A brick wall without a hole or chink or a hurdle to hop over? Depends on your perspective and the status of your research. In the case of Nellie Black Johnson’s parents, the wall has a tiny peephole. This post describes positive and negative evidence about Nellie’s parents and suggests next steps.
Nellie Black Johnson, my husband’s great-grandmother, married Henry Louis Johnson about 1910, likely at Limestone county, Texas [online tree with no source reported]. Her death certificate claims her race as White; birth date, place and parents as 16 January 1888 in Texas to C.W. Black and Mary Bull.  The Johnson family was in Limestone county by the mid-1870s. Nell died on 2 May 1960 in Mexia, Limestone county, Texas and is buried in the Point Enterprise Cemetery. Informant was her oldest daughter, Katie Johnson Brannon. Next steps: Determine place of birth for Nell’s parents using 1920 and 1930 census for Nell and Henry. 1940 census lists place of birth for the person but not parents.
1930 census. Mexia, Limestone county, Texas. Henry L. Johnson, age 46; wife, Nellie Johnson, age 42; eight children: Katie, 18; Luther C, 17; Horace C, 14; Alice P, 12; Annie R, 10; Edith N, 8; Mary L, 4; and Marie A, 1.  Race, W [white] for all. Birthplace of Nellie’s father and mother recorded as “United States” and “United States”. Birthplace for both of Henry’s parents recorded as “Mississippi.”
1920 census. Enterprise, Limestone county, Texas. H.L. Johnson, age 35; wife, Kellie [per transcription] Johnson, age 32; 5 children: Kate, 9; Clyde, 7; Horace, 5; Pauline, 2 7/12; Ruth, 2 months.  Race: W [white] for all. Birthplace of Nellie’s father and mother recorded as “USA” and “USA”. Birthplace for both of Henry’s parents recorded as “Mississippi.”
Analysis: Listing parents as born in “United States” and “USA” seems odd. This is the first time that I encountered an entry like this. Perhaps she didn’t know or didn’t remember. Perhaps they said nothing more for a reason. Possible that Nellie knew but didn’t want to reveal that information? If not, why not?
1920 census instructions for enumerators may shed some light (page 31, item 147, column 21):
“In case, however, a person does not know, the state or Territory of birth of his father, but knows that he was born in the United States, write United States rather than ” unknown.”
Enumerators for 1930 census received similar instructions (page 29, item 174, columns 19 and 20). 
According to a source at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, USA was sometimes used to designate birth in Oklahoma Territory or Indian Territory before Oklahoma statehood in 1907. This leads to the possibility that Nellie’s parents were born in Oklahoma Territory, Indian Territory or another territory.
My mother-in-law reported that her grandmother was Native American, according to oral family history. Mother-in-law sent DNA to two companies. Neither one reported any Native American ancestry.
“Anyone with even a single indigenous American ancestor has indigenous American ancestry, but not everyone with an indigenous American ancestor has indigenous American DNA.” 
Could Nellie’s Native American roots be so far back that they don’t show up in the current generation? Do other descendants of Nellie have Native American genes in their DNA?
Next step- 1910 census. April 1910. Waco City, McLennan, Texas. 22 year-old Nellie Black, boarder, birthplace Texas, living with Sarah J. Bull, 45, head of household and her 4 children. Nellie’s parents recorded as born in Texas. Is Sarah J Bull related to Nellie’s mother, Mary Bull? No definitive information about Sarah J Bull yet. Is this even our Nellie?
At least two online trees identify a South Carolina family consisting of C.W. and Mary Black as Nellie’s parents.,  According to census records, William Caleb Black and wife, Mary, lived in South Carolina continuously from 1870 to 1920. 1900 Census shows a child, Nellie Black, born 1886 in South Carolina. Family does not appear to have ever left South Carolina. Conclusion: William Caleb Black, South Carolina, is not C.W. Black, father of Nellie Black.
From the scant evidence, I make these propositions:
- Nellie’s parents did not tell her where in the United States they were born.
- Nellie did not want to reveal where her parents were born.
- Nellie’s parents were born in one of the territories prior to statehood.
- Nellie’s ancestry does not include Native Americans.
- Nellie’s Native American heritage was not passed on genetically to her granddaughter.
I contacted DNA matches who have surnames of Johnson, Black and Bull. One person shared some leads that are now on my to-do list. Late last night, I found two interesting census records and will follow those clues later.
March is Women’s History Month. This post briefly outlines one woman- Nellie Kay Janet Black Johnson, my mother-in-law’s paternal grandmother- and our DNA dilemma. This year, I plan to look deeper into my mother-in-law’s family. I continue to work on goals related to other families.
I am somewhat discouraged by the status of family trees on my computer-based genealogy program. I thought that I was making such good progress with my Genealogy Do-Over! Dad’s tree, the first one used for Do-Over, still needs work. Rewriting Posten family history will certainly help there! Other trees are in various states of repair. Thanks to the Do-Over, I made a back-up every time that I worked on a tree. I re-opened the latest version and re-named with 2020 in the title. Note to self –one person and one family at a time!
What I learned: A little more about DNA testing.
What helped: Picture of Nellie. List of DNA relatives for mother-in-law. Response from one DNA relative. Remembering that a genetic cousin is always a genealogical cousin. Just need to find the genealogical relationship! Writing this post.
What didn’t help: Ineffective and late night searches. I need to try different strategies! Work on the brick walls earlier in the day. Not tracking what I found.
To-do: Create research logs for Sarah J. Bull and others as I search; document findings. If needed, set aside for a week or two. Follow leads from DNA match and census records.
© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2020
 “Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982,” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed & downloaded 27 February 2020), entry for Nell Johnson; citing Texas Department of State Health Services, Austin, Texas; certificate no. 37422.
. 1930 U.S. Census, Limestone county, Texas, population schedule, Mexia, enumeration district (ED) 11, pg. 6B, dwelling 135, family 149, Johnson Nellie, wife, age 42; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 26 Feb 2020); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T626, roll 2371.
. 1920 U.S. Census, Limestone county, Texas, population schedule, Pt Enterprise School District, enumeration district (ED) 81, p. 3A, dwelling 41, family 47, H.L. Johnson head, age 32; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed & downloaded 26 Feb 2020); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T625_1829.
 Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States, January 1, 1920, Instructions to Enumerators (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1919), digital image; United States Census Bureau (. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/programs-surveys/decennial/technical-documentation/questionnaires/1920instructions.pdf : Accessed 26 Feb 2020).
 Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States, January 1, 1920, Instructions to Enumerators, Population and Agriculture (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1930), digital image; United States Census Bureau (. https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1930instructions.pdf : Accessed 26 Feb 2020).
Susan M. Ellerbee, handwritten notes, 27 July 2014, in vertical file for Henry Louis Johnson and Nellie Black.
 “Indigenous Americas Region, “ Ancestry Support (https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Native-American-DNA : accessed 27 Feb 2020).
. 1910 U.S. Census, McLennan county, Texas, population schedule, Waco City, enumeration district (ED) 89, sheet 25B, dwelling 276, family 298, Nellie B. Black, age 22; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Feb 2020; citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. , microfilm publicationT624_1575.
 Camtrot, “Trotter Family Tree,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/20201602/person/943537300/facts : accessed 26 Feb 2020), “C.W. Black,” born and died in South Carolina.
 GaryTaylor8958, “Lynda Jean Martin Family Tree,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/9918609/person/-693511314/facts : accessed 26 Feb 2020, “William Caleb Black,” born South Carolina; last census record 1920 in Garvin, Anderson, South Carolina.
 1900 U.S. Census, Anderson county, South Carolina, population schedule, Garvin, enumeration district (ED) 52, sheet 20A, dwelling 217, family 225, Nellie Black, age 14; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Feb 2020). Nellie listed as born in South Carolina.