I’ve been caught up in genealogy since 1980. That means I’ve been looking at the same records and documents, off and on, for the past 36 years, hoping for some hidden information to come to light and waiting for new records to be released. Along comes DNA testing for the genealogy world, and suddenly it’s a whole new ball game!
I’ve never known much about Mama’s paternal side of the family, other than her father’s name and the names of her grandparents. Her father was John Ross Wilson, son of Benjamin Franklin Wilson and Mary Powell. I would eventually learn from a cousin that Mary’s mother’s name was Eve. Recently, I decided to go back to the census records and take another look at the Wilsons and Powells to see what I may have missed. The earliest enumeration for them by name is found on the 1870 Federal Census for Saline County in Missouri.
I must have looked at this image 5-6 times or more over the years, but this time I see things I previously overlooked. The first thing that strikes me is there are three surnames listed in the same dwelling — Wilson, Sennet and Powell. My great-grandparents, Benjamin and Mary Wilson are listed in the “Color” column as “M” for mulatto. Benjamin is the head of the household. Next are two children, Joseph and Sarah Sennet, listed as “B” for black. After that are entries for M.T., Virginia, Charlotte, John and Levin Powell, listed as “W” for white and Fanny Powell who is listed as “B” for black. After I get over the shock of seeing a multi-racial melting pot in one household, I try to figure out the relationship between all these people. Who are the Sennet children? Why are they in the Wilson household? What is the relationship between the Wilsons and the Powells? Could M.T. Powell be Mary (Powell) Wilson’s father? Is that why he, his wife and three children are living in my great-grandparents’ home? I check the bottom of the page, and the enumerator’s notation says there are five dwellings on this page. I count them, and there are five. Looking further, I notice an entry in the household just above that of my great-grandparents’. “Eve Sennet” is enumerated in the Loy household as a 45-year old black female. Well cut off my legs and call me shorty! Oral history is being validated by this 1870 census report. Eve Sennet and M.T. Powell are the right ages to be the parents of Mary Powell Wilson. That would certainly explain why she is listed as mulatto. How can I come closer to proving this?
Along comes DNA…
About three years ago, my sister and I submitted DNA samples to AncestryDNA for strictly genealogical purposes. Between the two of us we have over 14,400 matches, ranging from “extremely high” to “moderate”. I needed to see if either of us shared DNA and a common ancestor with someone from the Powell lineage. So I began to build a Powell family tree, using myself as the home person. I worked my way back, using M.T. Powell as the father of my great-grandmother since he is the most likely candidate, and he’s living in her home. I learned from another census report that his name is Magnus Trozl Powell. I carefully traced the line back to Cuthbert Powell, and Ancestry calculated his relationship to me as being my 7th great-grandfather. But I needed to backtrack a couple of generations to my 5th great-grandfather, Leven Powell. Ancestry.com led me to an almost unbelievable number of records and hints for him. I was blown away by the things I read about his man. His full and correct title is Lt. Col. Leven Powell. He was appointed lieutenant colonel in 1777 by his personal friend, General George Washington…THE George Washington, the father of our country. He was at Valley Forge with Washington during the bitter winter of 1777 that claimed the lives of over 2,500 men. He survived the winter, but ill health resulting from that time at Valley Forge forced him to retire from the military in 1778.
Lt. Col. Leven Powell (Images from Google)
So am I really connected to this Powell family?
Once I had constructed the tree, I linked both my sister’s and my DNA tests to it. Within an hour I received a notification that both of us shared DNA with individuals who were descendants of the Powell family. Upon checking, the shared ancestors in all instances were leading back to Lt. Col. Leven Powell. In one day I went from wondering if my great-grandmother was really a Powell to finding enough shared DNA with Powell descendants to say yes… yes she was… yes we are… yes I am.
My grandfather, John Ross Wilson, son of Mary Powell Wilson, 3rd great-grandson of Lt. Col. Leven Powell
My DNA took me to Valley Forge.