DNA As a Genealogical Source

Over the past five years, an increasing number of National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) articles have incorporated a new genealogical source: DNA test results. While not necessary to solve every genealogical problem, there are instances when DNA test results supply information that couldn’t be uncovered through traditional research, confirm a conclusion suggested or reached by a paper trail, or provide additional evidence that may sometimes be needed to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. In the September 2014 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Morna Lahnice Hollister’s award-winning article, “Goggins and Goggans of South Carolina: DNA Helps Document the Basis of an Emancipated Family’s Surname,” demonstrates the use of both traditional genealogical research and results from two different types of DNA testing.

Three main types of genetic test results—Y-chromosome, mitochondrial, and autosomal—are useful to genealogists. These tests each match the test-taker to others with whom they likely share a common ancestor. Y-chromosome testing, for men only, provides information on the direct paternal line (the father’s father, and so forth). Likewise, mitochondrial DNA is passed from a mother to all of her children, and test results provide information about the test taker’s umbilical line. Autosomal DNA is inherited from both parents, and testing can provide clues to shared ancestry on many branches of a family tree within recent generations. Hollister’s case study uses evidence from Y-chromosome and autosomal DNA testing.

Hollister faced difficult barriers in determining the origin of the surname Goggins: same-named individuals, unreliable genealogical records, late vital registration, and slaves with no surnames. Despite these challenges, her research and careful documentation link two men as brothers: Mitchell Goggins and Columbus Goggins. They were born in the 1840s, and were among several children of Manning and Talitha, who were slaves of Benjamin Zechariah Herndon and his son Stephen Herndon.

Image: Be-Younger.com,

Image: Be-Younger.com, “DNA isolated on white” via Flickr Commons

The paper trail that pieces together this family is solid, and DNA supports it. Y-DNA testing reveals that male-line descendants of Columbus Goggins and Jesse Goggins (another brother of Mitchell and Columbus) are an identical match at 37 markers, indicating a high probability of a common male-line ancestor in recent generations. Additionally, autosomal DNA test results link the same male-line descendant of Jesse Goggins with his second cousin, once removed, a great-granddaughter of Mitchell Goggins.

In his last will and testament, Stephen Herndon, who owned slaves Manning and Talitha, mentions a friend, “Jessi Gaggans.” Evidence establishes a longtime association between these two men—as early as 1809—and the author suggests that Jesse may have been Stephen Herndon’s employee. Traditional sources link this Jesse to his father, George, and brother James, who also had a connection to Stephen Herndon. Jesse has no documented descendants; however, 67-marker Y-chromosome test results link a descendant of his brother James with the descendant of Columbus Goggins (who was an identical match at 37 markers with the descendant of Columbus’ brother Jesse).

The evidence presented in the article suggests that Stephen Herndon’s friend Jesse Goggans, or one of his relatives, was Manning’s biological father. Alone, the paper trail demonstrating the association between Stephen Herndon and his friend Jesse provided a hint to the possible origin of Manning’s descendants’ surname. However, Hollister’s argument—that Manning’s descendants used the surname Goggins because Jesse or one of his relatives was Manning’s father—would not have been convincing without DNA test results.

Hollister’s article demonstrates how genealogists can incorporate the DNA test results into their proof arguments. Similar to conventional research, DNA test results can provide evidence that supports or refutes familial relationships, and most researchers can benefit from incorporating DNA testing into their research on one or more ancestral lines.

Click here and log in to read Hollister’s article, and click here to read an update.

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