By: Laurie Constantino

All too often, there is no historical documentation of pivotal events in the lives of Americans with African ancestry. These documentation gaps can create difficult brick walls in family trees. For descendants of Joshua “Old Jock” Perkins, FamilyTreeDNA’s Big Y-700 test helped break through two brick walls. One brick wall remains; our Big Y-700 testing project is ongoing.


Brick Walls in the Old Jock Perkins Family Tree

Brick Wall 1: Did Old Jock Have African Ancestry?
Despite documented evidence identifying Joshua “Old Jock” Perkins (1732–1801) as a “free person of color,” some descendants insist he had wholly European ancestry. Y-DNA testing conclusively proved Old Jock was of African descent on his paternal line.

Brick Wall 2: Proving A Relationship Between Old Jock and His Presumed Sons
Old Jock had five sons: George, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua Jr., and Lewis. Circumstantial evidence suggests each of the five sons’ identities, but documented evidence to prove their relationships to Old Jock does not exist. When combined with the circumstantial evidence, the Big Y-700 test proved all five men were descended from Old Jock.

Brick Wall 3: Is There a Perkins-Driggers Connection?
Old Jock’s father is unknown. Initial Y-DNA testing suggested Old Jock’s father could be a descendant of Emanuel Rodrigues Driggus Driggers (1607–1685). Although most historians believe Emanuel was Angolan, some deny his African heritage and claim Emanuel was European on his paternal line. The Driggers Y-DNA story is complex, and further Y-DNA testing is needed to break through this brick wall.

Figure 1: Block Tree Summary of Perkins and Driggers Testers with Closely Related Y-DNA

Discovery of African Ancestry

My dad was young when his white-skinned, red-headed mother died. After her death, he lived off and on with his maternal Perkins grandmother; she wasn’t much of a talker. Frustrated by how little he knew about his family background, my dad devoted his retirement years to family history research, focusing on his mother’s Perkins family.

From 1732 to the present, no one in my Perkins line has died in the place they were born. Early generations moved from state to state over and over again, always to the latest frontier. Because my dad researched before genealogical records were digitized, he spent many vacations traveling to places his Perkins family had lived, searching for clues about their lives. During his travels, he heard rumors of dark-skinned family members but found no evidence the rumors were true. My dad grew up believing his Perkins roots were in England.

Figure 2: 1732-2023 - Where Me and My Direct Perkins Ancestors Have Lived

By the late 1980s, my dad had built a solid, documented record for George Perkins, my 5th great-grandfather, born in 1754 in South Carolina. However, my dad hit a brick wall when he tried to identify George’s father.

Finding “Old Jock”

Land and tax records from 1787–1807 place George and several other Perkins men in Washington County and Carter County, Tennessee. After finding these records, my dad took a research trip to the Knox County Public Library in Tennessee, where he found the McClung Historical Collection. In the McClung Collection, he found a genealogical treasure trove: detailed notes from Perkins v. White, an 1858 trial that litigated the Perkins family’s race.

The case arose in July 1858 when Old Jock’s great-grandson brought a libel action suit against his neighbors for repeatedly saying the Perkins family were “Negroes”. According to Tennessee law, they (1) were prohibited from owning their stores and selling their equipment, and (2) should be indicted for the crime of living with their white wives. The Perkins family denied they had sufficient “Negro” heritage to meet Tennessee’s definition of “not white.” They claimed to be Portuguese.

Trial testimony focused on “proving” Old Jock’s race and therefore the race of his sons. Over 80 witnesses gave graphic, often offensive, testimony about the family’s facial features, color, hair, body odor, and reputation. Trial testimony established that Old Jock had five sons: George, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua Jr., and Lewis. Ultimately, the jury found the neighbors had not libeled Perkins, concluding the family was “not white” as defined by Tennessee law on the eve of the Civil War.

Using a combination of court, land, and tax records, my dad successfully traced Old Jock to Accomack County, Virginia, where he appears in the records as the son of a “moletto” indentured servant named Esther Perkins. My dad theorized that Old Jock’s unknown father was also of African descent. However, despite his best efforts, my father could not identify Old Jock’s father.

Figure 3: Perkins v White, 1858 Tennessee, Sample of Testimony

Brick Wall 1: Did Old Jock Have African Ancestry?

Despite contemporaneous historical documents identifying Old Jock as a “free person of color,” some modern Perkins family members could not accept that their family lineage was not wholly “white.” My dad’s correspondence files reflect lengthy disputes with those who refused to accept that Old Jock had African ancestry. There was no historical document that could convince the non-believers. Unfortunately, my dad died before the advent of modern Y-DNA testing—the one definitive way to prove the truth of his hypothesis.

Y-DNA Testing

Although autosomal DNA (atDNA) shows many Old Jock descendants have African ancestry, atDNA is insufficient to show the African DNA came from Old Jock, as opposed to other ancestors. For this, we needed Y-DNA testing.

Y-DNA passes from father to son relatively unchanged, with only small, intermittent mutations over the centuries. Because Y-DNA is so stable, it can provide solid, genealogically relevant information about a person’s paternal line. For Y-DNA testing, there must be an unbroken father-to-son line to the ancestor about whom one wants information. Since women do not have a Y chromosome and receive no Y-DNA to pass on, a Y-DNA line can “daughter out” when a father only has daughters, or may disappear entirely when an only son dies without children.

Although Y-DNA testing could prove Old Jock was of African descent on his paternal line, my close Perkins family “daughtered out” several generations ago. Therefore, I needed to find a Y-DNA tester on another Perkins line to discover whether Old Jock was of African descent on his paternal line.

The First Tester

While looking for a tester, I built out my Perkins family tree, making it as deep and wide as possible. I did this to help find a Y-DNA tester and because Y-DNA results are significantly more meaningful when supported by genealogical evidence.

After several years of tree building, I found an Old Jock descendant (Tester 1) whose ancestor, like mine, was Old Jock’s son George Perkins. Tester 1 had taken a Y-12 test at FamilyTreeDNA that identified his Y-DNA haplogroup as E-M96, an African haplogroup. This test alone was insufficient to conclude that Old Jock had African ancestry on his paternal line. Adoptions and affairs, for example, can change a person’s paternal line. I needed confirmation that Tester 1’s haplogroup came from Old Jock.

Y-12 tests are of limited utility because they analyze so few locations on the Y-chromosome; they are no longer offered by FTDNA. I worked with Tester 1 to upgrade his test to a Y-37, which confirmed his E-M96 haplogroup. Among Tester 1’s Y-37 matches were three Perkins men I was able to trace to Old Jock’s presumed sons Isaac, Jacob, and Lewis.

With this, we had strong evidence to prove Old Jock was of African descent on his paternal line, thus breaking through Brick Wall 1. However, Y-37 evidence was insufficient to prove the relationship between Old Jock’s presumed sons.

Caveat: E-M96 is an African haplogroup that branched from the world haplotree about 48,000 BCE. Multiple American families with African ancestry and carrying a variety of surnames have the E-M96 haplogroup. In other words, not every man with haplogroup E-M96 is a descendant of Old Jock. However, if a man has a haplogroup other than E-M96, he can be eliminated as being descended from Old Jock on his paternal line.

Brick Wall 2: Proving A Relationship Between Old Jock and His Presumed Sons

As documented in the Perkins v. White court records, Old Jock had five sons. Circumstantial evidence suggested the sons’ identities, but solid, documented evidence to prove their relationships does not exist. Early Y-37 testing showed four of the presumed sons shared the E-M96 haplogroup (the descendants of the fifth son had not yet been tested). However, because E-M96 is such an old haplogroup and is tied to multiple surnames, to find a definitive answer, I needed the descendants of all five presumed sons of Old Jock to take the Big Y-700 test.

After upgrading Tester 1 to the Big Y-700 test, I contacted his Y-37 matches and found a documented descendant of Old Jock’s presumed son Isaac who was willing to take the Big Y-700 test. The next challenge was finding documented descendants of Old Jock’s other sons to test.

My search for Y-DNA testers coincided with starting the Old Jock Perkins Family Research Group on Facebook with my distant Perkins cousin, Ramona Young. Our plan was to share decades of my dad’s, Ramona’s, and my Perkins family research with other family members. We wanted a forum to collaborate with others, make new discoveries about our mutual Perkins ancestors, share information about our Perkins family Y-DNA discoveries, and find paternal line Perkins men to take Y-DNA tests.

The Facebook group succeeded beyond my and Ramona’s wildest dreams. We started it in June 2020 and now have over 450 Perkins family members in the group. More people analyzing and reanalyzing family documents led to new and important discoveries about the family. We’ve formed a bond among widely dispersed family members by sharing stories, histories, pictures, newspaper articles, and obituaries.

Old Jock’s Descendants

Many of Old Jock’s descendants faced race-based discrimination, persecution, and challenges throughout their lives. Through the Facebook group, we’ve learned of Perkins men who were prosecuted for illegally “voting while black” and others who were indicted for being married to “white women.”

Some branches of the Perkins family set down deep roots along isolated Louisiana bayous and in the hills of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, where they formed tight-knit insular communities with deep ties to extended family that endure to this day. Others, like my family, were relentlessly on the move, usually to the latest western frontier, where they passed as “white.” In passing, my family paid the steep price of losing their history and family connections, either by intentionally severing ties or by simply forgetting their history over time, distance, and generations.

Through the Perkins Facebook group, we found all the necessary Y-DNA testers to conclusively prove that descendants of George, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua Jr., and Lewis Perkins are descended from a common ancestor. When combined with the available documented evidence, Big Y-700 testing proved all five men are descended from Old Jock and share a common ancestor of African descent.

The following chart shows the Big Y-700 testing we’ve done to date for Old Jock’s descendants.

Figure 4: Summary of Y-DNA Testing of Descendants of Joshua "Old Jock" Perkins (1732-1801)

Research Tip: When Tester 1’s Y-700 results first came back, he had no Big Y-700 matches and belonged to an ancient haplogroup that was thousands of years old, well beyond genealogical time. Because a single Big Y-700 test can provide so little information, this is the point when some get frustrated with Big Y-700 testing and feel like it is a waste of time and money. Instead of giving up, it’s more useful to search out and find additional testers. As the above chart shows, if one has the patience, perseverance, and resources, Big Y-700 testing can provide solid proof of important genealogical relationships.

Brick Wall 3: Is There a Perkins-Driggers Connection?

Despite the Y-DNA testing we’ve done, Old Jock’s father remains unknown. The testing did, however, provide us with important clues about Old Jock’s father’s identity.

All the Y-DNA matches for the Perkins men we’ve tested are either descendants of Old Jock or have the surname Driggers. Is Driggers Old Jock’s missing father?

At my request, two Driggers matches agreed to Big Y-700 testing; their Big Y-700 haplogroup, E-FT372640, is closely related to E-FT375579, Old Jock’s haplogroup. Both haplogroups branched off from E-FT371790, with their most recent common ancestor estimated to have been born about 1600.

Figure 5: World Haplotree Segment Showing Relationship Between Perkins and Driggers Haplogroups “Est MRCA" is the date on which the man who is the most recent common ancestor of each haplogroup is estimated to have been born.
Figure 5: A view of the Discover Time Tree where the two haplogroups split from E-FT371790.

Finding “Old Jock’s” Father

All the Driggers matches appeared to be descendants of Emanuel Rodrigues Driggus Driggers (1607–1685). Emanuel’s estimated 1607 birth year is consistent with the estimated age of the most recent common ancestor for haplogroups E-FT372640 (Driggers) and E-FT375579 (Perkins).

Some historians believe Emanuel Driggers was one of the Angolans brought to the Americas on the San Juan Bautista, arriving in Jamestown in 1619; others speculate Emanuel was the child of a 1619 Angolan. In any case, Emanuel is documented as having been in Northampton County, Virginia, in 1645.
In 1675, “Manuel Rodriggus, negro, leased two plots of land in Northampton County for 99 years. These plots were next to a plot where a man named James Gibson had a plantation. Old Jock was born in 1732 and indentured to James Gibson in 1734. Both events occurred during the period of Emanuel Rodrigues Driggus Driggers’ lease of land next to James Gibson. This proximity evidence is consistent with Old Jock’s unknown father being a descendant of Emanuel.

Here is the status of Perkins and Driggers testing for those Driggers linked to haplogroup E-FT371790 (pink boxes represent hypothetical relationships).

Figure 7: Y-DNA Testing Results for Closely Related Perkins and Driggers Men Driggers Family’s Complex Y-DNA Story

Most claim Emanuel is the direct ancestor of all Americans with the surname Driggers. He had at least eight children, two of whom were adopted. In addition to the descendants of Emanuel’s sons, there were single Driggers women whose children took their mother’s surname. There are yet others, as in all families, with “birth certificate” Driggers fathers who weren’t biological fathers (commonly referred to as an NPE or Not Parent Expected). In other words, not all Driggers are paternal line descendants of Emanuel; some are descended from adopted Driggers, from Driggers women, or are NPEs.

Unfortunately, before 1850, we’ve found only fragmentary documentary evidence about the Driggers family. This has made it impossible to trace, with any certainty, the line between Emanuel and living members of the Driggers family. Although we’re hopeful Y-DNA testing will fill in some gaps, we always keep in mind that, in general, DNA evidence needs to be supported with traditional genealogical records.

Our Search Today

Before we can sort out the connection between Old Jock and the Driggers family, we need to fully develop the Y-DNA story of the Driggers family. To facilitate this, I became an administrator of the Driggers-Perkins Y-DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA and a co-administrator of the Driggers Family Research Group on Facebook. The goals of the Y-DNA project include the following:

  • Determining if Emanuel Driggers was of African descent on his paternal line (some claim, without evidence, that Emanuel’s father was Portuguese, Italian, or Spanish)
  • Determining the relationships, if any, among the various Driggers families in America, and
    discovering which Driggers families are paternal-line descendants of Emanuel.

To date, nine men with the surname Driggers have taken Y-DNA tests at FTDNA. Five have E-FT372640, the African Y-DNA haplogroup discussed above; one has E-Z36296 (an African Y-DNA haplogroup that formed about 100 BCE and is only distantly related to E-FT372640); and three have Northern European Y-DNA and connections to unrelated paternal line surnames (Roberts, Leonard, Hazelwood, and Sumrall).

Here is the status of Driggers Y-DNA testing done to date (pink boxes represent hypothetical relationships):

Figure 7: Summary of Y-DNA Testing Results for Men with the Surname Driggers

Given what historians tell us about Emanuel’s Angolan origins, I theorize the five men with E-FT372640 are Emanuel’s direct paternal line descendants, and the rest are either descended from Driggers’ daughters, adoptees, or NPEs.

Y-DNA testing of Driggers men remains ongoing

Testing Costs

Y-DNA testing at the scale we’ve done in the Driggers-Perkins Y-DNA Project is not cheap, even when purchasing test kits during FamilyTreeDNA’s regular sales. I’m often asked how we’ve been able to pay for so much Big Y-700 testing.

Initially, I paid for most of the testing with funds that came as generous Christmas and birthday gifts from my immediate family. By the time my family was tapped out, the Old Jock Perkins Facebook group was going strong, and a number of enthusiastic members had donated to the General Fund of our Driggers-Perkins Y-DNA Project. Some Perkins family members have been extremely generous; all project participants are forever in their debt. We’ve also had General Fund donations from members of the Driggers Facebook group. Occasionally, men can afford to pay for their own testing; I’m ecstatic when this happens.

Both the Perkins and Driggers Facebook groups have been instrumental to the success of our Y-DNA Project. If the Facebook groups did not exist, the Y-DNA Project is unlikely to have succeeded.

Successful genealogical research is a family affair; collaboration and cooperation play key parts. I am eternally grateful to all my Perkins and Driggers collaborators. Special thanks to the Perkins and Driggers men who have tested their Y-DNA; they made everything described in this article possible.

About Laurie Constantino

Laurie Constantino has researched her Perkins family for over 30 years, building on decades of family history research compiled by her father, Earl Patterson Otto 1921-2009. She is the author of “Joshua ‘Old Jock’ Perkins and His Son George: From Virginia to Iowa, From Indentured to Free, From Black to White,” published in the Journal of the Society of the First African Families of English America, Volume 1 (5 Mar 2022). She is the administrator of the Driggers-Perkins DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA, a co-administrator of the Joshua “Old Jock” Perkins Family Research Group on Facebook, and a co-administrator of the Driggers Family Research Group on Facebook.

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