Using the FamilySearch “Relatives at RootsTech” app that was available in the month or so surrounding RootsTech (but not now), I connected with a cousin who is a direct matrilineal descendant of Sarah Rash, our common ancestor.
My cousin, who descends through Sarah’s daughter Rhoda Shepherd, very kindly agreed to take a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test so we now have information about Sarah Rash’s matrilineal origins.
I wrote about Sarah Rash and what we know of her life in Sarah Rash (1748-1829), Church Founder and Grandmother of Nearly 100.
Mitochondrial DNA Inheritance
Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Therefore, mitochondrial DNA is never divided, watered down or mixed with the DNA of the father. Mitochondrial DNA provides an invaluable periscope view directly back in time for our matrilineal ancestors – our direct mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line on up our tree.
Sarah Rash was born to Joseph Rash and wife, Mary, purportedly Mary Warren. Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA also belongs to her mother Mary. That would be Mary Warren if indeed Mary Warren is Sarah’s mother. Mary Warren’s parents are unknown. However, there is a Warren family in Spotsylvania County, VA, where the Rash family lived in that timeframe.
My goals for seeking a mitochondrial DNA test for Sarah Rash’s descendant are:
- To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant, preferably through another daughter or sister of Sarah.
- To learn what we can from Sarah’s haplogroup. You don’t know what you don’t know.
- To gather evidence to confirm or perhaps disprove that Sarah’s mother is Mary Warren.
- To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time.
Several people have asked me to step through the analysis process that I use for mitochondrial DNA results, so let’s do that.
What can we tell about Sarah’s ancestors through her mitochondrial DNA?.
Sarah’s Matrilineal Line is Not Native
Sometimes when the mother of an early pioneer settler can’t be identified, the “go-to” assumption is that she might be Native American.
Sarah’s haplogroup is U5a2a1d which is definitely NOT Native.
We can dispel this thought permanently.
Since Sarah’s matrilineal ancestors aren’t Native, where are they from?
Where Are Sarah’s Ancestors From?
Using the public mitochondrial tree, here, we see the following countries displayed for haplogroup U5a2a1d.
Sarah’s haplogroup is found most often in the US, which means brick-walled here, followed by England, Ireland, and less-frequent other locations. Note that two people claim Native, the feather, but that can mean either they are mistaken, or they have entered information for their mother’s “side” of the family or their literal “oldest ancestor,” not their specific matrilineal line.
Regardless, haplogroup U is unquestionably not Native.
Sometimes the matches map, which shows the geographic locations of your matches’ most distant matrilineal linear ancestor is very informative, but not so in this case.
Of 74 full sequence matches, only 4, plus the tester whose pin is white, have entered the locations of their matrilineal ancestors.
One of these contains a male name, so we know that’s incorrect.
This is really sad – a wasted opportunity. Imagine how useful this could be with 74 pins instead of 4, and one of those being recorded incorrectly.
The mutations tab shows you the mutations you have that are either extra or missing from your haplogroup assignment. This means that these may be combined in the next version of the haplotree to form a new haplogroup.
My cousin has 5 extra mutations, but at least three of those are in unstable areas that I’m sure will not be utilized as haplogroup-forming. The other two mutations are insertions at one single location and I doubt those will be used either.
I wrote about haplogroup formation in the article, Mitochondrial DNA: Part 3 – Haplogroups Unraveled, including a list of unstable and common mutations. Suffice it to say that very common locations like 16519 and 315 insertions aren’t useful to form haplogroups. Some very common mutations, such as insertions at locations 309 and 315 and deletions at 522 and 523 aren’t even counted in matching/differences.
What these unstable mutations actually tell me, relative to Sarah Rash’s DNA is that I need to pay attention to the GD1 (genetic distance of 1) matches, meaning people who have only one mutation difference from my cousin. Given that my cousin’s extra mutations, differences from her defined haplogroup, are in unstable regions, close matches such as GD1 or even GD2 could be quite relevant. It all depends on the difference.
Of course, we can’t see the mutations of the people my cousin matches, so those with a GD1 or GD2 may have mutations on a stable marker that my cousin doesn’t have.
My cousin has a total of 74 full sequence matches, of which 31 are exact matches, 18 have trees and 12 have listed an earliest known ancestor (EKA). If you haven’t done so, here’s how to enter your EKA.
Of course, the EKA of my cousin’s matches may or may not agree with the earliest matrilineal person in their tree. And the tree may or may not have more than one or two people. Regardless, every hint is worth follow-up.
Think of these as diamonds in the rough.
I viewed the trees of each of the matches that have uploaded trees. I also made a list of the earliest known ancestors for matches that didn’t have trees so I could be cognizant of watching for those names.
Many trees only had a few generations, but I used Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and WikiTree to see if I could reasonably complete the tree back a little further. Of these, I particularly like WikiTree because I think it tends to be more accurate AND it allows for people to enter that they carry the mitochondrial DNA of specific ancestors. As it turns out, no one has done that for Sarah Rash, or her purported mother, Mary Warren, but if they had, it would provide a confirmation opportunity.
I did find something quite interesting.
Who is Jane Davis?
The EKA of Elizabeth, one of my cousin’s matches, is Jane Davis who was born in 1690.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not upload a GEDCOM file or create a tree, so I turned to other trees elsewhere to see what I could unearth about Jane Davis.
I need to state emphatically that what I’m about to tell you needs to be taken with the entire salt lick, not just a grain.
Remember, we’re looking for hints and evidence here, not foregone conclusions – although admittedly, those would be nice.
According to (cringe) some trees, Jane Davis was the wife of one William Warren who was born 1678 in Surry County, VA and died on September 29, 1764 in Edgecombe County, NC. I have not confirmed any of this. Gathering evidence is the first step in the process.
IF this is accurate, William Warren and Jane Davis may be the parents of Mary Warren, the purported mother of Sarah Rash.
Notice all of those weasel words – if, may, purported. That’s where we have to start. In weaselworld.
Obviously, this needs a LOT of traditional genealogy work, but here’s the great news…I now have something to work with and someone else, Elizabeth, who appears one way or another to be descended from this line.
The Good News
Whether or not Jane Davis is accurate or not, I’d wager that we are looking at the same line because Elizabeth matches my cousin’s mitochondrial DNA. I need to email Elizabeth to see if she descends through Sarah Rash. If so, that’s confirmation of this line.
If not, and she descends through a daughter of someone else in this same line, like one of Mary Warren’s sisters, that’s evidence and a HUGE HINT that I can use to confirm Mary Warren as the mother of Sarah Rash. Confirming her mother would also confirm that Mary’s father is William Warren – so would provide evidence for both of Sarah’s parents.
Additional Tools – Advanced Matches
Next, I used Advanced Matches to query for anyone who matches at both the full sequence level and in Family Finder. There were no matches, which doesn’t surprise me since it’s quite a way back in time.
Notice that the link to upload a family tree is in this section, along with the public haplotree I used earlier.
Checking my cousin’s Family Finder matches and searching for surnames, I immediately checked for myself and my known cousins from that line. No cigar, but our common ancestor is many generations in the past.
Checking the Rash surname for my cousin shows a match to someone who descends from Joseph Rash’s brother, William Rash whose children also migrated to Claiborne County, TN along with Sarah Rash’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd who married William McNiel.
My cousin has numerous autosomal matches to the McNiel line as well. The Vannoy, McNiel, Shepherd, and Rash lines were all found in Wilkes County, NC together before migrating to Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee. Before Wilkes County, the Rash, Warren, and McNiel families were in Spotsylvania and nearby counties in Virginia.
How did we do fulfilling our original goals?
|To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant.||Perhaps – We have that lead to follow up on with Elizabeth and her EKA of Jane Davis. We also have several relevant autosomal matches.|
|To learn what we can learn from her haplogroup.||Yes – Not Native and probably from England or Ireland. That is useful and makes sense.|
|To confirm her mother as Mary Warren.||We now have hints and tools. We need to hear what Elizabeth has to say. I may be able to extract more information by viewing trees individually with people my cousin matches on Family Finder.|
|To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time.||We now have a great hint and information to work with, both mitochondrial and autosomal. Jane Davis may be the wife of William Warren, which might well confirm Mary Warren as the daughter of William Warren. It’s too soon to tell but my fingers are crossed for a descendant of Jane Davis from a different daughter through all females.|
Sometimes answers come in a gulley-washer, and other times, we have to dig and sift over time for the gems. Let’s create a plan.
There’s a lot we can do, but maybe one of the best places to start would be to attempt to assemble information about the Warren families of Spotsylvania County, VA. This Thomas Warren might be a good place to begin or maybe work my way up from Mary Warren, here.
I need to focus on both traditional genealogy and genetic autosomal matches at all of the vendors. My cousin’s DNA is only at FamilyTreeDNA, but my results and those of several other cousins are found at several vendors.
I can use Genetic Affairs’ tools to see if I cluster with other people descended from the Warren family. My cousin can set up an account and do the same thing if she wishes. AutoTree and AutoKinship may help with that.
Using traditional genealogy, if I can identify other sisters of Mary Warren (daughters of Jane Davis,) I can ask people descended from them through all females to take a mitochondrial DNA test. If they match my cousin, that’s an exceptionally compelling piece of evidence.
Of course, I can do more work on the mitochondrial DNA matches we already have by emailing and asking for genealogy information. The piece of evidence we need might be right under our noses.
The Warren Family
If you descend from a Warren family in the Spotsylvania County area in the 1600s through 1700s, would you please check your matches to see if you have me, Vannoy, McNiel, McNeil, Rash or Shepherd matches? I’d love to narrow this down.
If you descend through all females from William Warren or another Warren family who would have been having children in the Spotsylvania County from about 1710 to maybe 1740, would you please reach out to me? If we can pinpoint a likely family for Mary Warren who was reportedly born in 1726, I’d love to do a confirming mitochondrial DNA test.
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Very interesting, Roberta, and it makes me itching to get back into my study of my brick wall mtDNA.
At least take a look at it. You might have a new match. Use autosomal with it.
Great article! Good luck with your research.
How long ago did u6a and u5a diverge?
I’m u6a7a1b. Some of my matches are from Ukraine (where my maternal ancestors were from) and other Eastern European countries while others were from Spain, Morocco, Mexico, and even one Native American. Many of my HR1 matches are French, Canadian (Acadian). Quite a big spread across the Atlantic!
The new divergence dates are being recalculated with the new tree. You can check the original 2012 paper supplement for the current estimates.
Also, it’s not uncommon for someone to enter Native by misunderstanding the instructions or their family history being incorrect.
Very interested in this Shepherd family as we have a Robert Shepherd in our family as well, and my ancestor is named Martha Shephard Omohundro. No clue who the Shepherd family is. Oddly I had been looking at that Shepherd family but didn’t see any names that looked familar.
There is also alot of information on the same Shepherd family on Facebook by a Shepherd descendant.
These little bits of evidence can be real time savers!
My mtDNA matches showed me that my search should not be around London, but down in Cornwall. I managed to find baptism records that covered the years I needed for that Cornwall parish (at FamilySearch from memory) and my search was back on track.
That London research was set to be costly and time consuming so I am glad I checked mitochondrial first.
Roberta, I do descend from the Rash Warren line from Spotsylvania, Va as well as several other lines from that area. It is not a direct female line, my Great Grandmother was the daughter of Joel Fairchild and Sarah McNeil.
Roberta, I am a descended from the Warren Rash line from that area, as well as several other lines. It is not a direct female, as my great grandmother was the daughter of Joel Fairchild and Sarah Mcneil. I have a lot of interest in this area and line. We match at 10cM on ancestry.
I know you have Tennessee ancestors and are interested in TN maps. Mountain Press has a new series of TN county maps <email@example.com
I’ll have to check those out.