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AfriGeneas States Research Forum

Re: [VA] AA Seeks genetic link

African American seeks to prove genetic link to James Madison
By Jonathan Mummolo
The Washington Post

Bettye Kearse hopes to prove she is a direct descendant of James Madison.

MONTPELIER STATION, Va. Bettye Kearse stepped inside the mansion at Montpelier, President James Madison's estate in Virginia, and found the walls stripped bare. Rooms that were once opulently adorned have been deconstructed by archaeologists to reveal the slatted wooden frame holding together the home of one of the nation's premier architects.

Kearse, 64, a Massachusetts pediatrician, says she hopes to prove something the mansion's walls have so far kept hidden: that she, an African American, is a direct descendant of the man known as the father of the Constitution.

Kearse was one of dozens in attendance last weekend at the Montpelier Slave Descendants Reunion, where African Americans thought to have ties to the Orange County estate gathered to swap stories, learn about the home and submit DNA samples to help trace their roots. A $24 million restoration of the estate is about a year away from completion.

Madison had no children with his wife, Dolley, but Kearse says she has long believed her family's oral tradition, which holds that Madison fathered a child named Jim with a slave cook named Coreen, Kearse's great-great-great-great-grandmother. Kearse has been working with Bruce Jackson, co-director of the Roots Project, which helps African Americans trace their genetic histories.

The plan is to compare the Y chromosomes which are identical across generations of male descendants in Madison's family to the Y chromosomes of some of Kearse's male cousins. Jackson and Kearse recently located a descendant of one of Madison's brothers in North Carolina and hope he will agree to be tested.

As to the likelihood of Kearse's story being true, Jackson, who spent Saturday taking DNA samples from the cheeks of reunion attendees, said, "I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't a good shot."

Kearse is not the first African American to claim genetic ties to a president. Descendants of Sally Hemings, one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves, met with resistance from the Jefferson family when they tried to verify their relation to him.

Ann Thornton, a former president of the National Society of Madison Family Descendants, would not comment on Kearse's claim but said her family would cooperate. "We want to help her in any way we can," said Thornton, a descendant of two of Madison's brothers. "We wish her well."

Michael Quinn, president of the Montpelier Foundation, did not endorse or reject Kearse's story. "At this point, we welcome all information that comes out of this conference," he said. "We want to learn more."

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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