As we begin the year of 2018, my wife, Cheryl and I would like to take you along on a journey of DNA discovery. We will discover together how important DNA testing can be as more connections to Cheryl’s family are made through Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA.
The story begins with Cheryl’s grandfather, James Murrell Midkiff, who was born Feb. 20, 1905, in Kanawha County, WV. James Midkiff was born out of wedlock to a James Lambert and Cheryl’s great-grandmother, Lettie Ann (Miller) Midkiff, widow of William Franklin Midkiff, Frank, (the name he went by), having passed away sometime in 1903.
Cheryl had only one picture of her great-grandfather, James Lambert:
As you can see, not the best or clearest picture, as this was taken from a scanned document that was created by Cheryl’s Aunt in 1992. However, it’s clear enough to get an idea of facial features and other characteristics of this man, James Lambert.
The mystery of who this James Lambert was remained so for almost 113 years. As Cheryl and I began our research, we knew we had to assemble a list of likely candidates named James Lambert. To aid us in our search, we had to use family stories. Those stories proved to be helpful in narrowing down our search, although we had to weed out those stories that did not match certain events. Here is a list of things that we knew, according to family stories, true or false:
- This James Lambert “came from Upper Falls, Tornado, West Virginia”.
- He “came through the countryside doing some building” when he and Lettie met and fell in love, and James M. Midkiff was conceived. Lettie and James Lambert wanted to marry.
- Lettie’s daughter, Jane, as the story goes, was the catalyst that prevented James and Lettie from marrying.
- After James Lambert and Lettie parted ways, James later lived in Huntington, WV.
- Cheryl’s grandfather told the family, he always felt that his father, James Lambert, was always looking out for him, because he always had a job in the ’20’s and ’30’s, his first job working for the railroad.
- James Lambert seemed to be a person of importance and had some “pull” in being able to make sure his son did well, even if he couldn’t be a part of his life.
After some time of searching, we finally came up with a candidate…
James Tlyghman Lambert, who was born in 1867 in Wayne County, WV, to John Calvin Lambert and Rebecca Jarrell. As we dug into James T. Lambert’s history and who he was, it looked like we had a viable candidate. Everything about him seemed to fit into the events surrounding the birth of James Midkiff. He wasn’t married at the time, and the other facts regarding his whereabouts and occupation(s) fit the mould.
One of the first discoveries I made about James T. Lambert was, he had graduated from the Law School of West Virginia University. This prompted me to contact the Library of WVU to see if I could find out anything more about him.
I was pleasantly surprised when the archivist there contacted me back with a link to the 1900 Monticola Year Book, which indeed had a James “Lightman” Lambert listed, and a class photograph. We took the picture we had and compared it to the class photograph and it looked like we may have found the James Lambert we were looking for:
This was a monumental find, but, without serious documentation, we still could not say with any certainty that this was James Midkiff’s father. There is no birth certificate available online and we even had the West Virginia Culture staff check, and they told us, they have no documents on a James M. Midkiff born in 1905.
I decided to dig deeper into James T. Lambert’s family. I found out that James T. Lambert’s uncle, Harvey Lambert worked for the N&W Railroad, and died in South Charleston, WV. Harvey’s son, A.C. Lambert, was a very prominent doctor in South Charleston, WV. Cheryl’s grandfather, and her family also lived in South Charleston.
Now, we had two more clues that could help us in solving this mystery.
- With Lambert relatives that lived so close to Lettie Midkiff, is it possible that this is how James Lambert met Lettie?
- Since James Midkiff worked for the railroad as his first job, is it possible that, through the request of James T. Lambert to his uncle Harvey, that this is how James Midkiff got a job with the railroad in his young life?
So here are some of the family stories that may have been told to hide the truth.
Since James T. Lambert was originally from Wayne County, the tale of James Lambert coming from Upper Falls, Tornado, WV is doubtful.
Since James T. Lambert was a lawyer graduate, and throughout his career, was involved with public service in one form or another, the tale of him coming through the countryside doing some building is doubtful as well.
Last year, we decided to see if there was anything available in the vital records of Kanawha County. We were able to obtain a copy of James Midkiff’s death certificate. Unfortuantely, the father of James Midkiff stated on the certificate was that of Frank Midkiff, the husband of Lettie Midkiff, who passed in 1903, two years prior to the birth of James. The information on the certificate was given by Cheryl’s grandmother. Although we are uncertain why she gave this information, we have our theories as to why she did this.
In October of 2017, Cheryl’s brother took the 67 marker YDNA test through Family Tree DNA, which is the test for father-to-son, and also added the Family Finder, which was the autosomal (meaning both paternal and maternal). The results for the the Y-DNA test were encouraging. We got only 1 YDNA hit…1 exact match at a genetic distance of 5. This genetic distance meant that the matched tester shares a common ancestor with Cheryl’s brother. With this information, I was able to trace the testers lineage back to a common ancestor of James T. Lambert’s…Job Lambert. Here is the chart:
Now that we have a DNA connection to this Lambert family, I wanted to see if I could cross reference a maternal DNA match. I went to the Family Finder on the Family Tree DNA website for my brother-in-law. I did a search on the surname Jarrell, since this was the maiden name of James T. Lambert’s mother, Rebecca Jarrell.
I got two hits. I contacted both testers, and the 1st one replied back and indicated that they are descended from Vashti Jarrell, who was the sister to Rev. John Jarrell, father of Rebecca Jarrell.
The 2nd tester replied back and said that Rebecca Jarrell was a distant cousin.
Now we are even closer to solving this mystery!
There will be more updates to come as we discover Cheryl’s lost Lambert family.
Special Thanks to:
All the Lambert and Jarrell descendants and relatives who have been a great help in this research.
Brian S. Miller