Sunday, June 19, 2016

DNA Uncovers an Unknown Brother

Recently, this new “predicted 4th cousin” DNA match appeared among my AncestryDNA matches:

Fortunately, "Ms. Herron" had a small public family tree. It only contained the names of her deceased parents, Richard Herron (born in 1913) and Nunnie Mae Sargent (born in 1929). Both were born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. It also contained the names of her maternal grandparents. Since she was sharing 49 cM over 4 chromosome segments, I assumed that our MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) may be discoverable. That amount of DNA falls in the range of third to fourth cousins. See ISOGG sharing chart here. However, I was not aware of anyone in my family being in Tallahatchie County. (Note: I have tested my mother with AncestryDNA, and Ms. Herron shares 65 cM/5 segments with her.)

Have you ever seen or heard a name, and you swear that you have seen or heard that name before? You think hard about where you have encountered the name, but to no avail. Then, out of the blue, your memory is jarred. That happened upon seeing the Herron surname. It looked familiar to me. Where on earth have I seen that name before? I wondered.

Several weeks later, my memory was suddenly sparked when I was not thinking about it. I was looking at the profile of one of my DNA matches, named Ivy, whose connection I was aware of. Ivy shares 15.9 cM over 2 chromosome segments with me. Her great great grandfather, Random Briscoe of Marshall County, Mississippi (born c. 1816), and my mother’s great great grandmother, Margaret “Peggy” Milam of Tate County, Mississippi (born c. 1829), were siblings. She’s my mother’s 4th cousin and my 4th cousin once removed.

Uncle Random and Grandma Peggy’s parents were Adam (born c. 1783) and Sarah (born c. 1798). The family had been previously enslaved by Edward Warren (1775-1842) in Williamson County, Tennessee and Marshall County, Mississippi, before the family was split up in several different directions by 1845. I clicked on “Shared Matches,” and “Ms. Herron” appeared. She also matches Ivy. I suddenly remembered that the Herron surname was connected to Edward Warren. One of his daughters, Nancy Ann Warren (1810-1845), married a man named John Herron (1806-187?).

I quickly retrieved the genealogical information I had collected on Edward Warren’s family, to verify the migration of John & Nancy Herron. Lo and behold, they had migrated to Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Nancy had died there in 1845. John died there after 1870. Therefore, I started to focus on Ms. Herron’s father’s lineage. However, before I reveal my findings, I feel that I need to recap more about Grandpa Adam and Grandma Sarah and their children to highlight a few significant things first.

After Edward Warren brought them to Marshall County, Mississippi in the 1830s from Tennessee, he fell on hard times. He wrote a bill a sale on August 14, 1839, to sell Adam (age about 55), Sarah (age about 40), and their children, Random (23), Sam (14), Margaret (10), and Caledonia (8), to his cousin, James Warren Briscoe. See below. I don’t know what transpired after the bill of sale, but they were never sold to James. Random was sold to his brother, Notley Warren Briscoe. Read more about that discovery here. My great great great grandmother Margaret (Peggy) and her brother Sam were sold to Joseph Milam of Tate County. My November 2014 blog post, DNA Does It Again – Another Long Lost Sibling Found!, discloses how DNA led me to find Aunt Caledonia in Arkansas.

. . . the party of the first part (Edward Warren) do hereby bargain sell and confirm to the party of the second part (James W. Briscoe) all the following described property to wit: six negroes viz; Adam aged about 55 years, Sarah aged about 40 years, Sam aged about 14 years, Margaret aged about 10 years, Calidonia aged about 8 years, Random aged about 23 years and one half of the growing crop of cotton in cultivation by the party of the first party...

After finding this bill of sale, I wondered if Grandpa Adam and Grandma Sarah had more children who were not named in that deed record. Edward Warren’s estate record verified that they were a longtime married couple, although their marriage was never legally recorded due to the unjust laws of the land. Also, I should add that both Grandma Peggy Milam and Aunt Caledonia Ellis named one of their sons Henderson, but Grandma Peggy’s son was mostly called “Hence.” The great great granddaughter of Aunt Caledonia’s son, Henderson Ellis of Camden, Arkansas, shares 51 cM over 4 chromosome segments with my mother and 42 cM over 3 chromosome segments with me. I wondered about the name Henderson.

Now, I will reveal my findings of Ms. Herron’s paternal family tree. Researching census records in, I found her father, Richard Herron, living in a household headed by his father, Eddie Herron, in Tallahatchie County. Eddie was born around 1878 in Mississippi. Therefore, I decided to research the 1880 census to find the name of Eddie’s father. My eyes bucked when I saw 2-year-old Eddie Herron living in the household of his father, Henderson Herron! His age was reported as 65, and his reported birthplace was Tennessee. They were enumerated in the Oakland district of Yalobusha County, Mississippi. The western city limits of the town of Oakland is the Yalobusha/Tallahatchie County line. Eddie’s Social Security application in verified that Henderson was his father. Let’s look at the names of Henderson Herron’s young children, particularly the ones with the red arrows.

Source: 1880 U.S. Census, Oakland, Yalobusha County, Mississippi. Household of Henderson Herron, Line 8-17. Year: 1880; Roll: 669; Family History Film: 1254669; Page: 202A; Enumeration District: 208; Image: 0607. Source: Ancestry.Com. 

Henderson Herron named three of his children ADAM, SARAH, and MARGARET! Naming patterns are very often great clues to identifying family members. Many enslaved African Americans named their children after their parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, etc. Historian Herbert Gutman wrote extensively on the topic of naming patterns in his book, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925.

To be sure that John Herron owned “human property” in Tallahatchie County, I researched the 1850 slave schedule. Indeed, twelve (12) African Americans were enslaved by him. His oldest enslaved male was reported as 34 years old. Since the slave schedules do not contain their names, we can only assert with high certainty that the 34-year-old male was most probably Henderson. John Herron died after slavery, so his estate/probate record will not contain “human property.” Fortunately, his son’s picture, grave, and biography were in FindAGrave, which provided the following information:

“From Panola County History, p. 372: William Andrew Herron's paternal grandparents were Thomas Herron (1786-1823) & Mary Herron of Williamson County, TN. They had 8 children. John Herron (1806-?) was the second child. He married Nancy Ann Warren on Dec. 20, 1832, in Williamson County, TN. After Thomas Herron died in 1823, his widow Mary moved in 1836 with her family to the Long Branch community of Yalobusha County, MS. John & Nancy Warren Herron accompanied his mother Mary Herron to MS, and their first child, William Andrew Herron, was born in Hardeman County, TN, en route to MS. Mary and her son John and their families later moved to Tallahatchie County. After Nancy's death, John remarried and moved to Panola County, and his mother, Mary Herron, moved to Ellis County, TX.” (Source)

Based on the evidence presented, as well as the DNA evidence, I theorize with much certainty that Henderson Herron was another son of Adam and Sarah and Grandma Peggy Milam’s older brother. Henderson was Ms. Herron's great grandfather. This would make us to be third cousins twice removed who share 49 cM of DNA over 4 chromosome segments. Perhaps, when Nancy Ann Warren married John Herron in 1832, her father may have "gifted" or sold Uncle Henderson to them. He was around 17 years old. I hope to find a deed of gift, bill of sale, or similar record in the future. I can’t help but wonder if Grandma Peggy ever saw him again. The area in Tallahatchie County where the Herrons resided was about 40 miles south of where Grandma Peggy eventually ended up in Tate County. She became the mother of 13 children. If they didn’t reunite then, they are now reunited, spiritually. Thanks to DNA!

Slave Ancestral Research Tips From this Discovery:

(1)   Study the slave-owner’s family tree. Note the names of his daughters and their husbands. Document the migration patterns of the former enslaver’s children. Some of your family members may have been taken to those places.
(2)   A genealogical record, such as the enslaver’s will, estate record, deed record, etc., may not always contain all of the children of a particular enslaved woman. Consider the possibility that some children may have been sold or transferred to an enslaver’s son or daughter before he died.
(3)   Pay attention to the names that your enslaved ancestors gave to their children. Naming patterns are solid clues.
(4)   Google searches can led you to some great information. Do effective “googling”. However, try to verify all found information.


  1. Your slave research tips are 'spot on' Melvin! I have used them to break several brick walls. Estate wills and inventories have been essential in my research! Great Article! Congratulations on your findings! Happy hunting :-)

  2. Good work, and congrats, as always!


  3. Another Gem from my Genealogy Teacher! Even though U are not a father, U are a Father to us all , helping us navigate our findings, Thanks as always for sharing.

  4. You give me such hope and inspiration to continue my searching. (That and my own healthy genealogical obsession will assure that I keep up the research!). Thank you for sharing your discoveries and your knowledge!

  5. Melvin, STUNNING AND AWESOME as always! You truly are a blessing to the genealogy community!

  6. Herron~~~I am related to two Herron women in fact both have the same last name~~~I am a genetic match for one of the Herron Ladies~~~~ Please inbox me in the FB private messages~~~ I am on GedMatch~~~

  7. Detective Melvin cracks ANOTHER case!

  8. I love the tips you provided at the end. Great investigating!

  9. Great article! Interestingly, while researching my Simmons line, I discovered a "deed of gift" in which a six year old enslaved boy, also named Henderson, was given by William Hill to Sally Hill Simmons and her husband, Mastin Simmons, in 1836 in Stokes County, NC. Mastin Simmons was my first cousin, 5x removed. In 1870, Henderson Simmons, then 39 years old and a free man, was shown with his wife and 7 children in the federal census living next to Sarah (Sally) Simmons and her family, having taken the Simmons surname for his own. Of course, his paternity was not actually through the Simmons family, but his race in the census was shown as "mulatto" so I was left wondering if his father was a Hill. I have a 5th cousin named Simmons who is also researching the Simmons line and he met a descendant of Henderson Simmons last year at the Stokes County Gen. Soc. swap meet. My cousin paid for a DNA test, both autosomal and Y, for the descendant of Henderson. The autosomal test shows him to be 74% African and 26% European. There were only 3 matches on the Y DNA test, but two out of the three are Hills.

  10. Another awesome discovery and story. Love it!

  11. Although I may not know who my biological family is, through dna matches with the Edwards family, and the information in your blogs, I am able to see connections with my dna matches to many of the families listed in your blog. I have matches with the Herron, Briscoe and the Cauthen name. One of John Herron's Grandchildren married a Cauthen. I can at least trace the history of my African American ancestors. Thank you for the history.

  12. Thanks Melvin, this post is really helpful! I appreciate how you tie the evidence together to bring the history of several families into visibility. See similarities to working with records from PR; following naming patterns and slaveholding family there too.


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