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Reba McEntire Discovers Ancestors Were Indentured Servants + More on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

Reba
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Reba McEntire was the subject of Friday night’s (March 2) NBC documentary series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ As the star of the show, McEntire was given the opportunity to trace her ancestral roots back several centuries in America and England and chart her familial course. The fire-haired singer did discover things that pained her greatly, such as the fact that one of her great grandfathers was a slave owner while another was an indentured servant himself.

The show kicked off with McEntire revealing that being in a man’s world and enjoying things like ranching and rodeos helped her prepare for life in the music business. The ‘Fancy’ hitmaker explained a desire to find out what’s in her DNA and what makes her tick, which she fulfilled by going as far back into her lineage as possible to find out which of her ancestors stepped on US soil first and what their lives were like.

McEntire was especially curious to find out about her namesake, her maternal grandmother. She eventually learned more about her great grandfather B.W. Brasfield, which took her to North Carolina to find out about her four times grandfather, George. She discovered that he was a slave owner with 10 slaves. The singer was quite uneasy about that discovery, which left her wondering if he was he fair to his slaves. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ helped her dip into the archives and records in the region, asking if there was any mention of how he treated them. She further learned that he was a slave trader and was utterly shocked and heartbroken by the revelation that he traded children. It was understandably unfathomable to her.

In the hour-long special, McEntire further dove back into her family history, discovering that her six times grandfather, also named George, was an indentured servant, who at age 10 traveled solo on a ship from England for three months. This also made the redheaded songstress incredibly unsettled, so she headed to England to learn why a young boy was literally shipped off to America on his own. She mentioned on the show that she couldn’t even send her son Shelby to summer camp, so she truly couldn’t comprehend sending your own offspring to a new and unknown world.

Through some research, McEntire learned that the boy’s mother had died and his father sent him to the colonies. At the time, it was uncommon and economically challenging for fathers to look after children when their mothers died.

Being reasonable, she strove to find out all the facts before she got mad and assumed why her ancestors did what they did. McEntire was confused at how someone who was once an indentured servant could have an heir who owned slaves.

She paged through parchment documents — she was told to wear gloves since the paper is delicate and she was wearing nail polish — and learned that it was rare that her indentured servant ancestor was eventually able to own land after his indentured servitude ended. That scenario would not have been possible in England, so his father sending him over to the Americas on his own was not only entirely beneficial, but the catalyst for the growth of Brasfield (Brassfield) family and the famed singer herself. The boy’s father also died not long after he sent George to the Americas, so perhaps his voyage to the new world was meant to be.

McEntire’s opinion shifted from one of anger at him for sending his son away, to pride at his courage to send his son off to another world, never to see him again, so he could better his life. As the episode drew to an end, she no longer had a bad feeling about herself once she reached England.

Watch Reba on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’

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