Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Where Is Our Native American DNA? Plus Consider The Source

We had some good news a couple weeks ago when someone from a line that matched our Owens family on the Y test perfectly, at 25 markers, also matched my family on the autosomal test. The fact they matched both at AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA is a good sign. Anyone who survives the AncestryDNA process plus shares common ancestors is likely a true match. When this test came back, from AncestryDNA, GEDmatch wasn't able to process new accounts so we couldn't compare immediately. Another test for a confirmed distant cousin of this match had come in a little before this. This person wasn't able to create a new account at GEDmatch either. Lucky I had created extra accounts at GEDmatch that I never used. When I finally remembered the passwords for these accounts I was able to give them the accounts to use. I found out my family shared a 14.3 cM segment with one of them, but didn't share any DNA segments with the other. This is to be expected because our connection is 7 generations back. It's incredible that even one of them matched us.

According to many sources, including contemporary sources, John Owens had an Indian wife. It's not known for certain which of his children had a Native American mother, or whether all of his children were part Native American? Around a dozen descendants of John Owens have tested, and so far no one has any Native American admixture according to all three testing companies. Trace amounts of Native Admixture can be seen using the GEDmatch admixture utilities. My Aunt shows the highest amounts at GEDmatch of around 2%. Most descendants come out with 1%, or less, admixture using the most sensitive and optimistic projects at GEDmatch. I'm not sure if all this is just noise, and none of John's children, who carried his surname, are children of his Native wife?

I know that DNA from distant ancestors is lost as the generations pass. I wonder about the lack of Native American DNA in those families with traditions of Native American ancestry? It could be that many families just passed down a family tradition not based in fact? It could be that the Native ancestor lived so long ago that no trace of their DNA is visible with the current autosomal tests? I also wonder if the testing companies tell people that no Native American is showing up because that ancestor lived so long ago is just to satisfy customers unhappy with the lack of the sought after Native American results?

"An Extream bad collection of Broken Innkeepers, Horse Jockeys, and Indian Traders"

Brigadier General John Forbes described the character of his provincial troops with the terms above (he probably would wonder why I would be interested in establishing my relationship to these people?).

Genealogical research in Western Pennsylvania during the Colonial era is difficult because so few records were kept. There are no early marriage records. County marriage records weren't recorded until well into the 19th century. Dower releases weren't required in early Pennsylvania either making finding wives names even more difficult.

It's also difficult to find men listed in early deed books in Pennsylvania. Many men took out warrants to survey land, but later abandoned the land without actually finishing the granting process.

Considering the above it is a challenge to find anything about people living in the frontier area of Pennsylvania during the Colonial and early American era. Military letter writers and personal journals have been the best sources I have found for my family during this time period.

Unfortunately I've had to rely on the typed transcripts from the Pennsylvania Archive book collections. This source is wonderful to a point. I have found a least one first name wrongly transcribed. I found the error in a list of names where the first name of the man above was mistakenly copied twice. Typed transcripts aren't my favorite sources but have to suffice until the originals become available, if they ever do?

Another problem I've had to contend with is how do evaluate the credibility of these letter and journal writers? I'm not always sure if what they are relating is from first hand knowledge?

I've been trying to confirm the assumption that David Owens the soldier in Pennsylvania and New York, was John Owens', the Western Pennsylvania based Ohio Country Indian Trader's, son.

According to a single source from one contemporary writer, Sir William Johnson, David Owens was the son of an Indian trader who traded with the Delawares and the Shawnees. The only Owens we have found who is known to have traded with them was my ancestor John Owens. We only have this circumstantial evidence suggesting John and David were father and son.

I did some research on Sir William Johnson in order to determine whether it could be our David Owens he was speaking of, and whether he would have access to this kind of information. He came to this country from Ireland in 1738. He settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York. He was involved in the fur trade and was well acquainted with George Croghan (John Owens sometimes boss) who also owned land in the Mohawk Valley (I'm not sure if John Owens also spent time in the Mohawk Valley of New York?). George Croghan became Sir William Johnson's  Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In 1756 Sir William Johnson was made "Sole Agent and Superintendent of Indians and their Affairs", and was also responsible for helping to raise troops to fight in Indian territory. In the 1764 letter he wrote, describing David's father, he also stated David had been garrisoned at his house. This didn't seem to fit with David son of John Owens because his father was a trader with a trading post in Western Pennsylvania. Johnson also stated that David was in Capt. McClean's company. I found out that a Capt. Allen McLean's company was part of General Forbes expedition which traveled through Pennsylvania on its way to take Fort Duquesne from the French. Locals were used in Forbes campaign. This could be how David hooked up with this company. McLean's company later moved on to campaigns around New York.

After completing this research I think it is possible that Sir William Johnson's letter may contain credible information. He could have received his information about David's father from David himself or from George Croghan? On the other hand he could have assumed he was the son of John Owens based on the common last name? It would be great to have more support for this relationship. Hopefully more will surface in the future.

I don't think that a Colonial official would have a reason to make a false statement regarding David Owens' father. A soldier named Robert Kirkwood wrote of a David Owens in his memoir. His memoir was highly embellished with exaggerated stories. I take much of this type of work with a grain of salt. He stated a David Owens he was held captive with was born in Pennsylvania. Kirkwood and David are together in Pennsylvania after their supposed escape from Indian captivity in the 1750s. Kirkwood later ends up fighting in New York at Ticonderoga, and may have been encouraged by David Owens to desert in 1761, when David himself deserted. Again I can see how David may have gotten to New York and garrisoned at Sir William Johnson's house.

It is hard to judge the veracity of people providing us with information recently. It's so much harder to judge the veracity of the writers who wrote about the Owens family a couple hundred years ago (this is where DNA testing can help). I tend to believe those accounts which were written by Military and Colonial Officials and contemporary journalists; but, memoirs being removed in time from events and prone to exaggeration are less trustworthy. I'm hoping to see more original manuscripts published online. The manuscript collections are invaluable sources for Pennsylvanian research. I've made quite a bit of progress using these collections and hope to unearth even more.


Cindy L. Anderson said...

I have many frontier PA and WV ancestors. I do show NA in autosomal DNA with stories of Native American ancestors in the family and pictures of ancestral women who were clearly not wholly white. My great aunt reports that my great-great grandmother had coal black hair that she never cut and wore in braids and had "Indian blood close in her family."
What PA manuscripts did you use for research? Maybe you know of records I have not found yet.
Thanks. Cindy

Annette said...

Thank you so much for the information Cindy! It's great that you were able to verify your family story! Some of the contemporary sources I've looked at are William Trent's Journal, Henry Bouquet's papers, James Kenny's Journal Fort Pitt, General Forbes papers.

Cindy L. Anderson said...

Thanks. Maybe I can find my guys here.