DNA Cousins | More than Black and White

Melanie Mohler

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DNA testing helps you discover DNA cousins. Read how one genealogist did just that and proved that family is more than black and white.

Linda Crichlow White first became interested in genealogy in 2006, when she helped clean out the house of an elderly relative. Amidst the clutter, there were treasures, Linda said: letters, postcards, and photos from Linda’s maternal side of her family.

More recently–and thanks to DNA testing–Linda learned more about her father’s family. In 2017, Linda connected with an AncestryDNA match named Gail. Linda, who is President of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s James Dent Walker Chapter in Washington, D.C., noted that Gail, along with some of her other DNA relatives, appeared “white.” 

“Sometimes African American genealogists lament that when they reach out, others don’t always respond,” she said.

But Gail responded to Linda within minutes. She explained that their great-grandfathers were brothers. What made their connection even more interesting was that Gail’s great-grandfather, Edward, lived as a white man and Linda’s great-grandfather lived out as a Black man.

Living Different Lives

According to Linda, Edward and Franklin’s parents were free people who were identified as mulattos in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In the 1880 census, Bowen, Mary, and their children were all identified as mulattos. (During that period, the choices for “color” classification for those of African descent were “Black” or “Mulatto.” The 1860 census instructions define “Mulatto” as “mixed blood”).

Bowen and Mary Warnick’s family in the 1880 census. All family members were identified as mulatto with a “Mu” in the second column from the left.

 

When Bowen and Mary’s children moved out and had their own families, Edward and another brother Alban were identified as white in subsequent censuses. Franklin was the only one of their children to continue to identify as Black.

The family of Edward and Emma Warnick in the 1900 census. All family members were identified as white with a “W” in the third column from the left. However, Linda notes that current evidence suggests that even if Edward and his family concealed their given race, they still lived an apparently “open” life.

 

The family of Franklin and Lucy Warnick in the 1900 census. All family members were identified as Black with a “B” in the third column from the left.

 

“I did not know that Franklin came from a family where there were mixed racial identities,” Linda shared. “I had heard that two brothers served during World War I–one in the white unit and one in the Black unit. If I knew it, it was something I didn’t dwell on. Color has never been a major issue for people in my family.”

Linda’s paternal grandmother had similar views. In her own way, she says, her grandmother did not “see” color. She kept in touch with the other side of the family, despite identifying as different races.

Charting DNA Cousins, Black and White

After discovering her connection to Gail, Linda wanted a visual to show how they were related.

“I encourage people to create a family chart because it’s visual,” Linda said. “Most people forget who’s who, and who’s related to whom.”

Gail shared photos of her side of the family with Linda. Linda then worked with Family ChartMasters to create a Connect Chart. Linda has shared digital and physical copies of the descendant chart with others. She has even posted it on the Warnick Family Facebook page.

While Linda and Gail have not met in person, they have chatted on the phone and Linda was able to meet one of Gail’s first cousins who lives in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area last October. All of them have chatted on the phone or on Zoom.

Ultimately, Linda says that her ancestors’ story reminds us that there were black and mixed race people living as free people before 1865. She feels that it’s important to show how we’re all connected, regardless of how race has been defined in any given generation. That is what DNA testing has helped Linda and others do within their own families.

We love the progress Linda has made in building her family tree, and we thank her for letting us share her story. And doesn’t Family ChartMasters make beautiful charts?! If you’re ready to turn your DNA or family history discoveries into a powerful visual, you should check out their many gorgeous designs.

See Which Family ChartMaster Chart I Like Best

(If you use our link to purchase at Family ChartMasters, we’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!)

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