Genetic genealogy, when used with a paper trail and critical thinking, truly can break through brick walls. If you’re also using DNA tests to confirm and/or discover family connections, this is another reason to have a number of people from your immediate family do the old spit or swab-in-tube thing.
Actually, the title of this post should have been finding my father’s and my sister’s connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair / Sinkler family. Their DNA tests have proved a long-held suspicion of mine. It doesn’t look like I inherited enough St. Clair DNA from my DNA test to prove it. That’s the autosomal DNA inheritance roll of the dice for you.
In my decade-plus-long ancestral journey, DNA testing has unlocked some surprising discoveries. It’s confirmed some things my family knew. It has also disproved other theories. One thing it’s proven so far is that my African-descended family didn’t take the names of enslavers they liked or who may have treated them ‘well’ within the American chattel slavery system. Nope, they took the surnames that were theirs through birthright. All of them.
My link to the St. Clair family is via my father’s paternal grandmother, Jane Ann White.
I was confident that my paternal St. Clair ancestors from Wytheville, Virginia were somehow connected to the European-descended St. Clair family that was spread throughout Virginia. This family also includes the Sinclairs and Sinklers. I will collectively refer to them as the St. Clair family.
The challenge was finding the European-descended man who fathered my ancestral line.
The St. Clair family was fairly straightforward to research. It’s a well-documented family. It all begins with Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair. Alexander was born in 1666 in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s the one thing genealogists and St. Clair family historians can agree upon. Some claim he was related to the St. Clair family of Rosslyn – you know, the family made famous in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The family who owns that marvelous and one-of-a-kind chapel. I’m a bit doubtful about that connection. However, I’m keeping an open mind. Some of Alexander’s direct male descendants have formed a DNA project to prove or disprove this claim (for more information about this project, please visit the St Clair family DNA Research project via http://www.stclairresearch.com)
What is known is that Alexander arrived in Virginia from Scotland in 1698. He sailed aboard the ship The Loyalty. He arrived as an indentured servant, serving a term of 4 years.
Alexander married Mary Wyman in 1706 in Stafford County, Virginia. Together, they raised a family of 10 children in Stafford County. The detective work would begin with tracing the male descendants of their 4 sons: Wayman, John, Robert, and George.
Around two-thirds of the Virginia St. Clair family had moved to Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky by the time Ann St. Clair, my 2x great-grandmother, was born in 1830. I had a drastically reduced pool of candidates to research. In the end, I had a baker’s dozen of St. Clair men who could have been Ann’s father. This was based on their ages. There was a problem. All of these men lived in the wrong part of Virginia. When it came to triangulation, they were a match. However, the team felt they were a generation or two distant from where Ann’s St. Clair father ought to have been in terms of shared DNA with my father and sister.
We began researching St. Clairs who lived a reasonable distance away from Wythe County. This search encompassed Grayson, Roanoke, and Augusta. I struck gold in the form of Alexander Robert St. Clair who was a resident of Staunton, Virginia. His children and their descendants were residents of Staunton and Roanoke. His sons were born within a few years of Ann, which automatically ruled them out. We struck pay dirt when the team triangulated the DNA tests from me, my father, and my sister against Alexander Robert St. Clair. When it came to my father’s and sister’s DNA tests, there was no doubt that he was Ann’s father. Shared St. Clair DNA matches began to pop up all over the place for my father and my sister (see the screen grabs at the end of this article). In terms of generational distance and shared DNA, they were as close to a perfect match as we could have wished for. That was one mystery solved.
Now, because this is me and my direct line, there were bound to be some wrinkles. When it comes to my genealogy few things are 100% straightforward. It’s a good thing I thrive on puzzles, mysteries, and challenges.
The mystery of Alexander Robert St. Clair
Alexander Robert St. Clair has been a longstanding mystery for St. Clair family researchers. It didn’t help that he switched it up between using the names Alexander/Alex and Robert. It took us a while to confirm that Robert St. Clair of Staunton and Alexander/Alex St. Clair of Staunton was the same man. While there has been a general consensus that he was a direct descendant of Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair from Glasgow, no one had any idea of how these two men were related. Alexander and Robert were very popular names in the family, which was one clue. However, this was far from being a definitive clue. Nor was it the best clue.
So it was back to the drawing board to determine who his father was. The team had accounted for 98% of the St. Clair men of Virginia and their descendants. Through a process of elimination, we arrived at George St. Clair I (1775-1831) of Botetourt County, Virginia. Triangulation and research pointed to George as the most likely man to be Alexander Robert St. Clair’s father.
Again, once the connection was made, shared DNA hints began to pop up for my father and my sister with other members of George’s family. His immediate family had connections with Botetourt and Smyth Counties (St. Clair Bottom) in Virginia. This group of St. Clairs in southwestern Virginia was displaced as a result of fierce engagements with Native Americans. Later incursions with Native Americans could explain why Alexander Robert resided at such a distance from so many of his family. Most of his brothers removed themselves to Jackson County, Missouri as well as Kanawha County, West Virginia. Two of his brothers left for Roanoke with Alexander Robert.
While I would still love to discover a paper document to confirm Alexander Robert’s connection to George, DNA will have to do for now. Too many documents have been lost or destroyed over time for us to ever be certain that any written document will ever be found.
Solving the conundrum of where Ann St. Clair was born
Another wrinkle was my 2x great-grandmother Ann’s cited place of birth. Her daughter, Jane (White) Sheffey (my great-grandmother ), cited Tennessee as her mother’s place of birth in 1870, 1880, and 1900 Census returns. Now, there is a St. Clair County in Tennessee. However, extensive research didn’t provide any connections between St. Clairs/Sinclairs who lived in that county and the St. Clairs of Virginia. To date, we haven’t found any St. Clairs who left Virginia for Tennessee between 1690 and 1820. To be honest, we’re not sure who that county was named for.
In the end, the team believes that Ann was born in Virginia, either in Staunton, Roanoke, or St. Clair Bottom in Smyth County. Perhaps St. Clair Bottom became confused with St. Clair County in Tennessee when it came to Ann’s birthplace. Closer inspection of the same information provided by Ann’s siblings (Robert and Phoebe) cite Virginia as their birthplace. To add an extra wrinkle, I can’t find Ann or her husband Cornelius in the 1870 Census. Ann had passed by 1880. There are no known death or marriage certificates for her. Her name only appears on her children’s marriage and death certificates. Why Tennessee was cited as her place of birth will remain a mystery.
Determining how I’m connected to the St. Clair family solved the mystery of why I was matching European and African-descended members of the Snodgrass, Feazel(l), Shirley, and Patterson families. These families were intertwined with the St. Clair family.
My sister’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry
There is one caveat with Ancestry’s Shared DNA hints. The accuracy/usefulness/reliability of these hints lay in how well-researched online family trees are. In the instances provided below, I will say that I’ve only used screen grabs from matches with well-documented source materials and citations. On the whole, these individuals and my research team used the same historical texts and published family history materials that have been scoured over for decades. The St. Clair branches of our family trees are perfectly aligned.
My father’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry
Ann St. Clair was my father’s great-grandmother. As such, he is one generation closer to her than me or my siblings. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that he would have a far greater number of St. Clair-related DNA cousin matches than either me or my sister.
The screengrab below is an important one. It not only illustrates Ann St. Clair’s connection to Alexander Robert St. Clair, it also illustrates Alexander Robert’s connection to George St. Clair I, and George’s connection back to Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair via Alexander “The Immigrant”‘s son, Wayman (Mary Shirley was Wayman’s wife).
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