Wishful Thinking and DNA Analysis

Wishful Thinking

Wishful Thinking

Family History & DNA Reminder:
You can only match to analyzed DNA
This means recently LIVING persons who took a DNA test

Just as with the early pandemic shut-down nearly a year ago and winter of 2020 just before it, winter of 2021 brought several more requests for some family tree research help. Two of those requests were for families to which I am also related. One was a very well educated person, who didn’t seem to accept that just because he matches someone else who claims they were descendents of a particular early to mid 18th century person doesn’t make the claimed relationship a fact.

As I went round and round with him, I realized that he trusted someone else’s claim about ancestry simply because he matched that person making a claim. He, and too many others, are assuming that family trees presented alongside DNA tests were more accurate than those in the older non-DNA company forums and vanity press family histories. He, and others didn’t seem to understand that, until each and every link from generation to generation, and the identities of the individuals in each generation, are themselves proven, just the existence of someone’s family tree does not mean an alleged ancestor actually is his ancestor.

The operative and problem word here is CLAIMS. It’s as though people believe if the family tree is accompanied by some individual’s DNA test it must be more accurate. That’s lazy thinking. Well over 99% of DNA tests only match living individuals who have tested themselves, and perhaps their parents. This means that only the last generation or two in the posted family tree is corroborated with DNA matches. The rest of that tree is only as good as the documentation linking these test subjects to individuals in it.

Where and what are the pieces of evidence, with primary and valid secondary source documents, that anyone actually descends from any claimed ancestor? Did this ‘other’ person find ‘proof’ or did he (or she) just post conjecture and wishful thinking?

People don’t seem to all realize that unless someone has exhumed a lot of dead people, assuming they still have enough remains from which to extract a DNA sample you only have DNA test matches with living persons. Human bodies don’t last that long, especially if interred in biodegradable wrappings and coffins embedded in organic detritus, microbes, and other small forms of life that live underground, and enriched soil that is well watered nearly every year.

People can claim named ancestors in the DNA testing company family trees. That means we are still dealing with the age old problems of how accurate these trees are, evidenced by how well documented their links between claimed generations are over every intervening generation. The same annoyingly bad, undocumented trees that proliferate the public and private trees of Ancestry.com, genii, wikitrees and other sites have been also put on the DNA testing sites.

I’m going to use an example of recent weeks and months to illustrate exactly what happens. One of my late mother’s documented ancestors is an Amy Hayes. Fortunately for us, her children recorded her birth date and the year of death, not long after she died. She was born 2 August, 1775, and died in the second half of 1850. She was still alive when the 1850 census was taken but there were interviews with her children and grandchildren at times and they wrote down the year she died. Many of her grandchildren were already grown by the time she died and lived long lives themselves. She was also on the census record with a son, and a marriage record for her youngest daughter identified her mother. The family recorded her husband’s name, and of course her children all bore his surname and were in the 1850 census and later. Her husband died before the 1850 census, so all the census records for him only showed an age range. However, between the several census records, a couple of records showing him as an adult and making purchases for a new household in the 1790’s, the records his children and grandchildren wrote down, we know his name and the year of his birth and where he was born. We also know from a combination of land and other records when and where he died, 1829 in Christian County, Kentucky. We’re also lucky he had a more unusual family name, Oliver Dark, not the more frequent Samuel, William, Joseph etc. In his case, we even know his father’s name and his mother’s name as his father kindly left a will, and the county courthouse hadn’t burnt down by the time later researchers went looking for it. Poor little Amy’s parents remained a mystery, however.

We narrowed her father down to one of two possibilities based on tax and census records and who was living next to her and her oldest son over the decades as the families did migrate together. She was either the daughter of a Joseph Hayes or a William Hayes. A 1790 census record still survived the burning of Washington DC in the War of 1812, or else the county recorders had the good sense to make a copy before sending the original off to DC and trusting the federal government. It showed exactly three Hayes living in both the county, Chatham county, North Carolina, and district, Hillsboro District, where she was as a newly married wife of Oliver Dark in 1800. We know she was married in 1797 or 1798, as she was pregnant with her first born child in 1799. Her first proved child, son Micajah S. Dark was born May 17, 1800. The 1790 census is problematic because the men of the day had so little regard for women. It’s not that they had that much more regard for children but, they at least separated the free white males into two groups: males under the age of 16 and over the age of 16–head of household included. Women and girls, including any widowed mothers-in-law, maiden aunts, etc. were all lumped together in one category: free white females. There was a practical reason for categorizing people in this way: only males were tithable–taxed, and only if they were over the age of 16. Therefore if a prudent, paper and ink saving county wanted the record to do double duty and let the county know who should be subject to a tithe, as well as count the residents to set up Congressional districts, etc., then you made sure you had a separate category for all males 16 and up.

From this bare bones census/tax record, though, we were able to eliminate one of the three as the father of Amy in 1790. Samuel Hayes, who lived very near or next to Joseph Hayes, had two sons under the age of 16, one wife (only one female in his house) and no daughters. He was clearly a young man, very probably in his mid-20’s, recently married. While most states changed the laws for minimum marriage ages after the Revolution, most did so in 1784 and later when we were sure we were an independent nation. The Treaty of Paris had only been signed in 1783. Prior to the secured independence, we were under colonial laws and in North Carolina the minimum age for marriage was 21 for both males and females, but 18 for females with consent of parents, female herself, and a 25 to 50 pound early marriage fine paid in hard currency–silcer and gold coins–to the government. Most women and their family were content to wait on marriage, since the average.family income was about 250 to 300 pounds a year, and hard currency was rather scarce. Barter was more often done than buying with cash. There also was no birth control and women were bearing children an average of 15 to 18 months apart, with a nearly 10 month gestation time. Along with knowing the minimum marriage age, simple arithmetic showed that Samuel Hayes and his wife were in their mid-20’s, and married about four years at the time of the 1790 census. This means that Samuel Hayes was born about 1765, and only ten years old when Amy was born. He was not her father. That left Joseph Hayes and William Hayes.

Joseph Hayes was the older of these two. He had 5 males in his household. Three were over the age of 16, himself included. Three were younger than 16. He also had 5 females in his household. He had been married at least 20 years, and given the studies of the average marriage age for males combined with the known and documented minimum marriage age, he was about 24 when he was married. If Samuel was his oldest son, then he was married for about 25 years. This meant he was 45 to 50 years of age in 1790, born 1750 to 1755.. He also went with other members of his family, to Christian County, Kentucky, where Oliver Dark and his wife Amy Hayes had gone. This Joseph Hayes definitely died in Christian County in 1828, and left an estate and there were administration records about it that survived and that identified at least four sons–which is consistent with the number of probable sons that Joseph did indeed have in 1790. His identified sons were: Samuel (who administered his estate), D.J. (David J. from other records), Thomas and Joseph Jr.. Samuel had at least two sons, Joseph Jr. had sons, Thomas had sons, and we’re reasonably sure that David J. had sons causing a profusion of Joseph Hayes’ in Christian and adjacent counties in Kentucky two generations later, when the most and best records were made that survived and likewise gravestones.

Unfortunately, the estate administration records did NOT name any daughters. Worse, yet, we have a very good set of records for all the surviving children of Oliver Dark and Amy Hayes with full birth dates and they did not name any sons Joseph. There is also one small gap of about three years between two of the children, no other gaps. Amy was extraordinarily healthy and delivered full term, healthy children very regularly! Yet it’s clear from what is known about the families, and shown by the patterns of naming across multiple generations that they did follow a naming tradition. A grandson of one of the children who had kept good records told me that he heard that because Amy had married the son of a Tory captain, she had been disinherited by her father, though she continued to be well treated by her brothers and that this is why he and others in the family had never been exactly certain who her father was. Amy’s oldest son was named for a friend of his father’s family, and the Hayes’. The rest all bore Dark family names. Her oldest son then had two sons, and one helped identify a brother or first cousin to Amy who had lived next to the family at one time, but the name of the other, though not a Dark name, was not Joseph. It was William.

William Hayes was the third Hayes in the 1790 record. We have a will index record for him showing that he died in 1807, but the will itself is not online, nor has it been published and thus, otherwise available at some research library. We know he also had a large family in 1790. However, he had NO sons over the age of 16 but he had 5 sons under 16 years of age. He had six females in his household, and it’s highly probable at least four were daughters. There is no way all of them were under the age of 16. At least two were 16 or older. However, the fact he had no sons over the age of 16 suggests that William Hayes was slightly younger than Joseph Hayes. Given that families moved about together, especially along the dangerous colonial frontier and that this is a well established fact of many studies, it is very probable that Joseph Hayes and William Hayes were brothers. Remember, they also lived in the same district of the same county in 1790. Until we learn the contents of the will of William Hayes, and we also have to hope he listed all his daughters, even one he was unhappy with for her marriage, we cannot be sure which of the two older Hayes gentlemen in Chatham County, North Carolina was her father. It was customary in the 18th century to identify children, even those who greatly displeased a parent. We were more civilized then and realized the grandchildren might not all end up like their parents. There are many wills in which the children are identified but only left a single schilling or explicitly given nothing but a little personalty (personal property) or a catechism, or a bequest is made to the grandchildren of a rogue child in trust, to be administered by another sibling. We can at least hope that Amy is mentioned in William Hayes’ will if she is indeed his daughter.

The uncertainty of her parents, from the actual documents, has not prevented any of dozens of people claiming that Joseph Hayes who died in 1828 is her father. Not content with this, they have also invented a grandfather and great grandfather, and claimed this particular Hayes family in Chatham County came from Augusta County, Virginia. Remember the name of the second son to Joseph Hayes Sr. from his actual estate administration record, the name David? Well they’ve ignored poor oldest son SAMUEL to claim that David is the name of the father of Joseph Hayes. It has not occurred to any one of these people that David might be the forename of the father of Joseph’s WIFE, who is completely unknown at present.

Again, fortunately for researchers, some very determined and patient person named Lyman Chalkley went through all the county records for Augusta County, Virginia and parts of the bodies of records for five daughter counties, and made short abstracts for all of them, then organized and indexed three volumes of all these records and published them in 1911. This the ONLY county in the entire U.S. that has been this well documented, and lucky enough to also never had its courthouse burned. These records go back to the original land grants by the Governor Gooch and two or three other major grantees who then subdivided their huge grants and the first recordings of the deeds in Orange County, Virginia, the parent county of Augusta. Early in my decades of research, I had made notes of the Hayes’ in those records. There was a David Hayes. He was one of four Hayes who were among the first individuals, with at least three having families, already, who took up lands in Augusta County. The other three Hayes were John Hays, who had grown sons, of which two quickly acquired lands also, Patrick Hays who was in the northern part of the county which eventually became Rockingham County and George Hays, newly married who died in 1747 leaving three sons only, one of whom was an infant. His oldest son was named James and according to a guardianship record where he chose a guardian, James was just 18 in 1756. He was born in 1738, and he was his father’s oldest child and son. David Hayes was in several records but it is not clear who his children all were. The name Joseph, then shows up in Botetourt County, one of the daughter counties, in a marriage record for a daughter of Joseph Hayes in 1801. In 1801, the Joseph Hayes believed to be Amy Hayes-Dark’s father was already in Chatham County, North Carolina and had been there for over ten years. So this cannot be the same Joseph Hayes. Additionally, there is no documented link between the Joseph Hayes in Botetourt County of the end of the 1700’s back to David Hayes in Augusta in the 1740’s and 1750’s. Yet, that still hasn’t stopped people from creating a tree for Amy Hayes Dark back through Joseph Hayes to David Hays/Hayes of Augusta County.

The putative published line before Amy Hayes-Dark (1775-1850) is all nothing but conjecture and wishful thinking, but because someone, who had a DNA test, attached a tree to his (or her) test results, far too many people believe it’s a true and actual family tree, and that the DNA test somehow also proves this. It reminds me of a commercial in which a dumb blonde female automatically believes that anything posted on the internet must be true because someone, somewhere would surely prevent it from appearing on the internet, if it were not.

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