What started as two separate genealogical research projects – one by a woman of primarily African ancestry and one by a man of European descent – eventually intersected when a DNA match connected the two, leading them back to Granville County.
The story of the ancestral search of Pamela Williams of Virginia and James Wilson of South Carolina has been presented in educational programs at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh and twice at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation of Williamsburg, VA. On Saturday, Feb. 23, the story will come “home” to Granville County during a program in celebration of Black History Month.
“Two Races, One Family” will be presented at 1:30 p.m. at the Richard H. Thornton Library as Ms. Williams describes the journey that led to finding her ancestor “Henry,” a Granville County slave prior to the Civil War. What she had not counted on, however, was finding a modern-day relative, James Wilson, who had also been researching his own family tree. Through online genealogical research, as well as through centuries-old documents and court records, both Williams and Wilson followed leads to an 1842 court case involving the intestate estate of Robert Burton Wilson (James’ 4th great-grandfather) which listed 28 slaves. One of these slaves was Williams’ second great-grandfather “Henry,” along with his mother “Hanah,” who would have been Williams’ third great-grandmother.
Through DNA testing in 2016, it was determined that Williams and Wilson had a common paternal ancestor, which made them distant cousins.
The February 23 presentation at the Thornton Library will include the story of Williams’ and Wilson’s personal ancestral journeys, focusing on Williams’ traditional and online genealogy research, Wilson’s ancestry research and family tree development, and the DNA testing that brought the two researchers together. The presentation will also bring to light cultural norms of the period and an insight into the slave/master relationships of tobacco plantations during the Colonial/Antebellum era.
A retired Probate Specialist from the Spotsylvania Circuit Court (VA), Pamela Williams – a native of Granville County and a 1977 graduate of J.F. Webb High School – is a paralegal employed with Herndon Law, P.C. in Glen Allen, VA. She has 20 years’ experience in ancestry research and preservation and has spoken at numerous conferences on genealogy and the importance of court records and historical documents in researching ancestral heritage.
James Wilson, who began his genealogical research as a hobby, is Chief Performance Officer for a North Carolina 100 company. He grew up on a plot of land that was once owned by his 5th great-grandfather John Wilson, who was one of the early European settlers in Granville County in the 1760’s. Today, James lives in Greenville, SC.
Wilson’s daughter, Dr. Jamie Wilson, provided the cultural context of the research conducted by both Williams and her father. Dr. Wilson holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History and is an adjunct professor of history at the University of South Carolina. She is considered an expert on antebellum slavery.
“Every journey in life leaves a trail,” Williams said of her experience. “Follow the trails and they will lead to the paths of your ancestors.”
The “Two Races, One Family” presentation is open to the public and all interested in learning more about genealogy, the use of historical archives, Colonial plantations, slavery laws in Granville County and how the lives of these two researchers eventually intersected are invited to attend. For further information about this program, contact the Richard H. Thornton Library at 919-693-1121.