The Sheila Hightower Allen DNA Memorial Fund

 

On January 30, 2018 family and friends were shocked with the devastating news of the passing of Sheila Hightower Allen. Sheila was an educator and loved her family fiercely. She loved them so much so that she began to research her family and share the knowledge that she found.

Although born in Texas, Sheila learned her family hailed from an area called Edgefield, South Carolina. As she researched the area, she quickly learned that everyone who came from that area was related. To prove what she was discovering about the area, Sheila began testing family members – and even friends – via DNA through services like Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, and 23andme. Using her own money Sheila tested at least 40 people spending close to $4,000 dollars. 

Her efforts brought thousands of family members together.

In honor of Sheila and to keep her spirit alive her fellow researchers who are also her family want to continue her legacy by setting up the Sheila Hightower-Allen DNA Memorial Fund. This fund will test anyone with roots in the Edgefield / Old Ninety-Six area that will help further the work that Sheila started. Our goal is to test as many people as Sheila did…if not more.

The Sheila Hightower Allen DNA Memorial Fund

https://www.youcaring.com/forfamiliestobetestedtofurthergenealogicalresearch-1087919 via 87919

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Newspapers.com, Boolean search strings, and finding lost post Civil War ancestral lines

I always enjoy genealogy research conference calls with my Edgefield-connected cousins Donya, Sheila, and Loretta. They are always illuminating. Nine times out of ten, we can solve whatever thorny genealogical conundrum we’re faced with at the time. During a recent call with our cousin Donya, Loretta reminded me of a research strategy I had used to employ regularly…and had simply fallen out the the habit of doing.

The research strategy Loretta reminded me of was doing very broad searches using Newspapers.com.

As I mentioned in my previous post – Using military draft cards to find your kin during the post US Civil War migration periods via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/using-military-draft-cards-to-find-your-kin-during-the-post-us-civil-war-migration-periods/ – my Old Ninety-Six regional kinspeople rode out of their native South Carolina in three big pulses:

  1. The first pulse came quickly upon the heels of the Civil War, with groups of ancestral kin leaving South Carolina for Ohio (Elyria, Ohio in particular), North Carolina (Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Raleigh in particular, as well as Halifax, Wake, and Buncombe Counties in general), and Arkansas. Smaller groups rode out to Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee during the same time period.
  2. The second migratory pulse occurred during the WWI era, with large groups of kin heading north to Michigan (mostly Detroit), Illinois (Cook County), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, as well as Chester County), Washington D.C., Maryland (Baltimore), Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. A second pulse into North Carolina also occurred during this period.
  3. The third great movement of family occurred during WWII and continued through the 1950’s. Their ports of call mirrored those in the second pulse, with the addition of Massachusetts, Georgia, and, to a lesser extent, California, as places for relocation.

Newspapers.com has been a key resource in picking up the threads for many of my ancestral lines which left South Carolina. Using broad boolean search strings (permission granted to nerd out on that term!) on Newspapers.com has enabled me to find these lines; and follow up on what happened to them once they left South Carolina. 

What is Boolean Search?

The SocialTalent.com website defines a Boolean Search as a way to organise your search parameters using a combination of keywords, and the 3 main Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT), to produce more accurate and more relevant results for online searches.

The first important thing to appreciate about Boolean, is that there are only 5 elements of syntax to understand. These are:

AND  OR  NOT  ()  “”

By applying these appropriately, along with the keywords you wish to consider, you can create a huge range of search operations. There is no limit to how often you can use any of these elements in a search, so you can create very specific search strings, which will save you a lot of time in filtering the results.

Think of this as fine-tuning or refining online searches to achieve better, more accurate, or more relevant online search results. For more in-depth explanations of Boolean searches and how to use them, please visit

https://www.socialtalent.com/blog/recruitment/the-beginners-guide-to-boolean-search-operators to see how recruitment consultants use these search strings. The article has real world examples that are easily adaptable to online genealogical searches.

I began my search using a simple, broad search string:

I wanted to focus on former Edgefieldians who lived and/or died in Pennsylvania with this search. I wanted to exclude any newspaper articles that mentioned Strom Thurman. The revelation that Strom had a natural born daughter with a black family servant was big news at the time. This wasn’t what I wanted to research. Using this boolean filter excluded some 100 or so articles from my Newspaper.com search. Which still left me with just over 3,000 articles to work through in Pennsylvania. In all, I found around 30 Pennsylvania newspaper articles, mostly obituaries and marriage\engagement announcements, that were very useful.

I repeated the same for Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and the District of Columbia. These were the main places I know my kinsmen removed to during the three migration pulses I outlined above. 

I will rinse and repeat this process for the following terms:

  • Of Abbeville
  • Of Aiken
  • Of Barnwell
  • Of Greenwood
  • Of Greenville
  • Of McCormick
  • Of Newberry
  • Of Richland
  • Of Saluda

These were significant places of origin connected to my South Carolina kinspeople. It only makes sense to use the same strategy to find kinspeople from these South Carolina areas in the various states I’ve listed above.

I will warn you in advance: this is a lengthy and time consuming research strategy. It casts the widest possible net. The rewards though outweigh the effort of sifting through each and every result.

So let’s take another look at the image I used above:

Take a look at the map image in column on the left side of the image. Anything jump out at you? It’s no surprise that South Carolina appears in a dark shade of the colour red. Edgefield is an old county in South Carolina. It stands to reason that there will be thousands of articles in South Carolina newspapers. So this isn’t significant in and of itself. You’d expect this to be the case.

No, what piqued my interest was why Tennessee appeared as a dark pink. I knew Edgefieldians had removed themselves to Tennessee. However, I thought these family groups were outliers. Newspapers.com was telling me there was far more going on than a handful of families moving from South Carolina to Tennessee. Something significant was happening.

I then found an important and very straightforward indication of what was going on:

Indeed, many of the early articles that formed the search results for Tennessee, that mentioned Edgefield, were dated between 1868 and 1890. This timeframe aligns with the first post Civil War pulse of migration I mentioned earlier. There was an interesting link between Nashville and Edgefield  which requires far more in-depth research. Something was going on for this relationship between these two places to have happened. At the moment, I have no idea what that the underlying force was nor when this relationship between these two areas began.

If the relationship between Nashville and Edgefield  was established earlier, in the slavery era, this will have implications for my research. The explanation could be, and probably is, that I will have enslaved kinspeople who were taken to Tennessee from Edgefield. Some of my  missing  Nineteen Century black ancestral lines will likely to be found in Tennessee, something I hadn’t considered in any great depth. Now, I have to consider this likelihood. Settle(s) / Suttle  is one Edgefield surname I’ve seen in some of the Tennessee articles from the 1870’s time period. That is one of the significant surnames from my direct line. I’m looking forward to investigating this further.

I do have one caveat. I have exclusively referenced Newspapers.com. There are other online Newspaper repositories, such as Chronicling America https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. I understand Newspapers.com simply because I have used it for years, and I understand how it works with a deeper understanding than I do with other similar newspaper repositories. It’s a personal preference. You might find another divital newspaper archive service better suited to how your research needs. 

I will also use African American newspaper repositories to further locate family lines that were lost due to migration via https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/?state=ðnicity=African+American&language#tab=tab_search

This research strategy is a lengthy one. However, it can reveal pure nuggets of gold.

Using military draft cards to find your kin during the post US Civil War migration periods

My Old Ninety-Six, South Carolina family was significantly impacted by three pulses of post 1865 migrations out of the South.

The first pulse came quickly upon the heels of the Civil War, with groups of ancestral kin leaving South Carolina for Ohio (Elyria, Ohio in particular), North Carolina (Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Raleigh in particular, as well as Halifax, Wake, and Buncombe Counties in general), and Arkansas. Smaller groups rode out to Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee during the same time period.

The second migratory pulse occurred during the WWI era, with large groups of kin heading north to Michigan (mostly Detroit), Illinois (Cook County), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, as well as Chester County), Washington D.C., Maryland (Baltimore), Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. A second pulse into North Carolina also occurred during this period.

The third great movement of family occurred during WWII and continued through the 1950’s. Their ports of call mirrored those in the second pulse, with the addition of Massachusetts, Georgia, and, to a lesser extent, California, as places for relocation.

Military draft cards were essential to unlocking the mystery of which family lines moved elsewhere in the US – and when they moved there.

One clue to the extent of these migrations within my family is the sheer number of entire family groups who seemingly fell off the face of the earth after the 1870 Federal Census, and accompanying state census records for the same time period. They had to have gone somewhere. The question was: where? I bounced a few ideas around about how to find these missing families. Then it hit me: WWI and WWII draft cards.

My reasoning was pretty straightforward. The women in the family who were caught up in these mass migrations out of the South would be nigh on impossible to find first due to name changes via marriage. This is especially true for my South Carolina ladies, who came from an enormous interconnected family that used the same dozen or so names for their daughters. Sure, I might get lucky and find the right Janie Gilchrist in Buncombe, North Carolina straight away. The reality, however, is that I would need to research at least a half dozen or so Janie Gilchrist’s born in the Old Ninety-Six region who popped up in Buncombe County. Add the complexity that some of these Janie Gilchrists will have parents who haed similar names, well, trying to separate each Janie from all the others becomes a hurculean task.

It was easier to track the males in the family for the simple reason that their names rarely changed. I began with my Mat(t)hews / Mathis / Mathes lines, and rolled this approach out to my Holloway and Peterson lines. Each of these three family lines were huge. No, seriously, these were among the largest families in Old Ninety-Six. Tackling these three lines first would answer questions about where cousins and other members from their extended families also moved to.

The image below shows how I began my search using military draft cards.

I did a very general search on the surnames Matthews Mathews Mathis Mathes (I am going to collectively refer to them as Matthews). And yes, Ancestry returned an enormous list of men. Which makes sense. This was an enormous family. Faced with a breathtaking list of men – many with the same or similar names – I concentrated first on those I either immediately recognized, or those I could relatively easily figure out in relation to my family tree. I needed to do these first in order to reduce the number of men I was faced with. I looked for a few fundamental things to attach the right record to the right man. These cards also answered a basic question: the Matthews surname variation each man chose, which was also adopted by his descendants. I have men who born a Matthews yet died a Mathis. Knowing the preferred spelling enabled me to find them in various records.

Draft cards told me:

  • They often told me what part of the Old Ninety-Six region, and adjacent counties, they came from (e.g. Edgefield, Greenwood, McCormick, Abbeville, Greenville, Newberry, Barnwell, Aiken, etc. Knowing where they were born enabled me to zero in on specific Matthews family groups;
  • Middle names or initials as unique identifiers. When you’re faced with dozens of William, Willie, Wiley, Bill, Billy, and Bill Matthews, anything that distinguishes one from the dozens of others with the same, or similar, name is crucial; and
  • If they were residing with a relative, did I already know who that relation was? A parent, sibling, cousin, or aunt or uncle, can make the correct identification of an individual a much easier process. The name of a spouse can help. This isn’t necessarily the case for Old Ninety-Six. I recall looking at eight WWII draft cards for men by the name of William Matthews (or a name variation) married to a Lula, who was born in Edgefield, SC – and all of them were living in Philadelphia.


Once I had reduced the list of Matthews men as per the above bullet items, I began to slowly, methodically, chip away at the remaining Matthews men who were left in my draft card search. This is where things became time consuming. You really have to love genealogy to go this route.

One by one, I did a research workup on all the remaining Matthews men in the draft card list. The critical pieces of information were dates of birth. Be advised that the year of birth given on draft cards can vary from 1 to 5 years from the actual year of birth. The important thing to note is that the day and month don’t change.

Armed with specific birth dates, I could usually find a Social Security Application record for these men. From there, I could usually find a death record with the name of one or both parents, if their names where known, as well as their respective places of birth. Next, I looked for obituaries, which tended to give the names of parents and siblings; including the places where that person’s surviving family members were living at the time of that person’s death.

Death certificates also offered further information via the informant, if the informant was a family member. If the informant was a sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, or in-law, you now know where that family member was living at that time.

Then, and only then, did I hit the Federal Census returns. This is genealogy retrofit style. You work from the known, add as much information as you can, then work backwards until you find the family line of the person you are researching, and carry that line back to an established line in your tree. Thankfully, in my case, that backwards journey takes between 1 to 3 generations to make that connection. Again, this is the blessing of having a large tree. And yes, there are times I hit a brick wall when I work with a research line in this way. However, sooner or later, the crucial missing puzzle piece is found. Or someone who knows that line inside and out, usually a descendant, will reach out with the missing information I need. So I don’t sweat these temporary brick walls too much.

This research approach worked around 6 out of 10 times. This is where having a large family tree (nearly 100,000 individuals) has come into its own.

I know my Old Ninety-Six family. I understand the various themes that run through my family’s history. It was rare for an ancestor or kinsperson from South Carolina to ride out on their own. No, my people moved in groups. More often than not, entire extended families just upped sticks and moved together. Draft cards began to demonstrate this. If I had one or two family members removing themselves from Greenwood, SC to Philadelphia, the chances were high other family members did too. I was able to pick up the thread for a person’s parents, siblings, cousins, etc. I could find them in Philadelphia too. More often than not, they were living in close proximity to the person I was researching.

In my next post, I’ll share how using military cards and obituaries in tandem can yield some stunning results – and smash through some brick walls.

Endogamy on the plantation

**updated 20 December 2017**

Today I am going to spend a little time discussing endogamy -the practice of generations of cousin marriages – within a specific context. Enslaved African-descended people toiled across every pre-industrialized sphere. While I have uncovered small numbers of enslaved kin who laboured in mines, aboard paddle boats, were dock workers, or manufacturing; the vast majority were enslaved within an agricultural context. That is the sphere the majority of my research has focused upon. It’s what I know. Hence the somewhat narrow scope of this article.

Before I delve into the topic of this article, I’d like to paint a quick picture of what life was like on the farm or the plantation. I do so with the aim of illustrating the practical reality of how endogamy affected commnities of enslaved people. For African Americans who have tested their DNA, this will be an important aspect of your ancestry that needs to be understood. Endogamy is a complicated factor that absolutely influences genetic cousin matches: the number of chromosome segments you will share with dna cousins, and the amount of cMs you will share.

A farm or plantation (for convenience, I am going to use the term farm for both) was, for all intents and purposes, was like a county, or a state, or a country, in microcosm. The boundaries that formed the property of an enslaved person’s (EP) enslavers acted like the border of a country. That’s not far-fetched. An EP needed a piece of paper from his or her enslaver in order to leave it, and safely return. God help the unfortunate EP who came across a slave patrol without that piece of paper, which acted like a type of passport.

Your life, and every aspect of your life, played out within the confines of the farm you were enslaved on. What you did, when you did it, and how you did it, was controlled. Typically, you did not have the freedom to come and go as you pleased. Typically, you did not have control over your own body…that belonged to someone else.

Did my enslaved ancestors and kin have a say in who they had children with? It looks like some did, and some did not. For every Venus Josey who chose for herself, I have a Louisa Hammond or Elizabeth Henley who did not. No clear picture has emerged when it comes to reproduction among my ancestors’ enslaved EPs. What I can say with certainty is this: my ancestral EPs married within the same enslaved community in which they themselves were bound.

Let’s take a look at how such a community could be comprised.

The above image comes from my own ancestry. It illustrates the enslaved population held by Daniel Williams, Jr and his wife, Luanna “Anna” Henderson, my 6x great grandparents. Daniel inherited EPs from both of his parents. Anna would have brought dowry slaves with her when she married him. She too inherited EPs from her parents. This is also a great example to work with. Anna and Daniel were first cousins – a prime example of endogamy within a family defined by a series of cousin marriages. Some of the EPs she brought with her from her mother, Elizabeth William’s, family – those who were biologically Williams, Petersons, Keelings, and Sheppards – were cousins to some of Daniel’s EPs who were biologically Williams, Sheppards, Keelings, and Sheppards themselves.

My Williams family has been interesting to research. They had two types of EPs: those who were their kin, and those who were not. EPs who were kin were largely kept within the family for generations; going from parent to his or her children or grandchildren. EPs who weren’t kin were typically sold to whomever – unless the EP was a female who bore one or more mulatto children to her enslaver. Those who bore children to their enslaver were then classed as family.

Daniel’s ancestors weren’t coy or shy about marrying their cousins. Beginning in early colonial Virginia, then into North Carolina and South Carolina, Williams married Sheppards, Keelings, and Petersons over and over again. All of those names in Daniel’s paternal family box? They were cousins. Those cousins also produced enslaved mulatto children, some of whom came into Daniel’s sphere through subsequent inheritances…and had children by their enslaved Williams cousins. His mother’s enslaved Clark kin entered into this mix. As did his wife’s EPs, whether they were her kin or not.

Now, you’re an EP who has reached adulthood. The time has come for you to start a family of your own. You either have the chance to settle with a mate your enslavers approve of from within your own community….or you’re used as a breeder, mated with anyone your enslaver so pleases. For the purposes of this article, I am focussing on the former.

Using my ancestral EPs held by Daniel as an example, you would be a young adult with a high probability of settling down with a cousin from within your confined community. One way to avoid that would have been to form a union with an unrelated EP newly introduced to your community through a purchase. Or by settling down with a mistress’s dowry slave, or a child of someone who was a dowry EP. Your ability to avoid marrying g another EP who was a cousin depended upon the number of non-related EPs introduced into your community via marriage or purchase.

The above image is taken from the book Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina. The EPs I’ve highlighted with proven surnames link back to Daniel’s paternal family.It’s an image that perfectly illustrates endogamy within an enslaved population. You will see the Sheppard surname in the list of names in Daniel’s paternal family box.

Some of these families left the sphere of the Williams to enter the sphere of the Sheppard’s due to a Sheppard-Williams cousin marriage.

My cousin, the author Donya Williams, and I have spent years working together researching our Edgefield family. The information above, covering some of our common ancestral EPs, has been the result of years of research. Our research has shown that whether your surname was Harling, Hill, Peterson, Sheppard, or Stark – you were part of the same family that was white, black, and mulatto. You were part of the same family because your ancestors were held in bondage by the same extended enslaving family generation after generation. I’d even argue that, by 1800, none of my EPs needed to have a white father in order to pass European DNA to their children (although this was still occuring up to the dawning of the Civil War). That DNA was already within the enslaved population going all the way back into the early colonial period of Virginia.

Endogamy within the farm community meant shared ancestral European and African DNA becoming amplified. It’s the reason why Donya and I share a minimum of 6 or 7 sets of shared black and white ancestors. It’s why we share an unusual number of chromosomes, chromosomal segment lengths, and cMs.I have to laugh at this point because our white, black, and mixed cousins didn’t stop marrying each other after 1800. Heck, cousin marriages were still going strong in the 1900s!

Turning to Anna, all I know about her is within the context of being Daniel’s wife. I know nothing of her life prior to her marriage. If she is indeed a biological Henderson, then I know enough about the families the Hendersons married into to have enough of an insight into the biological inheritance of the EPs she brought with her into her marriage. Those bloodlines merged with those of Daniel’s EPs. Those surnames will begin to appear among some of the families listed in the second image above. I can’t confidently figure that out until I figure Anna and her family out. DNA has clues, as does the 1870 Census. However, to seal the deal, I would need to see probate records and deeds from her parents. In order to do that, I need to know who her parents were.

To summarize, in order to understand the genetic history of your EPs, you must understand the community of EPs your enslaved ancestors were part of. Who were the other families held by the same enslaving family…and for how long were they held in bondage together? The answer to this is one means of smashing the brick walls around your ancestral EPs.

For further insight into how endogamy affects your research, I invited the you to read my previous article on the subject: Endogamy: Or how an entire county can be related via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/endogamy-or-how-an-entire-county-can-be-related

Endogamy: Or how an entire county can be related

Wikipedia defines endogamy as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Yeldell (aka Rev. Elijah Flemon): A 19th Century black political activist

elijah flemon

Rev Elijah Flemon is the elderly gentleman seated at the head of the table. Picture credit: African Americans in Mercer County by Roland Barksdale-Hall, Arcadia Publishing, 2009 via https://books.google.com/books?id=AZa95glVhqoC&pg=PA28&dq=elijah+flemon&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjspZHZlaDXAhUs1oMKHVNKBmIQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=elijah%20flemon&f=false

Born in Edgefield, SC at the end of slavery, John would go on to become a household name in the America of the 1880s. He was more famous than Frederick Douglass for a spell. It’s a story that has fascinated me for years, once that my cousin Donya Williams shared with me.

The story of John Yeldell (aka the Rev Elijah Flemon) is worthy of a movie. Sincerely. The twists and turns are incredible.  However, as Donya Williams has written about him in her book, Comes to the Light: The Entangled Families of Edgefield County, it’s a story I have left for her to tell.

You can get a great overview of his history in the video below:

Playing genealogical hide and go seek with Col. Thomas Pettus (abt. 1598-1663)

Few of my ancestors’ genealogies are as contentious as my 10x great-grandfather, Colonel Thomas Pettus, born abt 1598 in England (either London or the County of Norfolk). His lineage has sparked fierce debates among American genealogists for two centuries. One of the problems is the sheer volumes of Thomases in the Pettus family.  It is incredibly easy to get them confused.

Then there is the debate about whether he married Ko Oke “Jane” Powhatan, a daughter of Matoake (better known as Pocahontas) and her first husband, Kocoum. While there is a European-descended researcher group who have challenged the marriage between Ko Oke and Thomas Pettus, 3 different Virginian Native American tribes have not only claimed this lineage down the ages, it verges on the sacred among them. I’m going to admit bias towards the Native Americans’ claim.  For who would have better knowledge of Native American history than Native Americans? This too has been supported by researchers William Strachey, historian at Jamestown, and Bill Deyo, the tribal historian of the Patawomeck tribe. These are two men who know the early colonial history of Virginia.

Putting that contentious issue to one side, the next question that surrounds Thomas Pettus is straightforward: who were his parents?

One camp claim his parents were William Pettus, Mayor of Norwich, England) and his wife, Mary Gleane.  A second camp claims his parents were  Thomas Pettus, another Mayor of Norwich, and his wife, Christian Dethick.  Neither, I’m afraid, are correct.

So let’s start from the beginning.

When it comes to tracing my ancestors back in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, I use a handful of trusted and reliable sources:

These resources have stood the test of time. They have been poured over, argued over, vetted and reviewed since their respective publication dates. Just as with native American history and ancestry, who is going to know their own historic lineages and pedigrees better than the English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish?

Pettus Pedigree

Pettus Pedigree2

Source: The visitacion [i.e., visitation] of Norfolk, made and taken by William Hervey, Clarencieux King of Arms, anno 1563, enlarged with another visitacion [sic] made by Clarenceux Cook : with many other descents, and also the vissitation [sic] made
by Rye, Walter, 1843-1927; Hervey, William; Cooke, Clarenceux; Raven, John via https://archive.org/details/visitacionievisi32ryew. with much gratitude to Google Books for making this book a free download. Please click on the upper and lower images for a larger image view.

As you can see from the pedigree above, this debate has occurred among British genealogists. You can see where the name John has been scratched out, and Thomas added. There still discussion around whether this man was a John or a Thomas. The majority view is that his name was Thomas.

A quick glance at this tree can see why the name Thomas can easily cause confusion. There’s a number of them.  And, of course, there are few dates referenced in this pedigree. Years of birth have to be estimated and then cross-referenced with additional heraldic, county-level, or British Parliamentary records.

 

john-pettus_portrait

Portrait of Sir John Pettus, Norwich Museum & art Gallery

I needed to know who was born around 1598 in the pedigree above. Sir Augustine Pettus became my anchor.  His life is well document. He was born around 1582.  His father, Sir John, whose life is also well documented, was born around 1550.  With these two estimated years of birth established, my 10x great-grandfather Thomas Pettus would have been a generational contemporary of Sir Augustine Pettus.

 

Augustine did indeed have a brother named Thomas, known as “Thomas of Lincoln’s Inn” in London. This Thomas was quickly ruled out:

Thomas Pettus of Lincoln's inn 2
Source: Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume 1, p.353. Via https://books.google.com/books?id=yIwSb9UO–cC&lpg=PA353&dq=thomas%20pettus%20of%20lincoln’s%20inn&pg=PA353#v=onepage&q=thomas%20pettus%20of%20lincoln’s%20inn&f=false

There are additional college and Lincoln’s Inn records.  However, that seems like a bit of overkill. Suffice to say that my 10x great-grandfather Thomas Pettus is not the same man as the son of Sir John Pettus – whose son never left England.

So if my Thomas wasn’t the son of Sir John, who were his parents?

I can easily rule out the Thomas Pettus who was the Mayor of Norwich and his wife, Christian. If anything, this couple might be my Thomas’s grandparents.  It’s impossible for them to be his parents. Mayor Thomas and Christian did have a son named Thomas.  Very little is known about him. This man is of interest for the sole reason that he was born at the right generational level and time-frame to possibly be the father of my 10x great grandfather’s father. Possibly. This would make Mayor Thomas my ancestor’s uncle, and Sir Augustine wold be his first cousin.

The Thomas born to Mayor Thomas Pettus and Christian Dethick remains out strongest lead. This branch of the Norwich family married into the Rolfe, King, and Dabney families in Norfolk, England…just like Col. Thomas Pettus and Ka Oke Jane Powhatan’s descendants did in Virginia. Why break with a family tradition of marrying cousins?

There is also the names Col Thomas Pettus and Ka Oke named some of their children:

Thomas Pettus Ancestry Page

Please click for larger image

Three names leap out: Christian, Augustine, and Cecily…three traditional and long-standing names used within the Pettus family.  Specifically speaking, these are names regularly used within this family. I’m discounting the name of their son Thomas for now.  You would expect at least one of their sons to carry this name.

There is one wrinkle in confirming that my Thomas is the same man as the son of the Thomas who was the son of Mayor Thomas Pettus and Christian Dethick. There is another Thomas born around the same time and living in the same place who is a contender for the Thomas born to Mayor Thomas and Christine.  Until I can distinguish between these two conflicting Thomases, I wont know for certain.

What I believe is that Col. Thomas Pettus does have a connection to this family group in some way, shape or form.

I’ve mentioned so many Thomases, I am really reluctant to mention any others. However, there is one more. Mayor Thomas and Christian had a son named William, who married a Mary Gleane. They too had a son named Thomas, born in 1610. This Thomas is fairly well documented. He arrived in the colony of Virginia around the same time as Col Thomas Pettus.  However, Willliam and Mary’s son settled in a different part of Virginia. Looking at colonial records, you can see both men at the same time.  My Colonel Thomas eventually settled in Littletown, James City, Virginia. The son of William Pettus and Mary settled in New Kent, Virginia. Simply put, they are not the same man.

lol and if tall of these Thomases are giving you a headache? Be me. I have to keep them all straight in my head. And, hopefully, you can see why this lineage has caused all manner of conflict and confusion. It’s a puzzle I will solve.

Naturally, towards the end of this phase of research, i found a site whose findings echoes what I have found independently. While I haven’t verified all of the information it contains, so far, our research is in tandem. With the usual caveats, it’s an interesting site to review: The Pettus-Pocahontas Connection via “Southern-Style
A Downhome Perspective on All Things Southern”http://www.southern-style.com/Pettus.htm

There is also: Misinformation on the Pettus Family via https://pettusheritage.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/misinformation-on-the-pettus-family/

William Holloway, Martha Branson & Phebe Crispin: A genealogical game of hide and seek

My maternal Quaker Holloway family has begun to rival my maternal Quaker Harlan/Harling family, my paternal and maternal Quaker White family, and my paternal and maternal Ulster Scots and Scottish Stuart/Stewart family in terms of size and importance. These four families are enormous. Together, they connect me to a mind-blowing number of Americans from all walks of life.  The sheer number of DNA cousins I have through these four families makes my head spin at times.

The Moses Williams Project (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-moses-williams-family-tree-project-update-1) has brought my Holloway line back into sharp relief. I think I have identified a Holloway granddaughter of Moses Williams, Sr  in Edgefield County, South Carolina. The sticking point is this woman’s mulatto father, Harry Holloway, born around 1797 in Edgefield. I know there is a blood connection between this Harry and my mulatto 4x great grandfather, Edward “Ned” Holloway. They are either brothers or first cousins. Additional DNA triangulation work needs to be done to nail down the relationship between these two men.

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Holloway family crest

Harry is of particular interest for another reason. His descendants are matching descendants of Moses Williams through the Williams line. Initial DNA segmentation work is showing cMs in the 3.2 to 3.5 region.  Along with other DNA variables too complicated to outline here, the common ancestor is looking like Moses.  Specifically speaking, that common ancestor is beginning to look like one of Moses’s unknown 40 daughters, five of whom have already been identified. Finding a sixth daughter would be awesome. Not to mention that if Harry and Ned are indeed brothers, this would mean that Ned Holloway would also be a descendant of Moses through this same daughter. You can see why sorting through the DNA triangulation process to understand this match is so important.

However, in order to solve the mystery of identifying another unknown daughter of Moses, we must begin to solve the question of Harry Holloway’s paternity. Which means returning back to my Quaker Holloway research. DNA triangulation has already identified the white Holloway man who fathered Ned Holloway. While Ned’s father, William Holloway (1765–1838) wasn’t a Quaker himself, he is a descendant of the Quaker Holloway family. So it’s once more into the breach where Holloway genealogy research is concerned.

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The image above is from a book myself and the Genealogy Adventures research team have found to be invaluable. So far, we’ve worked our way through two-thirds of the lineages outlined in the book. As it so happens, I accidentally opened the book to a section the team had already worked through. It’s a section that has a family group filled with brick walls.  These brick walls all had to do with the children of William Holloway and his two wives: Martha Branson and Phebe Crispin.

To begin, I always find it impressive, no, awe-inspiring, that antiquarian researchers could compile lineage research with none of the modern research tools we take for granted today. Olin Holloway, for instance, relied on sending countless letters to Holloway family members.  This formed the backbone of his research.  Added to which, he visited various repositories to search through records, compiled data from numerous Holloway family bibles from the various branches of the family, and interviewed kin when and where he could. While there are wee errors here and there in the book, or differences in name spellings, the work he compiled is very accurate.  Digitized records have proven it. So my hat is off to this cousin for this important work on the Holloway family.

However, like the main Harlan family book, The Genealogy of the Harlan Family, by Alpheus Harlan, there are some 18th and early 19th Century family lines who ceased to be Quakers…and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. For those of you who are not familiar with Quaker records, the Quakers kept meticulous and thorough records. These records largely have to do with Quaker Monthly Meetings. Think of these meetings as community administrative records.

Such records include details about:

  • Births, deaths, and marriages within the community;
  • Genealogical information: names of parents, siblings, children, and spouses;
  • Information about where a member of the community was living, and when they lived there;
  • Removals to other Quaker communities: A member, and his or her family, required a certificate from the leaders of their old community when they were planning to remove themselves to a new community.  Think of this as a kind of letter of introduction. These certificates are invaluable. They provide dates, names, and locations; and
  • Removals from the Quaker faith. This gives the date an ancestor or kinsman or woman was removed from their Quaker community. Broadly speaking, this could be from bad behaviour, lapse in attending the monthly meetings, marrying outside the faith without permission, or being married by a non-Quaker minister.

These records are a goldmine of family history and genealogical information.

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The first time the research team came across William Holloway, Martha Branson, and Phebe Crispin, we added the information above into the family tree and moved on. At the time, we felt that if Olin Holloway couldn’t pick up their trail, the chances were high that we wouldn’t be able to either. When I accidentally opened up the book to this page, it was kind of providential.  This time around, I wanted to see what I could find.

This seemed like a providential moment for a few reasons. One reason I am going to share is pretty straightforward.  Having worked our way through two-thirds of this book, the research team and I knew where other family groups at a similar generational level had initially moved to:  Ohio. Columbiana County and Mahoning County, Ohio to be precise. So it made sense to look in these two counties to pick up William’s trail.

And I found him.

However,  I found him in a completely different part of Ohio from his Holloway cousins. I found him and his family in Clark and Guernsey Counties, Ohio. His journey goes something like this:

1820

William-Hollooway-01

William and Phebe with children in 1820. Source: 1820 U S Census; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Page: 8; NARA Roll: M33_88; Image: 23

1830

William-Hollooway-02

William and Phebe with children in 1830. Source: 1830; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Series: M19; Roll: 128; Page: 92; Family History Library Film: 0337939

1840

William-Hollooway-03

William and Phebe with children in 1840. Source: 1840; Census Place: Madison, Clark, Ohio; Roll: 383; Page: 54; Family History Library Film: 0020161

Finding Additional Records

While the census returns were an exciting discovery, they by no means proved that the William Holloway living in Clark County, Ohio was one in the same as the William Holloway who married Martha Branson and Phebe Crispin; the man who was outlined in Olin’s lineage book. However, I knew where to look to seal the deal now that I was researching in Clark County, Ohio. This lead to the first of a series of marriage and death records that provided additional proof: marriage and death records.

William-Hollooway-04

This marriage certificate proved that William had moved to Ohio, the place where he and Phebe had married.  Source: Ancestry.com. Ohio, County Marriages, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

Locating his Will and probate records was another key find:

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This 1839 Will, filed in Clark County, Ohio, clinched that this was indeed the correct William Holloway outlined in Olin’s book. Source: Record of Wills, 1819-1902; Probate Place: Clark, Ohio. Please click for larger image

This 1839 Will raised as many questions as it answered.  Isn’t that always the way when it comes to genealogy?

The children cited in this Will were by his second wife, Phebe Crispin.  I was able to pick up the trail for most of the children he had with Phebe. I have been able to trace these children’s descendants to the present day.

None of his children by his first wife, Martha, were mentioned. Not only that, neither I nor the research team, can find any definitive trace of the children William had with Martha. Where were they?  It was back to the Quaker records for William:

William-Hollooway-05

William’s birth as recorded at the Shrewsbury Monthly Meting in Monmouth County, NJ. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Record of Marriage Certificates; Collection: Quaker Meeting Records; Call Number: MR Ph:584

Not that we had any doubts, this record confirmed the names of William’s parents, his date of birth, and his place of birth.

William-Hollooway-06

William’s removal record. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Certificates of Removal (Issued), 1783-1927; Collection: Quaker Meeting Records; Call Number: MR Ph:584

Transcription of the removal record:

Springfield Monthly Meeting –

From the Monthly Meeting of Friends at Upper Springfield in New Jersey held the 9th of the Seventh Month 1788 to the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Crooked Run, Virginia. dear Friends, application being made to us for a Certificate on behalf of Elizabeth Holloway, wife of George Holloway, and their children who have removed to live within the (undecipherable) of your Meeting there may certify that on inquiry it appears she was a good degree of a sober life, conversation and sometimes attended our religious meetings.  The children (to whit) William, Mary, Sarah, George & Thomas being in their minority, have a right of membership with us; as such we recommend them to your christian care and oversight & subscribe ourselves, your friends, brethren, and sisters (undecipherable) in on behalf of said Meeting. Signed

So what does this tell us? As of 1788, a young William left Monmouth County, New Jersey for Crooked Run Meeting House in Virginia with his mother and siblings. Crooked Run was a vital clue.  Numerous Holloway cousins of William had left Pennsylvania and New Jersey for the same place.

Thanks to Olin’s lineage book, I knew the 3 places associated with the Crooked Run Meeting House where William’s cousins were living.  It didn’t take long to pick up his trail in Lynchburg, Virginia.

William-Hollooway-07

William’s 1812 petition to the Crooked Run Meeting to remove himself and his family to the Fairfield Meeting House in Ohio. Source: Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Minutes, 1788-1789;Collection: Baltimore Yearly Meeting Minutes; Call Number: RG2/B/C761 1.4 Please click for larger image

So, William and Phebe (Martha had died by 1808) were still very much Quakers in 1812. This record confirms it, as well as where they moved to from Virginia.

A few things still remain unclear. We have yet to find a marriage document for William and his first wife, Martha. Nor have we discovered a death record for her.  Both are unusual for Quaker records. However, we know that both events occurred in Virginia. And we roughly know where in Virginia. So we have some good parameters to work with to locate these records.

The children William had with Martha are playing a good game of hide and seek. These kids are stubbornly remaining hidden.  However, we have three solid places to seek them out in Virginia:  Lynchburg, Warren, and Frederick, Virginia. The problem is there are many Holloways with the same names born around the same time as these children living in the same three places. It is a slow, methodical, and meticulous task of ruling out those we know aren’t matches to the children we are seeking in order to focus on the candidates we believe will ultimately be these missing children. Did they remain in Virginia?  Or did they move to Ohio as their father, half-siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins did? And did they remain Quakers? And why was there no mention of these children, or their children, in William’s Will? This strikes me as unusual.  Was there a falling out within this family?

There is a last question regarding William and Phebe.  It appears that they ceased to be Quakers. We have yet to find any Quaker Meeting records for them, or their children, in Fairfield County, Ohio, which is where they moved to in 1812.  Thus far, it doesn’t appear that their children remained Quakers. William and Phebe’s children have every kind of record you would expect to document their existence – every kind of record save Quaker records. What happened?  That too remains a mystery.

For now, we’re happy to have broken through some brick walls for this family group…and add to Olin Holloway’s amazing research.

When black and white DNA cousins meet online: A tale of two very different experiences

Genealogy is an adventure. There is no two ways about it. The adventure was something I mentally and spiritually prepared myself for prior to diving in at the deep end. I’ll explain.

Approaching genealogy like it’s a Norman Rockwell painting is never a good idea.

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Credit: Freedom from Want | Norman Rockwell | Oil on canvas | 1943 Story Illustration for the Saturday Evening Post | SEPS Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

It isn’t. Picture perfect genealogy doesn’t exist. Our ancestors and ancestral kin were real people. They lived. They breathed. They flourished…and they made mistakes. They had their strengths. They equally had their faults and shortcomings. They were human and, as such, they were subject to the same foibles, pressures, life events, choices and decisions, and predilections as any other human being.

I knew before I began this journey that I was going to have a multitude of white relations who would be utterly unknown to me. How? From my complexion, my freckles, my hair, and just about every other external aspect of my being…there was more than enough evidence of it. If I had any doubts, all I need do is to look at the wide circle of my immediate family. The evidence of numerous cross-ethnic unions down the generations abound.

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Credit: from The Genetic Genealogist via Visualizing Data From the Shared cM Project, https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/05/29/visualizing-data-from-the-shared-cm-project/

So I was prepped and ready. While I didn’t have a name for a single white ancestor in my direct line before I began my journey, I knew that DNA testing would eventually uncover the identities of my unknown white forebearers. And it has, more than I could have ever imagined, much less anticipated.

On the whole, it has been a positive and affirming experience. It’s certainly underscored various family quirks. I will also admit that I was exceedingly spoiled when it came to meeting my first groups of white DNA cousins on the Sheffey and Roane sides of my father’s family, both online and in person. The words ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ don’t adequately describe how I was greeted. They will do for the time being. Were those initial exchanges awkward in the beginning? Yes, in all honesty, but only for a hot minute. The author of that initial feeling will always centre around the how’s and why’s of how we’re related: slavery. Yet, we immediately found common ground. And in the intervening years since we first met? We have a genuine fondness for one another. We are family. So I kind of relaxed into a mood that other white DNA cousins would be equally receptive and welcoming. However, America being America, that halcyon experience didn’t last for long.

When it came to white family members I shared deep roots with in Virginia, North Carolina, and the Quaker communities that dotted the US Eastern seaboard, my experience in meeting cousins from a different ethnic group was truly pleasant. However, cousins who came from states to the south of North Carolina, that experience was split between it being 40% positive, and 60% negative. Those numbers haven’t changed much over the past few years. Given the current zeitgeist in America around the subject or race and race identity/politics, the negative responses have verged on the outright hostile.

I’ll always remember my first negative reaction from a white DNA cousin in South Carolina. She was adamant that she wasn’t related to black people. She even went as far as to suggest that AncestryDNA had swapped my DNA test with someone else. I was far from being the first person this individual said this to. While she wasn’t directly hostile, it was clear she just wasn’t having it. I found this curious at the time. If you know you come from a long line of American chattel slavery enslavers, you ought to be prepared – especially if you do DNA testing – to discover relations who are people of color. Truly, that shouldn’t come as a scud missile to your reality. Nor should a person act like that this is the worst news they have ever heard in the entirety of their lives. As someone who has experienced four miscarriages with a partner, two of them being late term, discovering you have relations who are people of color doesn’t even register on the pain stakes. An awkward experience? Perhaps. I’ll give you that. The worst experience ever? No. Far from it.

I can’t speak from the other side of the coin. For my own part, I have always been open and receptive to white DNA cousins who introduce themselves. That’s just me. I can’t speak about negative reactions from people of color towards newly found white DNA cousins. I don’t doubt that this happens. It’s merely a situation I haven’t come across within my own family.

Let’s fast forward to the past four weeks. I have had two starkly different reactions from white Holloway DNA cousins. The first ran along the lines of my Sheffey, Price, and Roane cousins. She wasn’t fazed in the least. So much so that she felt comfortable enough to send a Facebook invite, which I accepted. I’m certainly looking forward to chatting more in depth about our mutual Holloways. That’s the way it ought to go.

Then there was my second experience with a Holloway family descendant from a different Holloway family line. Ms K sent a fairly passive-aggressive message to me in Ancestry. I can only guess that she felt the message she sent me was perfectly normal and acceptable. You can decide for yourself. Her request was absolutely unambiguous: “Please remove all details of my family’s line from your tree. I don’t want anyone to know I’m related to black people.” I had to re-write my response a few times before I sent it. My first reaction veered towards the “Hell no” variety of response. I was offended and outraged. This was my family too. Thorough research on the Holloways will enable me and the GA team to do some overdue DNA segmenting analysis in order to break through some very stubborn Holloway family brick walls. The more lines you have to work with, the better able you are to do the genetic work needed to tackle this monumental task.

Instead, I counted to ten, took a few deep breaths, and merely responded with: “Sorry, love, but this is my family too. I can’t help how you feel about having black relations. You’re just going to have to wrap your head around it.”

If I could be bothered to do so, I’d try to wrap my head around what the fear factor is with this brand of knee-jerk reaction. I am not looking to be added to Christmas card lists. I don’t expect birthday presents. Nor am I going to hit anyone up about paying my student loan. There is nothing that Ms K, nor those like her, has that I want or need…apart from information. Information is the only thing of value that individuals like Ms K might have. Items like slavery-era probate records that a family member might still have. Or slave deeds. Or old family pictures with black household members who might be my ancestors, or ancestral kin, who were enslaved by their family during slavery, or worked for them after Emancipation. Or information about members of the enslaved families held by their ancestors. You know, fairly basic things that would make my genealogical research a far easier process. That’s pretty much it.

Even better is finding out about family quirks and characteristics. For instance, I can say beyond a shadow of doubt that I get my sense of determination, entrepreneurialism, pioneering spirit, drive to succeed, and hard graft from my Quaker ancestors. I’d say the same thing for my sister and a whole host of first cousins I’ve known all of my life. I probably inherited my sense of humanitarianism from my Quaker ancestors too. My political views are absolutely Sheffey in nature. I’m going to embarrass them, but my Sheffeys re-affirm my belief in decency and basic goodness. I also couldn’t imagine life without my cousin Bill Sheffey. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t crack me up with laughter online. I simply couldn’t imagine life without them.

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I would have never imagined myself chatting on the phone with an elderly Roane cousin from Tennessee who describes himself as a mountain man redneck. I look forward to our monthly chats on the phone. He too is an endless source of good-natured humor and running commentary on day-to-day affairs in the US.

Where did I get my eye for finely made things and my sociability? That’s pure and undiluted Roane. My belief in humanism? That probably comes from so many of the American founding fathers I am either directly descended from or related to (and yes, I openly acknowledge the cognitive dissonance between those founding fathers who were enslavers and their belief in humanism during The Enlightenment). Where did my quick-fire temper come from? Ohh, that’s definitely and undeniably Edgefield County, South Carolina…which I’m guessing sits next to my Scottish and Irish side. That last one has actually spawned a new saying: ‘Don’t make me go Edgefield. You won’t like me if I go Edgefield’. If you don’t know what that means, do a little reading on my ancestor Representative Preston Brooks (D, SC).

I can’t neglect my African-descended ancestors. From those I have researched, studied, and come to know, I inherited an endless resilience, mental fortitude and strength, as well as a dedication towards striving for a better future. You don’t survive 245 years of chattel slavery without these characteristics.

Learning about, and understanding, the various traits I’ve inherited enables me to better understand myself. That’s always a cool thing.

Perhaps, just perhaps, acknowledging you have relations from an ethnicity other than yours will be one way America can demolish a seemingly insurmountable wall of difference and “othering”.

It all begins by conversing.

Will the real parents of Reuben Holloway (1740-1806) please stand up?

I have a gentleman in my family’s ancestry who is causing myself, 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, 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 which claimed that Reuben was the son of a David Holloway (1664-1732) and Elizabeth Frances Matthews (1671-1736).

David Holloway

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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 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 got opened!

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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, the match, 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 this 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 spellings of some names, and other small errors, the lineages covered in this book are 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. 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 match 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 leapt 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 where that’s exactly how the team feels. This makes it a hard name to research.

George Holloway

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The second issue we have faced is the wife of this George Holloway, Ruth Woods, who was also born around 1710 in Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, 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. Which 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 makes 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.

Reben comments

The Genealogy Adventures team puts alerts like **See Comment** in profiles where a person’s ancestry is subject of speculation, or requires additional research. It really is best practice. It alerts other researchers that there is either an issue, or that more work needs to be done. People will still blindly copy what we have in our tree. However, we do all we can to place such alerts on the Genealogy Adventures public tree.

reuben's comments 2

The above is an example of the information we provide for other researchers to let them know the conclusions we have drawn, why/how we have drawn them, and to open up dialogue from other people researching the same families. Doing this – and being 100% transparent – has led to remarkable finds, clarification, and missing documentation being discovered.

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 around a person’s parentage.