Ever since she was little, Massachusetts pediatrician Bettye Kearse was told by relatives, “Always remember you’re a Madison. You descend from an American president.” The family saying, passed down through generations, might not surprise anyone if Kearse weren’t an African American who believes she may be a descendant of the founding father and one of his slaves.
In a June 2007 article in The Washington Post, Kearse and Roots Project co-director Bruce Jackson were determined to pursue DNA testing to see whether the family lore is true. Jackson’s project aims to help African Americans discover their genetic history. The pair hoped to use DNA samples to compare Y chromosomes — identical through generations — from Kearse’s male cousins to a male relative of President James Madison. They’d discovered a Madison descendant and hoped the individual would consent to the testing. Jackson was optimistic, and Ann Thornton, a former president of the National Society of Madison Family Descendants, said the group was supportive.