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.

  6. Cary Maurice King

    I am just starting my journey to discover my family tree,
    I live in Harrodsburg Kentucky Mercer County
    My Dad was Cecil Maurice King
    His Dad was John King
    His mom was Dora Mae Macanaully ?
    My mom is Helen Marie Blankenship
    Her dad was Clarence Riley Blankenship
    Her mom was Virginia Wright
    I got a DNA kit for Christmas, getting ready to send it in,
    Any pointers?

    • Grace

      Make sure you make your family tree public so that the DNA can connect with people AND show HOW you’re connected -that way they can see how, and you can see how – nothing more frustrating than a DNA connection, a close one at that, but no tree, or a private tree, that doesn’t give you any other info. Lots of people just do the DNA for the ethnicity results and don’t ever add a tree or check their messages, so while it’s really great and a valuable tool, it can be frustrating too.


    I am looking for the history of the Iroquois native American DNA was just proven that I carry this bloodline and also who was famous Iroquois people?

  8. Shirley Ann Vincent

    Anyone Vicente is my grandfather my dad is Manuel Vincent he changed his last name from Vicente to Vincent
    His mom was Maria Ignacio or farias.
    Manuel grand father was Ambrose Ignacio farias I don’t know my grandma’s first name but they were from Portugal.

  9. Joni ross

    Her married name was bernard and my maiden and last name now since i have never been married is ross.

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