Lydia Brown’s 3 Daughters: Or Were They? Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA to the Rescue – 52 Ancestors #218

There has long been speculation about what happened to Lydia Brown, the wife of William Crumley III, and when.

It doesn’t help a bit that William Crumley, her husband, was actually William Crumley the third, being named for both his father and grandfather.

William Crumley the second was born in 1767 or 1768 in Frederick County, Virginia. He married, but his wife’s name is unknown. We do, however, know that her mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is H2a1. Without any other moniker, H2a1 has in effect become her name, because I have nothing else to call her that identifies her individually.

We don’t know much about H2a1, only that she was having children by about 1786 and had her last child, Catherine Crumley was born in 1805, suggesting that H2a1 herself was born about 1766.

It was Catherine Crumley’s descendant who took the mitochondrial DNA test that provided us with H2a1. Ironic that we have her mitochondrial DNA and know her haplogroup, but not her name. Of course, we are presuming that indeed, she was William II’s only wife, meaning that her haplogroup applied to her eldest child, Susannah Crumley born about 1786 and the other 8 children born between Susannah and Catherine.

H2a1’s son, William Crumley III was born between 1785 and 1789. William would have inherited his mother’s mitochondrial DNA, H2a1, but he would not have passed it on to his children. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by females. William’s children would have inherited their mitochondrial DNA from his wife, their mother.

William III married Lydia Brown on October 1, 1807 in Greene County, Tennessee, where the family had moved by 1793. Lydia was the daughter of Jotham Brown and his wife Phoebe, whose surname is unknown, neighbors who lived close by.

As couples do, William III and Lydia set about starting a family right away, having their first child, the Reverend John Crumley in 1808 or 1809. John was followed by William Crumley the fourth in 1811 and Jotham Crumley in 1813. Sarah may have been a twin to Jotham, born in 1813 or she may have been born in 1815. Of course, there were no birth or death certificates back then.

In 1817, daughter Clarissa was born on April 10th.

That’s where the confusion starts.

Enter Elizabeth Johnson

Enter Elizabeth, known as Betsey, Johnson who married William Crumley in Greene County, TN on October 20, 1817.

Which William Crumley, you ask? Well, so have we, for years. In fact, it’s discussed at length, here.

Given Elizabeth’s age of approximately 17 years when she married (assuming she is who we think she is,) and the fact she was remembered as the cousin of Lydia Brown, we presumed that she married William Crumley III. William III at approximately age 35-40 was closer to her age than William II at approximate age 55 – and Lydia Brown was the wife of William III so it stood to reason that they family would know her cousins.

Seems logical, right?

Except, the next child born to William III and his wife, Lydia or Elizabeth, my ancestor, Phoebe Crumley was born on March 24th, 1818, not even 50 weeks after her sister, Clarissa had been born. Furthermore, Phoebe had been born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, near the border with Lee County, Virginia, not in Greene County where earlier children were born. Also of note, Lydia’s mother, Jotham Brown’s wife was named Phoebe.

It’s certainly possible that William Crumley III’s first wife, Lydia Brown had died and he had remarried quickly to Elizabeth Johnson, then moved to Claiborne County. Except, the dates don’t work well.

We know that Lydia Brown Crumley was alive on April 10, 1817 when Clarissa was born.

Phoebe’s mother, whoever she was, got pregnant in June of 1817, 4 months before Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley.

Pregnancy as a motivator for marriage happens, but it seemed odd that a 34 year old man with a 2 month old child, whose wife had just died was impregnating a 17 year old girl.

I discussed all the pros and cons of the situation in the articles about Lydia Brown and Phoebe Crumley, but the only other alternative is that Elizabeth Johnson had married the elder William Crumley II. It seems even odder that a man of 50+ would be marrying a girl of 17. But that too happened. Or, maybe Elizabeth was actually older than we thought.

Furthermore, William Crumley II had no additional children after 1817, at least none that we know of, but William III did. Yes, it looked quite probable that Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley III. Young wives tended to have children, regardless of the age of their husband – so the preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointed to Elizabeth marrying William Crumley III, or Jr. as he was called in Greene County. William Crumley II was referred to as William Sr.

This seemed like the most reasonable (at least tentative) conclusion, based on the evidence at hand.

The problem is that it was wrong.

DNA Upsets the Apple Cart

One of my cousins who descends from Clarissa (born in April 1817) through all females kindly tested her mitochondrial DNA years ago. My line, through Phoebe, the younger sister of Clarissa had tested too, and they matched exactly at the full sequence level. Furthermore, both of those women also matched a descendant of a daughter of Jotham Brown, confirming that those three women had a common ancestor.

This tells us that very likely Clarissa and Phoebe are full siblings. However, dates weren’t always recorded correctly and people simply forgot. Were those two girls’ births recorded in the correct order with the correct years?

I really wanted to test a descendant of the daughter, Melinda, born April 1, 1820. That child was unquestionably born after the 1817 marriage to the second wife, if she was a second wife.

Not long ago, as a result of the article about Lydia, a descendant of Melinda came forth and volunteered to test.

Believe me, those weeks spent waiting for DNA results seemed like an eternity.

Finally, the results were ready, and sure enough, Melinda’s descendant matches Clarissa’s descendant and Phoebe’s descendant at the full sequence level, exactly.

The proof doesn’t get any better than this.

Except…

One Final Hitch

I’d feel a lot better if there wasn’t one last rumor to contend with. The rumor that Elizabeth Johnson was Lydia Brown’s cousin.

Elizabeth Johnson had to be either the daughter of Zopher Johnson, or the daughter of Moses Johnson, both of Greene County, TN. Moses was either the brother or the son of Zopher Johnson. Those are the only candidate fathers for Elizabeth.

Let’s look at the various possible relationships.

Possibility #1 – Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, is Zopher Johnson’s Daughter as is Elizabeth Johnson

I already discussed the possibility that Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, was Zopher Johnson’s daughter, here.

In the scenario above, Elizabeth and Lydia would not have been cousins, but aunt/niece. Their mitochondrial DNA would have matched, but in the article about Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, we dismissed the possibility that she was Zopher Johnson’s daughter, so Possibility #1 isn’t possible after all.

Possibility #2 – Jotham Brown’s Wife, Phoebe, is the Daughter of Zopher Johnson and Elizabeth is Zopher’s Granddaughter Through Son Moses

In the above scenario, if Moses was the son of Zopher, these women would be first cousins, but the mitochondrial DNA lineage would be broken at Moses, so their mitochondrial DNA wouldn’t match.

Additionally, we dismissed the possibility that Phoebe is Zopher’s daughter, so Possibility #2 is not, for 2 different reasons. It’s possible that we’re wrong about Phoebe being Zopher’s daughter, but it’s NOT possible that we’re wrong about the mitochondrial DNA not matching in this scenario.

Furthermore Moses is believed to be the brother of Zopher, not his son.

Possibility #3 – Phoebe is Zopher’s Daughter, Moses is Zopher’s Brother and Elizabeth is Moses’s Daughter

The possibilities really aren’t endless, they just seem that way! 😊

In this third scenario where Moses and Zopher are brothers, not father and son, Elizabeth and Lydia would be 1st cousins once removed, but they would not share mitochondrial DNA unless Zopher and Moses had married sisters or women who also shared the same exact mitochondrial DNA.

The only scenario in which the mitochondrial DNA would be shared with cousins, assuming that Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown were indeed cousins, is Possibility 1 where Jotham’s wife is Zopher’s daughter.

The evidence suggests that Phoebe Brown is not the daughter of Zopher Johnson, eliminating Possibility 3 as well.

Possibility #4 – Zopher Johnson’s Wife and Jotham Brown’s Wife Were Sisters

I’m going to presume here that the individual who recorded that Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown were cousins meant first cousins, although it’s possible that cousin means further back and possibly not in the direct matrilineal line.

For Elizabeth Johnson’s mitochondrial DNA to match that of Lydia Brown’s exactly, they must both descend from the same common female ancestor in the direct matrilineal line.

How might that work, assuming Jotham’s wife is not Zopher’s daughter?

If the child of both Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown had matching mitochondrial DNA, then the cousin lineage had to be through their mother’s matrilineal side.

This means that the wives of Zopher Johnson and Jotham Brown would have been sisters, or possible matrilineal cousins with no interweaving male generations.

Zopher Johnson and Jotham Brown were both found in Frederick Co., VA by 1782 where the tax list tells us that Zopher had 2 people in his household, indicating that he had not been married long.

Jotham Brown and Phebe, his wife are having children by 1761 in Virginia according to the 1850 census record of their oldest child.

These couples are probably at least 20 years different in age.

Unfortunately, we know very little about where Jotham originated. We know that Zopher’s parents were living in Northampton Co., PA in 1761 about the time he was born.

In order for Jotham’s wife, Phoebe to be the sibling of Zopher Johnson’s wife, they would have had to be living in the same location in roughly 1780, which was probably Frederick Co., VA.

Is it possible that the reason that Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda’s mitochondrial DNA matches is because they actually do have two separate mothers who were cousins? Yes, it is.

Is there any evidence of that? No, not today.

However, this is the only alternate possibility that works at all.

Of course, the most reasonable scenario is that Lydia Brown didn’t die, and Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda are all 3 her daughters. This evidence is strengthened of course by the fact that Phoebe is named after Lydia Brown’s mother.

What Other Tools are Available?

Unfortunately, Jotham Brown is 6 generations back from me. If Phoebe’s mother was Elizabeth Johnson instead of Lydia Brown, Zopher Johnson would be the same number of generations back in my tree as Jotham Brown.

The absence of Johnson autosomal matches in and of itself at that distance wouldn’t be remarkable for any particular individual, but with as many people from this line who have tested, it’s increasingly unlikely that I would match no one from the Johnson line.

At Ancestry, I added Zopher Johnson in my tree, as Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe’s father, creating a “honey-pot” of sorts for matches. I have no one that shares Zopher except for people who also have Phoebe listed as Phoebe Johnson. In other words, no one who descends from Zopher through any other line.

I have 27 people who I match through Jotham Brown through his other children, which I wouldn’t have as matches unless Jotham Brown was my ancestor as well.

At MyHeritage, I also added Zopher Johnson, but I have not had SmartMatches there either. Like at Ancestry, I do have Jotham Brown matches.

Several people match at Ancestry who has no chromosome browser. I have a Jotham Brown Circle at Ancestry with 45 members, of which I match 16.

Not all my matches are from Ancestry. Other matches are found at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch which allow me to paint their segments on my DNAPainter profile, triangulating with others.

Conclusion

We have multiple pieces of evidence including three matching mitochondrial DNA tests for the sisters, children of William Crumley III, on the following timeline:

Crumley birth timeline

  • We’ve proven that Clarissa, Phebe and Melinda all share the exact same mitochondrial DNA. These births occurred both before and after the marriage of Elizabeth Johnson to one of the William Crumleys in 1817.
  • I have more than 30 matches to several of Jotham Brown’s descendants through multiple children other than through Lydia Brown, the wife of William Crumley III.
  • I don’t have any matches to Zopher Johnson through anyone except people who list Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe, as the daughter of Zopher Johnson in their trees.
  • Jotham Brown’s wife’s name was Phebe, a rather unusual name, certainly suggesting that Lydia Brown was the mother of Phebe Crumley born in 1818.

I believe the combination of these factors confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that the mother of Phoebe Crumley born in 1818, as well as the younger children born to William Crumley III and his wife were all born to Lydia Brown, the first and only known wife of William Crumley III.

I believe that Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley II, not William Crumley III based on this as well as new research evidence to be discussed in a future article.

Based on the cumulative evidence, Elizabeth Johnson did not marry William Crumley III and Lydia Brown, William Crumley III’s first wife did not die before the birth of either Phebe or Melinda Crumley.

Based on the fact that I have no autosomal DNA matches to Zopher Johnson’s descendants, I believe we’ve removed the possibility that Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe is the daughter of Zopher, or the child of Zopher’s brother, Moses. In other words, there is no hint of a biological connection between the Johnson and Brown families upstream of Jotham Brown and his wife, Phoebe whose surname remains unknown.

As far as I’m concerned, we can put this question to bed, forever.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the descendants of Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda Crumley for mitochondrial DNA testing. We could never have solved this without you.

Thank you for descendants of Jotham Brown and Zopher Johnson for autosomal DNA testing.

Thank you to Stevie Hughes for her extensive research on the Zopher Johnson line.

If You Want to Test

If you want to test your mitochondrial DNA, click here and order the mtFull test.

If you want to test your autosomal DNA, click here and order the Family Finder test, or click here and order the MyHeritage test.

You can also order a Family Finder test and then transfer free to MyHeritage.

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8 thoughts on “Lydia Brown’s 3 Daughters: Or Were They? Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA to the Rescue – 52 Ancestors #218

  1. My husband’s grandmother was a Brown, whose ancestors were from Hawkins County, Tennessee. Other family members were nearby in Tenn. Before that they were in VA, Bedford and Cumberland counties that we are sure of. He matches on chromosome 14 in what looks like it might be the same area as you mention above, with one of his aunts, a 1/2 brother and our grandson, and also with 2 distant cousins. We have this Brown line back to the mid 1700’s. Can you share what the segment for your matches is. We believe that our ancestors, Jesse, Aaron and Alexander Brown likely had siblings, but do not have any names.

  2. OMG….OMG… I have never in my life read a more complicated case so carefully, rereading over and over, until I got it…yes got it thoroughly. What an awesome post, however, there is one huge glaring error in your work…..so sorry to have to burst your bubble on all of your really thorough hard work….. Green County, Tennessee has an “e” on the end…Greene County, Tennessee. LOL What a great post. Have made appropriate adjustments. Have a great rest of your Thanksgiving weekend. Cheers, Dana

  3. Do you think that mtDNA results are specific enough to prove positively a relationship in genealogical time? There are millions people with H2a1 and the mutation rate is 1 mutation in about 30 generations.

    • Yes, there are millions of people, but remember they have a rare mutation. Also, this was targeted testing. I’m not going by haplogroup alone, but on the fact that there are several mutations involved that all match exactly. The chances of both of his wives having the exact same DNA sequence, including the same exact mutations including a rare mutation, in the same time and place, and the lack of any autosomal matches in the Johnson line, together is extremely compelling.

    • Yes. This has only been found in 3 or 4 cases, in all if which the people involved had a known mitochondrial disease. This isn’t going to affect our genealogy, so don’t worry.

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