The DNA Story

According to Lucy Dodd, Henry Hall was born "near Hagerstown, Maryland around 1774".  Even though Lucy could interview two of Henry's daughters, this was about all we knew of our ancestor's early life.  When I started doing some research in the 1970's, I found very few records, but as all genealogists know, I found lots of burned courthouses with missing records.

After 30 years of researching my ancestor Henry Hall (and having little to show for it), the last couple of years have brought some heartening, but confusing, new leads.  In 2005 I had my DNA sequenced by the folks at Family Tree DNA, as part of the National Geographic Project.  I had them do 12 markers, the minimum number.  There is a website which tracks the markers for people with the same ancestor surname, and of course, I joined the "Hall" group.  (The moderater and site owner, Nel Hatcher, is very knowledgeable can answer the technical questions.)

At that time, there weren't many Halls on the list, so for a while, nothing; then, a year later, I was notified of an exact match with a descendant of Reuben Hall, who was also listed as coming from Maryland also.  This was not a major surprise because in 2000, I had discovered that Henry had sold half his land (in Pittsylvania County, VA) to a Reuben Hall in 1806.  I had suspected they were related, but how?

The DNA evidence indicated that they were very close relations.  So, I hurriedly paid to add more markers, making a 37-marker set, to compare to those of Reuben's descendant.  These were off by only one marker, suggesting that Henry and Reuben were at least first cousins, probably brothers.  Also, the one marker which didn't match was a fast-changing marker which could well have randomly mutated in the 200 years between them and me.  Since the estimated birth years for the two were only one year apart, they were surely from the same generation, and most likely, brothers. 

This was good news and set my mind racing to explain why Henry's children had not known (or wouldn't tell!) who his parents were.  It also put the idea firmly in my head that Henry and Reuben were "splitting an inheritance" when Henry sold half his land to Reuben.  But by 1806, both men were around 30 years old, so why was this so late in their lives to be inheriting money?  And what were their early lives like?  If Henry had been an "apprentice" farmer in Loudoun County (in northern Virginia), why was there no record there for Reuben?  Where had he been since coming of age?  More questions than answers...

After another year, a third close relationship turned up on the Family Tree DNA website, William Hall, born in 1804, probably in Calvert County Maryland.  His markers were different from Henry and Reubens' by three markers, indicating possibly a "cousin"-type relationship to Henry and Reuben.  Also, his birthdate put him maybe a generation later.  But, here was evidence that Henry and Reuben had relatives in Calvert County, east and south of the Hagerstown area.  There appeared to be no other connection between William's relatives and those of Henry and Reuben, although research continues.  This news focused our looking on a large Calvert County family who descended from a Richard Hall, one of its earliest settlers.

Finally, in August of 2007, a fourth relative appeared - Juniper (Geneper) Hall.  After many requests from genealogists on the Genforum message boards, a descendant of Juniper's had his DNA tested.  Lo and behold, his 37 markers were an exact match for those of Reuben Hall, who is supposedly born in Maryland and lived all his adult life in southern Virginia.  I don't know who was more surprised - those of us researching Henry and Reuben or those researching Juniper.

Like his "brothers", Juniper seems to "pop up", without indication of parentage in Georgia, in 1790.  He is thought to have been born in 1769, which puts him in the same generation with Henry and Reuben.  Althouth there had been some indication he might have been in North Carolina, there was no prior evidence of a Maryland or Virginia connection for Juniper. 

The question of relatedness through DNA analysis is tricky and only deals with probabilities, not certainties, so caution is urged.  However, in the last few years, the process has been pretty well accepted for these uses.  (For information on how they calculate your genetic distance from another individual, see here.)


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