Dear Professor Gates:
I live in Ireland and I had a DNA test done by 23andMe to find out more about my great-granny on my dad’s side. She was born in Bermuda around 1882-1884, and may have been named Clarissa Bascome Darrell. I know my great-granddad was Joseph Luzero Ward, but he was married twice and my great-grandmother was not in any records.
Anyway, I found three DNA cousin matches whose great-granddad was also Joseph Luzero Ward (two live in the U.S.), but I am unsure if we share the same great-grandmother. I share 2.18 percent of DNA with one of them. Is it possible that we share both great-grandparents? —Nuala Jennings
To answer your question, we turned to experts in both genetic genealogy and genealogy document research.
Do Nuala Jennings and Her Cousin Share Both Paternal Great-Grandparents?
It’s great that you have been able to make contact with relatives from halfway across the world. That’s one of the benefits of having your DNA tested by a service like 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and AncestryDNA. See our previous article about cousins and shared DNA for more advice on the topic.
First, with regard to your DNA questions, we consulted with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, who sent us the following response by email:
Nuala would like to know if she descends from the same partner (Clarissa) of Joseph Lorenzo Ward as her three DNA cousin matches, who also descend from Joseph. Based on what she told me directly, Nuala descends from Joseph’s daughter Alice Ward and the cousins descend from his daughter Artimeza. She wanted to know: Were Artimeza and Alice full siblings or only paternal half siblings? Did they share the same mother?
If Nuala and the Ward cousins share both a great-grandmother and great-grandfather, then they would be second cousins. Second cousins are expected to share, on average, 3.125 percent of their autosomal DNA. If they only share their great-grandfather, then they are half-second cousins. Half-second cousins are expected to share, on average, 1.563 percent of their autosomal DNA. (Please keep in mind that in observed data there is actually a relatively wide range of shared DNA for each of these types of relationships.)
Nuala and her three Ward cousins (call them Cousin A, Cousin B and Cousin C) have all been tested at 23andMe. They share 2.18 percent, 1.41 percent and 1.25 percent of their DNA, respectively. Due to the ranges of shared DNA that we see in comparisons of proven second cousins and second cousins once removed and the overlap between them, one of these comparisons alone cannot give us an answer. However, when we look at all three cousin results in aggregate, we are able to reach a tentative conclusion. The average shared DNA between these three Ward cousins and Nuala is 1.613 percent, which is what we would expect if they are half-second cousins and descend from different wives of Joseph.
To further support this conclusion, the Ward cousins’ great-grandmother was reportedly a woman of color, while Joseph was of European ancestry. Nuala’s DNA is estimated to be 1.2 percent African. When looking at the DNA that the cousins share with Nuala, it is apparent that all of the shared DNA falls along segments of European ancestry, not African. This would support a shared ancestor of European ancestry, which would fit with Joseph being the sole common great-grandparent.
Although compelling, these factors are not definitive proof that Nuala descends from a different wife of Joseph Ward than her DNA matches do, so I have a couple of suggestions.
1. If any exist, test any surviving family members on that line of descent of an older generation, since they will carry more DNA from the ancestor(s) in question. This may give a clearer answer to the research question.
2. This is a case where mitochondrial DNA testing can be used very effectively. Does Nuala’s father have a sister who has living children and do her cousins have a living paternal aunt or children of a paternal aunt? If so, the mtDNA of these descendants should be compared to reach a definitive conclusion.
You see, a mother passes her mitochondrial DNA to all of her children, so if Artimeza and Alice were full sisters, then they both would have passed Clarissa’s mitochondrial DNA to their children and any daughters would have passed it to their children. These direct maternal descendants’ mitochondrial DNA can be compared to determine if they have the same mtDNA and, thus, descend from the same woman.
In this case, since neither Nuala nor her cousins descend from Joseph and his wife/wives in a direct maternal line, but rather, through their fathers, to use this method they will need to locate a maternal grandchild of both Alice and Artimeza (descending through females).
Is Nuala Jennings’ Great-Grandmother Clarissa Bascome Darrell?
You may have to dig deep in records to document a link between Joseph Luzero Ward and Clarissa Bascome Darrell, something we were not able to verify in documents. There are many family trees online that make this connection between these two individuals, such as this one on Geni. Online family trees can often be helpful in getting started, but it is important to note that the information is typically not cited by source, so it can be difficult to determine where the information originated. However, you can use the trees as a means to gather potentially correct information about your family and then you need to verify it through documentation on your own.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of resources for Bermuda available online, so you’ll have to start your research the old-fashioned way and examine books and original records on microfilm. Since you have had difficulty locating Clarissa Bascome Darrell in records with Joseph Luzero Ward, you may also have to get creative. Your best bet may be to piece together a connection between the Ward and Darrell families in Bermuda to make a case for the relationship between Clarissa and Joseph.
Find Out What Kinds of Records Are Available for Making Linkages
Probate and land records may prove the most useful if you are having difficulty locating vital records for the family. Abstracts of Bermuda wills are in publication. Clara Frances Edith Hollis Hallett produced a number of works of records in Bermuda, including Early Bermuda Wills, 1629-1835; 19th Century Bermuda Wills 1835-1913; Early Bermuda Records 1619-1826; and Bermuda Index, 1784-1914: An Index of Births, Marriages, Deaths as Recorded in Bermuda Newspapers. You could search WorldCat for these books to see if they are held by a library in your area. If not, you could contact your local library to see if it is possible to obtain the books through an interlibrary loan.
When searching through the books, you will want to copy or make notes of any records relating to the Darrell and Ward families. You should also pay attention to the Bascome family, since they are also likely related, based on Clarissa’s name. While these are only abstracts of records, they can begin to give you a sense of family members and how they relate to one another. They will also provide you with a way to determine what records exist for your family so you can begin searching for the original records.
When we searched through 19th Century Bermuda Wills 1835-1913, we noted a number of Darrells, but had difficulty locating anyone named Clarissa. However, when we searched under the name Bascome, we noted a will for Clarissa Bascome written Jan. 9, 1867, and proved May 10, 1889. The abstract states she was a spinster of St. George Parish. She named her sister, Nancy Darrell, and Nancy’s son, Samuel Jas Darrell, and his children, including Clarissa Bascome Darrell. The book states that the original will is located in Will Book 26, Page 234. You would benefit from having the original, since there may be more information included about family relationships or locations for individuals not included in the abstract.
Look for the Original Records, Even if You Must Travel
Once you have an idea of what records are available, you can search for the original records. The Family History library has a number of records available on microfilm. You could order them to view at your local Family History Center. You could search for Clarissa Bascome’s original will and any other family probate record you identify in Bermuda probate records, available via FamilySearch. In addition to probate records, there are also a number of public records available on microfilm from 1612-1937 including deeds, bonds and grants. Court records may also be useful in your search, particularly if there is the chance that Clarissa Bascome Darrell and Joseph Luzero Ward co-parented children but never married. It is possible that there could be a case for support or other charges related to their relationship.
If you have the opportunity to travel to Bermuda, you could visit the Bermuda Archives. Their collection spans almost 400 years and they have records ranging from probate records to maps and manuscripts that may help you piece together your family. The staff does not conduct in-depth research, but you could place a request for a general search to see if their collections may be useful to your search before you decide to visit the archive or hire a local researcher to visit for you. The Bermuda Archives do not hold more current deeds or vital records after 1866, but you could contact the Registry General to see if it holds deeds for your family. The Registry General may be able to search for a record for you without your needing to be on-site and you could inquire about obtaining copies of the original documents.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also co-founder of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.
This answer was provided in consultation with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore (YourGeneticGenealogist.com) and Meaghan E.H. Siekman, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today about researching African-American roots.