William Harrell/Herrell (c1790-1859), White Wife, Black Wife, 52 Ancestors #44

William Harrell or Herrell or maybe Harrold or Herrald or some other spelling derivative was born about 1790, judging from census records, someplace in North Carolina.

The early tax and census records of Wilkes Co, NC reveal that the Herrell (Harral, Herold, Herrold, Harrold, Herrald, etc.), McNiel, Vannoy, Sheppard, and McDowell families lived just houses apart. Those families also migrated about the same time to the area that was originally Claiborne County, TN, that would eventually become northern Hancock County, near the Lee County, Virginia line and lived in close proximity as neighbors there too, along the Powell River.  Today, a Harrell cemetery remains.

But let’s start our story in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where William Herrell began his life, or at least where we first find him.

Wilkes County, NC

In the 1790 census, there is no Harrell or similar name in Wilkes County, but in the 1800 census, we find both John Harral Sr. and John Harral Jr.

John Sr:

  • 1 male 45 and over so born before 1755
  • 1 female over 45 so born before 1755
  • 1 male under 10 so born 1791-1800
  • 1 male 10-15 so born 1785-1790 (This is probably William who was born about 1790)
  • 1 male 25-44 so born 1756-1774 (this mark is very light and may have been a mistake or erasure) possibly James who has land in Wilkes in 1805
  • 2 females 16-25 so born 1775-1784

John Jr:

  • 1 male 16-25 so born 1775-1784
  • 1 female 16-25 so born 1775-1784
  • 1 female under 10 so born 1790-1800, likely close to 1800 since there are no other siblings

Therefore we would expect to find John Sr. someplace in 1790 with at least 4 if not 5 or 6 children. Obviously, William cannot be the son of John Jr., so he would be the son of John Sr.

We know that William was born in 1790 in NC. Therefore we would expect to find John someplace in NC in 1790.  Checking all of the Johns of similar names, we find only 1, in Bertie Co., that has the number of children (or more, not less) that we would expect John to have in 1790 based on the 1800 census in Wilkes County.

What we expect in 1790 based on the 1800 census:

  • 1 or possibly 2 males over 16
  • 2 or possibly 3 males under 16
  • at least 3 females

We find John in Bertie with in 1790:

  • 1 male over 16
  • 2 males under 16 (so one child was yet to be born either in 1790 or shortly thereafter, making Mary probably about 40 in 1790 or born in 1750 or so)
  • 5 females

Y DNA testing on a proven descendant of John of Bertie County could confirm or squish this possible connection.

Harrold Mountain

John Harrell (also spelled Harrold there, Herrell, etc.) died in Wilkes Co. NC in about 1825. His wife, Mary died about 1826. The 1800 census shows 5 children. His 4 identified children were born beginning in 1783, so he had to be born before 1760 or even earlier.

I visited Wilkes County in 2004 and my cousin, George McNiel, a local historian and avid genealogy researcher, was gracious enough to take me on a tour of all of my family lands. There is a mountain named Harrold Mountain today.

Harrold mountain crop

There is also a very old “primitive Baptist” church on Harrold Mountain and guess what the names are on probably 80% of the graves – yep – you guessed it – Harrold and Harrald.

harrold mountain church

My cousin George, quite a history buff, said this was the last one of the old local churches to flatten the top of the graves for mowing.  Apparently this particular denomination believed in rounding the tops of the graves – and keeping them mounded up. I don’t know why. They also had an outside eating area because they don’t believe in having food inside the church. These are still common practices of this particular denomination apparently, but many of the churches have modernized.

harrald cemetery wilkes county

harrald cemetery 2 wilkes county

The photo below is standing at the church looking across the road and at the beautiful view.

harrold country wilkes co crop

William Harrell married Mary McDowell, daughter of Michael McDowell. They were married by the Baptist Preacher, Jacob McGrady. Mary’s father was a Revolutionary War veteran. About 1810, William Harrell, his wife Mary McDowell Harrell, her father, Michael McDowell and her brother John McDowell would all move to the Powell River area of Claiborne County Tennessee, now in Hancock, near Lee Co. Va.

Just a few years later, William Harrell fought in the War of 1812 and it is through his pension papers that we gleaned a lot of priceless information about him and his family.

The 1800 census of Wilkes Co shows Michael McDowell, Jacob McGrady (the minister who married William Herrell and Mary McDowell), and both John Herrell Jr. and Sr. (spelled Harrall) on adjoining pages. Based on this evidence, pending further investigation, it is presumed that Michael McDowell is Mary and John’s father and John Herrell Sr. is likely the father of William Herrell.

The following photos were taken on Harrold Mountain on a beautiful spring day. It probably looks about the same today as it did when John Harrold lived there.  My husband was taking the photos and he liked the frolicking goats.

harrald mountain sheep

Claiborne County, Tennessee

About 1810, according to John McDowell’s deposition, Mary McDowell Harrell’s brother, this group of families moved to Claiborne County, Tennessee. In 1845, this part of Claiborne County became Hancock County. John signed an affidavit when Mary applied for a pension based on William’s service records that recounted their marriage in 1809 and subsequent move to Tennessee.

The Herrell family lived along the Powell Mountain on the Lee County, Virginia, Claiborne County, Tennessee border. The house, abandoned when I visited in the 1980s, may be the original Harrell homestead.  Mary Parkey, a now deceased local historian, said it was “Herrell” but she wasn’t positive about the specific line.  She too descended from the families in this area.

Herrell house Hancock Co

In 1812, William Harrell bought land in Claiborne County.

1812 – John Claypole to William Harrell – 1812 Claiborne County Deed book D p182 for $200

Claiborne County Court – May term 1813 – Oct. 10, 1812 John Claypool and Eliza his wife of Claiborne and William Harrold of Lee Co Va. for the sum of $200 a tract of land lying in Claiborne on the North side of Powell River including a stripe of land on the opposite side of said river included in a tract of land conveyed to William Bails by James Allen bounded as follows: Beginning on the back line in a deep hollow at two hickories and at a dogwood, thence to a white oak marked AB (with the right side of the A the same as the back of the B) thence to the south line of said tract containing 100 acres more or less it being part of a tract of 440 acres conveyed to said William Bails by James Allen as above said conveyance bearing the date Jan. 20, 1809.  Witnesses William Briance, Michael McDowel (his mark), William Hardy.  Registered Dec. 3, 1813.

According to Mary Parkey, these ruins are also on Herrell land.

Herrell foundation hancock co

War of 1812

William Herrell served in the War of 1812 and later filed for a pension. He also filed for bounty land in 1850 and received 80 acres (blwt22194) and in 1855 applied for and received another 80 acres (blwt7267).

He reportedly served 14 days in the War with the Creek Indians. However, I subsequently found that he served beginning January 17, 1814, and was discharged  May 13, 1814, being in Solomon Dobkins company.

Much of what we know about William and his family comes from his pension application papers, and those of Mary following his death in 1859.

The various spellings of his name on the following papers from William’s service records held in the National Archives are not typos.

William Harold is written on the top of the page, serving in Bunch’s Regiment 1814, East Tn. Militia, War of 1812.  He is a private, card number 38519847 and underneath it also says 9893 (under the 9847 part).  At the bottom of that page it says Allison’s Regiment E. Tn. Militia.

herrell war of 1812 muster

The next page says William Harrold or Herrald (the or Herrald is actually written above the name Harrold), ensign Benj. Austin’s, then private Col. S. Bunch’s regiment if the Tn. Militia. It says there is one page in the file of misc information.

Inside it says Wiliam Harrold, private, Capt. Solomon Dobkins Company, Col., Samuel Bunch’s regiment, war of 1812. Company payroll for Jan. 17 to May 14,1814 roll dated Mar. 21, 1814. Commencement of services Jan. 17, 1814.

Expiration of services Mar. 21, 1814. Term of service 4 months 5 days.  Pay per months $8 no cents.  Amount of pay $33.29.  Number days added for travelling allowance of pay – 8.

Next page says William Harold, Company muster roll for Jan. 17 to May 13, 1814. Roll dated Washington, Tn. May 13, 1814.  When joined – Jan 17, 1814. When discharged – May 13, 1814.  Mileage to residence – 120.  Present or absent – present. And then a note below that says “see Allison’s regiment E. Tn. militia.”

In 1815, William signed this power of attorney, apparently to collect his pay from his service in the War of 1812. It looks like he signed his surname Harrol, Harrold or Harrald.

The transcription is as follows:

State of Tennessee – Claiborne County: Know all men that I William Herrald a private in Ensign Benjamin Austin’s Company of East Tennessee drafted militia for divers and good causes and considerations me there unto moving have made ordained nominated and appointed and by these presents to make or ordain nominate and appoint Hugh Graham of said county my true and lawful attorney for me and in my name and for my use and benefit to ask demanded and release? of paymaster of the United States all such sums of money or other ?? that is owing to me from the United States for a four months tour of duty under the command of the said Ensign Benjamin Austin and in my name to grant and give receipts to the paymaster of the United States for the same as tho I were personally present at the drawing therefor any other lawful act that I could do touching the same were I personally present.

In witness where I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 8th day of September 1815.  In the presence of George Yoakum.

Signed Wm Harrold

William Herrell 1815 poa

This is the only known copy of William’s signature.

The last page has been taped and states that William Aklen? acting justice certifies that William Herrald (clearly Herrald here) personally appeared and sealed this document which is a power of attorney. Further down it looks like it was folded and on an outside place, says, “Power of Attorney” William Herrald but the e is under the tape and is could be an a, but it looks like an e.

On the bottom of this page, after another fold, and upside down, in another handwriting, it says simply, Wm Heral, ensign Austin’s company.

So in this one document we have his name spelled Harold, Harrold, Herrald, and Heral. It’s no wonder I can’t figure it out today!!!

In William Herrell’s deposition taken on March 5, 1855, William states that he is 65 years old and enlisted as a private in Captain Solomon Dobins (probably Dobkins) company of Tennessee Militia in the regiment commanded by Samuel Bunch in the “War with the Creek Indians,” and served 14 days. Given that William knows how old he is, and given that the deposition is in March, he has either had his birthday already for 1855 which means he was born in 1790, or he has yet to have his birthday which means he’ll turn 66 and was born in 1789.  He signed with a signature in 1815, but in 1855, he signed with an X.

On July 5, 1871, William’s widow, Mary states she is 86 years old and that she lived on Powell’s River in Hancock County. She further states that William was discharged at Fort Strother in May of 1814 and that William “helped to build Fort Williams in the fork of the Coosey and Talley-Poosey Rivers”.  Mary signed with a mark.

She says that she was married under the name of McDowell in 1809 at Wilkesboro NC by Jacob McGrady and that William died on October 8, 1859 on Powell’s River.

John McDowell filed an affidavit in 1872 stating that he is 90 years old (so born in 1782) and was acquainted with both William and Mary before their marriage. He states that he was at their wedding.  Further testimony in 1872 by the postmaster of Mulberry Gap, John Woodward, attests to the honesty of Alexander Herrell and James E. Speer as witnesses to Mary Herrell’s loyalty.  Alexander is believed to be Mary’s son due to this affidavit and land transactions, but the relationship of James Speer, if any, is unknown.

Fort Williams and the War of 1812

Fort Williams, the fort that William Herrell helped to build, was located at the mouth of Cedar Creek and the Coosa River, shown below, in what is now Talladega County, Alabama.

Fort Williams War of 1812

Below, Cedar Creek, from the bridge over Cedar Creek, looking towards the confluence with the Coosa. This was the location of Fort Williams.

Fort Williams War of 1812 Cedar Creek

In March 1814, General Andrew Jackson mobilized the Tennessee Militia, made up of Volunteers from the East and West Tennessee Militias and the Thirty-Ninth U.S. Infantry for a full-scale campaign against the Creek Indians, known as Red Sticks. General Jackson’s army totaled about 3,000 men.

A large segment of Jackson’s army left Fort Strother on March 14, 1814 and marched 52 miles through the forest in 3 days to a point on the Coosa River in Mississippi territory, where a garrison was established and given the name Fort Williams (in honor of Colonel John Williams).

Preparations were made to march about fifty miles in a southeasterly direction to the Creek stronghold called Tohopeka (known to the whites as Horseshoe Bend).

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought March 27, 1814 between the American army under General Andrew Jackson, numbering about 3,000, with about 200 Cherokee Indian allies, against an unknown number of Creek Indians. The location was on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama. The place was also called Tohopeka.

The Red Stick’s had built a barricade on the river, which eventually trapped them once Jackson’s soldiers surrounded them. Over 800 Creeks died as a result of the Battle.

Jackson’s force defeated the Creeks. The Creeks lost about 550 within the bend, which had been fortified, and more in the river. Jackson lost 50 killed and 150 wounded.  General Jackson’s dead and wounded were taken back to Ft. Williams.  The cemetery at Fort Williams became the final resting place of more than a hundred Tennessee militia and others. These others include Cherokee allies who fought with Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, but who were buried apart from Tennessee militia.

The original site of Fort Williams is now under Lay Lake in Coosa County, Alabama.

Fort Williams sign

Obviously, Solomon Dobkins company was part of the men who built the fort and fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The question is, where was William Herrell during that battle?

From the Tennessee state archives, we find the following about Solomon Dobkins’ Company:

The officers and company were mustered into service January 10, 1814. The men are entitled to allowance of pay for 2 days and to the mileage shown above. (nothing shown above in transcription) Remarks: Attached to this company 4-27-1814, from Capt. Dobkins Company.

Bunch’s Regiment (1814) E. Tenn Militia. Peter Markham Sergeant, Capt John Hou’s (sic) Company, Col. Samuel Bunch’s Regiment, E. Tn Militia War of 1812.  Appears on company pay roll for Jan. 8 to July 21, 1814, roll dated July 29, 1814, commencement of service or of this settlement 4-27-1814. Expiration of service or of this settlement 7-29-1814. Term of service charged 3 months, 2 days. Pay per month $11.00, amount to pay $33.70. No days added for travelling. Allowance of Pay: 8  Remarks, joined 27 April 1814 from Capt Dobkins Company.

The 2nd Regiment of East Tennessee Militia was mustered from January 1814 to May 1814.

Andrew Jackson’s official report of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (27 March 1814) mentions that “a few companies” of Colonel Bunch were part of the right line of the American forces at this engagement. More than likely, some of those companies included Captains Francis Berry, Nicholas Gibbs (who was killed at the battle), Jones Griffin, and John McNair. In addition, muster rolls show some casualties from this battle in the companies led by Captains Moses Davis, Joseph Duncan, and John Houk.

Other men from this regiment remained at Fort Williams prior to Horseshoe Bend to guard the post — provision returns indicate that there were 283 men from Bunch’s regiment at the fort at the time of the battle.

Since William Herrell was in Samuel Bunch’s regiment, he may well have been guarding the fort instead of fighting at Horseshoe Bend. I wonder if he was grateful to be relatively safe, or upset to miss the action.  He would have been all of 24 or 25 years of age.

Samuel Bunch’s regiment was in General George Doherty’s Brigade and many of the men stayed after the enlistment expiration of May 1814 to guard the posts at Fort Strother and Fort Williams until June/July. The line of march went through Camp Ross, a supply fort near present-day Chattanooga which was known as Ross’ Landing until 1838, Fort Armstrong located on Cherokee land, and Fort Jackson, a former Creek trading center in Alabama on the Coosa River.  Camp Ross location, shown below, today.

camp ross

Fort Strother, where William was discharged, is located at the red balloon, below, at the intersection of Ohatchee Creek and the Coosa River.

Ohatchee creek and Coosa

Here’s the Ohatchee and the Coosa today.

Ohatchee and Coosa boat ramp

The Tennessee State Archives provides this map of the Creek Campaign of the War of 1812, as it was called.

creek campaign map

It’s 282 miles from the Rob Camp Church near where William Herrell lived to Fort Strother, by road, today. If the men marched, on foot, 10 miles a day it would have taken them a month to get home.  They were allowed 8 days travel, which would mean they would have been expected to cover about 35 miles a day.  That would have presumed they had horses.  I also noticed that the mileage estimate was only 120, which may have been from Knoxville to some other location, but it surely wasn’t the entire distance.  One hundred twenty miles divided by 8 days equals 15 miles per day, which is much more reasonable, especially if on foot.

Sneedville to Fort Strother

Today, it’s about 60 miles, an hour’s drive, between Fort Williams at the Coosa and Cedar Creek, and Fort Strother at Ohatchee Creek and the Coosa. Then it would have meant expending considerable effort in very overgrown countryside.  A forced march of 52 miles took 3 days.

Fort Williams to Fort Strother

After William returned home from the War, life resumed and went back to normal. But what did normal look like in the early 1800s in Claiborne County, TN?

Day to Day Life in Claiborne County

The Claiborne County court notes tell us more about what was happening in the day to day life of William Herrell after his service in the War of 1812.

William Herrell was a juror several times between 1813 and 1819. To be a juror in this timeframe, one had to be a white landowner.  In this same timeframe, William also witnessed a deed of Levi Fortner to John McDowell, his brother-in-law.  William McDowell, probably another brother-in-law, was also a witness.

1819 – John and Lewis Campbell, 2 boys 10 and 7, children of Susannah Campbell bound to William Herrin? till age 21.

Aug. 16, 1820 – Road hands Thomas McCraty’s company south of Wallen Ridge includes William Harrell, John McDowell, Joseph Baker, William Baker, William Medlock, William McDowell and Robert G.? Parks. Residents had to maintains roads of a certain width.  This means fellings trees, clearing brush and moving animal waste off of the road.  In wet areas, plank roads were laid to keep the wagon wheels from sinking in the mud.

1835 – William Harrell to Ruben Dean Claiborne County Deed book M p 63 for $20

April 23 1835 – William Herrell of Claiborne and Ruben Deans of Claiborne for $20 a tract of land in Claiborne bounded as follows: Beginning on a stake in said Herrell’s line on the N bank of Powell River, then running up with the meanderings of the said river 35 poles connering? on the bank of said river on a sassafras and cucumber, then running northward up the hill to a post oak, then from the nest oak a straight  line crossing the hollow to a stake on said Herrell’s line thence running ? along said line to two hickorys connecting? said Herrells and Dean’s corner, thence running down the hill with said Herrell area? to Dean’s line to the beginning, containing 10 acres more or less.  Signed in the presence of Theoderick Moon, John Shak (Spak?), Andrew Deans.

William Herrell is shown on the 1836 tax list and on 1839 list with 180 acres worth $700, 150 school acres valued at $300, 1 slave valued at $500 and 1 poll. This record is important because it’s the first record of William owning a slave.  The slave was worth more than half of his land.

November 1836, the estate of James Walker has a note on William Harrell due Dec. 10, 1835 for $2.54.

William Herrell purchased something at the estate sale of Henly Fugate in 1838.

1838, Dec. – William Harrell, purchaser at the sale of Philip Bundren, bought a hammer and chain.

There was also a second Herrell family in Claiborne County. Fortunately, they were from the far southern part of the county.  Based on the neighbors, I have been able to isolate the northern William in the records.  At one time, a second William arrived from Wythe County, VA and joined the other “southern” Herrell group.  According to DNA tests, these two lines are not related.


The known children of William and Mary McDowell Harrell are:

  • Margaret, their oldest child, born about 1810, married Anson Cook Martin before 1830. Anson died about 1845 and about 1850, Margaret married Joseph Preston Bolton.

The daughters below were all unmarried and living at home in 1850 census.

  • Mildred born in 1816 married Hiram Edins
  • Nancy born 1820, never married
  • Mary born 1822 married William Edens
  • Malinda born 1829

There is some amount of confusion about the son or sons of William and Mary McDowell Herrell.

  • Abel (name smudged) born in 1824 (age 26) married Nancy, age 20, surname possibly Fury or Ferre, pronounced Fury or Furry, about 1847. In the 1850 census, they had one daughter, Margaret M., aged 2. The problem is that Abel’s name is probably actually Alexander. Abel may have been a nickname or it may have been written incorrectly/illegibly that first time.  There is no additional evidence of Abel.

In 1860, Alexander’s siblings deeded land to him.

In the 1860 census, Alex Herald, age 40 is married to Nancy, age 26. Children are Margaret, age 10, William age 8, Alexander age 5, Mary age 3 and Daniel age 1.

In the 1870 census, Alexander Herald is shown age 50 with William, age 16, Alexander 14, Mary 10, Daniel 9, Jehil? 7 and Henley 1. No wife is shown.

In the 1880 census, Elliczander (sic – I love this spelling) Harrell (indexed as Harsell), age 60, is shown with wife Nancy J. age 50 along with children William R. age 24, Daniel J. 18, Joseph H. 16, Henley 10 and Clinton 7.

Henley Herrell’s death certificate in 1924 lists his mother as Jocie Ferry, born in Hancock County, TN.

Based on the lack of Abel’s signature on the 1860 deed, and no mention of his heirs, it appears that Abel was actually Alexander.

Alexander’s descendants still own and farm some of the original Harrell land. They provided this photo of Alexander’s house, still on their land, and said that William and Mary’s house was an older house nearby.

Alexander Herrell House.

Dec. 10, 1892 – We Henley Herrell and Clinton Herrell have this day bargained and sold and do hereby transfer and convey unto James M. Martin his heirs and assigns forever all of our undivided interest in the to a certain parcel of land in the 14th civil district of Hancock Co adjoining the lands of J.E. Speer and others and bounded as follows…Beginning in the hollow on the North side of Wallen’s Ridge, thence with the hollow southwardly to a hickory on top of said ridge, thence westwardly with the top of said ridge to the top of the Middle Spur, thence northwardly with said spur to a Sycamore sprout in the hollow on the lower end of said spur corner between JM Martin and JE Speer, thence southwardly up the hollow to the beginning.  Signed.  No witnesses.

Henley and Clinton were the heirs of Alexander Herrell who died in 1891.

In 1892, the Martins are still neighbors of the Herrell family.

William Herrell’s Second Wife

When I say William had a second wife, I don’t mean he was married and his first wife died and he remarried. I mean that, indeed, he had two wives at the same time.  And no, he was not Mormon.  I can’t say what his motivation was, exactly.  I’d like to ascribe some positive motivation to William’s situation, but I think I’ll just have to let the circumstances speak for themselves.

All things considered, the wives probably had little choice in the matter.  You’ve already met Mary McDowell, but you haven’t met Harriett, William McDowell’s slave. Yes, Harriett was the second wife.  And no, they were not legally married.  Slaves could not marry and whites and blacks could not intermarry during that timeframe, so their marriage was not legal in the traditional sense.  Legal or not, they had a child, Cannon Herrell.

Many years ago, an elderly descendant from the “other Herrell line” in southern Claiborne County on the Clinch River, before we knew the two Herrell lines weren’t related, confided this information, and it appears to be about our William. Remember, back then, the two Herrell families didn’t know they weren’t related.

One of the Harrells bought a young female slave and built a house for her on the far edge of his property. His routine was to live with her until they had a fight, then he would go live with his wife until they had a fight …then start all over again. He had a house full of kids each place. In 1976 there were still both black and white Harrells in the area. William Guy Harrell, Jr., an attorney in Tazewell, had one of the other Harrells come in to his office for some legal work. When the matter was completed, the client asked, “What do I owe you?” Bill gave him a figure, but added, “I always give family members a 25% discount.” His client seemed embarrassed and said, “We don’t talk about that.” Hill told him, “I don’t mind being kin to you. Everything I’ve ever heard about you people is that you are law abiding, self-supporting people. I hope you don’t mind being kin to me.”

Whether or not this Harrell and my ancestor Drewry Harrell were related depends on who you ask. I really hope he is a distant relative because he was such an honorable man. In his will he left his property equally divided between his two families.

I have a hunch that this slave/wife was called Aunt Sukey. In that section of the country, older, respected blacks were called Aunt and Uncle. One time when Grandma and my great-grandmother were talking, they mentioned “Aunt Sukey” and did that thing adults do that all but screams to any child present, “You are not supposed to hear this!”

We’ve all seen it, and probably done it. The speaker throws a quick glance at the child and lowers her voice just a tad while leaning a bit closer to the listener. The voice is not lowered so much that the child can’t hear, and the leaning forward 3 inches is no deterrent either. The child remembers and 40 or 50 years later they understand.

I KNOW they were talking about the family… that is all they EVER talked about. All day long, every day.

By the way, the “nice little old lady” who told me this story also told me that if I ever repeated it, that she would have one of those voodoo priestesses (her words) in New Orleans stick pins in a voodoo doll of me. However, I think her death voids the threat, along with the other documentation found.  Never mess with little old ladies.  You never know what will happen to you.  Just saying.

Slanting Misery

John McDowell is mentioned in the early settlers of Lee County along with a Michael McDowell who is a Revolutionary War veteran, born in 1745 and serving from Bedford Co Va.

The 1800 census of Wilkes Co shows Michael McDowell, Jacob McGrady (the minister who married William Herrell and Mary McDowell), and both John Herrell Jr. and Sr. (spelled Harral) on adjoining pages. Based on this evidence, pending further investigation, it is presumed that Michael McDowell is Mary and John’s father and John Herrell Sr. is likely the father of William Herrell.

John McDowell states in his affidavit that he left Wilkes about 1810 and that Mary Mcdowell and William Herrell were married about a year before that. We have every reason to believe that William Herrell and Mary relocated about that same time to the Lee County or Mulberry Gap area along with the rest of the Wilkes County group.  They probably came in a wagon train together.

I first visited the Claiborne County and Hancock County areas of Tennessee in the early 1990s, the last of that series of trips being in the spring of 93. Subsequent family member health issues caused my next trip to be delayed until June of 2005.

During the June 2005 trip, I visited the land owned by Michael McDowell, William Harrell and James Clarkson. These families, along with the Boltons who lived nearby, would be forever intertwined.  Just down Mulberry Gap and over the mountain we find the McNeils and Vannoy ancestors.  They loved this place.


The following is a panoramic view of the land standing on “Slanting Misery” turning in a circle. Most of this land is across the Powell River, as it makes a peninsula here of the land we are standing on.  The only way to get to Slanting Misery is to ford the River.  Here’s the view upon arriving, and in the middle of the river.

Powell river pano 1

The panorama begins here, looking at the Herrell lands then panning to the Clarkson lands at the end.

Slanting misery pano 1

Slanting Misery pano 2

slanting misery pano 3

The last photo, below, is the hill that we climbed up to get the panoramic photos.  This is proof positive of why the land was called Slanting Misery – and I can personally vouch for its name!  It was over 100 degrees that day, and wading the river on the way back felt very, very good.  Fording the Powell River is the only way to this land unless you go all of the way around through Virginia.

slanting misery hill

Fording Powell River.  Sometimes the water is low enough that a 4 wheel drive vehicle can drive across.  Of course, if you judge incorrectly…getting a tow out of the river is a real challenge.  Don’t even ask how I know…

fording Powell River

In 1825, William Herrel had 50 acres surveyed on the Powell River. This may very well be the 50 acres referred to later as the widow Harrell land.

William Herrell survey

John McDowel, William’s brother-in-law, and John McCloud were the sworn chainers.

Another survey for neighbor Joseph Parkey shows this entire segment of Powell River complete with landowners names.

parkey survey 2 crop

On May 9, 1829, William Herrell served as a chain carrier for the survey of William McDowell, likely his wife’s brother, whose land abutted William Herrell’s on the Powell River.

william herrell 2 survey

William’s Death

William lived to be an old man by the standards of the day. His wife gave his death date in her pension application as October 8th or 9th, 1859 which means he was about 70 when he died, elderly for that time and place.  She said he died on the Powell River, near Mulberry Gap.  He died just a few years before Hancock County would be split and ravaged by the Civil War.  Given that he not only owned a slave, but the child of that slave was purportedly his son, I can’t help but wonder how the war affected his family.

I also have to wonder how it felt to own your son, like property.  Perhaps William never freed Cannon because Cannon was not of age.  Perhaps that was, in part, William’s way of protecting Cannon from a fate even worse.  Or perhaps people in that time and place didn’t think about those things like we do today – maybe William never thought about it at all, but I bet Cannon did.

There are no Herrell or Edins/Edens of any spelling shown in the 1890 veterans census for Hancock County, so apparently none of William’s sons or sons-in-laws served directly on either side in the Civil War, although everything and everyone in Hancock County was gravely affected.  Their neighbors served – some fighting for the Union and some for the Confederacy.

I wonder how Cannon felt, during that way, being both a slave and the son of the white slave-owner.  Surely, he must have known, or at least he surely knew of the rumor.  I have to wonder…why didn’t he leave when he was freed?  Maybe it was the mutual commitment between Cannon and Mary that kept him there.  He would have been the youngest child she raised, so perhaps always her baby.  Family oral history stated that they were very close – that she raised him with her own children, as her own, and he took care of her until she died.

Family oral history also says that William left land to Cannon as well as his children by Mary, but legally, I don’t think that was possible in 1859 unless he freed Cannon in his will. However, if he freed Cannon prior to his death, then Cannon would not have been listed as property in 1860.  However, it’s certainly possible that Mary took care of Cannon when she died.  Cannon apparently did well for himself, better than many others, as he had double the financial assets in 1870 of Mary and her daughter combined, just a handful of years after the Civil War officially freed him.  Cannon chose to stay with Mary and lived the rest of his life directly beside the rest of the Harrell family in Hancock County, his half-siblings, on William Herrell’s land.  A descendant of Alexander Herrell who still owns some of the original Herrell land today says that Cannon’s descendants’ lands are smack dab in the middle of the William Herrell land – adjacent his own.  Clearly, they were all family.

We don’t know where William Herrell is buried, but I was told that he rests in an unmarked grave with the rest of the Herrell family in the Herrell Cemetery on River Road.

herrell cemetery 2

Herrell cemetery

Was Cannon William’s son?

By now, you’re probably dying to know about that 2 wives scandal.

The church was a central focal point of the lives of most of the early settlers in this part of Tennessee, but never, not once, did I ever find any early church records for William Herrall or Mary McDowell Harrell or even the McDowells. They lived in relatively close proximity to the Thompson Settlement Church and then the Rob Camp Church spun off from the mother church, officially in 1845, yet they never attended.

The first name to appear in church notes is daughter Margaret Herrell Martin two months after her husband joined the church, in October 1833.

I have always wondered why, and I may have stumbled across part of the answer. I can’t speak about the time between 1810 when they moved to the area and 1836, but in 1836, William McDowell had a slave.  In the 1830 census, he did not.

Slave ownership in this part of Tennessee is rather unusual, because the ground is so rocky and poor that large farms were impossible and family plots were more the norm. Nonetheless, William had a female slave that we now know was named Harriett.  Indeed, Harriett was William’s black wife.  There is no record that she attended church either, and black people, including slave and free, were members.

When I wrote about Mary McDowell, I discussed this and the circumstances surrounding the situation as best we know them today. Harriett died in the 1840s, and her son, Cannon was the property of the Harrell family.  William died in 1859, and then Cannon became the property of his heirs.

Cannon was obviously freed during the Civil War, but he didn’t leave. In fact, Mary had raised Cannon as her own child after Harriett died, right along with her children.  Whatever Mary thought of William and Harriett’s intimacy, she clearly knew that Cannon had nothing to do with it.  Furthermore, Harriett clearly had no choice in the matter, and Mary had little choice to do anything other than cope the best way she could.  Feeding your children generally trumps a righteously deserved but financially unwise divorce.

One thing is for sure, the church would certainly have censured William, not for having a slave, because a couple of other church members had slaves….but for his illicit behavior impregnating a woman other than his wife as well as adultery. The church notes are full of those kinds of censures.  And if you had no intention of changing, then why bother with church at all.

In the 1840 census, William’s female slave was between the ages of 10-24 and was accompanied by a young male slave under the age of 10.

The 1850 census shows William Herrell with one mulatto male slave, age 12.

In 1860, William had died but Mary was shown along with 5 others as the owners of a 23 year old male mulatto slave.

In 1870, the first census to include former slaves, Cannon Herrell, age 35, a mulatto, is living with Mary Herrell and her spinster daughter. The family oral history that Mary raised Cannon as her own and that Cannon took care of Mary in her old age seems to be borne out by the 1870 census.

1870 Herrell census

There is something else very unusual about this census. Cannon had personal property of value, $800 worth of personal property.  That was a lot of money then, especially after the Civil War, and more assets than Mary and Nancy put together.  $800 would purchase about 250 acres of land.  Was some of that money an estate from his father?  We’ll never know, because the Hancock County courthouse records burned.

According to different sources, such as Cannon’s death record and the census, he was born sometime between 1830, before Harriett was owned by William Herrell, and 1838, clearly after William came into possession of Harriett.

Cannon died in 1916 at age 86 showing his mother’s name as Harriett Harrell and his father as “not given.” Maybe Cannon really didn’t know.  Or maybe, just like the man said to the attorney, people then just simply “didn’t talk about it.”  Sixty year later, that little old lady still wasn’t ‘talking about it” except in hushed tones and voodoo doll threats to keep “it” quiet.  I never was sure what the “it” was, exactly, that we weren’t talking about.  It could have been illegitimacy.  It could have been the master/slave relationship.  It could have been the black/white racial issue.  Maybe all of the above?  Well, no matter, we’ve broken the taboo and we are talking about it today!

Still, the question remains, however, whether Cannon was or was not the biological son of William Harrell.

A few years ago, I was contacted by a descendant of Cannon who was interesting in sorting through the facts and trying to determine if Cannon was William’s son. We began working together on the documents and such, and formed a close relationship during the process that endures today.  We documented out results, and the three of us returned home to the Cumberland Gap area to present our findings at a Cumberland Gap Reunion.

Decoding our family

Here are various photos of our family members.  We were looking for family resemblance.

Decoding family 2

We did find a male Herrell descendant of Cannon, but he was reluctant to test, so my two cousins, Denise and Carlos, decided to take the autosomal test. They both descend from Cannon’s son, William Emmett Herrell, so they certainly should match.  My line connects is back to William through daughter Margaret Herrell who married Joseph Bolton.

percentages of William

There is about a 30% chance that I would match either Denise or Carlos. Of course, this also means that there is a 70% chance that we wouldn’t match.  A match proves the connection.  No match wouldn’t prove anything except frustrating.

So, the big day finally arrived and our results were back.

Drum roll please…….


No match.

That’s right. Denise and Carlos match each other, but I don’t match either of them.  Talk about frustrating. And crushing….

There were several reasons why this might have occurred.

  • Mismatch may be due to genetic distance
  • William might have not have been Cannon’s father and people at the time knew that
  • William might have thought he was Cannon’s father, but he wasn’t
  • William may have been Cannon’s father with “undocumented adoption” downstream, between William and William Emmett.

I will tell you, this was disturbing news to us. We had formed a relationship with each other and this is not what we wanted to hear.

We were disappointed that we didn’t match, but we decided right then and there that the lives of our people were cast together, they lived together, they died together and they are buried together – and we are cousins regardless. We are proud of the fortitude of our ancestors and proud of our cousins and we decided to forge on with our project of discovery.  I am so glad that we did.

We really needed a Y-line test on Cannon’s Herrell’s direct male descendant.

I’m always telling people to look back at existing records with “new eyes.” I was so frustrated that I, thankfully, heeded my own advice. I wish I could tell you that I did this for the right reason, but I didn’t. I did it to see if I could track down a different Y DNA candidate who might be more willing to test.

Regardless of why I looked again, I was certainly glad that I did, because what I found in the 1880 census explained everything.  Do you see it?

1880 Cannon Herrell census

Emit and Clinton Harrel are shown as the step-sons of Cannon Harrel.  Talk about an aha moment!!!  No wonder Denise and Carlos didn’t match me.  They carried the Herrell last name, but they were Cannon’s step-children, not his biological children.

1900 Cannon Herrell census

Moving to the 1900 census, we find two additional sons born after 1880.

Thanks to cousin Kay, we found a new DNA candidate that descended through one of Cannon’s sons born after 1880, and he agreed to take Y DNA test.

Again, we mailed off a kit, and again, we waited, not very patiently.

Finally, the results were back.

Drum roll again…..




We were ecstatic, to put it mildly!

Kay’s brother matches exactly to two descendants of John Harrell, father of William Harrell of Wilkes County on the Y line of DNA. So, in one fell swoop, we confirmed Cannon’s father as William Harrell and William’s parent as John Harrell in Wilkes County.  John was the only Harrell male (by whatever spelling) in Wilkes County of the possible age to have had a son born in 1790.  William was the only Herrell male in Hancock County in the 1830s, so he had to be Cannon’s father.

In the article about Mary McDowell Harrell/Herrell, I inserted a poll where readers voted about whether you thought Cannon was the son of William, or not. Ninety percent of the voters believed that Cannon was the son of William, and you were right.  Eight percent were undecided and two percent thought that Cannon was not the son of William.

Just for fun, here’s a family gallery by generation as far back and Kay and I can go. Kay and I are one generation offset.  Margaret Herrell, William’s oldest child, was between 26 and 28 years older than her half-sibling, Cannon Herrell, William’s youngest, so there is another generation in my line.

Photo me


Kay Herrell my father

Kay and Roberta’s father, William Sterling Estes.

 Warren Harrell Ollie Bolton

 Kay’s father, Warren Herrell and Roberta’s grandmother, Ollie Bolton.

george herrell joseph bolton

Kay’s grandfather, George Cannon Herrell and my great-grandfather, Joseph “Dode” Bolton, first cousins.

George Cannon Herrell’s father was Cannon Herrell and Joseph “Dode” Bolton’s mother was Margaret Herrell. Cannon and Margaret were half siblings through their father, William Herrell.  Sadly, we don’t have photos of either of them, but we both carry some of their DNA.

Most of all, I’m thrilled beyond measure that we have been able to positively piece our family back together.  Without DNA, that simply would never have been possible.

Margaret Herrell (c1810-1892), Twice Widowed Church Founder, 52 Ancestors #43

Margaret Herrell, also spelled Harrell, was born about 1810 to Mary McDowell and William Herrell/Harrell, probably on the Powell River in Lee County, Virginia very near the border of Tennessee and Virginia.

In 1812, we know that William Herrell was living in Lee County Virginia based on the deed where he purchased land in Claiborne County, Tennessee, on Powell River very close to the land where his wife’s father, Michael McDowell lived, known as Slanting Misery. In fact, Michael witnessed the deed.

This photo shows the Herrell land, standing in the Herrell cemetery.

herrell land

By 1814, Margaret’s father, William Herrell, was marching off to war, but Margaret was probably too young to remember much, if anything, about that.

Margaret Herrell married Anson Cook Martin about 1828, based on the birth year of her eldest child, in 1829, if his birth year is correct.

We know that in 1830, Anson Martin was living in Lee County, Virginia along with a John Martin. Anson was listed as age 20-30 as was his wife.  No children are listed, which casts doubt on the birth of their first child in 1829.

The first actual record of Margaret that we have, by name, is on December 1, 1833 when she was noted as “received by experience,” typically meaning baptized, in the Thompson Settlement Church, just over the border in Lee County, Virginia, on the Powell River. Her husband Anson Cook Martin had been received by experience just two months previously on October 1, 1833, along with his brother James Monroe Martin.  This would have been when Margaret was pregnant with William and John, if they were in fact twins as the 1850 census indicates.

When this part of the country was forming, churches were important social institutions, although it’s hard to think of a church with no building or permanent location as an institution. The church, in addition to religion, provided an important bond among residents and was often the only organized social outlet for women.

Thompson Settlement Church was established in 1800, just 4 years after Tennessee became a state. It was referred to as the River Church as it was established on and along the Powell River near where the river crossed between Virginia and Tennessee between Lee County Virginia and then Claiborne County, Tennessee, now Hancock County.

herrell property

The Herrell Property is shown above with the red arrow.

For the first quarter century, until 1824, the Thompson Settlement Church met in various locations, including Rob Camp, shown above on the bottom left, in Claiborne County which would eventually spin off its own church. Meetings were being held in Rob Camp as early as 1801, according to Thompson Settlement Church minutes.  Rob Camp was more than 15 miles from the mother church, but other churches were even further.  Gap Creek was at Cumberland Gap, more than 35 miles distant, and Big Springs was south of Tazewell in Claiborne County at current Springdale, 35 miles in the other direction.  Blackwater Church formed and was not far from Sneedville, 2 mountain ranges over and near the border with Lee County as well.  In 1820, Mulberry Gap Missionary Church formed.

Mulberry Gap from the Mulberry Gap School

The photos above and below, taken by Phillip Walker, show the terrain of these hills. Above, Mulberry Gap from Mulberry Gap school, and below, Mulberry Gap Church nestled in the valley.

Mulberry Gap Baptist Church from Mulberry Gap School (road leads to gap)

Initially, Thompson Settlement Church borrowed preacher Jesse Dodson from Big Springs Baptist Church. The first Thompson Settlement Church building,  erected in 1822, measured 24X26 feet.  This would have been about the size of a cabin.  Before that, they met in peoples’ homes or outside.  The minutes are full of references to places like “Earl’s Cabins” where the church was to meet on the second Saturday of each month.  Oh yes, and church services were not always held on Sunday.  It’s not recorded in the minutes, but revivals were legendary and very popular and families would come long distances and camp in their wagons for several days as visiting preachers would inspire them.

The current Thompson Settlement Church is the 5th building, but in the same general proximity.  You can also see the location of Rob Camp on the map below, and the road between the two.

Rob Camp Map

The Thompson Settlement church minutes are also full of “trials” where members were reported for offenses such as adultery (Nancy Fletcher), lying (Eleanor Fletcher), swearing (Henry Fortner), absconding this country without paying his debts (John Owens), disobeying the church (Elisha Steward), drinking spirituous liquors to excess (Robert Clark), not being lawfully married (Hanna Denham), unchristian behavior, using unbecoming language and requesting to be excluded (James Muncy), drinking to excess (Brother Carnes), not requesting a letter of dismissal (Lewis and Susannah Tasket) and worse yet, withdrawing herself from the church and joining the Methodist Society (Elizabeth Wells.) Knowing the history of the area, this was likely the Speak Methodist Church founded in 1820 just up the road a few miles in Lee County, Virginia.  Brother Smith Sutton even turned himself in for drinking too much and getting angry.  I wonder if his wife had anything to do with his decision to turn himself in!

On the 1838 membership list, Margaret and Anson Martin were both noted as dismissed, meaning they were members in 1838 and dismissed some time later. Anson joined Rob Camp Church in 1844, much closer to where they lived and a spinoff the of the Thompson Settlement Church.  Anson died not long after, because the last child that Margaret had was Alexander born in 1844.  Anson was only about 35 years old and left Margaret to raise nine children as a widow.  She lived alone for the next six years or so, until she married Joseph Bolton after his wife died, leaving him with seven children.  Their combined household of sixteen children, plus two more that they would have together, probably made for one noisy household in a relatively small space.  Log cabins were all small, no matter how large your family.

The females on the list of Margaret’s children, below, have their names bolded, signifying that they passed the mitochondrial DNA of Margaret Herrell to their children. Today, anyone who descends from Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton through all females carries her mitochondrial DNA as well.  In the current generation, this can be a male, because women give their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on.  I have a DNA testing scholarship for anyone who fits this description.

With Anson Cook Martin, Margaret had the following children:

  • John Martin born 1829 or 1833 died April 1, 1918 Harrogate, Claiborne Co., TN married Hannah Eldridge. His death certificate says he’s age 89, but his birth year has been overstruck with a magic marker, incorrectly, as 1839. Note that in the 1850 census, he is noted as a 17 year old twin with William.
  • Eveline Martin born March 11, 1830, died Feb. 1, 1905 Whitley Co., KY, married to Alexander Calvin Busic who died in 1862 the Civil War.
  • William Martin born 1833 died 1867-1869, married Rachel Markham. Note that William and John are shown as 17 year old twins in the 1850 census. Mary Parkey indicated that it’s believed that William is buried in the Martin Cemetery in the Hopewell Community off of Cedar Fork Road. Both he and his wife’s graves are unmarked.Martin Cemetery MapThis may be where William Martin is buried, but it looks to be too far west for the original Martin cemetery, given that the Herrell, Bolton and McDowell families were living on the Powell River to in the upper right hand corner on Slanting Misery between River Road and Wolfenberger Hollow Road.Slanting miseryThe Martin Cemetery is located off of Martin Cemetery Road.Martin Cemetery location
  • Surrelda (Selerenda) Jane Martin born 1834/1836, died 1890 Hancock Co., TN, buried in Liberty Cemetery, Claiborne County, married Pleasant Smith.

We have a photo of Surelda Jane and Pleasant Smith. I wonder if he was tall or she was short, or both.  I wonder if she looked like her mother, Margaret.  This is probably as close as we’ll ever get to seeing Margaret.

Surelda Harrell Pleasant Smith

Here is the photo restored, courtesy of Dillis Bolton.

surelda harrell pleasant smith restored

  • James Monroe “Roe” Martin born December 29, 1836 in Virginia, died November 15, 1914 in Middlesboro, KY, married Sarah Elizabeth “Betty” Bolton, daughter of Joseph P. Bolton and his first wife, Mary Polly Tankersley. In other words, he married his step-sister. Note, he is not shown with the family in the 1850 census.
  • Manerva Martin born in 1838
  • Mary Marlene Martin born March 10, 1839, died Feb. 17, 1893 Hancock Co., TN, married March 11, 1860 to Edward Hilton Claxton. She is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery near Mt. Zion Church where E. H. was the church moderator at Mt. Zion for many years. The Claxton’s owned the land just downstream of Slanting Misery.
  • Malinda “Linda” Martin born July 31, 1842 died June 30, 1903 Whitley Co., KY, buried Riley Cemetery, Whitley Co., married James Parks.
  • Alexander Martin born 1844, died after 1860

In the 1840 census, Anson Martin is living in Claiborne County, Tennessee and Anson and Margaret are shown with 6 children, 1 male under 5, 2 males 5-10, 2 females under 5 and 1 female 5-10. Anson is shown as age 30-40 but Margaret is shown as age 20-30.  Based on all of the evidence for her birth year, I would think it is most likely 1810.  It looks like they are short one daughter and the boys birth years don’t line up, but all of the boys are accounted for.

Margaret and Anson live one house away from her father, William Harrell and William lives 2 houses away from John McDowell, his wife’s brother.

In 1845, this part of Claiborne County, Tennessee would become Hancock County.  It was about this time that Anson died.

In the 1850 census, Margaret Martin is shown in a close-knit family group. In order, we find the following households:

  • Pleasant Tankersley, brother to Polly Tankersley
  • Joseph Bolton and his wife Polly Tankersley – Joseph would be Margaret Herrell Martin’s second husband – very shortly, in fact.
  • 3 houses
  • John Bolton, brother to Joseph Bolton
  • Jacob Wolfenbarger (confederate in the Civil War)
  • John Martin with his apparent mother, Elizabeth Martin in the household
  • Margaret (Herrell) Martin, age 38, born in Virginia, widow of Anson Cook Martin. She is shown with her children, the last one born in 1844, about the time that Anson died. It’s worth noting that she had 17 year old twins, William and John. Twins that lived were rather rare. The first 3, and the 6th child, were born in Virginia. Given where the family lived, they probably passed back and forth over the border quite easily. Margaret shows that she herself was born in Virginia in 1812.

Margaret Martin 1850 census

  • Margaret was living next to her parents, William and Mary McDowell Harrell.
  • Abel Harrell, her brother, was living next to her parents.
  • Mary Busic
  • John McDowell, Margaret’s uncle.

In December 1852, Margaret Bolton was received by experience in the Rob Camp Church along with Syrena McDowell, possibly her brother’s daughter.

rob camp

Rob Camp Baptist Church had officially spun off from the Thompson Settlement Church in the mid-1840s. By 1856, Joseph Bolton was embroiled in church politics after having been accused by Robert Tankersley, a black man, of saying he had stolen bacon and bread.  Apparently unhappy, Joseph asked to have himself excluded from the church in April 1856.  Apparently, Margaret continued to attend, because in 1866, Joseph was once again received by recantation and baptized into fellowship.  By 1868, he was a deacon and in 1859, he and Margaret were founding members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, very close to the Clarkson cemetery, today. Eventually, Joseph was excluded from this church as well, and Margaret was dismissed, which means dismissed in good standing by letter, allowing a member to join another church, also in good standing.

Margaret’s father, William Herrell died in October of 1859. Although the courthouse records have burned, twice, some records do remain.  This 1860 deed may well have been in private hands all this time, because it was given to me by a descendant of Alexander Herrell who still owns and farms part of this land.

The deed itself is in metes and bounds and is dated November 17, 1860, just about the right time for William’s estate to be being settled.

In the deed, “William Edens and Mary, his wife, Hiram Edens and Mildred, his wife, Nancy Herril, Joseph Bolton and Margret his wife and her heirs, have this day bargained and sold and do hereby transfer and convey to Alexander Herril and his heirs forever for $100 in hand paid a tract of land in Hancock County, district 14, containing 32 acres bounded as follows, beginning on the south bank of the Powels River…line of William Edens…”

The deed is witnessed by A. Montgomery and M.B. Overton and signed by all of the people listed as conveying the land to Alexander. I do wonder why Margaret’s brother Abel Herrell didn’t sign.

The 1860 census quality is very poor, but Margaret looks to be age 50, which would put her birth in 1810.

Margaret has two of her Martin children living at home. Joseph has 4 of his children from his first marriage as well, and Margaret and Joseph have two children of their own.

  • Mary Ann Matilda Bolton born September 5, 1851, died July 2, 1909, married Martin Cunningham.
  • Joseph B. Bolton, born September 18, 1853, died February 23, 1920, buried in the Plank Cemetery, Claiborne Co., TN and married Margaret Clarkson/Claxton.

Of course, this begs the question of when Mary Ann Matilda Bolton was actually born, and when Mary Polly Tankersley died.

The 1850 census shows Joseph Bolton still married to Mary Polly Tankersley, but Mary’s birthdate is shown to be September of 1851, so if both records are accurate, Mary died sometime after June 1850 and Margaret and Joseph were married before year end, giving the 9 months gestation necessary. However, there is a fly in the ointment.  The census form is dated December 10th.  Now, it’s possible that it was taken in December but “as of” June and it’s possible that Mary was born in 1852 instead of 1851.  There are also other possibilities.

I tried to verify that Mary Ann Matilda is the same person who married Martin Cunningham in Claiborne County in 1877. Looking at the 1880 census, Martin and Matilda Cunningham have a son who is 2 years old and named Joseph, so I’m thinking this is the right person.  She shows her age as 24 so born in 1856.  Her husband is 4 years younger.

In the 1900 census, Matilda Cunningham’s son Joseph was followed by daughter Margaret two years later. However, Matilda’s age is listed as 40 and her birth year given as 1860, which we know is incorrect from the earlier census.

The Civil War left no family unscathed. Sometime after 1860 and before 1870, Alexander, Margaret’s youngest child by Anson Martin died.  Did he die in the Civil War?  Perhaps, but we have no proof.  He was the right age and in the right place, that’s for sure.  Hancock County was raided by bands of both Union and Confederate forces, plus, battles were fought nearby at and around Cumberland Gap.  Food was scarce and families were frightened, both for those who left to fight, and for those who stayed behind.

Margaret’s daughter, Evaline, lost her husband, Calvin Busic in the war to malarial fever, according to the 1890 veterans census, leaving her with three children to raise.

In 1869, Margaret and Joseph Bolton were founding members of Mt. Zion Church. Margaret’s name is listed in the member’s list alongside Matilda Bolton and Evaline Busic, her daughters.


The 1870 census shows Margaret Bolton, age 60, born in Virginia. Neither Joseph nor Margaret can read nor write.

In 1874, on the same day her father, Joseph Bolton, was censured by the Mt. Zion Church, Matilda Bolton made application for a letter of dismissal from the church.

On July 1, 1778, the following deed was executed.

Whereas we Pleasant Smith, Serelda Smith his wife, John Martin and Hanah Martin his wife have a fee simple interest in remainder to take and be united with the processions after the death of Marget (sic) Bolton who has a life interest in the same in tract of land in the state of Tennessee Hancock County Number 14 district containing by estimation 50 acres be the same more or less bounded by the lands of John McDaniels, Elexander Herrells and others. For the consideration of $100 to be paid in hand we have bargained and old and hereby convey to J. M. Martin the fee simply interest in remainder…this first day of July 1878.  Witnessed William Cook, D.M. Bolton and signed by John (x) Martin, his mark, Hannah Martin, her mark, Pleasant Smith and Serelda T. Smith.

This was not filed until December 10th, 1892, suggesting that Margaret Herrell Bolton had died by that time.

On July 12, 1878 a deed was signed between Joseph Bolton and Margaret Bolton his wife, Hiram Edins and Mildred Edins his wife, William Edins and Mary Edins his wife, Nancy Herrell and Alexander Herrell and Jane Herrell his wife to William J. Edins, all of Hancock Co., TN for “a certain tract of land for $200 to them in hand paid and receipt is hereby acknowledged lying in district no. 14 on the North side of Powells River known as a part of the widow Herrell dower containing by estimation 20 acres and bounded as follows…beginning on the N bank of Powells river on Hiram Edins corner, thence up the river as it meanders the distance unknown to an ash on the bank of Powells river, then leaving the river northwardly the distance unknown to a large hickory on the top of the river bluff, thence northwardly the distance unknown to a poplar and elm in a field, thence northwardly to Wolfenbarger’s line, then went to Hiram Edins.”  Witnesses JM Martain and JD Wolfenbarger.  Margaret Bolton her mark, William Edins, Mary Edins her mark, Hiram Edins, Mildred Edins her mark, Alexander Herrell, Jane Herrell her mark, Nancy Herrell her mark.

These are Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton’s siblings conveying the land of her mother, “widow Herrell.”

In the 1880 census, Joseph and Margaret have moved to Claiborne County and they are living beside Milton Bolton. This is in the Little Sycamore area not far from the Plank Cemetery where Joseph is buried.  Margaret is age 72, so born in 1808 and can read but cannot write.  He can do neither.

Margaret was born in Tennessee but both of her parents were born in NC. Joseph was born in VA, as was his mother, but his father was born in England.

In the Hancock Co. 1880 tax list from the E. Tennessee Roots vol VI, number 4, Margret Bolton is listed with 55 acres, $350 value, 105 to county, 35 to state, 35 to school, 87.5 for special 262.5 total taxes, no poll. This is very odd because her husband, Joseph Bolton Sr. did not die until 1887.

Joseph Bolton Jr. lives beside her with no land, 1 poll, but then under him it says 100 to school and 30 special and 130 total, paid to Edds.

In June 1881, Joseph and Margaret Bolton along with D.M. Bolton and Silveny, his wife purchase land together from Daniel Jones and on November 25th of the same year, they deed the land on Little Sycamore in Claiborne County along with Daniel Marson Bolton and his wife, Silvania to H. H. Friar.

April 4, 1885 – From Alexander Herrell, Nancy Herrell of Hancock Co. and Margaret Bolton of Claiborne Co. to William Mannon of Hancock, parcel of land for $175, 65 acres it being a part of a 50 acre grant granted to Thomas Lawson Sr. assigned to John Grimes of number 485 dated March 13, 1827 also a part of a larger grant granted by the State of TN to William Mills of number 56 dates the 9th of January 1852 lying in the 14th district of Hancock and on the N side of Powels river bounded…JW Yeary’s corner but now William Mannon’s corner, conditional line between James W. Yeary and William Mills, conditional line between JW Years and Green B. Lawson, also between JW Yeary and William Herrell… conditional line between SP Lamarr? And Greene B. Lawson…conditional line between Greene B. Lawson and William Mills.  All 3 sign with a mark and Emanuel Stafford and Andrew Mannon witness.

This is likely part of the original William Herrell land and possibly the widow Herrell’s dower land.

Joseph Bolton, Margaret’s second husband, died on December 28, 1887 in Claiborne County and was buried in the Plank Cemetery.  They had been married or 37 years.

In 1889, a lawsuit was filed by James Speers against defendants that are the children of Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton, by both of her husbands.

James E. Speers in a March 1889 lawsuit vs J.M. Martin, William J. Martin, Joseph Bolton and Margaret in Hancock Co. Cannon Herral, Alexander Herrell and John McDowell were witnesses paid by Speer. W.J. Martin was also a witness. (Note the elder Joseph Bolton died in 1887 so this must be the younger Joseph B. Bolton and Margaret Clarkson.)

This may imply that Margaret Herrell Bolton has passed away by March 1889 or simply that she has passed her interest to her children.

Margaret Bolton probably rests with her husband, Joseph Bolton, in the Plank Cemetery, in Claiborne County very near the land they sold to the Frairs in 1881.

plank cem1

However, we’re not sure. Joseph’s grave is marked but Margaret’s isn’t.  It’s possible that after Joseph’s death she moved back to the 4 Mile Creek and Powell River area of Hancock County, possibly to live with one of her children.  There is a list of members in the 1885 Rob Camp Church minutes and Margret (sic) Bolton appears on that list along with many Herrells, McDowells and Clarksons.  Of course, Joseph Bolton Jr. also had a wife named Margaret, so they are difficult and often impossible to tell apart.

Did Margaret go back “home?” It’s certainly possible.  The Mt. Zion Church minutes indicated that on June 3rd, 1888 Margret Bolton, Farwick Shiflet and a

Adeline Shiflet along with Jane Montgomery were received into the congregation. The younger Margaret Bolton, wife of Joseph B. Bolton,  was already a member of this church, and as late as 1887, Joseph B. Bolton was still attending because that is when he was last censured for drinking and swearing.  Two men by the same name, father and son, should not be allowed to have wives with the same first name as well.

If Margaret Herrell Bolton did move back home, then she may not be buried in the Plank Cemetery, but may be buried in the Herrell Cemetery in Hancock County, located on River Road not far from the Martin Creek Church, in one of the unmarked graves shown below, or even possibly where Anson Martin is buried. Of course, Anson may be buried in this cemetery as well.

Herrell cemetery

The Herrell Cemetery is located on River Road, shown on the map below.

herrell cemetery location

Many of the graves are unmarked.

herrell cemetery 2

Margaret was the first generation to be born and to die in the same general area of Hancock County. She lived her life in these beautiful and rugged mountains, buried two husbands and at least 4 children.  She was a founding member at Mt. Zion Church and may have been a founder of Rob Camp Church as well.  She found herself a widow in her 30s and raised her children, as a widow, for more than 5 years before remarrying.  Likely, she farmed, just like her husband would have done.  It was farm or starve.  Margaret could neither read nor write, but she owned land.  When she remarried, she married a man who was a widower and who had 7 children of his own, increasing her household size to 16 before having 2 more children with Joseph Preston Bolton, her second husband.

Their only son, Joseph “Dode” Bolton was my great-grandfather. His daughter, Ollie was my grandmother.  She died five months before I was born, so I never knew her.  Her son was my father.  I mention this, because Margaret, through her descendants gave me a very special gift.

Because Margaret had two husbands, we have the potential to tell which DNA came from her, and only her. Normally, with a couple, we can only say that the DNA came from one of the two people.  However, by comparing the DNA of people who descend from Margaret through her two husbands, we can isolate Margaret’s DNA.  Wherever the descendants of the children from the first husband match the descendants of the children from the second husband, the only common denominator has to be Margaret.

I was quite excited at first, because there are two other people who descend from Margaret’s marriage with Anson Martin who have tested, and whom I match. But then, I took a good look at their pedigree charts, and I also share a Clarkson line with them. The Clarksons also lived right along the Powell River.  So, we can’t tell if we are matching on the Herrell line, or the Clarkson line.  I was quite disappointed, until I realized that one of our matches was on the X chromosome, and it has special inheritance properties.  You can see the match to the person in orange on the X chromosome at the bottom of this chromosome chart.  The places where the blue and orange match up are the locations where the tree of us share DNA – but that’s the DNA that might be Herrell or Clarkson.

possible herrell chromosome match

The X chromosome is inherited from only part of your ancestors.  Specifically, men only inherit an X from their mother, because they inherit the Y from their father that makes them a male.

My X inheritance path from my grandmother Ollie Bolton is shown on the fan chart, below. You can see that wherever there is a blue male, he only inherits from his pink mother and that creates entire vacant areas of the pedigree chart.  This limits who I can inherit my X chromosome from – dramatically – and would be even more restrictive if I were a male.


The question now was whether or not the orange person also has Margaret Herrell Martin in her X chromosome inheritance path, and NOT any of our other common lineages.  Her tree, beginning with her grandparents, is shown below.

margaret herrell match pedigree

After verifying that I have none of these other lines in my tree nor that my ancestral lines fed any of these lines, I concentrated on the relevant lineage of her tree..

margaret herrell match pedigree crop

My match didn’t have her tree entirely filled out, but I can complete it easily. The X inheritance path to Margaret Herrll is shown by the red arrows.  The green arrows also show individuals from whom she inherited her X chromosome, but they turn out to be irrelevant because they don’t lead to a common ancestor utilizing only the X inheritance path.  Said another way, I do share several common ancestors with this woman, including Joseph Bolton, but they are irrelevant when evaluating X chromosome matches unless the X path results in common ancestors.  Of course, many lines are eliminated from the X inheritance path.

In her case, Surelda Jane Martin is the daughter of Margaret Herrell Martin and Anson Cook Martin. My matches inheritance path to Margaret is through her father, who inherited his entire X from his mother Nursie Bolton, who inherited her X from her mother and father Alvis Bolton and Helen Smith.  Helen Smith received her X from her father Pleasant Smith and mother, Serelda Martin, whose mother was Margaret Herrell.

Margaret Herrell match pathOur other common ancestral lines are through the Bolton and Clarkson families. If you look at my fan chart, you’ll note that my Clarkson line ends at Samuel Clarkson/Claxton because he didn’t inherit his X from his father and my Bolton line ends with Joseph Bolton because he didn’t inherit his X from his father, Joseph Bolton – so those are entirely irrelevant to the X chromosome.

In my matches tree, Alvis Bolton inherited his X from his mother Nursissa Parks, who inherited her X from her parents, Jacob Parks and Polly Claxton/Clarkson. However, Polly Claxton inherited her X from James Lee Claxton/Clarkson and Sarah Cook, neither of whom are in my X inheritance path.  They are two generations upstream of Samuel Claxton, so that line has already been eliminated, as was the Bolton line.

Therefore, the only ancestor I share in common with my match that falls in both of our X inheritance paths is….drum roll….Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton.

Therefore, that beautiful orange segment on the X chromosome is a gift to me, and my match, directly from Margaret herself.

Margaret Herrell X

Isn’t it beautiful, seeing an actual artifact from Margaret Herrell?

Margaret Herrell match table

Switching to table view, we can see all of the segments that I share with my orange match. However, we can’t tell if the matches on chromosome 2-13 are from the Herrell, Bolton or Clarkson lines.  However, due to the special inheritance path of the X chromosome, we can identify the X segment specifically as having come from Margaret Herrell, by process of elimination.

Margaret was obviously an incredibly strong, resourceful and resilient woman. I like to think that in addition to some of her DNA, I inherited some of those qualities as well.

Peopling of Europe 2014 – Identifying the Ghost Population

Beginning with the full sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, first published in May 2010 by the Max Planck Institute with Svante Paabo at the helm, and followed shortly thereafter with a Denisovan specimen, we began to unravel our ancient history.

neanderthal reconstructed

Neanderthal man, reconstructed at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo

The photo below shows a step in the process of extracting DNA from ancient bones at Max Planck.

planck extraction

Our Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups take us back thousands of years in time, but at some point, where and how people were settling and intermixing becomes fuzzy. Ancient DNA can put the people of that time and place in context.  We have discovered that current populations do not necessarily represent the ancient populations of a particular locale.

Recent information discovered from ancient burials tells us that the people of Europe descend from a 3 pronged model. Until recently, it was believed that Europeans descended from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers, a two-pronged model.

Previously, it was believed that Europe was peopled by the ancient hunter-gatherers, the Paleolithic, who originally settled in Europe beginning about 45,000 years ago. At this time, the Neanderthal were already settled in Europe but weren’t considered to be anatomically modern humans, and it was believed, incorrectly, that the two groups did not interbreed.  These hunter-gatherers were the people who settled in Europe before the last major ice age, the Younger Dryas, taking refuge in the southern portions of Europe and Eurasia, and repeopling the continent after the ice receded, about 12,000 years ago.  By that time, the Neanderthals were gone, or as we now know, at least partially assimilated.

This graphic shows Europe during the last ice age.

ice age euripe

The second settlement wave, the agriculturalist farmers from the Near East either overran or integrated with the hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic period, depending on which theory you subscribe to, about 8000-10,000 years ago.

2012 – Ancient Northern European (ANE) Hints

Beginning in 2012, we began to see hints of a third lineage that contributed to the peopling of Europe as well, from the north. Buried in the 2012 paper, Estimating admixture proportions and dates with ADMIXTOOLS by Patterson et al, was a very interesting tidbit.  This new technique showed a third population, referred to by many as a “ghost population”, because no one knew who they were, that contributed to the European population.

patterson ane

The new population was termed Ancient North Eurasian, or ANE.

Dienekes covered this paper in his blog, but without additional information, in the community in general, there wasn’t much more than a yawn.

2013 – Mal’ta Child Stirs Excitement

The first real hint of meat on the bones of ANE came in the form of ancient DNA analysis of a 24,000 year old Siberian boy that has come to be named Mal’ta (Malta) Child. In the original paper, by Raghaven et al, Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans, he was referred to as MA-1.  I wrote about this in my article titled Native American Gene Flow – Europe?, Asia and the Americas.   Dienekes wrote about this paper as well.

This revelation caused quite a stir, because it was reported that the Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% Western Eurasian.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this was immediately interpreted to mean that Native Americans had come directly from Europe which is not what this paper said, nor inferred.  It was also inferred that the haplogroups of this child, R* (Y) and U (mtDNA) were Native American, which is also incorrect.  To date, there is no evidence for migration to the New World from Europe in ancient times, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still looking for that evidence in early burials.

What this paper did show was that Europeans and Native Americans shared a common ancestor, and that the Siberian population had contributed to the European population as well as the Native American population.  In other words, descendants settled in both directions, east and west.

The most fascinating aspect of this paper was the match distribution map, below, showing which populations Malta child matched most closely.

malta child map

As you can see, MA-1, Malta Child, matches the Native American population most closely, followed by the northern European and Greenland populations. The further south in Europe and Asia, the more distant the matches and the darker the blue.

2013 – Michael Hammer and Haplogroup R

Last fall at the Family Tree DNA conference, Dr. Michael Hammer, from the Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona discussed new findings relative to ancient burials, specifically in relation to haplogroup R, or more specifically, the absence of haplogroup R in those early burials.

hammer 2013

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Based on the various theories and questions, ancient burials were enlightening.

hammer 2013-4

hammer 2013-5

In 2013, there were a total of 32 burials from the Neolithic period, after farmers arrived from the Near East, and haplogroup R did not appear. Instead, haplogroups G, I and E were found.

hammer 2013-7

What this tells us is that haplogroup R, as well as other haplogroup, weren’t present in Europe at this time. Having said this, these burials were in only 4 locations and, although unlikely, R could be found in other locations.

hammer 2-13-8

hammer 2013-9

hammer 2013-10

hammer 2013-11

Last year, Dr. Hammer concluded that haplogroup R was not found in the Paleolithic and likely arrived with the Neolithic farmers. That shook the community, as it had been widely believed that haplogroup R was one of the founding European haplogroups.

hammer 2013-12

While this provided tantalizing information, we still needed additional evidence. No paper has yet been published that addresses these findings.  The mass full sequencing of the Y chromosome over this past year with the introduction of the Big Y will provide extremely valuable information about the Y chromosome and eventually, the migration path into and across Europe.

2014 – Europe’s Three Ancient Tribes

In September 2014, another paper was published by Lazaridis et al that more fully defined this new ANE branch of the European human family tree.  An article in BBC News titled Europeans drawn from three ancient ‘tribes’ describes it well for the non-scientist.  Of particular interest in this article is the artistic rendering of the ancient individual, based on their genetic markers.  You’ll note that they had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes, a rather unexpected finding.

In discussing the paper, David Reich from Harvard, one of the co-authors, said, “Prior to this paper, the models we had for European ancestry were two-way mixtures. We show that there are three groups. This also explains the recently discovered genetic connection between Europeans and Native Americans.  The same Ancient North Eurasian group contributed to both of them.”

The paper, Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans, appeared as a letter in Nature and is behind a paywall, but the supplemental information is free.

The article summary states the following:

We sequenced the genomes of a ~7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ~8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes1, 2, 3, 4 with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians3, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations’ deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ~44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

This paper utilized ancient DNA from several sites and composed the following genetic contribution diagram that models the relationship of European to non-European populations.

Lazaridis tree

Present day samples are colored purple, ancient in red and reconstructed ancestral populations in green. Solid lines represent descent without admixture and dashed lines represent admixture.  WHG=western European hunter-gatherer, EEF=early European farmer and ANE=ancient north Eurasian

2014 – Michael Hammer on Europe’s Ancestral Population

For anyone interested in ancient DNA, 2014 has been a banner years. At the Family Tree DNA conference in Houston, Texas, Dr. Michael Hammer brought the audience up to date on Europe’s ancestral population, including the newly sequenced ancient burials and the information they are providing.

hammer 2014

hammer 2014-1

Dr. Hammer said that ancient DNA is the key to understanding the historical processes that led up to the modern. He stressed that we need to be careful inferring that the current DNA pattern is reflective of the past because so many layers of culture have occurred between then and now.

hammer 2014-2

Until recently, it was assumed that the genes of the Neolithic farmers replaced those of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Ancient DNA is suggesting that this is not true, at least not on a wholesale level.

hammer 2014-3

The theory, of course, is that we should be able to see them today if they still exist. The migration and settlement pattern in the slide below was from the theory set forth in the 1990s.

hammer 2014-4

In 2013, Dr. Hammer discussed the theory that haplogroup R1b spread into Europe with the farmers from the Near East in the Neolithic. This year, he expanded upon that topic that based on the new findings from ancient burials.

hammer 2014-5

Last year, Dr. Hammer discussed 32 burials from 4 sites. Today, we have information from 15 ancient DNA sites and many of those remains have been full genome sequenced.

hammer 2014-6

Information from papers and recent research suggests that Europeans also have genes from a third source lineage, nicknamed the “ghost population of North Eurasia.”

hammer 2014-7

Scientists are finding a signal of northeast Asian related admixture in northern Europeans, first suggested in 2012.  This was confirmed with the sequencing of Malta child and then in a second sequencing of Afontova Gora2 in south central Siberia.

hammer 2014-8

We have complete genomes from nine ancient Europeans – Mesolithic hunter gatherers and Neothilic farmers. Hammer refers to the Mesolithic here, which is a time period between the Paleolithic (hunter gatherers with stone tools) and the Neolithic (farmers).

hammer 2014-9

In the PCA charts, shown above, you can see that Europeans and people from the Near East cluster separately, except for a bridge formed by a few Mediterranean and Jewish populations. On the slide below, the hunter-gatherers (WHG) and early farmers (EEF) have been overlayed onto the contemporary populations along with the MA-1 (Malta Child) and AG2 (Afontova Gora2) representing the ANE.

hammer 2014-10

When sequenced, separate groups formed including western hunter gathers and early european farmers include Otzi, the iceman.  A third group is the north south clinal variation with ANE contributing to northern European ancestry.  The groups are represented by the circles, above.

hammer 2014-11

hammer 2014-12

Dr. Hammer said that the team who wrote the “Ancient Human Genomes” paper just recently published used an F3 test, results shown above, which shows whether populations are an admixture of a reference population based on their entire genome. He mentioned that this technique goes well beyond PCA.

hammer 2014-13

Mapped onto populations today, most European populations are a combination of the three early groups. However, the ANE is not found in the ancient Paleolithic or Neolithic burials.  It doesn’t arrive until later.

hammer 2014-14

This tells us that there was a migration event 45,000 years ago from the Levant, followed about 7000 years ago by farmers from the Near East, and that ANE entered the population some time after that. All Europeans today carry some amount of ANE, but ancient burials do not.

These burials also show that southern Europe has more Neolithic farmer genes and northern Europe has more Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherer genes.

hammer 2014-15

Pigmentation for light skin came with farmers – blue eyes existed in hunter gatherers even though their skin was dark.

hammer 2014-16

Dr. Hammer created these pie charts of the Y and mitochondrial haplogroups found in the ancient burials as compared to contemporary European haplogroups.

hammer 2014-17

The pie chart on the left shows the haplogroups of the Mesolithic burials, all haplogroup I2 and subclades. Note that in the current German population today, no I2a1b and no I1 was found.  The chart on the right shows current Germans where haplogroup I is a minority.

hammer 2014-18

Therefore, we can conclude that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be identified as a Paleolithic/Mesolithic haplogroup.

This information shows that the past is very different from today.

hammer 2014-19

In 2014 we have many more burials that have been sequenced than last year, as shown on the map above.

Green represents Neolithic farmers, red are Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, brown at bottom right represents more recent samples from the Metallic age.

hammer 2014-20

There are a total of 48 Neolithic burials where haplogroup G dominates. In the Mesolithic, there are a total of six haplogroup I.

This suggests that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be the father of the Paleolithic/Mesolithic and haplogroup G, the founding father of the Neolithic.

In addition to haplogroup G in the Neolithic, one sample of both E1b1b1 (M35) and C were also found in Spain.  E1b1b1 isn’t surprising given it’s north African genesis, but C was quite interesting.

The Metal ages, which according to wiki begin about 3300BC in Europe, is where haplogroup R, along with I1, first appear.

diffusion of metallurgy

Please note that the diffusion of melallurgy map above is not part of Dr. Hammer’s presentation. I have added it for clarification.

hammer 2014-21

Nothing is constant in Europe. The Y DNA was very upheaved, as indicated on the graphic above.  Mitochondrial DNA shifted from pre-Neolithic to Neolithic which isn’t terribly different from the present day.

Dr. Hammer did not say this, but looking at the Y versus the mtDNA haplogroups, I wonder if this suggests that indeed there was more of a replacement of the males in the population, but that the females were more widely assimilated. This would certainly make sense, especially if the invaders were warriors and didn’t have females with them.  They would have taken partners from the invaded population.

Haplogroup G represents the spread of farming into Europe.

hammer 2014-22

The most surprising revelation is that haplogroup R1b appears to have emerged after the Neolithic agriculture transition. Given that just three years ago we thought that haplogroup R1b was one of the original European settlers thousands of years ago, based on the prevalence of haplogroup R in Europe today, at about 50%, this is a surprising turn of events.  Last year’s revelation that R was maybe only 7000-8000 years old in Europe was a bit of a whammy, but the age of R in Europe in essence just got halved again and the source of R1b changed from the Near East to the Asian steppes.

Obviously, something conferred an advantage to these R1b men. Given that they arrived in the early Metalic age, was it weapons and chariots that enabled the R1b men who arrived to quickly become more than half of the population?

hammer 2014-23

The Bronze Age saw the first use of metal to create weapons. Warrior identity became a standard part of daily life.  Celts ranged over Europe and were the most dominant iron age warriors.  Indo-European languages and chariots arrived from Asia about this time.

hammer 2014-24

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The map above shows the Hallstadt and LaTene Celtic cultures in Europe, about 600BC. This was not a slide presented by Dr. Hammer.

hammer 2014-27

Haplogroup R1b was not found in an ancient European context prior to a Bell Beaker period burial in Germany 4.8-4.0 kya (thousand years ago, i.e. 4,800-4,000 years ago).  R1b arrives about 4.6 kya and is also found in a Corded Ware culture burial in Germany.  A late introduction of these lineages which now predominate in Europe corresponds to the autosomal signal of the entry of Asian and Eastern European steppe invaders into western Europe.

hammer 2014-28

Local expansion occurred in Europe of R1b subgroups U106, L21 and U152.

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A current haplogroup R distribution map that reflects the findings of this past year is shown above.

Haplogroup I is interesting for another reason. It looks like haplogroup I2a1b (M423) may have been replaced by I1 which expanded after the Mesolithic.

hammer 2014-31

On the slide above, the Loschbour sample from Luxembourg was mapped onto a current haplogroup I SNP map where his closest match is a current day Russian.

One of the benefits of ancient DNA genome processing is that we will be able to map current trees into maps of old SNPs and be able to tell who we match most closely.

Autosomal DNA can also be mapped to see how much of our DNA is from which ancient population.

hammer 2014-32

Dr. Hammer mapped the percentages of European Mesolithic/Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in blue, Neolithic Farmers from the Near East in magenta and Asian Steppe Invaders representing ANE in yellow, over current populations. Note the ancient DNA samples at the top of the list.  None of the burials except for Malta Child carry any yellow, indicating that the ANE entered the European population with the steppe invaders; the same group that brought us haplogroup R and possibly I1.

Dr. Hammer says that ANE was introduced to and assimilated into the European population by one or more incursions. We don’t know today if ANE in Europeans is a result of a single blast event or multiple events.  He would like to do some model simulations and see if it is related to timing and arrival of swords and chariots.

We know too that there are more recent incursions, because we’re still missing major haplogroups like J.

The further east you go, meaning the closer to the steppes and Volga region, the less well this fits the known models. In other words, we still don’t have the whole story.

At the end of the presentation, Michael was asked if the whole genomes sequenced are also obtaining Y STR data, which would allow us to compare our results on an individual versus a haplogroup level. He said he didn’t know, but he would check.

Family Tree DNA was asked if they could show a personal ancient DNA map in myOrigins, perhaps as an alternate view. Bennett took a vote and that seemed pretty popular, which he interpreted as a yes, we’d like to see that.

In Summary

The advent of and subsequent drop in the price of whole genome sequencing combined with the ability to extract ancient DNA and piece it back together have provided us with wonderful opportunities.  I think this is jut the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you are interested in other articles I’ve written about ancient DNA, check out these links:

Family Tree DNA Announces *Free Autosomal Transfer from 23andMe and Ancestry

dna ballOne of the major announcements this past week at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference was that Family Tree DNA will now be accepting, and encouraging, free data transfers from both 23andMe (V3 chip only) and Ancestry.com.

*For free, you will be able to see your top 20 matches, but if you want to contact those matches or unlock the rest of the Family Finder functionality and tools at Family Tree DNA, you’ll need to pay $39 or recruit 4 additional people to upload their files, whether they pay to join or not.  Compared to retesting at $99 or the previous transfer price of $69, this is a great value.

Yesterday, I received this notification from Family Tree DNA that was sent to all project administrators.

As Senior Director of Product Michael Gugel shared at the recent conference, for the first time ever, people that have taken an AncestryDNA™ or 23andMe© (V3) test can transfer into the FTDNA databases for free by visiting https://www.familytreedna.com/AutosomalTransfer? and following the instructions to upload their raw data file.

Within an hour or two, we provide a preview of what’s waiting if they transfer by showing the top 20 matches along with an estimate of the total number of matches in the FTDNA database.

Full functionality can be unlocked by either paying $39 or recruiting four other people to upload, thus unlocking the rest of the matches.

Here are some important points to know:

  • We only accept the 23andMe V3 chip that was used on tests sold between November 2010 and approximately November 2013. There are a couple of ways to find out what chip was used for your test other than simply the timeframe. One is size; v3 chip files are about 7.83 MB where V2 and V4 chips are smaller. If you’re tech savvy, you can unzip the file and check chromosomes: Chromosome 1 for v3 starts at 82154 (rs4477212) where v4 starts at 734462 (rs12564807)and v2 starts with position 742429 (rs3094315).
  • We do not have any plans to accept V2 or V4 chips. if you try to upload the wrong chip version, the system will tell you that the file doesn’t have sufficient data. Since neither chip contains enough of the SNPs included in Family Finder, we would have to impute too much data. Basically we’d have to make assumptions about the missing SNPs that we’re just not willing to make at this point.

Blaine Bettinger at The Genetic Genealogist wrote detailed instructions about how to do the transfer and what to expect, so take a look.

At the $39 price, or recruit 4 and it’s entirely free, this transfer becomes the best autosomal vendor value available today. I know that people are already taking advantage of this offer, because I’m seeing new people join my projects and their item purchased indicates “free transfer.”

Spending the $39 (or recruiting 4 additional participants) allows you to unlock and access the following Family Finder features:

  • Full data base matching
  • Ability to contact matches directly via e-mail
  • Ability to join projects that accept autosomal participants
  • Ability to see matches by and within projects
  • Searching for matches by surname
  • Searching for matches by ancestral surname
  • Ability to view your matches family trees
  • Ability to upload your GEDCOM file or create your family tree to facilitate surname matching
  • Utilizing the “In Common With” tool to see who you and your matches both match
  • Utilizing the Matrix to see if your matches also match each other, suggesting a common ancestor
  • Seeing results on the Chromosome browser
  • myOrigins ethnicity information

The more kits in the data base, the more matches, so don’t wait.  You can’t lose by doing the free transfer and seeing what matches might be waiting for you.

Anzick (12,707-12,556), Ancient One, 52 Ancestors #42

anzick burial location

His name is Anzick, named for the family land, above, where his remains were found, and he is 12,500 years old, or more precisely, born between 12,707 and 12,556 years before the present.  Unfortunately, my genealogy software is not prepared for a birth year with that many digits.  That’s because, until just recently, we had no way to know that we were related to anyone of that age….but now….everything has changed ….thanks to DNA.

Actually, Anzick himself is not my direct ancestor.  We know that definitively, because Anzick was a child when he died, in present day Montana.

anzick on us map

Anzick was loved and cherished, because he was smeared with red ochre before he was buried in a cave, where he would be found more than 12,000 years later, in 1968, just beneath a layer of approximately 100 Clovis stone tools, shown below.  I’m sure his parents then, just as parents today, stood and cried as the laid their son to rest….never suspecting just how important their son would be some 12,500 years later.

anzick clovis tools

From 1968 until 2013, the Anzick family looked after Anzick’s bones, and in 2013, Anzick’s DNA was analyzed.

DNA analysis of Anzick provided us with his mitochondrial haplogroup,  D4h3a, a known Native American grouping, and his Y haplogroup was Q-L54, another known Native American haplogroup.  Haplogroup Q-L54 itself is estimated to be about 16,900 years old, so this finding is certainly within the expected range.  I’m not related to Anzick through Y or mitochondrial DNA.

Utilizing the admixture tools at GedMatch, we can see that Anzick shows most closely with Native American and Arctic with a bit of east Siberian.  This all makes sense.

Anzick MDLP K23b

Full genome sequencing was performed on Anzick, and from that data, it was discovered that Anzick was related to Native Americans, closely related to Mexican, Central and South Americans, and not closely related to Europeans or Africans.  This was an important discovery, because it in essence disproves the Solutrean hypothesis that Clovis predecessors emigrated from Southwest Europe during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago.

anzick matches

The distribution of these matches was a bit surprising, in that I would have expected the closest matches to be from North America, in particular, near to where Anzick was found, but his closest matches are south of the US border.  Although, in all fairness, few people in Native tribes in the US have DNA tested and many are admixed.

This match distribution tells us a lot about population migration and distribution of the Native people after they left Asia, crossed Beringia on the land bridge, now submerged, into present day Alaska.

This map of Beriginia, from the 2008 paper by Tamm et all, shows the migration of Native people into (and back from) the new world.

beringia map

Anzick’s ancestors crossed Beringia during this time, and over the next several thousand years, found their way to Montana.  Some of Anzick’s relatives found their way to Mexico, Central and South America.  The two groups may have split when Anzick’s family group headed east instead of south, possibly following the edges of glaciers, while the south-moving group followed the coastline.

Recently, from Anzick’s full genome data, another citizen scientist extracted the DNA locations that the testing companies use for autosomal DNA results, created an Anzick file, and uploaded the file to the public autosomal matching site, GedMatch.  This allowed everyone to see if they matched Anzick.  We expected no, or few, matches, because after all, Anzick was more than 12,000 years old and all of his DNA would have washed out long ago due to the 50% replacement in every generation….right?  Wrong!!!

What a surprise to discover fairly large segments of DNA matching Anzick in living people, and we’ve spent the past couple of weeks analyzing and discussing just how this has happened and why.  In spite of some technical glitches in terms of just how much individual people carry of the same DNA Anzick carried, one thing is for sure, the GedMatch matches confirm, in spades, the findings of the scientists who wrote the recent paper that describes the Anzick burial and excavation, the subsequent DNA processing and results.

For people who carry known Native heritage, matches, especially relatively large matches to Anzick, confirm not only their Native heritage, but his too.

For people who suspect Native heritage, but can’t yet prove it, an Anzick match provides what amounts to a clue – and it may be a very important clue.

In my case, I have proven Native heritage through the Micmac who intermarried with the Acadians in the 1600s in Nova Scotia.  Given that Anzick’s people were clearly on a west to east movement, from Beringia to wherever they eventually wound up, one might wonder if the Micmac were descended from or otherwise related to Anzick’s people.  Clearly, based on the genetic affinity map, the answer is yes, but not as closely related to Anzick as Mexican, Central and South Americans.

After several attempts utilizing various files, thresholds and factors that produced varying levels of matching to Anzick, one thing is clear – there is a match on several chromosomes.  Someplace, sometime in the past, Anzick and I shared a common ancestor – and it was likely on this continent, or Beringia, since the current school of thought is that all Native people entered the New World through this avenue.  The school of thought is not united in an opinion about whether there was a single migration event, or multiple migrations to the new word.  Regardless, the people came from the same base population in far northeast Asia and intermingled after arriving here if they were in the same location with other immigrants.

In other words, there probably wasn’t much DNA to pass around.  In addition, it’s unlikely that the founding population was a large group – probably just a few people – so in very short order their DNA would be all the same, being passed around and around until they met a new population, which wouldn’t happen until the Europeans arrived on the east side of the continent in the 1400s.  The tribes least admixed today are found south of the US border, not in the US.  So it makes sense that today the least admixed people would match Anzick the most closely – because they carry the most common DNA, which is still the same DNA that was being passed around and around back then.

Many of us with Native ancestors do carry bits and pieces of the same DNA as Anzick.  Anzick can’t be our ancestor, but he is certainly our cousin, about 500 generations ago, using a 25 year generation, so roughly our 500th cousin.  I had to laugh at someone this week, an adoptee who said, “Great, I can’t find my parents but now I have a 12,500 year old cousin.”  Yep, you do!  The ironies of life, and of genealogy, never fail to amaze me.

Utilizing the most conservative matching routine possible, on a phased kit, meaning one that combines the DNA shared by my mother and myself, and only that DNA, we show the following segment matches with Anzick.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
2 218855489 220351363 2.4 253
4 1957991 3571907 2.5 209
17 53111755 56643678 3.4 293
19 46226843 48568731 2.2 250
21 35367409 36761280 3.7 215

Being less conservative produces many more matches, some of which are questionable as to whether they are simply convergence, so I haven’t utilized the less restrictive match thresholds.

Of those matches above, the one on chromosomes 17 matches to a known Micmac segment from my Acadian lines and the match on chromosome 2 also matches an Acadian line, but I share so many common ancestors with this person that I can’t tell which family line the DNA comes from.

There are also Anzick autosomal matches on my father’s side.  My Native ancestry on his side reaches back to colonial America, in either Virginia or North Carolina, or both, and is unproven as to the precise ancestor and/or tribe, so I can’t correlate the Anzick DNA with proven Native DNA on that side.  Neither can I associate it with a particular family, as most of the Anzick matches aren’t to areas on my chromosome that I’ve mapped positively to a specific ancestor.

Running a special utility at GedMatch that compared Anzick’s X chromosome to mine, I find that we share a startlingly large X segment.  Sometimes, the X chromosome is passed for generations intact.

Interestingly enough, the segment 100,479,869-103,154,989 matches a segment from my mother exactly, but the large 6cM segment does not match my mother, so I’ve inherited that piece of my X from my father’s line.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
X 100479869 103154989 1.4 114
X 109322285 113215103 6.0 123

This tells me immediately that this segment comes from one of the pink or blue lines on the fan chart below that my father inherited from his mother, Ollie Bolton, since men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father.  Utilizing the X pedigree chart reduces the possible lines of inheritance quite a bit, and is very suggestive of some of those unknown wives.


It’s rather amazing, if you think about it, that anyone today matches Anzick, or that we can map any of our ancestral DNA that both we and Anzick carry to a specific ancestor.

Indeed, we do live in exciting times.

Honoring Anzick

On a rainy Saturday in June, 2014, on a sagebrush hillside in Montana, in Native parlance, our “grandfather,” Anzick was reburied, bringing his journey full circle.  Sarah Anzick, a molecular biologist, the daughter of the family that owns the land where the bones were found, and who did part of the genetic discovery work on Anzick, returns the box with his bones for reburial.

anzick bones

More than 50 people, including scientists, members of the Anzick family and representatives of six Native American tribes, gathered for the nearly two-hour reburial ceremony. Tribe members said prayers, sang songs, played drums and rang bells to honor the ancient child. The bones were placed in the grave and sprinkled with red ocher, just like when his parents buried him some 12,500 years before.

Participants at the reburial ceremony filled in the grave with handfuls, then shovelfuls of dirt and covered it with stones. A stick tied with feathers marks Anzick’s final resting place.

Sarah Anzick tells us that, “At that point, it stopped raining. The clouds opened up and the sun came out. It was an amazing day.”

I wish I could have been there.  I would have, had I known.  After all, he is part of me, and I of him.

anzick grave'

Welcome to the family, Anzick, and thank you, thank you oh so much, for your priceless, unparalleled gift!!!


If you want to read about the Anzick matching journey of DNA discovery, here are the articles I’ve written in the past two weeks.  It has been quite a roller coaster ride, but I’m honored and privileged to be doing this research.  And it’s all thanks to an ancient child named Anzick.

Utilizing Ancient DNA at Gedmatch

Analyzing the Native American Anzick Clovis Native American Results

New Native American Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups Extrapolated from Anzick Match Results

Ancient DNA Matching, A Cautionary Tale

More Ancient DNA Samples for Comparison

Tenth Annual Family Tree DNA Conference Wrapup

baber summary

This slide, by Robert Baber, pretty well sums up our group obsession and what we focus on every year at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference in Houston, Texas.

Getting to Houston, this year, was a whole lot easier than getting out of Houston. They had storms yesterday and many of us spent the entire day becoming intimately familiar with the airport.  Jennifer Zinck, of Ancestor Central, is still there today and doesn’t have a flight until late.

And this is how my day ended, after I finally got out of Houston and into my home airport. This isn’t at the airport, by the way.  Everything was fine there, but I made the apparent error of stopping at a Starbucks on the way home.  This is the parking lot outside an hour or so later.  What can I say?  At least I had my coffee, and AAA rocks, as did the tow truck driver and my daughter for getting out of bed to come and rescue me!!!  Hmmm, I think maybe things have gone full circle.  I remember when I used to go and rescue her:)

jeep tow

So far, today hasn’t improved any, so let’s talk about something much more pleasant…the conference itself.


One of the reasons I mentioned Jennifer Zinck, aside from the fact that she’s still stuck in the airport, is because she did a great job actually covering the conference as it happened. Since I had some time yesterday to visit with her since our gates weren’t terribly far apart, I asked her how she got that done.  I took notes too, and photos, but she turned out a prodigious amount of work in a very short time.  While I took a lightweight MacBook Air, she took her regular PC that she is used to typing on, and she literally transcribed as the sessions were occurring.  She just added her photos later, and since she was working on a platform that she was familiar with, she could crop and make the other adjustments you never see but we perform behind the scenes before publishing a photo.

On the other hand, I struggled with a keyboard that works differently and is a different size than I’m used to as well as not being familiar with the photo tools to reduce the size of pictures, so I just took rough notes and wrote the balance later.  Having familiar tools make such a difference.  I think I’ll carry my laptop from now on, even though it is much heavier.  Kudos to Jennifer!

I was initially going to summarize each session, but since Jen did such a good job, I’m posting her links. No need to recreate a wheel that doesn’t need to be recreated.


ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy is not affiliated with Family Tree DNA or any testing company, but Family Tree DNA is generous enough to allow an ISOGG meeting on Sunday before the first conference session.



You can find my conference postings here:




Several people were also posting on a twitter feed as well.


Those of you where are members of the ISOGG Yahoo group for project administrators can view photos posted by Katherine Borges in that group and there are also some postings on the Facebook ISOGG group as well.

Now that you have the links for the summaries, what I’d like to do is to discuss some of the aspects I found the most interesting.

The Mix

When I attended my first conference 10 years ago, I somehow thought that for the most part, the same group of people would be at the conferences every year. Some were, and in fact, a handful of the 160+ people attending this conference have attended all 10 conferences.  I know of two others for certain, but there were maybe another 3 or so who stood up when Bennett asked for everyone who had been present at all 10 conferences to stand.

Doug Mumma, the very first project administrator was with us this weekend, and still going strong. Now, if Doug and I could just figure out how we’re related…

Some of the original conference group has passed on to the other side where I’m firmly convinced that one of your rewards is that you get to see all of those dead ends of your tree. If we’re lucky, we get to meet them as well and ask all of those questions we have on this side.  We remember our friends fondly, and their departure sadly, but they enriched us while they were here and their memories make us smile.  I’m thinking specifically of Kenny Hedgepath and Leon Little as I write this, but there have been others as well.

The definition of a community is that people come and go, births, deaths and moves.

This year, about half of the attendees had never attended a conference before. I was very pleased to see this turn of events – because in order to survive, we do need new people who are as crazy as we are…er….I mean as dedicated as we are.

isogg reception

ISOGG traditionally hosts a potluck reception on Saturday evening. Lots of putting names with faces going on here.


I asked people about their favorite part of the conference or their favorite session. I was surprised at the number of people who said lunches and dinners.  Trust me, the food wasn’t that wonderful, so I asked them to elaborate.  In essence, the most valuable aspect of the conference was working with and talking to other administrators.

bar talk

It’s not like we don’t talk online, but there is somehow a difference between online communications and having a group discussion, or a one-on-one discussion. Laptops were out and in use everyplace, along with iPads and other tools.  It was so much fun to walk by tables and hear snippets of conversations like “the mutation at location 309.1….” and “null marker at 425” and “I ordered a kit for my great uncle…..”

I agree, as well. I had pre-arranged two dinners before arriving in order to talk with people with whom I share specific interests.  At lunches, I either tried to sit with someone I specifically needed to talk to, or I tried to meet someone new.

I also asked people about their specific goals for the next year. Some people had a particular goal in mind, such as a specific brick wall that needs focus.  Some, given that we are administrators, had wider-ranging project based goals, like Big Y testing certain family groups, and a surprising number had the goal of better utilizing the autosomal results.

Perhaps that’s why there were two autosomal sessions, an introduction by Jim Bartlett and then Tim Janzen’s more advanced session.

Autosomal DNA Results

jim bartlett

Note the cool double helix light fixture behind the speakers.

tim janzen

Tim specifically mentioned two misconceptions which I run across constantly.

Misconception 1 – A common surname means that’s how you match.  Just because you find a common surname doesn’t mean that’s your DNA match.  This belief is particularly prevalent in the group of people who test at Ancestry.com.

Misconception 2 – Your common ancestor has to be within the past 6 generations.  Not true, many matches can be 6-10th cousins because there are so many descendants of those early ancestors, even as many as 15 generations back.

Tim also mentioned that endogamous relationships are a tough problem with no easy answer. Polynesians, Ashkenazi Jews, Low German Mennonites, Acadians, Amish, and island populations.  Do I ever agree with him!  I have Brethren, Mennonite and Acadian in the same parent’s line.

Tim has been working with the Mennonite DNA project now for many years.

Tim included a great resource slide.

tim slide1

Tim has graciously made his entire presentation available for download.

tim slide2

There are probably a dozen or so of us that are actively mapping our ancestors, and a huge backlog of people who would like to. As Tim pointed out with one of his slides, this is not an easy task nor is it for the people who simply want to receive “an answer.”

tim slide3

I will also add that we “mappers” are working with and actively encouraging Family Tree DNA to develop tools so that the mapping is less spreadsheet manual work and more automated, because it certainly can be.

Upload GEDCOM Files

If you haven’t already, upload your GEDCOM to Family Tree DNA.  This is becoming an essential part of autosomal matching.  Furthermore, Family Tree DNA will utilize this file to construct your surname list and that will help immensely determining common surnames and your common ancestor with your Family Finder matches.  If you have sponsored tests for cousins, then upload a GEDCOM file for them or at least construct a basic tree on their Family Tree DNA page.


Family Tree DNA always tries to provide a speaker about ethics, and the only speakers I’ve ever felt understood anything about what we want to do are Judy Russell and Blaine Bettinger.  I was glad to see Blaine presenting this year.

blaine bettinger

The essence of Blaine’s speech is that ethics isn’t about law. Law is cut and dried.  Ethics isn’t, and there are no ethics police.

Sometimes our decisions are colored necessarily by right and wrong.  Sometimes those decisions are more about the difference between a better and a worse way.

As a community, we want to reduce negative press coverage and increase positive coverage. We want to be proactive, not reactive.

Blaine stresses that while informed consent is crucial, that DNA doesn’t reveal secrets that aren’t also revealed by other genealogical forms of research. DNA often reveals more recent secrets, such as adoptions and NPEs, so it’s possibly more sensitive.

Two things need to govern our behavior. First, we need to do only things that we would be comfortable seeing above the fold in the New York Times.  Second, understand that we can’t make promises about topics like anonymity or about the absence of medical information, because we don’t know what we don’t know.

The SNP Tsunami

One of my concerns has been and remains the huge number of new SNPs that have been discovered over the past year or so with the Big Y by Family Tree DNA and  corresponding tests from other vendors.

When I say concern, I’m thrilled about this new technology and the advances it is allowing us to make as a community to discover and define the evolution of haplogroups. My concern is that the amount of data is overwhelming.  However, we are working through that, thanks to the hours and hours of volunteer work by haplogroup administrators and others.

Alice Fairhurst, who volunteers to maintain the ISOGG haplotree, mentioned that she has added over 10,000 SNPs to the Y tree this year alone, bringing the total to over 14,000. Those SNPs are fully vetted and placed.  There are many more in process and yet more still being discovered.  On the first page of the Y SNP tree, the list of SNP sources and other critical information, such as the criteria for a SNP to be listed, is provided.

isogg tree3

isogg snps

isogg snps 2014

So, if you’re waiting for that next haplotree poster, give it up because there isn’t a printing press that big, unless you want wallpaper.

isogg new development 2014

These slides are from Alice’s presentation. The ISOGG tree provides an invaluable resource for not only the genetic genealogy community, but also researchers world-wide.

As one example of how the SNP tsunami has affected the Y tree, Alice provided the following summary of R-U106, one of the two major branches of haplogroup R.

From the ISOGG 2006 Y tree, this was the entire haplogroup R Y tree. You can see U106 near the bottom with 3 sub-branches.  While this probably makes you chuckle today, remember that 2006 was only 8 years ago and that this tree didn’t change much for several years.

2006 entire tree

2007 was the same.

2008 u106 tree

2008 shows 5 subclades and one of the subclades had 2 subclades.

2009 u106 tree

2009 showed a total of 12 sub-branches and 2010 added one more.

2011 however, showed a large change. U106 in 2011 had 44 subgroups total and became too large to show on one screen shot.  2012 shows 99 subclades, if I counted accurately.  The 2014 U106 tree is shown below.

before big y

after big y

u106 now

u106 now2

There’s another slide too, but I didn’t manage to get the picture.  You get the idea though…

As you can imagine, for Family Tree DNA, trying to keep up with all of the haplogroups, not just one subgroup like U106 is a gargantuan task that is constantly changing, like hourly. Their Y tree is currently the National Geographic tree, and while they would like to update it, I’m sure, the definition of “current tree” is in a constant state of flux.  Literally, Mike Walsh, one of the admins in the R-L21 group uploads a new tree spreadsheet several times every day.

In order to deal attempt to deal with this, and to encourage people who don’t want to do a Big Y discovery type test, but do want to ferret out their location on their assigned portion of the tree, Family Tree DNA is reintroducing the Backbone tests.

They are starting with M222, also known as the Niall of the 9 Hostages haplogroup which is their beta for the new product and new process. You can see the provisional tree and results in the two slides they provided, below.  I apologize for the quality, but it was the best I could do.


m222 pie

Haplogroup administrators are going to be heavily involved in this process. Family Tree DNA is putting SNP panels together that will help further define the tree and where various SNPs that have been recently discovered, and continue to be discovered, will fall on the tree.

As Big Y tests arrive, haplogroup project administrators typically assemble a spreadsheet of the SNPS and provisionally where they fall on the tree, based on the Big Y results.

What Bennett asked is for the admins to work with Family Tree DNA to assemble a testing panel based on those results. The goal is for the cost to be between $1.50 and $2 (US) for each SNP in the panel, which will reduce the one-off SNP testing and provide a much more complete and productive result at a far reduced price as compared to the current $29 or $39 per individual SNP.

If you are a haplogroup administrator, get in touch with Family Tree DNA to discuss your desired backbone panels. New panels, when it’s your turn, will take about 2 weeks to develop.

Keep in mind that the following SNPs, according to Bennett, are not optimal for panels:

  • Palindromic regions
  • Often mutating regions designated as .1, .2, etc.
  • SNPs in STRs

Nir Leibovich, the Chief Business Officer, also addressed the future and the Big Y to some extent in his presentation.

nir leibovich

ftdna future 2014

Utilizing the Big Y for Genealogy

In my case, during the last sale, I ordered several Big Y tests for my Estes family line because I have several genealogically documented lines from the original Estes family in Kent, England through our common ancestor, Robert Estes born in 1555 and his wife Anne Woodward. The participants also agreed to extend their markers to 111 markers as well.  When the results are back, we’ll be able to compare them on a full STR marker set, and also their SNPs.  Hopefully, they will match on their known SNPs and there will be some new novel variants that will be able to suffice as line marker mutations.

We need more BIG Y tests of these types of genealogically confirmed trees that have different sons’ lines from a distant common ancestor to test descendant lines. This will help immensely to determine the actual, not imputed, SNP mutation rate and allow us to extrapolate the ages of haplogroups more accurately.  Of course, it also goes without saying that it helps to flesh out the trees.

I personally expect the next couple of years will be major years of discovery. Yes, the SNP tsumani has hit land, but it’s far from over.

Research and Development

David Mittleman, Chief Scientific Officer, mentioned that Family Tree DNA now has their own R&D division where they are focused on how to best analyze data. They have been collaborating with other scientists.  A haplogroup G1 paper will be published shortly which states that SNP mutation rates equate to Sanger data.

FTDNA wants to get Big Y data into the public domain. They have set up consent for this to be done by uploading into NCBI.  Initially they sent a survey to a few people that  sampled the interest level.  Those who were interested received a release document.  If you are interested in allowing FTDNA to utilize your DNA for research, be it mitochondrial, Y or autosomal, please send them an e-mail stating such.

Don’t Forget About Y Genealogy Research

It’s very easy for us to get excited about the research and discovery aspect of DNA – and the new SNPs and extending haplotrees back in time as far as possible, but sometimes I get concerned that we are forgetting about the reason we began doing genetic genealogy in the first place.

Robert Baber’s presentation discussed the process of how to reconstruct a tree utilizing both genealogy and DNA results. It’s important to remember that the reason most of our participants test is to find their ancestors, not, primarily, to participate in the scientific process.

Robert baber

edward baber

Robert has succeeded in reconstructing 110 or 111 markers of the oldest known Baber ancestor, shown above. I wrote about how to do this in my article titled, Triangulation for Y DNA.

Not only does this allow us to compare everyone with the ancestor’s DNA, it also provides us with a tool to fit individuals who don’t know specific genealogical line into the tree relatively accurately. When I say relatively, the accuracy is based on line marker mutations that have, or haven’t, happened within that particular family.

Jim illustrated how to do this as well, and his methodology is available at the link on his slide, below.

baber method

I had to laugh. I’ve often wondered what our ancestors would think of us today.  Robert said that that 11 generations after Edward Baber died, he flew over church where Edward was buried and wondered what Edward would have thought about what we know and do today – cars, airplanes, DNA, radio, TV etc..  If someone looked in a crystal ball and told Edward what the future held 11 generations later, he would have thought that they were stark raving mad.

Eleven generations from my birth is roughly the year 2280. I’m betting we won’t be trying to figure out who our ancestors were through this type of DNA analysis then.  This is only a tiny stepping stone to an unknown world, as different to us as our world is to Edward Baber and all of our ancestors who lived in a time where we know their names but their lives and culture are entirely foreign to ours.


When the Journal of Genetic Genealogy was active, I, along with other citizen scientists published regularly.  The benefit of the journal was that it was peer reviewed and that assured some level of accuracy and because of that, credibility, and it was viewed by the scientific community as such.  My co-authored works published in JOGG as well as others have been cited by experts in the academic community.  It other words, it was a very valuable journal.  Sadly, it has fallen by the wayside and nothing has been published since 2011.  A new editor was recruited, but given their academic load, they have not stepped up to the plate.  For the record, I am still hopeful for a resurrection, but in the mean time, another opportunity has become available for genetic genealogists.

Brad Larkin has founded the Surname DNA Journal, which, like JOGG, is free to both authors and subscribers. In case you weren’t aware, most academic journal’s aren’t.  While this isn’t a large burden for a university, fees ranging from just over $1000 to $5000 are beyond the budget of genetic genealogists.  Just think of how many DNA tests one could purchase with that money.

brad larkin

surname dna journal

Brad has issued a call for papers. These papers will be peer reviewed, similarly to how they were reviewed for JOGG.

call for papers

Take a look at the articles published in this past year, since the founding of Surname DNA Journal.

The citizen science community needs an avenue to publish and share. Peer reviewed journals provide us with another level of credibility for our work. Sharing is clearly the lynchpin of genetic genealogy, as it is with traditional genealogy. Give some thought about what you might be able to contribute.

Brad Larkin solicited nominations prior to the conference and awarded a Genetic Genealogist of the Year award. This year’s award was dually presented to Ian Kennedy in Australia, who, unfortunately, was not present, and to CeCe Moore, who just happened to follow Brad’s presentation with her own.

Don’t Forget about Mitochondrial DNA Either

I believe that mitochondrial DNA the most underutilized DNA tool that we have, often because how to use mitochondrial DNA, and what it can tell you, is poorly understood. I wrote about this in an article titled, Mitochondrial, The Maligned DNA.

Given that I work with mitochondrial DNA daily when I’m preparing client’s Personalized DNA Reports (orderable from your personal page at Family Tree DNA or directly from my website), I know just how useful mitochondrial can be and see those examples regularly. Unfortunately, because these are client reports, I can’t write about them publicly.

CeCe Moore, however, isn’t constrained by this problem, because one of the ways she contributes to genetic genealogy is by working with the television community, in particular Genealogy Roadshow and the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. Now, I must admit, I was very surprised to see CeCe scheduled to speak about mitochondrial DNA, because the area of expertise where she is best known is autosomal DNA, especially in conjunction with adoptee research.

cece moore

cece mtdna

During the research for the production of these shows, CeCe has utilized mitochondrial DNA with multiple celebrities to provide information such as the ethnic identification of the ancestor who provided the mitochondrial DNA as Native American.

Autosomal DNA testing has a broad but shallow reach, across all of your lines, but just back a few generations.  Both Y and mitochondrial DNA have a very deep reach, but only on one specific line, which makes them excellent for identifying a common ancestor on that line, as well as the ethnicity of that individual.

I have seen other cases, where researchers connected the dots between people where no paper trail existed, but a relationship between women was suspected.

CeCe mentioned that currently there are only 44,000 full sequence results in the Family Tree DNA data base and and 185K total HVR1, HVR2 and full sequence tests. Y has half a million.  We need to increase the data base, which, of course increases matches and makes everyone happier.  If you haven’t tested your mitochondrial DNA to the full sequence level, this would be a great time!

There are several lessons on how to utilize mitochondrial DNA at this ISOGG link.

I’m very hopeful that CeCe’s presentation will be made available as I think her examples are quite powerful and will serve to inspire people.  Actually, since CeCe is in the “movie business,” perhaps a short video clip could be made available on the FTDNA website for anyone who hasn’t tested their mitochondrial DNA so they can see an example of why they should!


I would be fibbing to you if I told you I am happy with myOrigins. I don’t feel that it is as sensitive as other methods for picking up minority admixture, in particular, Native American, especially in small amounts.  Unfortunately, those small amounts are exactly what many people are looking for.

If someone has a great-great-great-great grandparent that is Native, they carry about 1%, more or less, of the Native ancestor’s DNA today. A 4X great grandparent puts their birth year in the range of 1800-1825 – or just before the Trail of Tears.  People whose colonial American families intermarried with Native families did so, generally, before the Trail of Tears.  By that time, many tribes were already culturally extinct and those east of the Mississippi that weren’t extinct were fighting for their lives, both literally and figuratively.

We really need the ability to develop the most sensitive testing to report even the smallest amounts of Native DNA and map those segments to our chromosomes so that we can determine who, and what line in our family, was Native.

I know that Family Tree DNA is looking to improve their products, and I provided this feedback to them. Many people test autosomally only for their ethnicity results and I surely would love to have those people’s results available as matches in the FTDNA data base.

Razib Khan has been working with Family Tree DNA on their myOrigins product and spoke about how the myOrigins data is obtained.

razib kahn

my origins pieces

Given that all humans are related, one way or another, far enough back in time, myOrigins has to be able to differentiate between groups that may not be terribly different. Furthermore, even groups that appear different today may not have been historically.  His own family, from India, has no oral history of coming from the East, but the genetic data clearly indicates that they did, along with a larger group, about 1000 years ago.  This may well be a result of the adage that history is written by the victors, or maybe whatever happened was simply too long ago or unremarkable to be recorded.

Razib mentioned that depending on the cluster and the reference samples, that these clusters and groups that we see on our myOrigins maps can range from 1000-10,000 years in age.

relatedness of clusters

The good news is that genetics is blind to any preconceived notions. The bad news is that the software has to fit your results to the best population, even though it may not be directly a fit.  Hopefully, as we have more and better reference populations, the results will improve as well.

my origin components

pca chart

Razib showed a PCA (principal components analysis) graph, above. These graphs chart reference populations in different quadrants.  Where the different populations overlap is where they share common historic ancestors.  As you can see, on this graph with these reference populations, there is a lot of overlap in some cases, and none in others.

Your personal results would then be plotted on top of the reference populations. The graph below shows me, as the white “target” on a PCA graph created by Doug McDonald.

my pca chart

The Changing Landscape

A topic discussed privately among the group, and primarily among the bloggers, is the changing landscape of genetic genealogy over the past year or so.  In many ways I think the bloggers are the canaries in the mine.

One thing that clearly happened is that the proverbial tipping point occurred, and we’re past it. DNA someplace along the line became mainstream.  Today, DNA is a household word.  At gatherings, at least someone has tested, and most people have heard about DNA testing for genealogy or at least consumer based DNA testing.

The good news in all of this is that more and more people are testing. The bad news is that they are typically less informed and are often impulse purchasers.  This gives us the opportunity for many more matches and to work with new people.  It also means there is a steep learning curve and those new testers often know little about their genealogy.  Those of us in the “public eye,” so to speak, have seen an exponential spike in questions and communications in the past several months.  Unfortunately, many of the new people don’t even attempt to help themselves before asking questions.

Sometimes opportunity comes with work clothes – for them and us both.

I was talking with Spencer about this at the reception and he told me I was stealing his presentation.  He didn’t seem too upset by this:)

spencer and me

I had to laugh, because this falls clearly into the “be careful what you wish for, you may get it” category. The Genographic project through National Geographic is clearly, very clearly, a critical component of the tipping point, and this was reflected in Spencer’s presentation.  Although I covered quite a bit of Spencer’s presentation in my day 2 summary, I want to close with Spencer here.  I also want to say that if you ever have the opportunity to hear Spencer speak, please do yourself the favor and be sure to take that opportunity.  Not only is he brilliant, he’s interesting, likeable and very approachable.  Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve know him now for 9 years!  I’ve never thought to have my picture taken with Spencer before, but this time, one of my friends did me the favor.

I have to admit, I love talking to Spencer, and listening to him. He is the adventurer through whom we all live vicariously.  In the photo below, Spencer along with his crew, drove from London to Mongolia.  Not sure why he is standing on the top of the Land Rover, but I’m sure he will tell us in his upcoming book about that journey,

spencer on roof

I’m warning you all now, if I win the lottery, I’m going on the world tour that he hosts with National Geographic, and of course, you’ll all be coming with me via the blog!

Spencer talked about the consumer genomics market and where we are today.

spencer genomics

Spencer mentioned that genetic genealogy was a cottage industry originally. It was, and it was even smaller than that, if possible.  It actually was started by Bennett and his cell phone.  I managed to snap a picture of Bennett this weekend on the stage looking at his cell, and I thought to myself, “this is how it all started 14 years ago.”  Just look where we are today.  Thank you Michael Hammer for telling Bennett that you received “lots of phone calls from crazy genealogists like you.”

bennett first office

So, where exactly are we today?  In 2013, the industry crossed the millionth kit line.  The second millionth kit was sold in early summer 2014 and the third million will be sold in 2015.  No wonder we feel like a tidal wave has hit.  It has.

Why now?

DNA has become part of national consciousness.  Businesses advertise that “it’s in our DNA.”  People are now comfortable sharing via social media like facebook and twitter.  What DNA can do and show you, the secrets it can unlock is spreading by word of mouth.  Spencer termed this the “viral spread threshold” and we’ve crossed that invisible line in the sand.  He terms 2013 as the year of infection and based on my blog postings, subscriptions, hits, reach and the number of e-mails I receive, I would completely agree.  Hold on tight for the ride!

Spencer talked about predictions for near term future and said a 5 year plan is impossible and that an 18 month plan is more realistic. He predicts that we will continue to see exponential growth over the next several years.  He feels that genetic genealogy testing will be primary driver of growth because medical or health testing is subject to the clinical utility trap being experienced currently by 23andMe.  The Big 4 testing companies control 99% of consumer market in US (Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and National Geographic.)

Spencer sees a huge international market potential that is not currently being tapped. I do agree with him, but many in European countries are hesitant, and in some places, like France, DNA testing that might expose paternity is illegal.  When Europeans see DNA testing as a genealogical tool, he feels they will become more interested.  Most Europeans know where their ancestral village is, or they think they do, so it doesn’t have the draw for them that it does for some of us.

Ancestry testing (aka genetic genealogy as opposed to health testing) is now a mature industry with 100% growth rate.

Spencer also mentioned that while the Genographic data base is not open access, that affiliate researchers can send Nat Geo a proposal and thereby gain research access to the data base if their proposal is approved. This extends to citizen scientists as well.

spencer near term

Michael Hammer

You’ll notice that Michael Hammer’s presentation, “Ancient and Modern DNA Update, How Many Ancestral Populations for Europe,” is missing from this wrapup. It was absolutely outstanding, and fascinating, which is why I’m writing a separate article about his presentation in conjunction with some additional information.  So, stay tuned.

Testing, More Testing

It’s becoming quite obvious that the people who are doing the best with genetic genealogy are the ones who are testing the most family members, both close and distant. That provides them with a solid foundation for comparison and better ways to “drop matches” into the right ancestor box.  For example, if someone matches you and your mother’s sister, Aunt Margaret, especially if your mother is not available to test, that’s a very important hint that your match is likely from your mother’s line.

So, in essence, while initially we would advise people to test the oldest person in a generational line, now we’ve moved to the “test everyone” mentality.  Instead of a survey, now we need a census.  The exception might be that the “child” does not necessarily need to be tested because both parents have tested.  However, having said that, I would perhaps not make that child’s test a priority, but I would eventually test that child anyway.  Why?  Because that’s how we learn.  Let me give you an example.

I was sitting at lunch with David Pike. were discussing autosomal DNA generational transmission and inheritance.  He pulled out his iPad, passed it to me, and showed me a chromosome (not the X) that has been passed entirely intact from one generation to the next.  Had the child not been tested, we would never have known that.  Now, of course, if you’ll remember the 50% rule, by statistical prediction, the child should get half of the mother’s chromosome and half of the father’s, but that’s not how it worked.  So, because we don’t know what we don’t know, I’m now testing everyone I can find and convince in my family.  Unfortunately, my family is small.

Full genome testing is in the future, but we’re not ready yet. Several presenters mentioned full genome testing in some context.  Here’s the bottom line.  It’s not truly full genome testing today, only 95-96%.  The technology isn’t there yet, and we’re still learning.  In a couple of years, we will have the entire genome available for testing, and over time, the prices will fall.  Keep in mind that most of our genome is identical to that of all humans, and the autosomal tests today have been developed in order to measure what is different and therefore useful genealogially.  I don’t expect big breakthroughs due to full genome testing for genetic genealogy, although I could be wrong.  You can, however, count me in, because I’m a DNA junkie.  When the full genome test is below $1000, when we have comparison tools and when the coverage won’t necessitate doing a second or upgrade test a few years later, I’ll be there.

Thank you

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to Max Blankfeld and Bennett Grenspan, founders of Family Tree DNA, shown with me in the photo below, for hosting and subsidizing the administrator’s conference – now for a decade. I look forward to seeing them, and all of the other attendees, next year.

I anticipate that this next decade will see many new discoveries resulting in tools that make our genealogy walls fall.  I can’t help but wonder what the article I’ll be writing on the 20th anniversary looking back at nearly a quarter century of genetic genealogy will say!

roberta, max and bennett

Tenth Annual Family Tree DNA Conference Day 3

The internet in the hotel hasn’t gotten any faster, so I’ll just be providing highlights and today’s new announcements.  More info, plus pictures, when I get home.

Sunday always begins with the ISOGG meeting hosted by Director, Katherine Borges.

This year’s meeting was especially touching, because Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan, founders of Family Tree DNA, received plaques for their 10 years of investment and dedication and as a thank you for hosting the conferences for administrators.


Much of today’s agenda was focused on research, technical updates and new products and features.

This next year, Family Tree DNA’s focus is on three initiatives:

  1. Customer service and feedback
  2. Features – listen to citizen scientists and group administrators
  3. New products and features to make genetic genealogy better for genealogists

Family Tree DNA is actively soliciting your feedback and has set up a special address for suggestions.  This takes you to a google docs file where you enter your name, e-mail and 1000 characters maximum.


Free Ancestry and 23andMe Uploads

In order to attract more uploads, which will, of course, give us more matches, Family Tree DNA is announcing free uploads from Ancestry and 23andMe, the v3 chip only, but with a string attached.  The transferee can do the actual transfer for free, but they will only see their top 20 matches, only an initial and a last name, and will not be able to communicate with them unless they decide to pay $39 to join, or perhaps stated more accurately, to active all of the features of a paid transfer.  However, in lieu of the $39 fee, you can also recruit 4 other people to upload their data, whether or not they actually pay the fee or not.

Search Feature

One of the reasons Family Tree DNA implemented the new trees was so that they could implement new search functionality.  Soon, one will be able to search all public trees.  I think this will benefit the community immensely, because it will allow people to see if people from their family lines are present in the data base, which will, hopefully, encourage testing.

Facilitating Communication


A new social media function called myGroups is being implemented to facilitate contact within groups.  Today, projects and outside mailing lists and groups don’t fully overlap.

The example shown correlated to about 25% of a project group that was subscribed to an outside Yahoo group for discussion.  MyGroups is designed to facilitate discussions that include all project members.

Furthermore, Ancestry’s My Family product became obsolete on September 30th, leaving many people with no place to discuss family lines and groups and share pictures and documents.   The new myGroups is designed to replace some of that functionality within the context of a project.  A project could be defined as an ancestral couple, for example or a surname project, or a haplogroup project.  Of course, the discussions would be quite different for each type of myGroup.  They are ready to launch this in an alpha state and if someone is excited about this and wants to volunteer, and can deal with a few bugs…then please drop Family Tree DNA a note.

News in the Field

We had many wonderful presentations, but my personal favorite was by Michael Hammer.


I can’t begin to do this topic justice without a real keyboard and a decent internet connection so I can upload lots of pictures.  We now have 18 fully genome sequenced ancient DNA samples, which is, admittedly, just a smattering.  However, if they are representative of the hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic) and early farmer (Neolithic) populations, then what we thought we knew about Y haplogroup R, J and others has just been turned upside down.  And then, there is the teaser, like what is haplogroup C doing in Spain???

Oh, and want to know how much of your European DNA is ancestrally neolithic, hunter-gatherer, ancient northern european or later from the metallic age?  That’s one of the features Family Tree DNA was asked about and I believe they said that was something they could probably do. I’m not positive if that means they will implement that feature, but I do know they’ll evaluate how difficult and accurate this would be to implement.

Join me in a few days, after I get home, when I promise, I’ll do Michael’s presentation justice.  I’m so excited about ancient DNA and the secrets it’s unlocking!!!

Fun times ahead!