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)


  1. Hello Melvin J. Collier. I am so happy for Cousin Rhonda. Do ask her to consider checking to see if we match. My kit is called Bronzeville. She may match Kit A776109. Sherry Williams

  2. Melvin, as always you have a way of articulating famiky history that captivates your audience as well as places each of us in the arena as if we were there! This truly wmis a remarkable story and one I plan to follow.....somehow!

  3. Thanks for sharing this incredible story. Looking forward to see the follow up of new discoveries.


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