Re: DNA matches with descendants of enslaved African Americans. #usa #general


Hello Brad,

Thank you for your important letter. My maternal family also came to the US  before the Civil War from small cities of southwestern Germany. Some went to Kingston, North Carolina and were merchants. Some went to Wheeling, West Virginia. Some were known as pioneers of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio. Three of the Cleveland relatives fought in the Civil War for the Union. I was contacted by a descendant of a slave  because our DNA matched. He was already a good genealogist and had a name for the father of his slave ancestor from a death certificate, but the name was butchered. Using good old fashioned genealogy methods we followed the paper trail. It took us three years to discover that the name of our common Jewish ancestor was Joseph Sondheimer. He was not a slave owner but a peddler in Kentucky. He arrived in this country from Sennfeld, Baden in 1850 at 18 years of age. The story is a different narrative than one you describe. The paths of this Jewish peddler named Joseph Sondheimer crossed with a woman named Caroline, enslaved on a farm in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. When peddlers had to find a place to sleep, they were not invited into the house with the farmer and probably had to choose between the barn and  slave houses.  Identical twin boys were born to Joseph Sondheimer and the enslaved Caroline Chambers in 1856.  The boys were born into slavery on the Chambers farm. The African American descendants of Joseph and Caroline assumed that the farmer, Mr. Chambers was their white ancestor until DNA revealed a different truth.  We think that Joseph acknowledged his fatherhood and was involved in the children's lives in some manner because of family stories passed down in the black family.  The peddler, Joseph, also fathered another boy in 1859 with a free woman of color. After freedom, these children went on to became known as some of the most successful blacks in Montgomery County, Kentucky!

Joseph went on to marry a Jewish woman named Caroline Goodman and had a legal family of nine children! When Joseph died, he and his wife, were buried in Willet Cemetery, the first  Jewish cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. I presented a talk about this story at the  IAJGS conference in Cleveland two summers ago. Feel free to contact me for more details.

Linda Levine
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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