By: Sherman McRae

Discover the captivating legacy of Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” and his enigmatic French ancestral roots that continue to spark curiosity.

Michael Jackson captivated the world with his unparalleled talent, charisma, and legendary performances. The musical genius left behind a legacy of curiosity and mystery, not unlike his enigmatic paternal lineage. Join us on a journey through history as we delve into the shocking ancestral roots of the iconic entertainer, exploring the fascinating lineage that shaped the man behind the music.

The Jackson Family Line Started With a Man Named July

Part of the Jackson Family story begins in Sumpter, S.C., on the Plantation of James Joel Richburg, who was a descendant of the French Huguenot Claude Philippe de Richbourg. In his will, written in 1804, James Richbourg bequeathed an enslaved man named July to his daughter Mary Gayle. Mary married Josiah Gayle III, and records would later show them living in Amite County, Mississippi. This information indicates that July went to Mississippi with his enslavers, Mary and Josiah.

The Will of James Richbourgh - FamilyTreeDNA Blog
An inventory of Josiah Gayle’s estate from 1828 shows July and his value. - FamilyTreeDNA Blog
An inventory of Josiah Gayle’s estate from 1828 shows July and his value.

July “Jack” Richburg took the Gayle surname, and much of the family history surrounding him suggests Native American origins. It is believed that his mother was an enslaved woman named Rose, who also resided on the Richburg Plantation in South Carolina. July was renowned for his diverse skills, not only as a medicine man but also as a scout for the US Army.

During the era of slavery, legal marriage was denied to enslaved individuals, making it difficult for families to establish official bonds. However, July defied these restrictions and formed a meaningful relationship with a woman named Gina. Together, they had a son named Israel, born in 1838 in Amite, Mississippi.

Israel’s birth marked a significant chapter in the Jackson family’s history, symbolizing the enduring resilience and tenacity that course through their veins. Their story serves as a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit, even amidst the oppression and hardships faced by enslaved communities.

Israel Nero Jackson 1838-1934 - FamilyTreeDNA Blog
Israel Nero Jackson 1838-1934

The “Gayle” Surname Evolved Into “Jackson” Through Patronymics

Most enslaved people didn’t have an attached surname at birth, and they could be sold multiple times to different owners. After emancipation, many of the formerly enslaved individuals would choose a random surname or adopt the name of their last or previous owners to live by

According to Thomas Jackson III, he first learned in 1971 from his grandfather that they were related to the Jackson 5. He also learned that Jackson wasn’t their original surname; it was Gayle.

Joe Jackson and Thomas Jackson III at the 1994 family reunion in Greenwood Mississippi - FamilyTreeDNA Blog
Joe Jackson and Thomas Jackson III at the 1994 family reunion in Greenwood Mississippi

Thomas learned that July went by the nickname “Jack”. His son, Israel, was nicknamed Nero. Simuel (Nero’s son) said people also called Nero “Jack’s Son.” Nero eventually adopted the surname Jackson, which is still in use today.

Nero Jackson Was an Industrious and Enduring Entrepreneur

Nero was reportedly the father of upwards of 20 children with numerous women. Most of the children were born to a woman named Emmaline, who was believed to be of Choctaw origin. Joe Jackson mentions in his book that Nero was a medicine man and healer, a skill he learned from his parents, Jack and Gina.

It is also noted that he was sold a few times, including to a plantation in Louisiana, due to his defiance towards his enslavers.

Nero led a very industrious and intriguing life. After slavery ended, he managed to purchase multiple lots of land in Mississippi, a testament to his hard work and determination. However, Nero’s fortunes took a downturn when he fell ill and became unable to work the farm. During this challenging time, he had to rely on purchasing supplies on credit.

Unfortunately, according to family history, the account manager used the debt as leverage to obtain the deed to the land. There was so much more to Nero’s life that Joe Jackson put in his book, but he also recommends readers view Nero’s Wikitree page for more information.

The Common Ancestor: Nero Jackson

Thomas Jackson III, the cousin and contributor to this blog, shares Nero Jackson as a common ancestor with the King of Pop. Thomas descends from Nero and another wife named Angeline through their son Mitchell Jackson (b. 1887-1976.)

Elder Mitchell Jackson Obituary in Newspaper - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

Michael Jackson’s line continues through Samuel Joseph Jackson 1893-1993 and then his charismatic father, whom we all know as Joe Jackson.

Michael Jackson’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Jackson - FamilyTreeDNA Blog
Michael Jackson’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Jackson

How Did We Find Michael Jackson’s Haplogroup?

Thomas Jackson mentioned that once he began doing genealogy, he sought to find more information to confirm the Jackson oral history that Jack Gayle had Native American origins.

Thomas mentions that he couldn’t locate his family on any Native American rolls, but he was successful in tracing them back to Sumpter, S.C., to the Richbourgs, as evidenced by records.

He initially tested his autosomal DNA with another testing service, and received the basal haplogroup designation of R-L20. While researching his haplogroup, he discovered a Richburg descendant also on the same branch. After speaking with the Richbourg descendant, he began to believe that Jack Gayle could be the son of his former owner, James Joel Richbourg.

Thomas Jackson’s Big Y-700 Results Confirm a Richbourg Origin

Thomas was encouraged to do a Big Y-700 test through FamilyTreeDNA to further refine his haplogroup and see if he would show up as a match with the other Richbourg tester. The Y-DNA results indicated that Thomas and the other Richbourg tester were a match, sharing the terminal SNP of R-FT121435.

Y-DNA R-FT121435 (Michael Jackson's Haplogroup) Time Tree View from FamilyTreeDNA Discover - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

The Big Y-700 test results confirm that July “Jack” Gayle was the child of his enslaver, James Joel Richbourg.

Since Michael Jackson and Thomas Jackson III both descend from Nero, this would mean that Michael and Thomas would also share the same haplotype, confirming the haplogroup designation for Michael Jackson as R-FT121435.

Thomas Jackson’s Y-DNA Results Reveal a Shocking French Origin Story

The genetic signature for the Jacksons would confirm that July’s patrilineal origins would be French instead of Native American. However, it is still possible that July was part Native American, but if so, it would have to be from his mother’s side, given the newfound connection to the French Huguenot Claude Philippe de Richbourg.

Y-DNA R-FT121435 (Michael Jackson's Haplogroup) Country Frequency Report from FamilyTreeDNA Discover - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

The FamilyTreeDNA Discover Time tree shows Michael Jackson and the Richbourg tester with the French flag sharing a common Ancestor born before 1750. The Country Frequency Report shows that there is a large presence of this haplogroup in the French population.

The Newfound Origin of the Jackson Family History Confirms Their Industrious Spirit

The Jackson Family’s journey is a tapestry of resilience, diversity, and heritage that has captured the hearts of generations worldwide. From their origins on the Richbourg Plantation in South Carolina to their transformation into music legends, their story represents the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

As we explored the Jackson family’s ancestral roots, we encountered the enigmatic figure of July “Jack” Gayle, whose patrilineal origins were traced back to French descent, challenging the long-standing belief of Native American heritage. This newfound understanding reflects the complexity of genealogy and how historical narratives can evolve over time.

Nero Jackson exemplifies the indomitable spirit of the Jacksons. Family history mentions stories about his industrious nature, selling medicines to people in the area, and acquiring large amounts of land. Through Nero’s journey, we witness the struggle, sacrifice, and resilience that defined the lives of many during that time.

Thomas Jackson III’s tireless genealogical research, along with that of other Jackson descendants, and the integration of modern genetic testing brought forth a deeper understanding of the family’s lineage.

The discovery of shared genetic signatures among descendants further solidified the connection between the Jacksons and their illustrious past.

Today, as we celebrate the timeless contributions of the Jacksons to the world of music, let us also remember the historical significance of their story. It reminds us to acknowledge the diverse tapestry of humanity, embrace our shared past, and pave the way for a future of unity and understanding.


    • Recollection of events by Thomas Jackson III as remembered 23 July 2023
    • Mississippi wills and probate records probate date 11/17/1828
    • South Carolina Will Transcripts, 1782-1868; Author: Brimelow, Judith M.; Probate Place: Sumter, South Carolina
    • WikiTree contributors, “Israel Nero Jackson Sr (1838-1934),” WikiTree: The Free Family Tree, ( : accessed 25 July 2023).
    • The Discover™ Time Tree for R-FT121435

Sherman McRae - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

About the Author

Sherman McRae

Group Projects Liaison

Sherman is an experienced genealogist specializing in African American genetic genealogy and DNA research. Currently, he works as a vital member of the FamilyTreeDNA Groups Department, where he serves as a liaison between researchers and the company. Sherman has been invited to deliver presentations at national and local events, sharing his expertise on utilizing DNA testing in genealogical research.

Sherman’s dedication extends beyond his work in the Groups Department. He actively contributes to the Research & Development Department at FamilyTreeDNA, participating in various projects, including the recently launched Discover project. This initiative aims to uncover new insights and connections through advanced Y-DNA testing.

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