GA Live S02 E11: special guest James R. Morgan III (Black Freemasonry)

Episode 11: James R. Morgan III (Author, Black Freemasonry)

Have you ever researched your family and found that they were a part of an organization that has been around for decades even centuries?

Join Brian and Donya as we talk with James R. Morgan, III, author of the new book “The Lost Empire: Black Freemasonry in the Old West”.

The history and achievements of American black Freemasons are as fascinating as they are forgotten and neglected.

Join us on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 4pm via

GA Live S02 E10: Special Guest Natonne Kemp

Episode 10: Natonne Kemp (Author, Historian & Genealogist))

Join Brian and Donya as we talk with Genealogist and Author Natonne Kemp. We will discuss strategies on researching especially during the 1890s as well as her book There is something About Edgefield: Shining a Light on the Black Community through History, Genealogy & Genetic DNA co-authored with the late E. Gail Bush.

Join us on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 4pm via

How well do DNA testing services’ analytical tools handle DNA matches for highly admixed people?

It is fair to say the online genealogy community has been set alight with the launch of new research and DNA analytical tools from AncestryDNA and MyHeritage. I can understand and appreciate the excitement. MyHeritage’s new AutoCluster and The Theory of Family Relativity (ToFR) offerings have enabled my to smash through a handful of my most stubborn genealogical brick walls.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the new analytical and research tools have generated quite a bit of commentary online: ranging from euphoric to harsh. While the merits of ThruLines, AutoClusters, and ToFR are being discussed and debated, I am going to share my thoughts from a perspective that isn’t being discussed within the wider genetic genealogical community.

How well do DNA testing services’ analytical tools handle DNA matches for highly admixed people?

What do I mean by “highly admixed people? I mean individuals whose genetic inheritance and ancestry is evenly spread across more than one different ethnic group. In my case, that would be a DNA admixture that is evenly spread between African, non-Jewish European, and Jewish European. I’ll leave my smaller amounts of Native American and Asian (Central, Southeastern, and Far Eastern) DNA to one side for now.

For the purposes of this article, I will be referencing AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and FamilyTree DNA. I haven’t tested with 23andme. If you have tested with 23andme – and are highly admixed – I would welcome hearing your thoughts and/or experiences in the Comments Section.

One caveat: I will not be referencing ethnicity percentages. Ethnicity percentages are not the focus of this article.

I will begin with my experience with AncestryDNA.

One thing has consistently bothered me about AncestryDNA. It has taken the roll out of its ThruLines to bring what has nibbled me about the service into sharp relief. AncestryDNA certainly “sees” my European and Jewish Ancestry in the form of its ethnicity breakdown, and the sheer volume of Jewish and European-descended DNA cousins on my match list. However, it has rarely – and I mean rarely! – facilitated common ancestor matches. This is despite the fact that I have a large and well-researched tree. Ancestry DNA has readily matched me to other African American cousins, either through its DNA Circles and Shared Ancestor Hints. I can’t say the same has happened with my Caucasian DNA cousins – even when we’ve worked out how we are related through paper trails.

In a recent message to AncestryDNA, I stated that I felt (and I stress the words I felt) that there was a virtual One Drop Rule at play, or a kind of DNA apartheid. I explained that what I meant by those terms was this: whatever coding algorithm AncestryDNA was using seemed to focus on my African American DNA to the exclusion of everything else. Please don’t misunderstand the point I am making. My African DNA is important. However, in terms of weighting, it accounts for just over one-third of my Ancestry. Yet, Ancestry’s analytic tools predominantly focuses on just this ancestry.

Below is something that occurs more often than not when I go into AncestryDNA to look at my matches, as well as matches for the many AncestryDNA kits that I manage:

I am greeted by six thumbnails of beaming, happy, Caucasian DNA cousins. So, at this level, AncestryDNA is affirming something I know already…I have quit a bit of European ancestry.

However, when I look at the various DNA stories and Migration Stories that AncestryDNA provides as historical overviews of the external/societal forces that impacted my ancestors, this is what I get:

Notice anything in the three historical overviews? Not yet? They are solely for my African American ancestry. 

I should have, at the very least, a Jewish Diaspora story for my Jewish DNA. I should also have multiple European stories that cover my colonial Quaker, Irish, British Isles, and Ulster Scot ancestral migrations. These ommissions are glaring.

So why is this imporant, and why does this irritate me so much? Well, despite how it happened, I have white ancestors. Numerous white ancestors, to be precise. Understanding the connection between my mulatto ancestors, both free and enslaved, and their white forefathers and foremothers is critical. Why? More often than not I can only find documentation for my African American ancestors through their white family members. I can only piece together my family’s broken African American family lines by connecting them through their shared white ancestors. If AncestryDNA’s coding prevents this from happening, that simply throws hurdles in my ability to piece my enslaved ancestor’s fragmented and slavery-disrupted histories. 

For my ancestors who were free people of color, this impedes my ability to understand their origin stories, as well as obscuring their migration stories into the parts of America that would become Kentucky, Tennesse, North Carolina, and Ohio. This is especially true for my ancestors who were free people of color who assumed white identities when they migrated into the places listed above. This group in particular lived in remote places in the early colonial period. There were no colonial offices for them to register births, marriages, and deaths. There were no formal churches to register the same information. Like a number of my formerly indentured Irish, British Isles, and Ulster Scots  ancestors, illiteracy was more the norm than not: so no scribbling of births, marriages, or deaths in the family bible. In truth, there might be family oral histories regarding their ancestry, but those are patchy at best. There is one tool to make the necessary familial connections: DNA.

To be clear on another point, I am not saying that AncestryDNA is racist. It’s sad and disheartening that I even need to say that, however, considering the times we currently live in, I need to say this just to be clear about it. 

What I am saying is AncestryDNA needs to re-examine the coding that drives its matching algorithm, which, in turn, drives the various analytic tools on its service.

MyHeritage sits at the other end of the spectrum. Its DNA and research tools, thusfar, sees all of my admixtures. Nowhere is this more apparent than its AutoCluster tool. It is for this reason I have been able to obliterate some brick walls that were decades old. MyHeritage’s ability to “see” and understand my heavily mixed admixture is so much better that I will be doing the majority of my DNA analytic work on its service. Whatever coding it uses to drive its matches my reports and DNA analytic tools works with my research, and not against it.

As for FamilyTree DNA? It sits somewhere between AncestryDNA and MyHeritage. Personally, I find FamilyTree’s Chromosome Browser to be a stand-out DNA analysis tool. It is something to use regularly.

If you too are heavily admixed, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both positive and challenging.

And, if you work for AncestryDNA, my standard invitation still stands. I am more than happy to consult with you on this. This is something that needs to be addressed.

Confirming Jason Futrell of Rich Square, Northampton County, NC as my 4x great grandfather

The new suite of genealogical and DNA analytical tools from MyHeritage has literally knocked my ancestry out of the park these past few days. The online service’s The Theory of Family Relativity Tool and AutoClusters obliterated four of my most stubborn ancestral brick walls…and confirmed the identity of a man I have long suspected to be my 4x great grandfather.
This article is about that all important ancestral confirmation.

I began researching the life of Bug Frutrell of Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina, my enslaved mulatto 3x great grandfather, six years ago. As per my usual practice, I began working on a family tree for the white enslaving Futrell family. I rapidly fell into the genealogical quagmire that is the Futrells of Rich Square. A handful of family lines were well documented and researched. Most lines were not. The one lineage book that was digitized and available online was riddled with errors. Like other parts of my ancestry, the Futrells used the same five or six names for their sons and their daughters, resulting in individuals who were either conflated into one person, or confused for one another.

I reached a point where I was on the verge of giving up when a white Futrell DNA cousin, Becky, reached out to me on Ancestry to introduce herself, and to say hello. Like me, she was curious to know who our common Futrell ancestor was. Understanding that my connection to the family came through the enslaved Bug Futrell didn’t phase her in the least. She took that in her stride. 

Becky shared a copy of a family lineage book that is no longer in print: The Futrell Family. Simply put: this book was awesome. It remains the most accurate book about the Futrells that I have accessed. The paper trail backs up its findings. In short order, I had a workable and usable Futrell family tree.

Armed with an accurate tree, I had a relatively short list of enslaving Futrell men in Northampton County to research who would have been of a suitable biological age to have fathered Bug. This kind of research involved finding Wills, estate inventories, slave insurance policies, deeds that cited enslaved people, contracts involving hiring out enslaved people – any relevant document that would contain the name Bug between 1819/20 and 1865, when Bug would have been emancipated via the Emancipation Proclamation.

I found Bug cited in an appraisal for Jason Futrell of Northampton County after a month or so of searching. Jason was the right age, and lived in the right place, to be Bug’s father.

DNA triangulation and segmentation showed I was more closely related to Jason’s white descendants than any other group of white Futrell descendants. I shared more cMs and longer chromosomal segments with Jason’s descendants than any other Futrell descendants with roots in Northampton County, North Carolina. 

So…I added Jason as Bug’s father on my Ancestry tree – and waited for shared ancestor hints to pop up on I was waiting to see shared ancestor matches with Jason’s other children, as well as the descendants of his maternal and paternal aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I waited. And waited. And waited. There was nothing. Which was strange, considering the sheer number of white Futrell descendants I matched on Ancestry with deep roots in Northampton County.

Fast forward six years later.

I hadn’t logged into MyHeritage for almost two years. My research focus has mostly been on Ancestry. However, I was hearing so many excited reports about MyHeriage’s Theory of Family Relativity and AutoClusters that I had to check them out for myself. 

Who was the subject of the first theory? You guessed it – Bug Futrell. Who was his predicted father? Jason Futrell. 

Looking at my AutoCluster Report, I quickly saw my Futrell cluster. In and among my 15 Futrell DNA matches were six white Futrell cousins I knew from Ancestry. I went on to check a staggering number of messages in my MyHeritage inbox. There, nestled among my messages, were system reports from five years ago pretty much telling me that Jason was Bug’s father.

I was estatic. I then became furious. Why had MyHeritage been able to report something five years ago that AncestryDNA had never even suggested?

I wrote a pretty scathing correspondence to Ancestry outlining what I’ve shared above. While I haven’t received a reply, my Futrell connections on Ancestry finally appeared when I logged into Ancestry the next day. I haven’t added all of them. The four images below will suffice:

I hope part of why I’m still salty about this is relatively easy to understand. Confirming Jason as Bug’s father enables me to understand how, and through whom, I match descendants of the other mulatto Futrells in Northampton County. It strengthens my ability to find members of Bug’s immediate and extended family. It is critical in understanding Bug’s family’s story. Denying me that confirmation denied me the ability to even try to reconstruct the family history of the enslaved mulatto members of the Futrell family.

This week has highlighted a few things for me. It is my feeling – and I stress the words my feeling – that Ancestry had a significant amount of work to do in two areas:

  1. The way its DNA matching algorithm handles comparing DNA for people whose ancestry has off the chain endogamy; and
  2. The way its matching algorithm handles comparing DNA for people who are heavily admixed.

Me being me…I have both. MyHeritage seems to be better equipped to handle both. The brick walls that crumbled this week involve both centuries worth of endogamy, as well as a high degree of relations between Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans occurring over centuries.

On the upside, I can now begin the work of connecting the dots between the different mulatto Futrell family groups in order to understand how Bug connects to them.

GA Live S02 E09: Special Guest Phebe Hayes (Louisiana genealogy & history)

Episode 9: Phebe Hayes (Louisiana genealogy & history)

Join Brian & Donya as we chat about some of the unique complexities of Louisiana genealogy research and history with our special guest: Phebe Hayes.

Join us on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 4pm via

Case Study Part 2: Attempting to break through Thomas “The Immigrant” Christian’s brick wall

This case study is a continuation from Research case study: My lost connection to Thomas “The Immigrant” Christian of Charles City County, Virginia (

The Genealogy Adventures geneticists are currently grappling with the DNA segmentation and sequencing work necessary to confirm the identity of the white Christian family male who is my 4x great grandfather. Whoever he turns out to be, DNA is ultimately pointing towards Thomas “The Immigrant” Christian (born about 1630, United Kingdom, and died in Virginia) as his direct ancestor.

While they are busy beavering away at their monumental task, I’m picking up the gauntlet to determine the identity of Thomas Christian’s parents. This is an equally monumental task. Thomas Christian has presented his American descendants with a centuries old brick wall. 

I am not daunted at the prospect. I have been here before quite a few times. My article Ann St. Clair of Wytheville, VA: Finding my lost connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair family ( is the perfect illustration of my successful research work in this area. I covered how we identified the white father of my 3x great grandmother, Ann St. Clair of Wythe County, Virginia…and the process we went through to identify his father.

It’s a good thing I’m never daunted by genealogical cold cases. When it comes to Thomas Christian, his isn’t simply a cold case – it’s frozen. No one has any true idea of who his parents were. This is a topic I will return to at the end of this case study.

First stop – British lineage and antiquarian regional history books

My first stop in researching had to be British lineage books. When it comes to researching pedigrees back in the Old Country, I won’t use American lineage of family history books. I have simply been burnt too many times due to errors. If I’m researching my ancestors back in their respective homelands, I will only use resources from their country of birth. Wherever possible, I will only use primary sources – unless a secondary source corrects an error in the primary source (and only if the secondary source contains sources and citations I can refer to).

Numerous American lineage books cite the Isle of Man as Thomas’s birthplace. Frustratingly, none cite sources for this. Naturally, this information has been incorporated into a staggering number of online family trees. Said trees also cite two different Manx men as Thomas’s father. I took all of it with a grain of sand as the trees didn’t have any sources or citations. What I did do, however, was scribble some notes, including the names of the two Manx Christian men, as items to research.

While I eventually discounted both men as Thomas’s father (see the last two sections), I was inclined to believe one thing: a strong case began to emerge that Thomas indeed had a connection to the Isle of Man. It’s the ‘how’ that is going to make this such a fascinating journey for 2019.

As is my preference, I began searching for British pedigrees and lineage books.After a couple of hours searching on Google Books, I found what I was looking for, which you will see below.

I began to build a Manx Christian family tree based on the pedigree chart below. If I’m going to disprove or prove Thomas’s ancestry, this was something that had to be done.

Note: to see larger images, click on the individual images.

Pedigree for the Christian Family of the Isle of Man:

Pedigree chart taken from: The History of the County of Cumberland: And Some Places Adjacent, from the Earliest Accounts to the Present Time: Comprehending the Local History of the County; Its Antiquities, the Origin, Genealogy, and Present State of the Principal Families, with Biographical Notes; Its Mines, Minerals, and Plants, with Other Curiosities, Either of Nature Or of Art, Vol. II, by William Hutchinson, 1794 – Cumberland (England) via Note the myriad of spelling variations for the Christian surname as you work your way through the pedigree chart.

The first thing to note is that Thomas doesn’t appear anywhere. No…I wasn’t going to get lucky like that. I didn’t expect to. Then again, there are plenty of gaps in this pedigree which focuses on detailing two specific Christian descendants: 1) those who inherited the family’s estates; and 2) those who married well and/or had notable descendants. In other words, not every child born to a couple had detailed descendants lines.

When choosing an anchor Christian to build a tree from, it made sense to begin with the gentleman below, John McChrystyn. My reason for starting with him was simple. He is the oldest known and confirmed progenitor of the Manx Christians.

The first three confirmed generations of this family only reference one child in each generation. I highly doubt that three generations of this family had only one child. The subsequent and better documented lines show anywhere from six to twelve children per married Christian family member – generation after generation. 

The image below depicts a fairly standard number of children people within this family were having:

The next two images illustrate some of the challenges of working with the Christian family pedigree.

In this image, we are looking at Ewan McChrysten, son of William. While he had 5 children, none of them are cited by name. Further online research hasn’t revealed any of his childrens’ names. Things like this are big research hurdles to overcome.

In this image, we are looking at the children of William Christian. In this instance, we know their names, but nothing further. While I have been able to find half of them via paper trails, the other half remain untraced.

Location, location, location

In the course of researching as many individuals cited in the pedigree chart as possible, new facts came to light. The Isle of Man was ground zero for the Christian Family from the 1300s onwards. However, from the early 1500s, the family branched out to Cumberland in England. In the early 1600s, they branched out further into London and Middlesex County, Lancashire (Liverpool), and Ireland. This means there are six places to search for Thomas’s parents. While I have a hunch that Cumberland and the Isle of Man are the strongest candidates for his origin story – I can’t discount London, Middlesex County, Lancashire or Ireland. Due diligence demands research in all six places.

What I was hoping (okay, praying) was going to be a relatively straightforward research project suddenly became more complex with so many widespread places to research.

A rose by any other name…

As I’ve mentioned, one thing became abundantly clear when I spent a few hours pouring over the above pedigree: only a fraction of this family was thoroughly documented in this pedigree chart. In other words, a picture began to emerge that it was likely that Thomas descended from a Manx Christian who wasn’t named in this pedigree. Or, he descended from one of the many males who didn’t have a lineage included in the pedigree. 

Where was the most likely place for Thomas’s ancestor to be? 

I began with his name: Thomas. This was a family who named their children for family members. So which Manx Christian line featured the name Thomas? In the above pedigree, the answer is simple…none of them. Thusfar, I have found six Thomas Christians born on the Isle of Man between 1400 and 1640. So far, Thomas wasn’t a common name in this family. His name wasn’t going to be a very useful clue, not where the family pedigree chart was concerned.

However, looking at the names of Thomas’s sons, they had names that repeated throughout the Manx Christian family: John and Charles. And, to a lesser extent, James. Edmund was a repeated name among Thomas’s Virginia descendants – and so it was among the Manx Christian family. 

There is one Manx Christian male name that was conspicuously absent for Thomas’s Virginia descendants: Ewan. Most of John McChrysten III’s (John III < John II < John I < William) descendants named at least one son Ewan; even his female descendants. Yet, there wasn’t a single Ewan among the Virginian Christians. This is another reason why I don’t believe Thomas descends from John McChrysten III, which the vast majority of trees claim. Clearly, there was a celebrated Ewan McChysten/McChristian/McCristen – a man of note. It’s surprising that the name didn’t travel with Thomas. It’s something this can’t be ignored or overlooked.

Still, I was left none the wiser as to where Thomas fit into the Manx Christian family tree.In this instance, using naming conventions as a genealogical clue was a big ole bust.

So, to get some ideas about potential couples to research, I peeked at some family trees once more.

Let’s look at the two men claimed by Thomas’s American descendants as being his father.

William “Illiam Dhône” McCristen

Approximately 90% of the online family my trees claim William McCristen is the father of Thomas. He had a son named Thomas, who was born in 1641 (Manx baptism record). 

Careful research would have eliminated him as a paternal candidate. I was initially suspicious due to the discrepancies in the years of birth of my ancestor Thomas, and this William’s son Thomas. Okay, no one seems to know when Thomas Christian was born. Considering the birth of his oldest known child, and his marriage, it’s believed Thomas was born closer to 1630 than 1640. There’s just no getting around that.

Secondly, William’s son Thomas is fairly well documented. For instance, he never stepped foot in the American colonies. It’s doubtful he ever left Britain at all. He was a very successful merchant and shipbuilder in Liverpool. He grew rich from trade, as well as building, owning and operating ships…and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Here is a snippet about William’s son Thomas.

The Thomas Christian born in 1641, son of William Christian, cannot be the same man as Thomas “The Immigrant” Christian.

Daniel McCristen

Next up is Daniel McCristen. Daniel has the distinction in around 10% of the family trees I have seen as not only being Thomas’s father – but the father of 5 Christian men who arrived in Virginia in the 1600s. 

Again, these trees have zero sources of citations to support this claim.

I don’t see how anyone could reach that conclusion. Nothing is known about Daniel’s life. No marriage record for him has been found online. Indeed, the only time I have seen his name has been strictly limited to this: simply as the son of John McCristen III. 

What I do know is this: Daniel had to have been born before his father died in 1511 (probate year, and given in his internment records). There is no way he could have fathered a child around 1630. It really is as simple as that. Daniel was another dead end.

So…where do we go from here?

With so many gaps and holes in this family’s history, there really is one thing to do. I’ll be spending a week researching them on the Isle of Man this year. I will digitize every applicable record, and build a more complete family tree for the Manx Christians. Truly, it’s the only credible way to crack this stubborn brick wall.

If I strike out on the Isle of Man, next up will be a trip to Cumberland. And, if that doesn’t yield an answer about Thomas’s parents, it’s a trip to the National Archives in London.

GA Live S02 E08: Special Guest Bernice Bennett

Episode 8: Bernice Bennett

Join Brian and Donya as we welcome a special guest, Bernice Bennett, to kick off our Black History month broadcast series.

Ms. Bennett is a genealogist, author, producer, and host of the popular Research at the National Archives and Beyond! BlogTalkRadio show. Her guests include nationally recognized historians, genealogist, book authors, and family researchers.

Ms. Bennett is also the recipient of the first Ida B. Wells Service Award from the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passages for her dedication to broadcast the stories about enslaved and indentured ancestors of African descent.

Join us on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 4pm via

Research case study: My lost connection to Thomas “The Immigrant” Christian of Charles City County, Virginia

If you have been a regular follower of my recent genealogy adventures, you will know the past few months have seen me eyeball deep researching my father’s ancient maternal roots along the James River corridor in Virginia. I have previously written about this journey in the article Ghosts in the DNA: The lost diversity of early colonial Virginia (

Unravelling this tale has resulted in some side journeys as I research the enslavers, and their enslaved people, who lived along the James River. Both the enslaved, and their enslavers, are my ancestors. Researching either group of people informs how I piece together a robust research strategy in order to reveal more of my family’s history.

My journey has brought me to the Christian family of Henrico, Charles City, Goochland, and New Kent Counties in Virginia. I initially thought this part of my journey was an off-ramp or a cul-de-sac. By this I mean that it would be an interesting detour with no real implications for my ancestry – apart from a select few members of the Christian family who enslaved my 3x great grandfather, George Henry Roane, his wife, and their children. It turns out that this road is far from being an off-ramp taking me away from my core James River genealogical research. Nope. I’m on a parallel road that will connect back to my main research at some point.

I’ll explain.

So how did I get on this side journey?

My paternal grandmother, Susie Julia Roane Thomas Sheffey’s, older sister, Ella Bates Roane, married Thomas Matthew Christian of Charles City County, Virginia. 

Thomas’s Christian family were descended from a long line of free people of colour. Thanks to tax records, land records, freedom affidavits filed at court (free people of colour had to go to court to prove they were legally free), probate records, court cases, etc I built out Thomas’s family tree. 

Digging around in my Christian family DNA matches, I found matches who were descendants of Ella and Thomas. And then I began to find Christian DNA cousins, black and white, by the dozens who weren’t descendants of Ella and Matthew. These individuals should only be relations by marriage. And, as such, we shouldn’t share any DNA as we have no common ancestors. Yet, there they were…and so many of them!! 

Added to Christians, I had strong matches on descendants from families close allied to, and entangled with, the Christians, and resident in the same counties I’ve cited: Minge, Shields, Collier, and Warren, to name a few of the families.

Somewhere, in my father’s maternal direct line, there’s a Christian family member. The natural, initial question was who?

Developing a research strategy

When it comes to cracking a nut like this one, a supremely old DNA cold case, an informed, robust, and resilient research strategy is needed. My research strategy looks something like this:

  1. Return and interrogate Thomas Christian’s ancestry for any families linked to George Henry Roane’s ancestry. I found one. There was a marriage between a Christian and one of the sisters of my 7x great grandfather, Patrick Henry (George Henry Roane’s great grandfather).While this marriage explained why I matched a handful of white Christian descendants, it couldn’t explain most of them who, on paper, should still have been relations through marriage only ;
  2. Determine if Thomas Matthew Christian’s line descends from the white, British Christian family (this is currently ongoing);
  3. Review my DNA matches to see how they stack up to George Henry Roane in terms of cMs and SNPs shared to triangulate generational difference (Ancestry DNA already estimated matches from the 4th to ‘distant’ cousin level). Working with this data helps me to visualize the different degrees of relations. This work also points the way towards identifying the likeliest candidate(s) for shared ancestry;
  4. Examine the other surnames among my Christian DNA matches, paying particular attention to surnames I know we’re allied to the white and black Christian families. This stage of the process enables me to focus on specific Christian lines that are the most likely to lead back to our common ancestor. For instance, Christians married Shields in Virginia after they started marrying Colliers. Indeed, Christians and Colliers were marrying each other back in the Isle of Man in Great Britain (it’s believed that this is where the Christians hailed from at the time they began to arrive in the Virginia Colony). Therefore, Colliers should match me at a closer generational level than the Shields;
  5. Identify which white immigrant Christian whose family tree I should build. Who was the most likely white, male Christian to be my ancestor? There were at least 5 British Christian men who landed in Virginia in the 1600s: Thomas, Charles, Gabriel, Richard, and William. Only Thomas was in the right place: Charles City County. The core first names used within Thomas’s white line mirrored those in George Henry Roane’s line in a manner none of the other white Christian families of Virginia did. I was willing to roll the dice and begin the task of tree building with his line;
  6. Re-examine what I knew about George Henry Roane’s life, interrogating every repository and archive I could think of for more documents and information for him; and
  7. Re-examine George Henry Roane’s lineage for potential clues.

George Henry Roane’s history provides an overlooked clue

This part of the case study should really have the subtitle There’s Something about George Roane. Just for the simple reason that there is something about this man. His story really has only barely begun to be told.

After Emancipation, he was a farmer. His sons, would go on to become a Justice of the Peace, another a policeman, yet another a councilman, and yet another a successful entrepreneur. These achievements played out during the early Jim Crow Era.

I returned to the Will of the man who was his second-to-last enslaver: Edmund Christian. Yes, you read that surname correctly! Christian

Edmund Christian’s 1851 Varina, Henrico County, Virginia Will and Codocil:

Note: The George named in this will is my 3x great grandfather, George Henry Roane, with his wife and children. The Susan that’s mentioned is Susan Price, who married my 3x great grandfather Patrick Henry Roane (George’s son. Patrick is named in this will too). 

(???)= word(s) that are indecipherable in the original document.
I Edmund Christian of the County of Henrico in the State of Virginia make and declare the following as and for my last will and testament.

I give to my daughter CHRISTIANA in addition to what she has under my feed of the fifth of January 1844 all that she may owe me at the time of my death and all the property in her possession which I purchased at the sale of her husband’s estate of at any time since.

I give to my granddaughter JUDY MINGE CHRISTIAN a little girl named CAROLINE and one thousand dollars and also any increase the said Caroline may have to my grandson EDMUND C MINOR a little boy named WILLIAM and to my grandson GEORGE G MINOR a little boy named HENRY; the said CAROLINE, WILLIAM, and HENRY being children of a woman named HARRIET. And I give each child of my son WILLIAM that may be living at the time of my death of born within ten months thereafter a slave as near as may be to the age of the child that the slave will belong to.

I give to my daughter EDMONIA the following slaves to wit: ELIZA, the wife of GEORGE, and their six children to wit: PATRICK, GEORGE, PRISCILLA, ANTHONY, EDMUND, and JOE, and also a mulatto girl named SUSAN and the increase of the females of any of the said slaves whether born before or after my death.

I give to my daughter CAROLINE the following slaves to wit: KELLY, HARRIET, ABRAHAM and FANNY, and the increase of the females of any of them whether of (can’t read) other than her husband or his representatives.

And in further trust that at any time before the same shall so devolve on such next of him, the trustees or trustee may (???) The said sums of twenty thousand dollars, or either of them or any part thereof in stocks or other property or (???) so investing may well The whole of any part of such stocks or property, and invest the proceeds thereof or any surplus interest of profits in other stocks or property or land (???) or such proceeds of surplus on good security and whatever may be so invested or so level-out shall be upon the same trusts that are before disclosed and these may from time to time as often as to (???) trustees or trustee shall seem advisable be unchanged in the more of investment or the whole of any part of the trust – subject – provided the proceeds be invested on the same trusts.

I appoint my son WILLIAM, my friend LOFTON A ELLIOTT and my son-in-law GEORGE G MINOR executors of this my will and direct that they shall not be obliged to give security. I also direct my estate not to be appraised.

In witness whereof, this will is signed by me this tenth day of March 1851, after first striking out on Page three the words “while he sometimes (???)” and the words ” or marriage ” and after investing in Page 2 the words “or profits thereof and on Pages 2 and 3 the words “or profits” in 3 places.

(Signed by Edmund Christian, with Seal).

The foregoing will was acknowledged by Edmund Christian in the presence of us who were present at the same time and subscribed this will in his presence.

P G Bayly
John D Warren [husband of Edmonia Christian, and the last enslaved of George and his family]
William G Warren
H B Tomlin

It is my desire that my daughter EDMONIA may take from the furniture that I may leave what furniture she may require for chamber furniture; and that my carriage and horses may be for the use of my daughters Edmonia and Caroline.

Though my servant GEORGE ROANE who has been in mindance of me will be subject to the management of my son WILLIAM, yet I wish him exempt – so far as practicable – from any liability to be sold for my son’s debts. George has been a faithful servant and I wish my son to give him annually about thirty dollars.

Signed by me this eleventh day of March 1851.

(Acknowledged by Edmund Christian and witnessed by the same men who witnessed his will).

I have read and archives literally hundreds of enslaved-ancestors Wills and estate inventories. I have seen enslavers leaving bequests to some of their enslaved people: clothing, tools, trinkets, etc. –  even freedom. But never money, much less an annual annuity. 

Note too how differently George was treated in comparison to Harriet and her family…All while remember they were both enslaved.

It’s worth noting that $30 in 1851 was a significant amount of money. To put it into perspective, $30 in 1851 is equivalent in purchasing power to $866.32 in 2019. Was Edmund making a provision that would have enabled George to buy his freedom, and that of his family? Possibly. While it’s an intriguing notion, I haven’t found anything to support that.

Just what the neck was going on here?

Quick back story: George, his wife Eliza, and their eldest son Patrick were sold by George’s grandfather, Spencer Roane, to Edmund Christian right before Spencer Roane quit Virginia for Tennessee with his wife Anne Henry, a daughter of Patrick Henry. 

I’ve thought that Edmund was chosen because he was a kindly man (ok this is slavery we’re talking about, so I’m not comfortable with the word ‘kindly ‘, but can’t think of a suitable word to use). However kindly Edmund may have been, I think Spencer Roane had another motive for selling his grandson and great grandson to Edmund Christian. I believe Spencer was sending George from his white family on his father’s side his white relations in his mother’s side.

Pay particular attention to the codocil. I initially thought George was left this because he was the great grandson of Patrick Henry, and the grandson of Spencer Ball Roane, who was a leading American political figure in his own right. These were facts everyone in George’s sphere knew. 

However, now I’m thinking Edmund left this annuity to George because they were related to one another.

Did George go from one enslaving family member he was related to to another?

Image showing the only places in my dad’s part of the family tree that could directly connect with the Christian family. I am specifically seeking a Christian family male at the 4x grandfather level, resident in Henrico County, Virginia, and old enough to have fathered a child around 1790, with biological ties to families like Minge.

While there are other lines in my father’s ancestry that could be hiding a Christian ancestor, it makes sense to begin this part of the journey within George’s immediate family. After all, he was enslaved by a Christian family member who made an incredibly unusual bequest in his Will. 

George’s paternal line is done. A question mark hangs over his mother, Elizabeth’s, maiden name. Was she Elizabeth “Betsy” Christian? If so, she could be Edmund’s sister, making George his nephew. It would explain dozens upon dozens of white Christian, Jordan, Fleming, Pleasants, Woodson, Shields, and Minge DNA cousins who are my 4th, 5th and 6th cousins.

Eight weeks of wrangling with cMs, SNPs, and records consistently brings the team to the man below, William Christian of Cherry Bottom in Charles City County, Virginia. The manner in which the DNA is stacking up points to one of his son’s being my missing Christian ancestor – the man who would be George Roane’s grandfather via his mother.

I’ve been doing this kind of research for a long time. I have learned to listen to, and respect, my hunches. These hunches rarely let me down. Eventually, one way or another, my hunches are usually proven to be correct. Different research methodologies and records keep leading me back to this family line.

William Christian married twice. I’ve already ruled out the sons he had with his second wife, Sally Atkins. They were simply too young to have fathered any children around 1790, when George Roane’s mother Eliza was born.

Researching his sons by Elizabeth Collier, I have ruled out all but 4: William “Wicked Willie”, Henry, Jones Rivers, and Edmund. 

Wicked Willie is proving the most likely candidate, albeit for fairly superficial reasons. Of the 4 brothers, Willie was the right age and in the right place at the right time. According to local history and lineage books, Willie had quite the reputation for hard drinking, hard living, partying (18th Century Style), and sleeping around. An unmarried man, prone to excessive drinking, with a property filled with young enslaved women doesn’t require much in the way of math. However, conjecture isn’t proof. 

Willie never married and left no known white children. If he had other enslaved children, presuming he is indeed the father of Eliza, I have yet to come across their living descendants in my DNA matches. This is an unfortunate wrinkle. To-date, the team has identified white enslaving father’s of my mulatto answers by comparing my DNA to that of their white descendants, alongside a paper trail.

The best we can hope to achieve is triangulating matches with the white descendants of his siblings, which is going to be tricky at best. It’s always best to compare DNA to descendants of the individual you’re looking at.

Going further back in time, my DNA trail leads back to Thomas “The Immigrant” Christian – a man who has presented a centuries old brick wall. I’ll be writing about the research I’ve been doing in the Isle of Man Christian family in my next article. Yes indeed, the team is trying to smash through this most stubborn of brick walls.


This is yet another example of why it’s important to use a well-researched paper trail with DNA. DNA alone could never answer the research questionof how, exactly, I connect to the Christian family. The best DNA can do is point towards specific avenues to research. There’s rarely an “ah ha, this is your ancestor” moment when it comes to DNA alone. Without a well developed and researched Christian family tree in Virginia, I wouldn’t have a clue about which ancestral Christian family line to interrogate further, much less specific individuals to research. 

If there’s any central message to be taken from this case study, let it be that. DNA is but one hand, a paper trail is another. Both are needed.

GA Live S02 E05: Writing your family’s history

Episode 5: Writing your family’s history

This week we discuss how to document your research. People don’t just use three ring binders anymore. The information is now place on the world wide web so all can see it. We are going to go in depth about writing a blog and book to keep your research handy and helpful for years to come.

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GA Live S02 E04: Lineage societies & poorly documented ancestors

Episode 4: Lineage societies & poorly documented ancestory

Have you ever tried to join a Lineage or Heritage society just to be turned away because you didn’t have enough documentation.This episode will focus on issues surrounding poorly documented ancestors and the need for more societies to accept and incorporate DNA research as part of the application process.

It’s not just prestige that gets people interested in joining lineage societies. Some societies have genealogical libraries that are only open to members (or only open for free to members). The opportunity to network with other people who have similar ancestry is also a benefit. There is also a very strong possibility of you meeting a genetic relative in a lineage society (someone who is descended from the same person as you), which gives you the opportunity to exchange family information, and maybe even discover new family artifacts, documents, records, and photos that you never knew still existed.

Other reasons for joining a lineage society include bringing awareness to the particular group or time in history that the society celebrates, participating in the society’s charitable endeavors (some engage in charity and public service, while some do not), getting that membership certificate for your wall, being able to contribute your own genealogy research to the society, the thrill of accomplishment when you are accepted as a member, and the opportunity to get out and socialize with people of similar interests to yours at meetings. Illustrating a far richer and diverse American history is also a benefit.

Last, but by no means least, understanding a society’s research requirements will introduce you to genealogical best practice when it comes to your research.

We apologize for the technical glitches in this broadcast.

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