March 02, 2012 07:04 PM by Candace Young
Last week on NBC‘s Who Do You Think You Are? viewers saw actor Blair Underwood travel all the way to Africa to meet a cousin for the first time. Tonight, Reba McEntire endeavors to find out how her family came to America. Keep reading for all the highlights…
Reba McEntire talks about her strength – she grew up working the ranch with her daddy, but she also attributes it to her mother. She knows more about her father’s side of the family than her mother’s, and would like to go back as far as she can into the ancestry.
Reba travels to her parents’ ranch in Oklahoma to ask her mother about her grandmother, her namesake, Reba Smith. Reba’s mother shows her a photo of her great-grandmother, Susie, and her great-grandfather, B.W. – the Brassfields. They look Susie up online and confirm that she was widowed not long after the family photo was taken. B.W. is not online, so Reba heads to Mississippi to check local records.
She hits the library to see what she can find out from obituaries on her own before meeting with the genealogist. Again, she comes up empty. The genealogist, Josh Taylor, comes up with some answers. He produces a family tree showing B.W. did die in Mississippi, but explains that the family probably couldn’t afford an obituary. The tree goes back to George Brassfield, B.W.’s father. Reba travels to where he lived in North Carolina.
Reba visits the state archives to learn more about George, and the time he lived, which was before Independence. She is shown an old map and finds George’s patch of land. She works to find out more, and learns he owned a tavern in Lick Creek District with over 1,000 acres of land. She also learns he owned 10 slaves on that property.
She immediately wants to know if George treated his slaves well. They go to the courthouse to look up slave records. From newspaper clippings, she discovers that he tried to stop a runaway slave, and looks over records of his buying and selling – she is disturbed to read that he sold a three year-old child and a fourteen month-old child. Reba is stunned and heartbroken.
Reba turns her attention to finding out which of her ancestors was the first to touch American soil. She finds out that her six times grandfather was also named George Brassfield, and he became a landowner in May 1721. Delving in, she learns George was an indentured servant boy at age nine! Young boys and girls were often enslaved until age 21 and worked in the tobacco fields alongside negro slaves. Reba is stunned to think that George was a servant and his grandson, George, owned slaves. She wonders why this nine year-old boy ended up in this position.
She learns that George came over to America on a ship by himself at that age. Reba tears up at the thought of the terrible three month trip alone without his parents. She decides to head to the county in England that he came from.
In England, she finds George’s christening record. His father’s name was Thomas, who was married to Abigail. She goes on to discover that Thomas died after George was put on the ship to the colonies. Reba learns that Abigail, George’s mother, passed away two years before George went on the ship. Reba angrily says she can’t even send her daughter to summer camp – she can’t believe Thomas sent the boy away at age nine. A priest explains to Reba that at that time, the father would have had a difficult time caring for the child, and it was common to send them to the colonies in the hopes of them someday having a better life. This puts things in a slightly different light.
Reba goes outside to see where Abigail and Thomas are buried. Reba thanks Thomas for being strong enough to send his child, George, off knowing he’d never see him again, so that he and his descendants could have a better life.
Back on her family’s ranch, Reba relays what she found out to her mother.
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Photo credit: Judy Eddy/WENN.com, HRC/Wenn.com