Things that scream DNA!

An occasional series in The American Genealogist (TAG) is called “Enigmas,” which often concern clues or possible kinships that are not entirely proven, with varying levels of uncertainty. A recent comment on my post about Christopher Christophers recalled me to one such enigma – Hannah, wife of Daniel2 Geer (ca. 1673-1749) of Preston, Connecticut.

That Daniel’s first wife was named Hannah was established by David L. Greene in a 1988 article in the Register: “A Reconstruction of the Family of Daniel2 Geer (circa 1673-1749) of Preston, Connecticut,” which also established that Daniel's second wife was another Hannah, the widow Hannah (Tracy) Davison. In a 1992 “Enigmas” series in TAG, Greene discussed the first Hannah further, in an article entitled “Was Hannah, first wife of Daniel2 Geer of Preston, Connecticut, A Mayflower Descendant.” Greene cautiously notes “I had formulated a hypothesis about the identity of Daniel2 Geer’s first wife, but I hesitated to publish it because it was unproven and because it involved the sort of ‘prestige’ descent that too often leads family members to turn it into fact – in this instance, a descent from one of the Mayflower’s most important passengers, Elder William Brewster.”

David Greene noted that despite his admonition, his “hypothesis had been distributed much further and that it has become, for some descendants, fact and not theory.” Indeed, if you search online trees today, you will find numerous ones claiming this Hannah was a daughter of Christopher and Elizabeth (Brewster) (Bradley) Christophers, rarely noting the caveat that this is an unproven hypothesis. Hannah is currently linked as a daughter on Elizabeth’s findagrave page!

This last article ... largely argues against the theory that Christopher and Elizabeth are Hannah’s parents.

Greene followed up with his article the following year with an addenda, followed by a lengthier article by Norman W. Ingham, “The Search Must Continue for Hannah, First Wife of Daniel2 Geer of Preston, Connecticut.” This last article looks at the Christophers and Geer family in detail, and largely argues against the theory that Christopher and Elizabeth are Hannah’s parents. Greene comments on that article: “I cannot agree that the case of the Geer-Christophers hypothesis ‘all but disappears’ with the current state of his investigation, but there can be no question that it has been weakened by his analysis”; he concludes that the “hypothesis I offered is far from proven and could represent a false trail. I agree that the search must continue.”

As I re-read these articles, this was a case to me that screamed DNA! These articles were written in the early 1990s, when genetic genealogy was in its infancy. Greene’s theory involves the parentage of a female who had a daughter, so mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing is possible. Here is a snapshot of three matrilineal generations of Hannah’s family, as summarized Greene’s article above:

Elizabeth (Brewster) (Bradley) Christophers was the third of five daughters of Jonathan and Lucretia (Oldham) Brewster, and Jonathan was the son of Mayflower passengers William and Mary Brewster. Among Jonathan and Lucretia’s descendants within volume 24 of Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, there are twelve continued matrilineal females in the fourth generation, 38 (and one more as possible) in the fifth generation, and 65 (and five more as possible) identified with husbands in the sixth generation. You can identify many more matrilineal generations for those who joined the Mayflower Society within our Mayflower AncesTREES database!

Ideally, you’d want to get matrilineal descendants of two different daughters of Hannah’s only daughter Thankful (Geer) Wheeler, as well as matrilineal descendants of at least two different daughters of Lucretia (Oldham) Brewster, to take mtDNA tests on (FTDNA). Descendants of Thankful should match one another as should descendants of Lucretia; if they do not, you have another issue at hand, likely with the genealogical connections or an unknown adoption, etc. If Thankful’s descendants match the descendants of Lucretia, then this can corroborate the theory that Hannah was a daughter of Christopher and Elizabeth! If the descendants do not match, then that is very strong evidence against the theory, and may lead to other clues by comparing other matches on FTDNA.

We have successfully done these mtDNA studies twice in Mayflower Descendant, one for establishing the maternity of a female born in the late 1700s that led to a John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden matrilineal descent, and the other for establishing the maternity of females born in the early eighteenth century leading to descents from passenger Richard Warren.[1] This study above would be for the maternity of a female in the late seventeenth century, so she would likely have even more living descendants that would benefit from this research. If anyone wants to dig, here’s a study that screams DNA!


[1] Both articles were by Michael Sean Dunn, “The Parents of Esther (Dyer) Flanders (1790-1876) of Braintree, Vermont, and Livingston County, New York: A Matrilineal Priscilla Mullins Descent,” Mayflower Descendant 66 [2018]: 23-48, 178, and “The Parents and Siblings of Sarah Church, Wife of Nathaniel Crandall, of Little Compton and Tiverton, Rhode Island: A Richard Warren Line,” Mayflower Descendant 68 [2020]: 157-86.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child