Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Be, or Not To Be a Wederstrandt: DNA Answered the Question

Artimease
Wederstrandt Benton
In March of 2013, I posted a blog entitled “Bentons and Jacksons: The Truth Revealed” which detailed new information my cousin, James Hill III, and I discovered about my paternal grandfather’s maternal side of his family.  One of the highlights mentioned was discovering my 3x Great-Grandmother’s maiden name, Artimease (or Arthemise) Wederstrandt.  On May 14, 2013, a gentleman by the name of Herndon Blake Wederstrandt happened to find my blog during a Google search and posted the following comment on my blog:

Sir, my name is Herndon Wederstrandt, I might be able to help you, please reply back if interested.

Herndon Blake
Wederstrandt
Needless to say, I was very intrigued and emailed him right away.  From that day forward James and I began to establish a relationship with Herndon and explore the possibility we may be relatives.  Herndon, better known as “Blake,” expressed great confidence that we were related—not only because of the uncommon last name, but also due to the picture of Artimease he saw on my blog post.  He stated that she looked very much like his ancestors. He sent me a picture of his 1st cousin, 6x removed, Margaret Smith Wederstrandt Morse, to show the resemblance to Artimease and I was dumbfounded!

Margaret Smith
Wederstrandt Morse
Nonetheless, I was initially skeptical because being a descendant of slaves, you become very caution about any and all documentation concerning your enslaved ancestors-- or as my dear friend and colleague, Nicka Smith, brilliantly labeled them, our "Slavecestors.”  How did I know Artimease was really a Wederstrandt by birth?  In some cases, freedmen didn't retain the surname of the their former enslavers and some changed their names entirely for various reasons.  If she was a Wederstrandt by birth, which parent carried the name?  In the aforementioned post, I stated that it was discovered Artimease had an older sister named Hiawartha Wederstrandt, but on the 1880 Census, Hiawartha stated her father was born in Maryland, and Artimease did not answer the question which left doubt they had the same father.  I wasn’t sure.  There were so many unanswered questions!

However, one document that supported the notion of kinship was a page in Artimease’s Widows Pension Application.  These applications were filed by widows of Civil War Veterans who believed themselves to be eligible for pension benefits.  I ordered this pension file from the National Archives in Washington, DC in July of 2013.  Below is a portion of a sworn affidavit from John Alexander, a former U.S. Colored Union Troop, who testified that he personally knew Artimease and her late husband, my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Benton.  It specifically states that Alexander knew "Arthemise Wetherstrane by witch name she wore off her father..." As an original and primary source, this document was critical.

Document from Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File
Document from Artimease's Civil War Widow's Pension File

In July of 2013, while attending the Benton Family Reunion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, James, my dad, my cousin, Tonya and I, arranged to meet Blake and his family for dinner.  We had a great & memorable time!  I mentioned to Blake that in December of 2010, I met a woman named Nancy Wederstrandt on Ancestry.com two months after I met James, but we never established who a possible common ancestor was. Blake explained that Nancy was his 2nd cousin, once removed with Herndon's dad being her second cousin.  They never physically met, but do correspond with each other periodically. Their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is Robert (Pronounced "RO-BEAR") Carroll Wederstrandt (b. 1858) and his wife, Ida Loula (Williams) Wederstrandt. Robert was the son of Robert Charles Wederstrandt (b. 1832) and grandson of John Blake Wederstrandt (b. 1808).


The Wederstrandts: James Hill III (Far left), Tonya Castle (4th from left), Blake Wederstrandt (middle-rear), Amy Wederstrandt (2nd from right), Michael Willis (far right), Sanders Willis, Jr. (seated, front)
I asked Blake to take the DNA test offered by 23andme.com because several of my family members tested with 23andme:
  • James & his mother, Gloria
  • My grandfather's siblings, Edward Willis and Marguerite Vernell 
  • My dad and I
The MRCA for my grandfather's siblings and my dad is my great-grandmother Artimease Benton Willis-Jackson (not be confused with her grandmother Artimease Wederstrandt Benton).  Her father was Edward Benton, son of Artimease Wederstrandt Benton.  James & Gloria descend from Edward's half sister, Maude Jackson which make the MRCA for all 6 of us Artimease Wederstrandt Benton.

Unfortunately, Blake did not match any of us!  We were all very disappointed, but we did not give up hope.  It is important to remember that DNA inheritance is random and the further the MRCA, the harder it is to detect matching segments of DNA.  I inherited approximately 50% of my dad's DNA and he inherited approximately 50% of his dad's DNA which means I inherited approximately 25% of my grandfather's DNA, 12.5% of my great-grandmother's DNA, and so forth.  This potential common ancestor with Blake would be my 4th great-grandfather, so you can image how small the percentage is and the probability of detection.  Yet, many descendants inherit different pieces of the same puzzle, so the only alternative course of action is to test more people--which brings me to Nancy because she was actually born a generation before Blake.


I'd lost touch with Nancy, but in January of 2015, she emailed me to share with me a 1910 census record she discovered listing a mulatto woman named "Martha Wederstrandt."  I told her I was aware of the record and that Martha was, in fact, Hiawartha! I also let her know I met her cousin, Blake and was in constant communication with him.  On August 2, 2015, Nancy pleasantly surprised me with an email stating she tested with AncestryDNA offered by Ancestry.com.  Since the rest of us tested with a different company, the only way we could compare our results is by uploading our RAW data to a third-party website called GEDMatch.com that allows you to compare DNA information from 23andme.comAncestryDNA and FTDNA.  Nancy reported that GEDMatch results yielded a match with Blake--3.9 generations from the MRCA, Gloria--4.1 generations from the MRCA and James--4.6 generations from the MRCA.


We are indeed Wederstrandts!


The difference of 3.9 generations between Nancy and Blake makes sense because their MRCAs, Robert Carroll & Ida Wederstrandt, are 3 generations apart from Nancy and 4 generations from Blake.  In Gloria's case, Artimease's unknown father is 4 generations apart from Gloria and Robert's father, Robert CHARLES Wederstrandt, is 4 generations from Nancy, thus, the numbers would suggest he is Artimease's father.  It is plausible because she was born around 1853 and he was born around 1832, but could he be old enough to be Hiawartha's father?  According to all available census records from 1870-1910, it was reported consistently that she was born between 1844-45.  That would make Robert Charles a 12-13 year old father, however it must be noted that the 1900 census shows Hiawartha's mother, Antoinette King, born in 1831 in Louisiana making her a 13-14 year old mother.  I found no other record of her existence prior to that.


In any case, the journey continues and another branch to explore.  New answers have lead to more questions and more stones to be overturned.  I look forward to it!

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