DNA for Genealogy

I recently had my DNA tested. After a little research, I chose Ancestry.com b/c 1) it’s easy to use; 2)  huge number of family trees to match to (plus historical records to verify and document your tree); 3) they keep the DNA, so as technology improves you may get more results; and 4) the raw DNA data is easily downloaded, then uploaded to other sites with more powerful technical analysis tools.

I’ve uploaded my data to Family Tree DNA (for a moderate fee) and to GEDmatch.com (free). These allow you to match one-to-all (a fishing trip) or one-to-one (to zero in on someone who looks like a genuine match). I am barely beginning to understand it all, but am pleased so far.

Also, my family tree is complete (as far as I know it) on Ancestry and is public.

I have found the tutorials on the site linked below to be very helpful, including Lesson 2 which helps you figure out which company to start with. The answer may depend on where your ancestors were from, as well as what kind of information you are seeking. If you are looking for relatives within the time frame of a typical family tree, don’t skip the autosomal (atDNA). The others will take you back into deep time, but won’t show spouses, other children, cousins, etc., just a son-to-father-to-father chain or a daughter-to-mother-to-mother chain.

On the other hand, for African Americans searching for a white male ancestor, the Y-DNA test may be the most efficient way to start.

GEDmatch.com has a whole page of links for learning, under the title DNA for Dummies.

African-American Magruders in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862

I’ve just published a page on Af-Am Magruders Named in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862.

All those enslaved in the District of Columbia were emancipated by the Compensated Emancipation Act of 16 April 1862. Slaves were freed immediately and slave holders had 90 days to file a petition for compensation. Though the 3,100 slaves emancipated comprised less than 1% of enslaved people in the U.S., its ultimate impact was far greater, providing a legal framework and precedent on which the Emancipation Proclamation was modeled.

The website Civil War Washington has transcribed and indexed those petitions, with images of the original documents attached–an outstanding resource for any African-American searching for ancestors in the city. Because both owners and the enslaved frequently moved back and forth across city limits, this source also should be searched for those with Maryland or Virginia roots. Most former slaves left their owners immediately and by 1870 70% of the approximately 3,100 emancipated people had left the city. So even if your family has no known connection to DC, you should take a few minutes and search these petitions. The site is well designed and both quick and easy to use.

As always, the best sources for details about enslaved people are those created at moments when it was in the slave owner’s interest to provide a full name and a full description. In this case, owners had to present their slaves for examination, or, if a person had run away, produce witnesses who could testify to the slave’s condition and value. Petitions provide surnames, physical descriptions, and, in many cases, details about the enslaved person’s skills, living situation, and family members. Petitioners also had to say how and from whom they acquired each person–more priceless detail for genealogists.

More than 150 slave holders failed to file a petition. To receive compensation, each had to swear (among other things) loyalty to the Union; so most of those who failed to file are assumed to have been Southern supporters or known sympathizers. Others were residents of Maryland or Virginia, whose slaves had been living–perhaps hired out, perhaps fugitive–in the District. On 12 June 1862 Congress passed a supplemental act allowing slaves whose owners had failed to petition to file petitions for their own freedom. Each of these supplemental petitions includes the individual’s request for freedom plus the testimony of witnesses who could verify ownership, residence in the District, and other details. These “supplemental petitions” were the first instance in which slaves were allowed to petition and give testimony in a Federal court, another legal precedent with far-reaching consequences.

On my page, I list the African-American Magruders I found named in the petitions, with a few notes on their circumstances and possible connections to other families or individuals.

Legacy of Slavery in Maryland: Searchable Database of 300,000 names

The Maryland State Archives Online is constantly changing, which can be confusing for users but more often presents new opportunities for research without leaving home. Today I want to draw your attention to the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland database. Now expanded and easier to use, this database includes more than 300,000 names of people both black and white. It searches Census records from 1776-1880, and 26 additional categories of records, including runaway ads, chattel records (sales of slaves), manumissions, slave jails, accommodations docket (fees for housing runaways), and assessment records (assessments of slaves in estate inventories). Most of the records are from 1830-1880. The database provides basic information, sometimes a description of the person, the name of the owner, and a full citation to the Maryland State Archives (MSA) Record Series from which the information has been transcribed.

Runaway ads can be extremely important sources of information. Slaveholders provide the most complete information about a slave when in it is their interest to do so, so the ads often include personal characteristics and skills, as well as full name, appearance, height, and distinguishing marks. They also include speculation about where the runaway might be headed, and most often that is back to where they came from or where they have family members. Browsing the ads for runaways from Magruder plantations, I’ve learned that one man likes to dress well; that another is a good carpenter; that a woman is an excellent cook; that another woman talks too much; that another man had been free to hire himself out in Washington City, but had recently disappeared, probably headed for Baltimore and then to Pennsylvania and freedom.

Good luck in your search.

Another resource: “Our Black Ancestry” networking site

Through fellow members of Coming to the Table, I recently learned of Our Black Ancestry, a site that includes an interactive data base for people researching various African-American surnames. Just click on the Surnames tab at the top to reach directions for how to use the site. Also recommended: post your inquiries on a RootsWeb forum for the county where your ancestors lived. CTTT’s home page reads:

Coming to the Table provides leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.

New regional chapters are forming, and a national gathering takes place every year. Assistance can include mentoring and support for descendants of the enslaved and descendants of enslavers who are searching for linked ancestors. For those who can’t travel to a meeting, monthly conference calls on a variety of subjects can help connect you to this community.

Priscilla Gray & Her Descendants, in bondage to Maryland Magruders for 150 years

For at least a year I have been promising to compose a page about Priscilla Gray and her descendants. Priscilla was a mulatta “born of a white woman,” indentured as a servant to Sarah Magruder, widow of Samuel Magruder (d. 1711). Technically, Priscilla was a free woman, because her mother was a free white woman, but long periods of indenture imposed on both mothers and their illegitimate children kept women like Priscilla in virtual slavery for years, sometimes for life.

In 1727 Priscilla was convicted for the same crime her mother had committed–bearing an illegitimate mixed-race child–and sentenced to seven additional years of servitude to Sarah Magruder. Her child was sentenced to 31 years of servitude. It was rare in Prince George’s County, in those years, for a woman to be prosecuted more than once for the crime of “mulatto bastardy.” Priscilla, her daughters, and other women held in bondage by the Magruders and families with whom they intermarried seem to have comprised a majority of the repeat offenders. In all, Priscilla bore seven children and served an additional 35 years of bondage for the “crime” of childbirth. Her daughters–each of whom was held in servitude to the age of 31–suffered the same fate, their terms of service extended with the birth of each child. Some of Priscilla’s daughters and other descendants did manage to survive long enough to obtain their freedom; others not. Slaves named Gray were named and manumitted in Magruder wills right up to 1860, the eve of Emancipation.

There are many gaps in my information on the Gray family. I hope in future to fill some of those gaps; but for now, here is what we know about Priscilla Gray and her legacy. If you are an African American descended from Priscilla, please get in touch, and teach me more about your family’s story.

African American McGruders/Magruders in Frederick County, MD

Pat Magruder has been researching African American descendants in Frederick County, MD, and has found several households, some using the McGruder spelling. She posts her finds on the African American Magruder Descendants Facebook Group, so if you are interested you may want to join that group. Here are her recent posts–

I found a Zeddrick Magruder 73 years old in 1870 and his wife Harriet in Frederick City Maryland African American.

More Mcgruders, Magruders found in Urbana Frederick County , Md. Rueban Mcgruder 1870 census- 25 years old black male. Boarder of Sarah Nailor also black.

Rezin Magruder , white male , age 30 in Frederick City, 1860 census, had an entire African American family named Baton. Charles,his wife Mary and 6 children. Zaddock Mcgruder and wife Priscilla. 1860 census. He was 65 years old. Frederick City. African American. Some of the spelling of Magruder changed to Mcgruder in other census.
Hope this info helps someone.

A resource for African-American Magruders

Many thanks to James Louis Bacon for directing me to Civil War Washington, which includes a number of Emancipation Petitions from the war years. In a quick search I found several African American Magruders/McGruders, and others who were owned by, freed by, or had been sold by Magruders / McGruders or McGregors.

Choose “Texts,” where all are searchable by key words. Be sure to search under all possible spellings. The number of documents is not tremendous, but all have been transcribed, and include personal descriptions, detail about how the petitioner acquired the services of each person, and, in some cases, family relationships. Some had been brought from to D.C. from Maryland or Virginia. Good luck in your quest!

More on Washington & May (or Mary) McGruder

I could as easily have titled this post “Do as I Say, Not as I Do.” I say to always search census records with multiple spellings, and then, if you still don’t succeed, try searching for neighbors. Apparently, I did neither of these things the first time I searched for census records for Washington Magruder and his wife May. I was also under the sway of Alice Maude Ewell’s 1931 memoir, in which she wrote that Washington and May had been free for many years before the war, and that after the war they moved to Washington.

Well, on a second try, I found them still in Prince William County, Virginia, in 1870 and 1880. So if they did “follow their children to Washington City,” as Ewell put it, they did so at a very advanced age. I found no records for them prior to 1870. In 1870, three children named McGruder lived with them, the youngest possibly a grandchild. In 1880, due to extreme fading of the ink, their name has been transcribed on Ancestry.com as “McGruden.” The only child with them at that time was seven year-old James Ward. In both years, they lived next door to Alice Maude Ewell with her parents and many siblings. Read all about it on the updated version of Washington McGruder

Will of William Mordecai Bowie/Af-Am Addisons

I’ve just put up a new page, with info from the 1863 will of William Mordecai Bowie, including a probable link between the 1880 census and two slaves named in his estate inventory–Roderick Addison and Aaron Addison. In 1880, three Addison households + other Af-Am families named Coats, Simms, Ferley, Shaw, Pottinger, Sprigg, Marshall, Fletcher, and Diggs were living in close proximity with Margaret Bowie (William M. Bowie’s widowed daughter-in-law), as well as Roderick McGregor (II), his mother Susan E. McGregor. Af-Am servants named Williams were in the Bowie and McGregor households. And not far off lived John T. Sansbury (“Sandsbury” in this census) who had previously been an overseer for Roderick’s uncle, the first Roderick McGregor.

An Af-Am McGruder family tree

Thanks to Jill Magruder Gatwood for sending this link. Ned Wynne McGruder and Maria McGruder were born in slavery at the turn of the 19th century. This family tree was created by two of their descendants, Wilmar McGruder and Kevin McGruder, from census records, family stories, and other sources. Check it out, and celebrate!

Ned Wynne McGruder & Maria McGruder family tree

And check out all that’s new on African American Magruder Descendants on Facebook.