Question About Hypothetical Slave Ancestors

+13 votes
As a DNA descendant of African slaves and the White men who owned them, am I allowed to link to suspected slave-owning common ancestors with a single or short series of hypothetical slave ancestors? For example. A couple of my DNA matches are descendants Edward Outlaw and Anne Ivey, so I suspect that I am also their descendant. Can I create a profile for a hypothetical Black female slave ancestor who had a child by one of the White slave owning descendants of Edward and Anne to link me to my White DNA Cousins?
in WikiTree Help by Rodney Nicholas G2G2 (2.5k points)
retagged by Emma MacBeath
We only inherit 50% of each parent's DNA. Some of the DNA that I inherited from my parents is not the same as the 50% inherited by my sibling. So with each generation, some DNA is not passed on to the progeny. Approximately 10% of 3rd cousins won't share (autosomal) DNA. Approximately 50% of 4th cousins won't share DNA. Approximately 85% of 5th cousins won't share DNA. They're still related. Beyond 2nd cousin, my brother's match list is not identical to mine.

Many smaller matches (below 15 cM) are not genuine matches. The smaller the segment, the greater the chance of it being a false positive. If you are able to test both of your parents, you will see that you have some matches that neither of them have. Since your DNA came from your parents, clearly such matches cannot be genuine.  You have a pair of each autosomes and the algorithm can be detecting parts from both chromosomes, which it then puts together as a single segment to compare to someone else. Hence one of  the reasons why a child can appear to have a slightly larger match than a parent to the same person.

I have a match with a 7th cousin on my father's side. Assuming that match is genuine because we share a common ancestor on paper is confirmation bias, and many people unknowingly have confirmation bias when they explore their matches. Months later, when my mother's test results were available, that match turned out to be on her side. We're still looking for the common ancestor. My brother has a 6 cM match to a 6th cousin on my mother's side. My mother doesn't have the same match. The relationship is genuine, my brother's match isn't. Confirmation bias can also creep in when people start triangulating their smaller matches. The further we go back, the more likely we are to find endogamy in varying degrees. Families intermarried more than once, marriages to first and second cousins were common. Where paper records do exist, they contain less information than recent records. It's easy to make incorrect assumptions about relationships 6 generations ago, when given names were repeated often and the information on records was scant. People start making assumptions about the inheritance of a specific segment, which can be incorrect. When they are trying to add one more generation further back in their tree, they can end up taking the wrong path due to confirmation bias. When trying to confirm relationships that far back one needs to test other relatives, and use Y-DNA and mtDNA where possible.

Here's another form of confirmation bias encouraged by Wikitree. I can "confirm with DNA" my father's identity with a match to his brother. I share the right amount of DNA with my uncle Joe, and Ken Ford is the father named on my birth certificate, so now my father is "confirmed by DNA". Wrong. My father had 3 brothers and only one of the 4 men has been tested. Unless I test the offspring of all 4 of them, I cannot confirm that Ken is my father. Hence the reason why I only have a confirmation statement for my mother, and I ignore most of the "confirmation by DNA" in everyone else's direct lines.
I understand that even siblings will not share some DNA with another sibling. Genetic crossover "events," mutations  that can result from deletions, insertions and/or substitutions and other genetic processes related to meiosis can explain that, otherwise we'd all be "clones" of some distant ancestor.

So, websites like Ancestry that says the 6 cM of your shared DNA with a supposed relative is a false positive?

And websites like 23andMe and GedMatch that "purport" to show "actual" segments of someone's chromosomes, you're saying they are not actual segments of a person's chromosome? The positions and lengths of these chromosomal segments are erroneous approximations?
Yes some of those small matches are false positives. If you use DNA Painter and import all the small segments below 7 cM, once you get enough of your matches identified, you will notice that many of those small segments are false. That's why lowering the threshold will often be misleading. If you use Gedmatch and examine all of the overlapping segments on a given chromosome, some will triangulate with your mother's relatives, some will triangulate with your father's relatives and some won't triangulate at all.
With each successive generation back the DNA gets diluted.  It is entirely possible that you will not test at a matching level to people you are related to because of how the DNA recombines each time.  Which is why siblings may have different matches.

DNA and paper trails go hand in hand.  They need each other.  I have a 4th cousin who I match solidly in papertrail.  We do not match with DNA but we match 7 other people so by indirect matching supported by a solid paper trail we match.  

Generally, DNA at the autosomal test level is going to give a solid performance to about the 4th or 5th cousin level.  Nothing is ever 100% when you make these statements, they are guidelines and should be read as such.  Y is going to go back much farther but only works for male line.  .  MtDNA is more likely to be used to exclude than to pinpoint a specific ancestress.  The most used test for genealogy is autosomal which is the one offered by so many labs.
By Jove! I think I Got It, Leandra! False Positive! OH CRAP! Yeah. I know... "Bout Time, Dude."

Thanks for that link.
Yes Laura Bozzay. Hopefully, me and a few, dare I say “all” of my distant Cousins ARE in that, what, 41% probability of shared matches.

But I’m in the process of saving money to do both MtDNA &Y-chromosome analyses.
Do Y first.  MtDNA is not always as useful.  I am out all day today with a family function.   We are doing outdoor Thanksgiving since 11 of 19 family are 65+ or have other medical high risk issues.  So we can socially distance in the back yard and not worry about November.   Stay safe.  I have some ideas.  No time today to write them out.
Yep. Y-DNA 1st. That is my plan, Laura. Thanks for the validation that I’m on the right track! Please stay safe also. Hit me back with your other ideas when you have the time. No rush. Looks like imma be doing family research for years to come! LOL
Are you comfortable using Microsift Excel?  If so do you kniw hiw to use their filter feature?  If so shoot me a private message and I will you some examples if what I have done
Thank you for some basic education about DNA matching, Laura.  I haven't started that journey yet, and have not taken time to learn more about it before doing so.

6 Answers

+26 votes
Best answer
I have to disagree at this time that "hypothetical" profiles should be created. I would just create profiles for known people and then explain and link in the text portion of the profile how you believe the people were related. Our Honor Code states that "we care about accuracy." I think creating hypothetical profiles is in direct contradiction to that goal - and - it's a slippery slope.

Currently, the US Black Heritage project is working feverishly behind the scenes to resolve this type of issue.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (668k points)
selected by SJ Baty
I agree.  The OP has not shown a direct link between him and the distant cousins and without this, they could be connected in this line or in some other.

The only time I could see making a hypothetical link like this is through a YDNA or MtDNA match wherein two male descendants have the exact same YDNA match (or the same for two women and the MtDNA) to each other and to the known slave-holder.  The YDNA would be much more conclusive as it mutates much (much) more frequently than MtDNA.
quote> The YDNA would be much more conclusive as it mutates much (much) more frequently than MtDNA.

If mt-dna mutates LESS frequently than y-dna,

then mt-dna would be MORE conclusive than y-dna.
I agree, and meanwhile continue to note Slaves names in wills, could be helpful when US Black Heritage is reorganized, and I hope it piles in with Next Kin, ( Not sure of that name...), but coordination would be good.
N., in some cases, MtDNA has been known to mutate only once in 1,500 years.  This means that if you share an exact match with anther woman for MtDNA you can be sure that you have a great-grandmother who is your common ancestor.  But is she your 3rd great-grandmother, your 30th great grandmother, or your 300th great grandmother?  If two women suspect they are descended from the same 5th great-grandmother (via direct maternal mother-to-daughter descent), an MtDNA exact match says that this is a possibility.  Anything less rules it out.  

If there is paper showing the two women descend from the same family then the MtDNA would more or less validate it.  But two random women, or even two women who lived near each other, all the MtDNA test says is that you shared an ancestor.  It is possible that two neighbors who are otherwise unrelated could share an exact MtDNA match if their gggggggggggggggggggggg-grandmothers were the same.  In other words, without paper, you can't be sure if the person is your 3rd cousin or your 30th cousin.

My 6th great-grandfather David Abbott had 4 sons.  The sons spread out around the time of the Revolution and took up in different parts of America.  In the last 30 or 40 years, a lot of Abbotts got together to see if they could determine who was related to whom.  Many of these family branches had oral history back to David Abbott and family trees to one of his sons.  Some Abbott families had no paper at all and had no idea where they came from.

The men of each family group took YDNA tests and all of the tests were close enough to validate that all of the men from these different Abbott groups came from David Abbott.  And those who came from son Richard had distinct markers that the other lines didn't have.  Sons of the other brother James had markers that other branches didn't have and so on.  

When some of the descendants didn't have any documents at all, by seeing which group they matched we could see from which of David's sons they descended from.  This was useful in helping them to narrow their genealogical search knowing where their ancestor (son of David) migrated to.  If you have two census records as possible matches for your great-grandfather and you aren't sure which is the correct one, if one is in the same place as David's son migrated to, that's a solid lead.

Image if David's DNA read:


3 of his sons might inherit BBBBBBBBBBBB

and a 4th son gets a mutation BBB1BBBBBBBB

Now, all of the sons of the 4th son will carry that "1"

If a grandson of David's 4th son had a mutation, say a C in the second location, his would look like:


The "1" would let us know that he is a grandson to the 4th son.  And all of his descendants will carry BCB1...  whereas his brothers might all be BBB1.

More mutations means that you can identify common ancestors in a shorter time period (50 years, 100 years, 150 years), hence, more mutations are more accurate for genealogical searches.  MtDNA might show a match at 50 years, at 500 years, or at 1,500 years = less accurate.
I am not disagreeing with you. I was thinking mt-dna is more stable ... but now I understand that you were saying that if the y-dna also agrees, then that would be even better.
N Gauthier, my mother has about 36 exact matches of her mtDNA and I cannot create a paper trail to a common maternal ancestor to any of them. I've quit even looking at them regularly. Many live in other countries, which is interesting but not very useful.
+6 votes

I see no reason why not.  You may want to explain how you reached this conclusion in the profile of your ancestor.

I have several slave owning ancestors, and have many DNA matches who descend from them.  I try to find as much as I can on that ancestor, including their ownership of slaves in order to help anyone who may connect to them (wills typically will list names of slaves.)  Though it's not as easy for my DNA to matches to hear how we're related if they ask (it's not fun to tell them either.)  I just have the mindset that burying information along with the ancestor doesn't help anyone. 

I have a great-great-great grandmother who was illegitimate.  Through working with all my DNA groupings I was able to conclude who her father was through her shared grandparents to my DNA matches. (of course I abbreviated my DNA match names on the profile out of sake for their privacy, but if a cousin reaches out to me and wants to know more I can share more.)

Mecia Coan (example of showing DNA connection)

Asa Banning (example of slaveowner)

by Skye Sonczalla G2G6 Mach 5 (55.3k points)
Hi Skye. Thanks for the suggestion about explaining my conclusion in my ancestor's profile. I will most definitely do just that!

Although DNA Matches are not the end-all be-all in connecting the dots, I've found it to be extremely helpful, especially when 2 or more of my DNA Matches "triangulate" to the same common ancestor. I do need to do a better job finding wills of slave owners to see if my slave ancestors are listed.

Unfortunately, slavery is still a forbidden topic here in America, even though DNA is now telling us that many of us are "blood" related because White slave owners fathered children with their Black female slaves. "Diversity" is an understatement from that perspective! LOL. For me, it is what it is. A denier can't deny away the fact that we are family no matter how much they may try!

Thanks again for the guidance.
You're most welcome!  I tend to be a person who goes where others fear to tread so to speak; especially on a topic than can get very easily misinterpreted/misunderstood.

Regardless of our background, we do all have one thing in common ... our ancestors were survivors and we are who they wished for.  I'm fascinated by the amount of plagues, war, etc ... from each end of the earth that our ancestors endured and yet we are here to tell that story.   I'd say that's pretty darn awesome. :)

Helpful hints to you ... 1) straight google searches of books that may be online.  Such as ex. "Harris County Biographical Sketch" or "Harris County Citizens."  Some may point out important court hearings involving the slaveowner.  2) Check the DAR site to see if the slaveowner is a Revolutionary War Patriot (or his parent, etc.)  Most of the slaveowners in my ancestry were also Patriots (which could be that their payment for service was land to farm); 3) I mentioned wills.  Google search "Harris County Archives" or find a genealogy society for that county and request a look up.  Most of the wills I have found was from writing and paying a small fee from years ago.  Now uploaded to Wikitree for anyone to have. 4) Remember to check the slave lists in census records (while they don't list names, it can confirm if someone owned them.)

Good luck to you! :)

In my experience, I don't find slavery to be a forbidden topic among genealogists. We can't change history, but instead are deeply interested in discovering it. I must say, I was very relieved when I never uncovered any slave owning ancestors in my father's tree. Then, I delved deeper into my mother's ancestors and to my chagrin, found many slave owners. My black cousins certainly don't hold me guilty of the actions of my ancestors, and I feel no guilt for anything anyone else did. I do all I can to assist my cousins, of any color, in the search for their ancestors.

Of great interest, was discovering that I am very likely descended from Elizabeth Key, a slave who sued and won her freedom in the courts. Unbelievably, some of her descendants were slave owners! I haven't yet connected myself to Elizabeth here, because just one generation still must be proved, and I don't believe in creating hypothetical profiles.

Rodney, you asked:

... am I allowed to link to suspected slave-owning common ancestors with a single or short series of hypothetical slave ancestors?

Short answer: No.  You should never create a "hypothetical" ancestor unless you have a preponderance of evidence of the connection.

You also asked:

Can I create a profile for a hypothetical Black female slave ancestor who had a child by one of the White slave owning descendants of Edward and Anne to link me to my White DNA Cousins?

You can always create parents for your ancestors even if their names are not known.  If your 6x great grandfather is John Smith, you could create his parents as Unknown Smith and Unknown (Unknown) Smith.  Indeed, if you create a sibling for a brickwall ancestor, the Wikitree computer will automatically create the ancestor profile for you.

However, you should not link your hypothetical great-grandmother to the slave owner.  You should create a section of her profile and write out your hypothesis and add URL links (in the section, not as attached relatives in the data fields) to the suspected relatives.  If the PM of the suspected relative does not object or if the profile is not yet created or orphaned, you could add a section to that profile with a URL to your profile.

My experience has also been that slavery is not a forbidden topic among genealogists.

Rodney, you can have, and share, your theories, but they can not be stated as proof on a profile. If there are no contemporoary documents AND no matching DNA results, then there is no proof ... only suppositions  made by people living almost 200 years later.
+3 votes
Could this work if we made a template to directly link the descendant to the known ancestor (rather than create "hypothetical ancestors"  or "placeholder profiles") ?

In addition to that, the DNA connection explained on the descendants profile.
by C Ryder G2G6 Mach 8 (83.0k points)
I think the problem is the mother is the unknown part of the equation. The father is suspected so his profile could be created or linked to.
+5 votes
Wikitree does not encourage the use of "hypothetical" profiles. But you can create an "unknown" profile and then add "research notes" about your theories.

Also Wikitree does not ensourage unmarried relationships. A slave who had a child with her owner, would not be shown as a spouse by marriage. It would be explained in the "biography" area with a link to the slave owner. You can show the child's parents without showing them as married.
by N Gauthier G2G6 Pilot (218k points)
edited by N Gauthier
The slave is the "unknown" profile that everyone has mentioned, so her surname has to be changed to unknown.
+2 votes
I am looking for sources for this family.

You say sons Edward and John died in civil war. Can you tell me if and who they married ? Thanks
by N Gauthier G2G6 Pilot (218k points)

>You say sons Edward and John died in civil war. Can you tell me if and who they married?

Which Edward and John are you referring to?

sorry about the info omission ...

sons of George William Washington, Sr. (c1809-c1876)
Uhhh... Ummm... N Gauthier... Are you starting some trouble up in here? LOL

Sooooooooo... That George William Washington's profile is not mine. But I do have George William Washington's lineage in my tree on According to his Find A Grave info, Geo. William's son Edward's full name is Edward Carter Washington and he died on 02 Jun 1901 ( Another record for Edward is his Civil War Soldier Record, which also has the same date of death as 02 Jun 1901 (

RE: John, there appears to have been 2 Johns, sons of Geo. William. The 1st John was a "Baby Angel," according to his Find A Grave memorial. He was born in 1837 and died on 14 Aug 1838. The 2nd John was born in 1843. According to his 1860 US census record (, this John's middle initial is W. I haven't documented him beyond 1860, however.
+3 votes

Here is an example of a profile about a woman who very little was known about: Kimbundu of Ndongo of Warwick Virginia Key Plantation. Her scenario is dissimilar, in that some DNA data from intersecting lines did not (yet) offer proof, but her family illustrates what can be considered appropriate for defining a person who has a known childbearing partner and a known child, but whose name was never mentioned in the records.

The chart from FamilySearch: How Many Centimorgans Do You Share with Your Relatives might also be of interest (from the article: Untangling the Centimorgans on Your DNA Test - which also includes a button for getting a higher resolution PDF).

Good luck in your endeavors to better define missing persons. Keep us posted with any breakthroughs!

by Porter Fann G2G6 Mach 6 (66.5k points)

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