in terms of genealogy.

We went to Talladega, Alabama – the home of my father-in-law and his family.  Whenever we go to Talladega, I pretty much always try to do something family history related, but this time since we were there during the week, I made it my goal to visit the public library and peruse their collection.  Since the public library does not have a strong online presence, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

Kalonji dropped me off at the library around 10 am and I was there until about 4pm.  It turned out that the library had a genealogy room, so that was great news!  I took a few pictures of the genealogy room; while small, I still spent most of my day in there.

I took a few minutes to look around and see what they had.  I’ll try to be brief, but here is a general outline of what I looked through.

1.  A set of yearbooks they had from Talladega High School that dated anywhere from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.  None of Kalonji’s family was to be found however since blacks during that time attended different schools.  But, it was interesting to just browse.

2. microfilm records of the local newspapers.  This was actually frustrating b/c they only have on microfilm reader and it was not focusing correctly.  But, I did find some of Kalonji’s family’s obituaries. I also found a newspaper article that mentions the white Champ McClellan (backstory: Kalonji’s great-grandfather was named Champ McClellan and the suspicion is that his father was white. While researching the white McClellan family, the family of General William Blount McClellan,  that owned Kalonji’s ancestors, I found out that there was also a white Champ McClellan.  The white Champ McClellan was the grandson of the general.)  This story did not produce any new leads, but it was one more tidbit that I can use to help construct the family. 

3. General McClellan had a daughter named Elizabeth Idora who became a well-known writer of stories that focused on the lives of poor whites and plantation blacks of the rural south. I knew that she had a home that still stood in Talladega and I wanted to see it.  I found a reference to it in a book about southern homes that had a nice description of it’s architecture,  Antebellum Mansions of Alabama by Ralph Hammond.  No address though, and that was one piece of information I needed in order to go find it 🙂

4. City Directories – the library has city directories that began as far back as 1948.  I went through several of them looking for Kalonji’s grandparents and great-grandparents and found them! I was unsuccessful in finding his great-great grandmother, Fannie McClellan Skelton, but that could just be because of the nature of who were listed in directories.  By the late 40s she was living with Kalonji’s great-grandfather, but not working outside the home, so perhaps that is why she’s not there.   I found Kalonji’s great-grandfather Champ and his wife Leola misrpresented one year as “Jack & Viola” 🙂

5.  Since I also try to think of quick things that I can do to help other researchers, I also took a look at many of the reference books that cover Talladega records.  When possible, I like to photocopy book indices for posting online so that others can tell if anyone they may be interested in is covered in a book source.  So, I photocopied the index of a book that compiled marriage information from the county marriage books from 1833-1846 and shared that with the Talladega County mailing list.  There was also a list of Confederate veterans that lived in Talladega County in 1907 and for each there was descriptive personal information.  I plan on sharing that too.  Now, I’ve tried to share that with the ALGenWeb Talladega County Site Coordinator, but have not received a response from her nor the State Coordinator of ALGenWeb. I’ll keep trying though!

And, other than that, I spent a lot of time just browsing the old newspapers. These tend to be my weakness 🙂  Overall, I had a very nice day.  The library staff were nice and helpful, and I also met the library director.  

More to come with respect to the family of General William Blount McClellan on the next post!