22 June 2013

Back to the Drawing Board

If anyone besides me is still reading this blog, you may wonder why it went silent for about six months. What happened? The short answer: real life.

You'll recall that in my last post in early December of 2012, I had just ordered a Y-DNA  test kit from Family Tree DNA with the goal of finding out whether or not Sharon Leslie Morgan and I shared a common ancestor—specifically my great-great grandfather, James E. Leslie (1823-1875) of Lowndes County Alabama, whom Sharon believed had fathered a child with one of his African-American slaves. That child, Sharon believed, was her great grandfather, Tom Leslie.

I received the test kit a few days later, mailed off a sample, and eagerly awaited results via e-mail. December went by. No results. The first weeks of January went by. No results. Then on the evening of 12 January 2013, I became the victim of a violent crime—a home invasion that turned my life upside down. It was hard to think about genealogy after that, but once things began to settle down a bit, I e-mailed Family Tree DNA to ask about results. They replied that they had never received my sample! They sent another test kit, but after the home invasion, my family and I were very concerned about my safety, so with the full support of my family and the incredible generosity of my brother Allen, I began making plans to relocate to Charlotte, NC. At first I promised myself I would send off another sample before I left South Carolina. Then things got busy and complicated, and I ran out of time before leaving. I promised myself I would send off a sample the minute I got to Charlotte. When a few weeks went by and I received an e-mail from Sharon asking about results, I realized that in all the ruckus of moving and relocating I had completely forgotten about the sample.

I promptly sent off another sample and this time I arranged to track the package from the post office to the testing lab. A few more weeks of waiting went by, and when I was finally notified of the results, they were . . .


My DNA was compared with the DNA of other people who had submitted samples to the same lab, in order to identify people with whom I shared significant portions of DNA and to whom I might be related. Only one person on the list of names I was given had the last name Leslie, and he was NOT Sharon's cousin Frank Leslie. Sharon and I both had difficulty interpreting the results, so Sharon submitted the data to one of her contacts who knows about DNA testing. He e-mailed her to say that it looked to him as if there was no relationship. Sharon was incredibly disappointed because she was sure she had solved a longstanding riddle in her family history, only to find that she was mistaken. I was disappointed for her sake, but to be honest, I was also relieved. It was bad enough that my great-great grandfather enslaved other human beings and fought for a government that defended that enslavement as a soldier in the Confederate army. At least, I thought, he didn't heap additional disgrace on himself by fathering a child with one of the women he enslaved and then denying paternity, as the social code of the time, place, and race demanded.

In the last few days, however, Sharon has e-mailed me to say that she has been in contact with others who are knowledgeable about DNA test results, and they say IT IS POSSIBLE that we are related; perhaps not as directly as having the same great-great grandfather, but perhaps still related. Or it could be that our two family histories are bound up together, even if the relationship was not biological. We STILL do not have a definitive answer to this question. What I think we need is to find someone who is knowledgeable about this area, submit the data to them, and accept their decision as a final arbiter.

In the meantime, however, there is still much to do. I am not certain who James E. Leslie's parents were, and the trail appears to go cold after him. Charlotte, however, is only about an hour's drive from Statesville, the county seat of Iredell County, NC where my great-great grandfather was born. Who were his parents? When and why did he come to Alabama from North Carolina? I think it is time I reached out to The Genealogical Society of Iredell County and visited the Iredell County courthouse to see if I can find the answers to these questions.

The search is on. The game is afoot.