DNA test results reflect only the tiniest inheritance, but today I honor my Native ancestors, the American Originals, on Indigenous Peoples Day.
My great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Henderson has no known patrilineal descendants, but his brothers James Henry and John do. About a year ago, I reached out to my cousin C., who is in the James Henry line, to ask if he would test with 23andme. After some hesitation, he agreed.
C.’s results returned in a few weeks, and I called him to share the details. “So, am I a Henderson?,” he blurted. I laughed: “Of course you are, crazy!” C. is the spitting image of his father, but — his parents had not married. Hearing that Hendersons (including my father and K.H.) were among his top matches and that he shared the same haplogroup as other patrilineal Hendersons had vanquished lingering uncertainties that I had not even known C. harbored.
The core of the Henderson family is deeply religious, and our reunions feature a farewell prayer breakfast at the host hotel. C., who is an ordained Baptist minister, rose to deliver a mini-sermon to those gathered. “Blood done sign my name,” he said. “Blood … done sign my name.” You may know this traditional gospel song, whose lyrics speak to the belief in the redemption of sinners through the blood that Jesus Christ shed on Calvary. C. preached on salvation Sunday morning, but he also invoked this metaphor in a different way. With a simple DNA test, C. was free from doubt and able confidently to claim his place among the Hendersons. Blood had signed his name on the roll books of our family.
Actually, Stephen Grant and his wife Marie Celina Armand were New Ancestor Discoveries 1 and 2, per http://www.ancestry.com. I talked about Stephen here. (Though I may share ancestry with her husband, Marie Celina I’ve discounted as a blood relative because she was of French descent.) Irving Sessoms and his wife, Sabra Jane Fisher, then, are NADs 3 and 4. Neither name speaks to me, but they were from Sampson County, North Carolina – like my Aldridge and Balkcum ancestors – so I’m intrigued.
Here’s what may or may not be true about Irvin Sessoms:
- He was the son of Blake Sessoms (1781-1841) and Rachel [last name unknown] (1792-1880).
- He was born 22 April 1817 in Sampson County.
- He married Sabra Fisher in about 1835.
- They had nine children: Molcey Jane Sessoms Grice (1845-1894), Uriah Sessoms (1846-1925), Susanah Sessoms McGrossen (1848-1889), William Henry Sessoms (1850-1930), Elizabeth Sessoms (1852-1874), Gilead Sessoms (1854-1867), Lucinda Sessoms (1856-1927), Minson M. Sessoms (1859-1940), and Andrew J. Sessoms (1861-1905).
- He died 1862 in Little Coharie township, Sampson County.
Here’s what may or may not be true about Sabra Jane Fisher:
- She was the daughter of Sanders Fisher (1793-1876) and Sophia Butler (1792-??).
- She was born 29 September 1821 in Sampson County.
- She died 11 September 1903 in Roseboro, Little Coharie township, Sampson County.
- The “circle” of DNA testers linked to Irvin and Sabra has five members, plus me. I match two of them — E.K. (an estimated 4th cousin), who is descended from their son Andrew J. Sessoms, and J.S. (estimated 5th cousin), descended from daughter Lucinda Sessoms. (I also match an estimated 4th cousin called “KnowThyPast” in common with both E.K. and J.S. I don’t know how I match KTP, but I thought it was via Van Pools on my mother’s side, which is not helpful here.) The other three in the circle: B.M. (descended from son William Henry), J.W. (descended from son Andrew), and A.L. (descended from son Minson.)
- A passel of Aldridge/Balkcums have tested at Ancestry, but I seem to be the only one linked to the Sessomses. This could mean I’m totally off base with my speculation about my connection to them. Or, maybe it means that the link is specifically via my great-great-great-grandmother Margaret Balkcum Henderson, who likely had a different father than her sister, my great-great-great-grandmother Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge. Still, if this were the case, I might expect my Margaret-descended cousins H.K., L.G., and sibling set J.H., L.H. and M.C. to link to the Sessomses. They don’t.
- Irvin Sessoms and Sabra Fisher Sessoms were contemporaries of my ancestors Robert Aldridge, Eliza Balkcum Aldridge and Margaret Balkcum Henderson. Thus, Irvin and Sabra could not have the direct ancestors of any of them.
- Maybe “Molcey Jane” was a name with common currency in early 18th century Sampson County. It stood out for me though. There were three Molcey/Malseys among Eliza and Margaret’s (believed) Balkcum kin. The first was Malsey Lee Balkcum (1820-1889), wife of John Balkcum, whom I believe to have been a half-brother to Eliza Balkcum Aldridge and Margaret Balkcum Henderson. The second was Malsey Jane Balkcum Knowles, born about 1852 to Lemuel and Jemima Rackley Balkcum. Lemuel was, I believe, another half-brother to Eliza Balkcum Aldridge and Margaret Balkcum Henderson. The third was Malsey Alice Balkcum, born about 1855 to John and Malsey.
Two more Nicholson matches at Ancestry DNA.
The first is with T.L. His ancestor Moses P. Nicholson migrated to Indiana in the 1830s, long before my great-great-grandmother Harriet Nicholson was born. T.L. has no other Iredell County lines, underscoring the unlikelihood that our match is through some other line.
The second is R.H., who also matches T.L. R.H. is descended from a first-cousin marriage between grandchildren of both of John S. Nicholson‘s wives, as am I.
Unfortunately, Ancestry has a hard time interpreting matching trees that involve multiple spouses and fathers and sons with the same names, and these charts are not quite right.
Joseph Buckner Martin (1868-1928) is said to have been the father of my great-grandmother Bessie Henderson and her brother Jesse “Jack” Henderson. Does DNA back this up?
One of Bessie’s descendants (me) and three of Jack’s (J.E., L.H. and M.C.) have tested with Ancestry DNA. I match each of them as expected. But whom do we match?
Buck Martin was the son of Lewis H. and Mary Ann “Polly” Price Martin. Though Lewis and Polly had ten children, so far I have not identified matches for any of us with descendants of any of them.
Let’s back up a generation though. Lewis H. Martin was one of 11 children of Waitman G. and Eliza Lewis Martin. My close cousins J.E. and L.H. match G.A., who is descended from Lewis’ brother Henderson N. Martin.
Eliza Lewis Martin (1813-??) was the oldest child of Urban Lewis and Susan Casey Lewis. Her siblings: John Lewis, Fannie Lewis Denmark, Joel Lewis, Bethany Lewis Martin, Susan Marinda Lewis Potts, Patience Lewis Denmark, William Lewis, Elizabeth Lewis, and Mary Ann Lewis Martin. My close cousins and/or I match descendants of at least two of them, John (J.K., K.P.) and Susan (E.P., B.P.). (My father also has matches to Susan’s descendants E.G.P. and B.A.P. at Gedmatch and D.P. at FTDNA.) In addition, J.E. and L.H. match B.T., a descendant of Urban Lewis’ brother Laban Lewis. And over at 23andme, my father’s first cousin J.H. matches A.L., an Urban and Susan Casey Lewis descendant, and K.C.K., a descendant of one of Susan Casey Lewis’ siblings.
Polly Price Martin was the daughter of James and Margaret Herring Price. Polly had sisters Margaret “Peggy” Price Williams and Susan Price Dail. M.C., J.E. and/or I match a descendant of Susan Dail and five descendants of Peggy’s great-grandson Merle Williams.
So, while we do not have matches with any of Buck’s siblings’ descendants, we do have matches to all four of his grandparents’ line — Martin, Lewis, Price and Herring. This does not exclusively establish Buck Martin as my ancestor, but it goes a long way.
I came back from vacation to find a nice new match at Ancestry.com. R.M. and I are double eighth cousins, as I am descended from two children of Isham and Jane Rogers Randolph — Thomas I. Randolph (1722-1788), who married Jane Cary (1751-1774), and Susannah Randolph, who married Carter Henry Harrison (1736-1793). (Thomas Randolph, Susannah Randolph Harrison, and Bettie Randolph Railey’s sister Jane Randolph married Peter Jefferson and gave birth to Thomas Jefferson.)
Ancestry estimates our relationship as 5th-8th cousins and rates the match as “Good,” meaning that we share 6-12 cM. (Which is quite high for 8th cousins, but is attributable to (1) our double lineage and (2) luck.) That’s lower than I’d ordinarily pursue, but I’ll take it.
Until my mother’s first cousins tested at 23andme, I had no way to distinguish her maternal and paternal matches. Though her thousand-plus hits are still mostly an anonymous mass, I have gained some small insights. Here are two examples:
I sent this woman a share request on 13 June 2012, just two months after I got my initial 23andme results. It’s been crickets ever since. She is either dead or does not give one damn about genealogy. And it kills me because she is estimated as my mother and uncle’s second cousin, sharing 280 cM, (3.76%) across 9 segments with her and 273 cM (3.67%) across 11 segments with him. This mystery woman also shares 2.16%, 7 segments, and 1.98 %, 6 segments, with my deceased aunt’s daughter and son. This is high. Per ISOGG, known second cousins share on average 3.125% and 212.5 cM.
Madame XX does not match either of my mother’s paternal first cousins, M.D. and J.A. Though it’s not an absolute certainty, it’s likely, then, that she is a match on my maternal grandmother’s side. (Without knowing who the Madame is, I can’t unequivocally declare her my mother’s second cousin, but I can say that the numbers are very low for half-first or first, once removed. However, see my Harrisons, where my mother shares 267 cM with her half-second cousin, for what’s possible.)
A second cousin is the child of one’s parents’ first cousins. My grandmother had relatively few full first cousins. In fact, she had exactly none on her father’s side. On her mother’s, there were lots of McNeely aunts and uncles, but relatively few children: Luther‘s son R. Henry McNeely (1903); Emma‘s children Wardenur (1913-1941), Henry (1915-1955), and Irving Houser Jr. (1920-2001); Addie‘s children Ardeanur (1903-1996) and James Smith (1906-1960); Elethea‘s sons William (1903-??), Charles (1904-1968), James (1906-bef. 1920?) and Irving McNeely (1911-1933); Edward‘s son Quincy McNeely (1910-1966); and Janie‘s children Sarah (1911-1937), Frances (1916-??), Willa (1918-) and William McNeely (1925-1965), and Carl Taylor (1923-1988).
We can eliminate all the aunts’ children off the bat. Madame XX’s maternal haplogroup is L0a1a2. My great-grandmother and her sisters were L2d1a and passed that mtDNA down to their children. As the haplogroups don’t match, the mystery lady is not a child of a McNeely daughter. That leaves the offspring of the McNeely sons. As far as I know, neither Henry McNeely, James Smith, William McNeely, Charles McNeely, James McNeely, Irving McNeely Weaver, nor Quincy McNeely had children. (Nor Wardenur Houser Jones, Ardeanur Smith Hart, Sarah McNeely Green, Frances McNeely Williams, and Willa McNeely Sims. Now that I write this out, it sounds crazy. How is it that so few of Henry and Martha McNeely‘s grandchildren had children?) That leaves Henry, Irving Houser, William McNeely or Carl Taylor as the parents of Madame XX. (Unless, of course, my grandmother had first cousins that she did not know of.)
As far as I know, Henry Houser had three sons, only one of whom is living. Irving Houser had one daughter, whom I need to contact independently. William McNeely had one son that I know of. Carl Taylor also had sons. Right now, then, Madame XX is either Irving’s daughter or the daughter of a completely unknown cousin.
L.W., on the other hand, matches my mother, her brother and both their paternal first cousins, making him a solid bet for her father’s side. He’s considerably more distant than Madame XX, but a good match. At 23andme, he’s estimated at 3rd to 5th cousins (.44% shared across 3 segments) with my mother and uncle, and 3rd-6th cousin (.29% across 2 segments) to cousin M.D. Cousin J.A. does not show as L.W.’s match at 23andme, but does show a 13.4 cM match at Gedmatch.
L.W.’s mtDNA haplogroup is L3d1-5, and his Y is E1b1a. I can eliminate him then as a direct patrilineal descendant of my great-great-grandfather Edward C. Harrison or my great-great-grandmother Matilda Holmes. I don’t recognize any of the surnames he lists in his profile. And the states he lists — Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, North Carolina — suggest that his ancestors moved out of Virginia (assuming that point of common origin) before Emancipation. Unfortunately, my knowledge of my own ancestors beyond the great-great-grandparent level on this side raises serious barriers to identification of our link to L.W. I know the names of the parents of Mary Brown Allen, born 1849 in Amelia County, Virginia, but little else. Jasper Holmes‘ parents were likely Peyton and Nancy Holmes, and they were probably from Charlotte County, as he was. I don’t even know his wife Matilda‘s maiden name though.