Tag Archives: autosomal dna

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

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

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

Hot on the trail of discovering the most likely paternity for one of my paternal 2x great grandfather, Cornelius White of Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia…I’ve smashed yet another brick wall for a 2x great grandparent in Wytheville.

Another very length spell of DNA triangulation  has provided a strong indication of the man who fathered Margaret…Randolph Fugate Clark. Like Cornelius White, this result isn’t 100% definitive. Again, it has to do with a high degree of endogamy in the European-descended Clark family line. No. Seriously. First-cousin marriages, two brothers from one family marrying two sisters from another family…and those sisters were their cousins…

This meant that quite a few Clark lines share an unusual amount of common DNA. What clinched it for Randolph, in the end, was the number of DNA segments I share with his descendants, and the length of those segments. Family Wills, which  read to track the movement of slaves within this family, also lead to Randolph being the most likely Clark male to have fathered Margaret.

And then matches like these began popping up on my AncestryDNA account.

Fugate-Clark

Now, the hunt is on to determine the identity of Margaret’s mother, who will be one of 5 women mentioned in relevant Clark family Wills and estate inventories.

 

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, ancestry, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Sheffey family, virginia, wythe

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

Ok, so I’m known for having picked apart quite a few online DNA analysis tools and services. This is especially true when it comes to my African-related results. So it seems only fair that I share some kudos.

I don’t know what’s been happening over at the Columbia University DNA analysis project, DNA.land…but it looks like the team behind this project have been very busy bees indeed. I, for one, am very, very pleased with the increased accuracy this free service now provides. By and large, it is beginning to reflect the results I received via the paid testing service, Genebase. It’s also substantially more accurate than the results provided by AncestryDNA as far as my African genetic ancestry is concerned.

In its first incarnation, my African genetics were the standard West African and Bantu-speaking. I’m proud of my 8% West African and Bantu speaking genetic heritage (via Genebase). There is a huge difference between being 8% of something and 60% of something.

Now my DNA.land results look like:

dnaland1

The West African results can be more accurate. I know that some of what is being classed as West African here is actually Tuareg and Berber. I’m pretty confident that if DNA.land continues to tweak its datasets, that these parts of my African genome will begin to emerge. At the moment, my guess is that my Berber results are hidden under the Lower Niger Valley category. I suspect that some of my Tuareg results are lost under this heading as well.

However, keeping things positive, ‘East Africa’ finally makes an overdue appearance. 

As for that 1.2% ‘Ambiguous’? That’s where some of my Sephardic Jewish and Middle Eastern results are.

And for my family, let’s not get too excited about the Native American heading. Native American results on any of the DNA analysis services I’ve used remain at 0%. The 1.3% shown here actually represents Amer-Indian genetic matches from Central and South America.  In other words, this has more to do with the pre-historic Eastern nomadic migration into the Americas thousands of years ago.Sorry guys! No Cherokee or Powhatan to be found. This may be due to genetic wash outs…or all those tales amount to myth (Finding Your American Indian tribe Using DNA: https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/31/finding-your-american-indian-tribe-using-dna)

There are a few things to remember when using DNA analysis services and free analytical tools:

  1. Your results will depend on the amount of DNA that the service or tool you’re using has sequenced.  Don’t think that your entire YDNA, mtDNA or autosomal DNA has been sequenced…unless the service you use guarantees this. If you’re paying anything less than thousands of dollars, trust me, only a portion of your genome has been sequenced.
  2. Few DNA testing services are transparent about how much of your genome has been sequenced and analyzed. The more that’s sequenced the better the analysis. It’s a pretty simple equation.
  3. Free DNA analysis tools tend to use free DNA datasets produced by 3rd paties. The quality and accuracy of the data sets used are beyond their control. These data sets are produced by 3rd parties who are not answerable to the services who use them. If this particular topic interests you, you should surf on over to Berkeley’s Drosophilia Genome Project via http://www.fruitfly.org/sequence/human-datasets.html )
  4. DNA anlysis is an evolving science. As more global populations undergo DNA studies (and their results are added to data sets), and as science continues to finesse its understanding of the development and evolution of admixtures, dataset accuracy will continue to improve.
  5. Take early results as an indication of the global cultures you might be connected to. These results will not be definitive. See Point #4.

Keep up the great work, DNA.land!

21 Sep 2016 note: Regular readers will be familiar with my Congo and Central African DNA results, which I should have mentioned here. These too are lumped in under “West Africa” (Why I struggle with ‘West Africa’ as a genetic classificationhttps://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/why-i-struggle-with-west-africa-as-a-genetic-classification/). I sometimes forget that it takes time for new readers to read previous dna-related posts on the site

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How the term ‘Bantu’ tripped up my genetic genealogy journey

This post is the last in a series of issues, challenges, and barriers I’ve faced in understanding African Genetics and my autosomal, YDNA and mtDNA results.

The first post in this series, Can we really make assumptions about African American DNA admixtures? (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/can-we-really-make-assumptions-about-african-american-dna-admixtures), covered how science and genealogy TV shows aren’t in a position to make generalizations about what is or isn’t typical/common when it comes to admixtures in African and African-descended people.

The second post, Why I struggle with ‘West Africa’ as a genetic classification (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/why-i-struggle-with-west-africa-as-a-genetic-classification), covers why I think the ‘West African’ classification some DNA analysis tools provide is meaningless.

In this post, I’m going to outline how the term ‘Bantu’ really tripped me up when it came to understanding and interpreting parts of my DNA testing results.

I remember the first time I saw ‘Bantu’ as a genetic description. I was pretty excited to see it alongside some of the other African tribes I matched. I’d never heard of the Bantu before, so I duly added it to the list of tribes I wanted to research.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it? What followed was a week of utter confusion.

The problem was straightforward. I was looking for a Bantu tribe. It never occurred to me that Bantu was a language, or more actually, a family grouping of similar languages found in central and southern regions of the African continent. Now, you would think it would be easy to feet out the difference between a tribal name and the name of a language. And you would be 100% correct to think that. However, the reality of educating yourself online via a myriad of sources is bound to confuse.

At first, I kept coming up with articles and blog posts about ‘Bantus’ as though this was a tribe. And I couldn’t work it out because that would mean the Bantus would be one truly enormous tribe.  By tribe, I mean of group of people – a society – with shared customs, traditions, beliefs, history, etc. I also kept seeing sub-groups of this apparent tribe of people. These were tribes I was already familiar with. I knew they were distinctly different from one another. Indeed, they were in polar opposite parts of Africa. So how the heck could they be the same overall tribe? That’s the question I kept asking myself.

What was missing was a simple word…”speaking”. “Bantu-speaking”. That’s when the penny dropped. Bantus weren’t one people. This wasn’t a single tribe. This was a language.  The confusion didn’t stop here. Of course it wouldn’t!

The Bantu family of languages are spoken in a very large area of the African continent.

Map showing the distribution of Bantu vs. other African languages. The Bantu area is in orange.

Map showing the distribution of Bantu vs. other African languages. The Bantu area is in orange.

This area includes most of Africa from southern Cameroon, eastward to Kenya, and southward to the southernmost tip of the continent. Twelve Bantu languages are spoken by more than five million people, including Rundi, Rwanda, Shona, Xhosa, and Zulu. Nor is there is a single Bantu language. There are about 250 Bantu languages (Derek Nurse, 2006, Bantu Languages, in the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics).

The approximate locations of the sixteen Guthrie Bantu zones, including the addition of a zone J around the Great Lakes.

The approximate locations of the sixteen Guthrie Bantu zones, including the addition of a zone J around the Great Lakes. You can read more about the Bantu languages via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_languages

The Bantu languages descend from a common Proto-Bantu language, which is believed to have been spoken in what is now Cameroon in West Africa an estimated 2,500–3,000 years ago (1000 BC to 500 BC).

The spread of the Bantu language family in Africa:

The spread of the Bantu language family in Africa: 1 = 2000–1500 BC origin,  2 = ca.1500 BC first migrations, 2.a = Eastern Bantu, 2.b = Western Bantu,  3 = 1000–500 BC Urewe nucleus of Eastern Bantu, 4–7 = southward advance, 9 = 500 BC–0 Congo nucleus, 10 = 0–1000 AD last phase.         You can read more about this via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_peoples

Other sources put the start of the Bantu Expansion closer to 3000 BC.  The speakers of the Proto-Bantu language began a series of migrations eastward and southward, carrying agriculture with them. This Bantu-speaking expansion came to dominate Sub-Saharan Africa east of Cameroon, an area where Bantu speaking peoples now constitute nearly the entire population.

The technical term Bantu, meaning “human beings” or simply “people”, was first used by Wilhelm Bleek (1827–1875), to reflect many of the languages of this group.

Defining cultures and people by language would be like defining a large group of Europeans by one language – Latin (otherwise referred to as Romance Languages). These Latin-based languages are referred to as “romance languages” because they originate from a language spoken by Romans. It’s a language family grouping, just like Bantu-speaking. Romance languages evolved from Latin. To give you an idea, the biggest Romance languages are: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian.

Could you imagine a DNA test returning the classification “Romantic or Romance-Language”? I’m smiling at this thought. And the answer is absolutely not.  Europeans would be in an uproar.

The more deeply I read about Bantu-speaking peoples, the more additional pennies began to drop.

niger-congo_map

There are Bantu-speaking tribes who are genetically closer to non-Bantu speaking tribes than they are to tribes who speak a form of Bantu.

Let’s take the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda, for example. Both are bantu-speaking. The Hutu are generally recognized as the ethnic majority of Rwanda. The Hutu are a Bantu group that had arrived in the region earlier, during the Bantu expansion. The Tutsi, however were identified by the Hutu as originally being a foreign group that settled amongst and intermarried with the Hutu. The relationship between the two modern populations is, in many ways, derived from the perceived origins and claim to “Rwandan-ness”. A shared language didn’t stop the bloody conflicts and genocide in Rwanda. Clearly, while the Hutu and Tutsi speak the same Bantu language, they do not see themselves as a single people. 

In comparison to the Hutu, the Tutsi have three times as much genetic influence from Nilo-Saharan populations (14.9% ) as the Hutu (4.3% ) perhaps demonstrating a Nilo-Saharan (language classification) speaking origin that supports their nomadic herding past, as opposed to the Hutu who were primarily Bantu farmers.[1]  A more recent study (Trombetta et al. 2015) found 22.2% E1b1b in a Tutsi sample from Burundi, but 0% in the Hutu and Twa of Burundi.[2] Particularly with genetic markers associated with Southern Cushitic people and East African nomadic herding tribes.[3] To put it simply, while they share the same language, the Hutu and the Tutsi have a different genetic mix.

This makes sense. Imagine you’re from one of the Frankish (early French) Celtic  tribes conquered by the Roman army. You’re taken prison, made a slave and sent to Rome. You learn Latin. Learning to speak Latin doesn’t stop you from ethnically  being a Frankish Celt. You’re now just a Celt who speaks a different language than the one you did before your tribe was conquered. You might now be Roman, or at least Romanized…however, you are still ethnically a Frankish Celt.

This is an important aspect to keep in mind when trying to understand your African American DNA test results. I hope it saves you the week or so of confusion that I had to overcome in order to make sense of the whole ‘Bantu’ thing.

My best rule of thumb is this: when you see the word ‘Bantu’ on its own, automatically add the qualifier, -speaking’.

Bantu is a language, not a people. It really has no place as a genetic classification.

If this topic interests you, here are some excellent articles:

  1. The Bantu People, Melissa’s Anthropology Blog.  https://mathildasanthropologyblog.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/the-bantu-people

  2. Bantu peoples in South Africa, Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_peoples_in_South_Africa
  3. The Bantu Expansion,  http://pages.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/resources/clarifications/BantuExpansion.html

References:

  1. Luis, J. R.; Rowold, D.J.; Regueiro, M.; Caeiro, B.; Cinnioğlu, C.; Roseman, C.; Underhill, P.A.; Cavalli-Sforza, L.L.; Herrera, R.J. (2004).“The Levant versus the Horn of Africa: Evidence for Bidirectional Corridors of Human Migrations” (PDF). American Journal of Human Genetics 74 (3): 532–544. 
  2. Trombetta, Beniamino; D’Atanasio1, Eugenia; Massaia, Andrea; Ippoliti, Marco; Coppa, Alfredo; Candilio, Francesca; Coia, Valentina; Russo, Gianluca; Dugoujon, Jean-Michel; Mora, Pedro; Akar, Nejat; Sellitto, Daniele; Valesini, Guido; Novelletto, Andrea; Scozzari, Rosaria; Cruciani, Fulvio (2015). “Phylogeographic refinement and large scale genotyping of human Y chromosome haplogroup E provide new insights into the dispersal of early pastoralists in the African continent.”. Oxford Journals 7: 1940–1950.
  3.  Henn, Brenna M.; Gignoux, Christopher; Lin, Alice A.; Oefner, Peter J.; Shen, Peidong; Scozzari, Rosaria; Cruciani, Fulvio; Tishkoff, Sarah A.; Mountain, Joanna L.; Underhill, Peter A. (2008). “Y-chromosomal evidence of a pastoralist migration through Tanzania to southern Africa.”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 10693–8.

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Why I struggle with ‘West Africa’ as a genetic classification

I’ve had fun playing around with some free autosomal DNA analysis tools via Gedmatch and DNA Land. While it’s all well and good to experiment with these tools and play around with them to see what information can be gleaned…ultimately, you’re going to want these tools to provide meaningful answers. This is where my frustration with some of these DNA analytical tools kicks in.

Both of your parents contribute to your autosomal DNA. I think of it like it’s a genetic stew – you get bits and pieces of this type of DNA from your parents’ collective ancestors. It’s a very hit or miss affair how much of this DNA you or your siblings inherit from any given ancestor. No set of siblings inherit the same amount either. This DNA is different from YDNA, which fathers pass to sons, and mtDNA which mothers pass to their daughters. YDNA and mtDNA change very slowly over time. Autosomal DNA mixtures differ from person to person within the same immediate family – and from generation to generation. This is a very simplified overview of how each of these types of DNA differ from each other.

When I first started to investigate some of these free autosomal DNA analytical tools, I didn’t really think anything when I saw the classification of ‘West African’. It’s only when I started to research what ‘West African’ actually meant that I began to have quite a few questions about the validity of this genetic classification. I’m now of the mind that it’s a pretty meaningless genetic qualifier.

Below you’ll see two different maps which illustrate the West African region. The first is from the United Nations. The second is a fairly common map, although I haven’t a clue about its origins.

UN map of West Africa: 

Map showing how the UN classifies the geo-political West African region, which includes north African Western Sahara, Morocco and Algeria.

Map showing how the UN classifies the geo-political West African region, which includes north African Western Sahara, Morocco and Algeria. 

There are maps that commonly depict West Africa, like the one shown below: 

west-africa-political-map

Since size seems to be a political meme for the moment – at least for Trump and Rubio – let’s start there! The UN-defined, geopolitical region classified as West Africa is huge. We’re talking some 5,112,903 km2. This makes this one region of Africa larger than Western, Northern, Central and Southern Europe combined. It’s also a heavily populated region of Africa with hundreds of different ethnic groups, cultures, languages, etc – all of the things that make one population of people quite distinct from others.

I’ll use an example. Imagine you’re a European descended person. You use a DNA analysis tool to explore your genetic admixtures. And all you see is ‘Eastern European’. Your first response would be along the lines of ‘duh, tell me something that I didn’t know already. What kind of Eastern European am I, exactly?’ And you’d be right to think that. Are you mostly Romanian? Ukrainian? Slovak? Polish? These are distinctly different peoples; with different customs, traditions, cultures, history and experiences. Each one has its own unique subset of ethnicities.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the many, many ethnic groups who call this part of Africa home:

Map showing the main ethnicities in Africa.

Map showing the main ethnicities in Africa, grouped by language. click for larger image

The various regions of Africa are just as complex, as the map above illustrates. You’d never guess just how diverse and complex the ethnic landscape of western Africa is when you simply see the genetic classification ‘West African’.

Take a look at the West African region. The major ethnic groups in West Africa are the Mandeng, Fulah, Yoruba, Haoussa, Ashanti and Cameron. These major ethnic groups (and that putting all of the smaller ethnic groups to one side) have produced several separate groups with cultural differences and minor linguistic variations. The Yoruba for example, encompasses twenty-five separate groups. Each one of these twenty-five groups is different from the next. Then there are the Berber and the Taureg, two groups that are found in the Sahara desert. Their language and culture has a strong Arabic influence. All of these cultures are lumped together under the classification of ‘West African’.

That’s just for starters. When you begin to drill down into the myriad of cultures in this one African region, it becomes more complex. The Yoruba example I gave in the paragraph above hints at just how complex a region this is.

So we’ve taken a quick look at just how ethnically complex ‘West Africa’, as a genetic classification, truly is. Now imagine you get an autosomal DNA result that says you’re 28% West African. Now you have a real sense of my frustration.

So what do I propose?  Two approaches. The gold standard would be a country-level analysis result. That’s the most meaningful and the most relevant to people. If my autosomal DNA is found in Ghana, or Cameroon or Burkina Faso, then that’s what a DNA analysis tool should say. Not simply ‘West African’.

Alternatively, there could be a complete re-working of how African cultures are defined and grouped together in terms of genetic classification. It needn’t be overly onerous. Northwest African, West African, West Central African and Southwest African. While not as precise as my first suggested option, at least this one would narrow the western African region people are actually genetically linked to.

‘West Africa’ is fine as a geopolitical definition. As a genetic description, it is truly meaningless.

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The ladies of “The Real” DNA test results

The ladies of “The Real” took DNA tests to find out their ethnic identities, and the results are in. Take this journey with them on their road to discovery.

My voyage of discovery has certainly been an adventure. Check out their adventures below:

DNA reveal Part 1

DNA reveal Part 2

DNA reveal Part 3

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In search of my Jewish great-grandfather

Thanks to the new DNA project from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center, DNA Land (https://dna.land), I’m one big step closer to finding one of my maternal great grandfathers.

I’ve had my autosomal DNA analysed by quite a few DNA testing and analysis services: DNA Land, Ancestry DNA, Gedmatch and Genebase. They all show that a fifth (20%) of my autosomal DNA comes from an Ashkenazi/Levantine ancestor. All of my Jewish cousin matches from these services match me at an estimated 3rd to 4th generation level. Which strongly suggests that the ancestor I’m looking for is a great-grandparent or a great-great grandparent.

I know all of my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents with 100% certainty except for one: my maternal grandfather’s male line. This narrows down the field enormously. How? It’s easier to know that I’m only looking for one individual. And, I know the gender of that person. I also know which side of my family tree he falls within.

I’m looking for a man who in lived in the Washington DC area at the turn of 20th Century. Which is also a boon. I know the area he lived in and when he lived there. This too narrows the search parameters.

I know the man I am seeking would have been born roughly in the 1880s. Either he, or his parents, would have emigrated to Washington DC between the 1820s and the early 1900s. Which is another clue.

DNA Land, Ancestry DNA, Gedmatch, Family Tree DNA and Genebase all show that my missing Jewish great grandfather has a distinctive Jewish admixture: Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian. There is a zero Western or Northern European footprint in his DNA. There’s one place on the world map where a 19th Century European Jewish community had this admixture and emigrated to the US between 1820 and the 1880s – Galicia.

I immediately thought of Spain when I saw Galicia. Turns out, there is more than one European region with that name. The one that directly relates to me is the one in Eastern Europe. Once an independent kingdom, Galicia is a region that has been intensely fought over, and possessed, by Russia, Poland and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Today, it’s southern region is part of Ukraine.It’s northern region is now part of present day Poland.

Armed with this new knowledge, I went back to Genebase, the more advanced and thorough of the DNA testing services I’ve used, and trawled through a mountain of DNA analytic results, chromosome by chromosome. It turns out that the man I’m looking for comes from a very specific part of Galicia: Eastern Galicia. Another incredibly strong filter.

map of the Galician Region

map of the Galician region

My Jewish autosomal DNA has the strongest resonance with present day people located in the southeastern area that encompasses Halicz to the west, Rawa to the north, Zbaraz to the east and Husiatyn to the south. That’s how precise my Genebase DNA test results are.

Armed with this new knowledge, I sent an email to Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. I explained who I was, the ancestor I was looking for any information sources they could recommend where I could find out more about the Galician Jewish community in Washington DC. In less than 24 hours I received an incredibly helpful reply.

In a way, I lucked out that my unknown great-grandfather, or his parents, chose Washington DC as their new home. Compared to other immigrant Jewish communities in the US, the one in Washington DC was relatively tiny.  20,000 or so souls lived in the Greater DC area at the turn of the last century. It was a very, very tight knit community. Which means there is a real chance that I could actually discover his name.

DNA testing is the tool needed to crack this. Specifically, my genetic cousin matches. Family names like Dunau, Fidel, Kessel/Kissel, Rosenberg, Tannenbaum and Yisrael hold the vital clues. Armed with a gender, a rough year of birth, a specific area or origins and a US place of residence, I can now begin the process of emailing my Jewish DNA cousins and ask if they know of any family who lived in Washington DC in the early 1900’s. While I wait for their responses, I can begin looking at digitized records from the Jewish Synagogues that served this community in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. And look for the family names I’m becoming familiar with.

I have to laugh at this point. I am descended from four forcibly displaced people who were scattered to the four corners of the globe: African, Irish, Jewish and Scottish. All four present the same challenges for any genealogist: non-existent or poorly kept records. None were considered human by those who controlled their fate. All present hurdle after hurdle when it comes to stitching their family trees back together again.

However, researching my African American ancestors has taught me patience, diligence and how to use my innate ability to not see a box (so I don’t have to ‘think outside’ of one) in order to crack genealogical barriers and mysteries. This skillset will definitely come in handy when it comes to cracking the mystery of my unknown Jewish great-grandfather. In the meantime, I’m learning about his Galician world and the world of the 19th and  20th Century Jewish community of Washington DC.

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The Roanes of Virginia: 2 families with the same surname. Are they related or not?

What could possible be confusing about two immigrant families coming from the same region in Europe and landing in the US around the same time?  When it comes to pre-Revolutionary War Era Roane family…there’s plenty.

One group of early 18th Century Roanes were Scots-Irish in their origins, descendants of the northern Irish landowner of Scottish origins, Archibald Gilbert Roane.   The other Roane family hailed from England, descendants of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane.

Untangling A Right Genealogical Mess

As I’ve previously written, these two men were not directly related to one another. If I had the power to correct every single Roane family tree that shows Charles as being the father of Archibald, I would do it in a heartbeat :o)

Many years ago, like any newbie amateur genealogist, I figured countless online family trees had to be correct. I mean, they had been published for years – long before I began my own genealogy adventure. What wasn’t there to trust? The majority of these tress had merged both of these Roane family groups into one family. I took the information they contained as gospel. About a year later, I realized just how wrong these trees were.

It’s the only time I have ever had to delete an entire family from my tree and start again from scratch. However, it taught me a valuable lesson: never, ever take what’s in family trees as the gospel. The fact that most of the trees didn’t have citations or documentation should have been a clue. You live and you learn.

Part of the confusion, admittedly, was the realization that the American authors of these trees didn’t understand the distinction between England, Scotland and Ireland. They didn’t know the history of the UK and Ireland either.  A basic knowledge of a country or region’s history can guide your genealogical research. Historical knowledge can raise red flags. That’s what happened to me with the Roanes back in their respective countries of origin. The authors of these incorrect trees assumed that two people born around the same time with the same name were one in the same person, regardless of where they lived. So a Robert Roane, who clearly lived and died in Midlothian region  of Scotland, with a wealth of christening, marriage, death and property records to show that he was mainly domiciled in Midlothian, was presented as being one and the same as a Robert Roane who lived and died in Sussex County, England – and was sometimes a resident of London. The Scottish Roane was a wealthy Scottish merchant who was part of the sphere of influence for Queen Mary of Scotland. The other, a wealthy courtier and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.

A myriad of official records and personal accounts clearly show these were two different men. Yet, there they are, on one online tree after another, where they are shown as being one in the same person. An extra layer of complexity.

Now there may or may not be a shared common ancestor between these two very different Roane families. Both claim descent from the ancient Norman/French noble house of de Rohan. And, of course, there is no proof of this. Until their direct male descendants do DNA testing, I can only take this as speculation that has yet to be proven.  For the time being, I’m treating them as two different families.

Two Families with The Same Name In Colonial Virginia

It gets even more confusing for these two families in the American colonies. The Scots-Irish Roane settled in two places when they first arrived in the American colonies: Pennsylvania and Virginia. The English Roanes went straight to Virginia. Virginia is where things gets interesting. Both Roane families were in the premier league of Virginia society. And, like any Division 1 family, they married into other Division 1 families. Which means these two Roane family groups became connected through marriages – marriages with families like Ball, Brockenbrough, Henry and Upshur/Upshaw. This, in turn, means that autosomal DNA from families like Ball, Henry, Brockenbrough and Upshur/Upshaw runs through both the English and the Scots-Irish Roane lines in the US. It makes it a challenge to know which Roane family group you’re a descendant of if you don’t know your direct line of Roane ancestors.

It’s especially difficult and confusing for African American descendants of either of these families (which I’ll get to directly).

Both Roane family groups were large slave-owning families. Generations of Roane men, from both family groups, fathered children with slaves. Pinpointing which male from either of these Roane families fathered your African American Roane family line is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And the shared DNA thing is just an added curveball, plain and simple.

There are a LOT of African American descendants from both these houses who are actively wanting to know which Roane family group they belong to in order to pinpoint their direct line and then uncover the identity of the man who fathered their line. I receive numerous emails from African American Roanes every week asking for advice, insight and my input into helping them along this path of discovery. Trying to untangle the knot of oral family history (which isn’t always correct), complicated family inter-connections, and interpreting DNA match results takes patience.

Working Through My Roane DNA Matches

I only made my breakthrough in identifying William Henry Harrison Roane as the progenitor of my Roane line through an exceedingly lucky break. Quite literally, through the luck of the Irish!

There were three Scots-Irish Roane brothers who arrived in the American colonies. Two headed for Virginia while one, the Reverend Andrew Roane, lived in Pennsylvania.  Luckier still, Andrew’s descendants largely remained in Pennsylvania. Which means this was as pure a Scots-Irish Roane line as anyone is likely to research in the US.  I say pure because this line never married into the same families as the Virginia Scots-Irish Roane lines before the outbreak of the American Civil War. In terms of DNA testing comparisons, this one Roane line is gold dust.

My DNA matches with Andrew’s descendants proved there was a genetic link between me and the Scots-Irish Roanes. After months of meticulous and laborious DNA results triangulation, I could eliminate a direct line of descent from the English Roanes (although I shared DNA with them through those pesky marriages to other prominent Virginia families). I could also whittle down my direct line of descent within the two Virginia-based Scots-Irish Roane lines until I finally hit my direct line.

I’ll give you an example. In terms of DNA matches, all of William Henry Harrison Roane’s living descendants who DNA tested with AncestryDNA were my closet matches (1st cousins ‘x’ times removed. They typically show as 4th cousins on DNA testing services).  William’s siblings’ descendants were the next closest series of DNA matches (2nd cousins ‘x’ times removed. They typically show as 5th cousins on DNA testing services). The descendants of William’s uncles and aunts were one more generation removed (3rd cousins ‘x’ times removed. They typically show as 6th cousins on DNA testing services).

My DNA matches with English Roanes has been consistently more removed than any I share with Scots-Irish Roanes. My English Roane DNA matches go from 8th cousins to ‘distant’. This suggest that we’re not linked by English descended Roane men. We’re linked by society ladies from the same family who married into both Roane families. And these unions had to have happened two to three generations prior to the birth of my 4x great-grandfather, William Henry Harrison Roane.  Which my Roane family tree actually shows. This makes sense. Families like Ball, Brockenbrough, Henry and Upshur/Upshaw had arrived in the colonies generations before either of the Roane family groups arrived.

A Little Bit About Triangulating DNA Matches

A note about triangulation. You have to compare your DNA matches with male descended lines and female descended lines. Which means you have to have a fully worked up family tree with both male and female lines to gather the surnames you’ll need to search on. For instance, it was a 50/50 shot whether it was William or his father who fathered my direct Roane line. It was comparing my DNA matches with his mother’s Henry family that clinched it. In order for me to have Roane and Henry DNA, I had to be descended from a child of a Roane-Henry union. That would be William – whose descendants were my closest DNA matches compared to any other line of Roane descendants.

Knowing the lineages of the women in your tree is every bit as important as the male lineages. And nowhere is this more important than DNA match triangulation.

Andrew Roane is my Roane family litmus test.

Some Roane Family DNA Matching Interpretation Tips & Tricks

So, if you’re an American Roane descendant reading this (and especially an African American Roane descendant), here are some suggestions:

  • See if you match with a living descendant of Andrew Roane with DNA results posted on the various DNA/family history sites.
  • If you do match a descendant of Andrew Roane, and that match is between the 3rd to 6th cousin level, then you are more than likely a descendant of the Scots-Irish Roanes.
  • If you don’t have a match with Andrew Roane’s descendants, then you are more than likely a descendant of the English Roane family group.
  • I don’t have any 7th cousin level matches, so can’t offer any interpretation for that result.
  • Once you’ve determined which Roane group you belong to, keep comparing your matches until you find a line that matches you more recently in time than any other. The chances are high that this is your direct line. There is a caveat:
    • Work back quite a few generations to ensure there are no linking families in your family line (two sisters marrying two brothers, or a pair of cousins from one family marrying siblings or cousins in another family). It happens more than you think. And this will skew your DNA cousin matching results. Think of these as potential false positives.
    • You will need to keep searching until you find family lines that aren’t connected by a linking family. This one is important. When I researched the ancestral lines of two people who married an aunt of uncle of William Roane, I discovered they were descendants of my Harling ancestors. Which made these two people my genetic cousins. Put simply, I had a set of Harling cousins marrying a set of Roane great aunts and uncles. This meant I had to completely ignore their Roane descendants in terms of making DNA comparisons. There simply is no way of saying ‘just look at the shared Roane DNA and ignore the Harling DNA’. I wish there were.
  • Trust me, the temptation is just to great to force your DNA match results to fit the information in your tree. Only refer back to your family tree for surnames to search for in your match results. However, forget about the specific individuals in your tree.
  • Don’t let your family history assumptions influence your match interpretations. Actually, forget everything your family oral histories have passed down. You have to triangulate like Dr Spock from Star Trek: dispassionately, focusing solely on the results.

Another consideration for African American Roanes is where your ancestors lived in Virginia. If you know where they were born, lived and died-  that, in and of itself, might give you some clues as to which Roane group you belong to if you’re getting Roane DNA matches.

The slave owning Scots-Irish Roanes are most strongly associated with King William and Henrico Counties in Virginia.

The slave-owning English Roanes are most strongly associated with King & Queen and Gloucester Counties.

Essex County & Richmond are tricky – both Roane family groups had land holdings and slaves both of these places. I’m still working on an overview of which family group was where in Essex County. For instance, which of the two families were in Indian Neck, Tappahannock, etc. This will also be a clue.

Ultimately, it will be a combination of finely-researched genealogy, DNA testing and patient and thorough triangulation that can unlock the mystery of which Roane family group you belong to.

With this is by no means definitive, also look at popular names in your family, especially names that keep recurring for family members born between 1800 and the 1880s. I’ve discovered that this was one way the formerly enslaved people of color indicated which white family line fathered them. Male names like Charles and Robert were popular for black and white descendants of the English Roane line. Henry was a popular first and middle name for black males who were descendants of William Henry Harrison Roane. Patrick, Spencer, Anthony and Wyatt were also popular male names associated with Scots-Irish Roanes.

This Research Has Inspired Something Even Bigger

The complications with Roane family genealogy fits quite nicely into one of my main goals in my genealogy adventure. And that is building one of the biggest online, public, slavery-era family trees for African Americans. One that is fully researched and trusted. It’s a project that I’m currently applying for grant funding to realize. I’m thankful that my current family tree is already a resource for African Americans researching families associated with Virginia and the Carolinas. However, I’d like to go bigger, deeper and further back in history. And that requires full-time research commitment for quite some time.

In the meantime, I continue to chip away. And always look forward to sharing whatever I find along the way.

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