Black woman attempts to show by DNA testing that she is direct descendant of President James Madison

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It's been four years since Bettye Kearse set out to prove a story that has been handed down through generations of her family: that she, an African American, is a direct descendant of founding father James Madison.

But after a prolonged attempt to arrange DNA testing with Madison family descendants in the United States, the two sides have been unable to agree on how to do it. And as Madison's sprawling Virginia estate, Montpelier, prepares to celebrate the completion of a $24 million restoration next month, aimed at shedding light on the former president's private life, Kearse could still be years from answers.

According to stories told by Kearse's family, Madison fathered a child named Jim with her great-great-great-great-grandmother, a slave cook named Coreen. Kearse, 65, has no documentation to bolster the claim, so in 2004, she enlisted the help of geneticist Bruce Jackson to investigate.

Jackson, co-director of the Roots Project at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, which helps African Americans trace their genetic histories, said the Madison family has been uncooperative with Kearse's efforts, imposing undue preconditions before they would allow a test. He likened the situation to the now-infamous controversy surrounding Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, in which Jefferson's white descendants resisted claims that they were related to Hemings's family....

If the story is true, it would mean that Madison, hailed as the father of the Constitution, had a child with his half-sister -- another potential wrinkle in the biography of a man who both helped carve the foundations of a groundbreaking democracy and kept as many as 100 slaves at his home.

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