Thursday, August 31, 2017

Breaking through brick walls with Y-DNA

Who was the father of my ancestor Electious Thompson, and how did DNA prove it? It is unlikely that this mystery could have ever been solved without Y-DNA testing which zeros in on the paternal line.

Electious Thompson was a Revolutionary War soldier who married Eliza Alexander 14 August 1780 in Prince George's County, Maryland. He died 30 December 1840 in Morgan County, Alabama. I wrote about this in a previous blog post, but I will remind you of what I knew about his father. This came from a newspaper article published in 1841, the year after Electious died.

-From the Huntsville Democrat, July 17, 1841:
THOMPSON, ELECTIUS-"We are assembled, on this interesting occasion, around the grave of Electius Thompson, a revolutionary father, to pay to his memory the last tribute of respect.
 "But we hasten to give you a brief sketch of Electius Thompson. He was born in 1750, near the place where the city of Washington now stands, and died at the advanced age of ninety years. Losing his father when an infant, he was committed to the charge of an uncle, who placed him on a vessel at sea at the early age of nine years, to learn the arduous duties of a sailor . . ."

In the 1840 Federal Census of Morgan County, Alabama, Electious is listed as age 90-100. He is also listed in the column "Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services, included in the foregoing" where his age is listed as 91.

Electious Thompson 1840 census

As mentioned in my previous post, Finding the father of Electious Thompson, family tradition says that his father died with General Braddock in the French and Indian War (1755). I could never find any record of this, but now, with DNA testing I had a clue.

In the Thompson DNA project at Family Tree DNA, here are the men who match my brother's Y-DNA. Only the first 37 Y-STR markers are shown in this image. My brother is kit 38962. Thompson is a very common surname, but the Y-DNA was screaming, "You're related to THESE Thompsons!"

Electious Thompson DNA
Thompson DNA Project

The only person on this list of matches who had traced his ancestry further than the 1700s was kit 101921. He traced his ancestry to Robert Thompson, born circa 1640. I contacted the owner of kit 101921 because I knew from DNA that my ancestor was related to his ancestor. I found out that Robert Thompson was the immigrant ancestor to Maryland and had died 1697 in Saint Mary's County, Maryland. Here was kit 101921's ancestry:

On this tree the Robert Thompson who was born in 1720 could not have been the father of Electious because this Robert died in 1807. So the father of Electious had to be one of the other sons of George or a grandson of Robert the immigrant through a son other than George. I traced down Robert's lines looking for any of his male descendants who had died in the 1750s.  

Decades ago, I had assumed that the newspaper article and 1840 census record were incorrect about the birth year of Electious and that he had really been born in 1755. I made the assumption because the father of Electious had died when Electious was an infant, and because Braddock died in 1755.  But these many years later I know that the word "infant" legally means a minor. So the father could have died anytime before Electious was nine years old and was "placed on a vessel." Out of all of Robert's male descendants, I found only who died in the 1750s. His name was James Thompson, and his estate was probated in January, 1759. This is the only man who could have been the father of Electious, but the information did not fit with the tradition that the father had died with General Braddock. Was it possible that he had served with General Braddock and died in another battle in late 1758? I had to look for Maryland soldiers who served in the French and Indian War.  

In the Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 5 No. 3, September 1910, I found this article containing a roster of Maryland troops in the French and Indian War, 1757-1759:

Now came the nail-biting part. Would I find a James Thompson in this roster? I cried when I got to that page.

There was only one James Thompson. He served in Captain Dagworthy's Company from October 9, 1757 to October 11, 1758. He was killed. I looked up the history and found that James was killed October 12, 1758 at Fort Ligonier, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. 

His estate was probated in January 1759 in Saint Mary's County, Maryland. If Electious was born in 1749-1750 (as the census and newspaper stated) he would have been nine years old at the time. His uncle then put him in an apprenticeship so that he could learn a trade. Tears were streaming down my face. James was my ancestor!

So, to my brother, here's what your DNA did for me:

Thank you!

Am I done now, or can I use my brother's Y-DNA even more? I have proven the lineage of other men in my brother's list of DNA matches and found that we all descend from Robert Thompson. I have gone as far as I can with Y-STR testing, and now I want to find the origin of my immigrant ancestor Robert Thompson. Several researchers have different dates and places of birth for him. So to go back even further in time, I have to switch to Y-SNP testing. I ordered the BigY test from Family Tree DNA. This could be another very long process, but I'm up for it! We'll start examining SNP testing in my next blog post. See Y-DNA STRs, SNPs, and haplogroups. 

Will there ever be a reason to upgrade my STRs? See I took a Y-DNA test. Should I upgrade my Y-STRs?


Leah said...

Thank you for your work, I'm fairly sure Electious is my ancestor on my mother's side. My grandfather was John Thompson who was born in Alabama in 1918. Electious is as far back as I have been able to trace the family. I did have basic DNA testing done through 23andMe but I am the only one in my family to do so and I am female, I am trying to convince one of my brothers to do a test as well.

Linda Jonas said...

Great! I'd love to see your family tree. You can send me a private message through the contact form. Be sure to download your results from 23andMe and upload them to GEDmatch. Maybe we will show up as matches. Also, you could do a Y-DNA test with one of your uncles or male Thompson cousins.

Anonymous said...

Looks like this Thompson line intersects with a Richardson cousin of mine in Texas.
That Richardson shows up in Family Finder at FTDNA as 2nd-3rd cousin. However, genealogically I can't get him closer than 4th cousin. I was hoping I could link him back to my 4th great-grandmother Hannah Richardson (married Robert Morrow), but so far, no dice!

Steve Mitchell

Michael Thompson said...


I'm so happy I stumbled across this post.

I've been at a dead end with my Thompson line for decades. My wall is William J Thompson. All I know from our family bible, is he died in 1832 in Virginia. His three children were sent to Missouri to be raised by a cousin.

William J would be my 4th GGF.

I did FamilyTreeDNA about 12 years ago and while I have several matches, none of them had any real information I could trace. This year, I did Ancestry DNA and I now have 100's of distant (4th to 6th cousins) but still, most of them don't have trees.

Until this week...

I found a tree by a 6th cousin at Ancestry that worked back to Electious Thompson 1750-1840. But I also found a link at FTDNA that worked back to this same Thompson.

Obviously, I am related, but I'm still not sure how. At ancestry, they just 5th to 6th cousin. At FTDNA, they say Genetic distance of 1 at the 27 marker.

Have you done more research on this branch since this post from 2017?

Michael A Thompson