Using DNA Testing to Sort Through Conflicting Claims of Descent from My Immigrant Ancestor, William Wright
copyright 2007, Wm. E. Wright
E M A I L: wmewrght AT

Y-chromosome DNA testing for paternal lines of descent and mitochrondrial DNA testing for maternal lines of descent have developed into an important genealogical tool. Articles in most major genealogical journals describe successful case studies.

In tracing any family line back generation by generation, a researcher eventually reaches a dead-end where no more information is available through documentary paper trails. Also a researcher often finds contradictory documentary and published records. When a researcher runs into contradictions, then he must weigh the evidence to determine which is the correct line of descent or ascent.

This is the point where DNA testing is useful. The Wright family is a good example. When I began tracing my family tree in 1972, I had minimal difficulty tracing my ancestry back to my fifth-great-grandfather, William Wright, who died in Augusta Co, VA, in 1776. He left a will, giving his age, naming five sons, and mentioning four unnamed daughters.

The five sons were: Samuel, William, John, James, and Alexander. The five sons had all moved to Bourbon Co, KY, by 1791. Between 1799 and 1811 they allegedly moved to Adams, Brown, and Highland Counties, OH. These are adjoining counties east of Cincinnati and north of Bourbon Co, KY. My ancestor, Samuel moved to Adams Co. His brother, John, moved to Brown Co., which was still Adams Co. at the time. Both Samuel and John lived close to each other near the future county line dividing the two counties. William, James, and Alexander moved to Highland Co., immediately north of Adams Co.

The evidence for these moves was gathered from several sources. I have a webpage that sets out the documentary evidence for the immigrant ancestor, William Wright, 1707-1776, of Augusta Co, VA. On this webpage, I also discuss the controversy that exists identifying which of the William Wrights in Bourbon Co, KY, in the 1790s was the son of the William Wright who died in 1776 in Augusta Co., VA.

The will of William Wright of Bourbon Co., KY, is recorded in Will Book C, page 49. The will was dated 17 Oct 1802 and proved in July 1806. He names his wife, Martha; sons: Robert, John, Hugh, James, William, Samuel, and Thomas; and daughters: Hannah Melvin, Mary Stewart, Margaret Hendrix, Eliz Leer, Sally Hannah, and Jean Champ. The witnesses were Samuel Black, Tilghman Hickman, and William Black. A descendant, now deceased, Dudley Wright claimed this William is the son of William Wright, 1707-1776, of Augusta Co.

In 1927 the DAR erected a commemorative tablet on the grounds of the Bourbon Co. Courthouse listing Revolutionary Patriots who lived in Bourbon Co. Among the names on the tablet is that of William Wright.

In Genealogies of Kentucky Families From The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, published in 1981 by the Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., of Baltimore, MD, is a genealogy of the Estill family compiled in 1944 by Alma Lackey Wilson. She states that the Estill family settled in Augusta Co., VA, in 1746. In the article she claimed that a William Estill married Martha Wright, the third sister to marry into this Estill family. These Wright sisters were allegedly three of the four daughters mentioned in his will by William Wright of Augusta.

William R. McCann compiled "A Peter Wright Lineage" published in 1957 in "The Detroit Society of Genealogical Research Magazine." Peter Wright of Augusta and Botetourt Counties, VA, married Jane Hughart and they had thirteen children. Three of the daughters married sons of Wallace and Mary Estill. Peter and Jane also had sons, James and Thomas who settled in Bourbon Co., KY, in 1794. These sons, James and Thomas Wright, are perhaps the namesakes of the James and Thomas Wright Military Survey that adjoined the land in Bourbon Co. sold by Samuel Wright, Senr of Adams Co.., OH, in 1810. Peter and Jane also had a son, William Wright, but he appears to have moved from Virginia to Tennessee. James Wright also had a son, William Wright.

A History of Bourbon, Scott, Harrison and Nicholas Counties, Kentucky published in 1882 has a biography of William Wright of Paris (Bourbon Co.), son of Colonel William Wright, born in 1783 in Botetourt Co., VA. Colonel William was the son of James and grandson of Peter and Jane Wright.

In summary, there was more than one Wright family living in Bourbon Co., KY. In the 1790s, three or more William Wrights were in the county. Descendants of at least two of these Williams claim that their ancestor was the son of William Wright who died in 1776 in Augusta Co., VA.

At this time in the Fall of 2008, Y-chromosome DNA tests have been run on six descendants of these Bourbon Co. Wrights. The results appear on this webpage for the Wright Surname DNA Project. These tests were all conducted by Family Tree DNA. The tests are identified by kit numbers.

Each of the six kits tested placed the men in Haplogroup R1b1. Three tests were on known descendants of William Wright of Augusta. These are kits #13974, #20194 and #94268. Kit #13974 and kit #94268 are descendants of John Wright of Brown Co., OH. Kit #20194 is a descendant of Samuel Wright of Adams Co., OH.

Kit #51030 is on a proven descendant of William Wright of Highland Co., OH. While each of the first three tests differs from the others by two markers out of 25 markers, they each differ from .the last test run (#94268) by only one marker out of 25. Based on the DNA evidence these four men have a recent common ancestor. The documentary and anecdotal evidence points to this being William Wright, 1707-1776 of Augusta Co., VA.

The fifth and sixth tests run are kits #13973 and #51846. These two men are identified on the results page as descendants of "1806 William." This is the William whose will was proved in Bourbon Co., KY, in 1806. Their DNA differs from that of #51030 by nine out of 25 markers.

The conclusion, therefore, is that anecdotal information published about the five Wright brothers moving from Kentucky to Adams, Brown, and Highland Counties, OH, is correct. The William Wright, who bought land in Highland Co., OH, in 1811 at the same time that James and Alexander did, is the son of William Wright of Augusta. The William Wright who died in Bourbon Co. in 1806 is not closely related.

Another test is also listed on the DNA results page that matches 12 out of 12 markers with kits  #51030 and #94268. This is kit #N6463. Is this person also related? He descends from John Wright, born in Pennsylvania in 1802. In the 1880 census, John Wright, age 78, born in Pennsylvania, lived in Perry Township, Lawrence Co, PA. John's parents were born in Ireland.Descendants of this branch of the family have done extensive research. Some have uploaded family trees to rootsweb and other genealogical sites. The Stinson Family website includes a genealogy of  this branch of the Wrights. Currently this tes is being upgraded to 25 marker which will give a more precise answer to the question of a relationship.

From information provided by these descendants, in 1804 three Wright brothers bought adjoining farms in the section of Beaver Co., PA, that was included in Lawrence Co., at its formation in 1850. These three Wright brothers were James, William and Mathew. James, William, and Mathew each named their oldest sons, John. Following the typical Scotch-Irish naming pattern of the time, we can project that the three brothers were the son of John Wright. James Wright appears to have been the eldest of the three. His estimated year of birth in 1770. The John Wright, born in 1802, was his son. Seveasl membrs of thisbranch of the Wrights have been buried in the Camp Run Covenanter (Presbyterian) Cemetery in Perry Twp, Lawrence Co, PA.

What this information shows is that the recent common ancestor for the men represented by Kits #13974, #20194,  #51030 ad #94268 (Descendants of 1776 William Wright) and the man represented by Kit #N6463 is in Ireland (Descendants of 1802 John Wright) and that he was born prior to say 1685. Family tradition of the descendants of 1776 William say that he came from the area of Loch Neagh or County Armagh, Ireland. County Armagh border Lough Neagh on the south. Family tradition of the descendants of 1802 John say that the family came from County Antrim, Ireland, that borders Lough Neagh on the north and east. The author of this paper is not aware of any documentary evidence for these traditions. The common denominator would seem to be northern Ireland and confirms our Scotch-Irish heritage.

A similar conclusion can be said for the sixth matching test shown in the group. This is kit #N48391. This man descends from a John Wright born in New York in 1762, who died in Allegany County, New York in 1850. His genealogy has been posted on rootsweb. This man's DNA matches 24 out of 25 markers with the test for #51030.

Between the counties Antrim and Armagh, at the southeast corner of Lough Neagh, lies county Down. This is the location of the Hamilton Estates during the seventeenth century and home to many Scotch-Irish. One of the few documents from this period that still exist are rent rolls for the Hamilton Estates for 1681 and 1688. One of the tenants listed is Samuel Wright. The surnames of other tenants listed on these rolls match those of the spouses and neighborsof many of the members of both the 1776 William and 1802 John branches. Most of these surnames are common, but some are not so common such as Gowdy and McKitrick. The other surnames found include: Armstrong, Beatty, Black, Browne, Coutler, Ferguson, Finlay, Greer, Harris, Irwin, Johnson, Long, McClurgh, McComb, McNeily,  McTeer, Macumson, Maxwell, Mitchell, Morrow, Patton, Scott, Tate, Taylor, Thompson, Wilson, and Young.

Samuel Wright on this rent roll could be the grandfather of 1776 William and an ancestor of 1802 John. However, the recent common ancestor for 1776 William and 1802 John could just as easily have been another Wright living elsewhere in Ulster or Northern Ireland.

A corollary conclusion can be derived by examining the results of the tests of three descendants of William Wright, 1707-1776, of Augusta Co, VA. Each of these three tests were 25-marker tests. Kits #13974 and #20194 differ by two markers from each other. These two markers are in the first twelve markers tested. These two tests match in markers 13-25.

Kit #51030 differs from the first two tests by one marker in the first twelve markers and one marker in the next 13 markers tested. His Y-chromosome DNA for the first twelve markers, falls in a mid-point between those of his sixth cousins. This suggests that the first twelve markers of the Y-chromosome DNA of the common ancestor, William Wright of Augusta, probably are the same as that of Kit #51030. Following the same logic, Markers 13-25 of Kits #13974 and #20194 are identical and may represent the Y-chromosome DNA for these markers for the common ancestor. The DNA for the man tested by kit #94268 matches this extrapolted "signature" DNA for our common ancestor.

Testing of additional descendants could refine the extent to which variations and mutations have occurred and give a better indication of our common ancestor's "signature DNA."

Using DNA testing to break down a 34 year Brick Wall.

One of my third great-grandfathers was Brownell Green of Charlestown, Rhode Island. He is named as a grandson in the will of Amos Greene. An analysis of the Charlestown records and Amos Greene's other known children and grandchildren points to Brownell Green as being a son of Amos Greene's daughter, Elizabeth. But who was Brownell Green's father? After 34 years of searching, I found a DNA match between a descendant of Brownell Green and a descendant of a family who in 1741 owned land in Charlestown, Rhode Island, adjacent to land owned by Amos Greene. This DNA match is a descendant of Joseph and Esther (Brownell) Tefft. A DNA test was run on another man descending from the Teffts of Rhode Island. His DNA matched 61 out of 67 markers with the man descending from Brownell Green. This is close enough to indicate that the two men have a recent common ancestor if they have the same surname. But since the surname of Browning Green's father is unknown and with the other pointers, it appears that Browning Green was also the grandson of Joseph and Esther (Brownell) Tefft. At the time of Brownell Green's conception and birth, this Tefft family had two sons who were not known to be married. Although Brownell Green could have been illegitimate, the retention of the Brownell given names suggests to the compiler that Brownell Green's mother Elizabeth married one of these two Tefft sons. She died either in childbirth or shortly thereafter. Brownell Green was then "adopted" by his maternal grandparents and assumed the Green surname.

Other Surname DNA Projects and disputed ancestry.

In my family tree, there are several other families with disputed ancestral claims. I descend from a Greene family in Rhode Island. Family tradition claims a relationship with General Nathanael Greene, sometimes spelled, Nathaniel Greene. Documentary evidence shows that we descend from a different branch of Greenes in Rhode Island, specifically John Greene of Quidnessett. To further complicate the issue, we have a probable non-paternal event in our Greene ancestry, i.e. an adoption or illegitimate birth. A Greene cousin has been tested and is listed on the results page of the Greene Surname DNA Project. This cousin's test is identified as kit #20192. None of the other Green/es tested are a close match. One of the Greene tests kit #27438 is for a descendant of John Greene of Warwick, surgeon. This John Greene is the famous general's ancestor. Because of the lack of a DNA match, we know that our Greenes do not descend paternally from John Greene of Warwick. Another Greene test, kit #88120, claims descent from John and Abigail (Wardwell) Greene of East Greenwich and Coventry, RI.

But there is conflicting information with respect to the John Greenes who settled in Rhode Island in the 1600s. Some researchers claim there were two Johns and some claim three. There have been published accounts and these are commonly repeated on the internet that John Greene of Quidnessett and John Greene of Warwick share a common English ancestry. But this common ancestry is not confirmed by the documentary paper trail. DNA tests of descendants of all three of the possible John Greene immigrants to Rhode Island in the 1600s will confirm if the three share a recent common ancestor in England.

As shown above we now have test results from two men claiming descent from two of the John Greene immigrants in Rhode Island in the 1600s. Kit # 27438 descents from John Greene of Warwick, surgeon; and kit #88120 descends from John and Abigail (Wardwell) Greene. I have not verified the documentation for the descent of these two men from the two Johns. However, the test results show a genetic distance of 28 for 25-marker results. The test results also show the men belong to different Haplogroups. The descendant of John Greene of Warwick is in Haplogroup I1; and the descendant of John and Abigail (Wardwell) Greene is in Haplogroup R1b1b2g. These two men are not closely related.

Haplogroup I1 occurs in the greatest frequency in Scandinavia. R1b of which R1b1b2 is a subclade is found most frequently in western Europe. Further tests are needed for descendants of the John Greenes of Rhode Island. These tests can confirm the results from these first two men that have been tested and can also provide information on the men known as John Greene of Quidnesset and John Greene of Newport.

I descend from a family of German speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania, the Fies or Fees. My branch left Pennsylvania and migrated to North Carolina in the 1790s and from thence to Kentucky and Ohio and then dispersed further. Another branch of the Fies remained in Pennsylvania. Descendants of the two branches assume that we descend from a common immigrant. DNA testing needs to be done to prove this assumption since the documentary trail is lacking. Although there is not a Fies/Fees Surname DNA Project, the Phy Family DNA Surname Project also includes the Fies/Fees surname. A descendant of a Pennsylvania Fies family has been tested, Kit #70683. A test of a descendant of the North Carolina Fees/Feese needs to be tested to see if our line shares a recent common ancestor. 

I descend from both brothers, John and James Kenyon, who are in Rhode Island in the mid-1680s. The Kenyon Surname DNA Project identifies 18 potential family lines. How many of these Kenyons have a recent common ancestor? Tests have been completed on five men and show a close match with those with a proven descent from John Kenyon of Rhode Island. These men are in Haplogroup R1b1.

Another one of my dead-end ancestral lines is the Cornells. I descend from Tunis Cornell of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, NJ, Fayette Co, PA, and Jefferson Co, OH. Tunis Cornell died in 1814-1815 in Jefferson Co, OH. His first known child was baptized in Somerset Co, NJ, in 1762. Two sons were named William and Peter moved from Hunterdon Co, NJ, to Somerset Co, PA, after the Revolutionary War. But while they were in Hunterdon Co, NJ, there was another William Cornell family living there that descended from the Cornells of Rhode Island. Based on the name Tunis and the sons named Peter and William, Tunis was probably a descendant of Guilliam Cornelis who settled in New Amsterdam in 1640. But Tunis' parents are unknown. Y-chromosome DNA testing of descendants of these Cornells will show if any of them share a recent common ancestor.

DNA testing provides an excellent resource for expanding our knowledge of our ancestry. It can prove and disprove relationships that cannot be proven from paper documents. The test is conducted by a non-invasive swab of the inside of each cheek. The test does not prove paternity and should not be used for that purpose. The test does not show genetic abnormalities. The test does show the probability of a recent common ancestor.

All of these tests have been conducted by Family Tree DNA of Houston, TX.   

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