Friday, November 25, 2016

Talk About Twists And Turns And Crumbling Brick Walls: DNA Confirms My Penny Lineage

Ok, this is a story that's going to make many of my family members' heads spin, but I'm excited about this post because it is a fun story about the many ties that bind!

Before I get started here's a brief look at my paternal family tree for the reader's benefit of understanding this article.



In August of 2015, I wrote a blog about ending my 9 year search for my 2nd great-grandmother's maiden name, Mamie (Penny) BentonIn the months that followed, I'd spent some time researching her family tree and I came across some possibilities, but I had no direct evidence to support my theories.  Since her death certificate did not have her parents names listed, I tried studying census records looking for families with the surname PENNY living in Gramercy, Louisiana in (St. James Parish) as well as Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  

According to her death certificate, Mamie died in Gramercy at the age of 38 in 1917.  My late great aunt, Marguerite (Jackson) Vernell, told me that her mother, my great-grandmother, Artimease Benton, and her siblings, all the children of Mamie Penny and Edward Benton, were born in St. James Parish so I assumed that Mamie's family was from that parish. Unfortunately, all my search attempts turned up empty so I set my sights on studying Penny families in Baton Rouge.  In addition, I realized I failed to take into account that "Mamie" was potentially a nickname used in place of "Mary." 

That's when my fortunes changed.

Since Mamie was born around 1878 according to her death certificate, I started looking for "Mary Pennys" born within a five year time frame and I had two hits: One Mary Penny, born in 1876, living in East Baton Rouge Parish on the 1880 US Federal Census and the other was born in April of 1877 living in the same Parish in 1900.  Fortunately, both hits were the same woman in the same households:


1880 US Federal Census - East Baton Rouge Parish, 1st Ward, Enumeration District 103

Head of Household: Jack Penny; age 44; Birthplace: Missouri. 
Wife: Maria Penny; age 29; Birthplace: Alabama. 
Son: David Penny; age 8 
Daughter: Mary Penny; age 4
Daughter: Luella Penny; age 4 

- Jack states his father was born in Africa and his mother was born in Tennessee
- Maria states both parents were born in Georgia
- All their children were born in Louisiana

1900 US Federal Census - East Baton Rouge Parish, 1st Ward, Enumeration District 27

Head of Household: Jack Penny; age 59; Birthplace: Missouri. 
Wife: Marie Penny; age 46; Birthplace: Alabama
Son: David Penny; age 28 
Daughter: Mary Penny; age 23 
Daughter: Ella Penny; age 19 
Daughter: Else Penny; age 18 
Daughter: Odeal Penny; age 13 
Son: James Penny; 8 months 

Jack states both parents were born in Missouri
- Maria states both parents were born in Georgia
- All their children were born in Louisiana

I also tracked this family in 1870 and discovered "Jackson & Maria Penny," ages 36 and 22 respectively, living in St. James Parish during enumeration.  There were no kids listed. Both were also born in Missouri and Alabama, respectively.  Lastly, I obtained Maria Penny's death certificate under the name "Mariah" Penny.  It listed her as the widow of Jack Penny. It also stated that she was born in Macon County, Alabama and born to Sam and Della GREEN.  The informant was "Della Harris" who I presumed was her daughter, "Odeal," but I wasn't sure.

I had a strong hunch these were the Penny's I was looking for but without stronger circumstantial evidence I couldn't draw that conclusion so I shelved this project for a while and move on to other things.

Then, something happened that I never expected...


At the end of 2015, I had a conversation with my cousin, Carol Simmons, about taking a DNA test. I was telling her how awesome and interesting this journey has been tracing ancestry through DNA and so I suggested that she try it. Referring back to my pedigree chart at the top of this post, my great-grandfather was Emanuel Willis, Jr. Carol Simmons is the grandchild of Emanuel's older sister, Irene (Willis) Simmons. My hope was that Carol's DNA would add to the growing list of Willis relatives that contributed DNA samples furthering my research on the Willis line.  She contacted me in the summer of 2016 to let me know that she took the test and her results were in.  I couldn't wait to login and see how she compared with the other Willis relatives, but what I found out was that she not only matched my father, his paternal uncle Edward Willis, myself and cousins who descended from Willis',  but she also matched my great aunt, Marguerite (Jackson) Vernell. The startling thing about this fact was that Marguerite is my grandfather's half-sister on their mother's side

My great-grandmother, Artimease Benton, married Emanuel Willis and from this union four children were born: 

  • Sanders Willis Sr, my grandfather
  • Brenetta Willis
  • Ruth Willis
  • Edward Willis 

Emanuel died at the age of 28. Some years later, Artimease married her 2nd husband named Will Jackson and from that union, one child was born: my Aunt Marguerite (Jackson) Vernell, therefore, Aunt Marguerite is not a Willis. How in the world could Carol Simmons, a descendant of Willis' match my Aunt Marguerite who is not the daughter of a Willis?


Carol's Matching Segments with Willis Descendants and Marguerite Vernell 

I called Carol as soon as I became aware of this information and I immediately started asking her questions about other branches of her family tree. I discovered that her mother, Delores (Coates) Simmons was the daughter of a woman whose maiden name was Margareat PENNY. Margareat Penny was the daughter of David Penny, the oldest child of "Mariah" Penny--according to oral family history (as told by Margareat Penny). No one ever mention the name Jack Penny so Carol was unfamiliar with him, but her family was familiar with "Aunt Della Harris" - the same person named "Odeal" on the 1900 census!

As crazy as it sounds, this is how I confirmed my relationship to Jack and Mariah Penny--they were, in fact, my 3rd great-grandparents.

From Slave to Soldier: Jackson Penny

As I continued to research the Penny family, I discovered that Jack Penny served in the Union as a United States Colored Troop (USCT) during the Civil War.  Below is the United States Civil War Widows' Pension Index Card to pension applications filed between 1861-1934:


Jack Penny's Certificate of Promotion
The card indicates that Jack initially served in Company G, 8th Regiment of the Corp d'Afrique, the first militia of African Americans organized from the Louisiana Native Guard to truly serve as combat soldiers in the Civil War and not just as war laborers.  The 8th Regiment of the Corp d'Afrique, which fought and won major battle at Port Hudson, Louisiana, was later reorganized into the 80th Regiment of the USCT.  By the end of Jack's service, he was promoted from Private to Corporal, then from Corporal to Sergeant.


Jack Penny's Discharge Papers
I ordered the widow's pension Mariah filed in 1902 after Jack's death from the National Archives in Washington, DC and discovered a tremendous amount of genealogical information in her file.  In a firsthand account during her deposition, Mariah corroberates the information in her death certificate--that her maiden name is GREEN and that she was born in Macon County, Alabama.  She states her family were the slaves of "Russ Bridges" and that her parents "took her to Texas for safe keeping" when the war broke.  They lived six miles from Marshall, Texas where she was "hired out by a man in Jonesville named 'Lang' who was a furniture dealer."  It was during this time she met Jack Penny on the train going from Jonesville to Marshall, Texas and stated that "he fell in love with me at once, and he began writing to me afterwards, but we got engaged on the train." They were later married at the home of "Arch Penny," Jack's brother who later moves to Champaign, Illinois with his family and takes their mother, Elsie Penny, with them.

When discussing her husband's life, Mariah states that Jack told her he was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and that his family was "owned by a man named 'Penny' who raised wheat.  She even states that she owned a picture of him and that his brother, Archie, had the only other known picture of Jack. 

November 23, 2016. Carol sent me a copy of a 1995 Penny Family Reunion Program that details the descendants of Mariah Penny.  Nothing is mentioned about Jack and the program is centralized around the descendants of David Penny primarily, which is understandable because Jack died in 1902, his daughter, Mamie, died in 1917 and his wife, Mariah, died two years later.  The oral information gathered came primarily from David's daughter, Margareat who wasn't born until 1909.  Several of David's siblings are missing from this program and it is unclear why this information was lost to their oral history...until now.

Here is an updated pedigree of my paternal grandfather's ancestry including the Penny Lineage.  Notice the double kinship to Carol on both sides of my grandfather's family.


In 2009, just after the birth of my first child, I attended Aunt Marguerite Vernell's 50th Wedding Anniversary Celebration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Carol and her sisters were in town that weekend for a funeral.  My Aunt Ruth (Willis) Castle, Marguerite's older sister, reached out to them and invited them to attend the event. Below is a picture of Carol and her sisters with my son at the event...



 ...and they didn't know they were related to Marguerite Vernell at that time, nor double-kin to me.  I was able to communicate this new discovery to my Aunt Marguerite before she passed away in October of 2016.  She was not aware of it, but she had a good laugh.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

DNA Just Demolished a MAJOR Brickwall For My 95 Year Old Grandfather

This DNA discovery may be my most significant genealogical find to date.  

Three years ago my 92 year old maternal grandfather, Milton Williams asked me if I would help him find out about his paternal ancestry. I gave him my word that I would do everything in my power to do so. I knew it would be an extremely difficult and challenging project because 1) my grandfather's advanced age made this a time sensitive task, and 2) my grandfather's mother, Florence (Hamilton) Williams, died when he was 6 years old and his father, Eugene, died a year later.  He was raised primarily by his mother's side of the family and they never told him anything about his father or his father's family. Maybe they knew something about his family, maybe they didn't--that's something I'll never know, but with little information to begin with, I had major doubts I could grant his wish.  

Here were the alleged facts as I knew them:

  • My grandfather's birth certificate states his father's name was Eugene Williams.
  • Milton said his father was about 17 years older than his mother. He said they were married in Texas and migrated to Oakland, California between 1914 and 1920.
  • Milton was told his parents separated shortly before his mother died in 1927 and that his father moved back to Texas and died a year later.
  • I found a U.S. Federal Census record showing Eugene Williams, age 46 and Florence Williams, age 30, living in Oakland, California (Alameda County).  Eugene stated he was born in Texas. He also stated his father was born in Kentucky and his mother was born in Alabama.
  • My grandfather was born in Oakland, California in 1921.  

My first inclination was to search Texas State Death Records and the death indexes for Eugene Williams. Based on several conversations with Milton, Eugene would have died between 1927-1930. I searched the database with no success.  I didn't know what cities in Texas he lived or died and search results for any "Eugene Williams" born around 1874 were widely variable.  I didn't know who his parents were, if he had other children or siblings.  It started to feel like a lost cause.  


My Last Resort: DNA testing


Between the Fall of 2014 and the Winter of 2015, I submitted my grandfather's DNA sample for all three major DNA testing companies: 23andme, AncestryDNA (offered by Ancestry) and Family Tree DNA aka FTDNA. Although Milton is of African descent, Milton's results on 23andme showed MANY matches with people of European descent with KENTUCKY listed as a place of origin. Additionally, Milton's paternal haplogroup (a genetic population of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal line) is I-M26 (formerly I2a1*).   This is a Eastern & Southern European haplogroup which indicates he descends from a European male in his paternal lineage.

In November of 2015, I began communicating with one of Milton's 23andme DNA Relatives, a male of European descent named Jamie Painter who shared 0.89% of DNA with Milton.  Based on 23andme's chart below that summarizes the average percent of DNA shared among relatives, Jamie's predicted relationship to Milton's landed in a range between 2nd cousin, one removed and 3rd cousin level. This means that the common ancestors between Milton and Jamie are between great grandparent and 2nd great grandparents.


Relationship
Average % DNA Shared
Range
Identical Twin
100%
N/A
Parent / Child
Full Sibling
50%
Varies by specific relationship  
Grandparent / Grandchild
Aunt / Uncle
Niece / Nephew
Half Sibling
25%
Varies by specific relationship
1st Cousin
12.5%
7.31% - 13.8%
1st Cousin once removed
6.25%
3.3% - 8.51%
2nd Cousin
3.13%
2.85% - 5.04%
2nd Cousin once removed
1.5%
0.57% - 2.54%
3rd Cousin
0.78%
0.3% - 2.0%
4th Cousin
0.20%
0.07% - 0.5%
5th Cousin
0.05%
Variable
6th Cousin
0.01%
Variable
Table 1: Average percent DNA shared between relatives
Jamie and I began sharing family tree information.  I studied his family tree for months trying to find commonalities.  I felt like I was looking for a needle in a haystack!  I started comparing other DNA relatives who shared triangulated strands of DNA with Jamie & Milton, but we could not identify any common ancestors.  Of the many matches my grandfather had that were clearly on his mother's side, I noticed Jamie was not related to any of them or their common matches so my strong suspicion was that he was a relative on Milton's paternal line.  At the time, that was all I could deduce so I put that research effort on hold for a while.

Learning that Milton's paternal haplogroup was of European descent lead me to utilize FTDNA's Y-DNA test for more details.  The Y-DNA analyzes the DNA in the Y-chromosome.  Fathers pass down copies of their Y-chromosome relatively unchanged for many generations.  Over thousands of years, there will be intermittent variations that will uniquely identify descendants of a common male ancestor by those variant.  Thus, my hope was to find individuals who have the same Y-chromosome that were within the last 6-10 generations to help me narrow down the possible European male ancestors.  Milton's results were stunning because he did not descend from a line of males named "Williams."  As a matter of fact, none of his matches even carried the name "Williams."  Several of them carried the surname "FLOURNOY" and they descended from European French males named "Flournoy."  His Paternal Haplogroup by FTDNA's algorithm is I-P37--again, a Southern European Haplogroup.

Milton's Y-DNA Matches from Family Tree DNA (FTDNA)

The Flournoy surname was not foreign to me.  I remembered seeing that name on Jamie's tree.  When I reviewed his tree, I discovered Jamie's 2nd great grandparents were William Cabell FLOURNOY and Martha Watkins Venable.  His great grandmother was their daughter, Sarah Venable FLOURNOY who married the Rev. Joseph PAINTER.  Their third child, Graham Crockett Painter, was Jamie's paternal grandfather. 

When I received the FTDNA results in May of 2016, I called Jamie immediately and we began discussing the likelihood that the common ancestors, which we already knew were within the range of great-grandparents and 2nd great grandparents, were William Cabell Flournoy and Martha Watkins Venable.  Additionally, Milton had another DNA match on AncestryDNA who's profile username was "D.P."  This person was a male and the grandson of George PAINTER, Sr., Graham Crockett Painter's brother.  That meant that "D.P." and Jamie shared the same great-grandparents (William & Martha), thus, they were 2nd cousins.  Jamie knew of "D.P." and sadly conveyed that he had passed away this past September. Yet, this was confirmation that William & Martha were undoubtedly common ancestors of both Milton and Jamie.

Lastly, I compared Jamie's raw data with Milton's on Gedmatch and the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MCRA) was determined to be 3.8 generations ago. That narrows Milton's relationship to Jamie as 2nd cousin, once removed and 2nd cousin to Jamie's father, Graham Fishburne Painter, which means Graham is in the same generation as Milton from the common ancestors, William and Martha Flournoy, their great-grandparents.

So what else does this new revelation mean?  It says that one of William and Martha Flournoy's male children was most likely Milton's paternal grandfather. As I stated earlier, Milton's father, Eugene, stated on the 1920 Census that his father was from Kentucky. Well, herein lies the challenge because the Flournoys and Venables were deeply rooted in Virginia according to Jamie.  On the other hand, it must be noted that census data was often inaccurate.  Additionally, depending on the nature of the relationship between Eugene and his biological father, if any, he may not have actually known where his father was born. He may have assumed Kentucky if that's where he was living when Eugene reported the information. Nonetheless, this would require studying the ages, lives and migration patterns of the surviving male Flournoy children to either qualify or disqualify them as a Eugene's father.

The male children of William & Martha Jamie & I identified to be:

John James Flournoy (b. 1837 -)
George Mallory Flournoy (b. 1847 -)
Landon Cabell Flournoy (b. 1850 - 1934)
Charles Bruce Flournoy (b. 1854 - 1912)

Examining their birth dates approximated from census data, and assuming each generation spans about 20-25 years, it is plausible for all of these men to have fathered Eugene who was born in 1874, however, the only son with documented evidence of migrating to Kentucky (and subsequently died there) was Landon Cabell Flournoy who would have been 24 years of age at the time of Eugene's birth.  I can't say with 100% certainty, but Jamie and I are of the strong opinion that Landon Cabell Flournoy is Milton's paternal grandfather.  The pedigree below illustrates the family tree as we believe it to exist.


The only item left that would solidify this DNA discovery for me is to find a living male Flournoy that descends from William Cabell Flournoy and have them take a Y-DNA test. A male descendant of Landon would be ideal, but I have yet to identify any living male descendants. 

On December 17, 2016, Milton and Jamie were able to communicate for the first time via Skype.  It was a very moving moment for both men. My grandfather was quite emotional because for the first time in his life, he was able to connected with family on his father's side.  I am so grateful to Jamie for his perseverance and his commitment to the process and I'm grateful to God that a grandson could be a blessing to his grandfather by giving him his heart's desire.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Finding My Fleming Family (Actually, They Found Me)

September 25, 2016.  I receive an email notification on Ancestry.com from Patrice Ambeau-Royal, my 3rd cousin, once removed.  I did not know she existed and this was my first correspondence with her.  You might be saying to yourself, "Well, how do you really know she is your cousin?"   The quick answer: Because of two simple sentences that stopped me dead in my tracks:

"Hi, Daisy Fleming was my great grandmother. Just had some questions if you don't mine." 

I replied back with my phone number hoping she would call me ASAP.  Why?  Well,  in 2010, I had a conversation with my great-grandmother's brother, the late Earl Fleming, Sr., who told me his father, my 2x great-grandfather, George Arthur Fleming, Jr., affectionately known as "Papa" to the family, had two sisters, Lillian & Daisy Fleming and a brother named Nathaniel.

I continued to ask detailed questions that lead to the following discoveries: Papa was born August 16, 1886 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the only child of George Fleming, Sr. and Malinda Carr. Malinda seems to disappear from the records at a young age and shortly thereafter, George marries a woman named Lucy Kellogg.  From that union, another 5 children were born. Aside from the aforementioned, there was also Hamilton Fleming and Florence Fleming.

George Fleming, Jr.
Daisy Fleming
Once Patrice and I started communicating she sent me a picture of Daisy. In return, I sent her a picture of George and we were both stunned. Patrice proceeded to tell me that she contacted my grandmother's first cousin, Norma Rae, daughter of one of Papa's son, Raymond Fleming, Sr.  I don't personally know Norma Rae, but I always knew of her.  My mother, my aunts and several extended family members know her well.   I asked her "how in the world do you know Norma Rae?"  She told me that she met Norma Rae through her sister, Ramona because Patrice went to school with Ramona's sons. I immediately texted my cousin, Raymond Fleming, Jr.  He was stunned to hear about this because Norma Rae and Ramona are his sisters and he did not know about Patrice. Patrice said her mother, Lorraine, told her Ramona and her children were their cousins, but they did not know the exact relationship.

While researching, Patrice also discovered that "Daisy" was a nickname.  Her birth name was actually Georgiana Fleming! 

The DNA evidence

October 31, 2016.  Patrice contacted me again to let me know she took Ancestry's DNA test and her results were in.  Once she uploaded her data to Gedmatch, I logged in to analyze her results against my known relatives who tested with 23andmeRaymond was listed as her closest match!!!  My mother's sister, Melvia, was also listed as well as Uncle Earl's granddaughter, Ratonya Terrell and his sister, Thelma Fleming's granddaughter, Channa Davis.  

In the Gedmatch table below, notice the 4th column labeled "Gen."  It shows that Raymond, Melvia and Ratonya share their most recent common ancestor (MCRA) with Patrice approximately 4 generations ago.  Surprisingly, Channa is 7.5 generations from the MCRA which is odd because Melvia, Channa and Ratonya were born in the same generation. My presumption is that Channa simply did not inherit as much DNA from our common ancestor, George, as the other matching relatives.


Kit Nbr
Total cM
Largest cM
Gen
Name
M738651
64.3
26.7
3.9
Raymond Fleming
M232604
48.2
27.2
4.1
Melvia W
M862900
45.7
17.5
4.1
Ratonya Terrell
M288930
7
7.0
7.5
Channa Davis
Table 1 - Patrice's DNA Matches compiled from Gedmatch

Additionally, there are several relatives, including myself, that did not inherit the same genes from Papa and Daisy, thus, we were not listed at all.  This can happen because DNA inheritance is a random process.

Examine the pedigree chart below depicting the Fleming Family Tree.  Please note that for simplicity, only relatives that submitted DNA samples (and their direct ancestors) are presented here to compare with the Gedmatch table illustrated above.

Partial Descendant Chart for George Fleming
Clearly, Gedmatch was accurate!  Patrice, Channa and Ratonya are all exactly 4 generations from George Fleming, Sr.  Raymond Fleming, Jr. is 3 generations away which explains why the comparison between he and Patrice is 3.8 generations from the MCRA.

Lastly, I showed Daisy's picture to my aunt, Nan (my mother's sister).  Nan said she recognized her face because in the 1960's, she visited Papa and saw two lovely pictures of his sisters. Until that day, she was unaware Papa had sisters because no one in the family ever talked about them.