Richard Carpenter remembers an argument that broke out among his Carpenter relatives at a family reunion in the late 1920’s. Richard’s father shouted, “Well, I’m just going to change my name to Medlock, which is what it’s supposed to be anyway!” Family legend had it that their ancestor, John Carpenter (1755-1843), was not actually the father of Richard’s great-great grandfather, Levi Carpenter (1810-1883). Supposedly, one of John’s daughters gave birth to Levi out of wedlock, fathered by a man named Medlock or Matlock. John raised Levi as his own son. In those days, legal proceedings for guardianship or adoption were often neglected, especially in places like rural Green County, Kentucky. No court record can be found to verify the legend.
New DNA technology has been developed in recent years, and provides helpful tools to assist genealogists. The theory that Richard’s great-great-grandfather, Levi Carpenter, was fathered by someone other than a Carpenter, could now be tested through Y-DNA testing. The Y-DNA is found only in males, and is passed from male to male to male, making it the ideal test for this scenario. Should Richard’s name be Medlock or Matlock, instead of Carpenter? Is the old family story true?
FamilyTreeDNA.com already had dozens of Y-DNA test kits from males surnamed Carpenter. The Y-DNA is passed down through the generations from father to son with a very low rate of mutation. The many Carpenter test results are categorized into groups based on geographical locations. Richard’s presumed branch of Carpenters are known to have come from the Botetourt County, Virginia area, and were called the ‘Jackson’s River’ group in the Y-DNA database. Richard’s Y-DNA did not match any of the samples from documented descendants of the Jackson’s River Carpenters, not even close. Nor did he match with ANY persons with the Carpenter surname, nor men named Medlock or Matlock!
By combining DNA testing with sound genealogical research, a plausible theory can be put forth. John Carpenter had a daughter named Mary, who married Robert Medlock in 1805 in the neighboring county. John Carpenter is named as the father of the bride on the marriage bond. Robert and Mary Medlock moved to Missouri shortly after their marriage, and before the birth of Levi Carpenter in Green County, Kentucky in 1810. They can be eliminated as Levi’s parents, both through genealogical research and DNA testing. The Medlock theory obviously developed out of a misunderstanding many decades ago.
Richard’s Y-DNA matched 67 for 67 markers with three Greer descendants, who trace their Greer lineage into North Carolina. There were Greers living in Green County, Kentucky by 1808, the year before Levi’s conception. Benjamin Greer came from North Carolina, and he had several sons. Studying land records and tax lists allowed us to plot their location on a topographical map. They lived about 15 to 20 miles away from John Carpenter. It is more than likely that Benjamin or one of his sons fathered Levi. Genetic research and genealogy research combined to solve a mystery many generations old!
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