Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Monday, March 14, 2016

DNA Circle: Delilah Embry

The first email I received from Barbara was in July of 2012. She contacted me because my tree on Ancestry showed that I descended from William and Susannah Huff of Jackson County, Tennessee. She was contacting Huff descendants, tracking both family trees and DNA results to try to break down the brick walls that many of us had in our trees.

At the same time I received my first DNA results from Ancestry DNA. In my response to Barbara's first email I told her that I had recently discovered a connection to the Pharris family of Jackson County, one that I had not previously known or shown in my family tree. For months Barbara and I corresponded as we learned more about the Huffs and Jackson County through census records, court transcripts, and DNA results.

It was a statement that James Pharris made in a court case that convinced Barbara he was my missing link. In a deposition in September 1880, involving his children by Sarah Poston, he made this statement, "I am 75 years old. I have been married four times, have raised 20 children or had that many born alive and all lived to be pretty well grown." Barbara used census records and court cases to try to document the 20 children of James Pharris, but she could only identify 18 of them. She was convinced that one of the two missing children's names was that of my 2nd great-grandmother, Elzina.

I was resistant. Since we knew that I shared DNA with Huff descendants, Barbara and I felt sure that I had a Huff ancestor as well. We knew the identities of the four wives of James Pharris; he had not been married to a Huff. If we were going to theorize an illegitimate, or at least a previously unknown liaison between a Huff and a Pharris, then there could be many possibilities for the parents of Elzina. Time went on, and Barbara and I agreed to disagree.

I don't know exactly when I began to notice DNA matches with the ancestral surname Embry, but it was before Ancestry informed me of a "New Ancestor Discovery" named Hannah Elizabeth Embry of Butler Co., KY. I was aware of a connection between the Embry and Pharris families, and in a previous post about the subject I wished that my NAD Hannah would provide a clue to the identities of Elzina's parents, or at least one of them.

In the meantime Barbara decided to sell her house in New York and move to a sunnier climate. While her new house was being readied, she was going to stay with a cousin in Texas for several weeks this winter. She wasn't going to be that far from me; could we meet? We made tentative plans to meet in Oklahoma City, and I knew that we would be talking genealogy. In preparation I took a good look at what I knew about our common ancestors. 

Sometime last year after I had read a blog post by Roberta Estes (, I added some names to my tree: James Pharris and his parents. Roberta said it was all right to try out some names on your Ancestry public tree in hopes that Ancestry would put you in a DNA Circle. Then you would know that someone with whom you shared DNA was also a descendant of the person around whom the circle was built. Lacking a chromosome browser, this was your best chance to learn from Ancestry's large database of ancestors and descendants. So I included some names and added a notation in parentheses: (DNA).

So just a week before I was to meet Barbara and her cousin in Oklahoma City, I looked again at my tree. And I did...something. I don't remember what. Did I add a date? Did I take out a question mark? I really don't remember, but within a few days I had a new DNA Circle for the mother of James Pharris, Delilah Embry. Out of the 11 other members of the circle I have a DNA match with 8 of them.

So is James Pharris my ancestor? Well, if he isn't, it almost has to be one of his siblings. And no, I still don't know who Elzina's mother was. Barbara has a hypothesis about that. She thinks it was Lucinda Huff, daughter of William and Susannah, and that Susannah Huff raised her granddaughter Elzina. The 1830 and 1840 censuses only list the name of the head of household, but on those censuses Susannah has a girl of the same age as Elzina living in her home.

It also appears that Lucinda had at least one other child out of wedlock. On the 1850 census Lucinda Huff, age 40, was living with her sister Polly Huff Butler and her husband Thomas. Also living in the household is Elizabeth Huff, age 7. Sometime after that 1850 census Lucinda moved to Union County IL and in 1853 married a man named Wilson Butts. By the 1860 census they had two sons, George and Francis M. Living nearby is a Thomas Butler, age 72, almost certainly Lucinda's brother-in-law, although it appears that Polly has died. Also just a few houses away is Elizabeth, who has married a young man named Ballard Collins.

1850 Jackson Co. showing Lucinda Huff with Butler family

If Elzina is the daughter of James Pharris and Lucinda Huff, she had a sister (also with James as a father?) and two half-brothers on her mother's side and at least 18 half-siblings on her father's side. It seems likely that James was her father, although sometimes I wonder about the statement that he "raised" 20 children. He obviously didn't raise Elzina, and we know for a fact that one of his wives had children by a deceased husband that James did raise. Were they among the 20 children he reported to the court? He does clarify the statement by saying that "he had [20] born alive"; that could indicate that he was only the biological father of some of them.

I think what made me doubt for so long was just pure sympathy for Elzina. If her mother was Lucinda, she was given up to her grandmother to raise, while her mother kept the younger sister Elizabeth. Her mother even left the state while Elzina was still living in Jackson County, although by then she was married to Stephen Roberts. James married four other women but not her mother. Elzina didn't even share in James's estate, although land records may prove that her home was on Pharris land. Stephen Roberts was a terrible husband to her. Since learning about her life, it becomes obvious that there is a long line of women in that family who had bad luck with men. Elzina's daughter, Cornelia, my great-grandmother, had a chance to be happy with her husband, T.J. Bell, but I think she had just seen too much tragedy in her family to ever be a happy woman.

Two and a Half Cousins

There is an upside to all of this. I did finally get to meet my cousin Barbara. On the last weekend in February she drove up from Texas with her cousin Rheta (no relation to me) and we had a great time in Oklahoma City. We had the best barbecue Barbara had had since coming to Texas ("I had to come to Oklahoma to get good Texas barbecue!"), we visited the Bombing Memorial, and then had a great time walking around Bricktown. Barbara was explaining to Rheta all the ways that she and I are related--by Huff, Pharris, and Carter ancestors--and Rheta dubbed us the "Two and a Half Cousins."

The Ancestor

Delilah, daughter of John Embry, was born about 1775 in North Carolina. Her mother's name is unknown. She married William Pharris in Madison County, Kentucky, on 25 February 1797. Most trees on Ancestry agree on four children from this union: William, James, John, and Sarah. Some also include a daughter, Delilah, born 1820, although it's more likely that she is a granddaughter, since William Pharris died before 1817.

Delilah is head of household on the 1830 census in Jackson County. Her age is ticked in the 40-49 column, although she should be about 55. Living with her is a male 15-19, a male 20-29, and a female 10-14. On the 1850 census we find Delilah, age 75, with the younger Delilah Pharris, age 30, and her children, Polly, 15, and Hugh, 3. The younger Delilah could have been the female 10-14 on the 1830 census. We think she is the daughter of James from his wife Martha Vinson, who died in 1823.

1830 Jackson Co. census--Delilah Embry household

On the 1860 census Delilah is 85, still living with the younger Delilah, 35, and children, Hugh, 12, and Son (Beauregard), 2. (Another Jackson County mystery--who is the father of the younger Delilah's children?) We know that the 2-year-old male, referred to as Son on the 1860 census, is named Beauregard because he shows up in homes with his mother Delilah in 1870 and 1880.

1860 Jackson Co. census--Delilah Embry, 85

Maybe there are perfectly innocent reasons that all these women in Jackson County have children, and continue to have children, with no husband in the home. Probably everyone then knew the circumstances and the people involved. It's sure frustrating for someone trying to document the relationships 150 years later.

The Descendants

Of the 8 matches I have in the Delilah Embry DNA Circle one descends from John and one comes from Sarah. Three show James as their ancestor. Three show the younger Delilah as a daughter, not a granddaughter--one of them descending from son Hugh and two from son Beauregard--but if she really is the daughter of James, then 6 of the 8 matches in the circle are descendants of James. My smallest match is 5.4 cM's in 1 segment; my largest match is 62 cM's in 5 segments from the descendant of John. That's a pretty large cM count, and I haven't completely accounted for the reason why, although he shows multiple Pharris and Embry ancestors in his tree. He has uploaded his results to Gedmatch, where I can compare him to some other known Huff, Embry, and Pharris descendants.

By the time of this post Barbara is on her way to her new home. What I haven't told her yet is that just this week I was added to another DNA Circle, the one for William Pharris, father of James. I share DNA with 6 of the other 9 members of his circle.

No comments:

Post a Comment