DNA Reveals Truth of Family’s Jesse James Story

Home » DNA Reveals Truth of Family’s Jesse James Story

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

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.


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Wednesday September 15th, 2021
Stray Leaves

Have you considered it? ... See MoreSee Less

Have you considered it?
Tuesday September 7th, 2021
Stray Leaves

COVID HAS STRUCK THE JAMES FAMILY AGAIN . . . "My foundation and the love of my life. R.I.P 9/5/2021" - Judy Rae Davis-Gibson, spouse of Robert Melvin Gibson Sr. and 3rd great-granddaughter of John J. James & Mary Jane "Polly" Carrell. ... See MoreSee Less

COVID HAS STRUCK THE JAMES FAMILY AGAIN . . . My foundation and the love of my life. R.I.P 9/5/2021 - Judy Rae Davis-Gibson, spouse of Robert Melvin Gibson Sr. and 3rd great-granddaughter of John J. James & Mary Jane Polly Carrell.
Wednesday September 1st, 2021
Stray Leaves

Greg James posted the following to his immediate family a few hours ago:
"I'm currently dealing with a heavy heart and confusion. My wife Judy suddenly passed away today and I'm asking for prayers and good thoughts. Thank you!"
Judy is the second wife of John Gregory "Greg" James. Greg's first wife, Beverly Ann Brown, is the mother of Greg's James descendants. Regardless, we send Greg our sympathies and condolences.
... See MoreSee Less

Greg James posted the following to his immediate family a few hours ago: 
Im currently dealing with a heavy heart and confusion. My wife Judy suddenly passed away today and Im asking for prayers and good thoughts. Thank you!
Judy is the second wife of John Gregory Greg James. Gregs first wife, Beverly Ann Brown, is the mother of Gregs James descendants. Regardless, we send Greg our sympathies and condolences.

Comment on Facebook

So sorry to hear about your wife Judy`s passing! Our prayers are with you!🙏

Deepest condolences. 🙏

Tuesday August 31st, 2021
Stray Leaves

Very sad news. Frank Younger has died. Details of his memorial service appear in the Comments below. ... See MoreSee Less

Very sad news. Frank Younger has died. Details of his memorial service appear in the Comments below.

Comment on Facebook

FRANK YOUNGER'S MEMORIAL SERVICE . . . November 18, 1940 – August 28, 2021. Frank Younger sadly passed away suddenly at age 80 as a result of an accident in his home. Frank was predeceased by his parents, Paul and Margaret (and stepmother Irene). He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their three children, Pauline (Mike), Matt (Zoe), and Tom (Tamara), and grandson, Paul. Frank loved his family and always enjoyed sharing his encouragement, wisdom, and inimitable sense of humor with them. His contributions to the lives of many include his commitment to his career as an Astronomer at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics), his ongoing participation in local classical orchestras (including the odd instrument repair), and mentoring of many friends in any way he could. Frank’s recent endeavors included attending and helping run the James Younger Gang club as well as writing and reading his poetry. Frank has often enjoyed and been seen as having contrasting traits including riding his Harley motorcycle to a string quartet practice or cleaning his antique gun collection prior to reading his latest poetry writings to gangster club members. His unique character and compassion for all of his friends and family will be missed. You are invited to Frank Younger’s online Memorial Service. Please feel free to share the meeting link below as you see fit. You can join from any web browser using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. This will be a short memorial (20 - 30 minutes). We will not be able to provide any technical support on the day of the memorial. If you have any questions about how to join us using Zoom, please contact Zoë Younger at 778-828-9971 before Friday. We will be recording the memorial, so if you have difficulty logging in, or if you miss it, you will be able to view it at a different time. There will not be an opportunity to speak to all attendees during the service, however, if you wish to share a story with the family via email, we will be assembling a collection before the weekend. Please click the link below to join us. Topic: Frank Younger’s Memorial Service Time: Sep 3, 2021 03:00 PM Vancouver Join Zoom Meeting us02web.zoom.us/j/89203244337?pwd=QkU5b01uNzdZMWZNWmIwTUVPYllVUT09 Meeting ID: 892 0324 4337 Passcode: Frank Thank you, Join our Cloud HD Video Meeting us02web.zoom.us

I was devastated when I received the email. I spoke to Frank and Sharon a month or so ago. We had a nice talk. I will miss him dearly.

I was fortunate enough to have met and talked with Frank. He impressed me as a nice and knowledgeable man.

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2 thoughts on “DNA Reveals Truth of Family’s Jesse James Story”

  1. If Tony goes to the Family Tree DNA site he can sign up for the James Surname Project. Once he does that, he will find out which James family line he is related to . The list of DNA haplogroups for James is public and he can look at that. They are primarily E1b, and R1b1, but also a few for I and Q1, indicating the number of James clans there are. This would help him–and anyone interested in James DNA.

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