CHAPEL HILL - Sitting at a table at the Outback Steakhouse in Suwanee, Ga., Ernest Dollar insisted on making a brief speech before presenting the envelope – with such a flourish that his wife asked him if he really had to be so dramatic – to Deardra Green-Campbell.
“Ernie made a big production out of it,” said Green-Campbell, an economic development consultant in Atlanta. “But the truth was, it was a very emotional moment for me.”
Inside the envelope were the results of a DNA analysis comparing her family’s genetic makeup with that of the Hogan family, among the first to settle in Orange County.
The conclusion: a strong indication that Green-Campbell was descended from Harriet Hogan – a slave of Thomas Lloyd Hogan – and William Johnston Hogan, the slave-owner’s white son.
That link filled in a key piece of her family’s genealogical puzzle, which Green-Campbell had been tracing for four years.
“I thought, ‘Here we are sitting in a restaurant in the 21st century, and I’m looking at a part of my family’s life from well over a century ago,’” she said. “It made me feel an even stronger connection with my ancestors. It almost transported me back to that time.”
For Green-Campbell, the DNA confirmation opened a window on a previously hidden portion of her family’s past.
For Dollar, the executive director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, it was a vivid illustration of William Faulkner’s famous dictum that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
It also might play a role in efforts to save a historic house, the Hogan-Rogers House on Purefoy Road in Chapel Hill.
The Preservation Society will hold a press conference Wednesday to discuss the DNA project and the status of the Hogan-Rogers House.
Thomas Lloyd Hogan built the house in the mid-1840s, and indications are that the family’s slaves, including Harriet – Green-Campbell’s great-great-great grandmother – lived in its basement.
The house is slated for demolition this fall to make way for St. Paul AME Church, which is moving to the site. The Preservation Society and others, including St. Paul, hope to move it intact to a nearby site to serve as a community center for the Rogers Road neighborhood.
The DNA link to Green-Campbell’s family helps bring to life the long history of an important house, Dollar said. The Hogan-Rogers House is a link to a time before the neighborhood became dominated by the nearby Orange County landfill, which was built in the early 1970s.
“This house has had an iconic role in a community that has been hit so hard by the landfill,” Dollar said. “You can still find people in the neighborhood who remember sitting with their dates on the front porch, playing in the yard, eating dinner in the basement. It’s a reminder that history remains relevant today.”
It took an impressive bit of sleuthing by Green-Campbell to come up with the connection between her family, which is centered mostly in the Northeast, and the Hogans in Orange County.
She knew her extended family included some members with the surname Hogan (sometimes “Hogans”), and she knew her mother Harriet was named after a distant grandmother. On the Preservation Society’s website she found a piece about the Hogan-Rogers House that mentioned a slave of the Hogan family named Harriet. She and Dollar exchanged information and concluded the two Harriets were probably the same person. Further searching turned up records indicating that Harriet and “W.J. Hogan” had a baby boy in 1845 they named Haywood Hogan.
“At that point, I’d say I was 60-40 convinced I was on the right track,” Green-Campbell said. “We decided the DNA test could confirm it.”
In order to determine a genetic match, she needed to find a male relative on her mother’s side. More investigation led her to a distant cousin living in Brooklyn, N.Y. His name: Haywood Hogans.
“I tracked down his number and called him. He was not aware of me or anybody in his family further back than his grandfather, whose name was also Haywood Hogans,” Green-Campbell said. “So when I got to the point where I said, ‘Oh, by the way, I need a DNA sample,’ he was a bit shocked.”
Eventually, he agreed. Green-Campbell and Haywood Hogans plan to attend the press conference at the Horace Williams House.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be able to see and touch documents and structures pertaining to my enslaved ancestors,” Green-Campbell said. “On top of that, to be able to participate in the efforts to preserve the house in which my third great-grandmother was a slave has been an overwhelmingly emotional part of my journey.”