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Arthur Morris Johns was born on the 4th of July 1871, in Blair, Washington County, Nebraska, the son of Anson Tinsley Johns and Mary Ann NewKirk. Arthur was a farmer, of English descent. He and his wife Hattie Garfield Bradley, also of English descent, had 9 children. Their daughter Isabel, my grandmother, had an interesting set of papers discovered in her belongings after she passed away. It was entitled, “Songs Mamma Used to Sing.” Several of the songs surprised me because they were Civil War Era slave songs. What were they doing in her stuff, and why on earth would her Mamma be singing them? Perhaps it was not her mother’s, but passed down by her paternal great- grandmother.
Arthur’s father, Anson was born in Amherst County, Virginia. He was born on 18 Apr 1828 into a family that owned slaves. He was the third of 15 children, but the last to have been born into a slaveholding household. In 1830, his parents John S. Johns and his wife Caroline Matilda Tinsley, lived in Amherst County and owned 21 slaves. John’s mother, widow Oney Garner lived close by and she owned 2 slaves, both of them children. Ugh, all pride in this family was lost! I wanted to stop searching and move on to another family- but this is reality. I decided to look this issue straight in the eye and keep searching.
John and Caroline’s 4th child, Naomi was born in 1833; not in Virginia but in Franklin County, Tennessee. This Johns family had left Virginia, and their slaves, and moved to Tennessee. By just before the Civil War, John Johns had moved again to Indiana. He died there in 1858. His wife and some of her children then settled in Nebraska, where my great grandfather was born, raised his family, and worked his farm. At least one of John’s sons, Wade Morris Johns, fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. After 1830, no record could be found listing this John Johns as a slave owner.
In 1840, the Amherst County census recorded only 3 Johns households: Richard Johns, John Johns, and James Johns. All of them listed only free colored persons in the household. Oney Garner had died, and most of the Johns family had left for Tennessee or North Carolina. Could these Johns’ be the former slaves of John S Johns? Did he free them? Did they buy their freedom? Were they given their freedom by Oney Garner at her death? Did they now own the land? I’m still looking for answers to those questions. I know one thing for sure, I can be proud of this Johns family for not just leaving slave ownership behind, but leaving it 20 years before the Civil War. I hope that he treated them well. I hope he left them in good spirits. I hope to uncover more of the story, and find all of their names. Those slaves may or may not be related to me by blood, but their lives were shaped-good or bad-by my family, and their descendants deserve at the very least, an equal portion of my tribute. I would cherish the opportunity to meet their descendants and call them family.
I was sad to find that my ancestors had been slave owners. Like many Americans seeking to build their family trees, I had hoped to be descended only from non-slave owning stock. We tend to want to pretend that slavery didn’t happen, or it did not affect us. The truth is, it did. However ugly it is to think about, America was not built just by white pilgrims and revolutionaries, and not just by the poor and huddled masses who came by choice, but it was built on the backs of American slaves.
“Oh, darkies say, hab you seen de massa
Wid de moustach on his face?
Go long de road sometime dis mawnin’
Like he gwine t’ leab de place!
He see the smoke way up the riber
Where de Lincolm gunboats lay-
He took his hat an’ he lef’ mighty sudden,
And I tink he’s runned away!
The massa run, ha ha!
De darkies stay, ho ho!
It must be now dat de kindom’s comin’
In de year ob Jublio!
…” author unknown
Dr. Spencer Wells, explains how genetic markers can be used to build a family tree for everyone alive today.
Resource: The Nstional Geongraphic “The National Genographic Project, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.genographic.nationalgenohraphic.com
Genetics Project” Update April 15, 2017
Published by 23andMe under 23andMe Research, Ancestry October, 2016
To enhance its research and enrich its customer experience, 23andMe is launching the African Genetics Project, Africa_icon recruiting people who emigrated from, or whose parents emigrated from several specific countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa is the birthplace of all humanity, and its people are the most genetically diverse in all the world, yet our knowledge of that diversity is limited. This newest project follows continuing efforts by 23andMe to enrich our understanding of the human story and increase diversity in genetic research, while also providing more detailed ancestry results for 23andMe customers with recent African ancestry.
23andMe’s African Genetics Project is offering kits at no cost to people with all four of their grandparents born in the same African country or from the same ethnic or tribal group within one of the following countries — Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ivory coast, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. The west African countries in that list are a priority for 23andMe because the majority of slaves brought from Africa to the Americas were brought from these African locations. We are also gathering data from individuals with all four grandparents from Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia to aid in identifying ancestry for more recent immigrants and to improve our reference populations for Africa.
This effort is unique in many respects, but primarily because it allows people of African ancestry who know where in Africa their family came from, to help others with African ancestry discover more about their own African roots. The effort may also yield insights into the TransAtlantic slave trade, and migrations within Africa over the last few hundred years.
While the goals of this project are focused primarily on improving ancestry insights, the African Genetics Project is part of a long list of efforts undertaken by 23andMe to improve diversity in research. Some estimates show that more than 90 percent of the research into the genetics underlying disease is on individuals of European descent alone, but for many conditions an individual’s ethnicity plays an important role and the insights from those studies fall short of helping people of other backgrounds.
There are a number of reasons for the lack of diversity — historical, cultural, economic and social — but by reaching out and recruiting people from all backgrounds it will also ensure that everyone benefits from advances in genetic science.
Over the last five years, 23andMe has undertaken several initiatives on that front including its Roots Into the Future project to study the genetics of disease impacting African Americans, the first-ever genetic portrait of the United States that mapped the country’s Native American, African and European ancestry, and more recently a NIH-funded project to develop a new way to detect disease causing genetic variants among ethnically mixed populations.
Taken together, these initiatives have helped 23andMe improve diversity in its research. The African Genetics Project is part of that same effort and it will allow 23andMe to identify genetic similarities of people from specific locations in Africa. This in turn will not only improve what we can tell our customers with African ancestry, but will also aid our research into how people migrated within and from Africa over the last 5,000 years.
Genetic Communities™ White Paper: Predicting fine-scale ancestral origins from the genetic sharing patterns among millions of individuals
Catherine A. Ball, Erin Battat, Jake K. Byrnes, Peter Carbonetto, Kenneth G. Chahine, Ross E. Curtis, Eyal Elyashiv, Ahna Girshick, Julie M. Granka, Harendra Guturu, Eunjung Han, Ariel Hippen Anderson, Eurie Hong, Amir Kermany, Natalie M. Myres, Keith Noto, Kristin A. Rand, Shiya Song, Yong Wang(in alphabetical order).
AncestryDNA™ offers several genetic analyses to help customers discover, preserve, and share their family history. Some of the features offered to date are based exclusively on genetic information. These include a genetic ethnicity or ancestry inference (described in Ethnicity Estimate White Paper) and an identity-by-descent (IBD) or DNA matching analysis (Matching White Paper). Other features, like DNA Circles, rely on the integration of pedigree and IBD data across the entire AncestryDNA database (DNA Circles White Paper). Each of these features provides complementary information to an ancestryDNA member: (1) the ethnicity estimate provides a distant picture of a customer’s genetic origins, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years ago; (2) DNA matches provide a customer with a list of fellow AncestryDNA test-takers who are relatives and with whom she or he shares a common ancestor within the last 10 generations; (3) DNA Circles integrate IBD and pedigree data to provide a customer with groups of relatives that appear to share DNA with one another due to a specific shared ancestor, to potentially reinforce their connection to this ancestor. In combination, these features provide a detailed portrait of an individual’s genetic ancestry.
Here, we augment these DNA and pedigree-based insights even further with our new genetic communities feature (Figure 1.1). Instead of considering the IBD connection between each pair of customers in isolation, we simultaneously analyze more than 20 billion connections identified among over 2 million AncestryDNA customers as a large genetic network (described in Section 3). Intuitively, because the estimated IBD connections between individuals are likely due to recent shared ancestry (within the past 10 generations), broader patterns in this large network likely represent recent shared history. The result is that we can identify clusters of living individuals that share large amounts of DNA due to specific, recent shared history. For example, we identify groups of customers that likely descend from immigrants participating in a particular wave of migration (e.g. Irish fleeing the Great Famine), (Insert: Duke B. Montgomery, Genetic Genealogist, force migration of African and South American Indians and enslavement of Native Americans), or customers that descend from ancestral populations that have remained in the same geographic location for many generations (e.g. the early settlers of the Appalachian Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains). Following the identification of these clusters of individuals in the entire network, we can then assign any AncestryDNA customer to one or more of these clusters based on their IBD with other AncestryDNA members. Such assignment can provide a customer with insight into their recent ancestral history, in some cases traceable back to a historical event.
In the following coming sections, (Section 2) I will turn away for a moment to describe haplogroups which is specific to African and African-Americans, their geographical locations and population. Example of two families, one in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the other living in two places in Henderson and Sayersville, Kentucky. You will be able to use this data to look at your own haplogroup. Genetic Communities is fine as long as you can apply it to yourself and to your family research. After that, we will turn back to the scientific principles behind the genetic network (Sections 3 and 4), how Ancestor identify clusters within it (Sections 5 and 6), their use of DNA and pedigree data to annotate these clusters (Section 7), and finally our method for assigning customer samples to these clusters (Section 8).
Archives of Maryland
Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)
MSA SC 3520-16887
Despite living a very short life, Henrietta Lacks is one of the most important people in the history of medicine. Lacks’ cells, known as the HeLa cell line, are mysteriously immortal and have been used by scientists and researchers all over the world to study and develop cures for a plethora of diseases. For decades, Lacks and her family were not given any recognition for her contribution to the medical field, but, in recent years, Henrietta Lacks’ legacy has been credited for saving the lives of millions.
Henrietta Lacks was born as Loretta Pleasant in Roanoke, Virginia in August 1920 to Johnny and Eliza Pleasant, both African American. No one is aware when she changed her name to Henrietta from Loretta. Lacks’ mother died when she was only five, and she was then sent to live in Clover, Virginia with her grandfather in a log cabin that was previously the slave quarters on her white great-grandfather’s plantation.1 While slavery was still legal, Lacks’ white great-grandfather took a slave mistress, thus starting Henrietta’s family line of black Lackses.2 When she was old enough, Lacks began farming tobacco on the plantation like the rest of her family.
Lacks gave birth to her first child soon after her fourteenth birthday, and the father of the child was her first cousin, David “Day” Lacks.3 Henrietta and Day named their first son Lawrence and, four years later, Lacks gave birth to her second child and first daughter, Eliza. On April 10, 1941, Henrietta, age 20, married Day, age 25. Soon after their marriage, Day moved to Baltimore to take advantage of the large amount of opportunity in the steel factories during World War II, and Henrietta and the two children soon followed.
While living in Baltimore, Henrietta gave birth to three more children. She “spent her time cooking for Day, the children, and whichever cousins happened to be at her house. She made her famous rice pudding and slow-cooked greens, chitlins, and the vats of spaghetti with meatballs she kept going on the stove for whenever cousins dropped by hungry.”4 One of her friends reflected that “Hennie made life come alive—bein with her was like bein with fun. Hennie just love peoples. She was a person that could really make the good things come out of you.”5 Although Henrietta Lacks held the ability to make the good come out of people, something lethal was growing inside her body. She began telling her family and friends that she had a knot in her womb or that she was bleeding even though it was not her time of the month.6 After feeling something strange on her cervix, Lacks knew it was imperative for her to go visit a doctor.
Lacks made an appointment at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and her biopsy results determined that she had Stage I epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, or cervical cancer. The doctor that examined her found it incredibly interesting that even though she had no cervical abnormalities when she delivered a baby at Hopkins three months prior, she now returned to the hospital with a cancerous tumor.7 After the mass was diagnosed as cancerous, Lacks was instructed to return to the hospital to begin radium treatment. Radium was known to cause cancer, but it was also known to kill cancer. Unfortunately, it was also known to burn the skin, which is exactly what happened to Lacks during her treatment. Those close to her were horrified when Lacks confided in them the damage from her treatment, telling them that “Lord it just feels like that blackness be spreadin all inside me.”8
That “blackness,” her cancer, was actually spreading all inside her. In August 1951, Lacks returned to Hopkins, asking to be admitted because her pain was unbearable. She died a grim death on October 4, 1951 at age 31 from cancer that had metastasized throughout her entire body. Lacks was buried in a wooden box in an unmarked grave in Clover, Virginia. What Henrietta Lacks and her family did not know, however, was that she would live on forever through her cells. During her cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins, her doctor took healthy and cancerous samples from Lacks’ cervix without informing her of his actions or getting consent from her, and gave them to George Gey, a cancer researcher. This was standard practice, and, at the time of Lacks’s death, there were no state or federal laws regarding obtaining consent from any patient.9 Gey was constantly analyzing human cells in an effort to create the perfect culture medium, or the liquid used for feeding cells. After being placed in a Petri dish, the cells would usually die within a few hours, but Gey found that Henrietta’s cells did something amazing. Her cells kept reproducing.
Gey started his own cell line, which he named HeLa in tribute to Henrietta Lacks. Neither Gey nor his assistant revealed the name of the original owner of the immortal cell line, thus making Lacks’ name unknown to the public. The medical breakthroughs from the usage of HeLa cells quickly began after Lacks’ death. A scientist named Jonas Salk proclaimed that he had found a cure to polio but needed to test the vaccine first. Salk acquired some HeLa cells, and, in 1954, Salk released the vaccine that prevented polio. Millions of lives were saved from this disease, thanks to the testing performed on the HeLa cells.
Since Gey did not patent his HeLa cells, labs all over the world soon began obtaining these unique cells for research and experiments. HeLa cells even went to space when the United States wanted to test how human cells would react in zero gravity, and were used to determine the affects of the atomic bomb.10 Scientists used HeLa cells to study molecular biology, virology, and genetics. Lacks’ cells were also used for research on cancer, AIDS, and, more recently, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vaccines and drugs for diseases such as herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s disease were also developed through testing done on HeLa cells.
Henrietta Lacks’ cells were being used to make scientific breakthroughs beyond many researchers’ wildest dreams, but her family was unaware of Henrietta’s contribution to science. In 1953, a reporter at the Minneapolis Star claimed that the HeLa cells belonged to a woman named Henrietta Lakes, alerting people for the first time that these were human cells.11 Other reporters claimed that HeLa stood for Helen Lane or Helen Larson.12 Either way, the name Henrietta Lacks was never published, and the Lacks family was unaware that Henrietta’s cells were being circulated around the globe until 1973.
One day in 1973, Bobbette Lacks, Lawrence’s wife, was having lunch with her friend and her friend’s brother-in-law. The brother-in-law and Bobbette discovered that they were from the same part of Baltimore, and Bobbette told him that her last name was Lacks. Her friend’s brother-in-law told Bobbette that he worked at the National Cancer Institute and that he had been working for years with cells in his lab that he just recently learned belonged to a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Bobbette soon learned that this man, like many others around the world, had her mother-in-law’s cells in their labs.13 Thus began the anger, confusion, and frustration that would consume the Lacks family for decades.
The Lacks family, still living in Baltimore City, was impoverished and in poor health. They were being harassed by doctors and researchers for blood samples and developed a serious mistrust of Johns Hopkins Hospital. They felt that they had been robbed by Hopkins and thought that Henrietta was still alive and her body was being held hostage in the hospital. Some members of the family thought that suing the hospital for taking a part of Henrietta without her consent or knowledge was the proper path, but they would soon learn their case was fruitless. Around the same time the Lacks family discovered the truth about the HeLa cells, a Californian man named Roger Moore was attempting to sue his doctor for unknowingly scraping his cells and profiting from them. The case finally reached the Supreme Court of California, and the court ruled that “When tissues are removed from your body, with or without your consent, any claim you might have had to owning them vanishes. When you leave tissues in a doctor’s office or a lab, you abandon them as waste, and anyone can take your garbage and sell it.”14 This ruling set a precedent, stripping a large amount of power away from patients and legally allowing doctors and researchers to financially exploit their patients if they discovered something medically groundbreaking. This opened a global debate about bioethics, but also left the Lacks’ family without a legal case.
In 1997, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) came to Baltimore to interview the Lacks family for a documentary about the HeLa cells’ role in cancer research. This gained some publicity about the woman behind the HeLa cells, and, in the same year, then United States Representative Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. formally addressed Congress about Lacks, saying that “Henrietta Lacks’ selfless contribution to the field of medicine has gone without acknowledgement for far too long. Her cells made her immortal: through her death, countless others have been saved by the research that was made possible through her cell line…I sincerely hope her name will also be immortalized as one of courage, hope, and strength, and that due recognition will be given to her role in medicine and science.”15 Henrietta’s enormous contribution to decades of science was recognized, but true justice for Henrietta still seemed hopeless.
Hope came to the Lacks family a few years later in the form of a young, white, female writer named Rebecca Skloot. Skloot became fascinated with the mystery behind the HeLa cells at age sixteen and spent many years trying to uncover the story behind the immortal cells. The Lacks, understandably, were mistrusting of Skloot and her motives. Skloot, however, proved to be faithful to the family in regards to spreading their story, and she became the closest with Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah. Deborah never knew her mother but always wanted to understand what happened to her. Through Deborah, Skloot was able to better understand the struggles of the family and tell the story of Henrietta, and through Skloot, Deborah was able to learn about her mother and even hold her cells. Skloot published The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in 2010 and describes the book as “not only the story of HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks, but of Henrietta’s family—particularly Deborah—and their lifelong struggle to make peace with the existence of those cells, and the science that made them possible.”16 The novel became an instant best-seller and was even comissioned by Oprah Winfrey to be made into a movie. The Lacks family was finally given the recognition they struggled for years to gain.
In 2013, 62 years after Henrietta’s death, the Lackses were finally able to have a voice in the distribution of HeLa cells. Controversy began again in early 2013 after a German lab published the HeLa genome in an online magazine. The German research lab published the paper “to show the degree to which the genomes of HeLa cells diverged from those of healthy cells, so researchers could take that into account when designing experiments and analyzing results from studies using the HeLa cell line,” but the Lacks family worried that others would be able to formulate their genetic codes through this public information.17 The article was taken down, but the Lackses still felt their biological information was being distributed without their consent and that “history was repeating itself” since anyone could get a hold of Henrietta’s genomes.18 In August 2013, an agreement between the Lackses and the National Institute of Health (NIH) was formulated, decreeing that scientists had to obtain permission from the NIH in order to conduct research on HeLa cells. The NIH and two members of the Lacks family would approve or reject the applications as they saw fit. Finally, the Lacks family could stop the outright exploitation of Henrietta.
Henrietta Lacks did not live a long life, but her cells will live on forever. She has had a greater impact on science than any other scientist or researcher will ever claim, and her cells have been used to save the lives of a countless number of people and animals. As the most important person in medicine, and as a former Maryland resident, Henrietta Lacks will be immortalized as an important Maryland woman through her induction into the 2014 Women’s Hall of Fame.
Biography written by 2014 summer intern Sharon Miyagawa.
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