A Tale of Two James Hammonds

Y-DNA testing offers at least two benefits to genealogists that autosomal DNA does not. We all know the limitation: only men have Y-DNA and it only applies to the direct paternal line, i.e. the father’s father’s father, etc. And we know the main benefit of Y-DNA: it is passed down without recombining, which means we may match distant cousins where the common ancestor is 8 or more generations back—farther in the past than automsomal DNA can generally be relied upon. We don’t hear as much about the second benefit of Y-DNA testing, but it was key for my Hammond conundrum.


One of my brick walls is James Hammond, born in Pennsylvania ca. 1806 if census records 1850-1870 can be trusted. He became a doctor, married a Kentucky gal, and ultimately died in Indiana in 1878. About his early life, our only source is a well-preserved correspondence written by his daughter Martha when she was in her late 70’s.

She wrote “I never saw either of my grandparents, nor heard their given names My grandmother Hammond died and Grandfather married again and father had to leave home on account of the stepmother when he was only about fifteen, and wandered about…” [The rest of the sentence is illegible]. She continued, “I have often wished I knew more of our folks but they never came to see us and so we all was strangers… I think my father was Born in Pensalvanie his Father was an Irishman. Father had the Brogue on his tounge pretty good…” On a separate page, perhaps at a different time, she reported that her father was born 22 Dec 1806 and she knew of three siblings of her father James, named William, Ann, and John.

Tracking the parentage of an ancestor who left home as a teenager can be a daunting task. But an Ohio county history offered a tantalizing lead.

The Guernsey County Ohio History reported a William Hammond, who was born in Ireland in the right time period and came to Pennsylvania, married, and had multiple children starting around 1800-1810, including James, William, Ann, and John. Around 1820, William’s wife died. The oldest child, James, left home as a teenager or young man, and wandered before becoming a doctor. William left him just one dollar in his will, and James “was never again heard from”.

Like… our James? Who was allegedly born in Pennsylvania ca. 1800-1810 to an Irish immigrant, and had siblings named William, Ann, and John. He left home as a teenager when his mother died and his father remarried. Our James ultimately became a doctor and lost touch with his family back home.

Could this William be the father of our James Hammond?

Fortunately, I have a direct male-line descendant of our James (Ted) who was willing to take a Y-37 DNA test. His results came back with a haplogroup (deep ancestry) prediction of I-M223 and — zero matches.

William Hammond had several sons, including a John. One of John’s scrupulously documented male-line descendants (S) agreed to take a Y-37 test, as my cousin Ted had done. If our James and (S)’s forefather John Hammond were brothers, the distance between Ted and (S) to their common ancestor would be 5 or 6 generations. If their Y-DNA matched, our James might be the missing son of William Hammond.

The final results came in! (S) has a haplogroup prediction of R-M269 and 66 matches at the Y-37 level; the closest at a genetic distance of three. Not a one of those matches was a Hammond. There’s not even one dominant surname; there are dozens of different surnames, but most of them appear obviously Irish or Scotch-Irish. The FamilyTreeDNA TIP suggests that at best, there’s a 50% chance that any of (S)’s matches have a common ancestor with (S) within 12 generations.

Ted continues to have zero Y-37 matches, and his haplogroup is I-M223, entirely different from (S).

What does this mean for me?

There is always the possibility that in the direct male-line descent from William down to (S), there was an NPE situation, i.e. Not the Parent Expected. That would mean that (S) is not biologically a direct male-line descendant, and that it would still be possible for our James, and his descendant Ted to be descended from William. To prove this, I could recruit descendants of William’s other sons, and see if/how closely they match (S) or if they match Ted.

It’s also possible that Ted’s line had the NPE event. The James who died in Indiana in 1878 might be the son of William, but there might have been an adoption (or other hiccup) further down the line, and Ted may not be biologically descended from James. I could recruit more descendants of our James to test.

But… I think it’s much more likely that our James Hammond simply wasn’t the son of William.

And that’s the other advantage of Y-DNA testing. When autosomal DNA doesn’t match, it doesn’t prove that two people aren’t related—just that they aren’t as closely related as second cousins. But Y-DNA can prove that two people aren’t related on their direct paternal line. (S) and Ted are not related on their Hammond lines.

Maybe one day my cousin Ted will discover a new match on his Y-DNA that may open up some leads for me to pursue our Hammond branch. But for now, I won’t waste more time or money researching William Hammond, trying to prove he was the father of our James and to identify his ancestors. I’ve got plenty more brick walls to turn my attention to!

1 thought on “A Tale of Two James Hammonds

  1. Pingback: 2016 accomplishments; 2017 goals | DNAsleuth

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