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Those “secret” relatives

The online Huffington Post asked the question on Friday in its UK Lifestyle section: could you have secret relatives? The examples the piece used were the link of First Lady Michele Obama to a white cousin in Alabama and the discovery by London Mayor Boris Johnson that he was related to the British royal family.1

Now the focus of the piece was people dropping out of record books or surnames disappearing into a sea of married daughters. But looking at it from a DNA perspective, the only possible answer is — how could you not have secret relatives? Let’s face it: reproductive patterns being what they were, and advances in DNA technology being what we’ve seen just in the past few years, every last one of us is likely to have cadres of cousins — regiments of relatives — out there waiting to be found.

At least I for one sure hope so.

Look at it this way. With the current autosomal DNA tests — Family Finder from Family Tree DNA, Relative Finder from 23andMe and AncestryDNA from Ancestry — the odds are that you share enough DNA in common with your third cousins that you’re going to show up on each other’s match lists about 90% of the time. And fourth cousins will show up as matches about 50% of the time.2

So just how many matches could you realistically be talking about, if every one of these cousins got tested?

If you begin with your third great grandparents and calculate down to your generation (the fourth cousins), and if you figure an average of two children per generation (that’s two who survived and went on to produce two more who survived and had two more, etc.), there would be 32 cousins — most of them fourth cousins to you — in your generation.

But my mother’s family was made up mostly of farmers from the U.S. south. There, the idea of two kids would have the old folks shaking their heads and the young ones tsk-ing about the blood thinning.

So let’s say there were three children on average produced by each generation starting with the third great grandparents. Now you’re talking 243 cousins at the 4th cousin level. And if each generation produced an average of four kids, there’d be more than 1,000 fourth cousins — and roughly 500 of them would share enough DNA with you to show up as matches in an autosomal DNA test.

See? Scores of secret relatives — secret because you haven’t met them.


And today I have fingers, toes and even eyes crossed that one of those secrets is about to come out and play in the sunshine.

I’m hoping against hope that Connie Baird Bowen of Texas not only (a) is a fourth cousin but also (b) shares enough DNA in common with me (or, more likely, with some older generation relatives of mine) to show up as a match…

Baird household, 1870 AL

Here’s the story. My great grandmother Eula was born in 1869 in Cherokee County, Alabama — one of my least favorite places to research thanks to more than one courthouse fire. She appears on the 1870 census of Cherokee County in a strangely-enumerated household. Oh, she’s there, shown as eight months old, born November, and there’s her mother Martha, age 17, and Martha’s mother Margaret (Battles) Shew. But the line for head of household simply reads “Baird.” No first name. Age 22, a farm hand, born in Alabama.3 Thanks to the courthouse fires, there aren’t any marriage records in Cherokee County at that time.4

Notes taken by a cousin in an interview of my grandmother, Eula’s oldest child, say that Eula’s father was Jasper Baird, son of “Billy” Baird,5 and there is in fact a William Baird family on the 1860 Cherokee County census with a son Jasper of an age to have been Eula’s father.6 It doesn’t quite match up to the 1870 census, but it’s close, and there aren’t any other Baird-Beard-Biard candidates anywhere in the region. William and Christian Baird had moved their family to Pope County, Arkansas, by 1870, but their son Jasper wasn’t enumerated with them there,7 so their Jasper Baird is a good candidate to be my Jasper Baird.

The family story is that Jasper went out one day with the wagon to get supplies and was ambushed by Indians. The wagon was found; his body never was. The fact that the last recorded Indian attack in Alabama was decades earlier apparently didn’t factor into the family accounts.

In 1876, Martha L. “Beard” married Abigah Livingston8 and Eula appears in the Livingston household in 1880.9 She and the rest of the Livingston family moved to Texas around 1890, she married Jasper Robertson in Bexar County in 1896,10 and both the Robertsons and the Livingstons all ended up in Oklahoma in the early 1900s.11

But there’s a problem with this Jasper Baird story. It seems that the Jasper Baird, son of William Baird, of Cherokee County, Alabama, didn’t die in the 1870s. In fact, he lived until 1909 when he died in Pope County, Arkansas, while visiting his brothers there.12

So… was there another Jasper Baird in Cherokee County, Alabama, who was Eula’s father? Or was Jasper Baird, son of William and Christian, the father and, perhaps, never married to Martha? Or perhaps there was a divorce? An abandonment? Perhaps he was the father and never even knew it. And, of course, perhaps he was named as the father to the nosy assistant marshal who took the census in 1870, and wasn’t the father at all.

For the longest time, there didn’t seem to be any way to find out. Testing a male descendant of William and Christian Baird for Y-DNA wouldn’t tell us a thing since we descend from a daughter, not a son, and a daughter doesn’t have any of her father’s Y-DNA.13 And testing a daughter of a daughter of Christian Baird for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) wouldn’t tell us a thing, because even though Jasper would have had Christian’s mtDNA, he couldn’t pass it to his daughter Eula — she got her mtDNA from her mother, Martha, not her father Jasper.14

And then along came autosomal DNA testing. For the first time, it became possible to test across gender lines. And, just this week, we have a descendant of William and Christian Baird to test up against Eula’s descendants.

Connie Baird Bowen’s great great grandfather, J.D. Baird, most likely was the child of William and Christian (Campbell) Baird. The case is a good one:

     • in 1870, Jefferson Baird, age 10, born Alabama, was in the William Baird household in Pope County, Arkansas;15

     • in 1880, Jeff D “Beard”, age 20, was in the William “Beard” household there;16

     • in 1885, J D Baird, age 24, married Emma Taylor in Pope County;17

     • in 1898, J D Baird was buried in Oakland Cemetery, Russellville, Pope County, the same cemetery where Madison H. Baird, a known son of William and Christian, was later buried;18

     • in 1900, Emma was shown as a widow in Russellville in Pope County and Connie’s great grandfather William Roy was enumerated in that household;19

     • in both 1900 and in 1910, William Roy’s father was recorded as having been born in Alabama;20

     • and there are no other Baird-Beard-Biard families in Pope County except this Baird family.21

So — if we’re right that our Jasper was William and Christian’s Jasper and if we’re right that Connie’s J.D. Baird was William and Christian’s Jefferson D. — Connie would be my fourth cousin (50% chance of a match) and a third cousin once removed to four older relatives who descend from Eula (about 65% chance of a match).

The chart above shows what we hope is the connection, starting with William and Christian at the top. I’m the last person on the left; Connie is the last person on the right hand side. You can see how — with each generation — the amount of DNA passed down from William and Christian gets smaller and smaller. And the chart is really simplified, because although every child gets 50% of his DNA from each parent, each child won’t necessarily get the same 50% as a sibling. On average, siblings only share 50% of their DNA, first cousins only 12.5%, second cousins only 3.125%, third cousins less than one percent, and fourth cousins only 0.195%.22

That’s why the odds of a match keep going down. As explained by Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist, we have both a genealogical family tree and a genetic family tree — and not everybody in our genealogical family tree is in our genetic family tree.23 It’s entirely possible that we could be related to Connie in the Baird line, and yet not show up as a match at all.

But here’s hoping … maybe, just maybe, this secret will be secret no more with this DNA test.

Stay tuned…


  1. Ancestry: Could You Have Secret Relatives?,” Huffington Post, Huffpost Lifestyle, United Kingdom, posted 24 Aug 2012 ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  3. 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, Leesburg Post Office, p. 268(A), dwelling/family 15, Baird household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 7; imaged from FHL microfilm 545506.
  4. The earliest available marriage records in Cherokee County begin in 1882. See “Local Government Records Microfilm Database,” Cherokee County, Alabama Department of Archives and History ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  5. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  6. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 136 (stamped), dwelling/family 332, Wm. G. Baird household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 5.
  7. 1870 U.S. census, Pope County, Arkansas, population schedule, Dover Post Office, p. 383(B) (stamped), dwelling 614, family 630, William Baird household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 61; imaged from FHL microfilm 545560.
  8. “Alabama, Marriage Collection, 1800-1969,” database, entry for Martha L. Beard and Abijah Livingston, 26 Oct 1876, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  9. 1880 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, Township 11, Range 8, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 27, p. 387(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 5, Lular Beard in A.C. Livingston household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 6; imaged from FHL microfilm 1254006.
  10. Bexar County, Texas, marriage license no. 14298 and return, J C Robertson-Eula Beard, 1896; County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio.
  11. 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Stephens Township, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 256, p. 216(B) (stamped), dwelling 197, family 199, Jasper C Robertson household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275; imaged from FHL microfilm 1375288. Also, 1910 U.S. census, Tillman Co., Okla., Hazel Twp., pop. sched., ED 250, p. 107(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 145, Abijah C Levingston household.
  12. “J.N. Baird Dies Suddenly,” The (Russellville, Ark.) Courier Democrat, p.2, col.3.
  13. See “Genetic Genealogy Q&A for Beginners,” FAQ 28, International Society of Genetic Genealogy ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  14. Understanding DNA,” Family Tree DNA ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  15. 1870 U.S. census, Pope Co., Ark., pop. sched., Dover P.O., p. 383(B) (stamped), dwell. 614, fam. 630, Jefferson Baird in William Baird household.
  16. 1880 U.S. census, Pope County, Arkansas, area, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 138, p. 118(A) (stamped), dwelling 168, family 207, Jeff D. Beard; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 54; imaged from FHL microfilm 1254054.
  17. “Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957,” database, entry for J D Baird and Emma A. Taylor, 23 Dec 1885, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing FHL microfilm 1034013.
  18. Oakland Cemetery, Pope County, Arkansas, J D Baird memorialand M.H. Baird marker; Find A Grave ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
  19. 1900 U.S. census, Pope County, Arkansas, Russellville, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 180, p. 145(A) (stamped), dwelling 69, family 73, Emma Baird household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 72; imaged from FHL microfilm 1240072.
  20. Ibid. Also, 1910 U.S. census, Pope County, Arkansas, Dover, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 81, p. 58(B) (stamped), dwelling 36, family 37, Roy W. Baird; digital image, ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 61; imaged from FHL microfilm 1374074.
  21. Searches using all spelling variations were conducted in the U.S. census databases of both and with negative results.
  22. ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA statistics,” rev. 26 Apr 2011.
  23. Blaine Bettinger, “Q&A: Everyone Has Two Family Trees – A Genealogical Tree and a Genetic Tree,” The Genetic Genealogist, posted 10 Nov 2009 ( : accessed 25 Aug 2012).
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