Dr. Eugene Foster, a retired pathologist from Tufts University, Boston,
performed a DNA test that centered on the Y-chromosome. Since certain features
of the Y-chromosome are passed down from father to son without much change over
time, the Y-chromosome can be used to determine paternity.
However, Jefferson had no acknowledged male descendants so it was necessary to
examine the DNA of his closest relatives. Jefferson's uncle, Field Jefferson,
had sons and his descendants are alive today. Five of them agreed to have their
blood drawn so it could be compared with the blood of the male descendants of
Sally's son, Eston Hemings.
The results of Dr. Foster's study, published in Nature (November 5,
1998), found a match (see chart) on the Y-chromosome between the
descendants of Eston Hemings and Field Jefferson. Scientists note that there
is less than a one percent probability that this is due to chance. The study
does not prove that Eston Hemings's father was Thomas Jefferson, only that
Eston's father was a Jefferson. Short of digging up Thomas Jefferson's body,
and doing direct DNA analysis on the tissues, the issue will remain ambiguous.
[However, a separate study of Jefferson's Monticello visits finds they coincide
so closely to Hemings's pregnancies, that even without DNA, the probability of
his being the father is 90 percent or more. With DNA, it is far higher,
perhaps 99 percent --not proven, certainly, but as close to proven as most
history ever gets.]
Foster's findings also gave the lie to more than a hundred years of
historians' claims that one of Jefferson's nephews, Peter or Samuel
Carr, fathered Hemings's children: DNA testing excluded both of
the Carrs from the list of possible fathers.
Explore the Is It True? section of this site for more on the DNA tests.
3. When did interracial marriage become legal in all fifty U.S. states?
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