Sunday, May 27, 2018

DNA - Good Enough for the DAR?

Part of the fun of being a genealogist is being familiar with all of the societies that you are eligible to join as a result of your descent from certain groups of ancestors. I am being officially inducted into the Anne Bailey Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution next month, along with my mother and grandmother. I also have ancestors that make me eligible for most of the other major societies, including the Daughters of 1812, Daughters of the Confederacy, Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, Winthrop Society, Colonial Dames of the 17th Century, and the Jamestown Society. Much to my aggravation, I have yet to find an ancestor making me eligible for the Mayflower Society.

All of these societies require documented proof for each generation that connects you to the qualifying ancestor, including birth, marriage, and death information. This information can sometimes be very challenging to obtain for various reasons - courthouse fires, lack of proper record-keeping, and name misspellings are the usual culprits. Sometimes, if you're lucky, family genealogy books tracing a single family name or all of the descendants of one ancestor were written before the original documents were destroyed; but even then, the books are only accepted in specific cases. In many cases, you might know that you descend from a specific ancestor because of family tradition, letters, Bible records that are no longer accessible to you, etc., and not have the official records to prove it because of one of the reasons listed above.

This person who matches my grandmother's DNA descends
rom John McClung, the father of our DAR ancestor, 
Samuel McClung. This is an example of an ancestor
"hint" received on Ancestry when two DNA matches
have the same ancestor in their tree.
There have been so many occasions when I wished that the DAR (or any of the other societies) would accept Ancestry DNA results as proof of lineage. Ancestry has a "hints" system in its interface for DNA matches, which points shows you how you are related to someone that you match with. If you and the DNA match have the same ancestor in your trees, you both receive a "hint." Not exactly 100% concrete with just one match, but if you have several hints that all connect back to the same ancestor, I would say that it is beyond reasonable doubt that you are both descended from the same ancestor. 

The DAR began accepting Y-DNA results (which can only be carried through direct male lines) as a supplement to applications in 2014, but you still have to have exact documentation for every generation. As far as I know, the DAR is the only society that accepts even Y-DNA, although I'm not really sure what the advantage of submitting it would be. This is the explanation that the DAR gives: 

"DAR begins accepting Y-DNA evidence, effective January 1, 2014, in support of new member applications and supplemental applications. DNA evidence submitted along with other documentation will be considered along with all of the other source documentation provided to prove heritage. Y-DNA will not be considered as stand-alone proof of linage because, while it can be used as a tool to point to a family, it cannot be used as absolute proof for an individual. For those applicants wishing to submit DNA evidence as proof of lineage along with their other traditional proof documentation, they must submit Y-DNA test results from at least two test subjects following criteria outlined in the guidelines and test requirements for Using DNA Evidence for DAR Applications." (The source for this quote can be found here.)

I hope that at some point in the near future, genealogical societies will begin to take autosomal DNA results (the scientific name for Ancestry DNA, which can be carried through men or women) as an acceptable proof of lineage, or perhaps in support of other documentation that is less exact, such as census records prior to 1850. Perhaps the following rules could be put in place:

1. The DNA matchs must be within a certain number of generations (say, no more than 8).
2. You must produce at least 3 DNA matches who descend from the same ancestor.
3. At least one of the DNA matches must already be a member.

What are your thoughts on genealogical societies accepting autosomal DNA as proof of lineage? Please let me know!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ka-Okee: Daughter of Pocahontas or Genealogy Legend?

The internet is now full of stories about Ka-Okee, the supposed lost daughter of Pocahontas and her first husband, the warrior Kokoum. While many people embraced the story immediately, others have been quick to immediately dismiss it as the stuff of genealogical fairy-tales.

The only portrait of Pocahontas made
during her lifetime.
I first found the story of Ka-Okee when researching a line of my own family. If the pieced-together pedigrees are to be believed, I am descended from Ka-Okee through her daughter, Christian Pettis, and her granddaughter, Ann Martin, who married Edward Watts.

The line has been researched and documented with primary source documents by me up through the marriage of Ann Martin and Edward Watts. When I did a Google Books search for the two names together to see if anything else would come up, I came across the book Shawnee Heritage IV by Don Greene, who connected the couple to Ka-Okee via Christian Pettis. When I saw that Ka-Okee was apparently the daughter of Pocahontas, I had to know more.

I quickly came upon two blog posts on the subject - one embracing it as truth, and one instantly and flippently dismissing it as fiction. It was clear that I wasn't going to get unbiased opinions here, so I set out to find the truth of the matter and to draw my own conclusions.

I quickly found the original Patawomeck Tides newsletter where the story of Ka-Okee made its debut. The basic premise of the tribal historian, Bill Deyo, seemed to be simple enough: he knew of several families who claimed descent from Pocahontas according to their family traditions, but none of them descended from the Bollings (the family from which all of Pocahontas' documented descendants come, via her granddaughter, Jane Rolfe, who married a Bolling). They did, however, all descend from the Martin and Pettus families. There was already a long-standing oral tradition in the Martin family that one of their early colonial ancestors had married a Native American girl named Ka-Okee. Deyo knew that Ka-Okee must connect to Pocahontas somehow, but he did not know exactly how.

It was then that Bill Deyo discovered the book The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow and Angela L. Daniel "Silver Star." In this book, Angela L. Daniel recorded the sacred oral history of the Mattaponi tribe, as told by Dr. Custalow, their chief. The oral tradition had been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, and had never before been recorded in writing. The Mattaponi people were the tribe of Pocahontas' mother. The book confirmed what Deyo had already been thinking - that there must have been another child besides Thomas Rolfe, the child of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Deyo then concluded that as all lines led back to the Martin family, the child must have married into the family at some point, and that this child must have been Ka-Okee, the Native American ancestor that had been part of their family traditions for generations.

After purchasing the book and reading it, I confirmed one interesting point. As Bill Deyo points out in the Patawomeck Tides newsletter, the tribe really did not know much about the child of Pocahontas and Kokoum, other than the fact that a child existed. In the timeline at the end of the book, the authors state that "[between 1610 and 1612] Pocahontas came of age. She was about thirteen years old. Pocahontas fell in love with and married Kokoum, an elite Patawomeck warrior and a guard at Werowocomoco. They eventually moved to the Patawomeck tribe and had a child. Because the baby's name is not known, he is referred to in the manuscript as "Little Kokoum." If the name of the child was not known, it is reasonable to speculate that the gender of the child might also have been unknown; the child could just as easily have been a daughter as a son.

Up to this point, I have only given a summery of what I found while researching. Here is my interpretation of the information found, and my opinion on Ka-Okee:

  1. The book The True Story of Pocahontas should be considered a credible source, and the assertion that Pocahontas and Kokoum had a child together should be taken as fact. The book was originally a dissertation, written as the final step in Angela Daniel's requirement to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology from the College of William and Mary, an Ivy League institution (see the acknowledgements at the end of the book). This manuscript had to go through a rigorous processes of review from a dissertation committee made up of experts in the field, and everything in the manuscript that could be confirmed via documentation was in fact documented. If a committee of experts in the field are willing to accept these assertions from the Mattaponi tribe as fact, so should we.
  2. William Strachey, a member of the Virginia Company, wrote in 1612 that Pocahontas was married to Kokoum for at least two years. Two years is plenty of time in which to have a child. Yes, the couple would have been very young; but during the early 17th century, young girls were frequently married in their early teenage years and bore children soon thereafter.
  3. All of the families mentioned by Deyo in the newsletter do descend from the Martin and Pettis/Pettus families. William Pettus, an accomplished genealogist who has published two volumes on the Pettis/Pettus family, has accepted the Ka-Okee story as true. You can read his comments on the story here.
  4. Whether the child was a boy or a girl, the child most likely does have hundreds of descendants by now. The number of Pocahontas descendants who descend from Thomas Rolfe number in the thousands, including two former first ladies of the United States. It would be reasonable to assume that the first child's descendants would be similar in number, and likely have a few notables among them.

Based on the available information, I absolutely believe that Pocahontas and Kokoum had a child. I believe that it is very likely that this child was female, and that this is a huge part of the reason why this story has not been known until now. I believe that it is very possible that the child was the Native American woman who apparently married Thomas Pettus, known as Ka-Okee.

Will we every know the story in it's entirety? No. Will we ever know for sure if the child was male or female? With the advances in Ancestry DNA testing, it's quite possible. Will we ever find a contemporary written reference to any of this? It's possible, but probably not.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this story, particularly if any professional genealogists ever happen across this page. It is an intriguing story, and one that, if proven true, could change our entire outlook on early colonial Native American genealogy.


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