Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Laying Out the Facts

Okay, here's the thing--if there was a credible paper trail that proved a line of descent, you wouldn't need DNA to make your case. Sometimes you have a hypothesis and DNA proves it right or wrong; sometimes you don't even know what you don't know until DNA results guide you to it. In the absence of birth, marriage, or census records that connect an individual to a family, a genealogist has to lay out the facts, including DNA results, to make her case. And getting help from fellow genealogists doesn't hurt either.

Fact 1: DNA results posted to Gedmatch show that a group of testers from various companies match in fairly large segments on Chromosome 6

A couple of weeks ago I was playing around with Gedmatch's new Segment Triangulation feature. Gedmatch has developed this new tool to take the place of the old segment analyzer that let you find matches based on entering the position of a particular segment on a particular chromosome. The new tool color codes matching segments so you know when you have a matching segment with someone, and when you both have a match with someone else.

I emailed ten people who matched either me or my brother in the same place on Chromosome 6. One of them was Nancy, with whom I corresponded over a year ago. We each worked a couple of days back then, trying to make a connection, but we were never able to find an ancestor in common. She was the first person to reply to my new email, and she had two more names to add to the list that were recent matches to her--also on Chromosome 6.

One of those new matches was Linda--also a match to me--and in her tree she had a couple of names that looked familiar.

Fact 2: Given names and places of residence in Linda's tree and my tree match up

Linda's 3rd great-grandfather was Ira Bell and his father was Benjamin Bell. My great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Bell, had four brothers: one of them was Benjamin Franklin Bell, a common enough name in those days, but another brother was Joseph Ira--and Ira is not that common.

The father of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Joseph Ira was James W. Bell, who lived in Marshall Co., Mississippi. On the 1850 census James, age 9, is living there with his parents, Thomas and Elizabeth, and sisters Catharine, Mary, Elizabeth, Martha, and Winifred (also spelled Winniford in some documents and shortened to Wincey in others.)

Family of Thomas Bell, 1850 census, Marshall Co. MS

I had always based Thomas's birth year/place on his age of 44/North Carolina on this census (and had always wondered at the fact that his wife Elizabeth at age 52 was 8 years older), so I had always searched for him with a birth date of 1806. However, when I looked at the 1860 census, Thomas was 64, so I revised his birth date to 1796. Based on that small change in birth date, I was able to find Thomas on the 1870 and 1880 censuses in Marshall Co., information that I had not had before. (Apparently, Elizabeth had died, because his wife on these two censuses was Sarah, who was 24 years younger than he was.)

Meanwhile, Nancy had found a Thomas Bell on the 1830 census in Montgomery Co., NC, in the same area where Linda's 3rd great-grandfather Ira and 4th great-grandfather Benjamin lived. Nancy and Linda had also been emailing each other and had discovered that they shared common Ledbetter ancestors. Linda is descended from both Bells and Ledbetters. On her father's side she is descended from Benjamin Bell and his wife Elizabeth Ledbetter. On her mother's side her 3rd great-grandmother is Winniford Ledbetter. Winniford married Benton Jones and died in Marshall Co., MS.

Fact 3: It's possible to place Thomas Bell as a son of Benjamin Bell and a brother of Ira Bell, based on census records and DNA

Circumstantial and DNA evidence suggest that possibly my Thomas Bell, father of James W. Bell, is a previously undocumented son of Benjamin Bell and Elizabeth Ledbetter and a brother of Ira Bell. Here I am relying on member trees posted on, which I don't really like to do, but I don't know what original documents they consulted to find the names and birthdates of Benjamin and Elizabeth's children. 

Beginning in 1789, the Bells had children about 2 years apart except for a period from the birth of Charles in 1795 to Elizabeth in 1800. Using the revised birth date of 1796 for Thomas, he fits easily in this gap. In addition, several trees also list an "unnamed male" and an "unnamed female" in the list of Bell children. Of course, these could be children who died before they were named, or at some point someone knew that the Bells had had a certain number of boys and a certain number of girls, but didn't have the names to go with them. 

In addition, trees on show that Ira Bell's early children were born in Montgomery Co., North Carolina, and later children were born in Carroll Co., Tennessee. Ira appears on the census in Carroll County in 1830 and 1840, then disappears there and appears on Marshall County, Mississippi censuses in 1850 and 1860.

Family of Ira Bell, 1850 census, Marshall Co. MS

As I mentioned before, a Thomas Bell is found on the 1830 census in Montgomery Co., NC, then my Thomas Bell appears in Marshall Co., MS, on the 1850 census. A Thomas Bell was in Marshall County as early as 1841, but as no family is listed, I can't conclusively say that this is my Thomas.

Fact 4: My DNA and extended family tree match Linda's and Nancy's BUT...

It's easier to explain my connection to Linda, and it seems reasonable based on our common Bell ancestors. Linda's 2nd great-grandmother was Melissa Bell, eldest daughter of Ira Bell. She married John Wofford in Marshall Co., MS, in March of 1850, so she is not listed in the census above with her birth family. I believe that Linda's Ira and my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas were brothers. That would mean that our most recent common ancestor is Benjamin Bell of Montgomery Co., NC, our 4th great-grandfather.

My relationship to Nancy of 3rd-5th cousin, predicted by FTDNA, isn't completely explained by our theoretical Ledbetter connection. Our most recent common ancestor would be Francis Ledbetter who was born in Charles City, Virginia, in 1653. He is my 7th great-grandfather, and although I haven't done the math, I assume he's just as far back for Nancy. It may be that we have another, as-yet-undiscovered connection that makes our relationship appear closer than it is. No wonder we had such a hard time finding our common ancestor last year!

Do I think that Thomas Bell is an undocumented child of Benjamin Bell and Elizabeth Ledbetter? Yes.
Do I think that Nancy and I have found our primary connection? No.
Do I think that there is more documentation that needs to be done? Yes.
Do I think that we have found Ledbetter DNA on Chromosome 6? Remains to be seen.

If anybody out there has proof for or against my hypothesis, I'd love to hear from you.

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