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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 1 April 2007, page B8

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Rev. Al Sharpton, DNA and You

Today DNA is a hot topic. When the Rev. Al Sharpton recently discovered his great grandfather, Coleman Sharpton had been a slave belonging to a member of former segregationist Senator Strom Thurmondís extended family, he immediately called for a DNA test.

The Associated Press quotes him as saying, "DNA could tie me to Thurmond." Sharpton wants to learn whether he is a descendant of the Thurmond family, but since the Sharpton/Thurmond link is through a female line, Strom Thurmondís first cousin twice removed, he may as well save his money.

Julia (Thurmond) Shaptonís husband, Jefferson Sharpton died broke in 1860 leaving her with four children. His father Alexander gifted her with four slaves, i.e., Coleman Sharpton, his supposed wife, and two children who were sent from their South Carolina home to Florida where Julia and family lived.

According to a slave indenture located by Megan Smolenyak, staff genealogist, Coleman and his family were freed after the Civil War and apparently remained in Florida. Rev. Sharpton never knew his grandfather Coleman Sharpton, Jr., also a minister.

A DNA test would require testing a male descendant of Thurmond as well as the Rev. Sharpton himself. Since the test applies only to the direct male line of descent, and in this case involves two distinct male lines, no link could be proved between the two differing surnames. Testing Y chromosome DNA is only possible within the Sharpton direct male line, father to father, etc.

The Y chromosome DNA test used to determine links between male surname lines does help to identify how closely two or more descendants of a common ancestor are related, but cannot prove the exact relationship. A non-match indicates no common ancestor.

Currently a Y chromosome DNA test may include 12, 37, or 67 markers. Most often tests of 12 or 37 markers are chosen as a 67 marker test is still extremely expensive, $349 each at Family Tree DNA one of the largest testing companies. The more markers matching between two persons the more likely a relationship exists so the 67 marker test results are more exacting.

Family Tree DNA is presently testing Y chromosome DNA of nearly 3400 surname lines. For surnames beginning with "G" for instance, 183 family names are enrolled in test projects. My maiden surname, "Gant" has one individual enrolled but other names have varying numbers with "Graves" topping out at 307 enrollees. As a female, I am ineligible for Y chromosome DNA tests. I could, however, pay to enroll my brother and hope that I might obtain clues to help close the one-generation gap in my fatherís ancestral line. Since only one male Gant is currently enrolled, I think Iíll wait awhile.

Numerous surname studies are in process and can be located at Family Tree DNA, The University of Arizona processes its tests under geneticist, Dr. Michael Hammer. If you are up against a male line brickwall, joining a surname study might provide some clues when test results of your male descendant are compared with other study participants.

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