Excerpt: DNA to Africa, by Aaron Day

by Aaron Day


The ‘Day’ family research continues from North Carolina into the State of Virginia, with the discovery of four additional generations – to the 1660’s. Various DNA tests lead to Africa.

After learning that some of my father’s ancestors were free before 1865, I began discovering more about the free people of color. Learning about the DNA and genealogical family history connection has also been a great learning experience. I have enjoyed learning so much about the different countries of Africa, and was happy to make the connection to my homeland. As a result, my research took me back to a very painful period in America – the institution of slavery, and the middle passage. The shipment of slaves from Africa to America was known as part of the Middle Passage.

The search for my great-great grandfather, Scott Day, started after I located his daughter, Milly on the 1870 U.S. Census Schedule. Scott was with his wife Setta on that Census just above Milly and her family. Scott was 67, and Setta was 65. On April 12, 1861 when Scott was 58 years old the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This was considered the beginning of the Civil War.

I discovered Scott, on the 1860 U. S. Census Schedule. Scott was working as a servant for Isaah and Elizabeth Bumpap. On this Census, Elizabeth and Isaah have five daughters, ages eight through twenty-two. It is reported that Isaah is a farmer, and owns his farm. In the description section of the 1860 Census, there are columns for age, sex, and color. In the color column, there are three categories; White, Black, or Mulatto. On this Census, Scott is shown to be a Mulatto. Census Takers counted as Mulattos, only those who appeared to be of mixed parentage (light complexion). In Scott’s case, this was the only Census that he was listed as a Mulatto. All other Census Takers had listed Scott as Black. I thought immediately of the book ‘Finding a Place Called Home,’ by Dee Parmer Woodtor, and the different reason that Scott could have been free during this period. This was the first indication I had that Scott may have been of mixed parentage. I considered this a very important clue in my search for ‘Day’ ancestors. I grew up hearing stories of the mixed ancestry in my mother’s family. Now, I was beginning to learn of the mixed ancestry in my father’s family.

Scott appears on the 1850 U.S. Census working as a farmer for 70 year old Mary Williams. At seventy, Mary is Head of Household, and has several daughters living with her. Savannah is 55, and Sarah is 45. There are several other people living with her. Sarah Wyatt, who is a young girl, 12 years old, is a Mulatto. It is unclear what her relationship is to Mary Williams. There is also a man named Charley David, age 22 living on Mary’s property, his occupation is given as a Crafter.

Scott Day was also listed on the 1840 Census. There are three sections on the 1840 Census. The first section contains the names of Heads of Families. The heading for the second section reads; Free White Persons, including Heads of Families, with columns for males and females, categorized by ages. The last section titled, Free Colored Persons is where I found Scott. He was under the 24-36 age columns. Our records indicate that Scott would have been 36 or 37 years old in 1840.

‘Land and Negroes for Sale,’ read a sign posted near the Stokes County Courthouse in 1836. The sign also announced the sale of ‘corn, oats, and horses,’ along with seven Negroes, consisting of men, women, and children.’ Such signs were common in the South during this period, when Scott was a young man.

After searching through the entire 1820 census for Person County, North Carolina without finding anyone by the name of Day, I came to the recap-page. You can imagine the sense of disappointment I felt while viewing the recap-page. There were 2,817 white males and 2,615 white females for a total of 5,432. There were also 1,890 male slaves, and 1,804 female slaves listed, for a total of 3,694. I noticed the absence of names for the slaves. There were no slave names given, just numbers listed in columns-for males and females. I imagined that my great-great-grandfather Scott had disappeared into one of these columns, and was now one of the unnamed slaves. My first thought was that I would have to start searching through the Slave Schedules. I realized this would be a challenge, but I knew I had to try to locate my great-great-grandfather Scott.

I did feel very fortunate that I had been able to go back 180 years, and discover so much about my ancestors in such a short period of time. As I began turning the handle of the Microfilm Reader, I started planning my strategy, and thinking about what to do next. I was ready to start rewinding the film when I noticed there was more information. I was overwhelmed with joy upon turning the Reader. There, on the last page of the 1820 census were the names of 16 Free Colored Persons, who were heads of households. There was a Thomas Day, a John Day, and a George Day included. Also listed, were the wives and children of the 16 households. There were 80 free people in Person County, North Carolina in 1820. Out of the 80, there were 16 with the last name of Day.

I had mixed feelings for the next several moments. It was a very emotional experience for me. I was very happy to find the three Day family households. It was, however, very sad to think about the 3,694 slaves who were listed in this census with no names, just numbers in the male and female slave columns. I was unable to do any more research that day. I kept thinking about those unnamed slaves.


About the Author

Author Aaron  Day

Aaron L. Day is a Genealogist/Family Historian, Author, TV Host, and Lecturer. He has conducted numerous genealogy classes. He is a former Vice President of the Questing Heirs Genealogical Society, and also the African American Heritage Society of Long Beach.

Day is the author of ‘Locating Free African American Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide’, ‘History Lessons’ and ‘The Heritage of African Americans in Long Beach.’ Day has lectured at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society in Washington, DC, the leading African American Genealogical and Historical Organization in the United States. He has written four award-winning journal articles about his genealogical research.

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