The ancestral line stretching backward from John Hardison Redd has long puzzled amateur and professional genealogists alike. For decades, efforts to trace the family’s roots beyond colonial Virginia to European origins ended at a “Redd Brick Wall” that refused to be breached. It took advances in DNA research, the persistence of several Redd cousins and a stroke of luck to change that.
Meet Tom Brown, a great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin Redd Sr., who was the son of Lemuel Hardison Redd Sr. Brown’s lifelong love of family history started in childhood, when he became intrigued by tales of his polygamous great-great grandfather’s exile in Mexico. Brown grew into the kind of guy who wasn’t content to leave Redd family research to the professionals. His willingness to follow hunches, and his growing expertise in DNA mapping, helped knocked a hole in the Redd Brick Wall that genealogist Emily Lauritzen (a descendent of Lemuel H. Redd Jr.) has since been able to enlarge. Now we know that our family name once was Rudd, and that our Rudd family came from England — possibly around Manchester. We even know what steps need to be taken next to continue pushing backward on our Redd/Rudd family line.
“I didn’t set out to solve a mystery,” Brown said, noting his initial doubt that he could succeed in pushing the Redd line backwards. “Thousands of cousins were looking at the same thing, so why bother?”
Still, Brown persisted — an amateur family history buff tackling a problem that had stymied professional researchers for generations. The full story of how it all came together has twists and turns hard for experts to explain and equally tough for neophytes to grasp. This will be a bare-bones version.
The Redd family first surfaces in colonial Nansemond County Virginia, a place where war and fire have ravaged critical documents. Despite this challenge, genealogist Carolyn Nell found a William Redd in nearby Accomack County, and theorized that he and our Nansemond County progenitor, William Redd, might be one and the same. That got Brown thinking about William Redd’s son Whitaker (also our progenitor) and his not-so-common first name.
When a professional genealogist suggested that Whitaker’s unusual first name might be the surname of a related family, Brown began hunting for Whitaker families in the Nansemond/Accomack area of Virginia. That led to discovery of a marriage between an Avis Whitaker and her husband, John, in Henrico County, Virginia. That’s John RUDD, not Redd. Considering the haphazardness of the era’s spelling conventions, Brown wondered if John Rudd might be our missing ancestor. And, he wondered whether a DNA match could link living Redd family members to a living descendent of John Rudd.
To test his theory, Brown built spreadsheets that helped him identify the correct DNA markers, using information assembled by Mason Redd (a Lemuel H. Redd Jr. descendant). He found a probable match between DNA from Redd family members and a man named Marvin Perry Rudd, from Texas. Lured by a free spaghetti dinner, Rudd had attended a DNA presentation at a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the late 1990s, then submitted a DNA sample and family tree. The DNA results suggested a connection with the Redd family’s critical markers. Brown then checked the Marvin Rudd’s family tree. Brown was thunderstruck when he read the two names at the top: John Rudd and Avis Whitaker, of Virginia.
That’s when genealogist Emily Roberts Lauritzen (another Lemuel H. Redd Jr. descendant) got involved. After years of painstaking searching through land abstract documents from colonial Virginia, Lauritzen found a key piece to the puzzle: a land sale record that included two different spellings within a single document: John “Rud" and John “Redd.”
“The same recorder wrote it two different ways. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment,” said Lauritzen. She kept following the trail, and found repeated instances of spelling variations — Rud, Rudd, Red and Redd — all tied together by references to the same pieces of land. And, she found John Rudd’s will, which left property to his son William Rudd. Could he be our own William Redd?
To further test the Redd-Rudd connection, Lauritzen traveled to Texas in 2014, where she convinced Marvin Rudd to take a sophisticated Y-chromosome DNA test that clinched the connection.
Based on all the evidence, a consensus of genealogists and DNA experts have determined that the Redd-Rudd connection is a reality. Among those solidifying Brown and Lauritzen’s findings is Dr. Alan Redd, son of Dr. Mason Redd (Lemuel H. Redd Jr. descendants), a DNA expert who helped to build the Family Tree DNA website.
Now, we must learn more about our ancestor John Rudd, and discover his place of origin. According to Lauritzen’s research, Rudd was an indentured servant who sailed out of Liverpool, England — a common story among arrivals to colonial Virginia. Evidence suggests that he was born in about 1670, and that he was a weaver by trade. Based on the location of English weaver’s guilds, it is likely that he came from the Manchester area. So, Brown and Lauritzen are busy researching Rudd families living in that area. They hope to identify potential living relatives, then convince them to submit DNA samples to test family connections. The John Hardison Redd and Elizabeth Hancock Family Organization will sponsor Brown and Lauritzen’s trip to England in September of 2020, using funds derived from sale of the reprinted book “The Utah Redd and Their Progenitors,” by Lura Redd.
For Brown, the quest to discover the Redd family’s roots has deep meaning.
“It’s just astounding that I was able to find this,” he said. “I don’t know why I was put in that position, but I think there is a purpose in why I was brought to earth at this time. One of my purposes in life is to help solve these mysteries and share that with my family. Sometimes I feel that I have family members cheering me on from the other side.”
Relatives on this side are cheering, too. Perhaps Brown and Lauritzen’s trip to England will yield discoveries that give us even more to celebrate.