Father’s Day – Tracking the Y DNA Line

A fun way to share a quick DNA lesson with your family is to give them a Father’s Day Y line gift.  This is a pictorial history of the paternal surname in my family, which is also how the Y chromosome is passed.  Easy and fun to see the generations together, with a smattering of history.  Make one yourself and enjoy!  Makes a great, quick, Father’s Day remembrance that’s easy to share with lots of family members.


My father, William Sterling Estes, known as Bill as an adult and Sterl as a child was born sometime around 1902 and died in 1963, gone but not forgotten.  He was my Daddy and I loved him.  He was good to me and died in a car accident when I was too young to understand the rest.  But oh did he ever earn a place in the rogues gallery.  And no, I really don’t know what year he was born.  There are several variants depending on what he was trying to accomplish at the time.  We know for sure he made himself “older” to join the Army in WWI, so all of his “variants” weren’t necessarily self-serving.  He served in WWI and WWII and was injured.  When he was in his early 40s, he made himself “younger” by more than a decade to marry a 17 year old girl in Georgia.  Quite the ladies man, he was convicted of bigamy at least once, and committed it at least twice. He had several wives and partners during his lifetime, and I keep waiting for a new half-sibling to appear through one of the autosomal testing companies.

William George Estes3

My grandfather, William George Estes (1873-1971), photographer, moonshiner, ladies man, always just outside the law.  Twice he had affairs with his wife’s younger cousin, twice he got divorced, and twice he married those cousins.  Family lore says he was married to two of those women at once.  Gives new meaning to words “repeat offender” in a tongue in cheek sort of way.  Maybe my father came by his questionable behavior genetically.  William George, known as Bill or Will, is one of my most colorful ancestors who lived in the roughest part of Harlan County, Kentucky, known as “Bloody Harlan.”

Copy of Lazarus and Eliabeth Vannoy Estes

Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) was known as “Laze,” but was anything but Lazy.  He was a huckster, a gravestone carver and the man who took care of things within the family and made them right for whoever needed something.  Every family has one…he is ours.  He helped care for his mentally ill father-in-law, transported him to the institute for the insane and then took care of his mother-in-law.  He was very unhappy with the behavior of his son, William George, relative to his wives and their cousins, and at one point, threw him out of “Estes Holler” in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  Still, when he died, he left Will a little something, so while Will may have been prodigal, he wasn’t entirely disowned.

John Y Estes

John Y. Estes (1818-1895), Confederate Civil War veteran and Prisoner of War.  John was wounded in battle, hospitalized and then captured.  The details are sketchy, but he forever walked with a limp from his injury and used a walking stick as a cane.  That didn’t stop him or even slow him down much.  After his release as a Prisoner of War, at the end of the war, north of the Ohio River, he walked home to Claiborne County, Tennessee, on his injured leg.  Then a few years later, he left his wife and walked with his limp and his stick to Texas, twice, which means he walked back once, 1000 miles each way.  He lived in a dugout house along the Oklahoma border when he got to Texas and sold his “cancer elixir” along the Chism Trail.  There are rumors of another family there in Indian Territory with a possibly Native wife where he lived on Choctaw land. John was one extremely tough man.

John R. Estes restored

John R. Estes (1787-1885), War of 1812 veteran, pioneer, homesteader, man of the shadows.  After the War of 1812, John packed up his family in a wagon and made the journey from Halifax County, Virginia to Claiborne County, Tennessee.  John spent most of his life just under the radar.  Never owning land, or better stated, selling his land grant the day he got it, he was a very difficult ancestor to track.  He lived to be quite elderly and in addition to fighting in the War of 1812, he had a front row seat to the Civil War in Claiborne County, Tennessee, just south of the Cumberland Gap.  Would I ever love to sit down and chat with him.

This is the end of the line in photos.  We’re fortunate to have as many photos as we do, given that John R. Estes was born about 1787.  I wonder what he thought of photography and having his picture taken.

Two of these men, my grandfather and John R. Estes lived to be just shy of 100 years old.  John R. Estes’s father, George, died just as the camera was coming into use, in 1859.  He too lived to be almost 100, or by a different account, just over 100.  Longevity seems to run in this line.  Two daughters of William George Estes lived to be just shy of 100 years as well.

Happy Father’s Day to each and every generation that contributed to me being here today!  Y’all may have been “colorful,” but you’re still mine!



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23 thoughts on “Father’s Day – Tracking the Y DNA Line

  1. What a great idea! Love those colorful family stories. I have few myself and my family cringes when I start digging. My father asked me recently “How do you find this stuff?”

    • That’s the good stuff. I don’t have to worry about upsetting anyone living now. They are all gone. Sadly. My poor mother was mortified with what I discovered about my father. And she never knew it all.

  2. Thank you for sharing those stories and wonderful photos! We don’t have any of those centenarians in our family…but it looks like you have some in yours. Walking to Texas and back…that is something else. Georgeann
    PS…I just was at a cousin’s memorial in Ft. Worth, Tx. with a Rev. Estes assisting. Any kin in Ft. Worth?

    • Most of the Estes line in the US came from old Abraham, the immigrant, in the late 1600s. He had many sons, who had many sons….so yes, we’re probably related somehow.

    • Funny you should ask. Not one of them came to me through my direct family with the exception of my father. All of the rest came after I started doing genealogy. So were it not for my genealogical cousins, I would not have any of these except a few of my Dad. Keep in mind that I was not raised with my father’s family close by. They lived in another state, so I had to make the effort to contact them and meet them after I became an adult. I’m so glad that I did. I’m actually quite close to several.

      • eh my mom(born in the early 1960’s) doesn’t have that many old photos. in fact she doesn’t have any old photos of some of her great grandparents, and i have no clue how to find out who does

    • My mother was embarrassed by my father’s behavior and history. She felt like she has been “misled” and I understand that. But for me, I am perfectly fine in my own skin, warts and all. These are my ancestors. I carry part of them in me…and in the case of my father…a very big part. I am grateful for what they gave me and what they endured and survived so I could simply exist. It is not mine to judge. There is no way I could know even half of the “whole story,” so to speak. I want their memory to live…I want their lives to be documented and commemorated – truthfully. What those lives are or were was up to them, not me. I honor all of them. Among all of my ancestors, there is only one I really struggle with, and he murdered his wife, also my ancestor, under pretty awful circumstances. Him I have trouble with – but everyone else – I just view them as exceedingly human and colorful. The tidbits are delightful. They have contributed the foundation for who I am and for that, I am exceedingly grateful. I would not trade my life for another nor any of them.

  3. Thank you Roberta! Unfortunately not one of my Y-DNA ventures has led to anything but more questions and even anger at times. I am glad not all families are as complicated as mine.

  4. Roberta, Thanks – very interesting and timely article. As a native son of Harlan County (Highsplint, KY – a coal camp no longer in existence), I particularly enjoyed the section on Will Estes. He fit right in with most of the male population in the county. The Creech family was large in the county as well. Ed Cupp Owensboro, KY

  5. Roberta, I just got my DNA back from Ancestry. Would you mind if I email you for advise on figuring it out? I want to upload the results on a couple of other genealogy sites, and I think you mentioned an Estes family site. My email is sdsn359@gmail.com

  6. I have my own sets of colorful Harlan KY moonshiner folks ! And I just found out they are my birth ancestors in 2012. Gota love em’ !

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