Tuesday, November 4, 2014

You Are The Great-Great-Grandfather! A Mystery Solved Through DNA Testing

I had a Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. moment last weekend. That means I made a discovery using both DNA and a paper trail. My missing branch has grown leaves and sprouted!

A few months ago I blogged about the Easterling mystery within my family. To recap: I didn't have a death certificate for my mulatto great-grandmother Maude Livingston. I couldn't identify her parents' names. All I knew that her mother's maiden name was Busby. My aunt told me that Maude's mother went to work for a white family, was seduced by an older man and had 5 mixed children in Orangeburg, SC. That was partly true.

I found out she actually had 6 children by three different men.

James Easterling (1877-1951) was listed as negro in the Orangeburg census records. His death certificate listed parents as William Easterling and Eliza Busby. This William Easterling b. 1840 was African-American. James married his half-sister Rosa Lee (last name Trembull on the death certificate was actually Tremble). James died of pneumonia on November 24, 1951.

Rosa Lee Easterling (1885-1975) was listed as mulatto in the Orangeburg census records. Rosa raised her young siblings by herself in 1900. In 1910 the family lived in the household of their uncle Webster Busby. Rosa had a son named Robert Tremble in Georgia around 1911. She must have been married to her son's father but it didn't last. She later married her half-brother James. Unfortunately her death certificate will not be made public for another 11 years.

Augustus Easterling (1888-1963) was listed as mulatto in the Orangeburg census records. Augustus was married to Jessie May b. 1894 and had a son William Roy Easterling on January 16, 1912 in Orangeburg, SC. Augustus was drafted into World War I. After the war he relocated his family to 2355 N. Orkney Street in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaAugustus died of a gastro-intestinal hemorrhage on February 7, 1963 in Philadelphia. He was buried at Merion Memorial Cemetery in Montgomery County, PA. His death certificate named parents as William Easterling and Eliza Busby

Maude Easterling (1890-1942) was listed as mulatto in the Orangeburg census records. Maude married William Livingston Sr. (1890-1982) and had six children together which included my grandfather William Livingston Jr (1916-1993). It was rumored that she became mentally ill and was committed to the asylum in Columbia. She died on January 21, 1942 and was buried at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. No death certificate was found.

Vivian Easterling (1890-?) was listed as mulatto in the Orangeburg census records. Unfortunately nothing else was ever recorded about him. 

Ollie Easterling (1892-1931) was listed as negro in the Orangeburg census records. She married
Lawyer Johnson b. 1888 in 1911 District 46, Union, Orangeburg. Their children were Marion Johnson b. 1913, Vernon Johnson b. 1914, Lawyer Johnson Jr. b. 1916, Nancy Johnson b. 1920, Lucille Johnson b. 1921, Ollie M. Johnson b. 1923, Rosalie Johnson b. 1925, Walter Johnson b. 1927 and Lillian Johnson b. 1929. Her death certificate listed parents as David Franklin and Eliza (misspelled Leiza) Busby. David was African-American.

William Easterling (1897-?) was listed as mulatto in the Orangeburg census records. He may have moved to NC and been incarcerated there. There were multiple William Easterlings so it was hard to track his whereabouts.

The Busby, Easterling, Johnson and Livingston families lived near each other throughout the first few decades of the 1900s. I was lucky enough to identify Eliza Busby b. 1880 as my great-great grandmother. She probably died before 1900 of TB or in childbirth. The 1900 census had her last 5 children named Busby. In 1910, the children were named Easterling and lived with their uncle Webster Busby and his wife. Eliza's brother Webster's death certificate named his parents as William Busby and Margaret Lewis. They were my 3x great-grandparents. I will blog about the Busby family at a later date. (I have a great story on that side of the family!) But who was my great-great grandfather?

This is where the paper trail ended and I relied on DNA for an answer. Over the years, I have taken several DNA tests and uploaded my results to Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com, FTDNA.com and Gedmatch.com. A few weeks ago I was reviewing some new matches in AncestryDNA and found a 4th to 6th cousin match with the surname Easterling. I reviewed her profile and discovered that she was white. I am not mentioning her name out of respect for privacy. Her Easterlings were indeed from Orangeburg and were white, unlike mine which were mulatto. Her ancestor, Mary Ann Easterling-Tyler, had a brother named Jonathan Charles Easterling Jr. Jonathan and his wife Jane Martha Hall had a son named William Augustus Easterling (1842-1915). 

I found him in the 1880 Orangeburg, SC census listed as W.A. Easterlin, a single 39 year old white farmer, who lived a few houses down from William Busby and his family (including a single 20 year old Eliza). Both William and Eliza are circled in red in the census record below. This was indeed the man I was looking for since Eliza named two of her sons Augustus and William, it made perfect sense. 

The DNA test proved several things:
Poor Eliza, the stigma of having children out of wedlock by multiple men including a white man during the turn of the century must have been too much to bear. She might of died of a broken heart. Her daughter Maude was committed to a mental institution and died there. Perhaps the same thing happened to Eliza? I may never find out the truth. No state mental health records or death certificates were found for either of them.

Did I find anything else about William Augustus Easterling? He was born on July 15, 1841 in Orangeburg. His family was wealthy and owned a large amount of land in the area. He eventually became a cadet in the military academy and fought on the side of the Confederacy, Hampton Legion Infantry in the Civil War. William never married. He owned and farmed his own land after the war. Whatever transpired between him and Eliza was forever lost in those fields of Orangeburg. He died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis on March 20, 1915 in Richland, Columbia and was buried in his hometown. 

On a positive note, the Easterling branch, that used to be a thorn at my side, has now grown by leaps and bounds! My 5x great-grandfather, Reverend Henry Easterling III, was a Captain in the American Revolution. I felt like I was on an episode of Finding Your Roots and Dr. Gates told me to "turn the page." I can now trace my lineage back over 500 years to England. The Easterlings have their own genealogical society and have a family coat of arms as well. 

Origin of the Easterling Name

"The Easterlings, present an intriguing origin, dating back to 1066, when they arrived in England with William the Conqueror, wealthy bankers, coiners and lenders of money, to achieve distinction by becoming England's foremost mint masters, taking their name in compliment to the quality of their product. In the time of King Richard I, money coined in the east part of Germany began to be of especial request in England for the purity thereof, and was called Easterling money, as all the inhabitants thereof were called Easterling. Shortly after, some of that Country, skillful in mint matters, were sent far off into the realm, to bring the coin to perfection, which from that time was called of them 'Sterling' for Easterling."

Found in "History of South Carolina, Biographical Volume," Wallace, The American Historical Society, Inc.; New York, 1934.

Now I have new surnames to research which include: Hall, McMichael, Howell, Kincaid, Bennett, Chears, Widdington and Vines to name a few. More work for me (the kind I enjoy doing)


  1. Great! Im stuck on the 2nd great mulatto grandmother!

    1. i have more that i am stuck on in my other branches. Be patient. it will all be revealed to you. it took me a while to get my clues in order as well.

  2. Amazing! You must feel great to have solved this mystery.

  3. Love your blog! I am a descendant of Mary Easterling Tyler. What company did you use for the DNA test? I am looking into it. Thanks! Amy amymincey@yahoo.com

    1. Hi Amy
      I took 3 tests: ancestry.com, ancestryDNA and 23andMe

  4. I found the Last Will and Testament of William A. Easterlin. I can email it to you. Thanks! Amy amymincey@yahoo.com

    1. I am a decent from Ref Henry Easterling

    2. I'd be interested in the LW&T too! Ellereichshop@gmail.com

  5. How interesting!! Ref Henry Easter ling is my fifth great grandfather. In fact, I was just thumbing through an old ancestral book and wondered if any additional information was on the internet from when the book was published back in 1982.

  6. Wayne, I'm trying to trace my Easterling line as well and am so impressed with the work you have done! I've only gotten as far back as Evander B Easterling (1815-1855) and his wife Margaret Easterling (1826-1889)--they lived in the Marlboro, SC area. I enjoy tracing back the cousins etc as well and am hoping our trees connect at some point! Bookmarking this page--thank you for sharing!