“If you share a common ancestor with somebody, you’re related to them. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to invite them to the family reunion, but it means that you share DNA.” – Henry Louis Gates
There’s been a bit of stuff happening with my Graham genealogy research lately, and I’ve just now found the time to write a bit about it.
Several months ago, I wrote that I had submitted a DNA test at Family Tree DNA. In late February, I received an e-mail from a man named Tommy that had matched 11 of 12 markers in my Y-DNA test. Tommy explained his lineage, which connected him to Graham families in South Carolina, Georgia and, what caught my attention, Benton and Calhoun counties in Alabama. Several genealogies of my Graham line have claimed that my great great grandfather Jesse Graham was born in Benton County, Alabama, and that his middle name was Flournoy. In my own research, I’ve strived to prove my lineage with as many records as possible, but in regards to Jesse, I have not yet found the records I need to prove or disprove that he was Flournoy. I’ve treated that connection with a lot of skepticism because I’ve seen a lot of bad genealogies on Jesse Flournoy Graham that contradicted the few facts that I could prove on my Jesse. I even wrote an article here completely discounting any connection. But now, here was the DNA grinning at me. At Tommy’s urging, I purchased an 67 marker upgrade for my Y-DNA test and waited for the results.
Inspired by this possible DNA match, I decided that now was a good time to revisit the Flournoy question: Was he or was he not “my” Jesse? I went back to an old message board post in the Graham Family Genealogy Forum at Genealogy.com. The message was dated 20 March 2001 and was written by a man named Harold, who wrote that he was descended from Noah Randolph Graham, the brother of Jesse Flournoy Graham. I attempted to contact Harold via the e-mail address he used to post, but no luck. I did a Google search on Harold and found another e-mail address which also yielded no reply. Finally, I found an article that he wrote for the Newton County Historical & Genealogical Society of Mississippi. I contacted them via Facebook, explaining my possible genealogical connection to Harold and politely asked them to put me in touch with him. They obliged, and I soon received a generous letter from Harold describing his Graham lineage in detail, a lineage he began compiling nearly 40 years ago, before the age of the Internet and the rise of Ancestry.com. He’d done his research the old fashioned way, by touching the documents in a library, by interviewing distant relatives, by visiting the places they lived and the people they knew. Harold admitted that he hadn’t researched this line of Grahams in some time, but what little information he did have on Jesse’s children kinda sorta matched the facts I had – similar sounding names, somewhat close dates. For Harold, the trail of Jesse’s descendants had run cold just as it had for me tracking Jesse’s ancestors.
The most convincing bit of evidence that Harold shared was a story about why Jesse Graham had left Texas – a drunken man had broken into Jesse’s home and was killed by Jesse. Rather than face any reprisals from the man’s family, Jesse and his wife Sarah returned to Mississippi. I had heard a similar tale about “my” Jesse twice before, once at my grandpa’s wake in 1983, and once from a man I chatted with at the 2011 North Arkansas Ancestor Fair. In that version, Jesse and Sarah were farming on rented land in Texas. When the landlord showed up to collect the rent, Jesse could not afford to pay, so the landlord claimed all of Jesse’s crops. Jesse told the landlord that if he tried to set one foot on the land he would be shot dead, and that’s exactly what happened. Jesse and Sarah fled Texas, not to Mississippi, but to Searcy County, Arkansas.
So, now I had a possible DNA match and an anecdotal story match to Flournoy. It was beginning to seem like I was about to break through a brick wall.
To be continued.