Some Conclusions on the Hamilton DNA Research

DNA strand

Continued from Thomas Hamilton of Bedford County, Virginia, and Some DNA Results.

You have probably arrived at this article by reading through the series of articles that began with Preston Fields, of Pike County, Kentucky, or the series that began with Joseph and Agnes (Rennie), Hamilton of Ayrshire, Scotland. If not, you might want to go back to the beginning of either or both of those series and read them as well.

While I was working on this DNA project, I realized two things:

1. If your DNA matches someone else, it means you are related to them. DNA doesn't lie.

2. If someone submits their DNA to a project and says that their earliest known ancestor is John Doe Hamilton, it doesn't mean a thing. Their statement is only as good as their research.

Now, I trust my own research because I knew I was looking for a great-great grandfather who had something to do with the theater in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. My father's life overlapped with his grandmother's for 28 years. She seems to have lived with her father-in-law's family for a while. In other words, she knew the guy and she told her grandchildren about him.

So when the paper work led me to James D. Hamilton, born in 1818 in Cape May, New Jersey, who became the caretaker for the Union Hall in Johnstown, then I knew I had my man.

And I trust the research of the descendants of Preston Fields for the same reason. They started with a family story that said Preston's father was a Hamilton. Now they have a 37-marker y-DNA match with our Hamilton DNA and a 25-marker match with a Hamilton who was born in 1818 in Ireland and who died in Ayrshire, Scotland.

But what about someone else's research? Should I trust it?

Applying the Principles

With this in mind, let's look back at the Hamiltons living in Hawkins and Sullivan counties, Tennessee, about 1795.

There were two men on the list about whom I know nothing else: Joseph Hamilton, the attorney, and James Hamilton, the cornet in the cavalry. Suppose someone submits their DNA and says that one of these men is their earliest known ancestor. Suppose the DNA doesn't match mine. Does that mean that Joseph or James Hamilton aren't my close relatives?

No. It only means that the person whose DNA was submitted is not my close relative.

There must be thousands of family trees on line at various sites. Rootsweb alone says they have 640 million names on file. probably has more. Add in Familysearch, wikitree, etc, and what do you have? Millions of erroneous conclusions which have been reached regarding whose ancestor is whose.

Why should I conclude that the research of John Doe Hamilton's descendant is any better?

Another problem

Next, let's look at the group of Hamilton men on the 1796 Tax List of Sullivan County, Tennessee.

All of those men--and others who didn't make it as far as Sullivan County--are said to be sons of Thomas Hamilton and Esther Sampson of Bedford County, Virginia. The only problem is that there are more males in the family than fit the time span in which they were born: Robert (b 1754), Richard (1756), James (1757), Thomas (1757), Joshua (1759), Benjamin (1761), Samuel (1765). And that doesn't include daughters.1

In this case three descendants of Benjamin Hamilton, third and fourth cousins of each other, have had their DNA tested and they are not a match for Preston Fields or my own family. I'll trust that provisionally, since three people probably didn't make the same researching mistakes, unless they all relied on the same mistaken information.

Even so, does that mean that all the other men on the Sullivan County Tax List are eliminated? Not at all, since there is no way to be sure they are brothers. Or if there is, I didn't find it.

So where did we get?

Somewhere and nowhere.

Somewhere, because we have narrowed down the search to a small locality and a short time frame (unless Preston Fields was conceived in Stokes County, North Carolina, before Hiram moved to Tennessee, which is still another possibility.)

Nowhere, because we really can't eliminate anyone, except maybe Benjamin Hamilton's descendants (and also maybe a family in Stokes County, North Carolina, descendants of Gavin Hamilton of Prince Georges, Maryland, which I haven't discussed.)

So until:
1) someone else submits y-DNA that matches Preston Fields' and our Hamilton family, and
2) they name a Hamilton who lived near Preston's adoptive father, Hiram Lansford Fields, as their ancestor, and
3) their research leading back to that ancestor stands the test,

we can just wait and guess.

Continued in A Positive View of our Hamilton DNA Research.


The image of a DNA strand comes from Wikipedia:File:DNA orbit animated static thumb.png.


1. See "Hamiltons of Bedford County, VA", posted by Larry Wood, June 19, 2001, in the Genforum Hamilton Family Genealogy Forum for a discussion of these difficulties.