Joseph C Sheffey, Jr: A US Navy race relations pioneer

My father’s US Naval career spanned some 30+ years when he retired. Considering the length of his career, my siblings and I know very little about his service. There’s a good reason for this. His missions were, and remain, classified. His service spanned the Cold War era, so it makes sense. It’s never stopped us being curious about his time in the Navy. However, I know whenever I asked him for details, I was always met with a polite but firm wall of silence. Even now, decades after he retired, he won’t speak about it.

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Dad on a US Naval training mission in Italy in the early 1950’s

A document surfaced that unveiled a part of his career my siblings and I didn’t really know much about. I can’t speak for my siblings, but I know I never knew about this aspect of his career. It’s a pretty precious find.

Our father downsized his living arrangements not too long ago. You know what a monumental task that is if you’ve helped your parents through this process. The upside is this is when you can stumble across some amazing finds. My sister and I made quite the discovery while sorting through the Mount Kilimanjaro of old papers.   You can see it below (click it for a larger image):

Joseph-C-Sheffe-Jr-USNavy-Race-relations-2

I finally had something my father could actually discuss!

The letter says it all, really. However, there was more to the tale. It turns out that the US Navy race relations program my father created was so successful that it was rolled out to other Naval bases. It was the foundation of the US Navy diversity training that is delivered today.

Jim Crow was in full force when my father joined the Navy in the early 1950’s.

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The U.S. Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, MD served the USN for 34 years – from its beginning as a recruit training command in 1942 to its closing on 31 March 1976. This is my father’s  Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) graduation photo taken around 1950 when dad was 17. My father is in the second row from the front, last one on the right hand side. Click for larger image

The foundation of what would be the 1960s Civil Rights movement was just taking root at this time. Undaunted, my father rose through the ranks of the 1950s USN. When he was made a Petty Officer, he not only had to prove himself as a worthy PO, he had to prove himself as a worthy African American PO. He was issuing orders to men who had never taken orders from a man of colour in the whole lives. It was no easy task. Nevertheless, he won the respect and admiration of his men. Dad was, and is, made of tough stuff.

The early 70s, when his race relations program was launched, was a period of civil and racial unrest in America.  Not too dissimilar to the social and racial unrest of today. The Navy wasn’t immune from the same unrest that was occurring in the civilian population. The Kitty Hawk riot in 1972 is one example (Racial violence breaks out aboard U.S. Navy ships: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/racial-violence-breaks-out-aboard-u-s-navy-ships).

I asked my dad a pretty logical question: Why him? His answer was typically to-the-point. He’d been marked for advancement by the Navy’s senior command’s radar for a few years prior to the establishment of this program. He was respected by commanding officers and the rank-and-file. His quick-thinking and level headedness made him the right man for the job in their view. Or, as he also said, he was in the right place at the right time.

His success led to his promotion to Chief Petty Officer.

So, in the month where my father turned 84, here’s a bit of recognition for one of his many Naval career achievements.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Sheffey family

1667: The year America was divided by race

Genealogical research has sent me down an American history rabbit hole once again.  I don’t mind. Being schooled on American history by genealogy is one of the reasons I Iove to do the research.  It brings my ancestors’ lives to life. History provides the backdrop against which their lives were lived and provides a vital context.

So what if I were to tell you that blacks and whites in the American colonies lived together harmoniously? Even better…what if I were to tell you that whites and blacks saw each other as equals?

You’d think I was trying to sell you a mountain of pixie dust or a unicorn. Or telling you a bedtime story.

Nevertheless, it’s true. There was a time in this country’s history when black and white were united.  Okay, to be precise, I’m going to have to come clean. I’m talking about poor whites: indentured European immigrants and European immigrants who had finished their term of servitude. I am also talking about free people of colour and enslaved people of colour.

This is the story of 2 American colonies: the one that existed before 1676 and the one that existed after 1676.  So what’s so important about that year?  Bacon’s Rebellion.

Bacon’s what? I hear you asking yourself. I know.  I hadn’t heard of it either.  It’s certainly nothing that was taught in school. Yet, it happened. I’d even go as far as to say that this rebellion defined America; more so than the American Revolution that would follow a century later.

I kept coming across references to Bacon’s Rebellion during some intensive 17th century era family research over the past few months.  I was curious about it   Was it a strange reference to some form of 17th Century acid reflux caused by excessive bacon eating?  But in all seriousness, it was an episode in our country’s history that involved many of my ancestral lines. The sons of numerous family lines fought on both sides of this conflict. On the white side of my family tree, names like Ball, Berkeley, Byrd, Carter, Lewis, Mottrom, Page, Pugh, Randolph, Roane, Spottswood, Washington, and West figure largely within this conflict. All of them were resident in the Tidewater region of Virginia (Jamestown, Charles City County and Henrico County) at the onset of the rebellion. However, when I spotted names from the African-descended/mulatto lines of my tree – Christian, Cumbee/Cumbo, Drew, Goins/Gowen, and Thomas – I had to check it out. Like the white side of the family, these ancestors were also resident in Virginia’s Tidewater region.

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Map of Virginia’s Tidewater region.  Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

My ancestral links to this rebellion

My ancestors who were loyalists and adjudicators of the rebels:

Col. Augustine Warner – 1st Cousin
Major Robert Beverley – 2nd Cousin
Col. Mathew Kemp – 2nd Cousin
Col. William Claiborne – 1st Cousin
Col. Southy Littleton – 2nd Cousin
Lt. Col. John West – 1st Cousin
Major Law. Smith – cousin by marriage
Capt. Anthony Armistead – 1st Cousin

Ancestors who were part of the rebellion:

Henry West – 1st Cousin (banished from the colonies for 7 years)
John Sanders – 2nd Cousin (fined 2,000 lbs in tobacco)
Giles Bland – 2nd cousin (hanged)

William Hatcher – 1st Cousin (fined 8,000 lbs of pork , to be supplied to Virginia’s soldiers)

Sands Knowles – 2nd Cousin (Imprisonment and total forfeiture of all estates, lands, goods and slaves)

Henry Gee – Cousin by marriage (fined 1,000 lbs of pork)
Thomas Warr – 1st Cousin (banishment)
Col Henry Good – cousin by marriage (fined 6,000 lbs of pork)

And those who were a bit further down the colonial pecking order:

Henry Page – 1st Cousin (hanged)
William West – 1st cousin (hanged)

My curiosity was piqued. It was time to do some heavy reading.

A racial laissez faire  among the lower classes in the American colonies

Before 1676, poor whites, blacks, and mulattoes worked side by side. They lived together and caroused together.  And, they loved together. They recognised shared bonds of servitude and the sameness of their respective life situation.  So much so that they even ran away together to escape their bonds of servitude. They established communities in the mountains and the wilderness areas of Virginia, far from the reach of the colonial Establishment. These men and women formed unions/marriages and blended.

Modern American DNA results via the major DNA testing services has proven this. Are you a white-identified American with trace amounts of African DNA? If your working class ancestors were in Virginia in the 17th Century, I offer the paragraph above as a partial-explanation. The same holds true for African Americans with trace amounts of European ancestry. The paragraph above is a partial explanation of how that may have happened within your ancestry.

There was no ‘racial purity’.  That’s a modern myth. The Establishment certainly wanted to keep its bloodlines pure.  Not even the poorest white could even dream of entering that world. Purity in the 17th Century  Establishment’s mind was all about protecting its status, its privilege, its control, and its power. It’s the reason why the colonial elite only married other members of the elite. Racial purity as it’s espoused today?  Sorry, it didn’t exist.  It wasn’t even in its nascent stages.  All of that would come in the latter part of the 18th Century. When there was serious money to be made from an artificial concept and an excuse to double down on slavery.

In his work entitled People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn writes that 17th Century black and white servants were “remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences.”

Edmund Morgan, an important historian of colonial America, has this to say:

“There are hints that the two despised [by the colonial Establishment] groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together.”

And let’s not forget the Native Americans whose lands blacks and poor whites set up homes and communities within. They too married into this mix of black and white.

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America was never a white nation. Don’t ever believe that it was. Not even for a millisecond. While I am focusing on the relationship between whites and blacks, 17th Century immigrants came from far and wide to the American colonies: Chinese, Jews, sub-Continental Indians, and Moors (Muslims from North Africa) were also here.

A colonial elite gripped by class fear and paranoia

The elite of colonial 17th Century Virginia was comprised of wealthy plantation owners, rich merchants, manufacturers, traders, their Burgesses (local government) and their governors.  Yes, I know, quite a few of my British colonial ancestors were Establishment figures. Collectively, they were at the apex of colonial society. The colonial Establishment had two primary fears. The first was the hostile Indian population who controlled the nearby lands that surrounded the lands settled by European colonials.  They also feared their indenture workforce and enslaved workforce. They had to contend with the class anger of poor whites – in other words, the property-less European immigrants – and the resentment of Africans who had been stolen from their homelands and trapped in a world as foreign to them as a trip to Mars would be for us.

Historian Edmund Morgan also wrote:

Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order.

Just like the spice which had to flow on Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune science-fiction novels…the cultivation of tobacco in Maryland and Virginia, the cultivation of rice in South Carolina and the production of cotton in the lower South had to continue. At any price. Tell you what, the next time you watch Dune (or read the books), substitute the words tobacco, rice and cotton every time the word ‘spice’ is mentioned…it’s a mind-bender.  Herbert was so on point that it almost hurts.

The Establishment’s fear wasn’t entirely groundless either. Life in the early years of the colonies was far from harmonious. There were quite a few instances of servants organizing rebellions. Resistance to the colonial status quo by the English, Irish, Scottish, and German poor can be seen in wholesale desertions and work rebellions. Work slowdowns were fairly common. There were strikes by coopers, butchers, bakers, porters, truckers, and carriers. And there was the other major dread of a hierarchy obsessed elite: mutinies at sea. Our colonial ancestors were an unruly and feisty bunch.

A colonial rebellion plot was recorded as early as 1663.  The details of this plot show how white indentured white servants and enslaved blacks plotted to rebel and gain their freedom. This plot was betrayed and all the conspirators were executed as an example.

The colonial Establishment in Virginia feared that class conflict would undermine their tobacco plantation holdings. My English ancestors in particular were perhaps most troubled by this. Between 1381 and 1549, four large peasant revolts played out in England. Each were the result of deep socio-economic and political tensions. The first rebellion, Wat Tyler’s Rebellion (1381), saw parts of London fall to the peasant army.  The then king (a young Richard II) fled to the Tower of London where he took refuge. While this rebellion ultimately failed, its leaders meeting some pretty grisly ends, it scarred the psyche of the English ruling elite. The lower classes in England would never be entirely trusted again. Even to this day.

The Jack Cade Rebellion (1450) was the result of local grievances focused on the corruption and abuses of power by King Henry VI’s closest advisors. The rebels were incensed by the national debt that had been caused by years of warfare against the French, and the recent loss of the king’s Norman territory.  Jack Cade led an army of men from Kent, to the south of London, and the surrounding counties. His army marched on London in order to force the government to end the corruption and remove the traitors surrounding the king’s person. Remember this revolt in particular. It’s comparison to Bacon’s Rebellion is almost a textbook case of history repeating itself.

The last English rebellion I’ll mention is Kett’s Rebellion (Norfolk, 1549). This too had a cause that is uncannily similar to Bacon’s Rebellion. Kett’s Rebellion was largely in response to the enclosure of land. Land was (and remains) a source of power in England. Privilege came with land.  If you didn’t own land, you didn’t have a voice. Without a voice, you had no economic or political power.

When the lower classes united in England, they challenged the status quo, and the way in which power was centrally controlled. To counter-act any further uprisings, the English Establishment kept its poor on a back foot to ensure they wouldn’t pose a threat to its power.

As the younger sons and/or nephews of the British aristocracy and elite, Virginia’s colonial establishment would have been well versed on class warfare and the perils presented by a united lower class.

So let’s fast-forward 120 or so years and return to the lead-up to Bacon’s Rebellion.

The seeds of a rebellion

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Map of Virginia at the time of Bacon’s Rebellion. Source: http://quotesgram.com

The colonial elite had a monopoly on the land. The best land, of course. Demand for the best land drove up the cost of acquisition. Which meant that poor whites and free people of color were forced to remove themselves into Native American territory to the west of the Tidewater region of Virginia. They were effectively cut off from any access to support from the colonial government. They were on their own. Which meant fending off Native American attacks on their own.

An additional grievance against the elite had to do with revenues. Fur trapping and fur trading with Native Americans was a monopoly controlled by Virginia’s elite. It’s a bit of a simplification, but true enough to say, that the colonial hierarchy controlled the when, where, and with whom the frontiersmen could engage in fur trapping and trading with. The two parties began to butt heads over this. It was another source of rising tension.

In truth, classed as ‘rabble’, ‘the mob’, ‘uncouth animals’, etc, the colonial elite were relieved to see the back of this large underclass of people.

You can see where I’m going with this.

The colonial government used the situation to its advantage. They thought of these black and white Virginian frontiers people as an early defence system. If you think that’s me being cynical, that’s exactly what they were. And that’s exactly how they felt. They were human shields. Every attack on their farms and settlements led to a few of their number racing back to Jamestown to plead for soldiers to protect them and their families. Which, of course, alerted the colonial Government to Native American attack activity and where that activity was occurring. Of course the Establishment didn’t send any re-enforcements in the form of troops. It sent nothing.

Which, in turn, led to burning resentment for the frontiers people.

The snippet above made me think of the classic novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Okay…and the eponymous movie too. While the book takes place after Bacon’s Rebellion, the tensions between the elite and the frontiers people figures largely in the first part of the story. Remember the conversations between Hawkeye and John Cameron (whose farm is later attacked) where John recites his list of grievances against local government and the governor? The resentment between frontiers people and their government overlords still flamed brightly over a hundred years after Bacon’s Rebellion.

The Establishment’s worst fears came to fruition soon enough.

howard_pyle_-_the_burning_of_jamestown

The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle. It depicts the burning of Jamestown, Virginia during Bacon’s Rebellion (A.D. 1676-77); used to illustrate the article “Jamestown” in Harper’s Encyclopaedia of United States History: from 458 A.D. to 1905 (1905). Note the multi-ethnic composition of the painting. Source: Wikipedia

Nathaniel Bacon was a young member of the elite. Nevertheless, he formed a movement that was the Establishment’s worst nightmare. At first his movement was based on anti-Native American sentiment. It quickly evolved into an anti-aristocratic movement; a movement that came to symbolize the mass resentment of the poor against Virginia’s elite. Hundreds (some accounts claim up to a thousand) of white freedmen, white bond-servants, free people of colour, and enslaved blacks staged an armed insurrection against the Virginia colonial elite.

The rebellion ultimately led to the burning of Jamestown.

the_burning_of_jamestown

Engraver F.A.C. (signed lower right) of Whitney-Jocelyn, N.Y. – From p. 117 of Ilustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America. From a digital scan at the Internet Archive
Engraving captioned The Burning of Jamestown showing the burning of Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). From Illustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America: from the Earliest Discoveries to the Present Time (1857). Source: Wikipedia

Garrisons and forts were taken by the rebels. Governor Council member Richard Lee (yet another ancestral cousin of mine) recorded that the rebellion had the overwhelming support of Virginia’s population.  This support cut across class-lines, which must have been anathema to the Establishment.

So what was Bacon’s hope for the rebellion? A general “leveling”.  In other words, the equalization of wealth, opportunity – and land.

Ultimately, despite its early successes, the rebellion failed. Nathaniel Bacon’s premature death from dysentery left a leadership vacuum which was filled by less capable men. The rebellion fell apart.  The Establishment’s reprisals were swift and harsh. Some of  the rebels who came from the working classes were executed. The elite who formed the rebellion’s leadership faced varying fates: deportation back to England to face trial, forfeiture of estates and land holdings, or stiff fines.

The suppression of the Bacon revolt was critical for the colonial rulers. Suppressing it would enable the ruling elite to (from Zinn):

  • develop an Indian policy which would divide Indians and pit them against one another;
  • underscore to poor whites that rebellion did not pay through a show of superior force (English troops and mass hangings);
  • develop a practice of dividing poor white immigrants;
  • drive a wedge between free people of color and enslaved blacks;
  • isolate people of colour and enslaved blacks from poor whites; and
  • develop a practice of dividing slaves based on occupation (field worker, skilled artisan/crafts person, house worker, etc) and complexion.

Bacon’s Rebellion was followed by a series of tobacco revolts.  Once these smaller revolts were suppressed, the Establishment instigated a series of progroms to ensure social control.  Front and centre were policies and codes that controlled poor whites and black servants and slaves.

The Establishment learned from their English ancestors that the only way to survive, and maintain power and control, was the division of its common enemy. Developing a system of inequality between black and white servants, they could fashion the allegiance of the English poor to that of their masters.

This is the genesis of the slave codes that were passed in the decades after the rebellion. These slave codes codified the system of slavery. In doing so, the codes made the status of ‘slave’ a life sentence. It was a system that saved the worst penalties and punishments for blacks. This dichotomy in how people were treated, built an unequal structure of racial slavery where black labor were slaves while white laborers were not slaves, was bound to cause resentment amongst blacks with regards to the lighter punishments meted out to their former comrades and allies. It instilled a fear amongst the poor whites that they could suffer the same fate of harsh treatment that was meted out to blacks.

This was the beginnings of institutionalized racism: a system based on the unequal treatment of whites and blacks who shared very similar circumstances.

It did not end there.  Once whites and blacks were divided, the next item on the agenda was dividing the non-English poor whites who largely came from Irish, Scottish and German backgrounds. The Establishment picked the Irish off first; re-igniting prejudices against them for their Catholicism. Anti-Irish propaganda portrayed them as unthinking brutes, animals, and rutting primates.

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Both a reality and propaganda. Images like the one above were used to divide whites and blacks…and to depict the Irish as ‘not one of us’.  

This approach was so successful that, once the Irish were isolated from other poor whites, the same memes were used against people of color. The wedge of religion and ‘foreignness’ was used to divide the Germans and the Scottish. Lutheranism and Calvinism were largely the religious denominations of the Germans. With preference being shown to Scottish Anglicism (The Church of Scotland), it was an effective wedge to use to split these two groups apart.   The English began to treat the poor Scots in a manner like a wealthy cousin would treat a poor relation – with a thin and meagre kind of tolerance.

How effective was this practice of divide and conquer?  Just tune in to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Read a newspaper.  Or look at the race memes that flood social media. Virginia’s colonial elite would be quite pleased to see the systems they put into play in the 17th Century didn’t merely survive – they have flourished. Take a look at how these memes have been adapted for every new immigrant culture that arrives on America’s shores.

Now I understand why Bacon’s Rebellion isn’t part of the history curriculum in the majority of America’s schools. I’ve counted only a meagre few that do cover this as part of their curriculum. No wonder most Americans have never heard of it.

Knowing what I know now, I have two fundamental questions.  The first is what would America look like today had Nathaniel Bacon lived and succeeded in his aim?  That question can’t be answered.  I can see his vision, however.

The second is whether or not America can still achieve that vision, through non-violent means of course.   In order for a nation of people to see that they have been played, in the most cynical and vicious way possible, they first have to recognize that they have been played. They have to grasp how they have been played, and why they have been played.

Then, and only then, can a system used to divide and conquer finally be dismantled.

Was your ancestor one of Bacon’s rebels?

While it isn’t a complete list of the rebels, this is the largest list of combatants that I have found online:  Frazier, Kevin (2016). Bacon’s Rebels: A List of the Names and some of the Residences of the Rebel Participants in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 in Colonial Virginia, Rootsweb. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fraz/BaconsRebels

Sources

Allen, Theodore W. (1997). The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 2: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. London: Verso.

https://books.google.com/books?id=OxwCQkCq4f0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Bacon’s Rebellion, Africans in America, Part 1, PBS.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p274.html

Bailyn, Bernard, Politics and Social Structure in Virginia. Seventeenth-Century America.

British National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Colonial State Papers, The British National Archives.  http://colonial.chadwyck.com/marketing.do

Gardner, Andrew G. (2015). Nathaniel Bacon, Saint or Sinner?, Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2015. https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Spring15/bacon.cfm

Gormilie, Frank (2015). The Origins of Institutionalized Racism – a System to Control Blacks … and Whites, San Diego Free Press. (27 February 2015). http://sandiegofreepress.org/2015/02/the-origins-of-institutionalized-racism-a-system-to-control-blacks-and-whites

Library of Virginia.

http://www.lva.virginia.gov/search.htm?cx=003101711403383086340%3Axhathpp67to&cof=FORID%3A11&q=bacon%27s+rebellion&sa=

Matthew, Thomas. The Beginning of Progress and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion in the Years 1675 & 1676. Reprint Manuscript. P. Force, 1835. Original manuscript, 1675. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/tm.html 

McCarter, William Matthew (2012). Homo Redneckus: On Being Not Qwhite in America, Algora Publishing.

Morgan, Edmund S. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Rice, James D. (2012). Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America. Oxford University Press.

Rothbard, Murray N. (1979) Conceived in Liberty, Miles Institute.  https://mises.org/library/conceived-liberty-2

Sainsbury, W. N. Virginia in 1676-77. Bacon’s Rebellion (Continued),
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul., 1913), pp. 234-248

https://www.jstor.org/stable/4243280?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Salviati-Marambaud, Yvette. Nathaniel Bacon: A Frontrunner of the Revolution?. Vol. 19. Cycnos, 2008. http://revel.unice.fr/cycnos/?id=1268

Schilling, Vincent (2013). 6 Shocking Facts About Slavery, Natives and African Americans, Indian Country Today Media Network. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/09/5-little-known-facts-about-african-americans-natives-and-slavery-17th-century-151664

Tarter, Brent. (2011). Bacon’s Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia, Virginia Magazine of History & Biography.

Thandeka (1998) The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy, World: The Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Vol. XII No: 4 (July/August 1998), pp. 14 –20 https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/spl/thandekawhiting.html

Thompson, Peter. (2006). The Thief, the Householder, and the Commons: Languages of Class in Seventeenth-Century Virginia, William and Mary Quarterly.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877353

Webb, Stephen Saunders (1995). 1676: The End of American Independence. Syracuse University Presshttps://books.google.com/books?id=P1etgd8yjfkC&pg=PA87

Wyatt, David (2010). Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature, JHU Press.

Zinn, Howard. (1997). A People’s History Of The United States. New York, NY: The New York Press.

 

 

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Filed under AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Race & Diversity, virginia

Discovering Pocahontas: A family surprise

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.

Fugate-Clark

I discovered a new Martin family line when I began triangulating my DNA results in order to identify the father of my 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!”

Silly me.

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.

d0cbb8fe93e980e219420671e75df73a

Pocahontas

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.

One source was the Patawomeck Tides, a newsletter that tribe sends its members (https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/upload/Patawomeck-Tides-2009.pdf). Once I began reading, the pieces rapidly fell into place.  Mike was right (not that I had any doubts, Mike!).

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.

Pocahontas

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.

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Connecting Americans to one another – and the world – through genealogy

dnaadventures


OpEd

A few of you may have noticed that the Genealogy Adventures | DNA Adventures tagline recently changed. Our project has outgrown its initial tagline: inspiring your own genealogy adventures. Given the scale of our readers/follows (we are truly humbled!), I think we’ve achieved that initial impetus for the project.  Inspiring people to delve into their own genealogy adventures remains front and centre of everything we do.

Yet, there’s always been an underlying purpose for this project, including the TV series. This is expressed in the new tagline: Connecting Americans to one another- and the world – one family tree at a time.  We like to look at the two taglines this way: the first one acted like a cheerleader. It was all about getting people excited about delving into their own genealogy.

The new tagline represents the foundation of what our project is really about. Think of this new tagline like an American football quarterback (or like a mid-fielder for all of you footie fans). It’s the heart of what we do, and why we do it.

We live in a period marked by profound social and political unrest and divisiveness. I believe genealogy can have a role in addressing this. Now, I’m no Pollyanna. I know that genealogy isn’t a magic wand that can erase so much of what has lead us to this moment, this exact point in time. However, I believe that genealogy can be a route that enables all of us to understand how we arrived at this peculiar junction in history. That would be American history, to be precise. Genealogy and history…they are inseparable and indivisible.  You cannot have one without the other. You cannot understand the history of a family without understanding the historical backdrop that their lives played out against.

The history of any American family is the history of America in microcosm.

A nation founded on immigration has evolved

It’s not a (insert the name of your preferred news channel here) news flash that America was founded by immigration. It was an immigrant nation. Now it’s a nation. Just like a person goes through defined growth stages in the course of their life – infant, toddler, child, teenager, young adult, middle age, and pensioner – a nation goes through growth stages. The day after the American colonials won the Battle of Yorktown, America was in its infancy. The story of an immigrant nation was the narrative of its infancy. I’d argue that its Civil War was America as a teenager.  America can still be seen as an immigrant nation at that point.

Those new immigrants married into older immigrant families. They were absorbed into the fabric of a country that had almost completely morphed into a nation state. By nation state, I’m saying that America didn’t merely exist as a geopolitical entity. It had a distinct culture, which is an essential ingredient for a nation state.

Continued immigration into a nation doesn’t make it an immigrant nation.  Immigration isn’t its defining characteristic, which that phrase implies. Yet, this remains a stubborn narrative today.  That narrative implies that new immigrants today only marry other new immigrants. That’s not the history of our nation. Almost two centuries down the road from the Civil War, all of those immigrant families who arrived on these shores before the outbreak of the Civil War built a nation. A nation of families with unknown and forgotten connections to one another.

Relations between different ethnic groups in colonial era America was surprisingly fluid. That’s the polite way of putting it. While the ruling colonial elite were not best pleased about this, and began to actively legislate against it, cross-cultural sexual relations happened. A. Lot. No, think of a number and multiply it a thousandfold. Now you’re getting it. DNA testing services like AncestryDNA, 23andme and FamilyTree DNA have proven it.

Yet, America remains divided between groups of people who have been actively pitted against one another in a perverse form of an animal blood sport, one that has gone on for centuries.

Each culture that has arrived on these shores has contributed something to the shaping of this nation. There are too many to mention so I will highlight a handful. The Mid-west would have a fundamentally different character/vibe had it not been for the Scandinavians who settled that territory. Texas would be a very different place had it not been for German immigrants. The Southwest and California owe their distinctive flavour to the Spanish and Mexicans who were the first non-Native American inhabitants in this region. American music owes everything to the fusion of Irish and Scottish folk music with the music of Africans.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Genealogy is the road to an American identity

Genealogy has been my faithful and steadfast tutor on American history – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the morally obscene. My roots in America go back further than I could have ever imagined. All the way back to my 12x great grandmother Pocahontas (um, I’m not joking!)

If you’d told me that I had ancestors who settled and built Jamestown (that would be my West family), I’d have told you to go and do one. If anyone had told me that Martha Dandridge Washington, you know, George Washington’s wife, was my cousin, I’d have told you to pull the other one.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me that I was related to and/or descended from signers of the Declaration of the Independence (John Adams, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton and Benjamin Harrison). Or that I was the direct descendant of a famed Revolutionary War hero (Patrick Henry), and a staggering list of Colonial Era and post-Revolutionary War governors, congressmen, senators and state representatives.

Or that I was related to an African American scientist who pioneered research in the field of blood transfusions (Charles Richard Drew) – who also developed improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks.

The fact that I am related to some of the framers of the American Constitution still blows my mind – that would be John Adams (again) and James Madison.

You wouldn’t think I had these ancestral connections solely based on my complexion. You wouldn’t guess it. Nevertheless, I am descended from, and related to, people who don’t look like me.

One thing genealogy has taught me: My roots run deep in America. America’s history runs deep within me. And, hand on heart, I’ve only learned the real history of the land of my birth through genealogy. Genealogy gave me the American identity that I never had. My parents, bless them, instilled in me a sense of inclusiveness.

The steady rhythm of history

There is no part of my tree where I can escape the steady rhythm of American history.  My Sheffey ancestors fled the war-torn 18th Century Palatinate region of Germany to become farmers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Weary from endless wars in the land of their birth, they did not hesitate to answer the call of Revolution in their new homeland. Their Ankney cousins landed in Pennsylvania and became part of the steady move westwards – usually amongst the first settlers as the frontier borders moved steadily westward.

My pantheon of Scottish and Irish ancestors were also at the forefront of that same expansion into new western territories, a number dying in skirmishes with various Indian tribes who were defending the lands of their forefathers. Other Scottish and Irish ancestors married Native American women, their descendants numbering in the tens of thousands.

There are my English Quaker ancestors who fled religious persecution in England – you know, the kind of persecution where you were fined, tortured, imprisoned or brutally executed for not practicing the faith of the Church of England or the Church of Scotland. They fled their homeland for Ireland, and then Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Or my Scottish ancestors who were Covenanters – a group of Scottish Protestants who also fled their native lands for Ireland and the American Colonies.

Or my African descended ancestors who worked their owners’ farms, cooked, looked after their owners’ children or were hired out as skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen: blacksmiths, wagon makers, wheelwrights, horse breeders, dress makers, milliners, etc. Their toil built the wealth of a nation. 

Or my ancestors who were free people of colour, who owned farms, businesses or were gifted artisans/craftsmen, men of the cloth, and healers.

My ancestors from every background fought in every American war, both domestic and foreign. Every. Single. Battle.

I know all of this, and oh so much more, because of genealogy.

And they married. And raised families…many of those families were an impressive size generation after generation after generation. They raised their families; instilling every hope and dream for the future. Whatever their background. Whatever their station in life. Each generation strived to better their parents, attaining their slice of the American dream.

Trust me, some of my ethnic ancestral groups had formidable obsticals to overcome to achieve their dreams. Some continue to battle entrenched obsticals now.

Together, they built America. All of them. In their own way. In time, their countless myriad of descendants become one, big, enormous, American family. Seriously. There are thousands of surnames in my family tree. All of these families are related. Each has spread out to reside in each of the 50 States…and a few American territories to boot.

There is more that unites Americans than divides us

Look, no family is going to get along all of the time. Families have their disagreements, their barneys, their tense moments. The strength of family is the ability to respect the bonds of family. To bounce back from those fractious moments. To respect differences while still acknowledging that you are kin. What strikes me most right now is this: most families I’ve seen unite when a family member is attacked. What frustrates me is how my fellow Americans tear one another apart. A house divided falls – a much more famous man than me said it. And he was right. We are weakest when we are at each other’s throats.We are weakest when we kill one another based on some contrived notion and narrative of “otherness”. 

Try this on for size.  Look at people when you’re out and about doing your usual daily thing.  Not like a stalker. You know, look at them the way people usually notice other people. Ignore the superficial differences like skin color, attire, body decoration, etc. Ignore the displayed symbols of that person’s religion. Don’t look at them like they are an ‘other’. Look at them as a person. And then ask yourself a simple question: How would I see that person if I knew we were related? Because you very well might be. If your family has resided within America’s borders for more than a few generations, don’t be surprised by the number of people you’re related to. And they all won’t look like you. They all won’t be from the same ethnic or cultural group as you.

400+ years of marriages, sex and children in America. How far back can you trace all of your family lines? Don’t make assumptions. That person who you thought something negative about, or made a snap judgement about because of their external appearance…well, you could be related to them. I’m only now discovering that I share common ancestral families with a handful of people I went to high school with twenty-something years ago. My colonial Quaker ancestors are the gift that just keeps giving😉

Or, to put it this way, as multi-ethnic as I am, as progressive as I am in my socio-economic and world views …I am related to John McCain, who is as European looking and Conservative as one can be. Put us side by side and you’d never guess in a million years that we were related.  Heck, I didn’t even know we were related until I took up genealogy and worked on my family tree. George Walker Bush? He’s my cousin. Preston Brooks, the infamous Senator from South Carolina? He’s my cousin too. Barak Obama?  Yep, another cousin.

You. Never. Know. Not until you do the work, and your family tree makes its revelations.

The meme of American individuality can only take us so far. Separately, sure, we may shine like a single star in a vast and endless universe. Together? We can be an incredible constellation that lights up the night sky. Part of that constellation is recognizing, respecting, and hopefully rejoicing in, the fact that we are connected in ways that have been long forgotten. That constellation is family. It’s your choice, my fellow Americans. There is always a choice. You can probably guess which one I’m hoping will be the outcome.

400+ years of division and hatred should be enough for any country.

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Another paternal brick wall smashed: Margaret Clark(Wythe, Virginia)

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.

Fugate-Clark

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.

 

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Genetic Genealogy & Endogamy: Identifying the father of Cornelius White using DNA Triangulation

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:

  1. My mother was a descendant of the same family via her Quaker Harlan lineage;
  2. My father’s maternal Roane ancestors shared common Parke, Dandridge, Henry and Carter ancestors with the James’s maternal Lowry ancestors; and
  3. 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 of Staunton, Virginia

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.

It’s an interesting area of research.

 

 

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When family history turns into a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode

Game of Thrones Font

I’ve just finished the first phase of an enormous 3-day genealogy project: researching and compiling the family tree for the Scottish Highland Stewart Lairds. I’m related to these Lairds via my mother’s maternal Harlan, Bailey and Matthews lines – and through my father’s maternal West, Shelton and Roane lines.

I have a multitude of American Colonial Era European, mulatto, and black Stuarts (the spelling used by the royal branch of the this Scottish clan to distinguish themselves from their Stewart cousins) and Stewarts in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. They are the reason behind this massive project.

Phase 2 of this project will begin to place my European descended Colonial Stewart and Stuart ancestors and kin into this Scottish family tree. Not all of them will be relations of this family. However, judging by the families they married into on this side of the Pond, a number of them will be.

Phase 3, which will require a substantial amount of DNA testing and triangulation of male Stuart/Stewart descendants in the US, will place my mixed and African-descended Stuart and Stewart relations into the same family tree. If my family tree is any indication, quite a number of Americans of color descend from both sides of this Scottish House through Stewart/Stuart men having children by enslaved women and free women of color. This has come as something of a revelation to more than a few of my Scottish aristocratic mates back in Scotland.

Naturally, in the course of research, ancient Stewart/Stuart family stories came thick and fast. There is one that stands out above all others (so far). I can’t image it’s going to be surpassed. Forget being a scene from the television series Outlander. It’s too outrageous. It’s straight out of Game of Thrones. If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones, think House Lannister. Definitely think Cersei. Perhaps Ramsay Bolton. Or think House Harkonnen from Dune if that’s more you’re cup of tea. Especially the Baron.

The story goes something like this:

17th century Scotland. One ancient cousin, Lady Margaret Drummond-Ernoch (c 1560-1618), married another ancient cousin, Alistair Stewart, 1st Laird of Ardvorlich (c 1560-1618). The Stewarts of Ardvorlich and the Drummond-Ernoch families had a common foe: the MacGregor clan.

Margaret’s brother, John, was in charge of the King’s forest in the region of Scotland where they lived. Part of his duties was to ensure the safety of the King’s hinds (deer) in the forest which he was charged with protecting.The MacGregors were fond of poaching said venison. which led to tensions between Margaret’s brother and the MacGregors. Poaching wasn’t just illegal. It was very illegal. Punishments were harsh, including death. Think of it like cattle rustling in 19th Century America.

John laid a trap to catch the poachers. He caught the perpetrators. And, instead of sending them off with a flea in their ears, he cut their ears off…and then sent the men back home.

The MacGregors clearly felt some kind of way about this. They plotted their revenge.

The MacGregors ambushed Margaret’s brother in the forest he was patrolling, and proceeded to enact a kind of one-upmanship. They had lost their ears. He lost his head. Literally.

The MacGregor men took his head back to their Laird, who offered them protection from their actions. The MacGregor’s revenge didn’t end there. This is where it turns pure Game of Thrones.

The MacGregor men made the journey to Margaret’s home when they knew that her husband, Alistair, would be away.

Ardvorlich House, Loch Earn

Ardvorlich House, Loch Earn, the ancestral home of Alistair Stewart.

Remember, the MacGregors were the sworn enemies of both the Drummond-Ernochs and the Stewarts. The MacGregor men arrived in the middle of the night while a heavily pregnant Margaret sat alone in her dinning hall, eating a simple meal of bread and cheese. Scottish Highland rules of hospitality decreed that hospitality must be extended to foes as well as friends. A noblewoman of her times, she extended the hospitality of her house to these men.

She left the dining hall to arrange for more food and drink to be brought to her unexpected visitors. When she returned, there, placed on a platter in the middle of the table, was her brother’s head. That’s not the worst of it. The MacGregor men had stuffed the remnants of Margaret’s meal into his mouth.

Let that grisly picture sink in for a minute. Your beloved brother’s head. His mouth is filled with the remnants of your meal. There it is right in the middle of your dinning table.  Placed there by the same men who had killed him.

Needless to say she legged it. While accounts differ, they agree one one thing: she fled her home, in the pitch black of night, into the surrounding woodland. Margaret eventually hid herself in the vicinity of a nearby loch, which is now named for her (Lochan na Mna, the Loch of the Woman, on the side of Beinn Domhnuill). It’s here that her husband, Alistair Stewart, found her a few days later. By the time he had found her, she’d gone mad from the shock and horror.

Loch na Mna. Image source: Source From geograph.org.uk (Peter Standing)

Loch na Mna. Image source: Source From geograph.org.uk (Peter Standing). A heavily pregnant Margaret hid herself away in this beautiful, desolate place. 

The child she carried when this occurred? That would be Major James Beag Stewart, 2nd Laird of Ardvorlich. He’s affectionately known as “The Mad Major” – a man worthy of his own article. He is one of the great historical figures from the Scottish storytelling pantheon of national figures.

Welcome to the world of mediaeval Scottish Lairds.

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DNA.land’s DNA analysis tool’s major improvement

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:

dnaland1

The West African results can be more accurate. I know that much 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 )
  4. 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.
  5. Take early results as an indication of the global cultures you might be connected to. These results will not be definitive. See Point #4.

Keep up the great work, DNA.land!

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Finding lost branches through obituaries

I’m a pretty active member on a number of family genealogy Facebook groups. These groups continue to be a source of pure gold. Even if I don’t immediately realize it sometimes.

 

The other day, a member of one of these groups shared the obituary on the left, which lead to a pretty exciting discovery. I was able to reconnect a lost branch of my Holloway family to my overall Edgefield County, South Carolina family tree.

 

Sometimes it’s easy and straightforward to peel back the generations to connect a newly found branch to my family tree.  This wasn’t one of those time. It was a pitched battle of wits going back in time, generation by generation. For whatever reason, this branch of the Holloways stubbornly tried to keep its secrets of how, exactly, I was related to this family group. I’m a Holloway in more ways than I care to think about thanks to endogamy. So I was like a dog with a beloved bone…there was no way I was letting this mystery go. I was going to find Willie’s place in my tree.

In this case, for whatever reason, there was a complicated rhythm to unravelling this mystery. I had to use a unique combination of Newspapers.com, Google Books, FindAGrave, FamilySearch, and AncestryDNA.  Umm hmm, I was that determined to crack this!

In broad strokes, these were the steps:

  1. For whatever reason I had to start with a search for an obituary on Newspapers.com. This provided vital information about:
    1. The date of death, an age (which you can estimate, if an exact birth date isn’t provided – e.g. 2010 (death date) – 69 (age at death) = an estimated birth year of 1941);
    2. Children, both living and deceased.  This is especially helpful when it comes to daughters, who usually appear under their married names. Marriages mean records and records will (hopefully!) have information like a mother’s maiden name…which helps you find a marriage certificate for a person’s parents.  It’s always easier if you have the mother’s correct maiden name along with the father’s name. These records will also have information about: A)  birth counties; B) County of Residence at the time of the record; C) names of parents and thier county of residence, etc. These are all vital research clues; and
    3. An ancestor’s siblings, which you can use to find birth, death and marriage certificates…which will also, hopefully, have information about parents.
  2. My next stop was FamilySearch. Armed with specific key ancestry dates, I found the vital records I needed.  I added these to each person’s page on Ancestry.com. This has to do with the database algorithms ancestry and FamilySearch use. Sometimes, it’s far easier for me to find the records I need on FamilySearch in the first instance. Once I enter the information in Ancestry, the same record usually appears afterwards. It is what it is and I have learned to live with this.
  3. Once I had specific vital information, then – and only then – did Ancestry begin to provide the records I needed. There are times, in my experience,  when Ancestry can be very awkward to work with.  This was one of those times. For whatever reasons, Ancestry was suggesting records for everyone and anyone other than the specific person I was initially researching.  It was only when I had exactly, precise information, that I was able to finally locate correct records on the service. This time around, the various Social Security records were the last records Ancestry provided.   I needed to all of the vital information possible in order for the correct social security record to finally appear in order to prove I was indeed making the right connections for the individuals in this family group.
  4. In a handful of instances, I had to surf over to FindAGrave and view the Liberty Springs Baptist Church cemetery records to find one or two additional pieces of information. In one instance, a family history book on Google Books providing the missing key to unlock records on Ancestry.

I knew I was on the right track from the beginning. Willie Thomas Holloway was buried at Liberty Springs Baptist Church Cemetery. This church and this cemetery has a long, long, long association with my Edgefield family. This was clue #1 that Willie was definitely a cousin. There were family names that immediately leapt out from the news clipping: Scott, Gaskin, and Quarles. I was related to these three Edgefield families in a number of ways.

I haven’t been able to connect Willie to my tree via his Holloway line. His grandfather, George Washington Holloway, is a stubborn brick wall. His grandmother, Annie Smith, is also a brick wall.  For now.

However, I was able to find Willie’s place in my tree via his mother, Susie Anna Scott. This was the exciting discovery bit.  It turns out that Susie Anna Scott was the great grand-daughter of my 4th great grand aunt, Anna Peterson.

Annie/Anna Peterson with her siblings and her parents. Click for larger image

Annie/Anna Peterson with her siblings and her parents. I am a direct descendant of her sister, Amanda.  Click for larger image

Anna Peterson has been a mystery and a brick wall for years.  Me, and a hard working core of Edgefield cousins, spent years trying to find Annie in official records. In the end, we gave up.  We simply couldn’t find her. There were simply too many Annie Petersons from Edgefield who were born around the same time as our great aunt Annie. We just couldn’t be 100% certain we’d found the right records for the right Annie Peterson. This was more than a little frustrating as we were able to trace the lines for all of her siblings.  Annie’s line was the only lineage we couldn’t find.  Until now.

Annie Peterson, her husband, Eldred Scott, and their children in Edgefield County, SC.

Annie Peterson, her husband, Eldred Scott, and their children in Edgefield County, SC.

willieholloway4

Reading from right to left: You will see Peter Peterson and his wife Violet on the right hand side of the image. From here, we can see their son, Eldred Scott, with his wife, Susie Reynolds, and their children. Moving to the next generation, You will see Willie Thomas Holloways, parents – Holland Scott and Pinkney Holloway. And everyone you see in the image above? They’re all cousins to each other – and to me. Please click for larger image

In the end, it was a series of marriage records, death certificates and obituaries which finally led back to our Annie.  Think of this like reverse engineering, genealogy style.  Sometimes, you have to take a shot in the dark and work backwards from a latter record in order to scroll back through the generations to get to where you need to be. Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t. And there were times when I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to crack this.

I was fortunate.  Due to location, family names and a family associated church, I knew this wouldn’t be a wasted research exercise.

Now it’s time to return to the drawing board to find Willie’s place in the family tree via his grandfather, George Washington Holloway!

 

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The mystery of Henry West (1608-1647)

Genealogy requires rather a substantial amount of critical thinking and deductive reasoning. This is especially true the further back in time you go…when the paper trail becomes sparse. I’m going through this right now with one ancestral cousin, the English immigrant Henry West who settled in the Virginia Colony. He would found an outpost settlement in what is the Richmond, Virginia area (The Origins of Richmondhttp://www.envisionthejames.org/detail/the-origins-of-richmond/evj79769abf7da845298)

He’s a double cousin. He an ancestor that is shared in my father’s Roane family line and my mother’s Matthews family line.

I have two distinct lines of Wests in my family tree. Henry “The Immigrant”‘s is one. The Barons de la Warr are another (the State of Delaware was named for this line). Contemporary records say that Henry was related to the Baronial line of Wests.  He is cited as being a nephew of Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr and the 2nd Governor of the Virginia Colony:

contemporary account of the death of Henry West

Account gathered from contemporary records. Taken from Plantation Homes of the James River by Bruce Roberts, Elizabeth Kedash https://books.google.com/books?id=6S515rAAEpgC&pg=PA6&dq=henry+west+killed+by+indians&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiC4P7G_7bMAhULHD4KHY1BC9gQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q&f=false Click for larger image

Nephew is a pretty cut and dried familial term. So you’d think that Henry’s relationship to either Thomas should be all done and dusted. Far from it.

Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr, 2nd Governor of Virginia.

Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr, 2nd Governor of Virginia.

Thomas West does have one known brother. However, records for that brother are extremely scare. So far, I have only found one son for this brother. His name isn’t Henry. So no nephew Henry’s to be found here. My hunch is that untangling his descendants will require a visit to the British National Archives in London.

On numerous online family trees, I’m finding stories that my Henry’s proper name was William. So it was back to the drawing board to search. It turns out that Thomas West did indeed have nephew named William West:

A few months short of a year after he arrived, [Thomas West, 2nd Baron] De La Warr left Virginia because of illness. A third of the colony’s population was dead, mostly from disease. Miners, brought to Virginia to search for gold, silver, and copper, had planned a mutiny and seen their ringleader hanged. The governor’s nephew, Captain William West, had been killed in battle [with the Powhatan tribe]. From http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/jamestown_settlement_early

This William West, however, was born earlier than Henry “The Immigrant” West – and died much earlier.

So this William isn’t a match either.

It’s the usual genealogy blunder.  Just because two men from the same family died in battles with Native Americans does not make them one in the same person.

So it was back to the drawing board yet again. I’ve had to go back to the first West who was created Baron de la Warr and sketch out his descendants. There are Henry Wests to be sure…none are even close to being a match for my cousin, Henry “The Immigrant” West. They are either born too soon, too late or never travelled from England to the American colonies.

At the moment, I’ve ruled out all of the possibilities for identifying who Henry “The Immigrant” West actually is. That’s not a bad thing. While I know who he isn’t…I know enough about to him to eventually identify who he is in terms of his relationship to the overall West family. If he’s a relation at all. It just requires more research and hunting.

What is interesting is that Henry “The Immigrant” West had land along the James River, near to properties owned by Thomas and Francis West. Henry is also associated with Jamestown, Thomas and Francis West’s base of operations in the Virginia Colony, upon his arrival in the Virginia Colony. Which leads to me to believe that the strongest possibility is that Henry was a cousin to Thomas, rather than a nephew.

Critical thinking and deductive reasoning suggests:

  1. The original account for Henry “The Immigrant” is incorrect. This would mean that somehow, somewhere back in time, Henry “The Immigrant” West was confused with Henry West, son of Thomas West.
  2. My Henry may not be a relation to the Baronial line of Wests at all. He may simply be from an unrelated West family.
  3. My Henry may share a much older common ancestry with the Baronial line of Wests in England; making him a cousin.
  4. A contemporary may have heard the name West and simply assumed he was a relation to Thomas West.
  5. Henry may be his middle name, which he preferred using. Meaning his first name is unknown.
  6. Whatever colonial records that could shed light on Henry’s relationship to Thomas West have either been lost or destroyed in the course of time, skirmishes (e.g. Bacon’s Rebellion) or various wars.

The search for Henry continues…

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