Priscilla Carter Burnett’s Boys and Saunders’ Y-DNA Inheritance

One of the areas of inquiry pursued by this website has been a mystery in the genealogical records of Bedford County, Virginia. There, the will of Williamson Burnett contained provisions denying his patrimony of three boys borne of his wife, Priscilla Carter Burnett, all three of whom took Williamson’s surname. A Bedford County court order existed, ordering Williamson to refrain from abusing Priscilla. After Williamson’s death, Priscilla received the widow’s portion of Williamson’s Revolutionary War pension, upon the testimony of reputable community citizens, including Williamson’s eldest son of undisputed legitimacy.

A case could be made, both for and against, the proposition that Williamson’s charges of illetimacy were vengeful and invalid and that the three disputed sons were, in fact, legitimate. The decision of a neighbor, Julius Saunders, to apprentice the three boys, led some to speculate that he (or, aternatively, a close relative of Julius’) rather than, Williamson, was the boys’ father. But, those many years ago, it seemed impossible ever to know for sure.

In the first decade of this century, I took a y-dna test from Utah’s Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) (that in 2012 became part of, not expecting that test to have any relationship to the Bedford County issues. However, a mission of the SMGF was to match y-dna data to the predominant surnames associated with a person’s y-dna date. Accordingly, the SMFG reported to me that the surname that best fit my data was “Saunders”.

This revelatory information led to the dedicaton of much of this website’s attention to the fascinating history of the Saunders family in England, the English Colonies, and the succeeding United States. Much attention was given to the y-dna information, including the proof that descendants of all three of Priascilla Carter Burnett’s sons born in the first decade of the 19th century had y-dna results that proved they were closely related to the descendants of each of the three boys.

But was there a way to prove that their y-dna was derived from the same ancestral lines as their suspected father, Julius Saunders? In recent years the y-dna data from persons surnamed Saunders (and the surname’s variant Sanders) have been collected from persons whose ancestry is demonstrably or plausibly related to Julius Saunders.

Comparison of subsets of the y-dna data – such as the values of y-dna SNPs that are shared by male descendants of Julius and his close relatives and the descendants of Priscilla’s boys – eliminates any remaining doubts that the father of the three boys is Julius Saunders or a close male relative of him.

However, I believe that the same perusal of y-dna SNPs that settled the Bedford County, Virginia matters may indeed prove to have a much larger role in Saunders genealogy. In past years, I have posted historical and genealogical information on the mercantile activities of the Saunders family groups data back to early in the past millenium. But as more Saunders males (and their male relatives with a Most Recent Common Ancestor in historical times) take y-dna tests, the opportunity will present itself to use reported y-dna data as an important clue as to where search of genealogical records should occur.

When I look at the pooled data of various surname and other groups with whom I share my y-dna data, I immediately search for those persons in Haplogroup 1I-M253 whose SNP DYS455=8 as opposed (in this haplogroup) to the frequently observed DYS455=11. I think, through such studies (and further refinements of what in the y-dna to look for), that we will identify and genealogically confirm the existence of closely related mercantile families in the ports of London and elsewhere in Southern England and Colonial America, whose men share an historically-recent MRCA.

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