Category Archives: Race & Diversity

Writings about race and diversity with an emphasis on the US.

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.

celtic_nations_lg_nationalgeographic_900w

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.

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

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.

ann-st-clair2

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.

st-clair-dna

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.

large_social-media-icons-hanging

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.

tree-1236626_1280

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.

matilda

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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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, family history, Genetics, Race & Diversity, searching census records

Free black families in Colonial America: The Bugg (Doss) family

Every genealogist, regardless of experience levels, has a family line that makes him or her want to rip their hair out. Seeing as how I cropped mine, I don’t have that luxury. I have to content myself with double face palms.  The Bugg family of Halifax and Mecklenburg Counties in Virginia – as well as its descendant lines in the former Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina (including the present day North Atlanta, Georgia), plus Warren, Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina – is just that kind of family for me. ‘Difficult to research’ doesn’t even begin to describe the trials and tribulations this family has presented me with.

It all began with Rebecca Bugg, born around 1798, in Edgefield, South Carolina. Rebecca is on my mother’s side of the family tree. The earliest record I have for her is the 1850 Census when she is about 56 years of age:

rebecca-bugg-1850

Rebeca Bugg’s household in 1850.  Click for larger image.                                                                      Source: Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The image above shows her as a free woman of colour…and the head of a household that was comprised of her dependent children.  Her husband, and the father of her children, was George Quarles. George was an enslaved blacksmith who lived not too far from his wife and his children. What initially interested me about Rebecca was a pretty remarkable accomplishment. She, along with the aid of her daughter Clarissa, and Edward Settles, bought George Quarles’s freedom from one Ralsa M Fuller, also of Edgefield.

george quarles

The sale that would lead to George Quarles’s freedom. Click for larger image. Source: Lucas, Gloria Ramsey. Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina. Digitized book and electronic index. Edgefield, South Carolina: Edgefield County Historical Society, 2010.

No value is given against George’s name.  As a man in the most productive and able-bodied part of his life, I can only imagine that the sum of money Rebecca and Clarissa had to gather in order to purchase his freedom would have been considerable. Nevertheless, George was a free man around 1851. I have to admit that I gave Rebecca and Clarissa a “You go girls!”

The family is all together in the 1860 census:

george quarles 2

George Quarles as head of household in 1860. Click for larger image. Source: Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

Rebecca had me intrigued.  Who were her people? Where were her ancestral roots?

The magical mystery tour began. It’s a tour that remains magical…and mysterious.

Research is showing that the Buggs were an old free family of colour with roots in Halifax County, Virginia. And this is where the hair pulling – or in my case, double face palms – comes into play.

For starters, I cannot find any details regarding the names of Rebecca’s parents. So…while I know that she is a descendant of the Halifax Bugg family, I have no idea which line she descends from. The names of some of her children provide tantalizing clues. However, at this stage, that’s all they are…clues.

A compiled list of Buggs in the 1850 Census for South Carolina has 3 pages of Bug(g) family members. Any one of them en born around 1778 and earlier could be her father. The 3 pages below are courtesy of Ancestry.com: Free Blacks and Mulattos in South Carolina 1850 Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006 and Original data: Motes, Margaret Peckham. Free Blacks and Mulattos in South Carolina 1850 Census. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002.

free-buggs1free-buggs2free-buggs3

All of the Bug(g)s listed in the pages above are related to one another.  I’ve pieced together how roughly a third of the Bugg family groups cited in the 1850 Census are related to one another.  The other two-thirds are anybody’s guess. From there, it was a matter of tracing various lines back to the 1790 Census. 1790 seems to have been a pivotal year. It was just prior to this that a number of Buggs quit Virginia for Newberry and Edgefield in South Carolina.

The problem with earlier census records is a simple one: only the head of the household is listed by name. At this stage I can only trace male heads of households back to the 1790 Census. The names of their wives and children aren’t given. Exasperating is pretty close to what I’ve been feeling when working with these early census records. However, a handful of Wills for some of these men have provided the clues I needed regarding the identity of some of the Bugg family wives and children.  I’m hoping that other Wills still exist that cover this family in Newberry and Edgefield, South Carolina. These will be my last, best hope for compiling a more complete family tree for this family in South Carolina.

I struck a bit of gold dust while doing a general online search on this family.  I came across a Silvester Bugg, a man who will be my key to solving some of the fundamental mysteries regarding this family’s origins.

Silvester Bugg was free born in Halifax, Virginia around 1743. Born an illegitimate child, Robert Turner (the man Silvester’s free born mother was indentured to) sold him to a George Hoomes Gwinn (Gwyn). Silvester sued to extricate himself from his indenture to George Gwinn in 1769 (Virginia General Court, October 1769. He won his suit but lost when Gwinn appealed. Silvester was forced to serve 5 years of indenture before he was finally freed.

silvester bugg

Excerpt of Silvester Bugg’s first court case against George Gwinn. A full account can be read via https://books.google.com/books?id=snktAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA48&dq=Jefferson’s%20Reports%20of%20cases%2C%2087%20(1769)&pg=PA48#v=onepage&q=bugg&f=false. Source: Google Books. Original: Virginia Reports, Jefferson–33 Grattan: 1730-1880 … Annotated Under the Supervision of Thomas Johnson Michie, Volume 1, Michie Company, 1903

I’ve read a few of the case summaries.  They provide some very interesting details: namely the name and the history of his mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Bugg (who also went by the surname Doss). They also provide a tantalizing clue about his maternal grandmother. This clue is excruciating. Betty Bugg’s mother, it transpires, was a “white Christian woman”. That’s all any of the summaries will say about his maternal grandmother. None name her. Was she a member of the Halifax, Virginia Bugg family?  Was she a Doss? I have European-descended DNA matches for bother Doss and Buggs on AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and Gedmatch.

Silvester’s case was an important one. Important enough for Thomas Jefferson to write about. Silvester’s case was heard during a time when Virginia was doubling down on its slave laws, further codifying its system of chattel slavery. Nor was colonial Virginia happy about the increasing number of free people of colour within its borders. The background to all of this is too lengthy to cover here.  An excellent legal overview of this is covered in the book Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court of Virginia: From 1730, to 1740; and from 1768, to 1772, Virginia. General Court by Thomas Jefferson, published by F. Carr, and Company in 1829 (from Page 87 onwards): https://books.google.com/books?id=YipEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA88&dq=betty+bugg+indenture&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjglPGXtOzOAhWFWx4KHVTlDYYQ6AEIJzAC#v=onepage&q=betty%20bugg%20indenture&f=false )

https://books.google.com/books?id=YipEAAAAYAAJ&dq=betty%20bugg%20indenture&pg=PA87&output=embed

My hope of hopes is that there is some colonial record that still survives that will name my unknown ‘white Christian woman” ancestor. Her daughter Betty was born from a union with an unidentified enslaved man. I very much doubt his name will appear anywhere.  An enslaved man who was either African or of African descent, he would have been a non-entity. And yes, there is more than a little bit of cynicism in those words. A handful of my family lines that were free people of colour were the result of a white indentured woman having children with an enslaved man.  While these women have been named, and I could read about their respective fates and/or punishments, I have never – not once –seen the name of the man who was the father of their children. Apparently, these fathers were worthy of mention. Each one remains the most stubborn kind of brick wall.

Additionally, where there are court cases, there are affidavits and witness testimonies. Silvester had two court cases.  If said affidavits and witness statements still survive, it is my hope that his white grandmother is actually mentioned by name. A bonus would be confirming the name of his father.

Betty’s mother is a first for me when it comes to colonial women giving birth to mulatto children.  She remains unnamed.

I have searched for her name in all of the usual places: Church Warden Records, Bastardy Bonds, and Burgess Records from Halifax, Virginia. If it still exists, an account in one of these records should have Betty’s mother’s name. As the record below shows, Betty, a natural born child herself, was indentured to Robert Turner, presumably in Halifax County, where Silvester was born. Which begs the question, was Robert Turner the father of Silvester? Another mystery.

betty-bugg

Excerpt taken from Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the Colonial Period to about 1820, Volume 1. Paul Heinegg, Genealogical Publishing Com, 2005 via https://books.google.com/books?id=JcF6E75ZAeUC&lpg=PA218&dq=betty%20bugg%20indenture&pg=PA218#v=onepage&q&f=false

The other mystery is around the Doss-Bugg surname.  Betty used both before settling on Bugg. Why she ultimately chose Bugg remains unanswered. It was the surname her descendants would use. So how the Doss surname come into the picture? How am I related to my Doss DNA cousins? It’s mystery after mystery after mystery with this line.

I’m curious about the Bugg family for a few reasons. They were a family of landowners as well as skilled tradesmen and craftsmen. From what I have seen so far, most were literate and could write. In a time when quite a few non-elite and non-middle class colonials weren’t either of these things, well, this makes this family something special. Naturally, I’d like to learn more about them.

And, of course, this is a family that married into other branches of my mother’s and father’s families. Among others, they married into the following free families of colour who are in my family’s tree in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina: Chavis, Gowens/Goings/Goines, Barbour, and Drew.

This is a mystery I will continue to return to from time to time. Yes, I am that stubborn 😉

In the meantime, below is the family tree for the oldest generation I’ve been able to research thus far.  One of Betty’s children will be Rebecca’s parent:

betty bugg family tree

The known children of Betty Doss-Bugg. So far, only Samuel Bugg’s line has been traced to any great extent. The other lines remain a complete mystery. Nothing further is known of Betty’s brother, Frank Bugg.

 

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, Race & Diversity, South Carolina, virginia

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.

tidewater_region_1x

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.

475881-make-america-white-again

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 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.

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.

white-slave65a

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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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, Race & Diversity, Sheffey family, virginia

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