Monday, November 7, 2011

Womack DNA Testing

In late 2003, we began Y-DNA testing of male Womacks to see what we could find, eventually getting nearly 30 participants.

Y-DNA tests look at DNA on the Y-chromosome, which only males have - in fact, it is what makes someone a male. All the other chromosomes get mixed up randomly, half from the mother and half from the father, except for the Y-chromosome in boys. It gets passed from father to son, virtually unchanged, except for the occasional random mutation (which usually does no harm).

Surnames also usually pass from father to son. This does not always happen, of course, and we call that an NPE, for non-paternal event. It could happen because of an unwed mother, infidelity, adoption, name changes, or in very rare cases, a widow remarrying soon after she got pregnant from her first husband and unsure who the father was.

We all "knew" about the 5 Womack brothers of Henrico Co, VA in the late 1600s, so we expected that the tests would show one haplotype (a DNA grouping) for all Womacks. Imagine our surprise when we found three haplotypes!

Y-DNA testing is like genealogy, in that we are looking for the MRCA - Most Recent Common Ancestor. Our DNA tests showed three MRCAs:

  1. Abraham Womack, wife unknown, who died in 1733 in Henrico Co, VA
  2. Richard Womack "Jr", wife Elizabeth (possibly a Puckett), who died in 1723 in Henrico Co, VA (I'll discuss why the "Jr" is in quotes below)
  3. William Womack, wife unknown, who died before Feb 1778 in Halifax Co, NC
The Y-DNA from these groups is so different from one another that a biological relationship along male lineage is impossible. For each of the 3 groups, we have descendants of 3 sons of each MRCA. Since each MRCA had 3 sons with the same Y-DNA, we know for certain that the biological father had the same Y-DNA. Thus, we know for certain the Y-DNA of each MRCA.

From our current understanding of the structure of the early Womack family, Richard "Jr" and William were the nephews of Abraham. Richard "Jr" was the son of Richard "Sr" and William was the son of John. We believed Richard "Sr" and John to be Abraham's brothers.

As a quick review, records from the late 1600s in Virginia spell out the relationships:
  • A court record states that Abraham Womack was the brother of William Womack, deceased.
  • In another court record, Abraham states that Richard, deceased, was his brother.
  • In Thomas Womack's will, he lists Abraham as his brother.
  • Deeds in Henrico and Charles City Cos, VA show Richard and John calling one another brothers.
So, from these records, we can construct a family of 5 brothers. There were also at least one or two sisters, but for Y-DNA purposes, we are interested in the brothers.

We know from Thomas' will that he died without children. We also know from the court record that mentioned William, brother of Abraham, that William also had no surviving children; otherwise there is no way that Abraham (as eldest surviving brother under the law of primogeniture) would have received two-thirds of William's estate. That leaves Abraham, Richard, and John as the only brothers who had children.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Womack genealogy is that the vast majority of European-descent Womacks in America descend from one of the three MRCAs above. Every Womack tested so far descends from one of these three MRCAs. By the time of the 1850 census, there were a handful of Womacks, mostly in New York, who were recent immigrants from England. These were far outnumbered by about 2700 Womacks of various spellings in the 1850 census who descend from the three MRCAs. These three MRCAs can all be traced to small area of Virginia, which I find amazing. That sort of thing almost never happens with a surname as common as Womack.

So, there are records stating that Abraham, William, Richard, John and Thomas were brothers. However, the Y-DNA of Abraham differs from that of Richard "Jr" (purported son of Richard "Sr"), and they both differ from that of William (purported son of John).

Here is what the DNA testing tells us about the Richard "Jr" line. On of the following two statements MUST be true:
  1. Abraham and Richard "Sr" did NOT have the same biological father.
  2. Richard "Sr" was NOT the biological father of Richard "Jr".
There is no way of getting around it. One of the above statements MUST BE TRUE, and the other is almost certainly false; there is a tiny possibility that both are true.

Likewise, for the William line, one of the following two statements MUST be true:
  1. Abraham and John did NOT have the same biological father.
  2. John was NOT the biological father of William.
My gut feeling is that whatever happened occurred in the first generation, when there were fewer extant records about what happened. Also, we must consider the personality of John Womack - he was a mean guy. I do not see him adopting children, and his wife, Mary Akin, was probably far too scared too ever be unfaithful.

My conclusion is that Abraham, Richard, and John had three different biological fathers. They may still have been half-brothers, if they all had the same mother. Having the same mother would be enough for them to call each other brothers. I have never seen an old deed or will where it says "I give to my half-brother some land", even though I know they were half-brothers. It was always "brother". (Brother could also mean brother-in-law.)

Note that we cannot currently say anything about the DNA of Richard "Sr" or of John. This is because we have DNA from only one son of each of these men. If we had DNA from a second son of each of these men, we could say more. This is why a DNA test of a descendant of Terry Womacks of Brown Co, OH is important, because he MAY descend from William Womack, son of Richard Sr. Likewise, a DNA test of the Womack/Waymack families from Prince George Co, VA would be helpful, although we may never know with certainty the exact lineage back to John due to the loss of records.

One theory is that two or more of the 5 original Womack brothers were adopted. If that is the case, then the one most likely to be a biological Womack was Abraham, being the oldest.

I personally don't buy the adoption theory. I don't think that people back then would have thought to spare a child's feelings about both parents dying by pretending the child was their own. I think those notions of a child's welfare are much more modern inventions. I have in fact seen many cases in the 1800s where a child's parents died, and they were raised by relatives, but never adopted and had their name-changed. That kind of formal adoption is also, I think, a fairly modern invention.

When a man died intestate (without a will) in the 1600s, his widow got one-third of the estate. In fact, a man could not make a will in which he gave his wife less than one-third. If we made a will, he was free to give her more, or even everything. If he made no will, the eldest son got two-thirds of the estate, and the rest of the kids got nothing. (These were the laws of primogeniture, which existed in America until after the Revolution. The idea was to keep estates from being sub-divided every generation until they were too small, which mattered in England, where people had run out of land for agriculture.)

However, if a man died without a will, and his eldest son was a minor (under 21), the son was appointed a guardian, even if his mother was alive. The term guardian is misunderstood by most people doing family history. Back then, a guardian generally did not look after the physical well-being of a child; rather they managed money and property on behalf of the child, until the child reached his majority and could be given the property.

If a child's family was too poor to take care of that child, the child was "bound out" as an apprentice to someone. As an apprentice, they lived with their "master". I believe that no child was bound out until they were somewhat self-sufficient, around age 5. Until then, they stayed with their mother if possible, maybe with the support of the Church of England (the only official church at the time, and in charge of the welfare of the poor). Often, even a child who had an inheritance coming when they turned 21 had to be bound out, because the mother was too poor. This was why women tended to marry again very quickly after their husbands died, so they would have sufficient income to keep their family intact. This led to the phrase "married well and often".

We know a tiny bit about Thomas Womack's mother, who was possibly the mother of all 5 Womack brothers. In 1685, Thomas Womack took Timothy Allen to Henrico Co, VA court to receive some items he had inherited from his mother (who was unfortunately not named), who was deceased by 1685. Thomas had apparently just turned 21 (which matches a court deposition 7 years later in which he stated he was 28), and was due his inheritance from Timothy Allen, who was apparently the guardian of Thomas' inheritance from his mother. It is likely that Thomas' mother had married Timothy Allen, since it was common for a step-father to become the guardian of the step-kids financial affairs.

Since Thomas Womack was promised certain items by his mother, that hints at the possibility she made a will, either written or nuncupative (oral). The records of Henrico Co, VA are pretty much all destroyed before 1677 or 1678, and spotty in coverage thereafter. This may mean that Thomas' mother was dead before 1678, or that her will was made after 1678, but lost in one of the gaps in the record books.

Timothy Allen also appears in Orphans Court records of Henrico Co, VA as the guardian the financial estate of Thomas Womack and Mary Womack, whose inheritance was in cattle. Timothy Allen made two reports to the Orphans Court (which met annually) in 1677 and 1678. The 1677 report states that Thomas and Mary were the orphans of William Womack. It does NOT say that that William was the father of Thomas and Mary, and given the results of the DNA tests, it is certainly questionable whether this William was their father, biological or otherwise.

This 1677 Orphans Court report by Timothy Allen is the one and only mention of this William Womack, unless this was William, the brother of Abraham. This is a very speculative theory, but perhaps the 1674 court decision, in which Abraham was awarded two-thirds of his brother William's estate, was not the final word. This court decision was made at the Virginia colony level, and thus escaped the loss of Henrico's records circa 1677, but the colonial records are also very spotty for this time period. Perhaps the court reversed the decision when someone found a will which William had wrote (again, the existence of this will is very speculative), in which William, having no children, had given his estate (minus the obligatory one-third dower to his widow) to all his siblings equally. The older siblings, being over 21, would have received their share immediately, but the minor children, Thomas and Mary, had their inheritance managed by Timothy Allen.

It is more likely that William, brother of Abraham, died without a will, living a widow and no children, which resulted in Abraham getting two-thirds of the estate by the laws of primogeniture.

If you have read this far, you have noticed that I have yet to mention William Womack "the Immigrant", purported father of the 5 Womack brothers of Henrico Co, VA.

First off, there is no evidence whatsoever of the Womack family in Virginia prior to 15 Mar 1672/3 (a land patent from Virginia colony to Richard Womack), which was in 1673 the way we reckon time nowadays. Before 1673, the Womack family could have fallen from the sky for all we know. Given that their neighbors were mostly colonists from England (plus a few from France and Holland), and that Womack is a common name in England, it is certain that they came from England. However, they may have arrived shortly before 1673, and thus all 5 brothers were born in England, not Virginia. Almost every Womack family tree in existence claims the 5 brothers were born in Virginia, but this is all unfounded speculation.

Of course, people will believe the Womacks were in Virginia prior to 1673, but due to record loss, we won't find any record of them. However, the land patent records seem fairly complete for many, many years prior to 1673, and the fact that no Womack appears with a land patent is suggestive that they were recent arrivals in 1673. (Claims that Womacks had land patents before 1673 are mistakes or frauds, given that the land patents have been transcribed for many years, are are freely available to view on the Library of Virginia website.)

Back to the William Womack who was mentioned in the 1677 Orphans Court report with orphans Thomas and Mary Womack. The terms orphan is misleading. It was a legal term. It did not mean necessarily that both or either parent was dead. It meant that somebody had left an inheritance to Thomas and Mary, and the orphans court records consisted of reports by the financial guardians of the inheritance. William could have been a grandfather or an uncle.

If this William Womack was the father of Thomas and Mary, then he was almost certainly not the father of all 5 brothers. The most rational interpretation of the DNA results does not allow that William was the biological father of all 5 brothers.

Certainly, the history of the Womacks before 1673 was more complex than we know. It is highly possible the William Womack who has always been assumed to be the father of the 5 Womack brothers was, in fact, an uncle.

There may have been another uncle, Richard Womack, who was the recipient of the two earliest Womack land patents in 1673, and this Richard died without children, willing his land to his namesake nephew, Richard Womack who married Mary Puckett. There is no proof of this. I find it more likely that our single record of Richard's age is incorrect. He deposed in 1679 that he was 24, but the clerk may have recorded his age incorrectly. Researchers have been disturbed that Richard patented land at 17 or 18, though it was possible. I think he was older. In any case, there is evidence that the Richard Womack who married Mary Puckett was in possession of the 1673 land patents when he died in 1684.

So, what happened to cause the DNA split in the Womack family? Who knows? Some more DNA testing may shed some light. DNA tests on Womacks from England would be very interesting.

One wild theory is that the "father" of the 5 brothers (maybe named William, maybe not) was the biological father of William and Abraham by his first wife, and after she died, he married a woman whose husband had just died, and unbeknownst to her, she was pregnant by her first husband, and they assumed the new husband was the father. Then, this happened again with a third wife who was pregnant when they married!

Whatever happened, we may never know. As stated above, I now find the adoption scenario a little fishy.

As a researcher, I say thank God for the DNA split. It has been incredibly helpful in narrowing down the Womack lines that the participants belong to. In a few cases, the DNA testing led us to historical evidence that proved a Womack lineage.

As promised above, I will explain why I put the "Sr" and "Jr" in quotes. All of the Sr, Jr, III, IV jazz is a complete and utter invention of family researchers. We use it as a method of differentiating individuals with the same name, particularly fathers and sons. I could do a full essay on Sr and Jr, but suffice it to say the meaning has changed over the years. In many years of looking at countless documents from the 1600s to the 1800s, I have never once seen a person referred to as "III" or "IV". I have seen people referred to as "Sr" and "Jr" only, and beyond that, other ways of differentiating, such as "John Womack by the River". The terms "Sr" and "Jr" signified only that there were two people in the same area with the same name who needed to be told apart. It did not imply a father-son relationship, and I have seen it applied between grandfather/grandson, uncle/nephew, and even two cousins. Usually, there was no need for a man to go by "Sr" until there was someone else by that name who was around 14-16 years old, and could legally begin witnessing documents. Also, an individual was often referred to a "Jr" when young (in relationship to a father, uncle, etc) and "Sr" when older (in relationship to a son, nephew, etc).

Thus, in the legal proceedings in Prince Edward Co, VA concerning the death of Richard Womack "IV", son of a Richard "III", the elder Richard is referred to as "Sr" and the younger as "Jr". Likewise, Richard Womack "Jr" in Henrico Co, VA is always referred to as just "Richard Womack". He was too young when his father, Richard "Sr" died in 1684 to need differentiation from his dad; and he died before his son, Richard "III", was old enough to need differentiation from.

Furthermore, what if Richard Womack "Sr" was not the first Richard in the line, and the father (of at least some of the 5 brothers) was a Richard??? Our labeling of Richard Sr, Jr, III, and IV would be totally incorrect. Another reason to take all the suffix jazz with a grain of salt.