Riddle – Wray The Missing Link

In taking a Y-DNA Chromosome test, it was discovered that I am a genetic match with several family members sharing the surname Riddle. What’s interesting about this discovery, is that both of the genetically matching Riddle and Wray/Ray families, descend from ancestors that had living within the same county & township nearly 200 years ago. The purpose of this post is to document my research into my paternal ancestry and identify when and under what circumstances, the Wray & Riddle families diverged.

DNA Test Results

Through Y-DNA testing at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), it has been demonstrated that I share a paternal ancestor with a family by the name of Riddle. FTDNA’s Y-DNA tests are used to identify commonality in paternal lineages; using the same methodology paternity tests do. These tests identify a series of genetic markers, called Single Tandem Repeats (STR), in the non-recombining portion of a person’s DNA. Those results are then compared to the results of others in the company’s database, to identify persons sharing the same or similar combination of genetic markers; there by inferring shared common paternal ancestry. Commercial paternity tests usually measures 15-22 STR markers – FTDNA tests, assess up 111 STR markers. While the mutation rates of some of the markers chosen for each test differ, 24-37 markers are suffice to identify common paternal ancestry over the last couple hundred years. Matching at 66 of 67 markers – I can be assured that the Wray and Riddle family share common ancestry. Even commercial paternity tests at 22 markers don’t need to match 100% to prove parental lineage.

Known Wray Paternal Pedigree

The known Wray paternal line is depicted in the tree below. James DeHart Wray and his father James Ezra Wray lived in Roanoke, VA. James L. Wray and Andrew Wray (born 1835) lived in Pittsylvania.

Wray Pedigree

Wray Research Clues

  1. As previously mentioned, both of the genetically matching Riddle and Wray/Ray families, descend from ancestors that had lived in Pittsylvania Co., VA in the early-to-mid 1800’s.  Considering the common locality in time, should my paternal ancestor have actually been Riddle, this could be where both family lines split.  If Wray happens to be a slave name, Pittsylvania could be a likely location for the split to have occurred (being a person of color, I am aware that this is considerably more likely).
  2. Using the 1870 & 1880 Censuses, the following information could be consolidated on Andrew Wray and his family:  1870 & 1880 CensusUsing this information, we know the approximate age/date of birth for both Andrew and his wife Francis.
  3. I was unable to locate Andrew and Frances in the 1860 census in VA but according to the 1880 census both of Andrew Wray’s parents were from VA.  The combination of (a) both people persons of color, (b) being born in VA, and (c) not appearing in any censuses prior to 1870 leads me to believe that Andrew & Francis were slaves in 1860.
  4. The most likely slave owners have been shown to be Nathaniel & Nancy Wray.  In the 1860 census there is a Nancy Wray (age 68) in Pittsylvania that owns slaves.  Nancy Wray is the widow of Nathaniel Wray (married 1820).
  5. According to Nathaniel’s death record, he died Nov 3, 1855 and his parents we listed as David Wray & Mary Wray.  In the 1850 census Nathaniel was 54 meaning he was born ~1789.  When Nathaniel died, he had Inventory and Account taken of his property.  Interestingly the inventory identifies the slaves Nathaniel owns by name on 27 Nov 1855 and even more interesting he owns an Andy (male) and Francis (female): Nathaniel Wray - Inventory Judging by their value, one could assume they were in their high teens or low 20’s.  They were estimated at being worth at peak value and neither had a trade type of occupation post slavery – as a result it is possible to make highly probable inferences about their age.
  6. Per the 1860 Slave Schedule (5 years after Nathaniel’s death), Nancy owns 12 slaves.  While the slaves are not listed by name, their ages are provided along with gender.  It is possible to identify the slaves by correlating their age/gender with their appraised value from Nathaniel’s inventory taken 5 years earlier.  This correlation is as follows: 1855-1860 The names, value & ages seem to align with census information with 1870 & 1880 censuses info on the free Andrew (1836/1835) – the presence of Francis helps increase the probability that this is Andrew Wray.

NOTES: Discovering that Andy and Francis were slaves is helpful in understanding their story but being able to identify their slave master is immensely helpful in trying to trace them back further. Being treated as property, definitely limits the amount of information that can be obtained on a person in bondage but being treated as property, has the benefit of creating a paper trail when being purchased/sold and taxed on. Knowing that Nathaniel Wray was their owner offers the possibility of linking Andy or one of his ancestors to a Riddle via a Wray-Riddle bill of sale.

In researching Nathaniel, I learned that there was not a direct bill of sale between Nathaniel and the Riddle family. I was however able to develop a slave ownership history/profile on Nathaniel Wray and can confidently say that Andy was obtained by Nathaniel in his lifetime and that it wasn’t a paternal ancestor of Andy’s that was purchased by a Wray.

Nathaniel and his father’s tax history has shown that neither owned slaves before Nathaniel married in 1820. The chart in item 7 tracks Nathaniel’s slave ownership and denotes any discovered documentation indicating the acquisition of slaves within the corresponding year.  In referencing Nathaniel’s transaction/slave history and inventory taken in 1855, it would seem like Andy would have been acquired well after his birth – likely showing up as the property of Nathaniel after 1852.

7.  Tax Records of Nathaniel Wray:

tax list

Hopes for finding an actual document capturing Andy’s acquisition & bill of sale has proven fruitless. In exhausting the county records, I was unable to find a direct acquisition of Andy from anyone (let alone a Riddle). One historical fact I can be sure of is that Nathaniel was illiterate, he could neither read nor write – this fact alone cuts down on the number of documents that could have been generated documenting his slaves.

In an attempt to burn the wick from both ends of the candle stick, I shifted my research to the Riddles living in the county – focusing on those that shared a common genetic ancestor.

In researching candidate Riddle slave owners, James A. Riddle was identified as the most likely owner.

Riddle Research Clues

  1. According to James’s will (1839), he owned 6 slaves and he names each of them.  Curiously, he owns a boy named Anderson:  J Riddle Will - extractA nickname for Anderson is Andy. Andrew Wray would have been ~3-4 years old in 1839. Interestingly, there is a woman named Silvy that is owned as well – Nathaniel Wray also owns a similarly named woman in 1855 – this could hint to a common bill of sale if they were sold together.
  2. According to James’ 1839 Inventory taken at the time of his death, the 6 slaves he owns are listed along with their appraised value.  With Silvey and 2 children being appraised at $650, it is highly likely that the children are very young and that the woman is a young woman.  Had the 2 children valued with Silvey been older, they would have been listed separately and valued at a price, similar to that of Mandy. (Silvey could be the mother but there is no guarantee.)

J Riddle Inv - slaves

What does all this conclusively mean?

Slave research doesn’t always result in the traditional clean-cut paper-trail one would hope for. Nathaniel Wray being illiterate did not help either; as stated previously, it significantly cuts down on the records that could have been produced. Many times, slave researchers are required to make inferences when establishing relationships or developing a profile of the individual; but in doing so, the researcher must be diligent and exhaust their resources, prior to drawing their conclusions. In this case, I feel like I have accomplished that.

  1. I was able to pretty conclusively place Andy and his wife Francis as slaves belonging to a Nathaniel Wray living in the county & township of Chatham prior to the civil war.
  2. I was able to determine that Andy was acquired during Nathaniel’s lifetime – thereby eliminating the chance of a paternal event in Wray household.
  3. I was able to place an appropriately aged 3-4 year old Anderson/Andy in the home of an individual that I am a genetic match to.  (a household that is in the same county as the Wray slave holding family & that curiously also has a Silvey that is also listed as a slave with Andy in the Wray household)

In this case, this might be as close as I get. I feel like I can confidently conclude that my paternal ancestor was fathered by a Riddle (of fathering age), while living in the home of James A. Riddle.  Genetics is the key – documentation is only helping to narrow the candidate parents and develop the narrative.

When (a) running with evidence I have, (b) leverage the Riddle research already performed and (c) place my paternal line beside the lines of living genetically-matching Riddle family members, the following chart can be developed to demonstrate how we are all related (the Haskell and Buell families appear to share a common ancestor as well):

Zooming in to read may require clicking on the image.

4 thoughts on “Riddle – Wray The Missing Link

    1. Hey Willie- Nice to meet you! Thanks for the kind words! Jim’s website is awesome, the model for what sharing and presenting genealogical research should look like. Wish I could do what he has achieved!

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