ATLANTA — Michelle Obama and Meghan Markle both can trace their families to the same Georgia town, and not only were their ancestors both Jonesboro residents, they also lived there at the same time.
According to professional genealogist Megan Smolenyak, both had third great-grandmothers living in Jonesboro in the years after the Civil War.
Meghan Markle’s great-great-great grandmother on her mother’s side was Martha Henderson, but was known as Mattie.
In the 1870 census Mattie was 10 years old, the daughter of Walker and Elizabeth Henderson.
That same 1870 census notes that Michelle Obama’s great-great-great grandmother, Melvinia Shields, also lived in Jonesboro at the same time.
She would have been an adult at that time, with children of her own.
“Maybe Mattie was a friend of Melvinia’s kids,” said Smolenyak, who discovered Michelle Obama’s connection to Georgia in 2009.
A Google alert drew Smolenyak’s attention back to Georgia, and to Markle’s connection.
She marveled at finding “both of these women in the same little town, living so closely together. ... Both families would have recently come out from under slavery; this was barely post emancipation.”
Examining the handwriting on the census documents, she said, it’s evident that the same census worker recorded both names, which shows their proximity.
Melvinia Shields grew up on a farm just outside the village of Rex, near Jonesboro, and also in Clayton County.
Mattie was married twice, and had a daughter, Claudie Richie (or Ritchie or Richey), with her first husband.
Claudie married J.M. Ragland (J.M. were initials for “Jerry Miah” said Smolenyak), and their son Steve was Doria Ragland’s grandfather.
Claudie and J.M. moved to Chattanooga, where he worked as a tailor.
© 2020 Cox Media Group