I’ve grown up, like many Southerners and Appalachians, being told I was Native American. There was no myth of a “Cherokee princess” in my family, on either side. That was NEVER our story. Our story was one of a people who had gone underground to hide their true identities and it came through my grandma, Sally Rogers Franklin (Pabilo). My other Granny always told me that she had “Indian” ancestry but she didn’t believe it was Cherokee. The term Blackfoot got tossed around a lot, but I couldn’t figure that one because I learned in school that Blackfoot lived far away from here, like up in Montana. Later, I discovered that her family origins were intertwined with Melungeons, who are intertwined with the Eastern Siouan tribes.
The tall man in the hat is my maternal grandfather. He had strong British lines. The lady in pink is my maternal grandmother. She was descended from Wallens, Collins [of Hawkins County, TN), Leaches, Sizemores, Gibsons and others who go back to Russell, Clinton and Wayne Counties and even future back to Tennesee and North Carolina. Granny’s family had several Melungeon lines that seemed to culminate when her parents married. The man in white is my dad and my mom is partially out of the photo.
As some of you know, this past summer I had an autosomal DNA test done, but unlike some people, I couldn’t just take it at face value and simply say I was such and such a percentage of this and that and then let it go. I knew genetics had to be more complicated than that, so I did what I always do, dug deeper. I was introduced to GEDmatch.com, which is a cool site that lets you break down DNA results. It’s a bit technical but to me, it’s worth the challenge to uncover more than just the “estimation” that you get with your DNA results. It could be a genealogist’s dear friend.
Now, like most folks whose family has lived in the Southeastern U.S. since before George Washington first soiled his diapers, I had a big old chunk of British Isles. 45% at first glance, but the percentages from 23andMe are only estimations and there is a wide range that allows the percentage to possibly be a lot more or a lot less. But for now, let’s just leave roughly half my DNA with the British Isles and talk about the rest of me, that other 55%, give or take a few numbers, depending on which company you ask and what calculator you use.
I did not get a report back from a genetic testing company saying, “You are ____% (specific kind) of Native American.” Wouldn’t that be nice? But that’s not the way your results come back from AncestryDNA or 23andMe. But what you do get that’s cool is your raw data which you can take to a third party calculator. Please remember that so far the DNA companies are HEAVILY weighted toward European results and it doesn’t break it down by ethnic group, only by regions. My 23andMe did show a small percentage of Native American DNA, but not as much as it should have been according to my paper documentation. Also, remember that the absence of evidence is NOT the evidence of absence. For example, if your documented family history shows that your great-great-grandmother was Samoan but your DNA test doesn’t show Somoan, that doesn’t mean you’re not of Samoan descent or that you don’t have a Samoan heritage. It just means that your DNA doesn’t show it. It also means you might have inherited a different 50% of the Somoan-descended parent’s DNA. Do you still have the right to claim Samoan heritage and be a part of the culture that your parent was a part of? Sure you do.
So, I sat down and asked myself, “What do I KNOW about my heritage?” Well, I know that maternal grandfather’s family was mostly the British Isles and her neighbor, Normandy. So, I should expect at least 45% percent British Isles because they’re scattered throughout every family line and on every side of any family who has been in Appalachia as long as mine has. I know that my father’s maternal ancestors were English on one side and on the other side were documented French/German-Moravians who lived among the Cherokee and traveled here along with soldiers who had been sent to guard Moravian Town and that the soldiers belonged to the Rogers family and that some of them are documented as having Cherokee wives.
My very handsome father. My gorgeous and camera-shy mother.
I know that my dad’s paternal grandmother is listed in the 1900 censuses as being mulatto and that she changed her name four times. I know that my paternal great-great-grandfather came from Gila River. I know that he called himself a Spanish Indian. I know that my mother’s mother’s family dates back to known Melungeon families on at least three sides. So, what should I expect to see in my DNA beyond the obvious British Isles? Well, I should expect to see some Iberian, maybe some Mediterranean, maybe some Scandinavian (Normandy was populated by Scandanavians) and possibly some African and I should expect to see some Native American, right? Well, I did see all of these things in varying percentages, but when I dug deeper, I saw much more and that’s when things got fascinating.
My Iberian/Native American great-great-grandfather. My Paternal Grandparents. Sorry, it’s hard to see. My grandfather is the one holding the child and my grandmother, Sally Rogers, is the one in white socks. They didn’t have a lot of photos made. The two dressed funny are my uncles. I think it was Halloween or something and they dressed up silly for the photo. T
Let’s get back to the GEDmatch.com site. Now, it’s true that different calculators will give you different results because they’re geared toward finding different things and they will each give you different percentages, but I’m not looking for iron-clad percentages, I’m looking for a continuity of population references that consistently turn up and lend clues to an overall bigger picture; some of those that keep turning up for me, which made me start asking questions are: Samoyedic, Melanesian, Austronesian, Arctic_Amerindian (specifically Inuit and Beringian), Altaic (Indo-Tibetan), Amerindian, Meso-American Indian (sometimes shows up), and South-American Indian. Now, granted, each one of these is in small doses, individually, but when added together do they indicate something else? My first response was Samo-what? So, I began to research and found out about these awesome folks who have made the Russian Tundra their home.
Then I wanted to know how an Appalachian Foothills gal, like me, with absolutely no recorded origins in Siberia could possibly have Samoyedic DNA?
And what about the Melanesian and Austronesian? How could I have THAT?! And let’s not forget the traces of Meso-American and South American, specifically a group of people called Botocudo (Oceanic people)? To answer my questions, I’ve been researching.
Let’s tie it all together with a link to some interesting articles.
So, it appears that all these references to Melanesian, Austronesian, Siberian, Altaic (Indo-Tibetan) and Oceanic are just further indicators that my family’s stories about Native American heritage are true and that my documented familial lines are on the right track. One thing that was surprising to me was that I had a slice of India show up in my chromosome paintings on Gedmatch and in some of the calculators. Now, knowing which calculator to use is a whole other post! In addition to the slice of India/Pakistan showing up, there were strong indications of significant heritage from Eastern Europe (again, when does it become Western Asia?) I don’t think the India/Eastern Europe (mine seems to center around present-day Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Western Russia and Romania) thing is related to being Native American or Melungeon, but I do know that the British Isles and other European countries sent their Gypsies to the New World to get rid of them so that is a possibility.
Then again, it could be that my father’s Moravian ancestors actually were from Moravia first before ending up in France and that many Moravian and Bohemian people have traces of Romani in their DNA. I also had a lot of Basque showing up in the Iberian portions, but I do know that many of the men who traveled with the Conquistadors were of Basque origin, but it was researching the DNA results that led me to discover that fact. It makes sense that I would have Basque because my great-great-grandfather was a mestizo. Romani? Basque? Who knows for sure? Another interesting thing is that my maternal haplogroup is highest among the Basque and Tuareg peoples of Northern Africa. Now, that’s strange because my mom has NO documented Iberian descent. She does have Melungeon. I think I should consider doing a mitochondrial test in the near future because this intrigues me.
Whatever the case, when I look in the mirror, sometimes, I see a little bit of Spain peeking back at me and sometimes, I see a taste of Bohemia and Romania, and I see a Celtic gal, a Pict, with ties to Lands End and ancient France, and now…yeah, I can see Samoyedic and Austronesian traces, but I always see one who loves the Earth and her Creator, who sees the beauty in all of Earth’s people, who longs to be Spirit-led and see with spirit eyes. I belong to my ancestors and to my descendants, to the Creator and to the Earth. I don’t need anyone to tell me who I am, but it is fun to discover all the pathways my ancestors traveled. I do not believe in accidents. I was meant to be and so were you.