In this article, I will be posting about another range sequence for my mum’s mtDNA. You will see a summary explanatory section about mtDNA at the bottom of this article.
To my fellow Old Ninety-Six County, South Carolina cousins, this is the female line this DNA covers:
My mum < Pauline Matthews < Gertrude Harling < Aurelia Holloway < Amanda Peterson < Violet Williams < Moses Williams, Sr’s unknown first wife (not Mariah Stallsworth).
My mum’s mtDNA: Range 16051 to 16519
Note: Please click each image to see a larger version.
Genebase uses an analytical comparison measurement called RMI,which you will see in the numbers provided in the bar graph images below. RMI (Relative Match Index) is a measure of how closely your Y-DNA and mtDNA haplotype matches those of a defined population group as compared to all other population groups in the comparison. For example, a RMI of 100 means that you are 100 times more likely to belong to that population set as compared to the rest of the populations.
In the images below, Mutation = 0 is a perfect match / Mutation = 1 or more means a mutation has occurred in the comparison mtDNA matches.
So…there’s quite a bit to take in. And this only covers another short range of sequence ranges for my mum’s mtDNA! Feel free to ask questions! I appreciate this takes a while to wrap one’s head around. Dorothy, are definitely not in autosomal DNA territory any more!
A quick reminder about mtDNA
Just so we all know what we’re looking at, here are some illustrations of mtDNA:
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is the small circular chromosome found inside mitochondria. These organelles found in cells have often been called the powerhouse of the cell. The mitochondria, and thus mitochondrial DNA, are passed only from mother to offspring through the egg cell
As you can see, mtDNA looks very different from the 23 chromosomes that form autosomal DNA (the DNA you inherit from both parents).
I’m fast on the genealogy trail of my Welsh ancestors. This involves families like Cadwal(l)ader, Evans, Jones, Matthews, Price and Pugh.
Map showing the geography of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula with Cornwall and Wales in western and southwestern Britain.
Looking at my DNA matches for others with these families, I kept seeing trace DNA from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). I made a mental note of this, but it certainly wasn’t anything in the forefront of my mind.
My own Iberian results are minuscule.AncestryDNA doesn’t show it all. Genebase puts it at 0.7%. FamilyTreeDNA estimates it at 0.5%. And various Gedmatch DNA analytic tools puts it between 0.3% to 0.9%. Let’s agree on one thing: it’s tiny. Really, really tiny. I wrote it off as being part of my ancient DNA. It may not be quite as ancient as I assumed.
I’ve come across some interesting articles and books about the genetic composition of the Welsh. Needless to say I learned something new about the Welsh.
I’d always thought that the Welsh were a Celtic people. That’s what I’d heard for the 30 years I’d lived in England. The story goes something like this: the Welsh were the original inhabitants of the British Isles. They were pushed back into present days Wales after a steady stream of invaders: the Anglo Saxons, followed by the Normans. However, there was an even older arrival that had a direct impact on the original Welsh. The Celts.
The first article I came across is an antiquarian piece. And I should caveat this by saying that there is some ethno-centric language and prejudices expressed within it. Long story short, the Anglo-Saxons believed themselves to be superior to the Celtic-Iberian Welsh. This superiority was used to justify their dominance over the Welsh. It’s more than a little racist when it comes to speaking about the Welsh and their Iberian forefathers. Some things never change. Nevertheless, it’s worth reading to gain a basic insight into the geographical movements of older Welsh peoples within Wales as different conquering groups came to occupy their lands:The Athenaeum: Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, Volume 2866:
Again, there are plenty of respected primary sources online which provide a history of the Saracens and the Cornish.
I mention this because the Saracen’s trade wasn’t limited to Cornwall or neighbouring Devon. They traded with the Welsh…and the Iberians, introducing their DNA to southwest England and to Wales. The article Genomic signals of migration and continuity in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons (via Nature Communications via http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10326) touches on ancient Middle Eastern DNA within the British population.
So why is there only a trace amount of DNA? I have a few hypotheses. I’m doing a fair bit of reading to see how accurate or not this theory is. My Welsh ancestors tended to marry within the same families. Yep – a whole new batch of cousin marriages. These cousin marriages go right back to the 1100’s. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that half of these ancestors carried small amounts of Iberian DNA. That DNA continued to be passed back and forth, just enough being preserved through 20 or so generations to come down to descendants as trace amounts of Iberian DNA.
An illustrative example showing how inherited DNA segments become shorter as they are passed down from generation to generation. In this example, let’s say the pink regions in the image above are Saracen. Let the 100% Saracen segment represent a Saracen ancestor. Working from left to right, let’s say this ancestor married a Welsh Celt (illustrated by the blue). His or her descendants would be 50% Saracen and 50% Celtic Welsh. The Saracen reduces over time within each subsequent generation.
As for the Saracen? This could explain the trace amounts of Middle Eastern DNA results that pop up in my Welsh DNA cousins’ test results. Probably for the same reason as Saracen DNA does. This too requires more reading and research.
Those trace amounts of Iberian is beginning to make sense.
When it comes to my genealogy adventures, more often than not, I feel like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot when it comes to uncovering the identity of missing ancestors who lived in the 17th, 18th and early 19th Century. Paper trails invariably run out, especially when it comes to my ancestors who were either working class whites, blacks, mulattos, Native American, or free people of colour. There are various reasons for this. Either records were lost, destroyed during times of upheaval (i.e. Revolutionary War, Civil War, Bacon’s Rebellion, etc) or were lost due to things like courthouses burning down. Given the remote areas some of ancestors lived, records may have never been produced at all. Or, if enslaved, full names weren’t provided. Or, due to ethnicity, they weren’t seen as people.
DNA testing is one key to uncovering the identities for ancestors where paper documents never existed, or no longer exist…or have yet to be digitized. The process of DNA triangulation is key to this process:
Triangulation for autosomal DNA is kind of a chicken and egg thing. The goal is to associate and identify specific DNA segments to specific ancestors. The easiest way to do this, or to begin the process, is with known relatives. This gets you started identifying “family segments.” From that point, you can use the known family segments, along with some common sense tools, to identify other people that are related through those common ancestors. Through those matches with other people, you can continue to break down your DNA into more and more granular family lines. (DNAeXplained, “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA” via https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna)
Regular readers will know I’ve developed a talent for triangulation over the years. In truth, much credit goes to my team of genetic genealogists who spent long and patient hours explaining how genetic genealogy and triangulation work; and mentoring me through my first forays into triangulating with my own DNA.
I’ve saved one of the most challenging triangulation tasks for last: discovering the father of my 2x great grandmother, Selinda Futrell, born about 1842 in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina. This falls on my mother’s side of the family tree.
There are a couple of phases when it comes to organizing how I approach working with DNA and vital documents identifying a parent, or parents, for an ancestor. I’m still very much in the early phases with Selinda.
A preliminary to Phase I
Let’s start with her mother, Melinda, whose name appears as Melinda Futrell in official documents. Melinda was born around 1824 in Northampton County, North Carolina. The first question I had to tackle was whether or not Melinda was a Futrell by birth, or was it a name she assumed after Emancipation. In short, what was her connection to the Futrell name?
The three documents I have for Melinda, including the 1870 Census, cite that she is black. All three documents are consist in this fact. There is nothing to-date to indicate that she was of mixed race. Now this could be for one of two reasons: either she was born of mixed parentage and simply didn’t appear to be. Or, as I strongly suspect, she wasn’t born of mixed parentage. I am satisfied on the score that she was not a Futrell by birth.
Melinda’s children, on the other hand, are consistently cited as being mulattos. All of them. Which indicates that, unlike Melinda, her children had a white father. Given some 20+ DNA matches with white Futrells and Futrell descendants with roots in Northampton County, North Carolina, the team and I are very confident that man was a Futrell. This would explain Melinda’s adoption of the Futrell name, which she passed on to her children.
This is a prelim into Phase I.
Phase I: The Futrell family tree
So, the preliminary to Phase I was all about determining if Selinda Futrell was indeed a blood relation to the Quaker-descended Futrells in Northampton, NC.
Phase I, which is still ongoing, requires me to do a full and thorough work-up on the Quaker-descended Futrell family tree. This is easier said than done. I’m not going the lie. The Futrells are a nightmare to research.
Let’s just start with the surname. When it comes to misspellings and variants of the name, it’s in a league of its own: Fewtrell (the old English spelling of the name), Futral, Futrill, Fetral, Tutrill, Titrill, Futrelle…the list goes on and on.
Then there are the beloved family names that were commonly used among numerous branches: Shadrach, William, Charity, Daniel, John, Nathaniel, and Mary, just to cite a few. Online family trees are aren’t an option – too many have confused or merged individuals who borne the same first name and were born within a few years of each other.
The one book I hoped to get a hold of, 12 Northampton County, North Carolina Families Bridgers, Daughtry, Futrell, Jenkins, Joyner, Lassiter, Martin, Odom, Parker, Stephenson, Sumner, and Woodard by Rebecca L. Dozier is no longer in print.
But then, as luck or providence would have it, I discovered a second book: The Futrell Family Revised by Roger H. Futrell (available to read and/or download via: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE99258) This book has been an absolute godsend. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we couldn’t have done an accurate family tree without it.
The book allowed us to ramp up Phase I, and begin Phase II.
Phase IIa: Eliminating and shortlisting paternity candidates
The 18th and early 19th Century Futrell family is huge. The family was not only prolific, it produced an unusual number of male children generation after generation.
At the moment, we’re just shy of 60 Futrell men born between 1650 and 1820. In order to have the fullest list of possible paternity candidates, we’re required to try and trace as many descendant lines for Thomas “The Immigrant” Futrell (born 1659 in Shropshire, England, lied for a period in Surry County, Virginia – and died in 1693 in Bertie County, North Carolina). Once this has been done, we can begin to specifically look at Futrell men who were old enough, and resident in Northampton County, NC prior to Selinda Futrell’s birth in 1842.
I don’t know if ‘luck’ is the right word, but I’m going to use it anyway. As luck would have it, around two-thirds of the Futrells who were in North Carolina had moved to Trigg and Christian Counties in Kentucky by 1814. Why is this lucky? These Futrell men are automatically eliminated as possible descendant lines who could have fathered Selinda and her siblings. These Futrells didn’t moved back and forth between Kentucky and North Carolina. Once they arrived in Kentucky, that was it.
We next looked into the proximity of Futrell men to Melinda and her family in Rich Square. There were a dozen or so men of the right age either living in Rich Square. Another 8 Futrell men lived within a day’s horse ride away from Rich Square. Then there was the extended family group of Futrells who lived in Onslow County, NC.
Next we looked at which Futrells owned slaves. This ruled the Onslow County group of Futrells out almost immediately. None of them had enslaved people.
This, again, helps us narrow the field of identifying the best, most likely paternity candidates on paper before we begin using DNA to triangulate.
After eliminating so many Futrells from consideration, we are left with a few family lines to investigate more closely:
Male Futrell descendants of John W Futrell (1715-1788) and Martha “Polly” Daughtry;
Male Futrell descendants of Benjamin Futrell (1720-1790) and Mourning Smith; and
Male Futrell descendants of Thomas Futrell III (1713-1770) and Elizabeth Dickinson.
Work continues in investigating these three family groups.
Phase IIb: Wills and probate…and more Wills and probate
Wills and probate records are a vital – and rich – source of ancestral information. On the one hand, they provide the names of surviving family members, including grandchildren (e.g. I bequeath to my grand-daughter Hezekiah Heathcock, the daughter of Anne,…)
Next, Wills and probate are important for my Futrell ancestry for another reason. Wills and probate tells me who held enslaved people and who did not. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule. My formerly missing German-American Sheffey 4x grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, was the only 18th Century Sheffey to not own slaves. However, his brothers did. Yet, as far as DNA is showing, only John Adam Sheffey seems to have fathered children with Jemimah, an enslaved woman in the household of his brother Maj Henry Lawrence Sheffey. Slave ownership isn’t always a reliable factor when it comes to determining paternity.
For the Futrells who held enslaved people, the names of the enslaved are cited in their Wills. It is actually possible to follow the trail of the enslaved from generation to generation through subsequent Futrell family Wills.
Using an example, let’s say Futrell #1 had an enslaved woman by the name of Amey. She goes from him to his son, Futrell #2. Next, we might see in Futrell #2’s Will that Amey and her children, Patsy and Shadrach, pass to his son, Futrell #3. Not only can I track Amey, I can now see that she has two children. Further Wills will provide further clues and information about Patsy and Shadrach.
The above is an illustrative example. The Will of Elliot Futrell below, is a real-world working example:
I’ll go ahead and say. Creating family trees from Wills is a strange and unsettling business. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself to it. With that said, it is a critical skillset to acquire when it comes to genealogy.
As part of my genealogy practice, I add this information my Ancestry.com family tree for the respective individuals who held and inherited enslaved people. I do this in the hopes that it helps other African Americans researching their own family trees. I include the names of the enslaved and how that individual came by them (i.e. inheritance or purchase) with links back to the original course. The two images below show my working practice using the Will above:
The image above shows notes I add to respective Ancestry.com pages to track the movement of enslaved ancestors from generation to generation.
Now, in the instance above, I don’t know if any of the enslaved people cited are part of my Futrell family’s story. However, they willbe part of someone’s family story. So many have helped me along my way in my adventure, it would be churlish for me to not pay it forward.
Phase IIc: Identifying Futrell DNA segements
While I grapple with the traditional genealogy required in Phases IIa and IIb, the team is working on identifying my Futrell DNA segments and the Chromosome(s) associated with this segment or segments. While I’ve become adept at this part of the process, it is time consuming. And, in this instance, exceedingly tricky due to endogamy (cousin marriages, in short). I’m going to say it: the professionals are far quicker at this than I am!
This final phase will do one of two things. It will either identify the father of Selinda Futrell and her siblings. Or, it will narrow the search down to a single family group, a father and his sons, in other words. Most of the time, we get a solid hit and there’s no doubt about it. Other times – and this is largely due to endogamy – we can only narrow it down to a father and/or his sons.
For example, it’s not unusual in my family tree for two brothers from one family to marry sisters from another family – and both sets of couples were cousins. Add the fact that the parents of the 2 brothers and 2 sisters were 2nd or 3rd cousins. Nothing skews DNA triangulating quite like this. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Less frequent is a father and a son marrying a mother and a daughter from another family, who may or may not be related to them.
Part of Phase III includes me relaying any possible DNA overlaps back to the genetic genealogists. For instance, the Quaker descended Futrells married Outlands, Exums, Vinsons and Lassiters quite often In Northampton, NC. I know already that I have Lassiters and Exums in Virginia on my father’s side of the family. I also have Outlands from Pennsylvania and Virginia on both my parents’ ancestral lines. Regardless of which colonial territory or State they lived in, these Outlands, Lassiters and Exums are part of the same family. Add in the Quaker White family, which links all of these families and more…and you have some tricky triangulation to do.
This information is crucial for the genetic genealogy team to reduce the risk of them arriving at a false positive. They need to find ‘pure’ lines – lines that don’t share common DNA with any other, in order to successfully identify Selinda Futrell’s father. We use this as a benchmark against which we compare every other line.
Each Futrell line will be examined individually to see which one matches me closer, in terms of generation, than any other. For instance, if all of my DNA matches are at the 5th, 6th and 7th cousin level, save one that matches me at the 4th generational level or less – the most recent shared match is the one we need to investigate more closely. The identity of her father rests on Futrells who match me more closely in terms of generational distance than any other Futrell descendant line.
Normally, we’d also rely on the length of DNA segments shared, and the number of segments shared, between me and my Futrell DNA matches. However, because of cousin marriages, I already know we’ll share more DNA in common than is typical for 4th to 8th cousins. As an example, I have a Quaker cousin in Pennsylvania who Ancestry.com suggests is a 3rd cousin. We know a number of the ways we’re related, which makes us 5th, 6th, and 7th cousins respectively (due to endogamy within the colonial Quaker communities, we share at least 6 sets of common ancestors). We share a crazy amount of DNA segments for two people whose common ancestors lived between 1660 and 1770. It’s not Ancestry.com’s fault, it can only go by what the genetic numbers are telling it.
Yep, I know, it sounds like a whole lot of work to identify one ancestor. It’s what you do when the paper trail runs out.
And why spend so much time and effort to identify a father-owner ancestor? I’ll touch on that in the next article.
I never get tired of saying that it’s been the women in my family tree who have revealed my most profound and memorable genealogy surprises. This shows no signs of abating. Yet another lady in my tree has revealed something remarkable.
I discovered a new Martin family line when I began triangulating my DNA results in order to identify the white father of my enslaved 2x great grandmother, Margaret Clark (please see the image above). Mary Martin is part of Margaret’s enormous white Fugate-Clark family.
As soon as I saw the surname Martin, I was all excited. I have a sizeable group of Quaker Martins in my family tree. While they were largely based in Chester and Delaware Counties in Pennsylvania, there were members of this Quaker family who migrated to Baltimore County, Maryland. They also spread out throughout Virginia. Naturally, I was keen to connect Mary Martin to the other known Martin branches in my family tree.
The problem was, I keep coming across a Mary Martin, born in Baltimore County, Maryland, who was always described as being ‘part-Indian’. There were no references to this Anglo-Native American Mary being a Quaker. Nor were there any indications that her father’s Martin family were Quakers. If anything, her family were Anglicans. So, I dismissed her. And began to get more than a little annoyed because this Mary that I kept coming across wasn’t the Mary I was seeking. At one point, I just looked at my laptop and said “Enough already. You’re someone’s ancestor to be sure. But you’re not my ancestor! Please get out of my way!”
I became so frustrated that I made the decision to put Mary Martin on the back burner.
Two days after I made that decision, a DNA cousin, whom I will call Mike, reached out to me on Ancestry.com. He said he had some family history information about my Fugates and Clarks – and would I like to chat on the phone about them? Like I ever need an invitation to talk about family history stuff.
I phoned him in due course and he picked my brains about what I had uncovered at that point in my research. Naturally, I relayed my frustration about the difficulty I was having in researching Mary Martin. He laughed out loud.
“You mean you don’t know about Mary?”
I told him that I knew about the Mary who was part Native American…and that I knew nothing about my Mary, who would have been a Quaker.
Mike laughed out loud again. And then proceeded to tell me that I had already found the right Mary Martin. The Mary Martin who was the ancestor of Margaret Clark wasn’t a Quaker. The Mary Martin in my tree was the grand-daughter of Pocahontas.
My reply was classic, and worthy of Larry Wilmore: Whaaaaaat? Wait, what!?! Can you say that again, one more time?
Mike thought that was hilarious. He then sent me some links to some essential reading just to seal the deal.
To put this into perspective, my Sheffey line is the one family line I have that never, and I mean never, laid any claims to Native American ancestry. No quiet whispers. Not even a murmur. No family rumours. No family myths or legends. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Turns out, it’s the one family line with a verified, bona fide, Native American Ancestor. And it’s Pocahontas to boot. She’s my 12x great grandmother via Ka Oke “Jane” Powhatan, her daughter by her first husband, Kocoum.
I had to phone up my genetic genealogists in the UK. My question was pretty straightforward. I have such a negligible amount of Native American results in my DNA, it’s pretty much non-existent. Naturally, I wanted to know how this was possible. Could this mean that maybe some of the family stories about Native Americans in the other branches of my family weren’t bedtime stories after all?
The team explained a fairly complex theory about Native American DNA inheritance. Basically, whatever Native American ancestry I have was so far back in time that only a minuscule amount is present in my autosomal DNA results. It’s called the “Wash Out” theory. Apparently, it doesn’t take very long for Native American DNA to wash out of DNA results when it comes to non Native Americans. That’s the grossly simplified version. The article NATIVE AMERICAN DNA Is Just Not That Into You (http://www.rootsandrecombinantdna.com/2015/03/native-american-dna-is-just-not-that.html) delves into this in far greater detail.
The second strand of my conversation with the genetic genealogists had to do with DNA sampling from Native American tribes. They weren’t sure what percentage of Native Americans have undergone DNA testing. Which meant that were unsure about the size of DNA population data sets the big DNA testing services use to determine a person’s admixtures. Put another way, AncestryDNA, for instance, may not have a large Native American DNA data set to match DNA test results against. If it doesn’t then there really isn’t much Native American DNA to compare test results with. The American Indian and Alaska Native Genetics Resource Center website (http://genetics.ncai.org/tribal-enrollment-and-genetic-testing.cfm) is an excellent place to learn more about this subject.
This part of the tree takes us from Mary Martin (Margaret Clark’s 4x great grandmother) back to Pocahontas. Click for a larger image.
As soon as I connected Pocahontas to Margaret Clark on my Ancestry.com hosted family tree – the AncestryDNA shared matches shaky leaf hints started popping up – seemingly all over the place.All of a sudden, family names like Bolling, Rolfe, Pugh, Lewis, Powhatan, and Pettus made sense. I could see who our common ancestor was. All roads lead back to Pocahontas. And to Varina in Henrico County, Virginia, where a number of Pocahontas’s Anglo-Native American descendants resided.
My father’s enslaved maternal Roane family was also based in Varina. My 3x grandfather, George Henry Roane, married Susan Price, who is beginning to look like a Price by blood. The white Price family in Varina claimed descent from Pocahontas via Thomas Rolfe, the son she had with her husband, John Rolfe. If true, this would also make Susan Price her descendant.
So it looks like Pocahontas isn’t done with me just yet.
That’ll teach me about making assumptions when I’m looking for ancestors.
My head is still spinning a bit. Taking three of my ethnic groups into account – African, European, and now Native American – I have DEEP roots in America. My Goins/Gowing and Cumbo ancestors are believed to have been among the “Twenty and Odd” Africans who were taken from a Portuguese slave ship and indentured in Virginia in 1619. My West family were among the European founders of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. And Pocahontas puts my ancestry in America before the arrival of Europeans.
As I mentioned to my nephew, our family is about as American as it gets.
Hot on the trail of discovering the most likely paternity for one of my paternal 2x great grandfather, Cornelius White of Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia…I’ve smashed yet another brick wall for a 2x great grandparent in Wytheville.
Another very length spell of DNA triangulation has provided a strong indication of the man who fathered Margaret…Randolph Fugate Clark. Like Cornelius White, this result isn’t 100% definitive. Again, it has to do with a high degree of endogamy in the European-descended Clark family line. No. Seriously. First-cousin marriages, two brothers from one family marrying two sisters from another family…and those sisters were their cousins…
This meant that quite a few Clark lines share an unusual amount of common DNA. What clinched it for Randolph, in the end, was the number of DNA segments I share with his descendants, and the length of those segments. Family Wills, which read to track the movement of slaves within this family, also lead to Randolph being the most likely Clark male to have fathered Margaret.
And then matches like these began popping up on my AncestryDNA account.
Now, the hunt is on to determine the identity of Margaret’s mother, who will be one of 5 women mentioned in relevant Clark family Wills and estate inventories.
The paternity of my 2x great grandfather, Cornelius White, has been a mystery ever since I began my ancestral journey in 2010. All I had was the usual information that could be gleaned from online record sources. He was born about 1829 in Virginia, either in Wythe, Smyth or Augusta County. He married Ann St Clair, who was born in Tennessee. Together, they raised a small family in Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia.
The only census return I could positively associate with him was the 1880 Census, where he, Ann, and their small family is listed. I had hoped to find him in the 1865 Cohabitation Records for Wythe County. Neither he nor anyone else from his immediate family were listed in this invaluable African American genealogy resource. Nor could I find them in Smyth County, another central location for my extensive extended family. Frustratingly, similar records for Pulaski and Augusta, additional counties that feature largely in my southwest Virginia family’s history, have either been lost, destroyed or undiscovered. So I put Cornelius on the back burner. I’d return to him from time to time – only to put him back on the back burner. I just couldn’t make any headway with him.
I continued my overall genealogy research, on a county-wide level, adding more extended families into my tree. At this point, I have most of late 18th Century to late 19th Century Wythe, Smyth, Pulaski and Augusta county family groups in my tree.
Thanks to endogamy (where groups of people marry amongst themselves, creating one large extended family group over time), I’m related to most of the people in these counties – black, white and Native American – with pre-1900 roots in these counties through a succession of cousin marriages from the early 1700s onwards.
This beautiful region of Virginia is nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s sparsely populated even to this day. Before the automobile, it would take a day or more to walk from town to town in this region. So you tended to marry who you knew, which was going to be someone in the same community. Which meant you either married a cousin of some description. Or you didn’t marry at all. I’d imagine that newcomers, who mixed the gene pool up a bit, were feted. I went through something very similar when I moved to a fairly isolated part of Cornwall in southwest England. I was single at the time and invited to every manner of dinner party, church gathering, local dances, parties and saint festival days you could imagine…with single daughters, grand-daughters and nieces being introduced to me left, right, and centre for the first two years I lived there.
Around 18 months ago, an interesting picture was beginning to emerge where Cornelius was concerned.
Both Cornelius and his wife Ann had something to do with Colonel James Lowry White (1770 – 1838) of Staunton, Virginia. Ann, I believe, was owned by James White. James was the Rockerfeller or Vanderbilt of his day. He was one of the richest men in America with vast business enterprises, land holdings and slaves in Tennessee (Knox County, Ann’s place of birth), Alabama (Huntsville, Madison County), West Virginia and Virginia. For now, Ann’s trail has gone cold. A trip to Tennessee will hopefully reveal more information about her and her immediate family in Tennessee.
Cornelius was a different prospect. I just kept returning to the notion that Cornelius and James were blood relations. James White fathered one known child by my enslaved 3x grandmother, Elsey George (wife of Jacob Sheffey). Could he also be the father of Cornelius? I wouldn’t have been surprised. I kept looking at the year Cornelius was born (1829) and the year James was born (1770)…and a father-son relationship just didn’t seem likely. I shouldn’t assume that, I know. I have distant relations who were still fathering children in their 60s, 70s and 80s. And looking at his family tree below, he was clearly still having children by his wife at the time Cornelius was born.
Could these two men be a grandfather and a grandson? That seemed the most likely prospect. I can’t explain it. It felt right.
It was time to delve in to the DNA matches I had on Ancesty, FamilyTree DNA and Gedmatch.
Endogamy, endogamy, you will be the end of me!
The first hurdle I was face with was this: a descendant of the old Quaker White family who had originally settled in Cumberland, Pennsylvania, James Lowry White was already my blood relation 3 different ways:
My mother was a descendant of the same family via her Quaker Harlan lineage;
My father’s maternal Roane ancestors shared common Parke, Dandridge, Henry and Carter ancestors with the James’s maternal Lowry ancestors; and
A marriage between James’s half-sister Margaret and my 5x great uncle, Major Henry Lawrence Sheffey, meant an entire Sheffey line were also shared blood relations between us.
So, in his own right, James was already a cousin twice over – as well as my great uncle. He was also a relation through marriage. Let that one sink in for a minute. That is the joy of endogamy. So, no matter how I looked at it, all of his descendants were going to be my cousins. So how was I going to crack finding Cornelius’s father if James and all of his son were already my cousins?
All of their lines were going to be genetic matches to me.
DNA triangulation was going to be the key
DNA triangulation. So what’s that? In autosomal DNA testing, triangulation is the term used to describe the process of reviewing the pedigree charts of people who match on the same autosomal DNA segment(s) to see if a common ancestor can be found. The technique is best used in conjunction with chromosome mapping. It is a long, long process requiring meticulous attention to detail, care and copious notes.
Triangulation has helped me identify a number of white men who had children – and indeed whole second families- with enslaved as well as free women of colour in my family.
This time around, I knew I couldn’t look at any of the men in James’s tree because they were all already related to me. I had to look at the women who married them and research their families.
First generation descendants of Colonel James Lowry White. Click for a larger image.
Looking at the abridged family tree above…there were quite a few sons with wives who required researching. Triangulation was going to take some time. In this instance…18 months!
The reason why it has taken so long is I had to go back anywhere from 5 to 8 generations for each woman who married into the family in order to be certain that I wasn’t genetically connected to any of them. If I was related to any of these women, triangulation wouldn’t produce the result I needed. In other words, I’d get a false positive as a result.
So let’s start with James Lowry White II’s mother, Ann Marie Lowry.
I wanted to start with Ann Lowry to see if I had any matches on her maternal line. I couldn’t look at her paternal Lowrys. I already knew I shared their DNA. I had to look at her maternal Boggs line. As far as I am aware, I only have 1 line of Bloggs. Sure enough, there they were in my DNA matches: Boggs from her mother’s side of the family. This put all of Ann Lowry’s sons, including James Lowry White, in the frame. The only way I could have a combination of White, Lowry and Boggs matches would be via a son, who would have passed DNA from both parents down to Cornelius, who passed enough of this DNA down to me for me to have strong autosomal DNA matches.
However, just to be certain that I should only be looking at the sons of James, I researched the families of Colonel James White’s sisters in law (James II’s aunts) and came up empty handed. I didn’t share any matches with the names in their trees. Now, that could be because none of their descendants have taken DNA tests – or at least not with AncestryDNA. That’s always an option. Or they haven’t uploaded their results to Gedmatch or FamilyTree DNA. Or not enough of this DNA has been inherited for a positive result.
However, thanks to being active on numerous Virginia genealogy-based Facebook groups, I know of descendants from these allied families who have taken DNA tests. Armed with Gedmatch kit numbers to compare, we quickly confirmed that we didn’t share any DNA. I feel safe to say that while I would be a distant relation to these people via marriage, we are not blood relations. Not through their maternal lines, at any rate.
At this stage, I was confident that I had eliminated Colonel James White’s nephews from the list of paternal candidates for Cornelius.
Next, I began looking at Colonel James White’s sons. One of them would be the strongest candidate to be the father of Cornelius.
I eliminated half of them almost immediately. William Young Conn White I died in infancy, so it wasn’t going to be him.
James Lowry White II was a strong candidate, as were his brothers William Young Conn White II, and Francis Smith White. All of the remaining brothers would have been too young to father a child in 1828/29. Out of 9 brothers, I had whittled the list of candidates down to 3.
As soon as I began researching James Lowry White II, my heart sank. It was my worst nightmare. His wife, Margaret Rhea Preston, wasn’t just a cousin to me…she was a double cousin. I’m related to her on both her Rhea and her Preston lines.
Undaunted, I continued.
I began working on William Young Conn White II’s wife’s family. It wasn’t long before I hit shared families with her paternal and maternal lines in Pennsylvania, Ireland and Scotland. She was another double cousin. I remember looking out my window and muttering “Are you kidding me?” I was seriously ready to walk away from the whole thing at this point.
I turned to Francis Smith White. He presented another kind of difficulty. I found very little information about him in the official records or the Virginia genealogy books that form the core of my trusted genealogy research resources. I wasn’t overly dismayed about a lack of results for Francis. Born in 1814, I felt that he to would have been quite young to have fathered a child in 1829. Not unheard of, but quite young nonetheless.
With two White family wives turning out to be my double cousins, I was going to have to tackle this from a different direction. I was going to have to compare degrees of genetic separation between me and the descendants of James White II and his brothers.
I began comparing degrees of estimated relatedness and the amounts and lengths of DNA segments that I shared between the descendants of James II and the descendants of his brothers. My matches are between 1 to 2 generations closer when it comes to James II’s descendants when compared to my matches with his brothers’ descendants. I share more, and longer, DNA segments with James II’s descendants.
The long and short of it is that James Lowry White II is my prime candidate. However, I have to acknowledge that his brothers William and Francis could also be Cornelius’s father.
I know, it seems an awful amount of work to do to not arrive at a definitive answer. Sometimes in genealogy – and especially genetic genealogy – there isn’t a clear cut answer. Not when you have endogamy in just about every corner of your family tree. All you can do is eliminate the impossible and/or improbable and keep chipping away at the probable until you arrive at what will be the most likely result.
That’s all I can do until a death certificate surfaces for Cornelius. That is, if one exists. If he died before the turn of the 20th Century, there most likely won’t be one. The other possibility is that if a death certificate does exist for him, it won’t necessarily follow that the names of his parents were provided. I could be facing my even older nemesis: ‘parents name unknown’. It’s always worth remembering that such records are only as insightful as the information an informant provided at the time.
At least AncestryDNA offered a kind of consolation prize: 2 shaky leaf hints related to Cornelius. These appeared 48 hours after I placed James White II as his father. One hint shows that James II is a common ancestor between me and another of his descendants. The second showing James II’s father, Colonel James Lowry White, is the shared ancestor between me and one of his daughter’s descendants.
That’s about as good as it’s going to get for now!
This exercise is adding more information about the names freed slaves took after Emancipation. So far, the majority of my formerly enslaved ancestors took the name of their blood relations. They didn’t just adopt a name they liked. Or pull one from the galactic ether. Which, of course, makes we wonder about the handed down notion that freed slaves chose family names of owners they liked or felt had been kind to them. Or merely because they liked a name. If only a handful of my ancestors had randomly chosen names like that, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. My DNA results are suggesting something fundamentally different.
Interesting too are the minority of my ancestors who could have taken a surname based on a blood connection to a family who owned them – and didn’t. A small percentage of those we’re aware of didn’t simply because they either didn’t like, or didn’t want to be associated with, the paternal European-descended side of their family. Instead, they opted for another kinship-based surname.
Ok, so I’m known for having picked apart quite a few online DNA analysis tools and services. This is especially true when it comes to my African-related results. So it seems only fair that I share some kudos.
I don’t know what’s been happening over at the Columbia University DNA analysis project, DNA.land…but it looks like the team behind this project have been very busy bees indeed. I, for one, am very, very pleased with the increased accuracy this free service now provides. By and large, it is beginning to reflect the results I received via the paid testing service, Genebase. It’s also substantially more accurate than the results provided by AncestryDNA as far as my African genetic ancestry is concerned.
In its first incarnation, my African genetics were the standard West African and Bantu-speaking. I’m proud of my 8% West African and Bantu speaking genetic heritage (via Genebase). There is a huge difference between being 8% of something and 60% of something.
Now my DNA.land results look like:
The West African results can be more accurate. I know that some of what is being classed as West African here is actually Tuareg and Berber. I’m pretty confident that if DNA.land continues to tweak its datasets, that these parts of my African genome will begin to emerge. At the moment, my guess is that my Berber results are hidden under the Lower Niger Valley category. I suspect that some of my Tuareg results are lost under this heading as well.
However, keeping things positive, ‘East Africa’ finally makes an overdue appearance.
As for that 1.2% ‘Ambiguous’? That’s where some of my Sephardic Jewish and Middle Eastern results are.
And for my family, let’s not get too excited about the Native American heading. Native American results on any of the DNA analysis services I’ve used remain at 0%. The 1.3% shown here actually represents Amer-Indian genetic matches from Central and South America. In other words, this has more to do with the pre-historic Eastern nomadic migration into the Americas thousands of years ago.Sorry guys! No Cherokee or Powhatan to be found. This may be due to genetic wash outs…or all those tales amount to myth (Finding Your American Indian tribe Using DNA: https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/31/finding-your-american-indian-tribe-using-dna)
There are a few things to remember when using DNA analysis services and free analytical tools:
Your results will depend on the amount of DNA that the service or tool you’re using has sequenced. Don’t think that your entire YDNA, mtDNA or autosomal DNA has been sequenced…unless the service you use guarantees this. If you’re paying anything less than thousands of dollars, trust me, only a portion of your genome has been sequenced.
Few DNA testing services are transparent about how much of your genome has been sequenced and analyzed. The more that’s sequenced the better the analysis. It’s a pretty simple equation.
Free DNA analysis tools tend to use free DNA datasets produced by 3rd paties. The quality and accuracy of the data sets used are beyond their control. These data sets are produced by 3rd parties who are not answerable to the services who use them. If this particular topic interests you, you should surf on over to Berkeley’s Drosophilia Genome Project via http://www.fruitfly.org/sequence/human-datasets.html )
DNA anlysis is an evolving science. As more global populations undergo DNA studies (and their results are added to data sets), and as science continues to finesse its understanding of the development and evolution of admixtures, dataset accuracy will continue to improve.
Take early results as an indication of the global cultures you might be connected to. These results will not be definitive. See Point #4.
I caught up with some of the geneticist team who were going to be a part of my first proposed television series the other day. Skype truly is a wondrous thing! We chatted about my YDNA Haplogroup, E1b1a1a1f1a. There’s something about this haplogroup in particular that has confused me.
To recap for those of you who are new to genetics and genetic genealogy, a haplogroup is a term scientists use to describe individual branches, or closely related groups of branches, on the genetic family tree for human beings. In theory, all members of a YDNA haplogroup (passed from fathers to sons) can trace their ancestry back to a single individual until we reach a theoretical genetic ‘Adam’, the father of every male on the planet. Women have a genetic ‘Eve’, the point of origin for human mtDNA (passed from mothers to daughters).
So, we had a chat about good ole E1b1a1a1f1a. In order to have an informed discussion, I gave them access to my Genebase account. Genebase is the DNA testing company I used to test the full sequence of my YDA. It’s worth noting that other, more commercial, DNA testing companies test only various parts of YDNA and mtDNA. I needed full sequencing done as a basis for my TV series.
Let’s take a quick look at the information they needed which formed the basis of our discussion. To be 100% transparent, we stripped out all non-African DNA from the results. I only wanted to look at the African part of my YDNA, which was the bit that was causing me all kinds of confusion.
My YDNA sequencing:
This is a partial snapshot of my YDNA sequencing results from Genebase, with various genetic mutations marked. Click for larger image
At this point, Tim, one of the geneticists (and he also happens to be an anthropologist) said that he saw something interesting – something he hadn’t noticed before when we were planning the TV series. But he wanted to wait a bit until he mentioned what it was. He wanted to see if the other two people on the Skype session would notice the same thing.
Before we went there, we looked at the cultures and tribes I’m genetically linked to via my YDNA. You can see this in the two images below:
African tribes my YDNA links me to based on my DYS19a, DYS389i DYS389ii DYS390X DYS391 DYS393 YDNA markers. You can also see some of the tribes and cultures I’m genetically linked to at genetic distance of 2. Click for larger image
Image showing my DYS385a, DYS385, DYS392, DYS393, DYS456, GATAH4 marker results. Click for larger image
You’ll notice a neat little phrase in the the images above. It’s Genetic Difference. “Genetic distance” is the number of mutation “steps” or mismatches between any two individuals. “0” is a perfect match, “1” is a one-step mutation, etc. The more mutations, the longer the probable time period since the most recent common ancestor.
So, based on the last two images above, I am closely matched with the Akele and the Punu in Gabon as well as the people of Oman. I’m also closely matched with Egyptians. The second image is unusual in that it (currently) connects me to Egyptians and no other culture or tribe.
Let’s look at where the Akele and Punu are found in modern Gabon:
Ethnographic map of modern Gabon. Bakele=Akele and Bapouno+Punu. Click for larger image
The Punu (also referred to as Bapunu and Bapounou, are a Bantu speaking group from Central Africa. It’s one of the four major peoples of Gabon, inhabiting interior mountain and grassland areas in the southwest of the country, around the upper N’Gounié and Nyanga Rivers. Bapunu also live in parts of the Republic of the Congo. Punu traditions record a migration from the south sometime before the 19th century, as a result of wars somewhere between the Congo and Niari River.
The Kele people (also referred to as Akele, Bakele, Dikele, and Western Kele) are also an ethnic group in Gabon.
Now the 3 chaps I was chatting with took one look at my Haplogroup and responded along the lines of “ok. African Haplogroup. It get’s lots of traction in Central Africa, particularly in and around the Congo region.”
That’s when I asked them to look at the people I’m linked to (Akele, Punu, Omani and Egyptian).
This is the point when Charlie and Rob chimed in, almost in unison. “Whoa, wait a minute, E1b1a1a1f1a is really rare in Gabon. This doesn’t make any sense”. I laughed at this point and welcomed them to my world of confusion.
It turns out that E1b1a1a1f1a is rife with confusion (oh lucky me!). This Haplogroup is a fairly recent classification. As more human populations undergo DNA testing, the more we understand about YDNA, mtDNA and the haplogroups they have been assigned. Which is a good thing. It’s worth remembering that Genetic genealogy and commercial DNA testing are still in their relative infancy. Further research and testing means a more refined understanding of genetic inheritance. It means a more finessed understanding of us – human beings. What’s known and understood now will undergo refinement down the road. We’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding the human evolutionary history. There is so much more yet to be uncovered, much less understood. It’s worth remembering that too.
I say this to highlight the point that there is only a basic understanding of the E1b1a1a1f1a haplogroup. E1b1a1a1f1a is linked to western Central Africa. It is rarely found in the most western portions of West Africa. It is, however, prevalent in Nigeria and parts of Gabon (The Bantu expansion revisited a new analysis of Y chromosome variation in Central Western Africa. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1365-294X.2011.05130.x). It’s also closely linked to eastern and southeastern Africa (Eritrea, Somalia, etc), where one group of geneticists believe it originated. There is another genetic school of thought that states that E1b1a1a1f1a’s origins are Levantine (basically, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt).
If the scientists can’t agree, what’s a poor genetic genealogy adventurer to do?
So this is where Tim chimed in. He’s the one who noticed something unusual in my YDNA sequence: “Anyone else notice the DYS391P mutation?”
My partial YDNA sequence with the specific mutation the geneticists were discussing.
The other two men’s reactions were priceless. Charlie: “What, what?, back up a minute”. Rob: “Yeah, we need to back up for a sec. How did that happen?”
At this point I laughed and just said “You tell me, you’re the scientists”.
Direct ancestors & genetic cousins
A map of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The blue areas are the ones I cite in this post. The pink areas are also in other parts of my YDNA sequencing at a genetic distance of 1. As you’ll see, Gabon is notable by its geographic distance from everywhere else I have a genetic link to at a genetic distance of 1…which raises the fundamental question: How did that happen? Click for a larger image.
Rob and Tim got into an interesting conversation about my haplogroup and the very specific mutation within it. Both made a good point. I’m genetically connected to a staggering number of African tribes. Rob and Tim pointed out that I will be a direct descendant of only a few. All of the others would be genetic cousins. At a mutational difference of 1, the Akele, the Punu, and the Omani are the best candidates for being my direct ancestors.The Egyptians are too. They are just an older direct ancestor pool. At the moment, we’re speculating that all of the other tribes and cultures with a genetic distance greater than 1 would be genetic cousins. In other worlds, I’m not a direct descendant of them. We share a common ancestry further back in time. That time frame could be a few generations (prior to my unknown ancestor’s enslavement and transportation to the United States) for some, to centuries for others…to millennia.
All 3 surmise that at some point within the last 1,500 years or so, an east African man, with Arab male ancestors, carried my YDNA, with a key mutation, into north Africa and northwest Africa. This tallies with the other cultures and tribes in my YDNA, namely the Berber and the Tuareg. At some point, one of his male descendants, a Berber-Tuareg man with this haplogroup and DNA, settled in what’s now present day Gabon.
That’s not surprising. Africa has truly ancient trade routes. And where there are trade routes, there are people. Where there are people, DNA gets exchanged and admixtures arise. The following scientific paper, suggested by Charlie, made for some insightful reading into this specific subject: Sacko, O. Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture: Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania (http://www.kyoto-seika.ac.jp/researchlab/wp/wp-content/uploads/kiyo/pdf-data/no39/oussouby_sacko.pdf)
To shed some light on this, you’ll find some images that show ancient African trade routes.
East Africa trade routes:
A map showing ancient trade routes from east Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and beyond. Is this how these regions contributed to my YDNA? click for larger image.
Intra-African Trade routes:
Map showing ancient trade routes within Africa. We know my YDNA travelled from East Africa to Northwest Africa along the North African Mediterranean Coastline. Is the route shown at the top of the image the way it travelled across northern Africa? click for larger image
Once established among either the Akele or the Punu, this ancestor’s male descendants married and produced offspring who melted into the surrounding tribal landscape. At some point, one of his male descendants was enslaved and sent to America. That’s the theory my 3 colleagues presented in the end. Much more DNA testing needs to be done on African populations to better understand the evolution of present day African admixtures and history. Significantly more DNA testing needs to be done. I offer this exchange:
So what’s common and what’s not when it comes to African Admixtures?
Charlie: “Brian’s haplogroup and this mutation just aren’t commonly seen in Gabon.”
Tim: “How do we know that? Science has barely scratched the surface when it comes to African DNA. We just don’t know. I don’t. Maybe it is rare. Maybe it isn’t. We just aren’t in a position to say what is or isn’t common with African DNA. What I will say is that I find this very, very interesting. It’s something I want to spend some time looking into.”
Charlie offered an interesting and plausible insight. He suggested that perhaps the ancestor who was abducted and then sold into slavery was specifically chosen because it was known that his family wasn’t indigenous to Gabon. They may have been part of the Akele and Punu for only a few generations. If his family had a falling out with a rival family or clan, that’s all it would take. The Akele and the Punu were both heavily engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. So they had the means and the connections to abduct and then sell a perceived ‘other’. Considering what’s happening all around the globe right now, this scenario isn’t just conceivable, it is highly probable.
When it comes to African American ancestry, what’s ‘normal’
Rob asked an interesting question: “Do you guys think Brian’s sequencing is common or uncommon in African Americans?”
I beat them all to the punch with a simple question: “What’s considered ‘common’ when it comes to African American admixtures?” I was asked to clarify the question, which I duly did. I pointed out these numbers from the last US Census:
1) 45,672,250 or 14.3%: Black Only or Black in combination with another race;
2) 42,158,238 or 13.2%: Black Only;
3) 42,316,387 or 13.3%: ‘Black Only’ or ‘Black in combination with another race’ (non-Hispanic); and
4) 39,528,225 or 12.4%: Black Only (non-Hispanic)
This doesn’t cover those who self-identify as black and Hispanic, etc – or those who don’t even know that they have an African descended ancestor.
It’s believed that 1 million Americans have taken DNA tests.I haven’t found any reliable statistics that show how many of these DNA test takers are African descended Americans. I suspect that the number of African Americans who have taken DNA tests is a very small percentage of that overall 1 million figure. Infinitesimally small. Statistically speaking, not large enough to make any qualified statements.
This happens to be a huge bugbear for me. There are shows that make assertions like: most African Americans don’t have Native American ancestry, or, if they do, that African Americans ‘usually’ have X amount. Or, that few African Americans are 100% African in their ancestry. Or, that any given African American will have Y% of European ancestry or SE Asian ancestry… the assertions go on and on. If this subject interests you, Tim recommended an excellent article: The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans (http://materiais.dbio.uevora.pt/MA/Artigos/Genetic_Structure_and_History_of_Africans_and_African_Americans.pdf)
Now, if 10 million African Americans were to take DNA tests, then we’d have a significant DNA data set to begin making generalized DNA-based statements. Today? We’re working in a dark room without any windows or light. Just a single candle. That’s just not enough illumination to make any kind of definitive statement. Sorry, but I am stickler for such things.
The same is true of African DNA. We just don’t know if the prevalence of any given genetic admixture is typical or atypical. We know more about how DNA travelled from eastern Africa to China than we do about how it travelled from eastern Africa to all other points in the African continent. The remoteness of some tribes is a barrier to large scale genetic testing. Then, there’s the climate: arid and acidic soil conditions – as well as extremely moist environmental conditions – which aren’t conducive to preserving human remains, much less fragile DNA. Such finds would enable science to study the ancient roots and migrations across Africa of the ancient peoples who gave rise to the modern day tribes we see today. Then there’s the question of where to look for ancient remains to test, and then compare to modern day tribes. Africa is a huge continent. Looking for this is like looking for a needle in one huge haystack. Science has some real barriers when it comes to the genetic testing of African populations.
I was pretty pleased when all 3 men agreed that there is a need to stop asserting what’s typical when it comes to the DNA of African descended people.
Tim asked my opinion about whether or not I believed that the vast majority of American slaves came from western Africa. I didn’t hold back. Given the number of slave ports on the western African coast, one could assume that a significant proportion of slaves sent to the United States probably did come from the western African coastal region. What that number would actually be is just a guess.
And me being me, I went one step further with one of my analogies: New York City is an enormous port. Every manner of products and goods are shipped from, or flown out of, New York City. It is one of America’s exporting hearts. Not every single product or goods shipped out of New York came from New York or was produced in New York. They come from all four corners of the United States. It would take close inspection of export documentation to determine what percentage of good shipped from New York City actually came from New York, or the surrounding Mid-Atlantic or New England states. One could assume what percentage of these came from this region. Maybe you’d be right. Maybe not. Only research could reveal what’s correct and what isn’t.
The same holds true for African American genetic genealogy as well as African genetic studies. For the time being, I don’t think anyone really knows. This needs to be understood and accepted. We just don’t know. I appreciate that’s a hard thing to hear. I say this to myself each and every day to manage my own expectations.Enslaved African ancestors could have come from pretty much anywhere in the African continent.
For the time being, I take my genetic results as an indication. No more and no less. My YDNA test indicates that I’m a direct descendant of an African man with an interesting Arabian Peninsula-East African-North African-Akele-Punu admixture. How he got that admixture is anybody’s guess. When that admixture occurred is anybody’s guess. And as more African people have their DNA tested and studied, this picture will hopefully become more finessed. Hopefully, the missing puzzle pieces will fall into place.
My geneticist friends are troopers. Bless them, I’ve hit them with a barrage of questions. None of the questions I’ve asked are easy to answer. Thankfully, they find them really intriguing questions that have piqued their interest. I ask questions because I want to know. *smiling* and I can’t begin to tell you how badly I want to know. Are the Yoruba my first or second cousins, genetically speaking? Are the Fulani my second cousins or third cousins twice removed? Are the Baka something like a 10th great grand uncle?
I want to tackle this basic and fundamental set of questions before I even begin to think about how I’m genetically linked to everyone else in my YDNA – Central Asian, Persian, Sephardic Jewish, SE Asian, Korean and European.
To do the kind of genetic genealogy adventure TV series that my heart of hearts wants to do – we definitely need to figure out this smorgasbord of YDNA.
There’s a practical reason for wanting to know. I share my finds with my wider family, who find all of this fascinating (to various degrees). When you tell your family members you’ve found a new cousin, the first question is usually a simple one: how are we related? In straightforward genealogy, you can show them a family tree and walk them through the connection so they can see it for themselves.
I’d love to be in a position to do this with the global tribes and cultures we’re linked to. That’s the one thing I can’t do at the moment. And yes, I want to know for me. *grinning* For once, I can make this all about me. I want to know. I want to know where these different global groups of people fall on my YDNA tree.
I’m going to open with an apology. I know I’ve been very, very quiet lately. Since September, I’ve been busy helping my nephew and his lovely wife take their fashion design business and their new online fashion business course to the next level. Like any new job, there’s just not enough hours in the day. The upside is I get to work with family; especially the younger generation of the family. And that’s always a good thing!
This hiatus is probably coming at the right time too. It’s always a good thing to take a step back from genealogy from time to time. To re-group as it were and assess research avenues old and new. There is one story that’s been on the backburner for a while. That’s the story of Josiah Harlan, an American Quaker who was created a prince of Afghanistan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Harlan) . Yep, you read that correctly: an American Quaker who became an Afghani prince. My Harlan ancestors are the gift that just keeps giving.
In the meantime, I’d like to share an interesting New York Times article I just finished reading this morning: Meet Your Cousin, the First Lady: A Family Story, Long Hidden: DNA Gives New Insights Into Michelle Obama’s Rootshttp://nyti.ms/MgqzpT
It’s a story of the First Lady’s new-found connection to white cousins she never knew she had. And vice versa – her newly discovered cousins had no inkling that they were related to African Americans. It’s a great story about genetic genealogy, a subject you know I’m interested in. DNA has enabled me to discover the identity of a number of white men who fathered a number of my direct mulatto ancestors.
There is one sentence in the article that really stood out. It was a quote from one of the First Lady’s white cousins: “You really don’t like to face this kind of thing.” She’s referring to the fact that a white ancestor owned slaves and fathered children by one of them. It’s such a decidedly American response – as peculiar as the institution of American slavery itself (and I use the word ‘peculiar’ in its original context, and not the context in which it has become known today). I struggle with the idea that something that is so straightforward should be so complicated. Then again, I’m the archetypal Aquarian – Spock on Star Trek is a perfect example.
I’m not going to diminish the subject of consent, even in a master-slave context. Until relatively recently, whether you were black or white, free or enslaved, women in America were owned and controlled by men. They had zero control over their own lives, much less their own bodies. It’s worth remembering that. I just wanted to get that subject out of the way.
So I’m not dismissing the myriad of ways in which white men fathered children by black women and women of color. It was what it was. That’s another conversation for another day. Rather than get lost in the angst of this, I’ve meet my newly found white cousins as family: be it online or in person. There’s no blame or recriminations or expectations around how we came to be related. I don’t think along those lines. Instead, I think of it like this: It’s kind of like being adopted and discovering who you are and who you’re related to for the first time. It’s like finding missing puzzle pieces to your identity. As far as I’m aware, because this has always been my mindset when it comes to my family history, it’s been incredibly easy for me to get to know these newly found cousins. Actually, it’s been a joy.
I recognize distinct family traits when they chat about their side of the family. I can say to myself “so that’s where my family gets it from!” I was almost fated to be a lover of politics. I’m descended from a staggering number of US Governors, Congressmen, Senators and State Representatives. I was almost fated to be a global traveller; I follow in the footsteps of a number of ancestors who trekked around the globe. I don’t apologize for being a free-thinker; I follow in the footsteps of some renowned free-thinkers and philosophers. My resilience? I am the son of colonial pioneers as well as free and enslaved people of color who survived and fought to make something of themselves. As for a being a lover of liberty? I’m the child of 3 signers of the Declaration of Independence and numerous Revolutionary War heroes and heroines. DNA was the lock that opened the window into a previously unknown and unsuspected ancestral past.
Of course there are some white relations, notably in the deep American south, who aren’t happy that they are related to people of color. That’s their right. And that’s their loss. They aren’t ready yet. I get that so I leave them to it.
People can make things as easy or as complicated as they want to. What I do hope is that DNA testing will allow Americans to reassess their relationship to the fake concept of race, and all of the baggage we’ve burdened ourselves with and carried for far too long.
Meet Your Cousin, the First Lady: A Family Story, Long Hidden: DNA Gives New Insights Into Michelle Obama’s Rootshttp://nyti.ms/MgqzpT
Thanks to the new DNA project from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center, DNA Land (https://dna.land), I’m one big step closer to finding one of my maternal great grandfathers.
I’ve had my autosomal DNA analysed by quite a few DNA testing and analysis services: DNA Land, Ancestry DNA, Gedmatch and Genebase. They all show that a fifth (20%) of my autosomal DNA comes from an Ashkenazi/Levantine ancestor. All of my Jewish cousin matches from these services match me at an estimated 3rd to 4th generation level. Which strongly suggests that the ancestor I’m looking for is a great-grandparent or a great-great grandparent.
I know all of my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents with 100% certainty except for one: my maternal grandfather’s male line. This narrows down the field enormously. How? It’s easier to know that I’m only looking for one individual. And, I know the gender of that person. I also know which side of my family tree he falls within.
I’m looking for a man who in lived in the Washington DC area at the turn of 20th Century. Which is also a boon. I know the area he lived in and when he lived there. This too narrows the search parameters.
I know the man I am seeking would have been born roughly in the 1880s. Either he, or his parents, would have emigrated to Washington DC between the 1820s and the early 1900s. Which is another clue.
DNA Land, Ancestry DNA, Gedmatch, Family Tree DNA and Genebase all show that my missing Jewish great grandfather has a distinctive Jewish admixture: Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian. There is a zero Western or Northern European footprint in his DNA. There’s one place on the world map where a 19th Century European Jewish community had this admixture and emigrated to the US between 1820 and the 1880s – Galicia.
I immediately thought of Spain when I saw Galicia. Turns out, there is more than one European region with that name. The one that directly relates to me is the one in Eastern Europe. Once an independent kingdom, Galicia is a region that has been intensely fought over, and possessed, by Russia, Poland and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Today, it’s southern region is part of Ukraine.It’s northern region is now part of present day Poland.
Armed with this new knowledge, I went back to Genebase, the more advanced and thorough of the DNA testing services I’ve used, and trawled through a mountain of DNA analytic results, chromosome by chromosome. It turns out that the man I’m looking for comes from a very specific part of Galicia: Eastern Galicia. Another incredibly strong filter.
map of the Galician region
My Jewish autosomal DNA has the strongest resonance with present day people located in the southeastern area that encompasses Halicz to the west, Rawa to the north, Zbaraz to the east and Husiatyn to the south. That’s how precise my Genebase DNA test results are.
Armed with this new knowledge, I sent an email to Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. I explained who I was, the ancestor I was looking for any information sources they could recommend where I could find out more about the Galician Jewish community in Washington DC. In less than 24 hours I received an incredibly helpful reply.
In a way, I lucked out that my unknown great-grandfather, or his parents, chose Washington DC as their new home. Compared to other immigrant Jewish communities in the US, the one in Washington DC was relatively tiny. 20,000 or so souls lived in the Greater DC area at the turn of the last century. It was a very, very tight knit community. Which means there is a real chance that I could actually discover his name.
DNA testing is the tool needed to crack this. Specifically, my genetic cousin matches. Family names like Dunau, Fidel, Kessel/Kissel, Rosenberg, Tannenbaum and Yisrael hold the vital clues. Armed with a gender, a rough year of birth, a specific area or origins and a US place of residence, I can now begin the process of emailing my Jewish DNA cousins and ask if they know of any family who lived in Washington DC in the early 1900’s. While I wait for their responses, I can begin looking at digitized records from the Jewish Synagogues that served this community in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. And look for the family names I’m becoming familiar with.
I have to laugh at this point. I am descended from four forcibly displaced people who were scattered to the four corners of the globe: African, Irish, Jewish and Scottish. All four present the same challenges for any genealogist: non-existent or poorly kept records. None were considered human by those who controlled their fate. All present hurdle after hurdle when it comes to stitching their family trees back together again.
However, researching my African American ancestors has taught me patience, diligence and how to use my innate ability to not see a box (so I don’t have to ‘think outside’ of one) in order to crack genealogical barriers and mysteries. This skillset will definitely come in handy when it comes to cracking the mystery of my unknown Jewish great-grandfather. In the meantime, I’m learning about his Galician world and the world of the 19th and 20th Century Jewish community of Washington DC.