Genealogy Adventures

Endogamy: Or how an entire county can be related

Wikipedia defines endogamy as:

…the practice of marrying within a specific social group, class or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships…Certain groups, such as Orthodox Jews adhering to endogamy in Judaism, have practised endogamy as an inherent part of their religious beliefs and traditions.

Endogamy features heavily in my family tree. From my Quaker and Jewish ancestors, to the big enslavers who formed the American South’s elite, to my ancestors of more modest means who lived in rural areas…cousins married cousins for centuries. My Pamunkey ancestors also weren’t averse to marrying cousins to help support and maintain peace.

Continue this practice of cousin marriages for long enough, and if you remain in the same county as your ancestors, it doesn’t take long – 2 to 3 generations – for most, if not all, of a county to be related. Let’s take a look at a purely illustrative example from the Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina. And let’s say each of the 4 topline endogamous groups depicted married cousins within the same family group for 300 to 400 years (this isn’t as much of an exaggerating as you might think!).

In this example, we have Robert and Janie. Let’s say that Robert came from the northwest quadrant of Old Ninety-Six while Janie was born in the northeast quadrant of Old Ninety-Six. These two share common Williams and Brooks ancestry, which makes them cousins. For this example, let’s make them 3rd cousins (e.g. they share common sets of great-great grandparents). Robert is a white enslaver who was deeded Janie, a mulatto, from his mother’s estate, sending her from the northeast part of Old Ninety-Six to the northwestern part, where Robert lived.

They, in turn, have children, who are now related to 4 endogamous family groups that now cover the entirety of northern Old Ninety-Six. Let’s take this one step further. Whether white, black, or mulatto, the people in the 4 endogamous groups had, on average, 10 children each. And that’s not as far fetched as it sounds. My ancestors were a prolific people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status. Those 10 kids married, and had 10 children of their own, making 100 children between them in the next generation…who would go onto have 10 children each themselves…and so on and so forth down the generations. Their descendants moved about and bought land, or were enslaved, throughout Old Ninety-Six; taking their endogamous mix of DNA with them when they moved, or were taken, to a different part of the region.

More often than not, they either married cousins who also moved around in the region, or married into family groups as endogamous as their own. In no time at all, relatively speaking, you have an entire region with complex, overlapping, genetic interrelationships. In short, they are all cousins.

You end up with a region of people who are related to one another to various degrees. This quick example illustrates how my Edgefield County (carved out of Old Ninety-Six) cousin Donya and I are related to one another in 6 or 7 different known ways. And we know that we will share even more common ancestors as we continue to research our enslaved ancestors’ journies and histories which began in colonial Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, and ended in Old Ninety-Six inSouth Carolina.

This will influence your genealogical research; especially your genetic genealogy experience. The article Concepts – The Faces of Endogamy https://dna-explained.com/2017/03/10/concepts-the-faces-of-endogamy/ provides some in-depth guidance for working with endogamous populations.

In my next post, I’ll cover how endogamy occurred within enslaved populations held in bondage by the same family through multiple generations…with implications for you to consider.

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