Tracking Down Living Relatives

The study began in 1996 when Dr. Eugene Foster, a retired pathology professor, began tracking down living male-line relatives of President Thomas Jefferson. In order to show whether or not President Jefferson had fathered a child with Sally Hemings, direct male descendants were needed from both the Jefferson and the Hemings lines. Unfortunately, Jefferson's only legitimate son died in infancy. His two daughters who lived to adulthood obviously did not carry his Y chromosome and therefore their descendants were not useful in this study. There were two other possibilities for direct maleline descendants, Thomas Jefferson's brother Randolph and his father's brother Field.

The last of the direct male descendants of Jefferson's brother Randolph died in the 1920s or 1930s so Dr. Foster turned to the relatives of President Jefferson's paternal uncle, Field Jefferson. Seven living descendants of Field Jefferson were located. Five of them agreed to cooperate in the study and had their blood drawn for Y chromosome marker testing purposes.

On the Hemings side of the equation, it was even more difficult to come up with an abundance of living male relatives. Sally Hemings had at least six and possibly seven children: Harriet (1795-1797), Beverly (1798-post 1822), Harriet (1801-post 1822), an unnamed daughter (1799-1800), Madison (1805-1877), and Eston (1808-1856). According to the oral history of the descendants of Thomas Woodson (1790-1879), he was Sally Hemings's first child. Sally's son, Beverly and daughter, Harriet are listed as dying post 1822 because they disappeared into white society in the Washington, D.C. area in the year 1822.

Of the three known male sons from Sally Hemings, only descendants of Madison and Eston could possibly be located since Beverly's fate is unknown. Madison's Y chromosome line ended in the mid-1800s when one of his three sons vanished into white society and the other two had no children. Thus, Eston Hemings's descendants remained the last chance to find a male-line descendant of the man who fathered Sally Hemings's children.

Eston Hemings was born on 21 May 1808, at Monticello where he lived until PresidentJefferson's death in 1826, at which time he was freed. Eventually he married and moved to Ohio and finally to Madison, Wisconsin where he died and was buried in 1856. Eston assumed the surname ofJefferson when he left Virginia and gave everyone the impression that he was white because of his light skin color.

Eston Hemings Jefferson had two sons and a daughter. His youngest son, Beverly Jefferson, lived from 1838-1908 and had one son. This son, Carl Smith Jefferson, lived from 1876-1941 and had two sons, William Magill Jefferson (1907-1956) and Carl Smith Jefferson, Jr. (1910-1948). Only William had a son. This son, John Weeks Jefferson was born in 1946. As the only living male descendant of Eston Hemings, John Weeks Jefferson's blood was drawn to help answer the question of whether or not President Thomas Jefferson was Eston Hemings's father (Murray and Duffy 1998).

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