When it comes to my British American ancestry, one of the most difficult challenges is separating fact from fiction, including misattributed parents. This article shows my research practice as I work toward uncovering the truth about an ancestor’s parentage.
I have a gentleman in my ancestry who has caused me, and the whole Genealogy Adventures team, one enormous headache. He is my 6x great-grandfather Reuben Holloway. He falls on my mother’s maternal side of the family tree. His story is typical. While we know quite a bit about his life in Edgefield County, South Carolina, we know little about his life before he arrived in that county. We know nothing about his childhood.
The problem with Reuben has everything to do with correctly identifying his parents.
Years and years ago, when I first discovered I was a direct descendant of Reuben and his wife, Peninah Jordan, I came across a Holloway family lineage book that claimed Reuben was the son of David Holloway (1664-1732) and Elizabeth Frances Matthews (1671-1736).
David and Elizabeth were born and died in Charles River, York County, Virginia. Like any genealogy newbie, I was naïve. I figured every lineage book had been vetted and was correct. And, yes, that dozens upon dozens of Caucasian family trees couldn’t possibly be wrong. So I duly added David and Elizabeth as Reuben’s parents and didn’t think anything more about it.
Then I took an autosomal DNA test. Yep, Pandora’s box was opened!
Reuben was one of the first people I wanted to check to see if I shared DNA matches with his other descendants. I did. Around two dozen of his descendants appeared as distant DNA cousins. With cMs in the 3.5 to 3.9 range, in terms of generational time, these DNA cousin matches lined up perfectly. Triangulating DNA segments with some of these descendants who were kind enough to let the team work with their DNA results, as well as my own results, sealed the deal. However, all of these DNA matches ended with Reuben and Peninah. I had zero matches for descendants of David Holloway. I did, however, share DNA with David’s descendants through his wife, France Elizabeth Matthews. The reason was simple. Elizabeth Frances was an ancestral cousin via my mother’s Matthews/Mathis family. The lack of matches via David really made the whole team scratch its head. There were questions after questions after questions.
Further DNA work, which required us to drop matching cMs down to 3.0 cMs, revealed that David was indeed a cousin. However, the matching cMs were small with regards to his Holloway descendants. Tiny, actually – ranging from 3.0 to 3.3 cMs. Dropping cMs this low is contentious; and rightfully so. When you drop cMs this low, you run a very high risk of getting false positive DNA match results. However, when you are looking at common ancestors who lived in the early-to-mid 1600’s, you have to work with small DNA segments. Nevertheless, you really need to understand what you are looking at in terms of tiny DNA segments in order to gauge if that small matching segment is correct and/or relevant. This is what I (heavily) rely on my genetic genealogists to determine.
The common ancestral link between myself and David goes back at least another two generations. One thing became immediately apparent: David and Elizabeth Frances couldn’t be the parents of Reuben. Instead, David Holloway would have been Reuben Holloway’s cousin. In all probability, they were second cousins. That is where things seem to stand at the moment
So…once we ruled David and Elizabeth Frances out as the parents of Reuben, there was one question left. Who were the actual parents of Reuben?
In the course of doing deep research on Reuben’s origins, we stumbled across an old Holloway lineage book Genealogy of the Holloway Families written by Dr Olin E Holloway which was published in 1927. This book is available for research via Ancestry.com. Naturally, we eagerly dove into the book in the hopes of finding Reuben. We found plenty of Reubens…but not my 6x great grandfather. However, what we did find was highly illuminating. With regards to the Holloways detailed in this book, Reuben was far from being an uncommon name for a specific Holloway family group. Which was telling. It was telling for a simple reason: there weren’t known Reubens in the David and Elizabeth Frances Holloway line.
I have a quick caveat. While there are small errors in the book regarding the spelling of some names, and other small errors, the lineages covered in this book have been correct. At least so far – and we’re two-thirds of the way working through this book. Countless records support the information Dr. Olin Holloway uncovered in the course of his research.
A few things became clear. The Holloways in the book arrived in the American colonies as Quakers, which is what we expected. So that was some good information to confirm. These Holloways married into the same Quaker families who figure so largely in my family’s ancestry, families such as Heald, Harlan, Ewing, Poole, Hollingsworth, Hoopes, and Mendenhall. While this was good to confirm, the genetic genealogists groaned. This line too had centuries of heavy endogamy, or generations of cousin marriages within the Quaker community, stretching all the way back to northern Ireland, and then further back in the western shires of England and Wales. There was also pedigree collapse. With all of this shared DNA going back centuries, DNA segment work was going to be far, far, far from easy. To give you an idea, I match one descendant of Reuben and Peninah on 11 different chromosomes. This means we share more than one set of common ancestors. Most, if not all, of these matches will be the Quaker families we share in common. Applying ancestral family names to each matching segment is going to require a herculean amount of painstaking work.
The other thing that became instantly clear was the first names used by the Holloways in this book. Certain names leaped out. I had seen them widely and commonly used in my own Edgefield Holloway family on both the black and white sides of the family. The work began in earnest to uncover who Reuben’s parents might be.
While the rest of the team tackled reading through the lineage book, I began to dig into my Holloway matches on AncestryDNA, Genebase, Gedmatch, and FamilyTreeDNA. One gentleman continued to surface among many of my confirmed Holloway DNA matches: George Holloway I, who was born in Burlington County, New Jersey at some time around 1710, and who died in Brunswick, York, Virginia in 1778. Now for the tricky bit. There are as many George Holloways who were born around 1710 living in Virginia as there are grains of sand on the beach. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, there are times when that’s exactly how the team feels. This makes it a hard name to research.
The second issue we faced is the wife of this George Holloway, Ruth Woods, who was also born around 1710 in Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, and died in 1776 in Burlington, New Jersey. The problem with Ruth is straightforward. Some of my DNA matches, including my sister, have DNA cousin matches with Ruth’s Woods family. Others do not. At present, it’s 50/50 between those who match her descendants and extended family and those who do not. I fall into the category of those who do not show any matches with her family. It’s the ole autosomal DNA inheritance lottery. This is why you should test as many family members as possible. At the moment, I’m hoping my maternal aunt’s DNA results (which I am impatiently waiting for) will seal the deal. Just a note: everyone matches Ruth’s husband, George.
So, while we await the results of my aunt’s DNA test, the team is also investigating George’s brothers as the possible father of Reuben…just to be thorough. There should be a classic genealogy hashtag, something like #NoStoneUnturned!
At the moment, we know we are looking at the correct family group where Reuben is concerned. There are two misgivings. The first is that Reuben is never mentioned in any of the probate records found to date for Ruth or George. The second? We can’t find a baptism record for him in York or Brunswick Counties in Virginia. Basic things like these always make me uneasy.
Let’s back up for a minute. We know that Reuben arrived in Edgefield County, South Carolina from Virginia. We know he married Peninah Jordan in Brunswick County, Virginia in 1764 via their marriage records. Their three eldest children were born in Virginia, which we confirmed through baptismal records. They were in Edgefield County by 1773, where their daughter, Keziah, was born.
Reuben didn’t arrive in Edgefield alone. He removed himself from Virginia with a whole host of Holloway cousins from Virginia just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. If George and Peninah are truly his parents, Reuben would have also arrived in Edgefield with some of his siblings. Again, this all initially points to this specific group of Holloways as being Reuben’s immediate and close kin.
On the up-side, my sister and I, as well as other DNA cousins, are matching descendants of George Holloway’s parents (John Holloway and Mary Pharo), as well as John Holloway’s parents (Thomas Holloway and Anne Gartery), and Mary Pharo’s parents ( James Farra/Pharo and Mary Ann Murfin). As we dig more deeply into this branch, another picture is coming into focus. As much as this family group married into known and confirmed ancestral Quaker families – it also married into Quaker families neither I nor my researchers have ever come across before in the course of our research. Tracing these new Quaker family lines back anywhere from 5 to 8 generations show no known connection with the Quaker families my Harlans and Holloways married. In short, these new Quaker lines are stand-alone lines with no known links to any other families in my tree. We hope these stand-alone ancestral lines will help in the DNA segment-matching work that needs to be done.
While we have answered some questions where George is concerned, much remains to be done. Hence the caveats we have put in George’s Ancestry.com profile.
This is a practice I wish more online genealogy service users would do. Yes, others will blindly add people with question marks into their tree. However, as genealogists, all we can do is be transparent and state that there are questions about a person’s parentage.
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