MORGANTON, N.C. (AP) — Pioneer settler Theodosia Beasley McMullan Dula is a mystery to Mary Charlotte McMullan Safford and Leslie Dula McKesson.
Safford and McKesson are both deans at Western Piedmont Community College and have been friends and colleagues for 23 years; they both have a passion for history and they share an interest in researching their respective family lineages.
During a "rambling" conversation about what they were finding out about their family trees, they found a branch that intersected . at Theodosia Beasley.
McKesson, 54, knows the woman born in 1755 as her great-great-great-great grandmother Dula.
Safford, 56, knows her as her great-great-great-great grandmother McMullan.
"You're my cousin," the two said they said in unison when they made the connection.
"We were screaming like teenage girls," McKesson said.
The two made the discovery right before Christmas, and they still seem to be in disbelief about it.
"Two little girls growing up in the Civil Rights Era, one in Mississippi and one in North Carolina. My goodness. We're cousins," McKesson, dean of business and public services, said to Safford, dean of humanities and social sciences, in McKesson's office at WPCC.
McKesson, who is black, and Safford, who is white, have pieced together that Theodosia was married to John McMullan, a Revolutionary War Patriot in Orange County, Va. She had five children with him, including Patrick McMullen.
Theodosia then took off with and later married William Dula, also a Revolutionary War Patriot from Orange County, Va. She had six children with him, including Thomas Dula.
Safford and McKesson have traced their family trees on their fathers' sides back to Patrick McMullan and Thomas Dula being half-brothers.
In Safford's family, the generations passed down a story that Theodosia died.
"People didn't talk about things like that then," Safford said, "but she ran off."
Safford said it was during a visit to Virginia that she started hearing murmurs from relatives that Theodosia didn't die but left John for another man.
John and his new wife, Elizabeth Stowers, migrated from Virginia to Georgia with three of John and Theodosia's adult children and three of John and Elizabeth's children. The McMullans eventually ended up in Jackson, Miss., where Safford was born and raised.
William, Theodosia and their children settled in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina in what today is Caldwell County; McKesson was born and raised in Lenoir.
Caldwell County also is where Theodosia is buried, beside William.
"We are going to make a trip to her gravesite," McKesson told Safford.
McKesson found Theodosia's burial spot while working on a book she is writing on her family history.
At the center of the book are McKesson's great-great grandparents -- James Alfred Dula, a white slave owner, and Harriet Harshaw Dula, a black slave woman, who also had Native American ancestors.
Alfred, as McKesson calls him, was William and Theodosia's grandson.
She said Alfred and Harriet's love story started after Alfred's wife died and has continued through the generations as Alfred left 2,000 acres of land to Harriet and the children they had together. Today, part of that land remains connected to the Dulas and is known as Dulatown in Caldwell County.
McKesson's father, Harold Dula, has compiled much of the family's history and passed on 22 three-ring binders to McKesson.
The binders include wills; William's reads that none of his land is to go to any McMullan.
Safford has a copy of John's will and in it he left his possessions to his second wife "whom I deem my loving wife."
It is not known if these second marriages were legal as Safford and McKesson have not found divorce records for John and Theodosai.
McKesson has photos of some of her ancestors and even a couch that belonged to Harriet; as family legend goes, Alfred slept on it when he visited Harriet in the house he had built for her.
McKesson's research has inspired Safford to look more into her lineage.
Safford has been emailing family back in Mississippi to update them on what she has discovered about Theodosia through McKesson's research.
Safford has learned of a trunk that belonged to John and wonders if it holds answers to the love triangle between him, Theodosia and William.
Safford and McKesson also dream of taking a trip to Ireland, where the McMullens, Dulas and Beasleys originated, to see if there are any clues there.
As for their families' reactions to learning they have interracial cousins, the women said it's been well received on both sides and both sides are excited about family they didn't know they had.
Safford and McKesson encourage others to delve into their family trees.
"Your family history helps you to know who you are," Safford said. "We all have people in our family who were good, bad and in between. For the most part they were good people who maybe made bad choices."
"Our histories equalize us," McKesson said. "Nobody can hold themselves above anybody else."
Information from: The News Herald, http://www.morganton.com