I’ve written about and lamented what seemed like an unsolvable ancestry brick wall, the identity of my great grandfather Joshua W. Williams’s paternal line. I had researched his life from the first time he showed up in public records on marrying my great grandmother, Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson in 1868. I’d been told some information by my aunt, Lute Williams Mann, his granddaughter, however, he died in 1893, a year before she was born, thus she never knew him personally. I was able to confirm most of what my aunt told me through research and learn even more. However, with a name like Williams, I could never determine which, if any, of the many other Williamses living in Live Oak, Florida, were related to my great grandfather, especially since his widow and children (including my grandfather, William Gainer Williams) left Florida for the New York/New Jersey area about 1899.  With no information about extended Williams family members, I turned to DNA.
Because I was looking for a paternal line, I knew Y-DNA would be very important to helping me solve the puzzle, along with autosomal DNA. However, I’m a female. I don’t have Y-DNA. Unfortunately, my father and grandfather are both dead. My paternal uncles are both dead. My male paternal cousin is dead. Alas, both my half-brothers (my father’s sons from his first marriage) are also dead. Fortunately, I still had two options, my nephews Keith Williams (KW) and Christopher Williams (CW). I asked KW if he would take the Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) Y-DNA test. It showed that he had a European haplotype, R-M269, and one that is common in the United Kingdom. That was not a surprise, the family had always said Joshua’s father was of European descent.
The results didn’t seem to yield anything useful. His close matches had a variety of surnames, not just Williams. There was Jackson, Scott, and Hope. I tried to figure out their ancestral information, but in the absence of family trees, it wasn’t going anywhere. I was eventually contacted by two of the closest matches at the 67-marker level, one a Williams, the other a Hope. They were the two closest matches. The Hope contact was from the Clan Hope of Craighall Society. They invited us to join and offered help with the genealogy. Unfortunately, they were unable to make any more progress than I had.
The Williams contact was also a close match at the 111-marker level. The account manager, the niece of the match, provided family tree information. That family had roots in Arkansas and had also moved to Florida. Tracing the family back led to Tennessee and a Jeremiah Williams, but then the trail ran cold. Although my great grandfather had lived out his life from 1868 until his death in Florida, he and our family had maintained that his roots were in South Carolina – York, South Carolina, specifically. He had never lived in Tennessee as far as anyone knew or I could find through research. I figured that our connection went back additional generations, either to South Carolina or perhaps further to somewhere like Virginia or even the UK itself. However, we couldn’t figure it out. We just couldn’t find a link.
I followed another Y-DNA match from a lower marker match back through his line. It led from Arkansas to Tennessee to Virginia. There was no evidence that the family had a South Carolina connection. I concluded that we might be related back in Virginia, but clearly our closer ancestors had taken different paths. I needed to find a Williams family that went to South Carolina – York, South Carolina. It was time to turn back to my autosomal results.
I have tried to maximize my autosomal information by testing multiple family members. I have personally tested at AncestryDNA, 23 and also got Family Finder results for my nephew KW. I tested other family members, including CW at 23 and me (as well as myself); and my daughter Turquoise Williams (TW) and my niece Melody (MWM) at AncestryDNA. I uploaded my daughter’s and my niece’s results to Family Finder and Gedmatch. I uploaded KW’s results to My Heritage and Gedmatch. I knew that our mutual matches should help identify our Williams family line. There was also a grandniece, Monica (MTM), who had tested with AncestryDNA. That meant there were four of us in AncestryDNA from the Williams line, two of us in 23 and me, three of us in Family Finder, and two of us in My Heritage. There were also three of us in Gedmatch. I was fortunate enough to know also that there were other family members who had tested and that their tests could help me further narrow my results.
The most helpful person who had tested in Family Finder was a half first cousin, once removed, NT. She was the granddaughter of my father’s half-brother, Willard Leroy Williams (WLW). Since WLW had a different mother than my father, any matches with his daughter had to be Williams-line matches. That could help separate those who might match us because of my father’s mother’s family.
[My father’s mother’s surname was Farnell. Several of those cousins have also tested with AncestryDNA, 23 and me, and Family Finder. Some of them have also uploaded to Gedmatch. Thus, I had a way to separate matches that are my Williams line from my father’s Farnell line. Sounds like it should have been easy to figure out, right? No, not at all.
I was able to sort my matches on AncestryDNA using the “Shared Matches” feature. As anyone knows who uses this database, many people do not have family trees linked to their results, or their trees are private, or the few people on their trees are living and therefore marked private. In other words, there was little to help figure out how these matches were related to my Williams family.
As it happens, most of my close cousin matches are from my mother’s family. I could quickly mark off my second cousin match and most of my third cousins, including those related to my paternal grandfather’s mother’s family (Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson). I found a few fourth cousin matches that were shared among our family test group, but none of the trees seemed to be helpful. I went back to look at the Y-DNA matches. I decided to drop back to look at the 12 marker matches. I found a couple of matches who hadn’t tested at higher markers but who listed a George Williams as their farthest back ancestor with dates of birth and death. This George was born in Wales and died in Virginia. I followed his family forward, but it didn’t lead to South Carolina.
At the same time, I decided to look more closely at my Ancestry matches. I found a 4th-6th cousin match who had a tree with Williams names in it. In fact, this match had two different Williams lines. I needed to determine to which Williams line I was most likely related, including a George Williams also in Virginia. George was turned out to be our common ancestor, but every indication was that we had a closer common ancestor. It appeared to be George’s son Fowler. George had lived in Virginia, but Fowler lived in South Carolina. However, he didn’t live in York County, but in neighboring Lancaster County.
I had seven matches to descendants of Fowler that I had followed; four to his son Dr. James Jonathan Williams. Thus, I thought it possible that I was descended from him. I attached him to my great grandfather to see how it might work out. However, I was still suspicious that I had the wrong son. My great grandfather, Joshua, had ended up in Florida. I noticed that none of Dr. Williams’s descendants went to Florida. Interestingly, the one whose tree I was following lived not far from me in Maryland. I decided I needed to look at my matches more carefully and the descendants of Fowler to see what else seemed plausible.
I had a third cousin match who didn’t have any tree. She was my closest shared match with my Williams test group and the other descendants of Fowler I was following. If I could figure out how she was related to the family, I might find the correct son who was my great-great grandfather. This effort was helped by using Ancestry’s Thru-Lines. Thru-Lines uses your matches’ family trees to suggest (it’s only a suggestion) how you are related to each other. This was going to be challenging, however, because my third cousin match, MH, had no family tree information listed, not even an unlinked tree.
While working through the descendants of one of Fowler’s other sons, George Washington Williams, brother of Dr. James Jonathan, I noted that many of George’s descendants had moved to Florida sometime around the end of the Civil War. They were not living in the same county as my great grandfather, but that wasn’t particularly surprising. I’m sure everyone was in search of opportunity wherever it led them. Perhaps more importantly, George, unlike his siblings, had moved to York County!
In following the descendants down to my match, EW, I noticed something else important, her mother’s first name was M; her married name was H! She was almost certainly my third cousin match, MH. To try to verify this information, I ran a background report on the website, “Been Verified.” What I find helpful about this site is that it gives you not only most recent contact information, but also address histories, relatives and associates. In looking up both MH and EW, it showed them as relatives of each other. I felt certain I had the right brother this time.
I tried to find probate information, hoping that an inventory would list those enslaved as well as having information about descendants. Unfortunately, George died in 1868, after the Civil War was ended. I decided to look at the 1850 slave schedule for York County. George was listed. He only had 8 enslaved people. All were marked “B” for Black, except one: a male infant marked “M” for Mulatto. Could this be my great grandfather. Joshua? He was reportedly born in 1850. He was the only infant listed. It certainly seems likely.
I’m still hoping to find a document associated with George that names Joshua, my great grandfather, Joshua. It would be the icing on the cake. Nevertheless, based on the many matches whom I have been able to add to my tree by researching the suggested links from Thru-lines, and even going back to my match list and picking out individuals whose trees provide a basis for further research, I can confidently say that I am a descendant of Fowler Williams’s son, George Washington Williams of York County, South Carolina. At long last, a 43-year quest for the answer to the question of who my great-great grandfather was, the father of Joshua W. Williams, my great grandfather, has come to an end.
 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; William Williams, head; Ellen Williams, mother. NARA Roll: 1108; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0616; FHL microfilm: 1241108. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [Database on-line]. Dr. James Jonathan Williams, born 21 Aug 1821, Lancaster District, South Carolina; died 15 Aug 1873, Union County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com