Monday, 25 June 2018

West Africa Update 4: A solution?

In my last blog post about our West African connection, I explored the possibility (or rather played with the thought) that we might be descended from Christian Hansen Ernst, a Black man in 17th century Norway. However, it seems very little is in fact known about his life, and apart from rumours of illegitimate children, no descendants of Ernst are actually known. Additionally, Ernst lived rather far away from my own ancestors, so I am moving away from the hypothesis of Ernst being the source of our African DNA.

Instead, I have decided to follow another lead.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the Lister family has a family story that their direct paternal line descends from a shipwrecked sailor.

The story is that my great-great-grandfather Nils Lister was the illegitimate son of this sailor, and that the sailor was a member of the Lister family from England. Nils was born Davidsen (Davidson) and took the name Lister in 1900.

However, as I have been advised by others, Nils might very well have chosen the name Lister simply as a reference to his home district, Lista, which in earlier times was spelled Lister. Perhaps the connection between the name Lister and the story of the shipwrecked sailor was the result of later speculation in the family. After all, Lord Lister was very famous, and Lister has always been an extremely rare surname in Norway. It would have been easy to assume that the Lister name "had to" have come from England.

Let us imagine that the story about the English Lister connection is a later speculation.

In that case, the story of the shipwrecked sailor may well have been true, but it might have referred to a much earlier event involving an African-descended sailor. This would explain the African DNA of the Lister/Davidsen family, and also its English Y-DNA (provided that the sailor was from England, which the family story claims, or from one of the innumerable places around the world that have been settled by Englishmen).

Since both Daniel (born 1819) and his sister Juliane (born 1813) shared the African DNA segment, the shipwrecked sailor cannot have been their father (since it is unlikely that their mother would have had two illegitimate children with the same man while married to another man; and it is also unlikely that a shipwrecked sailor would have stayed in Vanse over a period of six years).

However, the sailor could have been their father's father or their mother's father.

If this person was from the Caribbean, it would fit well with our family's genetic connection to the Haitian-descended matches.

Daniel and Juliane's father and mother were born on 20 November 1787 in Vanse and 3 October 1788 in Nes (Flekkefjord), respectively.

We are looking, then, at a mixed-race sailor from somewhere in the Caribbean who was shipwrecked near Vanse (Farsund) in late 1786/early 1787 or near Flekkefjord in late 1787/early 1788; most likely the former, since that would better explain the English Y-DNA.

This scenario is compatible with all known facts. It is a version of Scenario 1 in my earlier overview. Lista, where Vanse is located, is a small peninsula sticking out into the North Sea, completely exposed to the open ocean on three sides. The nearby towns of Farsund and Flekkefjord were important trading ports, and shipwrecks were not an uncommon occurrence in this area (hundreds are recorded).

There is an additional piece of information which makes it likely that our sailor was the paternal grandfather of Daniel and Juliane: Their "official" grandfather, Søren Davidsson Neseim, was a pilot, which means that he would have been guiding ships through the dangerous waters around the Lista peninsula. If a ship was grounded in this area, Søren, as an expert on local conditions, would certainly have been involved in the rescue and salvage operations. I find it extremely likely that in the event of a grounding near Vanse, a survivor (or several) would have been brought to Søren's farm Neseim for recovery. I expect this would have happened on several occasions. Of all the female ancestors of Daniel and Juliane, it seems like Søren's wife Sara would be the most likely person to come into contact with a foreign shipwrecked sailor. Therefore, the most likely person (by a large margin) to be an illegitimate child of a foreign sailor would be a child of Sara; in other words, Daniel and Juliane's father, David Johannes Sørensson Neseim (born 20 November 1787).

Our sailor might well have come from the Danish West Indies. We know that there were people of colour with English surnames born there in the mid-1700s, including well-known individuals like Elizabeth "Betsy" Cooper (1757-1791) from St Croix, who married Ferdinand Charisius and later relocated to Norway with her husband and children in 1779. In other words, the Lister/Davidsen family's English Y-DNA is by no means incompatible with a more recent origin in the Danish West Indies.

It is also possible, as a distant genetic cousin of mine, Beatrice DuPont, has suggested, that we have ancestral connections to Barbados and that our sailor came from there. Barbados was a British colony during the whole 18th century. A Barbadian origin for our sailor, however, does not explain our more distant matches on the African segment and the fact that they all have Danish ancestors. This is more readily explained through a Danish West Indies connection. Our sailor might well have had Barbadian ancestry further back, though. Many Barbadians immigrated to the Danish West Indies after the abolition of slavery in 1848, so it is not unlikely that there was similar movement in pre-abolition times as well, albeit on a smaller scale and for other reasons.


The suggestion outlined in this blog post can be condensed as follows:

Unknown mixed-race sailor, born: Danish West Indies between c. 1740 and c. 1770. Shipwrecked off Vanse/Farsund around February 1787.
Extramarital relationship with Sara Tønnesdatter Langeland (1757-1847) at Neseim farm, Vanse (married to Søren Davidsson Neseim, pilot, 1752-1831).

Their child:
David Johannes Sørensson Nesheim, born 20 November 1787, Vanse.

David's children:
Juliane Davidsdatter (1813-1879)
Daniel Davidsen (1819-1866)
...and others.

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