Sunday, February 26, 2012

DNA & Documents

I have been a member of the Pennington Research Association for about 15 years.  During that time, genealogy research has changed extensively.  Back when I started researching, the internet was very new and there wasn’t a great deal of information available on the internet.  Back then, the majority of research was still conducted in libraries and archives as well as courthouses and cemeteries.  Today, it is a brand new world of genealogy research.

Nowadays, researchers spend more time doing their research on the computer through online genealogy sites like,, as well as email and user boards.  These research methods are an addition to the previous methods of research.  I still think that people go to the libraries and archives and certainly they still haunt courthouses and cemeteries…but there seems to be a lot more contact via the internet.  Today, people make contact through social networking sites like Facebook or through a newslist that is surname or geographic specific as well.  It also seems to be cheaper to pick up the phone and talk to fellow researchers more often and to digitize and trade documentation through email. 
We believe that my ancestor, Levi Pennington b. 1794 is the son of Ephraim Pennington b. 1769.  You might wonder why I keep adding dates onto these names.  There are several Ephraims, Benajahs, Micajahs, & Levis…and the date is the only way to separate them.  The supposition is that our Ephraim b. 1769 is probably a son of an Ephraim b. 1745 who is also probably a son of an Ephraim b. 1724.  There is also some Benajah’s and some Micajah’s thrown in there to mess up the Ephraim soup.  The likelihood that there is a genetic tie-in is confirmed through DNA research.  The Pennington Research Association has had a DNA study that has been going on for some time.  If you are interested in learning about the DNA study, check out - Essentially there is a “super group” that includes Group 4, 7, 12, 30, 31, & 32.  This means that there is a shared family history going back at least 8 generations.  Now…that doesn’t mean that we know that actual family lines that connect back to that ancestor who lived 8 – 10 generations ago, only that we have a genetic connection.  Many of us have theorized that this past ancestor is probably Ephraim b. 1724.  My ancestor,  Ephraim b. 1769 and his descendants lived in the Ashe Co., NC region.  So, since we have the scientific connection, the question is trying to make the documentary connection – which in itself is a struggle and may not even be possible.  Many records of that earlier period have been lost or simply weren’t kept.  The only way to trace many of these families is through land records or wills and when you have so many similar names – it is hard to figure out which is which. 

So…even though we have the scientific proof, we still need to work on the documentary proof.  Guess what…this goes back to old fashioned genealogy research.  I have worked with two researchers in the past who have both made a valiant effort to puzzle out our lines.  One researcher looked at all of the land records from the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s and attempted to place these on a map.  Sometimes this isn’t that easy because the names of locations have changed.  He did a marvelous job though of placing these records on a map so it was easy to see the patterns.  Another researcher had the skill of platting many of these records.  She was familiar enough with the land and the locations that she could look at a record and draw out the plat and figure out who was next door or what happened to that specific piece of land.  
The Pennington land in Ashe Co., NC today.  This was passed from Ephraim b. 1769 to Andrew b. 1813 to Elijah!
For example, she figured out that a land record that had been Ephraim Pennington’s b. 1769 had been passed to his son, Andrew.  That specific piece of land was sold to Elijah Pennington in 1852 when Andrew Pennington left Ashe Co., NC and went to Laurel Bloomery, Johnson Co., TN.  Elijah Pennington was the son of my ancestor, Levi b. 1794 who was also Andrew’s brother and Ephraim’s son.  Even today, if you go to the Little Laurel area of Ashe Co., NC, many of those who still live there are descendants of Levi Pennington b. 1794.  There is a Pennington road, an old store with Pennington on front nearby, and a small church full of stained windows commemorating Pennington’s who had lived there.  I’m sure if you looked very closely and the inhabitants of the area, you would find that most have a connection to the Levi Pennington family.

The Little Laurel Church.

This only proves that science alone cannot fill in the blanks.  It can only be yet another clue in the research process.  Who knows, it may take a few more decades before DNA can give us any more clues.  Which means, we still need to do it the old fashioned way.  I’m not sure if my favorite part of genealogy hasn’t been the wonderful friends who I have “met” along the way.