Posted by pplotkin on December 18, 2018 in AncestryDNA, Who Do You Think You Are?

In Who Do You Think You Are?, Matthew Morrison uncovered fascinating ancestors, each with their own tales of hardship and triumph. For some time, however, roadblocks stood in the way of discovering his ancestor’s stories. Only a tight combination of historical records and DNA could unlock the secrets in Matthew’s tree. The marriage of records and DNA research is becoming essential to discovering the past, and it could be just as vital to your family history experience as it was for Matthew’s.

In the case of Matthew’s ancestral Henderson family, much-needed records simply didn’t exist for them. Matthew’s 2ndgreat-grandmother, Martha Henderson, had a possible sister but nothing else was known about her family. Her possible sister’s death record named her parents as William Henderson and Mary Simms. Were these Martha’s parents? A search was conducted for living descendants of William and Mary’s known-children. Two were found: one a descendant of Martha’s possible sister and the other a descendant of a possible brother. These descendants took theAncestryDNA test, and both showed up as a DNA match to Matthew Morrison. This genetic evidence combined with historical records linked Martha as the daughter of William Henderson and Mary Simms.

Another roadblock where DNA was needed was for Matthew’s 3rdgreat-grandmother, Mary Simms. Much like the case with her daughter Martha, little was known about Mary’s family. In 1880, one of her sons lived with a cousin named Simeon Henderson. Simeon was determined to be the son of Archibald Henderson and Elizabeth Simms; so, did Simeon come from Mary’s family (Simms), or her husband’s (Henderson)?

Simon Henderson living with Mary’s son (Hiram Henderson) in the 1880 census

The answer is both. Matthew Morrison’s DNA matches showed that Simeon had a connection to Mary’s in-laws, but an even closer connection to Mary herself. It was discovered that his mother, Elizabeth Simms, was Mary’s full-blood sister. It appears Mary and Elizabeth married into the same Henderson family before migrating west to Texas. Enough records were found for Elizabeth Simms to confirm her parents were Hiram Newton Simms and Mary L. Abercrombie. Thus, we discovered the names of Mary Simms’s parents.

DNA was vital for many points in Matthew Morrison’s tree where historical records fell short. It can be especially helpful for finding ancestors in the South, where records are scarce or destroyed. The combination of DNA and records can help build up solid evidence and break through centuries-old barriers in family trees. For Matthew Morrison, they took him on a special journey where he shed light on previously-unknown ancestors.

What can DNA unlock for your ancestors? Take a DNA test through see what new discoveries are waiting in your family tree.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists:

  • Examine all existing records for each county your ancestors lived in
  • Build the big picture by researching all family members of your ancestor
  • Follow DNA matches for living descendants of your ancestor and/or your ancestor’s siblings
  • Watch for extended family relationships

Watch Matthew Morrison’s full journey, download the TLC GO app or watch on Binge full episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? on


  1. I love this statement: “The marriage of records and DNA research is becoming essential to discovering the past, and it could be just as vital to your family history experience as it was for Matthew’s.”

    This is so true. DNA evidence has become as vital a part of genealogical evidence as a census record or a death certificate or any other record that we use to reach a conclusion about our ancestors and their lives.

  2. Robin Brook

    I think it is great they do this for famous people. Of course, everyone wants to know. I do believe they should also do this for everyday regular people. Also, with New York having very antiquated laws about keeping adoption records sealed, it makes it very difficult to search. With Ancestry being in the business of seeking information. should lobby to have adoption records opened. I cannot believe in 2018-2019, this is still a discussion rather than a right to know.

  3. Sylvia Kay Reed Colburn

    I know that my great grandmother came over from Scotland and both of my grandmothers were Cherokee Indian and one was from Texas and the other one was from Cherokee, North Carolina.

  4. Ken Mauldin

    Turns out my family is related! It was amazing to watch part of our family history being told on TV. Our connection is the Lindley family which the majority of the episode was focused. Dramatic ending as well.

  5. Cooper

    Hiram Newton Simms and Mary L. Abercrombie are my 6th great-grandparents. That’s awesome that the show covered some of my people. Now time to research this Morrison guy to find our connection.

Join the Discussion

We really do appreciate your feedback, and ask that you please be respectful to other commenters and authors. Any abusive comments may be moderated. For help with a specific problem, please contact customer service.