Obituaries matter when it comes to genealogy research

I am blessed to have a small army of genealogy foot soldiers when it comes to researching my Edgefield County, South Carolina ancestry. This army of researchers are all cousins spanning the melanin range. I’m grateful to have their enthusiasm and expertise. Edgefield is the Mount Everest of genealogy.  Hands down, it has given me the most challenges and barriers.  Oh yeah, it’s given me plenty of grey hairs and headaches over the years. It’s also made me grow and develop my working practice as a genealogist.

Edgefield is challenging for quite a few reasons. The first reason is everyone in Edgefield and the Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina are related.  Cousins married cousins over and over again down the generations. The second reason is the use of family names. Pretty much every branch of these big, inter-connected families, had a fondness for the same handful of family names when it came to naming their children.  Take the name Willie, for example. It was (and is) widely used for both males and females in my Edgefield family. I’m not kidding when I say I can easily come across dozens of Willie Petersons or dozens of Willie Holloways when I’m trying to find details for a specific individual by that name.

When it comes to the African American branches of my Edgefield family, we can add 3 big pulses of migration out of Edgefield to the mix.  The first pulse came at the close of the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.  The second pulse was the between 1920 and 1930 as the Jim Crow laws really bit down hard. The third was between the 1940s and 1950s – partly due to Jim Crow and partly due to new job opportunities in the northern states during, and immediately after, World War II

These migration pulses provide some of the most challenging barriers when it comes to researching the descendants of Edgefield.  For instance, if I’m researching a Willie Mae Peterson, born in Blocker, Edgefield, South Carolina in 1919…is this the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Gilchrist who was born around 1920 and living in Greenwood, South Carolina? Or is she the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Blocker who was born about 1917 and living in North Augusta, Georgia?  Or the same Willie Mae Peterson, born about 1919, living in Washington, DC. Or the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Settles, born around 1916, living in Baltimore, Maryland?  Or one of a dozen other Willie Mae Petersons living in Boston, Newark, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, Dayton, or a dozen other places where southern migrants settled?

Add to the mix that all of these women will more than likely be part of the same extended family.  However, in and amongst this myriad of Willie Mae Petersons, I’m trying to research a single individual.

Enter obituaries. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that reading through hundreds of obituaries is more than a little morbid.  But hey, we’re researching people who are no longer among us.  So it’s part and parcel of the research that genealogists do. Believe it or not, obituaries are also a goldmine of information.

When it comes to my Edgefield ancestors and kin born after 1870, it’s become my practice to start researching and finding obituaries for the males in a family first.  I do this simply because their surname doesn’t change.  Well, not usually, at any rate. It’s easier for me to find obituaries for them.  From there, I can find crucial information – the names of parents, where they born and raised, details about their spouses and children….and details about their siblings. This leads me to other obituaries which plug further information gaps.

Let’s take a look at this in practice with the obituary below.

susie-anna-holloway-obit

click for larger image

Susie is my second cousin, three times removed.  Her husband, A P Scott, is also my cousin. Her parents are my cousins.  Both of A P Holloway’s parents are also my cousins. That’s classic Edgefield.

I found Susie (Holloway) Scott’s obituary via an obituary for her father.  In his obituary, she appeared with her married name. Using Newspapers.com, and searching for her under her married name, I found her.

From there I could update my tree with information about her children and her surviving sibling.

Obituaries have some pretty basic information which is sometimes overlooked:

Death dates

An obituary provides a date of death – or at least a month and a year – and town and/or county of death. Plugging this information into Susie’s page on my Ancestry.com tree resulted in finding the correct death certificate for her, as well as relevant census, social security, and other records.

Last known place of residence

The places where her children were residing at the time of her death. I’d spent an age trying to research her son, Lawrence.  I’d been searching for him in Edgefield, Greenwood, Abbeville, and Newberry in South Carolina.  I couldn’t find him.  And there was a very simple reason why.  He wasn’t in South Carolina.  He was in the Bronx in New York City. When I added his residence as the Bronx in 2008, I found him and information about him (notably New York City directory listings).

Married names for daughters, sisters, and mothers

When it came to her daughters, I found their married names – enabling me to research them and their families.

It’s not unusual for me to discover that the women in the family married more than once due to the premature death of a husband. Which explains why I struggled to find them in additional records after a certain date. There was an additional  marriage to the one I already knew about.  I had no reason to suspect that she had re-married. This meant I was looking for these women under the wrong name. In just about every case, I found the additional records for them that I was seeking once I had a new married name.

Clearing up how people wanted their names spelt

Last, but by no means least, I can confirm how my kin preferred to spell their name. For instance, that Ocie Peterson used ‘Ocie’ and not Ossie or Osie. It may seem like a small, seemingly insignificant thing.  I like to honor the ancestors by using the form of their name they preferred and used.

Turning names into people

I can also learn a little something about them: what their interests or hobbies were or their various occupations and achievements. This lifts their story above the usual dates of residence, birth, marriage, or death. It makes them 3 dimension people. In Susie’s case, that she was a member of the Springfield Baptist Church, which is a church founded by the ancestors. I’ve heard quite a bit about this church and its community from various Edgefield cousins.  That she was a member of one of the committees of this church tells me a little something about her standing in the community.  And, of course, her picture is priceless. Her features reminds me of people from my immediate family with roots in Edgefield. It’s a connection to a person I’d never met nor heard of until I began researching the family.

Thankfully, I have 3 Edgefield cousins who are super sleuths when it comes to finding obituaries for our very extensive and complicated family.  If I ever become stuck, I know I can call on them to find an obituary when I struggle to do so.  They do so, and we all share them on Facebook when we find them, because we all know just how important they are in our research.

So if you’re not using obituaries as part of your own family research…I heartily recommend that you do. They are worth the effort it takes to find them.

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Is there trace Iberian results in your British DNA? This might be why

I’m fast on the genealogy trail of my Welsh ancestors. This involves families like Cadwal(l)ader, Evans, Jones, Matthews, Price and Pugh.

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Map showing the geography of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula with Cornwall and Wales in western and southwestern Britain. 

Looking at my DNA matches for others with these families, I kept seeing trace DNA from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). I made a mental note of this, but it certainly wasn’t anything in the forefront of my mind.

My own Iberian results are minuscule. AncestryDNA doesn’t show it all. Genebase puts it at 0.7%. FamilyTreeDNA estimates it at 0.5%. And various Gedmatch DNA analytic tools puts it between 0.3% to 0.9%. Let’s agree on one thing: it’s tiny. Really, really tiny. I wrote it off as being part of my ancient DNA. It may not be quite as ancient as I assumed.

I’ve come across some interesting articles and books about the genetic composition of the Welsh. Needless to say I learned something new about the Welsh.

I’d always thought that the Welsh were a Celtic people. That’s what I’d heard for the 30 years I’d lived in England. The story goes something like this: the Welsh were the original inhabitants of the British Isles. They were pushed back into present days Wales after a steady stream of invaders: the Anglo Saxons, followed by the Normans. However, there was an even older arrival that had a direct impact on the original Welsh. The Celts.

The first article I came across is an antiquarian piece. And I should caveat this by saying that there is some ethno-centric language and prejudices expressed within it. Long story short, the Anglo-Saxons believed themselves to be superior to the Celtic-Iberian Welsh. This superiority was used to justify their dominance over the Welsh. It’s more than a little racist when it comes to speaking about the Welsh and their Iberian forefathers. Some things never change. Nevertheless, it’s worth reading to gain a basic insight into the geographical movements of older Welsh peoples within Wales as different conquering groups came to occupy their lands: The Athenaeum: Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, Volume 2866:

https://books.google.com/books?id=dJFUAAAAcAAJ&dq=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&pg=PA125&output=embed
https://books.google.com/books?id=dJFUAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA125&dq=celts+displaced+iberians+south+in+wales&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGzYvw_LzRAhWDMSYKHXtxCcAQ6AEIGjAA#v=onepage&q=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&f=false

There’s also The British Quarterly Review, Volumes 55-56:
https://books.google.com/books?id=67BHAQAAMAAJ&dq=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&pg=RA1-PA250&output=embed
https://books.google.com/books?id=67BHAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA250&dq=celts+displaced+iberians+south+in+wales&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGzYvw_LzRAhWDMSYKHXtxCcAQ6AEIOzAG#v=onepage&q=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&f=false

The last article I’ll reference is a contemporary one: DNA of the nation revealed…and we’re not as ‘British’ as we think (Ancestry.com): https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/international/press-releases/DNA-of-the-nation-revealedand-were-not-as-British-as-we-think

There’s plenty of sound, primary sources that cover this topic. If you’re interested, Google “Iberian settlement of Wales” in either Google or Google Books.

This is one potential explanation for the trace amounts of Iberian in my own DNA. It comes via my Welsh ancestry. Another route will be via my Cornish ancestry, with a slight twist.

The indigenous Cornish are proud of their connection to the Saracens, a Semitic people, who traded goods with the Cornish for much-needed tin.

The town symbol for Penryn, the first Cornish village I lived in? A Saracen. It’s also the logo for the village rugby team, also named for the Saracens.l

The Saracens left more than just goods and currency. They left their DNA among the Cornish too – a source of pride for the indigenous Cornish to this day.

https://books.google.com/books?id=y8c2AQAAMAAJ&dq=saracens%20in%20cornwall&pg=PA55&output=embed
https://books.google.com/books?id=y8c2AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA55&dq=saracens+in+cornwall&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiXkNbv_7zRAhVGNiYKHc03D04Q6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=saracens%20in%20cornwall&f=false

Again, there are plenty of respected primary sources online which provide a history of the Saracens and the Cornish.

I mention this because the Saracen’s trade wasn’t limited to Cornwall or neighbouring Devon. They traded with the Welsh…and the Iberians, introducing their DNA to southwest England and to Wales. The article Genomic signals of migration and continuity in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons (via Nature Communications via http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10326) touches on ancient Middle Eastern DNA within the British population.

So why is there only a trace amount of DNA? I have a few hypotheses. I’m doing a fair bit of reading to see how accurate or not this theory is. My Welsh ancestors tended to marry within the same families. Yep – a whole new batch of cousin marriages. These cousin marriages go right back to the 1100’s. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that half of these ancestors carried small amounts of Iberian DNA. That DNA continued to be passed back and forth, just enough being preserved through 20 or so generations to come down to descendants as trace amounts of Iberian DNA.

9e3940c9542600d489d1482e9643416d

An illustrative example showing how inherited DNA segments become shorter as they are passed down from generation to generation. In this example, let’s say the pink regions in the image above are Saracen. Let the 100% Saracen segment represent a Saracen ancestor.  Working from left to right, let’s say this ancestor married a Welsh Celt (illustrated by the blue). His or her descendants would be 50% Saracen and 50% Celtic Welsh. The Saracen reduces over time within each subsequent generation.

As for the Saracen? This could explain the trace amounts of Middle Eastern DNA results that pop up in my Welsh DNA cousins’ test results. Probably for the same reason as Saracen DNA does. This too requires more reading and research.

Those trace amounts of Iberian is beginning to make sense.

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New genealogy leads with the We’re Related App

With over 10K downloads under it’s belt to-date, it’s safe to say that the We’re Related app is gaining traction amongst the modern genealogy set. Now that it’s fixed a glitch which prevented people with big trees from using the app, I can now join in the fun.

The app has the potential for being a provider of new genealogy leads.  I’ve already discovered new lines of research through it already.  I only have one big caveat.  The matches We’re Related provides are generated by family trees hosted by Ancestry.   The lines of descent the app displays in order to illustrate how two people are related come from Ancestry.com family trees created by other people.  These trees are only as accurate and reliable as the information put into them.  That’s a nice way to say you still need to vet each and every generational link in the genealogy chain.

I can say that of the 50 or so individuals the app claims I’m related to, 90% have been 100% correct.  That’s not bad going. I’d also say that another 5% were close – close enough for me to quickly work out where the correct ancestral connections lays.

Here’s an overview of some of my favourite new cousin matches:

Senator John McCain

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My match with Senator John McCain was bang on the money. I already knew I was related to Sen. McCain already, so this came as no surprise.  However, I was impressed to see it pop u in my app matches. This is yet another match in a staggering myriad of matches from my colonial Pennsylvania Quaker ancestors.

Jimi Hendrix

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-07-21-1screenshot_2017-01-08-14-08-22-1

As a decades-long veteran of the music industry, I was ALL kinds of excited when Jimi showed up as a match.  He is amongst my all time favourite guitarists and recording artists. Sadly, once I looked the line of descent, as shown above, it all quickly fell to pieces. Isaac Winston is my 10x great grandfather. Mary Ann, his daughter, is my 9x great aunt. However, while she did marry, I cannot find any record which shows she married a Chiles. Not for love nor money.  Which means I’ve discounted this match.  I do have Chiles relations, so I may return back to Jimi to see if there is indeed a connection…or not.

George Washington

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-08-55-1

Again, this one came as no surprise.  I’ve had President George Washington in my family tree for a long time.  Still, it was nice to see him appear…with a correct line of descent.

Zachary Taylor

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-09-26-1

As with George Washington, I’ve long known about my connection to President Zachary Taylor via the Lee family of Virginia. Again, it was great to see his line of descent matched with those provided by antiquarian genealogy books I’d consulted when I researched when building this branch of my family tree.

Henry David Thoreau

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-10-26-1

This match simply blew me away. With a dual degree in Philosophy and Comparative Western Literature, I read plenty of Thoreau while at university.  Discovering I was related to one of America’s towering 19th Century writers was quite a thing to behold.  And it didn’t hurt that Thoreau opened up an entirely new line of inquiry for my Cary ancestry…one that has taken me deep into 16th Century England.

Winston Churchill

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-11-05-1

Sir Winston Churchill, the venerated British Prime Minister – better remembered for his term in office during WWII rather than his second run at Prime Minister in the early days of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign – was also a known connection to me. However, that our supposed link came via a Jane Patrick came as a thunderbolt.  I have no idea who she is.

Looking at my side of the shared equation, the problem with this match quickly became apparent:

jane

Charity Young is my 9x great grandmother via my Fugate ancestry. Which makes her mother, Mary Ann Montgomery, my 10x great grandmother. However, the wrong Thomas Montgomery is showing.  This isn’t the Thomas Montgomery that’s in my own tree (see the image below, which shows the correct Thomas).  The one shown in the image above  is some other unknown Thomas Montgomery.

Here’s the Thomas Montgomery in my tree. He is the father of Mary Ann:

mary-ann

Somehow, this other person’s Thomas has taken priority over my 10x great grandfather, Thomas Montgomery. That’s where this particular error lays – which is why I couldn’t figure out where this Jane Patrick fits into the story.  She doesn’t, and shouldn’t be there.

The ancestor I share in common with Winston Churchill is actually  Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster  (1350- 1403).  This connection makes Winston my 15th Cousin, 3x removed.  Yep, that is one VERY distant connection 😉

I can thank Google Books and the British antiquarian Visitations of series (via https://www.google.com/search?tbm=bks&q=vistitations+of#tbm=bks&q=visitations+of ) for the correct Montgomery family lineage. This ancestry resources is invaluable. It’s old.  The pedigrees and lineages contained within this series of books have been vetted, argued over, and researched for centuries. It’s my ‘go to’ resource when picking up ancestral trails for my English, Welsh, Scottish and northern Irish family lines.

Kanye West

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-11-38-1

A quick peek at the family line that connected me to Kanye was 100% correct.  The gem of this discovery has been a new line of Wests in Delaware and Maryland who were free people of colour. Looking at the names of his earliest known West ancestors is even more exciting. Old Quaker names, with Quaker spellings, like Rebeckah, Susanna, Ezekiel, and Hezekiah among his colonial West ancestors suggests a connection between his fpoc West ancestors and my Quaker West ancestors, some of whom left southern Pennsylvania for Maryland and Delaware early in the 1700s. It’s something I will be researching in 2017.

Christina Aguilera

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-12-33-1

My Scotts-Irish Roanes and Henry family seem to have produced a staggering number of performers for descendants.  Christina is one among many.  Other performers from the Roane-Henry family include:  Willie Nelson, Ron Howard, and Dakota Fanning.

Overall, the app is just plain good fun.  However, it can open up new doors of discovery too. Take my advice though and do some digging and research before getting too excited.

It’s available to download via https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ancestry.notables&hl=en

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New Year, New Project: Stronger Together – the Story of US

It’s a new year (Happy New Year too!) and this year Genealogy Adventures will be defined by a new focus on research. At this point, I have to give credit where credit is due. Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign slogan, Stronger Together, crystallized and galvanized the focus of a genealogy project that has been brewing for the past two years or so.

The central theme of the project focuses on how millions of Americans – regardless of melanin, religion, culture, or ethnicity – are related to one another. Even if you only have one ancestral colonial line, that’s enough to connect to millions of fellow countrymen and women.

05eurosettlement16th

Map of the early American colonies.  Image courtesy of www.trinityhistory.org

It’s not necessarily a project based on changing hearts and minds. It is designed to make Americans think, and learn about the earliest period of the American colonies.

Over a decade of research has results in a rather large and extensive family tree. It’s a tree that enables me to apply all of my marketing analytics experience in order to identify and understand patterns and trends. It’s like applying the basics of ‘big data’ to genealogy. So what is ‘big data’? Boiled right down, it’s a collection of data from traditional and digital sources, usually for a company, which represents a resource for streams of discovery and analysis. Companies collect data about their customers in order for forecasting / trending, and issue-related purposes. Put another way, large data sets can be analyzed in order to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.

I started applying the same methodology to my genealogy about a year ago. It’s been a truly revelatory experience.

So what associations and patterns has my rather large family tree revealed?

Roughly 48% of my American ancestral African descended, European, and Native American lines converge in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

oldvamap

The Tidewater region of Virginia in the early colonial period. The project will initially focus on an area defined by Isle of Wight in the southeast, to Middlesex in the northeast, to Henrico (including Powhatan) to the northwest, down to Surry in the southwest. Image courtesy of virginiapioneers.net

It’s not surprising. The Tidewater region is one of the oldest parts of the Virginia colony. My lines converge there as early as 1607 with the founding of Jamestown. While I don’t have names, DNA test results for me and a myriad of distantly related cousins indicate there were people of Asian descent, Middle Eastern descent, and Jewish descent back in the mists of that early colonial period. These unnamed individuals DNA is part of our DNA. Virginia keeps cropping up as the most likely place this DNA entered into ours.

native-american-territories

Map showing different Native American territories in the eastern half of the United States in the colonial period.  My own genealogy includes the Powhatan, the Catawba, the Shawnee, and the Mahican people. Map courtesy of http://www.emersonkent.com Click for larger image

Another 48% of my American ancestral DNA converges in southern Pennsylvania: notably Chester, Berks, Delaware, and Lancaster Counties in southeast Maryland..

This 48% is roughly split evenly between three groups.  Two-thirds of these groups were European. The first third are Quakers from Scotland, Wales, and England.  The second is a mix of non-Quaker Scottish, Irish, and German ancestors. The final third of my early colonial period kin were Native American, African, and Jewish peoples. DNA tests strongly suggesting that relationships between these three colonial groups of people happened at a higher rate of frequency than even I could have imagined.  

The final 4% of my DNA in early colonial America can be found within the Puritans of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

Not unsurprisingly, as colonists moved from north to south, as well as westwards, they carried their DNA, connecting millions of Americans to one another. While I know that not all who carried their DNA into other parts of the US will have mixed DNA, I’d wager that a statistically significant number of these family lines carried an ethnically mixed ancestry. It’s something that I’m seeing in countless DNA results of my DNA matches. As I’ve already covered in 1667: The Year America was Divided by Race, colonial Americans who were not part of the governing elite didn’t attach importance to melanin levels. They worked, ate, and caroused together.  They also married and/or produced children together. Millions like me will be the children of those unions.

Let me not forget the Spanish and the African descended people who were in America along the southern part of the East Coast long before the arrival of the British. Exploring and occupying territory from Florida to Tennessee, they probably made a genetic contribution to the colonial DNA pool (see  Exploring North Carolina (the Spanish), The North Carolina History Project via http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/exploration-in-north-carolina-spanish).  This came as a bit of a revelation.  I had no idea the Spanish had made it as far north as Tennessee in their exploration of the continent.

So 2017 already sees me in the midst of some serious fundraising. An initial US$ 250K to get the ball rolling with an eye towards US$ 3M overall. A small army of professional genealogists, genetic genealogists, researchers, anthropologists, historians, two American research universities, a technology university, and the British National Archives doesn’t come cheap. Nor does an estimated 5,000 DNA testing kits.

Why so many DNA kits? Quite a number of colonial records have been lost through uprisings (e.g. Bacon’s Rebellion), war (i.e. the American Revolution and the American Civil War), fire, etc. DNA testing and triangulating DNA results is one route to restoring lost and forgotten colonial family branches to an American family tree. Testing more than one person per line will be an important step.  It covers what I refer to as ‘non paternity events’; in other words, the off-chance that somewhere along a familial line a man who is believed to be an ancestor’s father turns out not to be.  Hey, it happens. We’re just being realistic.

It’s also why we’re including the British National Archives.  It has an impressive archive of American colonial era documents: everything from land grants, to tax rolls, to probate, and court records.

Of course, my inner academic is already thinking about educational outreach, and learning materials, for middle and senior schools as well as universities.

That’s the backdrop to Stronger Together – The Story of US. I’m psyched to have the opportunity to share it with you.

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Our best wishes for a happy and joyful holiday season

​Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Holidays!! 🎄🎁🎉🎊⛄

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From Northampton County, NC to Roberts Settlement, Indiana: the hidden history of fpoc

Timing seems to be everything when it comes to genealogy. You can search and search for clues to mysteries for ages.  And then *BOOM*, out of the blue, something amazing can happen.

I’ve been engaged in deep research on ancestors who lived in early 19th Century Northampton, Warren, and Halifax Counties in North Carolina. Out of the blue, Fontaine, a Sheffey cousin, forwarded a video to me. He’d had no idea I’d returned to researching these North Carolina counties. He’d forwarded it to me in the hopes it might have some answers when it came to his father’s maternal lineage. At that point, we had no idea that we were related in any other way besides the Sheffey family of Wythe County, Virginia. It turns out, we share some North Carolina lineages too.

The video below is the one he brought to my attention. The video didn’t specifically, help me in my research with his father’s maternal line.  However, it certainly answered some questions about what became of some of my own maternal ancestors who had seemingly vanished into the ether. The families involved were: Bass, Byrd, Scott, Stuart/Stewart, and Walden/Waldron.

The answer to what happened to them was pretty simple in the end. They had removed themselves from North Carolina to settle in Indiana. I won’t spoil the video. Their journey is a remarkable story.

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Ann St. Clair of Wytheville, VA: Finding my lost connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair family

Actually, the title of this post should have been finding my father’s and my sister’s connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair / Sinkler family. Their DNA tests have proved a long-held suspicion of mine. It doesn’t look like I inherited enough St. Clair DNA from my DNA test to prove it. That’s the autosomal DNA inheritance roll of the dice for you. If you’re also using DNA tests to confirm and/or discovery family connections, this is another reason to have a number of people from your immediate family do the old spit or swab in tube thing.

In my decade-plus long ancestral journey, DNA testing has unlocked some surprising discoveries. It’s confirmed some things my family knew. It’s also disproved other theories. One thing it’s proven so far is that my African-descended family didn’t take the names of enslavers they liked or who may have treated them ‘well’ within the American chattel slavery system.  Nope, they took the surnames that were theirs through birthright. All of them.

My link to the St. Clair family is via my father’s paternal grandmother, Jane Ann White.

ann-st-clair

I was confident that my paternal St. Clair ancestors from Wytheville, Virginia were somehow connected to the European-descended St. Clair family who were spread throughout Virginia.  This family also includes the Sinclairs and Sinklers.  I will collectively refer to them as the St. Clair family.

The challenge was finding the European-descended man who fathered my ancestral line.

The St. Clair family was fairly straight-forward to research. It’s a well-documented family. It all begins with Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair. Alexander was born in 1666 in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s the one thing genealogists and St. Clair family historians can agree upon. Some claim he was related to the St. Clair family of Rosslyn – you know, the family made famous in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  The family who owns that marvelous and one-of-a-kind chapel.   I’m a bit doubtful about that connection.  However, I’m keeping an open mind. Some of Alexander’s direct male descendants have formed a DNA project to prove or disprove this claim (for more information about this project, please visit the St Clair family DNA Research project via http://www.stclairresearch.com)

What is known is that Alexander arrived in Virginia from Scotland in 1698.  He sailed aboard the ship The Loyalty. He arrived as an indentured servant, serving a term of 4 years.

Alexander married Mary Wyman in 1706 in Stafford County, Virginia. Together, they raised a family of 10 children in Stafford County. The detective work would begin with tracing the male descendants of their 4 sons: Wayman, John, Robert and George.

Around two-thirds of the Virginia St. Clair family had moved to Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky by the time Ann St. Clair, my 2x great grandmother, was born in 1830.  I had a drastically reduced pool of candidates to research. In the end, I had a baker’s dozen of St. Clair men who could have been Ann’s father.  This was based on their ages. There was a problem.  All of these men lived in the wrong part of Virginia. When it came to triangulation, they were a match. However, the team felt they were a generation or two distant from where Ann’s St. Clair father ought to have been in terms of shared DNA with my father and sister.

We began researching St. Clairs who lived a reasonable distance away from Wythe County. This search encompassed Grayson, Roanoke, and Augusta. I struck gold in the form of Alexander Robert St. Clair who was a resident of Staunton, Virginia. His children and their descendants were residents of Staunton and Roanoke. His sons were born within a few years of Ann, which automatically ruled them out. We struck pay dirt when the team triangulated the DNA tests from me, my father and my sister against Alexander Robert St. Clair. When it came to my father’s and sister’s DNA tests, there was no doubt that he was Ann’s father. Shared St. Clair DNA matches began to pop up all over the place for my father and my sister (see the screen grabs at the end of this article).  In terms of generational distance and shared DNA, they were as close to a perfect match as we could have wished for. That was one mystery solved.

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Now, because this is me and my direct line, there were bound to be some wrinkles. When it comes to my genealogy, few things are 100% straightforward. It’s a good thing I thrive on puzzles, mysteries, and challenges.

The mystery of Alexander Robert St. Clair

Alexander Robert St. Clair has been a longstanding mystery for St. Clair family researchers. It didn’t help that he switched it up between using the names Alexander/Alex and Robert. It took us a while to confirm that Robert St. Clair of Staunton and Alexander/Alex St. Clair of Staunton were the same man. While there has been a general consensus that he was a direct descendant of Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair from Glasgow, no one had any idea of how these two men were related. Alexander and Robert were very popular names in the family, which was one clue. However, this was far from being a definitive clue. Nor was it the best clue.

So it was back to the drawing board to determine who his father was. The team had accounted for 98% of the St. Clair men of Virginia and their descendants. Through a process of elimination, we arrived at George St. Clair I (1775-1831) of Botetourt County, Virginia. Triangulation and research pointed to George as the most likely man to be Alexander Robert St. Clair’s father.

alexander-robert-st-clair

Again, once the connection was made, shared DNA hints began to pop up for my father and my sister with other members of George’s family. His immediate family had connections with Botetourt and Smyth Counties (St. Clair Bottom) in Virginia.  This group of St. Clairs in southwestern Virginia were displaced as a result of fierce engagements with Native Americans.  Later incursions with Native Americans could explain why Alexander Robert resided at such a distance from so many of his family. Most of his brothers removed themselves to Jackson County, Missouri as well as Kanawha County, West Virginia. Two of his brothers left for Roanoke with Alexander Robert.

While I would still love to discover a paper document to confirm Alexander Robert’s connection to George, DNA will have to do for now. Too many documents have been lost or destroyed over time for us to ever be certain that any written document will ever be found.

Solving the conundrum of where Ann St. Clair was born

Another wrinkle was my 2x great-grandmother Ann’s cited place or birth.  Her daughter, Jane (White) Sheffey (my great-grandmother ), cited Tennessee as her mother’s place of birth in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 Census returns. Now, there is a St. Clair County in Tennessee.  However, extensive research didn’t provide any connections between St. Clairs/Sinclairs who lived in that county and the St. Clairs of Virginia.  To date, we haven’t found any St. Clairs who left Virginia for Tennessee between 1690 and 1820. To be honest, we’re not sure who that county was named for.

In the end, the team believes that Ann was born in Virginia, either in Staunton, Roanoke, or St. Clair Bottom in Smyth County. Perhaps St. Clair Bottom became confused with St. Clair County in Tennessee when it came to Ann’s birthplace.  Closer inspection of the same information provided by Ann’s siblings (Robert and Phoebe) cite Virginia as their birthplace.  To add an extra wrinkle, I can’t find Ann or her husband Cornelius in the 1870 Census. Ann had passed by 1880.  There are no known death or marriage certificates for her. Her name only appears on her children’s marriage and death certificates. Why Tennessee was cited as her place of birth will remain a mystery.

Determining how I’m connected to the St. Clair family solved the mystery of why I was matching European and African descended members of the Snodgrass, Feazel(l), Shirley, and Patterson families. These families were intertwined the St. Clair family.

alexander-robert-st-clair

My sister’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry

There is one caveat with Ancesty’s Shared DNA hints. The accuracy / usefulness / reliability of these hints lay in how well researched online family trees are.  In the instances provided below, I will say that I’ve only used screen grabs from matches with well-documented source materials and citations. On the whole, these individuals and my research team, used the same historical texts and published family history materials that have been scoured over for decades. The St. Clair branches of our family trees are perfectly aligned.

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My father’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry

Ann St. Clair was my father’s great grandmother.  As such, he is one generation closer to her than me or my siblings. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that he would have a far greater number of St. Clair-related DNA cousin matches than either me or my sister.

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The screen grab below is an important one. It not only illustrates Ann St. Clair’s connection to Alexander Robert St. Clair, it also illustrates Alexander Robert’s connection to George St. Clair I, and George’s connection back to Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair via Alexander “The Immigrant”‘s son, Wayman (Mary Shirley was Wayman’s wife)..

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Race & Diversity, Sheffey family, virginia, wythe

Ethnic diversity and the politicization of genealogy in America

o-diversity-facebookSocial media channels, and Facebook in particular, have been a huge boon for a new generation of genealogists. Whether you’re a novice or a professional genealogist – or fall somewhere in-between – social media and blogging easily allow genealogy enthusiasts to make contact with others researching the same families online. The sharing of information, research findings, and discussing these finds, is part and parcel of the new genealogy experience. You can post a query or some research findings within a Facebook genealogy group and receive responses almost immediately.

I know I’ve made some important breakthroughs via this route. For instance, I might be uncertain if I found the correct records for someone I’m researching, or if the records I’m reviewing actually belong to someone else with the same name. Typically, a direct descendant from that line will provide the information and evidence I need. For me, this is one of the strengths of using social media channels as part of my research.  The other, of course, is meeting distant relations who are also working on the same family or families that I am.

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Today’s genealogy isn’t the same genealogy of your grandparents’ day.  The basics still are.  You know, the best practice, day-to-day aspects of genealogy. However, gone are the days of having to entirely work on your own. Today’s genealogy is a very social affair. It’s one of the other things I love about it. Social media can provide a much needed support group when things get frustrating, challenging, or downright difficult. It’s kind of like having an online cheer-leading squad cheering you on.

Over the past few years I’ve begun to notice a dark side to online genealogy when it comes to Americans in particular. This dark side comes in the form of internet trolls, the bane of any social media platform. Actually, I’ve done more than notice.  I’ve had to deal directly with my own online trolls. As America grapples with the issues of race, criminal justice, the deaths of unarmed civilians, and a toxic presidential election cycle, online trolls have become active. Online genealogy groups and forums are not immune.

The trolls I’ve seen online, and have dealt with myself, cover the melanination spectrum: from the least melaninated Americans (e.g. people with a predominantly or exclusively European ancestral identity), to the more melaninated Americans (e.g. people of colour and/or African-American). Interestingly, both sides of this tedious trolling coin have mirror arguments, which I’ll get to in a bit.

A few months ago, a Facebook post popped up on my timeline from an African-American genealogy Facebook group I joined. One of the members had taken an autosomal DNA test and, as a result, discovered she was a direct descendant of Augustine Washington, the half-brother of George Washington. She was surprised. She was excited by certain implications.  And she wanted to know how she could use this knowledge to connect to other descendants from the same line. At no point was she boastful. She posted what she had discovered. In doing so, she and I (as well as some others within the group), were able to work out how, exactly, we were related to one another.

Then came what I can only describe as a highly charged, angry, politicized comment which soured the whole thread of conversation that had occurred. Boiled down, his contribution ranged from: “You know your ancestor was raped”, to “why you people gonna glorify that your ancestors were raped”, to “his white family won’t want to know you”, to “that make you better than black people?, to “Ya’ll aint woke”.

I will give the administrator of this particular group credit.  She took him task for his comments and the tone of voice used. Other group members piled in too, turning it into a teaching experience.

I wish I could say that experience was rare or a one-off.  Far from it.

My contribution to that particular comment was straightforward.  Not all African Americans or people of colour will share a common African-descended ancestor. I used an example from my own experience. I’d spent around six months or so working with a group of 5 Roane DNA cousins on Ancestry.com, Gedmatch, and Family Tree DNA. All of us identify as either people of colour (due to a very mixed ancestry) or African American. In the end, it turned out that we didn’t share a single common black or mulatto ancestor between us.  What we did share were different Scots-Irish Roane men, who were enslavers, from different branches of the same Scots-Irish Roane family tree. I’m going to repeat that.  None of us had a common African-descended ancestor.  Instead, we were all descendants of six men who were descendants of Archibald Gilbert Roane of northern Ireland.

Counting the number of our own family members who were also direct descendants of Archibald Gilbert Roane, we’d worked out that there were a couple of thousand other people of colour and African Americans who are also direct descendants of Archibald Gilbert Roane. That’s just from six people. Now scale this number up for all the thousands of other African Americans and people of colour who have no idea that they connect to this family.  Thousands of Americans who have no idea they are related through this one family alone.

Further research of the African-descended women who were the mothers of these mixed race lines may yet show that we do share common African-descended ancestors.  For now, we know we connect on the Scots-Irish side of the family.

Had we never researched the Scots-Irish side of our family, we would have never been able to make the connection as to how we were all related.

There is also a practical side to researching this side of my ancestry. It’s the only way I can trace the movement of my enslaved ancestors as they passed from one family member to another down the centuries. In order to trace them, I have to know who enslaved them. This is done through researching the enslavers’ probate and tax records as well as any journals, bills of sale, and correspondence that mentions them. It’s how you build a family tree for those ancestors who were enslaved.  There is no getting around it.

I raised a second point in response to this trolling comment.  I have around a thousand different African-descended ancestral lines in my tree at the time of writing this. There is a mulatto at the end of every single one of these familial lines that I’ve researched. Every. Single. One.

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DNA triangulation has enabled to me identify a growing number of European forefathers and foremothers. Yes, I said ‘foremothers’.  Two of my mixed family lines, the Byrds/Birds and the Buggs, are the documented descendants of English women who were indentured servants who had relationships with African or African-descended men. European DNA accounts for 45% of my autosomal genome (with an additional 20% European Jewish DNA). I have as much European DNA as someone who has one African-descended parent and one European-descended parent. Only my results are an accumulation of 400 years of European, African, and Native American descended people producing children together. Regardless of how those unions happened. So what am I, and genealogy researchers like me, supposed to do? Ignore an entire part of our ancestry?

The chap who trolled that Facebook post didn’t really have a response. To be fair, he’d been taken to task by so many that he probably couldn’t bring himself to comment on any further.

Now for the other side of the coin.

I’ve been spoiled when it comes to meeting my less- melaninated cousins from the Sheffey and Roane sides of my family. It has been a pleasure getting to know them. I’m laughing as I write this next bit: it’s also been fun discovering that the family quirks which run within my family are universal, regardless of melanin levels.  We Sheffeys, for instance, are a political tribe. You’d think we ate politics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s also a real “live and let live” commonality among the wider family. And we aren’t backwards at coming forwards either. The Roanes?  Well, that side of the family is a unique combination of being statesmanlike and fun-loving. The Roanes seems to have been that way for as far back as the first Roane to land on these shores back in the early 18th Century. The Roanes are  very convivial bunch.

My less-melaninated DNA cousins who share the same Quaker ancestry as myself have also, by and large, been great people to get to know. Not a day goes by when one or another of us post something on Facebook, whether it’s just to say hello or “hey, do you know anything about this Mendenhall family group I’ve just stumbled across in Chester County, Pennsylvania?”

That’s the way online genealogy ought to be. And, by and large, it is. 

Sure, I have a number of less-melaninated DNA cousins in the southern United States who don’t want to know they are related to anyone who isn’t from a majority European background. I have more than enough southern cousins who are happy and excited to work together for me to spend any time dwelling on those who don’t, merely because we have different amounts of melanin. Life, as the saying goes, is just too short.

The trolls, on the other hand, are something quite different.

Yesterday, I received a comment (now deleted) from a self-described white nationalist about an article I’d written ages ago when I’d discovered that I was related to former US Governors, Presidents, and the framers of the US Constitution. His comment was simple and straightforward: “You’ll go for a good price when President Trump puts you on the [slave] block. That’s all that [blood] is good for.”

That’s mild compared to other expletive-laced, n-bomb-laced, vitriolic comments I’ve read via my blog. I’m still mystified about what trolls like these hope to achieve. If they expect such comments will stop me in my tracks, they are sadly mistaken. I’m made of far tougher stuff that that.

As many of you know, I’ve lived most of my life in the UK. My early years there coincided with the counter-culture and counter-class movement of the late 1980s through the 1990s. This is when the rave culture, that great social class leveler, exploded across Britain. To say I met a wide-range of people from every walk of life would be an understatement. Many of my raving acquaintances became life-long friends, including the ‘blue blooded’ sons and daughters of aristos. I’ll tell you, it’s something of a shock when someone invites a group of tired and weary revelers back to their house only to discover that where they live is a manor house that’s been in their family pretty much forever.

You couldn’t guess that the scruffy tree hugger you shared a ciggie with was the son of an Earl. Or that the flower power girl with the mala beads and flowers in her hair, the one  you shared a bottle of water with and some laughs, was the daughter of a Duke.  Now imagine 20 odd years later you discover you’re (very) distantly related to some of the very same people you hung out with, partied with, and became friends with. When I rang them up to tell them the news, and went over exactly who our common ancestors were, and how we connected, they loved it. Some of these friends were even more excited about the news than I was.

I wonder how British aristocrats can be so accepting, nonplussed, and utterly chilled about being related to a person of colour…yet there are Americans who act like they have received the worst news ever in the entirety of their life. Or they find such a thing disgusting, something to be reviled.

So, far from being cowed, I’m working on a new project: The American Family Tree. The aim of the project is to show how Americans – regardless of ‘race’, religion, socio-economic background, geography, culture or any other ‘divisive’ factor – are related to one another; even if they have only a single Colonial-era family line.

There’s an interesting twist to both sides of this coin.  I’m a naturally inquisitive person. I also try to turn contentious situations into learning opportunities – as much for myself as anyone else. I want to know what makes people, and particularly Americans, tick.  So I asked some of the trolls I’ve come across a simple question: have you researched your own family or taken a DNA test. Of the 20 or so people I asked, the answer didn’t come as a surprise. 90% said they had not. Roughly half of those who said no went on to say they didn’t need to take a DNA test or research their own family; in short, they said they knew who they were and where they came from.

As for those who engaged in the form of trolling I’ve written about, and were also engaged in genealogy and DNA testing? Two-thirds had no interest in exploring any part of their genetic inheritance or history that came from any other ethnicity other than the one they identified with.

I’m fine with these two stances. To each his or her own. You’re free to choose as best suits you. However, don’t attack those who also choose for themselves, and wish to delve into the parts of their genetic and genealogical inheritance from all of their ancestors, whoever those ancestors might be and from whatever ethnic group they happen to come from. This blog amply demonstrates that I write about all of my known ancestry. I do my best to give each ethnicity equal time and weighting. Your right to choose not to explore your full heritage does not trump my right to explore and discuss my own. Our choices in this regard don’t make one or the other of us better than the other. Just different. Our journeys, and what we want to achieve for ourselves through our respective journeys, are different. You do you. And I’ll do me.

Genealogy is challenging enough without the added distraction and unpleasantness of trolling.

Genealogy can be, and perhaps should be, a unifying force. It can be a powerful and positive bridge to span the gap of discord as well as opening a powerful and productive channel of conversation.  That’s my aim at any rate. We’ll see.

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Race & Diversity, Uncategorized

Genetic genealogy, DNA triangulation, and the search for my missing Futrell ancestor

When it comes to my genealogy adventures, more often than not, I feel like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot when it comes to uncovering the identity of missing ancestors who lived in the 17th, 18th and early 19th Century. Paper trails invariably run out, especially when it comes to my ancestors who were either working class whites, blacks, mulattos, Native American, or free people of colour. There are various reasons for this. Either records were lost, destroyed during times of upheaval (i.e. Revolutionary War, Civil War, Bacon’s Rebellion, etc) or were lost due to things like courthouses burning down. Given the remote areas some of ancestors lived, records may have never been produced at all. Or, if enslaved, full names weren’t provided. Or, due to ethnicity, they weren’t seen as people.

DNA testing is one key to uncovering the identities for ancestors where paper documents never existed, or no longer exist…or have yet to be digitized.  The process of DNA triangulation is key to this process:

Triangulation for autosomal DNA is kind of a chicken and egg thing.  The goal is to associate and identify specific DNA segments to specific ancestors.  The easiest way to do this, or to begin the process, is with known relatives.  This gets you started identifying “family segments.”  From that point, you can use the known family segments, along with some common sense tools, to identify other people that are related through those common ancestors.  Through those matches with other people, you can continue to break down your DNA into more and more granular family lines. (DNAeXplained, “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA” via https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna)

Regular readers will know I’ve developed a talent for triangulation over the years. In truth, much credit goes to my team of genetic genealogists who spent long and patient hours explaining how genetic genealogy and triangulation work; and mentoring me through my first forays into triangulating with my own DNA.

I’ve saved one of the most challenging triangulation tasks for last: discovering the father of my 2x great grandmother, Selinda Futrell, born about 1842 in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina. This falls on my mother’s side of the family tree.

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There are a couple of phases when it comes to organizing how I approach working with DNA and vital documents identifying a parent, or parents, for an ancestor. I’m still very much in the early phases with Selinda.

A preliminary to Phase I

Let’s start with her mother, Melinda, whose name appears as Melinda Futrell in official documents. Melinda was born around 1824 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  The first question I had to tackle was whether or not Melinda was a Futrell by birth, or was it a name she assumed after Emancipation.  In short, what was her connection to the Futrell name?

The three documents I have for Melinda, including the 1870 Census, cite that she is black.  All three documents are consist in this fact. There is nothing to-date to indicate that she was of mixed race. Now this could be for one of two reasons: either she was born of mixed parentage and simply didn’t appear to be.  Or, as I strongly suspect, she wasn’t born of mixed parentage. I am satisfied on the score that she was not a Futrell by birth.

Melinda’s children, on the other hand, are consistently cited as being mulattos. All of them. Which indicates that, unlike Melinda, her children had a white father. Given some 20+ DNA matches with white Futrells and Futrell descendants with roots in Northampton County, North Carolina, the team and I are very confident that man was a Futrell. This would explain Melinda’s adoption of the Futrell name, which she passed on to her children.

This is a prelim into Phase I.

Phase I: The Futrell family tree

So, the preliminary to Phase I was all about determining if Selinda Futrell was indeed a blood relation to the Quaker-descended Futrells in Northampton, NC.

Phase I, which is still ongoing, requires me to do a full and thorough work-up on the Quaker-descended Futrell family tree. This is easier said than done.  I’m not going the lie. The Futrells are a nightmare to research.

Let’s just start with the surname. When it comes to misspellings and variants of the name, it’s in a league of its own: Fewtrell (the old English spelling of the name), Futral, Futrill, Fetral, Tutrill, Titrill, Futrelle…the list goes on and on.

Then there are the beloved family names that were commonly used among numerous branches: Shadrach, William, Charity, Daniel, John, Nathaniel, and Mary, just to cite a few. Online family trees are aren’t an option – too many have confused or merged individuals who borne the same first name and were born within a few years of each other.

The one book I hoped to get a hold of, 12 Northampton County, North Carolina Families
Bridgers, Daughtry, Futrell, Jenkins, Joyner, Lassiter, Martin, Odom, Parker, Stephenson, Sumner, and Woodard by Rebecca L. Dozier is no longer in print.

But then, as luck or providence would have it, I discovered a second book: The Futrell Family Revised by Roger H. Futrell (available to read and/or download via: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE99258)  This book has been an absolute godsend. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we couldn’t have done an accurate family tree without it.

The book allowed us to ramp up Phase I, and begin Phase II.

Phase IIa: Eliminating and shortlisting paternity candidates

The 18th and early 19th Century Futrell family is huge. The family was not only prolific, it produced an unusual number of male children generation after generation.

At the moment, we’re just shy of 60 Futrell men born between 1650 and 1820. In order to have the fullest list of possible paternity candidates, we’re required to try and trace as many descendant lines for Thomas “The Immigrant” Futrell (born 1659 in Shropshire, England, lied for a period in Surry County, Virginia –  and died in 1693 in Bertie County, North Carolina). Once this has been done, we can begin to specifically look at Futrell men who were old enough, and resident in Northampton County, NC prior to Selinda Futrell’s birth in 1842.

I don’t know if ‘luck’ is the right word, but I’m going to use it anyway.  As luck would have it, around two-thirds of the Futrells who were in North Carolina had moved to Trigg and Christian Counties in Kentucky by 1814. Why is this lucky?  These Futrell men are automatically eliminated as possible descendant lines who could have fathered Selinda and her siblings. These Futrells didn’t moved back and forth between Kentucky and North Carolina.  Once they arrived in Kentucky, that was it.

We next looked into the proximity of Futrell men to Melinda and her family in Rich Square.  There were a dozen or so men of the right age either living in Rich Square. Another 8 Futrell men lived within a day’s horse ride away from Rich Square. Then there was the extended family group of Futrells who lived in Onslow County, NC.

Next we looked at which Futrells owned slaves.  This ruled the Onslow County group of Futrells out almost immediately. None of them had enslaved people.

This, again, helps us narrow the field of identifying the best, most likely paternity candidates on paper before we begin using DNA to triangulate.

After eliminating so many Futrells from consideration, we are left with a few family lines to investigate more closely:

  1. Male Futrell descendants of John W Futrell (1715-1788) and Martha “Polly” Daughtry;
  2. Male Futrell descendants of Benjamin Futrell (1720-1790) and Mourning Smith; and
  3. Male Futrell descendants of Thomas Futrell III (1713-1770) and Elizabeth Dickinson.

Work continues in investigating these three family groups.

Phase IIb: Wills and probate…and more Wills and probate

Wills and probate records are a vital – and rich – source of ancestral information. On the one hand, they provide the names of surviving family members, including grandchildren (e.g. I bequeath to my grand-daughter Hezekiah Heathcock, the daughter of Anne,…)

Next, Wills and probate are important for my Futrell ancestry for another reason. Wills and probate tells me who held enslaved people and who did not. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule.  My formerly missing German-American Sheffey 4x grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, was the only 18th Century Sheffey to not own slaves.  However, his brothers did. Yet, as far as DNA is showing, only John Adam Sheffey seems to have fathered children with Jemimah, an enslaved woman in the household of his brother Maj Henry Lawrence Sheffey. Slave ownership isn’t always a reliable factor when it comes to determining paternity.

For the Futrells who held enslaved people, the names of the enslaved are cited in their Wills.  It is actually possible to follow the trail of the enslaved from generation to generation through subsequent Futrell family Wills.

Using an example, let’s say Futrell #1 had an enslaved woman by the name of Amey. She goes from him to his son, Futrell #2.  Next, we might see in Futrell #2’s Will that Amey and her children, Patsy and Shadrach, pass to his son, Futrell #3.  Not only can I track Amey, I can now see that she has two children. Further Wills will provide further clues and information about Patsy and Shadrach.

The above is an illustrative example.  The Will of Elliot Futrell below, is a real-world working example:

elliott-futrell-1elliott-futrell-2

I’ll go ahead and say.  Creating family trees from Wills is a strange and unsettling business. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself to it. With that said, it is a critical skillset to acquire when it comes to genealogy.

As part of my genealogy practice, I add this information my Ancestry.com family tree for the respective individuals who held and inherited enslaved people.  I do this in the hopes that it helps other African Americans  researching their own family trees. I include the names of the enslaved and how that individual came by them (i.e. inheritance or purchase) with links back to the original course. The two images below show my working practice using the Will above:

mitchell-futrell

The image above shows notes I add to respective Ancestry.com pages to track the movement of enslaved ancestors from generation to generation.

Now, in the instance above, I don’t know if any of the enslaved people cited are part of my Futrell family’s story. However, they will be part of someone’s family story. So many have helped me along my way in my adventure, it would be churlish for me to not pay it forward.

Phase IIc: Identifying Futrell DNA segements

While I grapple with the traditional genealogy required in Phases IIa and IIb, the team is working on identifying my Futrell DNA segments and the Chromosome(s) associated with this segment or segments. While I’ve become adept at this part of the process, it is time consuming. And, in this instance, exceedingly tricky due to endogamy (cousin marriages, in short). I’m going to say it: the professionals are far quicker at this than I am!

This article from DNAeXplained gives you a glimpse into what’s involved: Concepts: Match Groups and Triangulation https://dna-explained.com/category/triangulation.

Phase III: Working with online DNA cousin matches

This final phase will do one of two things.  It will either identify the father of Selinda Futrell and her siblings. Or, it will narrow the search down to a single family group, a father and his sons, in other words. Most of the time, we get a solid hit and there’s no doubt about it.  Other times – and this is largely due to endogamy – we can only narrow it down to a father and/or his sons.

For example, it’s not unusual in my family tree for two brothers from one family to marry sisters from another family – and both sets of couples were cousins. Add the fact that the parents of the 2 brothers and 2 sisters were 2nd or 3rd cousins. Nothing skews DNA triangulating quite like this. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Less frequent is a father and a son marrying a mother and a daughter from another family, who may or may not be related to them.

Part of Phase III includes me relaying any possible DNA overlaps back to the genetic genealogists. For instance, the Quaker descended Futrells married Outlands, Exums, Vinsons and Lassiters quite often In Northampton, NC. I know already that I have Lassiters and Exums in Virginia on my father’s side of the family. I also have Outlands from Pennsylvania and Virginia on both my parents’ ancestral lines. Regardless of which colonial territory or State they lived in, these Outlands, Lassiters and Exums are part of the same family. Add in the Quaker White family, which links all of these families and more…and you have some tricky triangulation to do.

This information is crucial for the genetic genealogy team to reduce the risk of them arriving at a false positive. They need to find ‘pure’ lines – lines that don’t share common DNA with any other, in order to successfully identify Selinda Futrell’s father.  We use this as a benchmark against which we compare every other line.

Each Futrell line will be examined individually to see which one matches me closer, in terms of generation, than any other. For instance, if all of my DNA matches are at the 5th, 6th and 7th cousin level, save one that matches me at the 4th generational level or less – the most recent shared match is the one we need to investigate more closely. The identity of her father rests on Futrells who match me more closely in terms of generational distance than any other Futrell descendant line.

Normally, we’d also rely on the length of DNA segments shared, and the number of segments shared, between me and my Futrell DNA matches.  However, because of cousin marriages, I already know we’ll share more DNA in common than is typical for 4th to 8th cousins.  As an example, I have a Quaker cousin in Pennsylvania who Ancestry.com suggests is a 3rd cousin. We know a number of the ways we’re related, which makes us 5th, 6th, and 7th cousins respectively (due to endogamy within the colonial Quaker communities, we share at least 6 sets of common ancestors). We share a crazy amount of DNA segments for two people whose common ancestors lived between 1660 and 1770. It’s not Ancestry.com’s fault, it can only go by what the genetic numbers are telling it.

Yep, I know, it sounds like a whole lot of work to identify one ancestor. It’s what you do when the paper trail runs out.

And why spend so much time and effort to identify a father-owner ancestor?  I’ll touch on that in the next article.

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Moses Byrd: A Revolutionary War musician

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Illustrative open source image

I’ve been making one discovery after another when it comes to my ancestral kin who were both people of colour and American Revolutionary War veterans. I’ve found records for hundreds of kinsmen who were fpoc within my extensive ancestral extended family who served in many different capacities during the American Revolution.

Moses Byrd, born around 1745, is another interesting discovery. Moses was a musician in Lewis’ Company of the North Carolina Continental Line in Halifax County, North Carolina, in 1776. He seems to have disappeared from active duty in January 1778.

He mustered again in Taylor’s Company for 2-1/2 years in January 1779. [Clark, The State Records of North Carolina, XVI:1012, 1024, XVII: 192]. As a fpoc, he was legally obliged to register in his home county. He was a “Mulatto” taxable in Southampton County in 1802 [PPTL 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615]. There is usually a brief physical description fo the free person of colour in question included in the registration records. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find such a description for Moses.

He was taxable in Southampton County from 1782 to 1803: taxable on a horse and 4 cattle from 1782 to 1787, taxable on Asa Byrd [believed to be Moses’s nephew] in 1788, taxable on Thomas Byrd [Moses’s son] in 1795, called a “Mulatto” in 1802 [PPTL 1782-92; frames 508, 544, 634, 655, 705, 755, 812, 869; 1792-1806, frames 156, 183, 261, 311, 373, 407, 509, 546, 615].

He was living in Northampton County, North Carolina, before 2 January 1807 when he made his Northampton County will, proved March 1808 [WB 2:362]. He left most of his estate to his wife, whose name remains unknown.

This is his life, as it’s currently known, in a nutshell.

Musicians in the Revolutionary War

I was curious about the exact nature of his war service. Naturally, I did some digging.  I know he was a musician. However, the records don’t specify what instrument or instruments he played. I did, however, manage to unearth accounts of what army musicians did during the war.

It turns out that Moses was probably a part of the Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps. 18th Century Army musicians had a dual role.  The first was as a communication channel.  There were no walkie talkies, radios, or quick forms of mass communication on the 18th Century battlefield. Musicians were a practical means of long distance communication. Anyone who lives within a mile of a sports arena today can attest to how far the sounds of drums, fifes (think flutes), and horns can carry!

The second apart of a musician’s service during the was was providing entertainment for the army camps. In other words, morale boosters.

According to the website The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps:

The fife was used because of its high pitched sound and the drum because of its low pitched sound. Both instruments can be heard from great distances and even through the sounds of a battlefield. Fifers and drummers would provide the music for all of the things that soldiers would need to do throughout the day. They would play tunes in the camp, on the battlefield, or for a march…

On the battlefield, musicians had the responsibility of helping keep order in battle and make sure the soldiers functioned well as a unit. Drummers would play beatings telling the soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called Cease Fire that fifers and drummers would play to tell the soldiers to stop firing at the end of a battle while a tune called Parley was used to signal to the enemy that a surrender or peace talk was desired.

More information about the service of Army musicians in the American Revolution is available on the same website via http://www.fifeanddrum.army.mil/kids_fife_drum.html

Now that I had a very basic understanding of the service Moses provided during the war, I wanted to find out more about the battles he would have been a part of.  It turns out, he was involved in a quite a few.

Micajah Lewis, Captain of the 1st and 4th North Carolina Regiments

The first half of Moses’s war service was under Capt. Micajah Lewis (yep, another kinsman from my extended family) as part of the 4th North Carolina Regiment. This speaks to an important historical fact where Moses’s genealogy is concerned: he had already left Southampton, Virginia for North Carolina when he joined Maj Lewis’s regiment. Established on 15 April 1776, this means Moses was resident in North Carolina by 1776.

What’s interesting to me is that he was taxable in two states during an over-lapping period between 1790 and 1802: Halifax and Northampton Counties in North Carolina and Southampton County in Virginia. While he would ultimately come to permanently reside in Northampton, North Carolina…he was clearly going back and forth from North Carolina to Virginia.  He is far from being alone. I have swathes of ancestral kin who were fpoc moving back and forth from North Carolina and Virginia before permanently residing in North Carolina. I remain mystified as to why. What was happening in the early decade of the American Republic that caused thousands of fpoc to ping pong between these two states for two to three decades? I digress, but only in the name of genealogy!

The website The American Revolution in North Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_nc_fourth_regiment.html) has an excellent overview about the Regiment and its war activities. In its early stages, the Regiment was moved from place to place. In the Fall of 1778, the 4th NC Regiment was re-organized at Halifax, NC. This fits perfectly with when Moses enlisted. Halifax, NC was one of the ancestral centres for the extensive fpoc Bird/Byrds.

At this point, judging by the battle lists for 1778 in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, it appears that Moses may have been involved in skirmishes in South Carolina and Georgia…but saw no major action.

Capt Lewis, who attained the rank of Major by the time of his death in 1779, would die after being shot either during the course of, or directly after, a battle.  Which battle is unclear.  The website The American Revolution in South Carolina cites he died as a result of being shot at the Battle of Stono Ferry in South Carolina (http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_stono_ferry.html). Some Lewis family history books cite the Battle of King’s Mountain in North Carolina as his final battle (https://books.google.com/books?id=-rn7DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA13&dq=captain+micajah+lewis&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiThK_NluzPAhVKID4KHbztDxwQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=captain%20micajah%20lewis&f=false). His death in 1779 is not in dispute.

Moses would serve at the Battle of Stono Ferry on 20 June 1779.

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Image Courtesy of http://www.carolana.com/

After the death of Capt. Lewis, Moses would go on to serve under Capt. Philip Taylor’s 5th North Carolina Regiment.

Philip Taylor, Captain of the 5th North Carolina Regiments

As part of Capt. Taylor’s regiment, Moses would serve in the Battle of Stono Ferry (1779, http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_stono_ferry.html )

british_map_battle_of_stono_ferry_june_20_1779

British Map Showing Battle of Stono Ferry – 20 June 20 1779. Image Courtesy of http://www.carolana.com/

and,

the Siege of Charleston in South Carolina (1781, http://www.carolana.com/SC/Revolution/revolution_siege_of_charleston.html).

After the War

Moses was granted a land patent for his war service. The patent included a 274 acre land warrant granted in 1783 for his service in the American Revolution; evidently the tract of land was never claimed. It was returned to the State in 1821.

Roll #4, Book B-2, pg. 112-113, TN State Library & Archives State of North Carolina, No. 2332,…..granted unto John Gray Blount and Thomas Blount assignees of Moses Byrd a private in the Continental Line of said state 274 acres of land in County of Davidson on the South side of the Harpeth River…..the upper part of Millers Bend?…..James Robertson’s West boundary… dated 20 May 1793. (The rest of the deed is very difficult to make out)

For whatever reason, this land grant doesn’t appear to have been claimed by Moses, or his wife, or his children. I have no record of him or his direct family members having any connection to Davidson County. To-date, they are associated with only two North Carolina Counties: Halifax and Northampton.

This land grant, however, is beginning to paint a picture of how some of my ancestral kin who were either poor whites or free people of colour came by medium-sized tracts of land after the Revolutionary War ended. Land that would have been out of their reach to purchase, was a form of payment and/or reward for services rendered. Even better, some of these land grants are still held by these families to this very day.

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