After my initial disappointment with our MATTHEW JORDAN kit- no close match found- I considered the possibility DNA testing was snake oil.  Maybe it was just a gimmick used to pad some pockets. Afterall, genealogy was the second most popular hobby in the world!   As I reviewed the JORDAN SURNAME PROJECT it became apparent most participants submitted DNA to help them hurdle a brick wall in their family history work.  Had I fallen prey out of a desperation to some sort of hoax?  Had I been duped?

The short answer was and is NO!  You see,  when I began my family history project I was immediately steered in the direction of our Great Aunt Marie.  She was raised in the Latter Day Saints Church and had been interested in genealogy longer than I had been on this planet!

Aunt Marie was our JORDAN branch keeper of the records.  (I suggest every family have one if they don’t at this time).  She was so kind and supportive.  She said she would share anything she had regarding our JORDANS if I in turn would help her locate her great grandpa BARTLETT YANCEY UNDERWOOD’s grave.  She explained her brick wall was Bart. I agreed to help which meant I took a keen interest in UNDERWOODS in the Carolinas and parts of Virginia early on.  I recall reading the widely revered UNDERWOOD FAMILIES OF AMERICA.  A volume many if not most Underwood researchers used a valuable resource.  Aunt Marie’s Underwoods had lost their family records to several house fires and Aunt Marie had been stalled for over 40 years.  The fire which killed her Grandpa James Monroe Underwood’s young first wife Lillie Mae Oliver Underwood and their first born made the news across the country!   But the death of her Great Grandpa Bart who passed on to glory two days before Christmas 1920 in Clayton at the age 94 or 104 according to what record you trusted more received no mention in any newspaper in the state!

We spoke after our MATTHEW JORDAN results populated.  I voiced my concerns to her.  Had I raised hopes falsely?  Had I disappointed?  She suggested I step away from the JORDAN work and take some time to work her UNDERWOODS, her mother’s family.    She understood when it comes to family history work one must persevere.  If it had not been for her wise counsel and encouragement I believe I would have succumbed to disappointment and adopted the same passive posture of many researchers wrestling with early Carolina pedigrees.

The UNDERWOOD case study opened my eyes to see the great potential using genealogical DNA testing brought to family history work.  I also began to understand on a whole new level why some early Classic Carolina family genealogies contained misinformation.  Anyone researching UNDERWOODS in the USA knows the book UNDERWOOD Families of America, written by Lucien Marcus UNDERWOOD.   In his book he writes

“In the more southern colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia Underwoods are to be found, but in most cases they appear to have their origin in early Virginia emigrants with the exception of one line in North Carolina which is an offshoot of the Delaware family…

Throughout the Mississippi valley region are to be found many Underwoods whose family tradition point back to the old colonies of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, but the disasters of the Revolution, the toilsome passage of the Alleghany mountains, the privations and hardships of the great wilderness, and finally the devastation of the Civil War have so obliterated their records and broken and scattered the family groups that it is nearly impossible to trace with any certainty their connection or origin.”

As I read those words I felt as though a DARE was made!  And I decided to try Y marker DNA tests one more time!


Family History work allows you to walk alongside ancestors and as you piece together the chapters of their lives you feel closer to them.  They are no longer just a name on a pedigree chart.  Bartlett Yancey Underwood was my second CIVIL WAR soldier to research in depth. His war record could easily be made into a movie in my opinion.  He enlisted January 1862 in Franklin County, home of the FRANKLIN Riflemen. Why he chose to enlist in FRANKLIN CO. was unclear.  At the time he enlisted he was a farmer residing in Southern Wake county.  He told the enlistment officer his place of birth was GUILFORD county.  He signed on to fight for the Confederacy for three years.  He served in the NC 47th Infantry in Company C. The 47th was made up of many men from Wake Co.  On July 3, 1863 Bart was wounded in the leg at Gettysburg. He somehow made it to Richmond to be patched up.  In August he deserted and returned within a fortnight.  The next major battle was Bristoe Station.  He was wounded in the leg again and captured this time. He was taken to the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, a breath away from the headquarters of the UNION in the District of Columbia.  Union surgeons would operate. While still in the hospital, he tried to escape only to be found and shot again.  After another surgery, he became a prisoner of war. Nov 23, 1863 he was placed in the OLD CAPITOL PRISON.  A building which would later be used by our Supreme Court.  On February 4, 1864 he was transferred to Point Lookout in St Mary’s County, Maryland.  He  remained there until Feb. 24, 1865 he was released during a prisoner exchange.  He was admitted to Jackson Hospital in Richmond on March 2, 1865. Given a month furlough on March 8th.  Lee would surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. While the war technically didn’t end until August it is not clear when he was formally mustered out.  When he returned to Southern Wake his family said he never spoke of the war.

It took me five months but I did identify where Bart most was likely laid to rest.  That is a separate adventure for  another post. There is a desire by the family to properly decorate his grave. And sadly while I trust my work and have records to prove the number of bodies in a particular plot in the Maplewood cemetery in Clayton there must be found a paper record in order for the grave to be able to be properly decorated.  We need to find someone who has some sort of record – maybe a correspondence or an entry in a Bible or an old Church bulletin – to confirm the location of where Bart was laid to rest.

This page is to concentrate on the steps it took to locate and confirm Bartlett Yancey UNDERWOOD’s parents and how using DNA helped understand Bart better! I will tell you it is not a closed book. There are more chapters waiting to be discovered and they can be discovered via DNA.

Here are the steps I used.  Anyone starting a genealogy project or transitioning from a classic genealogy work model to today’s family history platform which included genealogical DNA can do the same.  It will enrich your results.

STEP 1 – create a family tree ONLINE by subscribing to ANCESTRY.com or going to FAMILYSEARCH.org. (familysearch.org is a free site operated by the LDS church).  I believe it may be helpful to use BOTH if you can afford it and have the time.  I recommend using Ancestry as your research tree and using Familysearch.org to build out ONLY your direct confirmed pedigree).  I already belonged to ANCESTRY.com and Aunt Marie long ago had her UNDERWOOD family represented in the FAMILYSEARCH.org database!

Because the UNDERWOODS did not directly connect to our JORDANS I created a separate UNDERWOOD TREE.  (in hindsight, this was a mistake and the UNDERWOOD TREE was later merged back into my main Ancestry.com tree which now goes by the name of this DNA project and is the same as this website, NC1700sJORDANS.)

Classic genealogy is a term I coined to explain genealogy done before computers changed the field of study.  A Classic genealogist spends exhaustive hours hunting for paper records and oral histories to create their pedigrees and family stories.  Some used to write books, some shared their work among family and friends, and some hoarded and hid their work.

You will hear me say this over and over again. It is a fact.  Many records in North Carolina are GONE.  They may have been lost to the elements over time.  They have been lost to the ravages of war.  Some have mysteriously disappeared!   I learned over the last five years by collaborating with Aunt Marie CLASSIC GENEALOGISTS need to take pity on researchers such as myself who began their work more recently.  I found Aunt Marie’s efforts to go to courthouses, like HARNETT COUNTY, allowed her to have records she shared which are NOT available at the County or State level anymore because of fires!  The State Archives uses a term “BURNED COUNTY”. It is used when courthouses were burned resulting in record loss.  HARNETT COUNTY is the most burned county in our state!  And it is precisely where our families called home, many arrived in this region of NC in 1700s.  Because HARNETT had multiple courthouse fires (the ANGIER LIBRARY also burned), there are some family historians of this region whose family records and research are vital today.  Keep in mind many of the families of this region intermarried so the folks who have records most likely will be collaborating with cousins who just didn’t descend from the line who inherited the records.  It is so critical to collaborate.  There may (I believe is) a family who lives in the WAKE/HARNETT/JOHNSTON region of our state who has a family record which Aunt Marie’s large Underwood family needs to get Bart’s grave marked.  I also believe Cunningham, Lowery, Medlin, Smith, Sealey families may have critical information about Bartlett Underwood, his wife Emma Medlin Underwood, and his children.

When it came to Bartlett Yancey UNDERWOOD’s parents Aunt Marie had turned to professional genealogists to help her.  And she provided me with a letter from one such person who claimed Bartlett had married a Manerva Brincefield in Rockingham Co and moved west.  This proved to be false.  The professional genealogist confused Bartlett Yancey Underwood who married Emma Ann Medlin in Wake with his Uncle Bartlett Yancey Underwood who married Manerva Brincefield and left North Carolina before the war began.  Uncle Bart, aka Bart the elder, would settle in Southern Missouri.  The last location for Bart the elder was being captured just outside of St. Louis while gun running for the Confederacy. He took the Oath of Allegience but he seemed to vanish shortly afterwards.  Manerva is said to be a widow in the 1870 census and her son Thomas J. is the head of the house.  Manerva would travel with her younger son George into the Indian Territories and take her last breath in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was laid to rest in Oaklawn Cemetery.

When it came to our Bartlett, there was a well rooted UNDERWOOD clan found in the JOHNSTON to SAMPSON region.  Our Bartlett had died in Clayton, a small town in Johnston County.  So it was plausible he could have moved to Southern Wake and Johnston Co from Guilford because he had family ties to the region.  Just because he was born in Guilford county didn’t necessarily mean his family lived there a long time.  Then again, there was a small clan of UNDERWOODs who called the Greater GUILFORD CO region home since before the Revolutionary War.  This would include ROCKINGHAM, CASWELL, and ALAMANCE counties.

In fact, there were three brothers who could easily be identified.  Abraham, Joshua, and John Underwood all lived in what is called the PIEDMONT region of Carolina.  Two of the brothers, Abraham and Joshua, arrived before the Revolutionary War and were in the region when Cornwallis and Greene battled at the GUILFORD COURT HOUSE.  The youngest brother, John, served under Captain Calwell’s Delaware regiment, then served in Capt. Clark’s Co for six weeks and Capt. Jeremiah Morris’ Co for his brothers Abraham and Joshua. The way we know this is his pension application.  So when it came to some of the Piedmont Underwoods, some relationships were known.

The first map illustration showed where I was after I exhausted paper records.  REMEMBER CASWELL was first part of GUILFORD COUNTY and the GUILFORD COUNTY COURTHOUSE was burned during the Revolutionary War by General Cornwallis.  I could find no attempt by the county or the State of NC to reconstruct what had been lost.

ILLUS. 1 - end of paper trail ended. RED = BARTLETT YANCEY UNDERWOOD. YELLOW represent all possible UNDERWOOD families based on classic genealogy work whom BARTLETT YANCEY UNDERWOOD could be related. Because of burned/missing records, ONLY DNA could solve.
ILLUS. 1 – end of paper trail ended. RED = BARTLETT YANCEY UNDERWOOD. YELLOW represent all possible UNDERWOOD families based on classic genealogy work whom BARTLETT YANCEY UNDERWOOD could be related. Because of burned/missing records, ONLY DNA could solve.

The RED marker was for BART, our anchor kit.  I had several different branches of Underwoods who might help me better understand Bart’s line by comparing their Y marker 37 or greater samples.

Most family researchers will understand as one works there is sometimes a natural pulling in a particular direction.  While the records may be fragmented there were enough to make me seek out an UNDERWOOD who hailed from the GEORGE and NANCY UNDERWOOD family found both in GUILFORD and CASWELL counties.  I found a record that could be our BART in that particular family.  So I tracked forward to the current descendants and asked a male descendant who tracked through Jonathan Brooks UNDERWOOD’s immediate line if he would help me determine if our Bartlett Yancey and his Jonathan Brooks were related.

This descendant explained he had an interest in family history and told me his aunts and father had paid a professional genealogist in the 1970s or 80s to research their UNDERWOODs.  The genealogist was associated with ELON College and that produced a beautiful pedigree chart showing his UNDERWOODs had moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania.  Sadly the pedigree didn’t even work on paper.  The Underwood this person claimed as an ancestor had never left Pennsylvania!

I submitted only two kits.  One to establish our Bart’s branch.  And one to establish what I like to call Jonathan’s branch.  The two matched perfectly (ZERO STEPS) and the family finder tests showed the proper relationship of the cousins to confirm exactly what I suspected.  Bart’s dad was George Underwood.

Once I had this confirmation I could use classic genealogy techniques to build back two more generations.  GEORGE and BARTLETT YANCEY UNDERWOOD the elder were sons of  COE UNDERWOOD and COE’s father appeared to be ABEL UNDERWOOD.  Coe was born in Maryland.   So my next leap would be to isolate the Maryland and Delaware Underwoods and see which ones match our ABEL. And there is a continued effort to isolate and establish other CAROLINA Underwoods, especially those from the SAMPSON COUNTY and MOORE to GUILFORD Underwoods.  By establishing the other Carolina Underwoods all can understand better how the various Carolina Underwoods relate to each other and because we have lead per the census reports that point to Underwoods of Maryland relating to Bart, by finding out how Carolina Underwoods relate may allow some to find they too connect to Maryland.

When my NC Underwood kits populated there was ANOTHER PERFECT MATCH for our UNDERWOOD FAMILY TREE.  The match belonged to a kit submitted years earlier  a line of UNDERWOODS who tracked back to ARKANSAS.  There seemed to be a cluster of Arkansas UNDERWOODS who were a bit tangled.  Our North Carolina kits helped set the ground work for these ARKANSAS  UNDERWOODS (and the OKLAHOMA, TN, TX, ID, and MISSOURI descendants who also track back to connect in Arkansas) to be able to advance their family branch work.  This Underwood match cracked open the door to show us there is a need to DNA map some Virginia Underwoods too.

As I was evaluating matches I found a message on an old GENEALOGY.com forum from a GORRELL family who could track their great grandma Margaret UNDERWOOD back to ROCKINGHAM, NC when she married Ralph Washington GORRELL, the grandson of RALPH GORRELL, a mover and shaker originally from Ireland who moved to GUILFORD. It was on land Ralph sold the city of GREENSBORO was built.  The GORRELLS knew their  MARGARET UNDERWOOD was North Carolina born but they didn’t know which branch of UNDERWOODS was her family.  Their family told me a story of how Ralph Washington and Margaret and family were supposed have only stopped by WEBSTER, MS to visit some KERR relatives. They were heading for Texas.  The death of a daughter made it impossible for Margaret to move from Mississippi!  So they settled there instead.

**Abel UNDERWOOD, Uncle to Margaret, left North Carolina and settled in DALLAS, ARKANSAS! Abel named a son Elijah Vann Underwood. Elijah would die during the Civil War.  Our Bartlett Yancey Underwood also had a son named Elijah Vann!

The GORRELLs of MISSISSIPPI had worked for over 30 years.  I called one of the descendants and explained what I was attempting to do with DNA.  I furnished them with fragmented evidence (the lone census record.  All other records in the counties were lost to fire or time).  I  explained I believed I could determine if their Margaret was sister to Jonathan Brooks and Bartlett.  I also explained several of the PIEDMONT UNDERWOODS had established their branches. So even if they didn’t match us there were other working possibilities! Remember the 1850 census record?

Snapshot of 1850 Caswell Co Census from ANCESTRY.com
Snapshot of 1850 Caswell Co Census from ANCESTRY.com

It clearly shows a Margaret Gorrell in George Underwood’s home.  I had asked the descendant of Jonathan Brooks and he said he had seen that record and it had bothered him for some time.  He didn’t have a clue who Margaret was and figured she was a servant.  I suspected she was not a servant but a daughter!  And DNA would tell us for sure.

So the GORRELLs sent off a kit and ordered both the Ymarker 37 and the family finder test. Remember they come through a girl’s line so we have to use the family finder test to connect the girls to their family units.  I asked them to do the Y marker test because there are many GORRELLS in OHIO and elsewhere who might like to know if they are related to RALPH GORRELL.  Ralph’s Irish connection was easy because he kept his property there after he moved to the colony!  This too could help GORRELLS on both side of the Great Pond.

When the test results populated, the Gorrells knew who their UNDERWOODs were! Margaret’s family learned who her father, grandfather, and probably great grandfather was.  With one DNA kit her line caught up with ours in looking to MARYLAND and DELAWARE for the next generation back.

This diagram shows the confirmed relationship between the MS MARGARET UNDERWOOD GORRELL LINE and the CONNECTION to the OK kit match. I left the
This diagram shows the confirmed relationship between the MS MARGARET UNDERWOOD GORRELL LINE and the CONNECTION to the OK kit match.  The RED MARKERS show all of the SAME UNIQUE UNDERWOOD TREE.  It is possible for UNDERWOODS from those branches to CONFIRM their branches by submitting Y37 or greater DNA kits through FamilytreeDNA.com.  The yellow markers represent locations where I believe there are UNDERWOODs who should match our UNDERWOOD TREE.

This case study was incredibly successful and helped folks who had stalled for almost a century advance their family history work.  It answered the question Great Aunt Marie had asked.  And it advanced her family history three generations.

WE still have areas of opportunities.  There is reason for me suspect a family connection between BARTLETT YANCEY the statesman and his father’s branch and our UNDERWOODS.  First there is the name being used in multiple generations. Second there are court records for ABRAHAM UNDERWOOD of CASWELL’s estate. BARTLETT YANCEY the statesman, ROMULUS SANDERS the Speaker of the NC Assembly and a WILLIAM BETHELL all gave $500 each to administer the estate of ABRAHAM UNDERWOOD who died in 1820.

It is my hope a man who carries the YANCEY surname and comes through BARTLETT YANCEY JR’s branch will participate and submit a Y37 or greater DNA kit through FAMILYTREEDNA.COM AND will also do a Family Finder test. It is the Family finder test I believe that will help me with the UNDERWOODS of CASWELL.

Lastly, there is still an open ended question where the SAMPSON county UNDERWOODS and the GUILFORD COUNTY UNDERWOODS GO.  The window is closing I fear for us to be able to use family finder tests to sort these UNDERWOODS into their proper trees!

The UNDERWOODS study restored my faith in DNA!

DNA is not a one stop option to provide you with a complete history of your family. And it cannot replace classic genealogy work.  It will however properly identify your branch in your unique family tree and if folks work together, as the UNDERWOODS and the GORRELLS did in this case, great strides can be made.

There is NO reason for speculation to exist for genealogists today.  When a relationship is suspected, it can be solved using DNA!

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