Many of the Breland and Breeland families in the United States — especially in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — are descended from a man named Abraham Breler/Breland, who lived near Beaufort, South Carolina, in the late 1700s and died there in the early 1800s.
I, too, am a descendant of Abraham Breler/Breland. He was my 5th great grandfather on my mother’s side. In particular I am descended from Abraham’s grandson, John Robertson Breland (1794-1875) who migrated from South Carolina to Louisiana about 1810. He served in de Clouet’s Regiment in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 and then lived the rest of his life in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, and Pike County, Mississippi.
My maternal grandfather, Robert Milton Breland (1889-1959), was born and raised near Sunny Hill, Louisiana. Robert’s father, my great grandfather, was Cicero Malachi Breland (1857-1917), who lived his entire life in Washington Parish, Louisiana, and is buried in Mount Hermon. Cicero’s father, my great great grandather, was Elisha Elliott Breland (1832-1862) who died in Louisiana while serving as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War.
Where Abraham Breler/Breland was born is a subject of much speculation and dispute. Some say he was born in Pitt County, North Carolina, while others say he was born in Germany. To date, no one has been able to answer that question definitively.
I recently started the Breland Surname DNA Project with the hope of answering the question of where in Europe my Breland ancestors came from. This followed my involvement in the Hughes DNA Project, as both a member and administrator. Through my involvement in the Hughes Project, the Clan Colla 425 Null Project, and the McMahon DNA Project, I learned that my paternal ancestors lived in the vicinity of County Monaghan, Ireland, before they settled near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 1700s and then migrated from there to North Carolina and South Carolina. My experience with these DNA projects gives me great hope that the Breland DNA Project will help solve the historical mystery of where the Brelands came from.
At the time of this writing, the Breland DNA Project has just six members. The project needs to recruit many more members – especially men with the Breland surname – if it is to be successful. Anyone with the Breland surname, or who has Breland ancestors, is welcome to join. Here is the link where you can do so:
In order to join the project, you will need to buy a DNA test kit from Family Tree DNA. Men named Breland who join the project should order the Y-DNA37 test, which is a test of paternal ancestry only and costs $149 if you order it through the Breland Project (it costs $169 if you order it outside of a project). All women who join the project, and men without the Breland surname, should order the Family Finder test, which costs $99. The Family Finder tests both maternal and paternal ancestry and helps find matches within about five generations.
In addition, if you have already done an autosomal DNA test through AncestryDNA or 23andme, you will need to transfer your results to Family Tree DNA first before joining the Breland Project. Here is the link where you can do that:
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the Breland DNA Project. I look forward to hearing from you!
Tom Hughes was born and raised in Mobile, Ala., and now lives in Durham, N.C. He is the son of Gloria Breland Hughes, whose parents were Robert Milton Breland (1889-1959) and Cora Peirce Breland (1891-1936). Robert and Cora met in the early 1900s when they were both high school students at Sunny Hill School in Washington Parish, Louisiana. Tom’s uncles, Charles Gregory Breland and Hunter M. Breland, wrote, “The Breland Families of the Southern States, 1794-1875.”
About a month ago, my wife and I drove from North Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida. Our route via I-95 took us through the town of Walterboro, South Carolina, where I decided to take a little detour.
Why? So we could visit the Breland Cemetery, which is in the rural countryside several miles outside of Walterboro. It’s a small cemetery that contains about 45 graves and is surrounded by a chain link fence on a plot of ground located between a farmer’s field and the surrounding woods. One of the trees closest to the cemetery has what appears to be a deer hunter’s tree stand attached to it.
My mother’s maiden name is Gloria Dell Breland, and I knew that she was descended from a man named John Robertson Breland, who was born in that part of South Carolina in 1794 but had settled in Louisiana before the War of 1812 began. I knew this thanks to a book, The Breland Families of the Southern States, 1755-1875, that was written by my mother’s older brother, Charles Gregory Breland. Uncle Greg self-published the book in manuscript form in 1987. After Uncle Greg died in 1994, my mother’s younger brother, Hunter M. Breland, arranged for a memorial edition, which he edited, to be published as a hard back.
So I figured there was a good chance I was related to the Brelands who are buried at Breland Cemetery. Once we got back home from that trip, I started looking into it, and found that I was indeed related to everyone in that cemetery who was born with the Breland surname. I can’t say that for the wives of men named Breland who are buried there.
If you trace John Robertson Breland back to his earliest confirmed Breland ancestor, you get to his grandfather, a man named Abraham Breland, whose surname was recorded at various times as Breler, Brelar, Breelo and Breland. Abraham was born about 1725 (some researchers say he was born in Pitt County, North Carolina; others say he was born in what later became Germany) and died about 1805 in Estill, South Carolina. The Breland Cemetery outside Walterboro is about 33 miles from Estill.
Abraham was the father of William Breland (1753-1825) who is one of eight Brelands buried at the Breland family gravesite at Rivers Bridge State Park at Ehrhardt, South Carolina, in Bamberg County. That gravesite is about 19 miles from the Breland Cemetery outside Walterboro. The names of the eight people named Breland are inscribed on one side of the headstone at Rivers Bridge State Park. The inscription on the other side reads:
FROM BAVARIA GY. 1776
As I continued to research the Brelands buried in South Carolina, I learned that many of them trace their ancestry back to the same Abraham Breland as my mother. And, thanks to Uncle Greg’s book, I knew that many of the Breland families in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are descended from Brelands who moved west from South Carolina in the early 1800s.
There are only 2,663 people named Breland listed worldwide on the Find A Grave website. The overwhelming majority of these, more than 2,500, are in the Southeastern U.S. Based on this information, it seems plausible to me that I may actually be related to most if not all of the Brelands in the South. That is certainly not the case for the surname I inherited from my father, which is Hughes. There are more than 100,000 people named Hughes in the U.S. listed on Find A Grave, and I know from my involvement in the Hughes DNA Project that there are many people named Hughes that I am not related to.
As a pilot test for my theory about the Brelands, I decided to research the Brelands who are buried at Mobile Memorial Gardens in my hometown, Mobile, Alabama. One of my mother’s brothers, Lyman Breland, is buried there. But there are several other Brelands buried there that my mother told me she had never heard of, including the Rev. Murphy B. Breland (1910-1997). After researching his Breland line, I came to the conclusion that he is my 4th cousin, twice removed.
So, is your name Breland? Want to find out if we are related or not? If so, then I’d love to hear from you. Email me at email@example.com.