View Full Version : Sally Hemings' children

Silent Knight
2005-Jan-16, 11:33 PM
Why can't DNA evidence distinguish between Thomas Jefferson and his brother, Randolph, in determining who fathered Sally Hemings' children? Will there ever be definitive proof?

2005-Jan-16, 11:51 PM
Do you have any links?

I didn't realize there were two men involved. :o

A Thousand Pardons
2005-Jan-17, 02:30 PM
I'd always assumed it was because the DNA of two brothers is so similar. Is that not the case?

2005-Jan-17, 03:25 PM
I have no idea what this case is about, but I was involved in a case a few years ago where a man was killed in a road accident leaving an infant son. For legal reasons to do with the administration of his estate we had to show they were father and son, as the father was not named on the child's birth certificate.

We could show from DNA that the child was the grandchild of the deceased's parents, but as the deceased had two brothers, not that the child was definitely the deceased's.

There may be more accurate tests available now, or tests that were not done in our case, but it was an real problem for us.

(Edit of typo.)

Donnie B.
2005-Jan-17, 03:36 PM
The O.P. is about Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. He is now believed to have sired at least one child with a slave woman, Sally Hemings, who he is known to have owned (what an ugly word!) and shown special interest in. DNA tests have been performed on both Jefferson's and Heming's descendants to determine if there's a blood relationship.

My guess is that, because so many generations have passed since Jefferson's day, the problem is "dilution". Many other genetic lines have been mixed in with the Jeffersonian genes so that the nth-grandfather can't be narrowed down any further.

2005-Jan-17, 03:48 PM
Thanks for the background Donnie B. I think they will struggle at that distance.

*Awaits correction*

Captain Kidd
2005-Jan-17, 03:53 PM
Morbid, but could they exhume the body of the person he was suppose to have fathered and do a test that way?

2005-Jan-17, 04:08 PM
I can't see a court authorising that; they would also need samples from the mother and presumed father. Without knowing much of those involved I imagine we are talking about people who died in the early C19th so there is also contamination of the bodies to consider.

Captain Kidd
2005-Jan-17, 04:11 PM
Hmm, isn't there some sort of lawsuit involved in this? If so, well there's the potential to get a court order. However, the contamination and confirmation that they have the right body are legit concerns.

Donnie B.
2005-Jan-17, 04:39 PM
Here is a link to a useful page about the controversy. A commission of Jefferson scholars has concluded that Thomas Jefferson was probably not the father of Hemings' son Eston. He has been definitively eliminated as the father of her other children.

The entire report can be examined via links at this site:


I haven't read the report, but I assume it includes technical details about the DNA tests.

2005-Jan-18, 12:00 AM
given my background in historical gossip, I never thought a DNA test could prove anything one way or another.

see, here's the thing. Sally Heming herself was probably Jefferson's wife's half-sister, so any DNA shared by Jefferson's descendants could have come via the maternal line.

second, not one but two of Jefferson's nephews were also candidates for father of Heming's children. certainly they would have shared DNA w/their own uncle.

you also have to consider the original source regarding the affair. it was initially published in a newspaper run by a man w/a serious axe to grind. he thought Jefferson owed him a government job, which he never got, so why not make up a nice, juicy rumour about his slave mistress?

Gullible Jones
2005-Jan-18, 12:02 AM
Wouldn't the DNA have degraded beyond repair by this point?

2005-Jan-18, 06:04 AM
I remembering seeing a show on TV about Heming's decent meeting Jefferson's decent for the first time. The show was probably within the last 5 years. I hate to say this, but I believe it was Oprah.

I can't remember the details, but I believe all parties acknowledged being related to each other. 8-[