Mount Vernon Genealogical Society - Founded 1991
Founded 1991

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Alexandria, Virginia 22308
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"DNA Doesn't Lie"
By Jeff Welch
 
My grandmother Zella was born on 24 October 1896 in the little town of Blue Rapids, Marshall County, Kansas. Her mother Frances was 15 years, 8 months old and unmarried.  Up until a month ago, I was certain who Zella’s biological father was – but guess what – I was wrong! And it was DNA testing with Ancestry.com that led me to this revelation.  Let me walk you thru my process of discovery.
 
First, we begin with a Certified Copy of the Birth Record for my grandmother Zella, which the ladies at the Marshall County Historical Society were able to obtain for me at the Marshall County Court House. The father listed was J.W. Gilliland (actually G.W. Gilliland). He was Frances’ widowed brother-in-law, having married Frances’ older sister, who supposedly committed suicide on 28 October 1895. The “T.” Greenleaf should be F. Greenleaf.
 
According to an article I found via Newspapers.com in the 30 October 1896 edition of the Marshall County News (six days after Zella was born), G.W. Gilliland was arrested in the town one over from Blue Rapids under a warrant on a charge of seduction.  He had his initial examination by a judge and in default of $300 bail, was taken to jail.  On 20 November (according to an article I found in the Marysville Advocate), he again went before the judge and was bound over to the next term of court, and went back to jail in the default of $1,000 bail.  Then something happened over the course of the next six weeks that caused Frances’ father to give his approval for G.W. Gilliland to marry daughter Frances, and on 6 January 1897 they wed in Blue Rapids, Kansas. Because they were now husband and wife, Frances could not be compelled to testify against G.W., so the case of seduction was dropped.  Several newspaper stories were printed in local small-town newspapers the following week regarding how Mr. Gilliland was escaping justice and chastising Frances’ father for allowing the marriage to happen.
 
Oh – I forgot to mention a very important point: back on 19 February 1896 (very shortly after Frances got pregnant with Zella), Frances’ widowed father – Joseph Greenleaf -- remarried (I’d say the 2nd wife Mary Frances [Miller] Burton was divorced, but that would be untrue because she and her first husband never got a divorce – they just went their separate ways around 1883).  In that Joseph had five children with his first wife (who died in 1892) and Mary Frances had eight children of her own, this brought together a large blended family – with eight of the children still living with their parents.  One of Mary’s sons was George S. Burton – remember that name!  It is not clear when the families actually came together under the same roof – before the wedding or after – but we do know from the 1895 Kansas State Census that only three houses separated Joseph and four of his children from Mary and four of her children. 
 
On 1 September 1898, Zella’s brother Franklin Luther Gilliland was born. 
 
In the 1900 Federal Census, we find GW Gilliland, wife Frances, and Zella and Frank in Blue Rapids, living next door to Frances’ father -- Joseph Greenleaf (60), 2nd wife Mary Frances (52), Mary’s son George S. Burton (26), and Joseph’s two sons Roy Greenleaf (14) and Rob Greenleaf (12).
On 3 Jan 1902, according to an article in The Marysville Advocate, Frances filed a petition of divorce against G.W. Gilliland – abandonment was the charge (she was living in Blue Rapids, he was living in Axtell, Kansas, a separation distance of about 35 miles). In a notice printed in the 21 February 1902 issue of the Marshall County News, the divorce was granted. This divorce left Frances with two minor children to raise – my grandmother Zella and her younger brother Frank. 
 
On 29 December 1902, Frances (Greenleaf) Gilliland (21) married again – this time to George S. Burton (29) – her step-brother.  They went on to have six children of their own – only three of which begat children.  G.W. Gilliland, married for the 3rd time, on 9 November 1909, to Ella M. Stull – they had three children, of which only one begat any offspring.     
 
So – here is where DNA testing comes into play.  About two years ago, I started noticing a lot of my matches in Ancestry.com all shared several “Burton” ancestors -- in particular George S. Burton’s parents and grandparents.  This made no sense to me. Why did I match these people when I don’t have any “Burton” ancestors?  A seed of doubt was planted – what if G.W. Gilliland really wasn’t my biological great-grandfather, but instead, some “Burton” was?
 
I got together with my sister (who lives in Denver), and we developed a spreadsheet showing all the descendants of G.W. Gilliland (who died in 1925) and his 3rd wife (who died in 1956), and of G.W. Gilliland’s siblings. Our goal was to find one or more living descendant(s) who would be willing to take a DNA test so we could see if we match (which we would if G.W. Gilliland was our biological great-grandfather). My sister was able to find contact information via Facebook for a descendant of G.W. Gilliland and his 3rd wife, and a descendant of one of G.W. Gilliland’s siblings. We reached out to them, they agreed to take the test, we bought the ancestry DNA test kits for them, they tested – and we do not match either one! Just as a counter-check, we looked at the eight people we match who are descendants of my grandmother’s brother Frank – and they matched those eight people (so we know DNA from G.W. Gilliland flows to them). Uh oh!!!! 
 
So, now that I had proven G.W. Gilliland was not the biological father of my grandmother Zella, I now had to figure out who was.  My suspicion was it was probably George S. Burton (who would become her step-brother around the time she got pregnant).  So, my sister and I began building another spreadsheet – this one identified all the descendants of the six children begat by George and Frances (remember I said earlier that only three begat children, so the list of names was not overwhelming).  Once again, my sister came through and by digging through Facebook, she was able to find Cheryl M. -- a granddaughter of my great-grandmother Frances, descended from the last-born child of Frances and 2nd husband George S, Burton. I reached out to Cheryl and after introducing myself and explaining why I was contacting her, we had a great conversation in which she shared with me that her mother had told her G.S. Burton was the biological father of grandma Zella – not G. W. Gilliland. As the story goes, George & Frances met,
fell in love, he got her pregnant but his mom would not let him marry her; so he convinced a friend and co-worker [G.W. Gilliland] to eventually wed Frances.  After Frances and G. W. Gilliland divorced, George -- who had remained single -- proposed to and wed Frances, bringing back full-circle their intimate relationship.
 
    This now explains all those DNA matches in Ancestry.com (over 40 at last count) that are descended from George’s parents and grandparents.  Evidently, I do have “Burton” DNA flowing through my veins.
 
I’m glad I finally have an answer to my dilemma – but it means I now need to remove from my family tree 10 generations of ancestors that preceded G. W. Gilliland and start replacing them with ancestors that preceded George S. Burton. In so doing, I will lose a lot of ancestors from the Northern Neck counties of Virginia, but I will pick up ancestors from Indiana and points East. I will also lose several of my ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War (hopefully I will pick up some new ones), and I will lose my link back to the Mayflower.
C’est la vie.
 
Here is a picture of the G.S. Burton family in 1927: my grandmother Zella is at the far left, next to her is her brother Franklin; George and Frances are in the middle; the other six are the children they begat together (the insert is son George who died in 1917 at the age of just 10 years).