Friday, September 30, 2011

DNA Test Spurs Surprising Discovery: Follow-Up

In answer to your inquiries:

After the discovery John's mother agreed to be tested by 23andMe, which confirmed that John's African ancestry comes exclusively from his maternal side. His mother's Ancestry Painting shows ten percent African, which means that John must have African ancestry from maternal lines other than the Hemings line. Since it is believed that the Hemings/Jefferson children were only 1/8 African, John's (and his mother's) African percentage would be far lower if that were the only line contributing to it. Since Madison Hemings chose to live as a black man in black society, unlike his siblings, it makes sense that his descendants' DNA shows evidence of contributions from additional African ancestors. This is evidenced by John's maternal DNA haplogroup L3e4, which would have been inherited not from Sally, but from Madison's wife Mary Hughes McCoy "a free woman of color" who, like Madison, was of mixed race. Mary had at least one white grandfather, the planter Samuel Hughes who had children with her grandmother Chana and freed her from slavery. John's colorful Ancestry Painting illustrates this tradition of slave owners having domestic relationships and bearing children with their slaves.

I am receiving a lot of responses to the original post and will continue to follow-up when appropriate.

DNA Test Spurs Surprising Discovery of Great Grandfather Thomas Jefferson

You never know what a DNA test might reveal!

A few months back, spurred on by my interest in genetic genealogy, my sister Erin decided to order a DNA test from 23andMe for my brother-in-law John Huffer. John has never known his father, so we didn't really know what his results would show. His mother's family has a strong oral tradition of Native American ancestry, so we expected some mixed ethnicity. What was not expected was his African maternal line DNA haplogroup L3e4 and the five percent African ancestry that was revealed in his Ancestry Painting. (Ancestry Painting is a 23andMe tool that examines the 22 chromosomes one segment at a time and determines for each stretch whether it was most likely inherited from ancestors in Africa, Europe or Asia.)

I had never investigated John's family tree before, but my curiosity was piqued with this result, inspiring me to begin researching it. Fairly quickly it was obvious that his was no run-of-the-mill genealogy. John's mother's line traces straight back to Madison Hemings. That name may be familiar to many as the son of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence. My genealogy research clearly showed that Thomas and Sally are John's fourth great-grandparents!*

John has always especially admired Thomas Jefferson above all other historical figures and felt a special affinity to Monticello when he first visited there ten years ago, although he had absolutely no idea of his familial connection. When I first relayed my findings to John and my sister, they were, understandably, shocked. Once they started browsing the Internet in search of more information, they came across a very familiar photo on one of the websites about Monticello. An original of this very photo had hung in John's house growing up. Further investigation shows that his mother had, at least, a vague knowledge of her family's relationship to Thomas Jefferson and/or Sally Hemings, but did not share it with her children.

There have been a number of interesting "coincidences" in regard to the Huffers and Monticello that make one ponder on genetic memory. When John and my sister first visited Monticello on an anniversary trip ten years ago, they loved it so much that they decided to go back the very next year with their daughter Courtney. When Courtney entered the dining room of Monticello, she promptly passed out. Although her reaction could be attributed to the hot, humid day, it bears notice that this was the one and only time that Courtney has ever fainted. This was long before the family knew about their personal connection to the place or the families that lived there.  Courtney says that although she felt "overwhelmed" at Monticello, she also "felt at home". Last weekend, the family visited Monticello for the first time since discovering their relationship to it and its previous inhabitants. John and Courtney both said that Monticello "seems like a happy place" and they "have a feeling of hominess" there.

Since John had never had any relationship with his father's family and had very little contact with his mother's side after a family dispute, he says it was as if they "had no history". Erin relates, "It's been fun for John to finally have a legacy of some sort, not to mention one as interesting as this," and goes on to say that this discovery has finally given John and his siblings "a sense of who they are and where they came from."

John Huffer posing with a statue of his 4th great grandfather Thomas Jefferson
I am so happy for John, once a fatherless little boy, who can now take comfort and pleasure in the knowledge that he is directly descended from one of the founding fathers of our country! On his visit to Monticello on Sunday, he couldn't help but wonder if his deep love of Paris is simply a coincidence or caused by the same unknown spark that made Thomas Jefferson fall in love with it so long ago. Or, if his interest in the art of brewing beer could have come from his forebearers, whom he learned on his visit were expert brewers at Monticello. It is wonderful for John and his family to finally have these types of questions to ponder that most of us take for granted.

John and Courtney Huffer, descendants of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
DNA testing has come full circle for genetic genealogy with John's story. It is fitting that one of the very first public uses of DNA for genealogical purposes was the Y-DNA test in 1998 that originally addressed the controversy surrounding Sally Hemings' children's paternity. Today, more than a decade later, the simple decision to test with 23andMe is what led John to make this illuminating discovery about himself and his family.

This completely unexpected event has sparked my interest in the fascinating subject of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. As a result, I have decided to organize an autosomal DNA project on the descendants of Sally Hemings. Although it is now generally accepted that Thomas Jefferson fathered all of Sally Hemings' children, it was has been impossible to determine with certainty. The introduction of autosomal DNA testing has changed this. Through autosomal DNA testing I hope to be able to demonstrate that the living descendants of Sally Hemings share blocks of DNA with Jefferson's legitimate descendants. If it is not possible to procure DNA from them, I will seek DNA from descendants of individuals one step further back in Thomas Jefferson's pedigree in an attempt to show that Sally's descendants possess DNA from Jefferson's ancestral lines. [Update - Because Thomas’ descendants through his wife Martha may share DNA with Sally’s descendants through the Wayles connection, I also hope to locate and test Wayles descendants who are not related to Thomas Jefferson in order to determine if any shared DNA can be identified as originating exclusively with the Wayles (or Eppes) Family. (Due to the convoluted nature of the Wayles/Eppes genealogy, it would pose a challenge to determine which one.) Testing the descendants of Jefferson’s uncle and/or brothers to include in the study will be an essential step to isolate Jefferson DNA versus Wayles DNA. It may be of lesser historical significance if this study was able to find DNA evidence confirming that Sally was indeed Martha’s half-sister, but still extremely interesting and well worth exploring. This study is proving to be a long-term and very complex project.] Since autosomal DNA undergoes random recombination with each successive generation, it will be necessary to test the oldest living descendants of these lines. DNA is the perfect tool for this because it does not harbor any prejudice or predetermined notions. Anyone who fits these parameters should contact me at

[*Although some Jefferson researchers had disputed the validity of the claims that Sally's children were fathered by Thomas Jefferson, most of these doubts were put to rest after a 1998 Y-DNA test on Sally's son Eston's direct male line descendants proved that they carry the Y-Chromosome of Thomas Jefferson's male line. Although Madison has no living direct line male descendants to test, it is now widely accepted that all of Sally's children were fathered by Thomas Jefferson, as is supported by oral histories of Sally's descendants and analysis of Sally and Thomas' relationship and time spent together. A detailed look at this evidence is provided by Annette Gordon-Reed in her exhaustive study and Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Hemingses of Monticello". The official Jefferson Monticello website also addresses this issue.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

FTDNA 36-Hour Facebook Sale Today!

I  just received this email from FTDNA:
Thank you for helping us reach 15,000 LIKES on our Facebook page!
To show how much we like you too, we're offering a 36-HOUR SALE!
START: Monday, September 26 (TODAY) at 12:00pm CDT
END: Tuesday, September 27 at 11:59pm CDT
For NEW customers:
Y-DNA 12 . . . $59 (was $99)
mtDNA . . . $59 (was $99)
Y-DNA 37 . . . $129 (was $149)
Family Finder . . . $199 (was $289)
mtFullSequence (FGS) . . . $229 (was $299)

Y-DNA 12 + mtDNA . . . $118 (was $179)
Family Finder + Y-DNA 12 . . . $248 (was $339)
Family Finder + mtDNA . . . $248 (was $339)
Family Finder + Y-DNA 37 . . . $328 (was $438)
Family Finder + mtFullSequence . . . $398 (was $559)
Comp. Genome (FF + mtFullSequence + Y-DNA67)- $597 (was $797)

Upgrades & Add-Ons:
mtDNA add-on $59 . . . (was $89)
mtFullSequence upgrade (HVR1 to Mega) . . . $199 (was $269)
mtFullSequence upgrade (HVR2 to Mega) . . . $199 (was $239)
mtFullSequence add-on . . . $219 (was $289)
Family Finder add-on . . . $199 (was $289)
Prices will be automatically adjusted on the Family Tree DNA website --
no coupon code needed!  
Important: Promotional orders need to be paid for by the 
end of this sale. Visit us at here to order now.
We hope this limited-time sale will give you yet another
reason to "LIKE" us!
Thank you for your support!
Family Tree DNA

[Disclosure - my company StudioINTV has an existing production 
agreement with FTDNA that has no bearing on the opinions I 
express. I also receive a small commission from FTDNA on 
non-sale orders through my affiliate link, which I use to fund 
DNA tests. I receive no other compensation in relation
to any of the companies or products referenced in my blog.] 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Identifying DNA from Great Grandparents Using Second Cousin Comparisons

My recent visit to my great grandparents' San Francisco homes inspired me to contact my second cousin from that line and ask him to donate some DNA to my series on second cousin studies. To my great pleasure, he readily agreed with no persuasion necessary. Happily, this is a case of someone who isn't the slightest bit concerned about the implications of DNA testing.

I just received an email that his sample was received by 23andMe. This is very exciting because it means that I will now have tested second cousins from all of my ancestral lines and I will be able to identify DNA from each of my four great-grandparent couples in myself and my immediate family. To me that is very meaningful. Those of us who study genealogy have spent countless hours searching for tidbits about our ancestors, attempting to know them better. It is gratifying to not only know they are a part of us, but to be able to specifically see evidence of this inside ourselves.

For example, in Part One of my series on second cousins, I found DNA from great-grandfather Matti Wiita Reini (specific to one great-grandparents since it was a 2nd cousin once removed relationship). Part Two revealed DNA from Daniel and Millie (Travis) Proctor and Part Three showed DNA from Willard and Blanche (Purdy) Moore. Part Four, yet to be written, will reveal DNA from George and Fredrikka (Herstad) Allen.

My plan is to map the DNA from each of these ancestors to the specific spots on my chromosomes that match each of my second cousins. This then tells me specifically which parts of my DNA come from which great-grandparents. In doing so, I hope to answer the question that I was asked last week at my presentation on autosomal DNA testing for genealogy, "So what does all this DNA matching really mean?" and to inspire more genealogists to explore DNA testing for genealogical purposes by demonstrating to them just how meaningful it can be.

[Update: Here is a rough chart of my chromosome map so far.]
The start of my Chromosome Map of the DNA inherited from my great grandparents above and adding in some data from third cousins below (Click to enlarge)