Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Genealogy Has Become a Name Collection Game


Like many others, I will take time to click on the green leaf that’s attached to an ancestor or family member in my family tree on I am often led to others’ family trees who have claimed my ancestor/family member as their own. Sometimes the claim is accurate. Unfortunately, many times my ancestor/family member is not theirs at all – two different people with the same first and last names. They failed to verify the connection, their family trees are then consumed with errors, and those errors are duplicated via those green leaves. Sadly, this is a growing phenomenon with online family trees, especially on Genealogy research seems to be becoming a name collection game – people getting a thrill at seeing their family tree expand, copying others' family trees – errors and all – and not verifying the information. Next thing you know, you have numerous incorrect family trees out there.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the green leaves. I am just cautious with them.

Unfortunately, inaccurate family trees may mean that many people are “digesting” and passing on false information about a family’s history. I say this because I have personally heard others, who consider themselves as the family historian, say something like, “I have been researching my family’s history for several years and have traced back to the 1700s.” Then, after further conversation with that person, I realize that the researcher has never turned off the computer from viewing online family trees, along with cursory and non-analytical views of census records, and has never visited any local, state or federal Archives, genealogy libraries, family history centers, cemeteries, courthouses, or other places for records or clues of verification that are not online. The researcher has also not actively explored the many other digitized records on,, and other sites that can add to their reasonably exhaustive search. Additionally, the researcher has not even taken the time to read books, blogs, articles, etc., or has not viewed any webinars, videos, or other online resources on conducting effective genealogy research. Unfortunately, “researching” seems to have become a name-matching sport for many.

My blog posts are usually about how I solved a genealogical mystery or made a cool discovery via genealogy research and/or DNA, to serve as a case study for researchers to learn from. However, I was compelled to write this post because of a recent dialogue that I found troubling.  Last week, I had an online “debate” with a young lady who claimed my great-grandmother's brother, Robert “Bob” Ealy Jr., as her ancestor. Her family was from Craven County, North Carolina and eventually migrated to New York. No records were attached to her family tree. My Ealy family is clearly in Leake County, Mississippi and had been there since c. 1835, when my great-great-grandfather Robert “Big Bob” Ealy’s enslaver, William W. Eley, brought him to Mississippi from Nash County, North Carolina. But because the two men had the same name, she attached my great-granduncle Bob Jr., his parents, and grandparents as her ancestors too and defended her reasoning.

One of her reasons was because she has DNA matches with people either with the Ealy surname or have an Ealy in their tree, as well as my surname, too. My surname (Collier) came from my Dad's adoptive father, George Collier. My family tree, that’s attached to my and my Dad’s DNA profiles, shows my Dad’s biological father, Hulen Kennedy (grandson of Big Bob Ealy). In essence, she concluded that Uncle Bob Ealy Jr. maintained two families at the same time – one in Leake County, Mississippi and one over 800 miles away in Craven County, North Carolina – and died in New York City, while I have documented Uncle Bob Jr., from his birth around 1855, in Leake County, Mississippi, until his death on Oct. 28, 1939, in Leake County, Mississippi. I had found Uncle Bob’s death certificate at the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History over 15 years ago. She seemed to have presumed that my information was inaccurate. Sadly, as of this blog post, she has not corrected her family tree. My concern is that many, who are in her Ealy family, may believe that they also descend from Grandpa Big Bob, and that’s certainly not the case at all. Many have my great-great-grandparents as their ancestors, and they aren’t.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take time to include some tips with this blog post. Genealogy research is a broad subject, so feel free to offer other tips in the Comments section:

TIP #1: Don’t assume that someone with the same name as your ancestor is probably yours, too. If the locations don’t match, seek verification, i.e, direct evidence and/or a collection of circumstantial evidence that proves that he or she is actually your ancestor. Even if there's a location match, still seek verification. Verify, verify, verify!

TIP #2: A woman, who is reported as the wife to the head of household, was often not the mother to all of the children in the household or to the older, grown children in their own households. Try to locate a record that documents the parents’ names in order to verify. Analyze the censuses, marriage records, cohabitation records, or other sources to determine if she became the wife prior to a child’s (or children’s) birth.

Especially apply this tip with former-enslaved people who are found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, and who likely “jumped the broom” into holy matrimony during slavery. For example, Grandpa Robert “Big Bob” Ealy had a daughter, Mary York (wife of Jordan York), around 1840, prior to “jumping the broom” with my great-great-grandmother, Jane Parrott, around 1845. According to my family’s oral history, Mary was known as “Aunt Sis” York, who was Big Bob’s daughter only. The identity of Aunt Sis’s mother is unknown. But since Grandma Jane is Grandpa Big Bob’s documented wife in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, many family trees incorrectly show Grandma Jane as Aunt Sis’s mother, even though Grandma Jane was around 10 years older than Aunt Sis.

TIP #3: If someone’s online family tree on doesn’t have censuses and other records attached to an individual to document his/her existence and connection, don’t add that individual to your family tree as your ancestor, too.  Verify, verify, verify!

TIP #4: Don’t immediately assume that because you are a DNA match to a person or individuals who have a particular surname in their online family trees, that it confirms your ancestral connection to someone with that same surname. It doesn’t. First, people can be related via other lines. Secondly, not everyone with a particular surname are actually related. Thirdly, that person’s family tree might be wrong as two left shoes. Do the research!

TIP #5: A computer program can’t determine who your ancestors are. Therefore, all of the green leaf hints should be analyzed. Verify, verify, verify!

TIP #6: Try contacting the creator of a particular family tree to verify if their ancestor/family member is indeed your ancestor, especially if it’s not obvious. At times, you might even discover that their displayed ancestor is not their ancestor at all.

In other words – verify, verify, verify! It deserved repeating….

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Blog Interview with my African DNA Cousin

Maame Durowah Okai
(Used per permission)

I am elated and honored to feature one of my African DNA cousins, Maame Durowah Okai of Amsterdam, Netherlands, on my blog. If someone had told me five years ago that I will be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them. DNA technology has allowed many of us to learn something about our African ancestry and connect with African cousins.

Many geneticists recommend that one of the best ways to get a glimpse of our African roots utilizing DNA is through DNA matches to living Africans who have also taken one of the autosomal DNA tests – AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA. Many African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans are matching people from the Motherland, and these matches are celebrated. This is to be expected since we are the descendants of many Africans who were taken from an area of West Africa, stretching from present-day Senegal to Angola, as well as from present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. Check out Fonte Felipe’s insightful blog post, “How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry.”

Maame Durowah Okai’s family roots are from Ghana. Her father is Ashanti and her mother is from the Obo Kwahu people, who descends from the Ashanti Empire. Interestingly, historians believe that Harriet Tubman’s African maternal grandmother, Modesty, descends from the Ashanti people. Cousin Maame Durowah took the AncestryDNA test last year, which identified her as 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali.

Incredibly, she is a DNA match to both my father and me at 13 cM (centimorgans). According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), that amount of DNA is in the range of a fourth cousin or further. My chances of figuring out exactly how Cousin Maame Durowah is related on my father's side is astronomically slim. But that's OK. It doesn't matter. What matters greatly is that we carry an identical strand of DNA that originated from a common African ancestor, who was most probably from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana).

Cousin Maame Durowah is doing wonderful works in the Netherlands, and I am proud that she is my African cousin. To spotlight her, I asked her the following four questions about herself, her family, and her thoughts about DNA testing. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to e-mail me the answers to them.

Question 1. What are your current endeavors in Europe?

I was born in the 80s in the Netherlands on a Sunday morning. I was raised in Amsterdam South East by my Ghanaian parents, Nana Yaw Okai & Mercy Ayirebi. I had influences by my Dutch grandma, who is from the Netherlands, named Will Ottens. She lived downstairs and helped my mom out when she rang the bell and when nobody wanted to open the door (due to the Sunday morning). It was only my Dutch grandma that opened the door; this was in the 80's, and knowing the time in the Netherlands with the migrants. My grandma took the chance and helped my mom out and I become part of the family. She had an amazing influence in my life (learning about the Dutch culture up close - best of both worlds). This also gives me the chance to teach and educate people on diversity in the Netherlands; currently writing a project on that.

I am a social worker and a family coach. I have been active in social work and community development. I am the founder and project manager of the Brighter Day Foundation, an international social and community development organization. The Brighter Day Foundation develops creative, social, and community projects to raise awareness, impact, and speak out on social issues.

I am working as a family coach/counselor in a youth team (9-5 job). I don't see it as a 9-5 job. My purpose in being there is to break generational trends by helping people to think beyond the “system” and be self-reliant. My main statement when it comes to my work is, “No one can pay you for the job you do because we give more than we are paid for.’’

In 2018, I will be starting a tour called “The Kingdom Citizen: I Have Never Become Who I Am,” which is based on my book. The aim is to share my story on how I discovered purpose by highlighting different life stories. The teaching element at hand is to show how one can creatively discover purpose through the obstacles in life and maximize their potential by making their “stories” known. This will take place in five major cities in Europe. I am not all knowing, letting one know their Purpose that is in God's hands yet being a tool to discover is a calling. I accepted my calling as a pastor at the age of 30. Before that, I was actively involved in ministry from age 23, becoming serious in the Faith when I was 19. I was raised by a Christian mom; my Dad joined the faith in a later stage.

My faith in God is my foundation and my source of success in life I can proudly proclaim. I travel around as an international speaker, teaching and sharing about the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Kingdom-minded and focused on missions around the world, I mentor the broken and rejected and raise up leaders. I am a woman wearing a mantle of many colors; a signature that reveals myself via my various activities. I am a 'Kingdom' representative breaking the status quo!

(Used per permission)

Question 2.    Why did you take the DNA test and what are your thoughts about it?

On February 15, 2017, I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test just out of curiosity. I saw it several years ago when the African Ancestry DNA stories came out on the internet. My curiosity was about how God can create us with such an amazing DNA and link us to a specific country, yet all being connected some way. I knew I was full Ghanaian, but I was still curious what could come out of it. I had heard about Mali being a part of the history of the Ashanti Empire from my Dad but to know that there is a Mali percentage in my DNA was fascinating!

One thing is for sure, I am a Kingdom Child of God, and I know where I come from. Yet I was given a nation in the land of the living. While sitting on the bus on my way home from London, I received an email with my DNA results. “Well, well,” I exclaimed. This was an interesting combo! Being 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali was interesting! What made the story more interesting were the 15 people who were directly connected to my DNA, surprisingly.

Question 3.    Tell me something about your family roots in Ghana?

Mercy Ayirebi Kwahu (Obo Kwahu) is my mom’s name. She was born to Mr. Alfred Kofi Ayirebi & Mrs. Alice Abena Owarewah (daughter of Kwaku Nyame Danquah and Akosua Tiwah Donkor). My Dad is Nana Yaw Okai - Ashanti (Bonwire). My Dad’s lineage can be traced to Yaa Asantewaa. (Read more about Yaa Asantewaa here). I was told this as a young girl. Grandpa Afrani, we are still on the trace. Mrs. Yaa Durowah, who I was named after, is the daughter of Mrs. Efua Brempomaa & Nana Kwaku.

I was introduced to Ghana at age 10 and fell in love. I celebrated my 11th birthday in Ghana and the plan was for me to stay in Ghana and go to school. But my parents decided to keep me in the Netherlands. That one trip changed my life – my people, the food, the language. I became more interested about my background. We spoke Dutch, English and Twi at home, but learning my dialect became more of interest when I got to age 15. Forcing my parents to teach me the right way, I got myself into the culture, traditions, languages, food, my tribes…everything. I started going there every year, to even twice a year. The vision of the Brighter Day Foundation was born in Ghana. I lived in Ghana while doing my thesis but I had to come back to the Netherlands to finish school. I made up my mind 4 years ago to move to Ghana for a period of 5 years to build up a youth center, but my ways got an encounter, and I came back to the Netherlands to say yes to my calling.

I don’t have an English name. I was named after my Dad’s mother, Maame Durowah. I was born on Sunday - Akosua. In Ghana, they call me Ako or Akosua Durowah. Maame means lady or mother, so that is a general name before your name, which is Durowah (female) in my case. Durowah means medicine which comes from the word Oduro (male version). I was named after my Dad's mother out of love and respect. Okai is my paternal grandfather’s name. I do a lot of first and second generation analogy at work, but lately I am trying to do one of my own family genealogy, and every time I do it, I get to know more.

Maame Durowah Okai’s paternal ancestor, Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

Question 4.    How do you feel knowing that many people of African descent in America are your distant cousins?

It was really surprising when you sent me a private message saying that I was your DNA cousin in America. Even though it’s a small percentage, it is still a match. I have family members by marriage who are African-American, but knowing that, through the DNA test, many others are DNA matches is an eye opener. It opens another chapter of your life; you hear the voices of the unheard and share stories untold.

Maame Durowah Okai in Malta in 2017.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Genealogy Mishap Case: Discovering the True Paternity with DNA

No matter what the oral history said, DNA can say something differently.
What may seem obvious may not be the truth.

Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner (1842-1921) of Panola County, Mississippi

Miscegenation during slavery is a situation that many of us African-American researchers are often confronted with in our family histories. My mother’s maternal grandmother’s mother, Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner, was known to look like a white woman with long straight hair “that reached the floor,” according to family elders. Recently, I discovered that I had the wrong white father attached to her for nearly 20 years! According to her Civil War widow’s pension file, she was born on January 21, 1842 in Union County, South Carolina. Her enslaver, Dr. William J. Bobo, transported her, her mother Clarissa Bobo, and other family members to Mississippi in 1858.

A late family elder remembered her very well. Cousin Robert Danner was 16 years old when his grandmother died in 1921, and he spent a lot of time at her home. From my first interview with him in 1996, until his passing at age 103 in 2008, he shared many details about her. Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery would not have been possible without his priceless memories. He recalled that a man named Sandy Wilbourn visited his grandmother often. He claimed that Sandy was her white half-brother who acknowledged their family relationship, something that was exceedingly rare at that time. Cousin Robert had proclaimed confidently, “Grandma Lue’s father was a Wilbourn.” I uploaded some of the recordings of my oral history interviews with him in this 2013 blog post.

With that huge clue, I researched the censuses and other records, as well as communicated with Wilbourn descendants, and determined that Sandy Wilbourn was William Sanford Wilbourn (1853-1935). He died in Panola County when Cousin Robert was 28 years old. “Sandy” resided in the area where Grandma Lue lived. His father was Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. (1810-1878), so I concluded that Elijah Jr. was the man who had impregnated Clarissa with Grandma Lue and possibly her “mulatto” brother, Eli Bobo (1844-1918), too. Eli was a shorter name for Elijah, so that naming clue carried a lot of weight, in my opinion.

Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. had settled in Panola County, Mississippi also from Union County, South Carolina around 1840, about two years before Grandma Lue was born in South Carolina. I had theorized that he probably traveled back to South Carolina periodically to visit family, and during one of those trips, he made his way onto his former neighbor Dr. William Bobo’s plantation and impregnated Grandma Clarissa. That was my story, and I was sticking to it. Besides, Cousin Robert’s memory of many other people and events of our family history turned out to be accurate, so I had very little reason to question his recollection of Sandy Wilbourn being Grandma Lue’s half-brother.

Grandma Lue’s death certificate reported “Don’t Know” for her father’s name, so I was extremely grateful that he remembered this piece of history. This was very valuable oral history. I soon made an entry in my family tree, closed that chapter, and didn’t put much more thought to this Wilbourn impregnator. Then, DNA hit the scene nearly twenty years later. It told a different story.

In early 2015, a high DNA match appeared in 23andMe. I’ll call him “Cousin D.” He was sharing 100 cM over 4 segments with my mother (79 cM/3 segments with me), 75 cM over 4 segments with her brother, and 75 cM over 3 segments with her sister. These significant amounts indicate a fairly close relationship, possibly in the third cousin range. I also noticed that he was sharing 20 cM with my mother’s 2nd cousin, Cousin MAJ. To my surprise, Cousin D was 99.9% European. How could my family and I share this much DNA with a white person? This was my first thought.

Interestingly, Cousin D was also sharing DNA on the X chromosome with my aunt and uncle. (See chart below.) My mother, her siblings, and Cousin MAJ are great-grandchildren of Grandma Lue and her husband, Edward Danner. Cousin D soon contacted me, and I expressed to him that he appears to be closely connected to Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. of Panola County, Mississippi. Having African-American relatives piqued his interest. But there was one huge issue.

Because Cousin D was sharing X-DNA with my aunt and uncle, this meant that he’s related to us on his mother’s side. Males inherit one X chromosome from their mothers, while females inherit two X chromosomes, one from their mother and one from their father. His late mother was adopted, and he had no knowledge of her biological family. He then hired a professional genealogist to utilize autosomal DNA to build his mother’s biological family tree. This was indeed a challenging feat, but she had great success after administering autosomal DNA tests to numerous key people.

Cousin D’s genealogist determined that he and my mother are 5th cousins, and no one in his immediate family ever resided in Panola County, Mississippi. This was shocking. William Wilburn (1765-1822) of Union County, S.C., who was Elijah Jr’s uncle, was his 3rd-great-grandfather. However, we both felt that Cousin D shares too much DNA with my mother to be her 5th cousin, so something was not jiving. I didn't know what was aberrant, so I left it alone. I needed something compelling to make it a bigger research priority. Well, that “something” soon came.

Cousin D's maternal 2nd cousin, Cousin E, recently took the FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) test, and her raw data file was uploaded to She too shares a lot of DNA and X-DNA with my family, including another one of my mother’s 2nd cousins, Cousin ORN (Cousin MAJ’s 1st cousin). See chart below. This was significant because Cousin D and Cousin E share the same great-grandparents, William Ray and Mary Amanda Wilburn (1855-1935) of Union County, S.C. Mary Amanda’s parents were Joshua Wilburn (1805-1887) and Elizabeth Sparks.  

Cousins D and E’s sharing of X-DNA with my family was very revealing. While my family’s matching X chromosome segments with them came from Grandma Lue’s father, their matching X chromosome segments appear to have come from Mary Amanda. But there was a problem. None of Mary Amanda’s X-DNA ancestors matched the maternal ancestors of Elijah Wilbourn, Jr., who was her father’s first cousin. If Elijah Jr. was Grandma Lue’s father, the X-DNA he passed on to her came from his mother, Mary Roundtree. She was not related to Cousin D and Cousin E. Also, the X-DNA that Mary Amanda’s father passed on to her came from his mother, Susannah Gibbs (1781-1814). This was the second red flag.

Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. inherited all of his X chromosome from his mother, Mary Roundtree. She inherited that X-DNA from both of her parents.

50% of Mary Amanda Wilburn’s X-DNA came from her father’s mother, Susannah Gibbs.

Cousin D’s genealogist also observed that my family share DNA with other descendants of Joshua Wilburn – Cousins A, B, and C. See chart above. All of these autosomal DNA findings point to Grandma Lue’s father likely being either Joshua Wilburn or his twin brother, also named Elijah Wilburn (1805-1889), who were the sons of William Wilburn and Susannah Gibbs, and not Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. (son of Elijah Sr./Mary Roundtree) who migrated to Mississippi. Both of the twin brothers lived and died in South Carolina. Fortunately, there was additional evidence.

I performed the “People Who Match One of Both of 2 Kits” option in between Cousin E and Cousin MAJ since they share the largest amount of DNA at 111 cM over 5 segments. The purpose was to see who else shared DNA with both of them. As expected, my family appeared among their mutual matches. I also noticed a DNA match that was among my mother’s DNA matches in FTDNA who attached a family tree to his account. I am calling him “Cousin F.” Being able to view a family tree among shared DNA matches was essential to try to determine a common ancestor. Cousin F’s extensive family tree revealed that he indeed shares common ancestors with Cousins A, B, C, D, and E.  His 3rd-great-grandmother was Elizabeth Gibbs, a sister of Susannah Gibbs’ father, James Gibbs. Elizabeth and James’ parents were John Gibbs (1716-1770) and Susanne Phillipe (1720-1786).

In a process known as manual triangulating, I viewed Cousin F’s “One-to-Many Matches” in I then selected my family and Cousin E and viewed their matching chromosomes on the 2-D chromosome browser. Interestingly, Cousin F shares long overlapping chromosome segments with my family and Cousin E on chromosome 9. See figure below. I verified that they all match each other on chromosome 9. This indicates that everyone descend from a common ancestor.

Cousin F matches family members on overlapping chromosome segments on Chromosome 9

In 23andMe, this section of my mother’s chromosome 9 is identified as Northwestern European.

DNA is indicating that Grandma Lue had Gibbs ancestry. This served as additional DNA evidence that her father was likely Joshua Wilburn or his twin brother, Elijah (1805), sons of Susannah Gibbs. However, if Joshua and his twin brother Elijah (1805) were identical twins, they would share 100% identical DNA with each other. Full siblings and fraternal (non-identical) twins share around 50% of identical DNA. Therefore, Grandma Lue would share DNA with both Joshua and Elijah (1805) in the parent/child range (approx. 3,600 cM) if they were identical twins. If Joshua was the father, then Cousins A, B, C, D, and E are half 3rd cousins to my mother, her siblings, and Cousins MAJ and ORN. However, my speculation now is that they were identical twins, and Elijah Wilburn (1805) was her father. Then, Cousins A, B, C, D, and E are half 4th cousins genealogically but half 3rd cousins genetically. This revelation would have never been discovered had it not been for DNA technology.

This AncestryDNA match shares 34 cM / 1 segment with my mother. Elijah Wilburn (1805) is his 3rd-great-grandfather.

Acknowledgement: Special acknowledgement is given to Clarise Soper, CG for her great work in utilizing DNA to discover Cousin D's maternal ancestors. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Cousins Mack Danner and his sister, Henrietta Danner Bacon, two of the five children born to my great-grandmother’s brother, Alexander K. Danner (1865-1905), and his wife, Lou Anna Brunt Danner of Panola County, Mississippi

Many of us genealogy hobbyists and genealogists warn people about the "mulatto" notation in the censuses. It doesn't automatically mean that the person had a parent of a different race. Most times, the census-taker saw a person who wasn't racially "pure." Check out this case.

Uncle Jack, the oldest of my great-great-grandparents' 12 children, who was born in slavery c. 1846, was consistently reported as "mulatto" in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. The rest of his household were noted as "Black". Also, the rest of the 12 children were always reported as "Black" in the censuses.

Many of us probably have family cases where the oldest child (or not the oldest) was fathered by a white man, but the mother's husband raised that child as his child, too. Thus, that "mulatto" child took the stepfather's surname. Was this the case with Uncle Jack? Let's see. This is the evidence at hand:

(1) Oral history, that was told by family elders in the 1970s and recorded in the family reunion booklets, noted Uncle Jack as one of my great-great-grandparents' children.

(2) None of the family elders living within the past 15 years ever said anything about Uncle Jack not being the biological son of my great-great-grandfather.

(3) DNA: At least 5 great-great-grandchildren of Uncle Jack took an autosomal DNA test. All of them match my father, from 60 cM/6 segments to 149 cM/9 segments. Uncle Jack and my father's grandmother were siblings, therefore they are my father's second cousins twice removed (2C2R). According to ISOGG, the average amount of DNA for 2C2R is 53 cM, the same as 3rd cousins. So the average for half 2C2R would be 26.5 cM. Therefore, the DNA sharing amounts with these cousins don't suggest a half relationship with Uncle Jack.

(4) DNA: A "father-to-son" great-grandson of Uncle Jack's younger brother took the 23andMe test, which provides a paternal haplogroup that is passed down from father to son for many generations. His paternal haplogroup is E-M54 (African), which would be my great-great-grandfather's paternal haplogroup. Recently, a "father-to-son" great-great-grandson of Uncle Jack took the 23andMe test. His paternal haplogroup is also E-M54.

(5) DNA: My great-great-grandfather was taken away from Nash County, North Carolina and brought to Mississippi. It is clear that he left behind close kin in N.C. My father is sharing very good amounts of DNA (119 cM, highest amount) with people from Nash County. Those N.C. DNA cousins are also sharing DNA with Uncle Jack's descendants.

(6) DNA: Although my great-great-grandfather had at least 12 children with his wife, my great-great-grandmother, he also fathered children by other women during slavery. Descendants from those children have also taken an autosomal DNA test. Most of them are sharing DNA with Uncle Jack's descendants. There is even the phenomena of overlapping DNA segments (triangulation) with both groups, which indicates descendancy from a common ancestor. (Will show this in a future blog post.)

Conclusion: I haven't gotten a Y-DNA test done on the two male cousins mentioned in No. 4, and that would serve as the ultimate DNA proof. However, the evidence at hand very strongly indicates that Uncle Jack was simply much lighter-complexioned than the rest of his younger siblings and was my great-great-grandfather's biological son. (Note: European ancestry has been detected in my great-great-grandmother's lineage).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Adoptee's DNA Leads to Porter Ties

Meeting Cousin Rhonda for the first time in Silver Spring, Maryland

On May 4, 2015, my cousin Orien Reid Nix sent me an inquiry e-mail. An adoptee, Rhonda Roorda, contacted her because she is searching for her biological parents. Born in Rochester, NY, the award-winning author of In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption, and also a consultant for the NBC TV series “This Is Us,” had taken two autosomal DNA tests (FTDNA & AncestryDNA). Rhonda also uploaded her raw data file to Cousin Orien and Rhonda share 44 cM of identical DNA on chromosome 3, with an additional 21 cM on the X chromosome. That amount suggests the third cousin range. Cousin Orien asked me if it is possible if Rhonda is related via our Danner-Bobo line. As second cousins, my mother and Cousin Orien are both the great-granddaughters of Edward Danner Sr. (1832-1876) and Louisa Bobo Danner (1842-1921) of Panola County (Como), Mississippi. Utilizing the chromosome browser in GEDmatch, I soon realized three key things: 

(1) Rhonda also shares 17 cM with my mother’s brother on chromosome 15 and 18 cM on the X chromosome, which overlaps with the 21 cM she shares with Cousin Orien on the X.  

(2) Rhonda also shares 20 cM on the X with my mother in the same spot. These overlapping segments, where everyone is matching each other on the same chromosome spot, mean that they all inherited that identical DNA from a common ancestor.

(3) Rhonda is also sharing 9 to 19 cM of identical DNA with four other descendants of Edward and Louisa Danner.

Therefore, the answer to Cousin Orien’s question was a resounding YES. Rhonda is our cousin via Edward and/or Louisa Danner. But how? I also noticed that they all are sharing DNA with three people with the last name PORTER. For privacy purposes, I will call them Cousins A, B, and C. Those matches would prove to be very conducive to honing in on the family connection and some of Cousin Rhonda’s ancestry.

Months later, a new AncestryDNA match (Cousin D) appeared among my mother’s DNA matches. She shares 63 cM over 2 segments with my mother, and the “Shared Matches” include six other descendants of Edward & Louisa Danner who took the AncestryDNA test. Luckily, Cousin D attached a public family tree to her profile. I didn’t see any common ancestors, but she had PORTERs in her family tree. I soon discovered that she, as well as Cousins A, B, and C, all descend from a couple named Albert Porter and Fillis Whitlock Porter via two of their 12 children. Cousin Rhonda is also sharing significant DNA with Cousins A, B, C, and D, from 34 to 134 cM. Two other Porter descendants, Cousins E and F, were also sharing weighty amounts of DNA with us, particularly Rhonda. See chart below.

DNA Sharing Between Rhonda and Porter Descendants (Cousins A, B, C, D, E, and F)

This analysis revealed that Cousin Rhonda is a descendant of Albert & Fillis Porter, and one of them was closely-related to Edward or Louisa Danner. The major commonality between the two couples is location. Grandma Louisa “Lue” was enslaved by Dr. William Bobo, who transported her, her mother Clarissa Bobo, and her numerous siblings to Panola County, Mississippi in 1858 from Union County, South Carolina. On a trip back to South Carolina in 1859, Dr. Bobo purchased Grandpa Edward from the Thomas Danner Jr. estate of Union County and brought him back to Mississippi. According to his Civil War pension file, he had been born on the Danner farm, which is why he kept the Danner surname. He never saw his family back in South Carolina again. Edward and Louisa subsequently married in 1860.

Albert & Fillis Porter were found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, residing in Union County! Albert was born around 1838 in South Carolina, and Fillis was born around 1840, also in South Carolina. After 1880, they and their children later migrated into Spartanburg County, near Wellford, where their family tree grew by leaps and bounds. They became members of the Upper Shady Grove Baptist Church (aka New Shady Grove Baptist Church) near Wellford.

Cousin Rhonda and the Porters are not sharing DNA with family members related via Grandma Louisa, who was fathered by a white man named Elijah Wilbourn Jr., according to oral history (DNA-proven). Therefore, the connection strongly appears to be via Grandpa Edward. When the Danners sold Edward to Dr. Bobo, they also sold most of their 20+ slaves to raise funds for their pending move to Grant County, Arkansas. Thomas’ widow, Nancy Bates Danner, and their sons only kept a woman named Harriet Danner, possibly Edward’s sister, and her seven children and took them to Arkansas in 1859. Edward’s parents and siblings were sold to other slave-owners, but I haven’t been able to uncover the names and whereabouts of Edward’s displaced family members and who may have purchased them. This has been a longtime mystery.

However, these DNA findings with Cousin Rhonda and the Porters are leading me to believe that Albert may have been Edward's brother, due to the amount of DNA my family is sharing with them. So I started digging to try to prove or disprove it. Here’s what I found.

Research Finding #1

In the online Freedmen's Bureau records, now accessible at, I found an 1865 labor contract for Albert & Phillis (Fillis) Porter, being contracted for their labor in Union County, S.C. by M.S. Porter. These contracts “consist of agreements between freedmen laborers and planters stating terms of employment, such as pay, clothing, and medical care due the freedman; the part of the crop to be retained by him; and whether a plot for growing subsistence crops was to be provided.” (Source) M.S. Porter was likely the last slave-owner who entered Albert and Fillis into a labor contract shortly after enslaved people were emancipated.

1865 Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contract – M.S. Porter & Albert and Phillis (Read full contract here) 
"South Carolina, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872," images, FamilySearch ( : 21 May 2014), Union district, Roll 105, Labor contracts, series II, A-S, 1866

Research Finding #2

Per the censuses, M.S. Porter was Marion Sandford Porter. He was only 21 years old in 1860 and was reported as being a planter. I checked the 1860 slave schedule, and M.S. Porter (spelled Poter in the census) owned five slaves:

(1) 21-year-old black male
(2) 18-year-old mulatto female
(3) 10-year-old mulatto female
(4) 3-year-old mulatto male
(5) 1-year-old mulatto male

The 21-year-old black male fits the profile of Albert Porter. Perhaps, the 18-year-old mulatto female may be Fillis? She was noted as being “mulatto” in the later censuses.

Research Finding #3

Fillis died in 1921 in Spartanburg County. Luckily, her death certificate was found on Her father’s name was simply written as "Stark." Her mother’s name was reported as being Mary Whitlock. Since she is reported as being mulatto in the censuses, I wondered if her father may have been white, keeping in mind that the census-taker’s mulatto notation was likely based on appearance. But who was “Stark”? I immediately found my answer. It appears that he was a white man named Stark Whitlock, born in 1818. His father was Bennett Whitlock (1790-1859), whose 1859 estate record included a slave inventory. Among the enslaved were a woman named Phillis and her oldest son, Dennis. In my extensive research of Grandma Louisa’s family, I haven’t found any ties to the Whitlocks. Interestingly, Cousin Rhonda shares sizeable amounts of DNA with numerous white Whitlock descendants.

Research Finding #4

Marion Sandford Porter's father was Hancock Porter, who died in 1852 in Union County. Per the 1850 slave schedule, Hancock owned 12 slaves. His estate record revealed that he did not own an enslaved male named Albert. Therefore, young Marion appeared to have acquired Albert from somebody before 1860. Cousin C mentioned that the oral history in the Porter family relays that Albert had been sold to the Porter family and had been separated from own his family. Another descendant, Marvin Porter, also shared with me that their oral history also sadly claims that Albert was used to breed children during slavery. This history was written in a 1987 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the Porter family.

1987 Philadelphia Inquirer Article (Shared by Rhonda Roorda) 
McCabe, Barbara. “Bus Driver Discover Road to Relatives.” The Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia, PA] 9 July 1987: Page 30-M. Print. 

The Porter Family’s oral history is matching up with the documented history about Grandpa Edward Danner – the sad saga of enslaved families being permanently separated. I am theorizing, with a high level of certainty, that Albert and Edward were brothers who got sold and took different surnames. This was not uncommon. I have no doubt that future DNA testing (and/or more genealogical research) will help to solve this case. Stay tuned.

Cousin Rhonda was recently invited down to Spartanburg, South Carolina to meet some of the descendants of Albert & Fillis Porter, who have held a number of family reunions and who garner a great pride in their family history. The resemblances to Rhonda were quite noticeable. She shared, “It was a real blessing to be in Spartanburg this past weekend and have the opportunity to meet some of these amazing relatives. The fact that family members arranged a welcome gathering for me was quite humbling and beautiful. The elders were so happy that they could meet me, as I was them. It was a great trip.” Incredibly, her DNA match to my Danner family led to a wonderful discovery – the Danners and Porters are blood kinfolks. Our family histories added a special meaning to our biological connection. However, the best outcome will be when Cousin Rhonda uncovers the identity of one or both of her biological parents. That day will come.

Cousin Rhonda with relatives in Spartanburg, South Carolina 
(Shared by Rhonda Roorda)