When confronted with a common surname and the patchy records of the post-colonial south, it’s all too easy to despair that a family line might never be conclusively traced. This is the scenario I’ve grappled with for years when faced with the vague details of the lives of my presumed fifth-great-grandfather, Isaac Hall, and his son, Elithan Hall. Both spent the later years of their lives in Washington County, Illinois, where Isaac died in 1852 and Elithan died in 1860.1 Their earlier years, however, were spent further south; Isaac was allegedly born in 1776 in Anson County, North Carolina,2 while Elithan was said to have been born in 1813 in Tennessee.3
As in the case of another elusive male ancestor, I knew that Y-DNA would be key in determining the origins of the Hall family. Family Tree DNA explains that as the Y chromosome “is passed almost unchanged from father to son,” it can be useful in determining the origins of a surname and can establish connections with cousins who share the same chromosome.4 I am descended from a daughter of Elithan Hall, so I turned to a direct male-line descendant of one of his sons, who, fortunately, was willing to submit his DNA sample per my request.
The Y-DNA results were more extensive than the results I’d received when pursuing the Hammond surname; clearly, a number of Halls are curious about their origins! In the Hall Families DNA Project, my cousin now has a number of matches who share the Y-DNA haplogroup E-M96 and trace their origins to the border region of colonial North Carolina and South Carolina. An e-mail exchange with several matches reinforced the idea that both DNA and the faint paper trail pointed to a connection.
Although little is known about Isaac Hall’s early years in Anson County, North Carolina, I managed to uncover his affidavit for the Revolutionary War pension of one John Hall, who, like Isaac, also migrated from North Carolina to Illinois with a stopover in Tennessee. When called upon to provide an affidavit in 1847, Isaac, then seventy-one, recalled John’s return from the army “with his camp clothing on to wit a black ragged and greedy garment.”5 He also stated that he was present at John’s marriage, which took place around 1784.6 Both of these events occurred when Isaac was still a child, leading me to believe that the shared Hall surname between the men was no coincidence—surely they were related in some way, whether John was Isaac’s older brother, uncle, or perhaps a cousin. I was intrigued to see that a descendant of the same John Hall appeared as a match on Family Tree DNA, but at that point still wasn’t quite sure what to do with so much new information.
It was timely, then, when in February I learned that I was to be the recipient of a DNA analysis by Legacy Tree Genealogists, a prize generously provided for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy’s 2016 Tagline Contest. (I had shared that SLIG was “the perfect way to kick off the year on a genealogical high note,” and in more ways than one, it certainly was!) It took me no time at all to decide that the Hall family DNA would be ideal for the analysis, and the project was undertaken by genetic genealogist Paul Woodbury.
From the completed report, which I could hardly wait to receive, I was introduced to the concept of STRs, or “short tandem repeats,” a type of genetic mutation. According to the report, “Occasional mutations that are introduced in the Y-DNA help to distinguish different lineages, some of which are ethnically and geographically specific.”7 It was noted that my cousin’s DNA sample might share a mutation in particular with several other Hall DNA samples, suggesting a potential recent common ancestor who might be uncovered through recommended further, higher-level testing.8 In addition, by reviewing the lines of descent of other matches, Hall family roots in the Carolinas were confirmed along with suggested distant origins in the British Isles.9
The report also included a review of key matches and further suggestions to pursue the identity of the father of Isaac Hall.10 With so many new ideas and leads to follow, I look forward to learning more about how best to interpret and apply this wealth of information to the Hall family while attending the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree this week!
Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.