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… and not carved in stone

So in The Legal Genealogist‘s abundant spare time this weekend (koff koff), the focus has been on Dorothy (Wiseman) Baker.

There are three reasons for this:

• First, she was born exactly 257 years ago yesterday, on 5 February 1765.1

• Second, she’s my fourth great grandmother. She married David Baker in Burke County, North Carolina, on the ninth of August in 1793.2

• And — third — because she and David always give me good reasons to stop and pause and remember: all those DNA-based hints that we get from things like ThruLines on Ancestry or Theory of Family Relativity on MyHeritage are clues — and can’t be taken as carved in stone.

I actually had set out this weekend to consider what things would have been like for Dorothy when she married David. She was likely just 18 when they married, and was certainly no more than 20. And she was David’s second wife. His first wife, Mary Webb, died in May of 1793, leaving David with six children ranging in age from roughly 13-year-old Elizabeth down to the baby, Mary, just a year old.3

How does a woman so young herself cope with a houseful of children, including an oldest stepdaughter already in her teens — only a few years younger than she was herself? Not to mention proceeding to produce and raise her own seven children, including my third great grandfather Martin.4

And of course I promptly got distracted by all the bright-shiny-objects online, particularly in the DNA testing results.

The first thing I got distracted by was the difference in the number of ThruLines matches at Ancestry between those descending from David (which of course will include those descending from the first wife as well as the second wife) and those descending from Dorothy (which excludes all those first-wife descendants). At my level, it’s compelling: I have 189 matches through David and just 112 through Dorothy. One generation farther back and it’s equally compelling: my late Uncle David’s ThruLines show 381 matches through David and just 214 through Dorothy.

So, I figured, maybe I could get some general idea as to how half-sibling relationships back to that level could impact DNA results. All those matches from all those kids by two different wives…

But then — sigh — the next thing I got distracted by was the suggestion that David’s kids by his first wife would have included two daughters named Elizabeth, both born in 1780, one of whom married a man named Bailey in Burke County, North Carolina, around 1800,5 and the other of whom married William Jennings in Jefferson County, Tennessee, in 1797.6

Baker thrulines

And how do I know these are not one and the same person, married twice? Because each of these women produced children well into the 1800s by their Jennings and Bailey husbands, and David’s daughter Elizabeth was still a Bailey when David died in 1838 — he named her in his will.7

Which means, of course, that Elizabeth (Baker) Jennings was not David’s daughter. It would be a mistake to simply accept the ThruLines suggestion and add this Elizabeth to my family tree as that daughter, with an additional spouse. That proposed link can’t be regarded as carved in stone.

And yet my close relatives and I all do have matches to descendants of Elizabeth (Baker) Jennings: my uncle has eight such matches ranging from 10-17cM, I have three, ranging from 12-16cM.

Finding those matches in ThruLines does provide a clue.

Because David had a brother John, who died in 1806.

In Jefferson County, Tennessee.8

And the range for likely shared DNA between these matches is not measurably different whether they are descended from David or from his brother John. Once you get that far back, and especially when you add in a couple of generational removes, the odds of finding the most recent common ancestor at David’s level or at the level of David’s and John’s father Thomas Baker are pretty much identical.9


A clue to pursue. But nothing — nothing — carved in stone.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Why they’re only clues,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 6 Feb 2022).


  1. See Josiah and Julia (McGimsey) Baker Family Bible Records 1749-1912, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (New York : American Bible Society, 1867), “Births”; privately held by Louise (Baker) Ferguson, Bakersville, NC; photographed for JG Russell, Feb 2003. Mrs. Ferguson, a great granddaughter of Josiah and Julia, inherited the Bible; the earliest entries are believed to be in the handwriting of Josiah or Julia Baker.
  2. Or maybe 1795. But I’ll still going with 1793. See Judy G. Russell, “The marriage date,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Aug 2013 ( : accessed 6 Feb 2022).
  3. See John Scott Davenport, “Five Generations Identified from the Pamunkey Family Patriarch, Namely Davis Davenport of King William County,” in The Pamunkey Davenport Papers, CD-ROM (Charles Town, W.Va. : Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 2009), 27.
  4. See “The butterfly effect,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 May 2020.
  5. See Davenport, “Five Generations Identified from the Pamunkey Family Patriarch, Namely Davis Davenport of King William County,” in The Pamunkey Davenport Papers, CD-ROM at 27.
  6. Jefferson County, Tennessee, Marriage Records, 1792-1840, No. 172, Wm Jenings-Betsey Baker, 23 Dec 1797; digital images, DGS 007621533, image 45, ( : accessed 6 Feb 2022).
  7. Yancey County, North Carolina, Record of Wills 1: 30, will of David Baker, 26 Jan 1838; North Carolina State Archives microfilm C.107.80001.
  8. Davenport, “Five Generations Identified from the Pamunkey Family Patriarch, Namely Davis Davenport of King William County,” in The Pamunkey Davenport Papers, CD-ROM at 29.
  9. See calculations for 10-17cm at “The Shared cM Project 4.0 tool v4,” ( : accessed 6 Feb 2022).
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