Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Sunday, August 10, 2008

DNA Projects - Who Is My Patriarch?

If you have ever pored over ship's immigration records, U.S. Census records, land grants or deed records, or any other "old" records looking for your ancestors, you may have been confused by the repetitious use of certain given names from sometime in the 1600's to the mid-1800's. (In July 2008, I wrote a post explaining some of these naming conventions in families.)

It seems that so many individuals were named the same given name. Doesn't everyone have a John, a Joseph, a Samuel, or a William (or two or three) in his family tree? More than likely you have found that, in fact, you do have one or more of those names..........particularly if you have English, Irish, Scotch, or even German ancestry, as so many from the South have in their backgrounds.

Also, if you have Porter ancestors, you may have a patriarch with the name of Hancock, Ephraditous, Shadrack, Tillet, or Landlot.

In my case, I know without a doubt that John James Porter (J. J.) was my great-grandfather. My great-grandmother, Margaret Meriwether Porter told me, her daughter (my grandmother) told me, and my father told me. I have old family pictures of J. J. Porter............with his wife, with his daughter, and with her son (my father.) To me, these personal family stories and pictures that back them up are pretty convincing proof of ancestry. The evidence linking John James Porter to James M. Porter and that links them both to Samuel Porter is also very convincing. But once I attempt to go back to the generation beyond Samuel, I don't have the evidence I really need to connect Samuel to his parents.

Who was Samuel Porter's father? Was it Hancock? Was it Landlot? Or was it another John or Samuel, or was it a name I haven't even found yet? I really don't know, and this lack of evidence brings me to the question: Do I need to resort to DNA analysis? The fact is that I cannot personally submit a DNA sample for this purpose. My understanding of the process is that a sample can be submitted only by a male relative who shares the same last name.

DNA projects for genealogy research have gained increasingly in popularity during the past several years, and the growth rate continues as we speak. The fact that a simple DNA sample could help unravel one's family tree made national news when the story of Thomas Jefferson's possible descendants became the subject of much discussion a number of years ago. DNA testing is
now available in the form of a simple sample, obtained by swabbing the inside of the cheek. A "buccal swab," as the method of testing is known, is all it takes to begin to "trace your family tree." The well-known website,, now offers DNA testing.

Recently, several of these family DNA projects have received widespread attention, since mainstream television network programs, including a recent CNN special production, have shown in living color how successful DNA testing can be in tracing your family tree. When I checked the internet listings for DNA Projects, I found many, many surname projects underway. One of these is the Porter DNA Project. Its "Patriarch Page" is available on the web at:

The way the process seems to work is that once the DNA test results are in, they are grouped by specific known male ancestors, or "Patriarchs."

Already listed on "The Porter DNA Project" are these names:

Porter, Isaac, b 1760 (PA)
Porter, Benjamin, b 1763 (Boston, MA or Canada)
Porter, John Litton, b 1787 (Lee Co., VA)
Porter, David, b. 1812 (Baltimore, MD)
Porter, Harvey, b 1792 (Connecticut)
Porter, Harrison Jackson, b 1805 (VA)
Porter, Dr. Daniel, Sr., b. 1620
Porter, Samuel, b. circa 1704 (Pitcome, Somerset, UK)
Porter, Samuel, b. 1722
Porter, Patrick, b. 1731 (KY?)
Porter, James, b. 1735
Porter, John, b. circa 1755
Porter, Silas Arthur, b. circa 1812, Tuscarawas Co., OH)
Porter, Lyman, b. 1805 (Weston, Conn.)
Porter, William, b. 1806 (NH or VT)

Will I find my patriarch? I believe I will. It may not be this week or the next, but if I continue my search, I believe I will succeed. Whether the results are from DNA testing, from hours of research, or from making just the right contact with someone who has some small bit of information that I don't have, is yet to be determined.

Time will tell.

Now my question for you is: Who is your patriarch?

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