Monday, October 17, 2011

Perils of Proximity

Have you ever been tempted to assume that families with the same surname were related because they lived near each other? Well, you might want to think again before making assumptions about family relationships based on proximity.

The 1850 Federal Census for Independence County, Arkansas illustrates this pitfall very well. There were no less than 64 individuals with the surname Reeves, Reaves, or Reves, living in 11 households in the predominately rural county in 1850. Four households consisted of descendants of Jordan Reeves Jr (born about 1773 in North Carolina), four of descendants of William Reeves (born 1766 in Grayson County Virginia), and three of descendants of Miles Reeves (born about 1760-70, birth state unknown).

For years, the descendants of Miles Reeves assumed that he was a son of Jordan Reeves Sr (born 1747 in North Carolina), based on very little evidence other than the migration of his sons between 1837 and 1846 to Independence County where Jordan Reeves Jr had moved in 1825. Because of this assumption, investigation of the origins of Miles Reeves languished.

DNA analysis ultimately proved that the sons of Miles Reeves were not related to Jordan Reeves. Likewise, the William Reeves descendants are not related to either Miles Reeves’ or Jordan Reeves’ lines. Descendants of Jordan Reeves have tested in DNA Group 8 in the Reeves DNA Project while descendants of William Reeves' brothers Jesse and John have tested in Group 6. A Miles Reeves descendant who had his DNA tested did not match anyone in the DNA project.

Documentary evidence supports the DNA findings. No connections among the three families have been found other than the fact that they all lived in the same county for several years.

Similar situations abound in Reeves genealogy. Though today the surname “Reeves” is the 358th most common surname in the US, it seems sometimes that Reeves were everywhere in colonial America.

If you are researching a Reeves line, consider finding male descendants to do the Y-DNA testing. It could help narrow your research to specific families. And you will find cousins you never knew you had.

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