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The Wright Battles connection

Poor little mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The red-headed foster stepchild of the DNA testing world.

mtDNA.ChartNowhere near as easy and obvious a genealogical tool as YDNA.

Nowhere near as glamorous and enthusiasm-gathering as autosomal DNA.

So often left sitting in the corner, waiting for somebody to ask her to dance.

And, this morning, The Legal Genealogist again asks her to dance.

And I’m hoping against hope that — this time — she and I find somebody to dance with.

Here’s the problem.

My third great grandmother in one line was Margaret Battles, who married Daniel Shew sometime before 1849, most likely in Cherokee County, Alabama. There’s no record of their marriage; the Cherokee County courthouse burned twice, in 1882 and 1895.1 They had one child, William, by the 1850 census2 and two more — Gilford and Martha Louise — by 1860, when Margaret appeared as head of household on the Cherokee County census, apparently a widow.3

We’re pretty sure of Margaret’s maiden name. It comes to us from two sources: oral history passed down to Eula’s daughter Opal;4 and the death certificate of her son William.5

And there was only one Battles family in Cherokee County, Alabama, at any time that could have included Margaret, and that’s the family of William Battles, who was enumerated in Cherokee County in 1840,6 1850,7 1860,8 and 1870.9

If I can make that line stick, I can add another documented Revolutionary War patriot to my tree: William’s father was William Noel Battles, who served in the 10th Virginia Regiment.10

But DNA testing in this case to confirm Margaret’s parents isn’t so easy.

YDNA won’t work here at all, no matter what Battles I pick. That, remember, is the kind of DNA that only men have, that’s passed almost without change from generation to generation, from father to son to son.11 You can see right away why that’s not going to help one bit:


The fact that Margaret would be William Noel’s granddaughter and William’s daughter breaks the YDNA chain.

Autosomal DNA testing — looking for the kind of DNA that’s passed down by both parents, jumbled up from generation to generation in a random pattern12 — hasn’t given us any definitive answer so far. Though we have matches, isolating the match to the Battles line is tough because we’re a bit far removed from our Battles ancestors for a strong autosomal link. We’re still working on that and hoping to find a Battles line or two that’s had long generations so the DNA won’t have gotten so jumbled passing down the line.

So one thing I’ve looked at is mtDNA — the type we all have that’s passed down from a mother to all of her children but that only her daughters pass on.13 That seemed to offer the most promise since, extending this line on down, Margaret’s only daughter was my second great grandmother Martha Louise; Martha Louise’s oldest daughter was my great grandmother Eula (Baird) Robertson, born in Cherokee County;14 Eula’s oldest daughter was my grandmother Opal (Robertson) Cottrell; my mother was Opal’s third (and second surviving) daughter; and I am my mother’s second daughter. That makes me a perfect direct-female-line descendant of whoever my fourth great grandmother was — my mtDNA (haplogroup H3) is the same as hers was, as it’s passed with essentially no changes from mother to daughter to daughter over the generations.

One hitch. It isn’t clear who Margaret’s mother was. William was married twice. His first marriage, to Kiziah Wright, resulted in a messy suit she brought against him for divorce that was finally dismissed in 1829, apparently when Kiziah died.15 His second wife was Ann Jacobs. They were married on Christmas Day 1829, and showed up on the 1830 census with — count ‘em — five children.16 One of whom, I do believe, and born most likely before that December 1829 marriage, was Margaret.

So all I need — all! — is one direct-female-line descendant of Ann to test.

And I can’t find one.17

All of Ann’s known daughters were married and out of the house before those Cherokee County courthouse fires. Tracing them forward may not be impossible, but it sure isn’t happening yet — no genealogist-descendants of Ann’s daughters stepping forward to help, either.

And then another likely Battles cousin contacted me. She descends from another of William Noel Battles’ sons, Samuel Battles. We’re too far distant to match in our autosomal DNA, but she reminded me that — duh! — there’s another whole connection I have overlooked. One that won’t help me with Margaret’s father, but it sure can help figure out which of William’s wives could have been her mother.

The chart above? That’s looking at the Battles side: William Noel and his wife Elizabeth Hopper as the original couple, William and Samuel as their sons. And neither YDNA nor mtDNA is going to work there; YDNA because I descend from a daughter, not a son; mtDNA because it would be the mtDNA of the sons’ wives that was passed on, not the mtDNA of the sons.

And therein lies a possible answer.

Because those two sons of William Noel Battles — my William and her Samuel — married sisters. William’s wife Kiziah was the sister of Samuel’s wife Nancy — both the daughters of Francis and Lucy Wright of Georgia.

And if we start with their parents, we get an entirely different picture:


It would be the mtDNA of Kiziah and Nancy’s mother passed to Kiziah and Nancy and then on down the generations. Any direct-female-line descendant of Nancy will match any direct-female-line descendant of Kiziah. Any mismatch would eliminate Kiziah as a candidate to be Margaret’s mother.

And … sigh … the Samuel Battles family didn’t live in twice-burned-courthouse Cherokee County. That family was in nearby not-even-one-courthouse-fire St. Clair County.

Not to mention the fact that I have a genealogist-descendant stepping forward to help.

Maybe this time I’ve picked the Wright Battles.

Wish me luck…


  1. Alabama Courthouses Destroyed by Fire,” Alabama Department of Archives and History ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014).
  2. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, 27th District, p. 136 (back) (stamped), dwelling 1055, family 1055, Danl Shew household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  3. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 315 (stamped), dwelling 829, family 829, Margaret Shoe household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 5.
  4. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell (also a granddaughter).
  5. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 10077 (1927), W.W. Shew (10 Mar 1927); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  6. 1840 U.S. census of Cherokee County, AL; 1840 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 116 (stamped), line 17, Wm Battles household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 3.
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 27th Dist., p. 136 (stamped), dwell. 1052, fam. 1052, Wm Battles household.
  8. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., p. 314-315 (stamped), dwell./fam. 825, Wm Battles household.
  9. 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., Leesburg P.O., p. 268(B) (stamped), dwell. 26, fam. 25, W Battles household.
  10. Noel Battles, no. S.12960 (Pvt., Capt. Shelton’s Company, 10th Va. Reg.); Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, microfilm publication M804, 2670 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1974); digital images, Fold3 ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014).
  11. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  12. ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 1 Feb 2014.
  13. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  14. See 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, Leesburg Post Office, p. 268(A), dwelling/family 15, Margaret Battles in Baird household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 7; imaged from FHL microfilm 545506.
  15. Transcription, Records of the Blount County Circuit Court, 1824-1829; Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Oneonta, Ala.; transcribed by Bobbie Ferguson; copy provided to J. Russell and held in files.
  16. 1830 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, p. 252 (stamped), line 24, William Battles 2nd household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 4.
  17. If you ARE a direct-female-line descendant of Ann Jacobs, let me know. There’s an mtDNA test kit, entirely at my expense, just waiting for you…
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