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 www.ancestry.com/dnaand 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