Tag Archives: family history

DNA Reveals Truth of Family’s Jesse James Story

When Frank and Jesse James appeared in  the family history of Tony Johnson, he turned to DNA. Tony wanted to learn and know the truth of his family’s story. The story was told to each generation for over 150 years.

In 1975, I had a high school project requiring me to build a family tree. I reached out to my grandmother, Effie Ramsey. She shared what she knew. Then quickly, she referred me to her cousin, Cleburne G. “Pat” Pound of Seminole, Oklahoma.

Leroy Pound-Pat Pound
Leroy Pound 1874-1958 with son Cleburne “Pat” Pound 1911-2000

Grandmother Effie said Pat was our family historian. He spent most of his life doing family research. Pat visited places throughout the country. He wrote letters to various history centers and libraries. Numerous genealogy chronicles published his work.

I met with Pat first. Then we corresponded through letters. Every year, Pat shared more information with me. My family records started to come together, especially the records for our Pound cousins and James ancestors.  This was before the use of computers for record keeping.

Pat knew how to educate. Not too long ago, one of Pat’s daughters mentioned to me how amazed she was that her classmates would waste a summer break visiting a place like Disneyland. Why didn’t they go to cemeteries? Or rummage through dusty courthouse basements, like she and her father did?

In no time at all, I took up the torch to be educated, too. I had two full storage crates of material, plus what Pat had accumulated.  Suffice it to say, my torch fizzled out rather quickly. I was finishing high school. I had my career before me. I put away the documents for almost 30 years.

Now, it is the 21st century. My own son is heading to college. My wife says that I really need to get a hobby. She does not know. Already I am dusting off the old records, documents, and research. I am looking at them with fresh eyes.

Throughout Pat’s research, a famous name pops up time and again. The name repeats itself through Pat’s interviews with family and with townspeople, stories especially about my third great-grandfather, Jeremiah James of Franklin County, Arkansas. The family stories tell that Jeremiah was related directly to Frank and Jesse James.

Jeremiah James & spouse Mary Campbell whose James line became the subject of DNA testing
Jeremiah James & Mary “Polly” Campbell. This Jeremiah James is not to be confused with the Jeremiah James who was the subject of a botched exhumation in 2003, promoted by Jesse James con artist Ron Pastore, television personality Bill Kurtis, and professor of anthropology Peer Moore-Jansen

Moreover, among Primitive Baptist ministers in Pat’s  own Pound family, this story was family lore, too. It was Jeremiah’s daughter, Nancy J. James, who married into the Pound family. These men of the cloth shared stories of the James gang being at their home, visiting their blacksmith shop, and being related to wife and sister-in-law, Nancy Jane (James) Pound.

Here are some notes and quotes from Pat’s notes and files:

  1. “Our James family ties in to the above James family (Robert and Zerelda James) in Virginia. In our home, my brothers and sisters and I grew up in the knowledge that we were related by blood to the outlaws Frank and Jesse James, the connection being through our father’s mother, Nancy Jane James, whose father, Jeremiah James, was said to have been a first cousin to the bandits.
  2. In 1945, Pat received a letter from William Thomas James. The writer was the 80-year-old grandson of William Russell James, a brother of Jeremiah James. In the letter, William Thomas James confirms that his ancestors were cousins to Frank and Jesse James.
  3. “Another verification of our connection with the James family of Logan County, Kentucky, was Mr. Walter Harris, late historian of Franklin County, Arkansas, legislator, school teacher, and author of a history of Franklin County. A few years ago, he took me to the grave of great-grandfather Jeremiah James. On the way, he said, ‘I guess you know that you are kin to some pretty famous people, don’t you?’ I remarked that I did, and he proceeded to tell me the same thing that W. T. James had.”
  4. “Our Grandfather, Isaac S. Pound, a Primitive Baptist preacher and a blacksmith at Alma, Crawford County, Arkansas, was awakened one night at midnight by two men who needed their horses shod. My grandfather told them that he did not usually shoe horses at that time of night. They told him he would when they told him who they were. They were Frank and Jesse James. He shod their horses.” This Isaac S. Pound married Nancy Jane James, joining the James and Pound families together.
Isaac S. Pound-Mary Jane James
Preacher Isaac Simpson Pound 1842-1908 & Nancy Jane James 1848-1910, daughter of Jeremiah James & Mary “Polly” Campbell

So now, in the 21st century, I have a computer, Google search, and Ancestry.com to enhance my research skills. I also have our persistent family story. I am pursuing new leads.

In my revived research, I came across Mary Helen Simon, Pat Pound’s sister. She lives in Colorado and just recently turned 93 years old. I flew out to meet her. I wanted to hear the stories that she and Pat heard in their childhood.

Mary Ellen Simon-Tony Johnson
Sister of Pat Pound, Mary Helen Pound Simon, age 93 in 2017, with the author Tony Johnson. Both determined to learn if their family lore is true.

I told Mary that I wanted to prove the family lore about Frank and Jesse. With that, I started looking for a male relative who bore the James surname. It took a couple of years. I finally found the family line that was descended from Jeremiah James’ brother. Amazingly, their five generations grew up in Arkansas in the same location as Jeremiah.

Receiving approval to have a DNA test performed on one of these James cousins, I purchased a Y111 test from Family Tree DNA. Impatiently I waited for the test results.

At the same time, I also contacted Eric James of “Stray Leaves” fame. I inquired about having DNA compared to known members of the Frank and Jesse James family.

Eric already had the uniform results of the principle lines of the James family on file. The James conducted their own DNA study between 2002 and 2006. Eric said the results were private for now, except for the troubled DNA of Sam Walton, a James family descendant; and for the Ross DNA of Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great-grandson. Knowing the DNA of Judge Ross revealed the Ross family history that Judge Ross never knew. Eric write about this in his book, Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence. The James DNA results done between 2002-2006 have not yet been made public. For now, Eric could not reveal their DNA profile. But Eric did offer that, if an outside DNA profile was submitted for comparison, he could confirm or deny if the external profile was a match or not.

I thought I was impatient while waiting for the initial test results from Family Tree DNA. I quickly realized that I was anxious again, now waiting to hear from Eric after I had sent off my cousin’s alleles for his comparison and review.

Sadly, the results were not positive, but that is what research is all about. Genealogy is about proving the data, the family stories, and the lore. Suffice it to say, that now that I have become our family historian, my cousins are a bit skeptical about my information. Of course, they will always believe that Frank and Jesse are in our blood, if not at least in our hearts.

Louisville Genealogical Society – Lecture & Book Signing

Eric F. James will focus on the genealogy research produced by the Jesse James family covering 1882 to the present day. He will address its genesis, methodologies, participation, DNA study, discoveries, challenges, peer review, financial costs, continuing burdens, privacy issues, publication and resulting new ancestry, new history and new family.

Church of Latter Day Saints

Much of the James family’s history was lost as the family disintegrated following the assassination of Jesse James. Interest in the family genealogy revived in 1950, through one family member’s slip of the tongue that broke the family’s wall of silence.

Eric F. James will cover what new and unexpected discoveries arose since and the new history that now compels the genealogist to write a five-volume history of the Jesse James family. Eric will preview This Bloody Ground, Volume II of Jesse James Soul Liberty. His second volume focuses on Frank and Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, his origins in the American Revolution with the Youngers and Pence, and his self-exile into Kentucky with the Traveling Church, which became a predicate to socio-religious communities and political structures of today. Eric will discuss the Spanish Conspiracy that first ruined the James reputation at a point when John M. James had become a political catalyst against bankers and predatory lenders of the early 19th century. Within John’s witness to the Danville conventions, statehood and his founding of Pulaski County, associations were formed that would lead to the infamous James Gang and confrontations of the Civil War era.

The author and genealogist also will sign his Volume I of Jesse James Soul Liberty. Eric last visited the Louisville Genealogical Society in October of 2014.

Author Eric F. James

Hot to Trot for How to Write Family History

Writing my presentations for the upcoming annual conference of the Ohio Genealogical Society has me super-charged.

Program presentations by Eric F. James for the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015
Program presentations by Eric F. James for the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015

It makes no sense at all though if I show up in front of my audience all hot to trot only to find that my audience needs a warm-up.

I hate losing ten minutes of precious presentation time, or lose content from either of my two talks:  “From Bodice Ripper to Jack the Ripper, How To Write a Family History Everyone Wants to Read,” and “How to Publish, Sell, or Give Away a Family History Everyone Wants to Read.”  I want my audience jazzed from the moment they walk into the conference room.

Program for talks by Eric F. James at the Ohio  Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015
Program for talks by Eric F. James at the Ohio Genealogical Society Annual Conference 2015

My solution is to grab their interest with the following video that will arrest their attention the moment they walk in the door.

As the audience takes their seats, this video already is at work relaxing the house and setting the tone for my talk. If everything  goes as expected, the video is building anticipation, excitement, and readiness for my moment to appear. In fact, I can play the same video after my talk, and have them dancing out the door.

Next, I just have to find a way of keeping the attention of anyone who takes a potty break.

Viewers of this video may recognize some of its images. They were used first in banners appearing on the Facebook page for my book Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I. My own book cover appeared in the box “My Book Here.”

Since I change Facebook banners often, I had plenty of banners from which to choose. The ones I selected for use in this video chiefly reflect upon the content contained in my talks.