Saturday, October 27, 2018

Seeking Sisterhood: A Mitochondrial Research Project

For too long I've neglected the women.

My research has narrowly focused on my fifth great-grandfather Thomas Kirk (1778-1846). If you weren't sporting the Kirk surname or carrying the male Y chromosome, you were secondary to my genealogical investigation.

That's about to change. My Kirk family research is shifting gears and moving in a different direction. Perhaps this approach will yield previously overlooked clues that will help identify Thomas Kirk's parents.

Ladies of Suspicion 

Aside from his wife and daughters, three women have surfaced with biographies that curiously intersect with Thomas Kirk's life.

Were they related to Thomas? Could their histories help bridge the research gaps and pinpoint my Kirk ancestral origins?

The three suspects are Margaret (Kirk) Beard, Mary (Kirk) Geiger, and Ann (Kirk) Ford.

Margaret (Kirk) Beard
With no corroborating documentation, some genealogies claim that Margaret was an older sister to Thomas Kirk. Born twenty years before Thomas, indeed she would be a much older sister. Admittedly, the large age gap doesn't preclude them from being siblings, but it seems more likely - to me - that they would be aunt and nephew (or cousins).

According to an unsourced family history published in 1975 (The Beard Family Genealogy: The Beard Family From Virginia to Ohio and West by Glenneta Schott), "John Beard married Margaret Kirk who was born in Cork County, Ireland April 12, 1758 and who died July 7th 1850 in Ohio."

The Beards lived in Licking County, Ohio - where Thomas Kirk made his home - and are buried in the Beard-Green Cemetery - just steps from Thomas' final resting place. 

In 1812, the Beards sold 100 acres in Licking County to Thomas.

Before moving to Ohio, the Beards lived in Berkeley County, (West) Virginia. On June 17, 1786, they were grantors selling 251/2 acres in that county where, coincidentally, Joseph Kirk, a possible father to Thomas, Mary, and Ann, also lived.

Land indenture, John and Margaret Beard sell 25.5 acres
Berkeley County, (West) Virginia 17 June 1786

John Beard was tightly affiliated with Joseph Kirk and his wife Sarah. John even appeared in court with Sarah when the Kirks fell behind on their farm's rent.

Mary (Kirk) Geiger
Mary Kirk, born in about 1774, married Anthony Geiger in 1797 in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, (West) Virginia. John Beard was named a surety (bondsman) on their marriage bond, linking the Beards and Geigers.

Anthony Geiger and Mary Kirk marriage bond with John Beard as surety
Berkeley County, (West) Virginia, 26 September 1797

Mary and Anthony also lived in Licking County, Ohio, and she is buried in the Beard-Green Cemetery just steps from the graves of both the Beards and Thomas Kirk.

Perhaps most compelling of all, a handful of Thomas Kirk's descendants are autosomal DNA matches to descendants of Mary (Kirk) Geiger, confirming a genetic link that supports the theory that they were siblings.

Ann (Kirk) Ford
Ann Kirk was born in 1777, and married Hugh Ford in 1800 in Brooke County, (West) Virginia. They eventually moved and settled in Licking County.

Thomas Kirk was in the area, too, enumerated in Brooke County personal property tax records from 1799 through 1803. Did the Kirks move from Berkeley to Brooke County together?

The Fords named one of their sons Vatchel Ford. The unusual first name was also the name Thomas gave to his eldest son.

In 1838, Thomas Kirk moved from Licking Township to Monroe Township (both located in Licking County). His new farm was south of the Fords who also lived in Monroe Township. In 1847, following Thomas' death, the Probate Court appointed Hugh Ford to appraise the value of Thomas' estate.

Detail of Monroe Township, Licking County, Ohio 1847 Land Owners Map
Kirk and Ford farms

In The Genealogy of the Ford Family, a letter from their son Hugh Ford Jr. - who consulted a family bible in the possession of his sister - noted that Ann Ford was the daughter of Joseph Kirk. Of the cast of characters, this is the only one to have a parent named by an immediate family member who would be best positioned to know. Descendants of Mary Geiger often allege - without documentation that I've seen - that her father was also a Joseph Kirk.

If naming conventions are important, it's worth noting that Thomas Kirk, Margaret Beard, Mary Geiger, and Ann Ford all named a son Joseph.

Mitochondrial DNA Research Project

Could I use DNA - specifically mitochondrial DNA - to determine whether these women shared a common maternal ancestor, supporting the claim that they were sisters?

Mothers pass their Mitochondrial DNA on to all of their children. However, only a mother's daughters can pass that same mitochondrial DNA - mostly unchanged - on to her children.

This unique inheritance pattern allows us to trace a direct maternal line back in time following the path of the mitochondrial DNA.

If I can trace a living direct female descendant from Margaret Beard, Mary Geiger, and Ann Ford, we can test the mitochondrial DNA to see if they match.

If the descendants of all three women share the same mitochondrial DNA, we would know that - at some point in history - they shared a common maternal ancestor.

A match would also complement the pieces of the paper trail that hint at a closer family relationship between the three. To be clear, a mitochondrial DNA test wouldn't tell us that the women were sisters, but it could confirm that as a genetic possibility. And that's what this research project endeavors to prove.

If you are a direct female descendant of one of these women, you're eligible for a mitochondrial DNA test with Family Tree DNA. Congratulations! Reach out to


  1. So Margaret Kirk allegedly lived to 92? How likely is that for those times? Perhaps her birth year is way off and she is closer in age to Thomas Kirk?

    1. That’s a possibility. I need to invest some serious research time in the Beards and see what evidence there is to support claims like her birthdate and birth location.