Maternal Kin, Virginia

Hiding in plain sight.

I don’t understand how I have missed this:

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Almost exactly four years ago, with help from my late uncle Charles C. Allen and my new DNA cousin A.B., I identified Edward C. Harrison as the biological father of my great-grandfather John C. Allen Sr.

The screenshot above shows a portion of the 1880 census of Harrison township, Charles City County, Virginia. Household number 73: Wm. L. Harrison, 32; his mother C.R., 64; and siblings J.C., 24, and E.C., 31. That’s Edward C. Harrison, his brother William Lambert Harrison, his mother Caroline R. Lambert Harrison, and his sister Jane Cary Harrison. (His father William Mortimer Harrison died in 1865.) Household number 74, right next door: Gram Allen, 26; wife Mary; and children Namie, 5, John, 3, and Emma, 1. That’s my great-grandfather John, his mother Mary Brown Allen, his adoptive father Graham Allen, and his half-sisters Namie (Naomi? Nannie?) and Emma. I repeat: living next door.

Were the Allens tenants on the Harrisons’ farm? Graham Allen and Mary Brown married 22 June 1876, when she was just a few months pregnant by Edward Harrison. Were both of them already living on the farm? Why remain under the gaze (and, presumably, control) of the father of Mary’s oldest son? What relationship, if any, did John have his biological father? With other Harrisons?

Before recognizing this census entry, I had no evidence of how Mary Brown and Edward Harrison met or whether John Allen knew his father’s identity.

William Lambert Harrison (1845-1919), John C. Allen Sr.’s uncle.

DNA, Maternal Kin, Virginia

DNA Definites, no. 21: Randolph.

I came back from vacation to find a nice new match at R.M. and I are double eighth cousins, as I am descended from two children of Isham and Jane Rogers RandolphThomas 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.)

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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.

Births Deaths Marriages, DNA, Maternal Kin, Virginia

Lineage no. 34.

Back in April, after I connected the dots between my great-grandfather John C. Allen Sr. and Edward C. Harrison, I ran all my information by respected genetic genealogist Angie Bush. She agreed that autosomal DNA testing indicated a very close relationship between my mother and A.B. and that triangulation pointed directly to Edward as their common great-grandfather, but recommended another test that would absolutely eliminate some other line of patrilineal descent. I asked if my uncle would be willing to submit a sample for a Y-DNA analysis, which would show if he, via his father and grandfather, descended from a male Harrison forebear. He agreed without hesitation.

Here’s how it works: The Y chromosome passes down virtually unchanged from father to son. Occasionally, mistakes (or “mutations”) occur in the copying process, and these mutations can be compared to estimate the time frame in which two men share a most recent common ancestor (“MRCA.”) If their test results are a perfect or nearly perfect match, they are related within a traceable timeframe. Per Family Tree DNA, “Paternal line DNA testing uses STR markers. STR markers are places where your genetic code has a variable number of repeated parts. STR marker values change slowly from one generation to the next. Testing multiple markers gives us distinctive result sets. These sets form signatures for a paternal lineage. We compare your set of results to those of other men in our database.”

My uncle sent in his kit in early May, and his results posted a few days ago. The first thing I looked for was FTDNA’s designation of my uncle’s Y-haplogroup. 23andme had assigned him R1b1b2a1a1, which had given me pause because I’d seen the James River Harrisons’ Y-haplogroup listed as R1b1a2. FTDNA’s designation is regarded as more authoritative than 23andme’s, however, so I was anxious to see if the apparent discrepancy remained. It does not. The James City Harrisons’ haplogroup has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date naming conventions and is now R-M269. As is my uncle’s.

I next checked his matches. My uncle took the Y-67 test, which examined markers at four levels, 1-12, 13-25, 26-37, 38-67. I had matches at each level. Upon Angie Bush’s advice, I sent emails to two of my top matches inquiring into their line of descent. I haven’t yet heard back from either of them, but that’s all right.

They are, as are five of the seven top matches,  either named Harrison or Bassett:

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When I referred to the Harrison Y-DNA Project, I saw that lineage #34 (James River & Presidential Harrisons) contained two kits. One (H-4) traced descent to William Henry Harrison, born 1773 in Charles City County, and the other (H-99) to William Henry Bassett, born 1795.


(An explanatory note below stated: “According to family lore, William Henry Bassett b. 1795 was raised by Elizabeth Harrison Rickman, daughter of Benjamin Harrison IV, “The Signer,” and Elizabeth Bassett. William Bassett’s Y-DNA does not match any of the other known Bassett family’s; however, his descendant has a 63/67 match to the James River Harrison line DNA … indicating that in addition to being raised by the Harrison family, William Bassett was likely the son of one of the James River Harrisons.”)

The row of numbers along the top are the STR markers described above. Men whose markers match at 62/67 (or better) share a common ancestor and are grouped into a lineage. The image above only shows 24 markers, but there are actually 67. With H-4, the Presidential line, my uncle matches 63/67. With H-99, the Bassett line, he matches 65/67! John C. Allen Sr. and his patrilineal progeny, then, are members of Lineage 34. Specifically, they descend, in reverse order, from Edward Cunningham Harrison (1847-1908), William Mortimer Harrison (1817-1865), Thomas Randolph Harrison (1791-1833), Peyton Randolph Harrison (1759-1839), Carter Henry Harrison (1729-1796) [the younger brother of Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and uncle of President William Henry Harrison], and Benjamin Harrison IV (1696-1744).


Half-brothers John C. Allen Sr. (1876-1953) and Hugh T. Harrison Sr. (1886-1970), sons of Edward C. Harrison.

Many thanks to all who helped solve this 138 year-old mystery — my mother, my uncle, A.B. and her sister M.H., T.N., and the expert analysis and advice of Angie Bush.

me and andy

My second cousin once removed A.B. and me, May 2015.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Oral History, Virginia

Kin to Thomas Jefferson.

My mother told me this long ago, and today she repeated it: “I don’t know where this came from, but they always used to say that Papa was kin to Thomas Jefferson.”

Thomas Jefferson’s mother was Jane Randolph Jefferson. Jane had a sister, Susannah Randolph, who married Carter Henry Harrison. Carter and Susannah had a son named Randolph Harrison, who had a son, Thomas Randolph Harrison; who had a son, William Mortimer Harrison; who had a son, Edward Cunningham Harrison.

“Papa” was John C. Allen Jr.  Papa was Edward C. Harrison’s son.  And so, as Thomas Jefferson’s first cousin five times removed, Papa was kin indeed.

I’ve always wondered if John Allen knew who his birth father was. This bit of family lore suggests that he did.

Births Deaths Marriages, DNA, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Virginia

DNA Definites, no. 20: Harrison.

Edward Cunningham Harrison … was John C. Allen Sr.’s biological father.

A recap: my great-grandfather’s mother, Mary Brown, married Graham Allen in 1876 in Charles City County, Virginia, during her pregnancy. Except that he was a white man, we knew nothing of John’s birth father’s identity, and I didn’t really expect ever to.

However, a few months ago, I got an estimated 3rd cousin DNA match at Ancestry DNA. I was intrigued. I have only six matches at that level. Three are with known paternal cousins, and all are African-American. Except this one. A.B. is all Great Britain and Ireland and Scandinavia and Europe West.

I sent A.B. a message, and then a follow-up. She responded, and we briefly explored a dead-end or two. I examined A.B.’s family tree more closely. Two of her great-grandfathers were from Richmond, Virginia, which is just up the road from a couple of the counties in which my maternal grandfather’s forebears lived. One of A.B.’s great-grandfathers was Edward C. Harrison; the other, John S. Ellett. I inquired about both men, and she told me that her Harrisons had lived in Charles City County. We were getting warm. I asked A.B. to upload her raw data to Gedmatch, where I quickly determined that she is a solid second cousin match to my mother and maternal uncle. I told her that I believed that we were related through my great-grandfather and that Edward C. Harrison was the right age and in the right place at the right time to have been his father. A.B. immediately asked what she could do to help figure out the connection. I asked if she would test with 23andme, and she readily agreed. So did her sister.

A couple of weeks ago, their results posted. My mother, my uncle, my sister and all six of my first cousins have tested with 23andme. All of us match A.B. and her sister M.H. The closeness of the DNA matches confirm a recent common ancestor, and all signs pointed toward Harrison. I needed to eliminate Ellett though.


A.B. and my mother, 267 cM total match.

In reviewing my matches, I noticed that T.N., a long-time and fairly close match, also listed Harrison among his surnames.


From my mother’s 23andme matches — sisters M.H and A.B., T.N.’s mother, and T.N.

I also found that T.N. matches A.B. and her sister and, most importantly, they all share matching segments of the same chromosomes with my Allens. This “triangulation” proves that all of us descend from a common ancestor.


Partial screenshot of comparisons of chromosome matches of T.N. to my mother, A.B., M.H., and my uncle. (That Chromosome 7 segment gave me life. It’s the stuff of dreams.)

I sent T.N. a message and mentioned that, based on chromosome share, I thought that our common ancestor was William Mortimer Harrison, father of Edward C. Harrison.  T.N. responded, forwarding an old email from his uncle that detailed his family’s history. T.N., in fact, is descended from Edward C. Harrison’s sister Caroline and thus from William M. Harrison, as I’d guessed. He is a third cousin to A.B. and to my mother, and he has no Ellett ancestry. Thus, Edward C. Harrison is confirmed as A.B. and my mother’s direct ancestor. (T.N. is descended from a separate Harrison line through Caroline’s husband James P. Harrison, her distant cousin. Relative chromosome shares between A.B. and my line, however, eliminate James as our common ancestor.)

Through Edward, we are descended from or related to the oldest colonial families of Virginia — Harrisons, Randolphs, and Carters, among others. A signer of the Declaration of Independence. Two presidents. Pocahontas. (Yes.) These families were also owners of several of the large plantation houses still standing in Charles City County, including Westover and Berkeley. (At this time, however, I don’t think that any of my forebears were enslaved in the area.) I’m not sure how John Allen’s mother Mary Brown met Edward C. Harrison or what the nature of their relationship was. She was from Amelia County, and there was a Harrison branch there, but I don’t know if she knew them.

A.B. is ecstatic to learn that her grandfather had a half-brother. So is her sister M. My family, too, is amazed. I’m hoping that, with their help and some deep sleuthing, I will learn more about the circumstances of John Allen’s birth. And I may meet A.B. when she comes to Georgia next month.

The truth will out. DNA tells the tale.