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Using mtDNA to Suggest Kinship – A Case Example Involving Lucille Ball

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There is an article in yesterday’s Greenwich Times entitled “Woman out to prove kinship to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz” about Cassandria Carlson, a woman from Schaumburg, Ill. who believes she is the granddaughter of Lucille Ball.

According to Carlson, her mother was born to Lucille Ball in 1947 and was then put up for adoption “because her very existence would have interfered with Ball’s career.”  Among her evidence, Carlson cites a 1946 newspaper clipping which described Ball as pregnant as well as her mother Madeline Jane Dee’s memories of a red-headed woman named “Mrs. Morton” bringing her to the playground as a child (Ball’s second married was to a Gary Morton).  Unfortunately, Ms. Dee died just a few years ago.

Ball had two confirmed children: Lucie Desiree Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr.  Julia Arnaz, the daughter of Desi Arnaz, Jr., originally agreed to provide DNA to determine whether she and Carlson are first cousins, she later rescinded the offer.  Arnaz has said that she would consider providing DNA if there were “more proof” of the potential relationship.

Obtaining More Proof Through mtDNA

Luckily for Ms. Carlson, she would possess Lucille Ball’s mtDNA if she is in fact her descendant.  This is because, of course, mtDNA is passed down from mother to daughter.  So the mtDNA would have passed from Ball to Madeline Jane Dee to Cassandria Carlson.  Although Julia Arnaz and Carlson would likely share some DNA if they are in fact related, they would NOT share mtDNA because Arnaz would have inherited her mtDNA from her mother (whose name I don’t know).  However, Carlson CAN compare her mtDNA to another of Lucille Ball’s maternal relatives by working backward through Ball’s maternal family tree.

Below is a quick outline of the path Lucille Ball’s mtDNA took through 5 generations from her great-great-grandmother to herself (that is, from mother to daughter, mother to daughter, down through 5 generations):

  1. Angeline (Greene) Sprague b. 1820 d. 1851 (4 female children: Ann Eliza b. 1841, Mary Jane b. 1842, Aureliea b. 1843, & Helen S. b. 1845)
  2. Helen S. (Sprague) Orcutt b. 1845 d. 1884 (4 female children: Flora Belle b. 1867, Carrie b. 1871, Nellie b. 1872, & Lottie b. 1878)
  3. Flora Belle (Orcutt) Hunt b. 1867 d. 1922 (2 female children: Desiree Evelyn b. 1892, Lola b. 1897)
  4. Desiree Evelyn Hunt b. 1892 d. 1977
  5. Lucille Desiree Ball b. 1911 d. 1989

In addition to this direct lineage, the mtDNA would have passed to the other daughters named in the tree, and down through the female descendants in that line.  So, for example, the mtDNA would have passed from Angeline (Greene) Sprague to Ball[s ancestor Helen S. Sprague, but it also would have passed to Helen’s sisters, who would in turn have passed it down to their daughters and so forth.  Thus, from the outline above, there are at least 6 people from the above tree whose lineage could be researched for potential mtDNA sources:

  • Ann Eliza Sprague
  • Mary Jane Sprague
  • Aureliea Sprague
  • Carrie Orcutt
  • Nellie Orcutt
  • Lottie Orcutt

Interpreting Results:

If Carlson’s mtDNA were to match the mtDNA of a modern-day descendant of one of the above 6 women, this would be very strong supporting evidence for her conclusion.  A match would NOT prove the relationship! But armed with this information, Julia Arnaz might be convinced to undergo further testing.

If Carlson’s mtDNA did NOT match one of the modern-day descendants of the above 6 women, I would recommend attempting to find another descendant to test (preferably from another one of the 6) because unknown breaks in the line can occur although it will arguably be less common for maternal descent.  If two or three tests suggest there is no match, this might be suggestive that there is NOT a relationship, but again it is not conclusive.

The moral of this story is to always keep genetic genealogy in mind when attempting to prove a genetic relationship between two people!

Notes:

Sources of Genealogical Information: Genealogy.com Famous Folks Family Tree & WorldConnect (I know these are not verified or even the best sources, but the information was provided for illustrative purposes only).

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

13 Comments

  1. Blaine,

    Thank you so much for this very interesting information.

    I appreciate this very much. Can you contact me directly as I would like to speak with you about your findings :).

    Thank you.

    Cassandria

  2. I don’t see any physical similarities between Madeline Jane Dee and any of the Ball/Arnaz family. I have seen so many images of Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. in their early childhood; their little faces are emblazoned in my mind. And those images do not look even remotely like the young Madeline to me. Beyond that, the inconsistencies in Ms. Carlson’s story are disturbing. When this story first broke in 2008, the claim was being made that her mother was a “love child” between Lucy and Desi that would have caused a scandal. Seemingly, Ms. Carlson was not aware that Lucy and Desi had been married more than six years at that point, so there would have been no cause for scandal. More recently the story has changed to, Lucy and Desi were estranged at the time, and she wanted to conceal the pregnancy from him. Ms. Carlson’s PR people just days ago put out a press release claiming that in the six months leading up to the June 1947 birth in California of Carlson’s mother, Lucille Ball was vacationing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. From late October to mid December 1946, she was filming LURED. And then retakes were filmed in late January 1947. From mid February to late March 1947, she was filming HER HUSBAND’S AFFAIRS, and retakes were filmed in May. Besides her film work, she was also working regularly in live radio broadcasts during these months: THE EDDIE CANTOR SHOW (Oct 10, 1946); THE BOB HOPE SHOW (Nov 12, 1946); SCREEN GUILD THEATER (Apr 21, 1947); THE SMITHS OF HOLLYWOOD (Apr 25, 1947); THE RADIO READER’S DIGEST (May 22, 1947); and THE BOB HOPE SHOW (May 27, 1947). Bob Hope’s show was done in front of a live studio audience. By the time of that broadcast, she would have been nearly nine months pregnant according to Carlson’s story. She couldn’t have hidden that from 300 studio audience members unless she were wearing a cardboard box. In early June, she arrived in Princeton, NJ to begin rehearsals and staging for the play DREAM GIRLS, which started June 23 and went on tour for the next six months. So every single month during the prior six-month period that Carlson claims Ball was vacationing, she was actually working. And some sources indicate she was also seen in Phoenix in April 1947 with Desi Arnaz, and posed for a photographer in a bathing suit in May 1947. The frequently-changing “facts” of Ms. Carlson’s case simply do not compute.

  3. Rachel and Rick,

    Thank you for your time. While your information is “text book”, we are prepared to discredit details within the books written if need be, we are on the fourth one now. The only book to be somewhat accurate is “A Book” By Desi Arnaz.

    Everyone is so afraid of the truth? Don’t worry, we are coming to a very big crescendo on the truth and are about to call it all out…

    Thank you for your time and your interest in this topic.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Pingback: Latest News
  5. F.Y.I.: Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed from the mother to each of her offspring, not just to her female offspring. We males simply do not pass ours, from our respective mothers, on to our own respective offspring, whether male or female. So, a biological brother of any of the women mentioned in the above blog post as possible candidates for mtDNA testing and possible matching would also be a candidate, as he would have the very same mtDNA as his sister(s) and mother!

  6. Heres my question. This so called lost daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz was born in 1947. Lucile Ball divorced Desi in 1960 and married Gary Morton in 1961. in 1961 the daughter would have been 14 years old. Now I know that i remember things well from when i was 14 and so does everyone else. How is it that she cannot positively say it was actually Lucy because at the time Lucille Ball was on television a lot so everyone knew who she was and the daughter was 14 i think thats old enough for someone to remember seeing Lucille Ball when they were 14. instead of saying some woman named mrs morton why couldn’t she just say it WAS Lucille?

  7. I think this is completely lame. Who is this woman, someone desperately looking for a way to feed her children? She wants a cut of the empire? What a lousy thing to do, to put Lucie and Desi Jr. through this. Doesn’t she think they have enough to deal with?

    Cassandria is doing this for nothing more than money, and she needs to go get a life of her own and DROP it. Read Lucille Ball’s, \Love, Lucy.\ THAT is an accurate historical account by Lucy that wasn’t dug up until after her death because she had changed her mind about releasing it after the divorce in order not to hurt Desi. THAT contains everything you EVER wanted to know about Lucy.

    Get a life, Cassandria. You don’t even deserve this press.

  8. Oh and P.S., you’d realize how hard it was for them to have children simply by educating yourself with that piece of material as well.

  9. The child definitely favors Desi. All the arguing won’t change THAT!

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