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DNA testing leads to more questions than answers

Jan Hearne • Jun 4, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Genealogy connects us to our past. Family histories constructed from years of painstaking research give us a sense of who we are, where we came from.

In our family, the genealogist is my second cousin Beverly. Our grandfathers on my mother’s side were brothers.

Bev has worked doggedly to trace our roots, but the trail stopped dead with Josiah Cook born in 1814 in North Carolina. No matter how hard she tried, how much research she did, she couldn’t reach beyond old Josiah.

With the advent of DNA testing, however, genealogy has taken a huge leap forward. Companies like Family Tree DNA compare one person’s results to others from the same lineage, providing answers where there were none. Since Bev had reached this genealogical dead end, she decided to use DNA testing to jump back in time.

As recent DNA testing of the Melungeons has shown, sometimes you get answers you weren’t expecting. The Melungeons of Appalachia long thought they were of Portuguese or Native American descent. DNA testing revealed, however, they are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.

Beverly wanted answers, not surprises, but her first results were disturbing. Because she was testing her paternal line, she had to use her half-brother’s DNA. When the test results came back, she learned he was not related to any Cooks. Whoops. His DNA did match about eight Hamricks, a name absent from our family line.

Another test of Bev and her half-brother’s autosomal DNA proved they did indeed share the same father. Whew. Family crisis averted. But what about these Hamricks?

Bev contacted the administrator of the Hamrick Family Tree DNA project and asked why our line was not accepted as part of their project. He told her that one segment didn’t match, but other tests showed common values. As luck would have it, shortly after their conversation, another test of a known Hamrick was received and it matched our DNA perfectly. We were accepted by the Hamrick Project.

Now what about the Cook name? We thought we were Cooks, descended from English settlers. Our identity has been called into question.

After looking into the matter, Bev believes a female Hamrick died around 1800, leaving her children to be taken in by other families. Eventually those family names were adopted, and one of them was Cook. When that happened we may never know, but it has given Bev another line of pursuit.

We do know, however, we are related to Patrick Hamrick from Ireland or England who lived in Virginia in the 1700s.

He arrived, most likely, as an indentured servant. Patrick did achieve a measure of success in his time, becoming a landowner in Virginia.

Interestingly, my maternal grandmother’s family, the Cargilles of Scotland, settled in the same area of Virginia at the same time. Both families ended up in Georgia, where my grandparents met and married, and mistakenly thought they were Cooks.

Bottom line, Bev says, you might not be who you think you are.

Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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