20 April 2015

Is our family related to the outlaw Jesse James?

I got an IM from my cousin Tricia that said, "Hey Mat - this past weekend our daughter, Alyssa, asked me how our family is related to the outlaw Jesse James? I had to admit that I'd only heard that story but I had no idea if it was really true. I know you're interested in genealogy so I'm wondering if you know the details?"

I vaguely remember hearing about this family connection to Jesse James from my mother. Since I have been actively engaged in family history I have never searched out this connection.

My first step was to log into relativefinder.org and see my connection.

According to Relative Finder, Jesse Woodson James is my 8th cousin 6 times removed. The problem with this connection besides how far away we are related is that the path that leads to me is through my father's side of the family and my cousin Tricia is on my mother's side.

I next decided to learn a little about Jesse James and his family to see if there are any common place names or family names that I can make a connection through.

photo from wikipedia

On biography.com it says, "American outlaw, robber and legendary figure Jesse Woodson James was born on September 5, 1847, in Kearney, Missouri. Jesse and his brother Frank James were educated and hailed from a prestigious family of farmers. Their father, the Reverend Robert James, was a Baptist minister who married Zerelda Cole James and moved from Kentucky to Missouri in 1842. In the summer of 1863, the James farm was brutally attacked by Union soldiers. Jesse was 16 when he and Frank became Confederate guerrilla soldiers, riding alongside William Quantrill and 'Bloody Bill' Anderson." The biography goes on to say, "In 1874, Jesse married his longtime sweetheart and first cousin, Zerelda, and had two children." On April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot Jesse in the back of the head and died instantly at age 34. 

Annie James - I though at first she was holding a rifle in this photograph.

I next looked to see where else Jesse may fit in my tree. My grandfather's mother's name is Anna Williams James. She was born in 1877 in Fayette, Utah. She is the daughter of John Saunders James and Elizabeth Henry Williams who were both born in England. Although this James family is the most closely related to me I do not believe that they could be directly related to Jesse James. Tracing Jesse James' family tree, it does not leave the Americas before 1770.

Having Mormon heritage is is well known that Missouri is a common place where our ancestors lived, were chased out and traveled through on their way to Utah. To summarize the entry for Clay County, Missouri in the Joseph Smith Papers it says Liberty was designated county seat in 1822. It served as a refuge for Latter-day Saints expelled from Jackson Co. in 1833. The LDS population in 1834 was about 900. Missouri citizens demanded the Saints leave in the summer 1836. Most Saints immigrated to newly formed Caldwell County by 1838. Joseph Smith was imprisoned in the jail at Liberty over the winter of 1838–1839.

The time the Mormons spent in Clay county before Joseph Smith's martyrdom in 1844 was before Jesse's birth. Although Jesse and his brother Frank were know to have traveled all over the American West. I am not sure anyone can say for sure that they were ever in Utah, Idaho or Wyoming or that they were linked in anyway to the Mormons and in turn my ancestors. Known descendants of the two are also ruled out and direct relatives. 

I think the possibility of establishing a relationship within the James family is not possible without DNA. We may be more closely related through other lines and marriages but my 8th cousin 6 times removed connection may be as close as I get to this notorious historical figure. To put this into perspective I am more closely related to Presidents James Garfield, Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Quincy Adams, Gerald Ford, William Taft, William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, George Washington, William Harrison, Richard Nixon, Warren G. Harding, Millard Fillmore and Franklin Roosevelt than I am Jesse James.