I am a Cumbo through my grandfather and a Hall through my grandmother. My Cumbo ancestors were free people of color who settled in Northampton County, North Carolina. My Hall ancestors were free people of color who settled in bordering Hertford County, North Carolina. This past weekend I attended the 2016 Hall Family Reunion. I was honored when reunion organizers invited me to deliver brief remarks at the reunion banquet on DNA testing and genetic genealogy. Here is what I presented.
Family History Etched In Our DNA
My name is Andre Kearns, and I am a Hall.
But I didn’t know that I was a member of this amazing family until very recently.
You see I was born and raised in Washington DC. My mother grew up in Suffolk, VA, my dad in Raleigh, NC. I discovered that I was a Hall through family tree research.
Now as far as I can tell, I’m not directly descended from William Hall – which is probably 90% of you in this room — nor Allen Hall or Andrew Hall. But I am a Hall just the same, and I’m related to most, if not all of you in this room. And I’ll share with you how I can confidently say that in a little bit.
I relied on three main sources to uncover my Hall ancestry. The first is family oral history that has been passed down to me. The second is traditional genealogical research of census records, birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificate. The third, which I’ll spend the most time sharing about, is DNA testing. So how did I discover my Hall ancestry?
Step 1, I started with Oral Family History
Since childhood I’ve known that my great-great grandmother was a woman named Martha Sharp. Her husband was Jenkins Sharp and they had 5 children together including my great grandmother Georgia Mae. As far as any of us knew, they always lived in Suffolk.
Step 2, I extended the oral Family History with genealogy Research
I wanted to learn more about my great-great grandmother Martha Sharp so I started searching for information about her online. I found a marriage record for her which listed her maiden name as Hall. I then learned that Martha Hall had been born in Hertford County, in 1868, had grown up in Winton, and that her parents were Joseph and Emma Jane Hall.
Step 3, I validated my discoveries with DNA Testing
So what is DNA Testing? How does it work? DNA testing services such as AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and 23andMe will analyze your DNA and provide you information on your ancestry. Test results tell you about your ethnic makeup and present you with a list of DNA matches to help you to identify new relatives. Here’s how the process works. First you chose a testing service, order a kit which arrives in the mail. The kit comes with a cup. You spit in the cup (your spit contains your DNA), then you send it back to the service and wait for your results as they compare your DNA to all of the samples they’ve collected around the world. I’ve taken tests with AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.
Let me share a little bit about what I’ve learned about myself and my Hall ancestry through DNA Testing and what you can as well.
Here’s what I learned about my ethnic makeup
According to a recent study, African-Americans today are on average 82.1 percent African, 16.7 percent European and 1.2 percent Native American. According to 23andMe I am 60% African, 38% European, 2.0% Native American and Asian. My individual results represent a slightly more diverse profile as compared to African Americans on average as identified in the study. This diversity can be attributed in part to my multi ethnic Hall ancestry. The Native American DNA that shows up in my results may also come from my Hall ancestry.
Here’s what I learned about who I am related to
As I reviewed the DNA match list which came with my results, I noticed that one of my top matches was a man named Robert Hall. I reached out to him over email to figure out how we might be related. Turns out he descended from Richard Hall and Matilda Reynolds. I believe Richard to be the brother of my great-great grandmother Martha Hall Sharp.
Another one of my top DNA matches was Allen Hall descendant Constance Mitchell. I reached out to her and we started corresponding. She is the absolute best. We haven’t figured out exactly how we are related but I’ll always be thankful to her because among other things she vouched for me so I could join the Hall Family of Ahoskie Facebook Page adroitly administered by cousin Monica Mason. I’ve connected with so many of you and learned so much about our family from that page.
I discovered that another one of my DNA matches was Chief Wayne Brown who is Hall related. In October I took a road trip to Ahoskie for my first Meherrin Pow Wow and I had the honor of meeting Chief Brown for the first time.
Another one of my DNA matches is Dr. Warren Milteer. Our families lived next to each other for years in Suffolk, VA and through DNA testing we discovered that our families are also related. Warren is a true scholar and has been an amazing advisor in helping me to uncover my Hall ancestry. If you haven’t already, go get his book – Hertford County, North Carolina’s Free People of Color and Their Descendants.
As I reviewed my DNA matches I continued to uncover more and more connections to Halls and Hertford County. This is why I can confidently say that I’m related to most if not all of you in this room. It’s due to DNA Testing. Yes many of the old Hertford County records have been destroyed (1830 Hertford County Courthouse Fire) or have gone missing. Yes I may never figure out exactly how my 3x great-grandfather Joseph Hall is related to William, Allen and Andrew Hall. But luckily our connection to each other has been etched in our DNA.
As cousin McClary Hall Jr. once said to me, “It’s in the blood, it’s in the blood.”
If any of you are interested in DNA testing, I’d be happy to help.
I’d like to close by thanking the reunion committee for inviting me to speak.
One hundred twenty eight years after my great-great grandmother Martha Hall Sharp left Hertford County, it’s a true blessing to be able to reconnect with my family here this weekend at this family reunion.
Thank you and may God continue to bless the Hall Family.
My great-great grandmother Martha Hall Sharp born in Hertford County around 1868 and who grew up in Winton. Her parents were Joseph and Emma Jane Hall.
1850 Hertford County Census record for my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Hall, father of Martha Hall Sharp. Because only free persons were recorded in census records in 1850, it means he lived as a free person of color. His neighbors were the Manleys and the Nickens. I believe this means there was a familial connection between the families. DNA clues point to this as well. I hope to uncover the connection eventually through research.
Here I am with Hall descendant and DNA cousin Chief Wayne Brown at Meherrin Pow Wow in October 2015.
My grandparents. I am a Cumbo through my grandfather and a Hall through my grandmother.