The majority of those interviewed for the Getting Word project trace their ancestry to Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings. According to her grandson Madison Hemings, she was the daughter of an English sea captain named Hemings and an enslaved woman. She came with her children to Monticello about 1775, part of the inheritance from John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law. There she was a valued domestic servant. Over seventy-five of her descendants lived and worked at Monticello as butlers, seamstresses, weavers, carpenters, blacksmiths, gardeners, and musicians.
Elizabeth Hemings had twelve known children. According to Madison Hemings, six of them were fathered by Wayles (Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, and Sally). All of the men and women freed by by Jefferson (either officially or unofficially) were her children or grandchildren. Oral histories passed through many generations of the descendants of her daughters Mary Hemings Bell, Betty Brown, and Sally Hemings include the tradition of descent from Jefferson.