Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones

Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones was my 3rd great grandmother. She was the mother of my grandmother’s (Gerald) grandfather (Davis).

Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones was part Creek and part English. She was the most recent of my ancestors to have lived among the Alabama Creek Indians. Her story is remarkable in that she appears to have survived the massacre at Fort Mims when she was a small child.

The book A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Red Stick War of 1813-1814 by Gregory A. Waselkov says she was four years old at the attack on Fort Mims on August 30, 1813.


Fort Mims is located near Mobile, Alabama, and you can visit a historical park there today that tells the story of the battle that was part of a Creek civil war between those who wanted to live more traditionally and more apart from white society, and those who wanted to cooperate with the American government and intermingle with white people.

There were approximately 550 people inside Fort Mims. Only 36 survived. Jeffersonia was taken captive along with her mother and brothers.

I will have to do more research to find out what happened to her after that, but I do know she grew up to become the mother of my great-great grandfather, William Wiley Davis.

I also know that if she was four years old in 1813, she was born in 1809, the last year of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, so she was likely named after him. Her grandmother’s father, brother, and cousins had all worked as interpreters for Indian Affairs agents sent into Creek territory, and one of those Indian agents was a man named Benjamin Hawkins. Hawkins worked for decades to try to broker peace between the Creeks and the English settlers. It’s thought that Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones was given her middle name as a tribute to him.

Jeffersonia’s great-grandfather was Joseph Cornell, an Englishman who came to Creek territory as a trapper and trader, ended up marrying a Creek woman from Tuckabatchee, and working as an interpreter for various agents from Indian Affairs.

I am only just beginning the process of researching Jeffersonia’s family tree, but it looks like to me at a glance that her closest full-blooded Creek ancestor is her great-grandmother, the wife of Joseph Cornell, whose name is unknown. I believe that Jeffersonia’s father and grandfather and great-grandfather were all white settlers in the area. That would have made her 1/8 Creek, but at Fort Mims, she and her family were considered to be métis or mixed race. They were considered to be mixed race, not just by the white people, but by the Creeks as well. Jeffersonia was taken captive rather than killed because she was mixed race. The Red Sticks (the Creek who wanted to keep Creek territory free of English settlers) killed children as well as adults in the massacre at Fort Mims, but they spared Jeffersonia and her brothers because they were part Creek.

As I said, I am only just beginning to learn about this branch of my family history, and I have a lot more reading I need to do, but the picture I’m getting here is that Jeffersonia came from a family that might have been more English than Creek genetically by the time of her generation, but it had been more Creek than English culturally for her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother certainly lived as a Creek and would have raised her daughter as a Creek even if they both had English fathers.

Jeffersonia would have been 21 years old in 1830 when the Indian Removal Act was passed. She would have seen her grandmother’s people uprooted and disbanded in her lifetime. She would have seen great change as more and more Creek lands were handed over to white settlers.

She married a man named Edmund Davis who had moved to Alabama from Georgia. They lived out their lives in Monroe County, Alabama. Her son William Wiley Davis moved to Perry County, Mississippi, where his descendants still live to this day. He lived in Perry County as a white man, though, not as a mixed race Creek. His mother Jeffersonia represents a turning point generation. She was the last connection to her Creek family on her family tree.

If anyone has any additional information about Jeffersonia and her family, please share. I will update when I learn more.

DNA and the Geralds of County Clare


This map shows the origins of my brother’s Y-DNA, according to Family Tree DNA. I have no idea what the one red dot in Germany is about. I’m assuming it has to do with migrations of one sort or another. I’m more interested in the cluster of red dots in Ireland because everything else about our DNA search for family origins has pointed to Ireland.

Y-DNA is the specific type of DNA that is passed down from father to son for many generations relatively unchanged. Only men can take the Y-DNA test, and it tells the history of their paternal line.

Our family history, based on my brother’s Y-DNA, appears to focus around County Clare and/or County Limerick, Ireland. That’s where the three red dots joined together on the map are located.

The earliest known ancestor in my brother’s paternal line that we can trace back to is a man named James Gerald who lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. He is said to have been born in Ireland around 1709. We don’t know anything about his parents, what year he came to America, or why he came. We only know that he married a woman named Mildred Taliaferro and had a son named Gabriel Gerald.

Family lore says that James Gerald was born a Fitzgerald, though, and changed his name when he came to America.

That’s where things get interesting in the DNA analysis on my brother (seven generations removed from the original James Gerald). We aren’t coming up with any significant matches to Fitzgeralds in Ireland. We are, however, matching a number of people named O’Loughlin, McLaughlin, or variations thereof. We also match a few other random surnames, but most of those are so distant they could come from a time before surnames.

I don’t know what this means exactly in terms of our family history, but it does open up the possibility that our James Gerald was never a Fitzgerald and that he may have changed his name from something else altogether.

Interestingly enough, when I did a search for the origins of the name O’Loughlin, I ran across a map that shows O’Loughlins living in Ireland in the 1800s (from JohnGrenham.com).


You can see from this map that there is a huge concentration of O’Loughlins in one particular area, and that area happens to be an almost exact match for my brother’s Y-DNA SNP matches map. The concentration of O’Loughlins shown here is mainly in County Clare, Ireland.

There are also a lot of Fitzgeralds in this area. We haven’t completely ruled out Fitzgerald as a possibility. We’ve just increased the probability that our James Gerald came from a family of O’Loughlins rather than a family of Fitzgeralds. This is an ongoing process, though, and we may discover more information down the road that changes the scenario again.

If that happens, I will probably write another blog post about it.

If you are a Gerald interested in following our process to this point, you can take a look at some of my older posts on the subject:

DNA, Gerald Family Legends, and History’s Mysteries

From R1b1a2a1a1b4 to DF21

You might also be interested in posts about relatives I came across in my research:

Infamous Cousins

Float Like a Butterfly

Also, if you are a Gerald interested in using DNA to trace ancestry, please consider using Family Tree DNA to do a Y-DNA test on a male with the Gerald surname. The more Geralds we can get to take the test, and the more distant the connections are, the more we can be certain of the results.

And if you happen to be a Gerald with a whole lot of money, maybe you could go to County Clare, Ireland, and convince a bunch of men with the surnames Fitzgerald and O’Loughlin to take DNA tests from Family Tree DNA so that we can find out exactly which family we match.

Alas, it might take a while for me to come up with that kind of money. Meanwhile, I’ll keep documenting what I find out about the family history here so that I will remember it myself and be able to share it with others.

Searching for Native American Ancestry

In many ancient cultures, the ancestors were the gods themselves. In most, the ancestors held a sacred space in a person’s spiritual life, and were essential to fashioning personal identity. As a remnant of those ancient cultures, we still share today a fairly strong desire to know something of our ancestors. Americans are largely cut off from deep connections to ancestry, but we aren’t cut off from the longing to know the stories of the people who came before us. Maybe that’s why so many people are now interested in using DNA to trace Native American ancestry. We all have family stories, but we don’t really know which parts are true, or how much they might mean to us and who we are now.

We’ve seen controversies over this very matter in the news recently in which one politician resorted to a DNA test in order to rebut the mockery of another politician. When she did this, she stepped into a whole new controversy. Native American tribes didn’t want her to claim to be Native American based on a DNA test. This is understandable. Obviously, if you aren’t culturally Native American, you aren’t Native American no matter what your DNA says.

Lots of American like me, though, know that we aren’t culturally Irish, yet every year we go nuts over St. Patrick’s Day and celebrate the Irish in us even though we know we have no claim to Irish citizenship.

We understand that we are not our DNA, especially our distant DNA, yet we still long for stories of ancestors. That’s human nature. It’s built into who we are.

The problem with applying the Irish comparison to Native American DNA, though, is that some people have tried to use DNA in order to claim membership in a tribe and thus collect tribal benefits. Since this might include casino revenues or other monetary benefits in some cases, it’s a real problem. That’s why Native American tribes in the United States in particular have been reluctant to participate in DNA studies. That’s their right, and I believe they are in the right to do so. (See Genetic Research in Native Communities for more information about problems Indigenous people have experienced with DNA studies)

The shortage of extensive ancestry DNA studies on Native American tribes within the United States, though, does it make it more complicated to verify whether your family stories of Native American ancestry are true. I’ve heard a number of people say that they have taken DNA tests, and no Native American ancestry showed up, despite having family lore that includes Native Americans.

I am one of those people. We have more than lore in my family. We have a paper trail. I know that there are Mississippi Choctaws on my family tree. My DNA test did not reflect this, however, and my brother’s did not either. That’s no big surprise. We took tests from companies that did not claim to trace for Native American ancestry.

I think there are some companies now that do test for Native American ancestry–witness our current politician as an example of someone who has made use of one. Also, I think that some tribes are more likely to show up than others, and Native heritage from Latin American countries is also more likely to show up. Mayans have not had the same motivations to avoid DNA studies that tribes specifically rooted within the United States have had.

Lack of participation in DNA studies is only one complication, though. There are actually several reasons you might have family lore of Native ancestry but not have Native DNA show up is an ancestry test.

1. The family might be wrong. Maybe the connection never existed, or maybe it was in your family tree, but not in your direct line of ancestry. Maybe Grandpa’s second wife was Choctaw, but you are actually descended from his first wife. Maybe there was an NPE, which either means “non-paternal event” or “not paternity expected” in DNA terms depending on who you talk to. Anything along those lines could have happened, especially if the connection is far enough back that you do not have anyone’s living memory to rely on.

2. You could have Native American ancestry and not have Native American DNA. If you go back enough generations so that you have hundreds or even thousands of ancestors at that level on your family tree, all of those people are your ancestors, but you did not retain DNA from all of them. (See Unexpected Ethnicity Results)

3.  Your family could be right, but the person who is your Native American ancestor was not 100% genetically Native American, so even if this person appears within the past five generations on your family tree, you don’t really know how much Native American DNA he/she contributed to your overall makeup. It might seem to you like it should be enough to be statistically relevant, but maybe it isn’t even if your family lore is correct. Let’s face it, Native American women have been giving birth to the children of European men and raising them within their own tribes ever since European men first arrived on this continent. Whether as a result of intermarriage, consenting relationships, or rape, these things happened. If your paper trail ends with your Choctaw Great-Great Grandmother, as mine does, you might know for certain that your ancestor was culturally 100% Choctaw, but you don’t know for certain that she was genetically 100% Choctaw.

It’s complicated. People who look for Native Ancestry and don’t find it tend to be dismissed as nothing more than “typical.” It is very common for people to start out looking for Native American ancestry because of family stories, but not get the results they are looking for from DNA tests. It’s also very common for people to take the wrong test for the results they are looking for or to use a company that doesn’t offer the results they are looking for.

Family myths do pop up without any real evidence. In my family, I read a story in my genealogy searches that said I was descended from people who came over on the Mayflower. Later, I discovered in more extensive searches that I was not. I was descended from people with similar names who lived roughly during the same time period but who definitely could not have been the same people.

In the case of Native American DNA, though, your testing may or may not disprove your family stories. It may or may not be possible to prove anything with DNA. The best you can do is to educate yourself about the process and try not to be fleeced by companies charging high prices to promise you more than they can deliver. Also, if possible, work on chasing the paper trail. Old fashioned genealogy research can tell you more than DNA if you want to know who your ancestors were. If that fails and DNA testing fails, it might be time to simply let the mystery be.

 

 

DNA, Gerald Family Legends, and History’s Mysteries

Off and on for the past ten years or so, I’ve been interested in tracing my family genealogy. I can trace my Gerald family back to a man named James Gerald who lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. We think he was born in Ireland around 1709, and he died in South Carolina in 1760. He had a son named Gabriel, and Gabriel had a bunch of children, and they are the ancestors of every Gerald in the US who is in any way connected to my family.

A lot of people can trace themselves back to James Gerald, but no one so far has been able to find any definitive records dating back to Ireland to establish who his parents were.

A few years ago, I decided that we should try the DNA route to deciphering this. My brother took a Y-DNA test through Family Tree DNA, and we learned a lot about our family’s genetic past. We are definitely Irish. We match up with a distinctly Irish haplogroup, and our paternal line appears to be Celtic in origin.

That said, what we have not done is to match up with any Geralds in Ireland or of Irish origin outside of the line from Gabriel Gerald that we already know about.

Family legend says that James Gerald was really James Fitzgerald, and he changed his name to Gerald when he moved to America. We haven’t made any DNA matches to Fitzgeralds either, at least not any that are close enough genetic matches to use as a basis for genealogical research.

At first, I just thought this would be a matter of waiting for the right people to take the DNA test. Genealogical DNA testing for tracing ancestry was still a fairly new thing, and I assumed it would take off over time, and eventually the right Gerald or Fitzgerald would take the test, and we would find out at least which branch of Fitzgeralds we were connected to.

Several years have now passed, and we still haven’t connected to a family of Fitzgeralds. Something else has happened, though. A distinct pattern of genetic links to people named O’Loughlin or O’Laughlin or McLaughlin, all with Irish origins, has emerged.

18th Century James Gerald is 7 generations back from the 20th Century James Gerald who took the Y-DNA test. Family Tree DNA says that we have an 87% chance of sharing a common ancestor with a number of people with the surname O’Loughlin within the past 8 generations and a 97% chance within the past 12 generations. By contrast, only one person named Fitzgerald has shown up on our genetic matches list, and we have a 70% chance of sharing  a common ancestor with him within the past 8 generations and a 90% within the past 12 generations.

We could say “But wait there is that one Fitzgerald. That probably is our connection to a family line.” We could, and we might be right. However, when there is only one very distant match, that match is usually considered to be an outlier, especially if a pattern is emerging in another direction. One person might be the result of a “non-paternal event” or a kid being born outside of marriage or with a genetic father who was not his legal father. A group of people all with varying connections is a stronger indicator of what might have happened. Our outlier right now is a Fitzgerald. Our group of people with a stronger and clearer pattern of genetic connections to us are all O’Loughlins.

On Family Tree DNA, there is a large Fitzgerald family project with more than 200 members, representing a wide variety of Fitzgerald family lines, and we are not definitively matching any of them, whereas we do have that strong pattern of genetic connections through Y-DNA, which is the direct paternal line, to a family named O’Loughlin. We can count back 7 generations of Geralds, and the O’Loughlin connection exists somewhere within the range of 8-12 generations back. It picks up at exactly the point in our genetic history where we lose our ability to trace the family back through traditional genealogical research.

I haven’t been keeping up this blog much lately, but I’m sharing this here today because my genealogy posts are the main ones that still get visitors even years later, and I know there are other people out there researching the same family line. I want to share the information, but I also want to share the brainstorming about what all of this might mean.

We don’t know that much about James Gerald. We don’t know why he came to America or what his family life was like before he did so. We do know who he married and where he lived and what became of his son.

One theory says that he arrived in America as an indentured servant and that he ran off without fulfilling his years of service and changed his name in order to avoid capture.

I have no idea whether that is true or not. I do know that he ended up married to a woman named Mildred Taliaferro and that her English/Italian family was fairly well off, so if he arrived here as an indentured servant, he did well for himself after.

The way the family has always told the story, he changed his name from Fitzgerald to Gerald, and that is the part that I am questioning now. I think he may have changed his name, but I’m starting to believe that his name was never Fitzgerald, or if it was that it came to him from his mother’s family and not from his father’s family. If Fitzgerald had been his paternal surname, I believe we would have hit upon a significant genetic connection to a branch of Fitzgeralds by now.

There are two main possibilities here.

1. There could be a genetic disruption in the paternal line somewhere between 18th Century James Gerald and 20th Century James Gerald.

I don’t believe this is the case because 20th Century James Gerald does have a genetic match to a distant Gerald connection who is a descendant of Gabriel Gerald through a different line. If we can establish paternal certainty all the way back to Gabriel Gerald’s children, and at least two of those children had the same father, then that only leaves one generation of uncertainty. If there’s a disruption in the line, that would mean that James Gerald was not Gabriel Gerald’s biological father, and there’s no real reason for us to suspect this.

2. James Gerald’s paternal surname was neither Gerald nor Fitzgerald.

I believe more and more that this is the case. I believe that James Gerald came from a family of O’Loughlins.

He could have been James Fitzgerald O’Loughlin with the Fitzgerald coming from his mother rather than his father, in which case the Fitzgerald connection wouldn’t show up in Y-DNA tests, but it would still make sense for him to pick James Gerald as his new American name. Another possibility is that he could have been born illegitimately and never used his father’s surname. There could be any number of explanations.

I might be dead wrong. New matches might show up down the road that change this whole scenario once again. I do find it interesting to consider for now, though, and I’m throwing it out there in case anyone else has any ideas.

Happy genetic sleuthing, Gerald cousins.

From R1b1a2a1a1b4 to DF21, or My brother’s DNA reveals he is human after all

I’ve been fascinated with genetic genealogy for a couple of years now. Mainly, I got fascinated when I discovered that not everyone with the last name Gerald living in this country believes my grandfather’s stories of our family immigrating from Ireland. I stumbled across information online where some distant cousins were speculating that the family may have come from France. We were at a genealogical brick wall with an ancestor that lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. Try as anyone and everyone might, we couldn’t overturn a paper trail going any farther back than that. I’m sure this is why varying theories started emerging. Family researchers needed something new to research and needed to keep exploring new theories to make sure nothing had been overlooked. I, however, just wanted to prove that my Grandpa was right, and I thought I could do it through DNA. Luckily enough, my brother is a willing test subject, and all three of my brothers have been financially supportive of the cause. We’ve learned a lot in two years.

Here’s both a recap and an update for anyone who is following this research in the family and anyone who is interested in doing their own family genetic genealogy project.

First, we had a Y-DNA test done through Family Tree DNA. A lot of places do all sorts of DNA testing, but if you want a test that will help solve genealogical mysteries related to your surname or your patrilineal background, you have to do a Y-DNA test. You also need to test for as many markers as you can afford. I suggest testing for at least 67 markers. As my brother put it, testing for 12 markers basically just tells you that you’re human, and testing for 37 markers might tell you that your ancestors came from Europe. If you want to get closer to yourself in time, you’re going to need more markers. Chances are, like us, you will also keep adding new tests to the original Y-DNA test in order to get more specific information. But this is where you start if you want to get into genetic genealogy. Have a Y-DNA test done on a male who is a direct descendant of the patrilineal line you are researching. Family Tree DNA is a great place to go for this. Lots of genetic researchers hang out there, and lots of family projects are already in progress there. If you are lucky, like us, you can also find people there who will help you make progress on understanding your own genetic history.

Step one for us was the 67 marker Y-DNA test. This did not reveal any recent family matches (though I believe it eventually will as more people are added to the databases), but it did show us a pattern of distant matches to people who claimed Irish ancestry. I found it curious and fascinating that none of these people shared our surname. I didn’t quite know what to think, but I later came to understand that we were looking at people who shared a common ancestor with us from as much as 1000 years ago. The Irish didn’t use surnames prior to the Norman Invasion, so our genetic cousins at that distance could have just about any name at all.

Step two was to add a Deep Clade test from Family Tree DNA to the mix. This tests SNP markers in the Y-DNA as opposed to the STR markers from our original report. The SNP tests place you within a system of genetic clans called haplogroups. Your haplogroup tells your very distant ancestry in terms of where your ancestors were thousands or even tens of thousands of years ago. If you are lucky, though, you can find out much more recent information from the SNP tests. Sometimes in more recent history there have been genetic clusters still all living in one area. What I hoped to find from the Deep Clade test was that we matched a sub-sub-sub-sub clade that clustered in a very particular area, such as a particular county in Ireland.

At first, I was disappointed. The initial Deep Clade test designated my brother’s Y-DNA as belonging to the haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1b4 (now shortened to R-L21). All of the tests run for deeper sub-clades of R-L21 came back negative. R-L21 does occur at higher frequencies in England and Ireland than in other places, but it also occurs throughout Western Europe. It is generally associated with Celtic ancestry, though, so I took that as a step toward verification of Irish ancestry. The combination of the haplogroup finding and the continued pattern of matches to distant relations with ties to Ireland seemed to me to be pretty good evidence that Grandpa knew what he was talking about.

I thought I was going to have to be satisfied with “pretty good” evidence until enough people had the tests done that we started getting closer matches or until I won the lottery and was able to travel to Ireland taking DNA samples from people sharing my surname.

A lot has happened in the world of DNA research in the past two years, though, and it turns out that new SNPs and new sub clades within haplogroups are being discovered all the time.

This brings us forward to the more recent development that my brother’s Y-DNA results have now been added to a research project for one of these more recently defined sub clades. I’ve ordered tests for more SNPs to help verify this classification, but for now we’ve moved forward from the more general grouping of R-L21 to a more specific group within R-L21 of DF21 and within DF21 to group K. Maybe if you are a genographic researcher, you will know what this means. I don’t actually know what it means, but I know what I’ve been told.

The person who contacted me about the research project says this is for a very particular genetic cluster with roots in Southern Ireland, specifically in the counties Laois, Offaly, and Tipperary. It is thought that the people who have these genetic markers share a common ancestor who lived in one of these counties possibly prior to the Norman Invasion.

That’s getting pretty specific, and it moves the likelihood up even higher that our genealogical brick wall did indeed come from Ireland.

I believe the next few years will continue to see rapid advances in what we can do with this kind of genetic information. For now, though, we’ve learned a couple of important things. Grandpa was likely telling the truth, and we will probably find a match to a specific family in Ireland before this is over. Plus, my brother is human after all. You never know when you start testing the DNA of brothers what they will turn out to be, but mine has the same DNA as the other 7 billion people on the planet.

R1b1a2a1a1b4: Update from the Great Irish Ancestor Hunt

Not too long ago I wrote about my efforts to determine whether my Gerald ancestors did indeed come from Ireland as I’ve always been told. I only recently discovered that not all of the descendents of Gabriel Gerald agree on where his father, James Gerald, came from way back in the 1700s.

The story as it has been handed down to me is that our first Gerald grandfather to live in this country came from Ireland changed his name from Fitzgerald to Gerald at some point along the way. Last summer, though, I blogged about a distant relation who was somewhat infamous, and this drew in some living distant relations to the comment section on my blog.That’s when I learned that some branches of the family think that our common ancestor came from France instead of Ireland.

Regardless of which camp I fell into, I had the same problem everyone else had in backing up my story. We have no paper trail. Our James Gerald is a genealogical dead end. No one has been able to find records of who his parents were or where they might have lived.

So I decided to go after the question from the scientific approach, and my brothers were gracious enough to help me out. They all chipped in to have a Y-DNA test done through www.familytreedna.com. We had the 67 marker test done, which is what I had been told we needed if we wanted to prove family matches.

The results of this test were very interesting but not necessarily conclusive. I did believe after viewing the matches that we were leaning toward Ireland as more likely than France as the place of origin. Still, we didn’t have enough family matches and we didn’t have close enough family matches to fill in any real genealogical gaps.

Eventually, I think the right person will come along and take the same test and show up as a conclusive match in a way that will help us fill in the family tree. I could have just sat back and waited a few years for that to happen, but I decided to order more tests instead.

I ordered a deep clade test to find out our haplogroup. With the original Y-DNA test, we were told the haplogroup was R1b1a2. This didn’t prove anything because it is the haplogroup of 80% of Europe. It’s also just a general category. Additional testing could narrow it down, and that’s what the deep clade test was for.

Today, I got the first of the results from the deep clade test, and the haplogroup is now R1b1a2a1a1b4. This is much more specific. It is a haplogroup that is primarily associated with England and Ireland.

The tests are not complete yet. It should take about another month to find out if they are able to narrow down any more than this.

In the meantime, all we can say is that this is at least some evidence to support the Irish ancestry claims. It does not rule out French ancestry. However, R1b1a2a1a1b4 is far more common in Ireland than it is in France. By that I mean it shows up in up to 10% of the population in France and in more than 50% of the population in Ireland (if I understand correctly).

Some people seem to associate R1b1a2a1a1b4 with Celtic ancestry. I would have to read more about it before I could comment on how solid that theory might be, but it should be interesting to find out.

R1b1a2a1a1b4 is all I know today. I will update again when the tests are complete to let the two people who might be reading this know whether or not we matched any sub-categories of this group.

If anyone has any information about R1b1a2a1a1b4, I would be very interested in reading it.

If you are a male descendent of Gabriel Gerald, and you are interested in having your own Y-DNA tested, I’d very much appreciate it if you would share your results with us. One way we can solidify our evidence is to find out if my brother’s results are repeatable in other branches of the family.

And if you are simply interested in conducting your own family DNA research, I do recommend the site www.familytreedna.com. I also suggest that you do what we did and have several people chip in to pay for one test. The tests are expensive, but all of the brothers in a single family should all have the same Y-DNA, and if they don’t, this might be something you don’t want to know. Just chip in and have only one of them tested.

I’ll post more when I know more. Meanwhile, if you catch me mumbling weird strings of numbers and letters, you’ll know I’m reading another DNA book trying to figure out how all of this works.

Luck of the Irish American

Day 53: Looking over a two leaf clover

(iPhone photo #53 in my 2012 365+1 project)

My niece says that her father, my brother, must be Irish because he spots four-leaf clovers like nobody’s business. He doesn’t have to search for them. He just spots them while walking across the yard. She says this is irrefutable proof of Irish ancestry. I think it might be the excellent pattern recognition skills that also make him good at building things. I don’t know if that is Irish or not. Either way, it is a skill that has eluded me.

I grew up assuming we were of Irish ancestry, but after seven generations in the American South (nine if you count down to my brother’s grandchildren), it’s a little difficult to verify anything. Turns out other branches of the family think that our great-great-great-great-great grandfather came from France instead, and no one can track down the paperwork to prove any differently. He’s our genealogical brick wall.

His name was James Gerald (m. Mildred Taliaferro), and he lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. After working hard for a couple of days to find the information on him that others have failed to find in half a century of shared family research, I decided that I had to prove we were Irish with or without the paper trail.

I ordered a DNA test. That was before I knew anything about how DNA tests for ancestry worked. I’m glad I did order that test. I was fairly well fascinated by the results. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the type of test to tell us whether James Gerald was Irish or French. We needed another James Gerald and a Y-DNA test for that.

Y-DNA tests check for certain markers that are handed down generation after generation from father to son. Once again, I encountered something I could not do. Only men can take this test.

Luckily enough for a potentially Irish American, my brother James agreed to take the test, and my three brothers all chipped in to pay for it. Results are in, and things are looking pretty positive for the Irish in the male line from one James Gerald down to another.

Nothing is definitive.

1. I’m playing amateur detective in all directions. I have no experience in interpreting DNA reports.

2. We haven’t found anyone yet who is a close enough genetic match to verify a particular family connection.

It pains me to admit the results are not entirely definitive. At first I thought they were more definite. That was before I figured out how to read all of the charts. We might have “strongly leans toward Irish,” but we don’t yet have “definitely Irish.” Not yet.

What we do have is a handful of genetic matches to people who have listed their family ancestry as Irish. Our earliest known ancestor was 7 generations back. The closest of the family matches we’ve found in the DNA database has a common ancestor at about 15 generations back.

If I had to make a call on it right now, I’d say we have good evidence of Irish ancestry. We did not hit any verifiable genetic matches to people with ancestry other than Irish, and we did collect several matches to people with Irish ancestry. Still, this trend could change as more people take the Y-DNA test and enter their results in the same database. We could also end up with other results if other known descendants of our James Gerald added their DNA to the project. As I understand it in my very amateur capacity, Y-DNA can be handed down for thousands of years virtually unchanged, but it can also mutate somewhat along the way. We would need some DNA from distant cousins to truly verify the results.

I wasn’t sure I had time to wait for Gerald men to decide to spend money. I ordered an additional test myself, and we are still waiting for the results.

In addition to finding family matches, one potential way to narrow down the country of origin for an ancestor is to identify your haplogroup. Currently, my brother’s haplogroup is listed as R1B1A2. This is the group that 80% of Europe belongs to. There is something called a deep clade test, though, that attempts to place you in a more specific sub-category. Sometimes these sub-categories are associated with particular countries or particular clans of people. That’s what we’re waiting for now. It will probably take about 6 weeks to find out if this new test places us in a group that is more specific than Western European.

That’s where we stand now. If you are interested in tracing your own ancestry through DNA, we ordered the Y-DNA test from www.familytreedna.com. If you are trying to find family matches, you need at least a 67 marker test — or so I have been told. If you are a Gerald man who is a descendent of James Gerald of South Carolina in the 1700s, I’d be very interested in finding out how your DNA matches up to that of my side of the family. I’m not interested enough to pay for your test, you understand, but I’d be happy to see you order one from the same company and post the results to the same database.

Meanwhile, I’ll just go on with my efforts to prove my Irishness by searching for four-leaf clovers. So far, not so good. I only found the two-leaf clover pictures above today.

Better luck next time.

A Forum of One

Some people impulsively purchase shoes. I impulsively create websites. One day last week I impulsively created a message board for my own family genealogy. This pretty much immediately felt embarrassing. One, no one uses message boards anymore. That’s why I didn’t just start posting to the message boards already in existence at Ancestry.com. Everything I’m interested in there is years old at this point. Two, this message board is only about researching my own family, which severely limits the number of people who might want to join in discussions with me.

I considered deleting the whole thing and pretending I’d never done it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve created a website one day and deleted it the next.

This time, though, I took another look at my little forum, and I decided that even if I don’t use the message board platform for its intended purpose, it will still be useful to me. It may be that no one else ever joins, but that will be okay. I’ve decided to post to it anyway and just use it like an electronic notebook in which I am collecting information.

I’ve decided that no one wants to see my in-progress research on my own family history on my blog, so unless I have a really good story to tell, I’m just going to post whatever I come across on the forum instead.

Just in case you didn’t glance at it and snicker the other day when I first mentioned creating a message board, you can find it at sgerald.net/genforum, or just click here.

I added some stuff in the Ivey section earlier today. I plan to add a few things to the Gerald section a little later on this evening.

Float Like a Butterfly: Famous Cousins

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with genealogy the past few weeks. I think that’s just the way it happens. You go for years without devoting all that much thought to who your 10th great-grandparents were, and then suddenly you get sucked in.

I got sucked in over the question of who my 5th great-grandfather James Gerald is. No one has been able to trace beyond him, and everyone has their own theory about why. I’m no closer to figuring that one out than I was when I started a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, I’ve found a few thousand other ancestors.

Among those ancestors is James Gerald’s wife, Mildred Taliaferro (born 1704 in Virginia). In looking for information about her family, I discovered that Muhammad Ali is also a Taliaferro descendant. We have to go back a couple more generations from Mildred to her grandfather, Richard Taliaferro (born 1656 in Virginia), before we find a connection.

According to the family tree of Muhammad Ali that I found, Richard Taliaferro is Muhammed Ali’s 7th great-grandfather. He is also my 7th great-grandfather.

That makes one Cassius Clay my 8th cousin. Believe it or not, he has never invited me over for dinner.

Well, I tried

I thought I was going to be clever and export my Ancestry.com info into my own site where I could more easily share it. I thought I was going to be especially clever in using a program that could run stats on my family tree.

I installed PhpGedView and imported my gedcom file from Ancestry.com. It seemed like a good idea at the time. As it turns out, though, the transition from Ancestry to PhpGedView is not as smooth as one might like.

My stuff is all here — http://www.writerlyhaphazardry.net/familytree/

It’s just that there were a large number of files that were ignored in the import due to having incompatible features. There also seems to be a problem with GedView insisting on birth and death dates. In places where I left important dates blank on Ancestry, it took the liberty to fill something in on my behalf. Thus, I now have ancestors who lived for nearly 900 years and had nearly 40 children. I supposed you would have time to raise that many children in that many years, but I don’t really want to think about it.

I’m probably going to delete all of this soon and try something else. In the meantime, if you want to have a peek at my long-lived vampire ancestors, go right ahead.