Identifying Unknown African American Lineages Using DNA

My article asking Ancestry to reconsider purging 6-8 cM matches due to the effects on African American genealogy raised questions about how one could identify a lineage for an African American (or anyone really) who has no knowledge of their tree beyond a certain point in time.

That’s actually a really good question, so let me explain by using examples from my own family that illustrate how the science and matching techniques work together.

African American DNA isn’t any different than other DNA. What is different is that African Americans have absolutely no records, no surname and no context before emancipation in the 1860s and the first census in 1870. Many, and especially new researchers, have no idea where to look and without records, DNA is their only way to make connections back in time.

Unfortunately, this is also the threshold in time where the DNA of ancestors prior to 1870 is now chopped into segments the size of 6-8 cM.

Accidental Discovery

This week, while I was working on evaluating my smaller segment matches at Ancestry, I noticed that one was to an African American man, based on his profile picture, with whom I shared 7 cM.

AA Frank.png

I clicked on the match and then on Shared Matches. Even though this match is only 7cM, Shared Matches of 20 cM or above will show. The only shared matches that won’t show are shared matches below 20 cM, because they are presumed to be further back in time than 4 generations. I do wish Ancestry would show all shared matches.

We had 12 shared matches, ranging from 20 to 57 cM. some that I had previously identified as descending from the same couple.

I thought I recognized two or three of these people as having tested at other vendors.

I reached out to my match, we’ll call him Frank. He said that his mother, aunt and another relative had all tested at Ancestry too. I told Frank that I didn’t see their names in our Shared Matches, when I realized that could be because I shared less than 20 cM with them.

Sure enough, when I searched for the surname of the testers in question, they are all 4 on my match list.

AA Frank's family

Based on who we match in common at Ancestry, I *thought* I knew which ancestral couple we share in common. We all only match on one segment, but I can’t tell if it’s the same segment of course without a chromosome brower. And I can’t tell if these people also match each other at Ancestry on a common segment, although I would certainly presume so since he told me that they are closely related.

I asked Frank to transfer their results to either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, the other two vendors that accept transfers, where we can obtain segment information. Frank and two of his relatives transferred from Ancestry to FamilyTreeDNA where I’ve tested many family members over the years.

When I can identify a common ancestor with a match at any vendor that provides segment information, I paint those segments at DNAPainter.

Indeed, I did match Frank and his family members on the same segment, as do many of my cousins who are confirmed to have descended from a common ancestor.

The graphic below from DNAPainter shows all of my matches to this segment from all vendors identified to the purple couple.

AA Frank paint.png

I went to DNAPainter and painted these three smaller segment matches from Frank and his relatives, assigning them to the same ancestral couple. As you can see, they fit right in.

Can you tell which three of the people above are these three new cousins that I matched initially on 7 and 8 cM at Ancestry? No, of course not, because this is the exact same segment where I match all of my other cousins who are all assigned to the purple couple.

Given that these matches shown in purple are all descended from a specific line, my three newly-found cousins match them and must be related to that line in some way.

This match isn’t identical by chance, because their segment phases within their family, through Frank’s mother and another close relative.

We all share the same DNA, it’s phased in Frank’s family through three generations, so the conclusion must be that we share a common ancestor. This is an example of classic triangulation with many proof points.

Frank and his relatives then searched for the surname in question and found more people in their match lists from this same couple. They just didn’t know where to look before, but now they do.

If we accept that shared DNA between all of the purple people who are identified as descendants of the same ancestors share that ancestral couple’s lineage because they share the same DNA segments, and because they all match each other, then we must also accept that our three new cousins share the same genealogical line, because they share the same DNA as the previously proven cousins.

Now, of course, we need to work on geography and proximity, meaning figuring out exactly how our new cousins might descend from this line. We can also work on identifying matches to the wives lines’, if the wives are known, which may help place the most recent common ancestor. It’s also possible that we match because of an ancestor upstream of the purple couple.

In this case, there is no male in our match list that is descended from the appropriate surname line, so Y DNA testing is not an option. They are currently looking to see if they can find a qualifying male to test.

However, in another case, from some months back, we were able to identify an appropriately descended male.

The Smith Case

In this case, Smith is the fictitious biological surname. The tester, we’ll call him Joe, was an African American male who didn’t know who his family was before emancipation.

Joe and I initially discovered several random, mostly relatively small, common autosomal DNA matches that are part of an identified triangulation group. This was enough to identify the family in general and provide us with a working theory about who might have been his ancestor, but we needed more information.

Eventually, Joe found a male that descended from his ancestor who we’ll call Harold, a male emancipated when slavery ended. That man Y DNA tested, and indeed, his Y DNA matches my Smith family paternal line exactly.

Several of my proven Smith ancestor’s known relatives’ autosomal DNA matches the DNA of Harold’s family. Joe asked several family members from various children of Harold to test, and they too match various Smith descendants on many of the exact same segments of DNA.

AA Smith paint

I don’t match all of Joe’s relatives, but I do match some. On this common smaller segment of 7.7 cM, Joe’s family is painted in green and purple. My oldest progenitor, the Smith Father is painted in blue. Descendant generation matches are painted in other colors. However, since I now know that the blue portion is progenitor Smith, all of these segments can be tracked back to him on that side of the family – along with the segments carried by Joes family members who descend from multiple children of his progenitor. In reality, we now know that all these segments are actually blue – because it’s the exact same DNA.

That’s not all. There’s more evidence.

My Smith ancestor owned a female slave, and there were only two males of the right age that could have impregnated the mother of Harold who was emancipated. His mother had died before emancipation. The male child, Harold, listed as a mulatto was found in the 1870 census living in the household of the widow of father Smith. Did she, or did she not know that Harold was either her deceased husband’s son or her grandson?

In this Smith case, we have several pieces of evidence:

  • Some paper-trail records including the census and Harold’s death certificate listing his mother carrying the Smith surname. However, it was not uncommon for slaves to be identified by their master’s surnames as an identifier of ownership, not of marriage or descent. Harold’s father was listed as unknown, also not uncommon.
  • Geography – we know where both families lived which was both remote and mountainous.
  • Opportunity – two Smith males of an age to father a child, the Smith father and son, and no other Smith males.
  • Y DNA exact match of Harold’s descendant to the Smith family males at 111 markers.
  • Autosomal DNA evidence on a triangulated segment in an identified triangulation group to me, shown above, and other triangulated segments to other Smith family members.
  • Triangulated DNA in my family of people that descend from father Smith
  • Triangulated segments of DNA in Joe’s family that descend from multiple children, tracking those segments back to Harold, eliminating the possibility that they are identical by chance in the current generation

The smaller segment DNA evidence led us here. How much evidence do we need to draw at least a preliminary conclusion that Joe is a cousin? And, given that Joe’s family’s DNA matches the Smith family DNA exactly, and in descendants of multiple children in both lines, what other possible explanation is there? Add to that the Y DNA evidence.

Can I tell Joe whether Harold’s father was the Smith father or the Smith son? If Joe and his family autosomally match the ancestors of the Smith widow, then Joe’s ancestor is (probably) the child of the Smith son. So far, they don’t, so it’s most likely that the Smith father is our common ancestor, not the Smith son.

Joe then added Harold as a child of my Smith ancestor on Ancestry, using Harold’s biological surname, Smith, in an attempt to cause a ThruLine to form. Of course, had Joe used a different surname, one that Harold adopted at emancipation, assuming it was different from Smith, the ThruLine would not have formed. Another challenge for African American researchers or anyone whose biological surname is not the same as their surname used.

When I checked my ThruLines this week, I found three people descended from our common ancestor, Joe plus two more family members that I didn’t know had tested at Ancestry.

AA Smith match.png

These matches are now safely “saved” and won’t disappear when the purge occurs in early August, but the two 6 cM matches would clearly have disappeared otherwise and the 8 cM segment at Ancestry was a 7.7 segment at the other testing company, so it would likely have disappeared too. Ancestry rounds.

Joe’s segment match to me was the key to being able to reconnect our families initially. Without this critical clue, we would never have been able to reunite our family. Yes, we are a family. We’ve met and had a reunion. We’ve shared meals. I am watching his beautiful children grown up. And we would never have found each other without DNA.

All thanks to those segments between 6 and 8 cM that some opine aren’t real and aren’t relevant.

Some matches aren’t relevant which is why we need more evidence than one match, but some are very valid and therein lies the gold.

pexels-photo-1371168

Those matches are the gateway to research – clues to be evaluated just like any other clue. All evidence must be evaluated, genetic or otherwise.

We don’t discard census records out of hand because they might not be our ancestor without evaluating the evidence presented. DNA matches that stand a 50% chance of being accurate (at 7 cMs) and not false positive shouldn’t be categorically dismissed either.

A starving person doesn’t discard a basket of produce because only half of it is edible. Yet, that’s what’s about to happen.

African American Testing

African Americans who test have a blank slate, with no surnames, to work with before emancipation. Segment matches, and often segments between 6 and 8 cM because the passage of time has whittled them to this size, are the clues that allow African American researchers to begin reassembling their ancestral family.

In many cases, genealogists more fortunate don’t need smaller segment matches to piece together our family puzzles, but those working with little or no information on any line before 1870 need every clue they can get. The rest of us can simply ignore what we don’t want – but they can’t recover something taken from them.

Had it not been for that 8 cM match with Joe (actually 7.7 at the other vendor), I wouldn’t have found those cousins, and I wouldn’t have been able to figure out the line through which we are related. Without my work with known family, it’s very unlikely that Joe and his family would have been able to figure this out with no context. For them, it was a needle in the haystack. For me, I had already identified those ancestors and assigned relevant DNA segments to those ancestors. For me, there were records outside of DNA and DNA only confirmed my genealogy. For them, DNA is all they have – just a genetic  prayer.

These are just two examples of how DNA connections reassemble families for African Americans specifically and other researchers whose more distant family members are unknown.

Please Share

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Please also share this and my original article with your genealogy friends and organizations. This topic is not welcome in some places. We don’t have long, so it’s up to you to spread the word.

Plea to Ancestry – Rethink Match Purge Due to Deleterious Effect on African American Genealogists

I’m still hopeful that Ancestry will reconsider. It benefits them, and us, to do so.

Ancestry’s email is ancestrysupport@ancestry.com and phone is 1-800-958-9124.

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Thank you so much.

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Plea to Ancestry – Rethink Match Purge Due to Deleterious Effect on African American Genealogists

I know this article is not going to be popular with some people and probably not with Ancestry, but this is something I absolutely must say. Those of us in the position of influencers with a public voice bear responsibility for doing such.

Let me also add that if you are of European heritage and you think this topic doesn’t apply to you – if you have any unidentified ancestors – it does. Don’t discount and skip over. Please read. Our voices need to be heard in unison.

Ancestry Lewis.jpg

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line. Ancestry’s planned purge of smaller segments, 6-8 cM, is the exact place that African Americans (and mixed Native Americans too) find their ancestral connections. This community has few other options.

I’m sure, given the Ancestry blog post by Margo Georgiadis, Ancestry’s President and CEO on June 3rd that this detrimental effect is not understood nor intentional.

Ancestry Margo

Margo goes on to say, “At Ancestry, our products seek to democratize access to everyone’s family story and to bring people together.”

Yet, this planned match purge at the beginning of August does exactly the opposite. The outpouring of anguish from African American researchers has been palpable as they’ve described repeatedly how they use these segments to identify their genetic ancestors.

Additionally, my own experiences with discovering several African American cousins over the past few days as I’ve been working to preserve these smaller segment matches has been pronounced. I can even tell them which family they connect through. A gift them simply cannot receive in any other way – other than genetic connections

These two factors, combined, the community outcry and my own recent experiences are what have led me to write this article. In other words, I simply can’t NOT write it.

I trust and have faith that Ancestry will rethink their decision and utilize this opportunity for good and take positive action. Accordingly, I’ve provided suggestions for how Ancestry can make changes that will allow people on both sides of this equation, meaning those who want to keep those smaller segment matches and those glad to be rid of them, to benefit – and how to do this before it’s too late.

I don’t know if Ancestry has African American genealogists who are both passionate and active, or mixed-race genealogists, on their management decision-making team or in their influencer group, but they should.

I don’t think Ancestry realizes the impact of what they are doing. African American research is different. Here’s why.

African American History and Genetic Genealogy

Slavery ended in the US in the 1860s. Formerly enslaved persons who had no agency and control over their own lives or bodies then adopted surnames.

We find them in the 1870 census carrying a surname of unknown origin. Some adopted their former owner’s surname, some adopted others. Generally today, their descendants don’t know why or how their surnames came to be.

Almost all descendants of freed slaves are admixed today, a combination of African, European and sometimes Native Americans who were enslaved alongside Africans.

Closer DNA matches reflect known and unknown family in the 3 or 4 generations since 1870, generally falling in the 2nd to 4th cousin range, depending on the ages of the people at the time of emancipation and also the distance between births in subsequent generations.

Ancestry freed ancestors.png

The three red generations are the potential testers today. The cM values, the amount of potential matching DNA at those relationship levels are taken from DNAPainter, here, which is an interactive representation of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project.

Assuming we’re not dealing with an adoption or unknown parent situation, most people either know or can fairly easily piece together their family through first or second cousins.

You can see that it’s not until we get to the third and fourth cousin level that genealogists potentially encounter small segment matches. However, at that level, the average match is still significantly above the Ancestry purge threshold of 6-8 cM. In other words, we might lose some of those matches, but the closer the match, the higher the probability that we will match them (at all) and that we will match them above the purge threshold.

Looking again at the DNAPainter charts, we see that it’s not until we move further out in terms of relationships that the average drops to those lower ranges.

Ancestry DNAPainter

Here’s the challenge – relationships that occurred before the time of emancipation are only going to be reflected in relationships more distant than fourth cousins – and that is the exact range where smaller segment matches can and do come into play most often.

The more distant the relationship, the smaller the average amount of shared DNA, which means the more likely you are ONLY to be able to identify the relationship through repeated matching of other people who share that same ancestor.

Let me give you an example. If you match repeatedly to a group of people who descend from Thomas Dodson in colonial Virginia, through multiple children, especially on the same segment, you need to focus on the Dodson family in your research. If you’re a male and your Y DNA matches the Dodson line closely, that’s a huge hint. This holds for any researcher, especially for females without surnames, but it applies to all ancestral lines for African American researchers.

If an African American researcher is trying to identify their genetic ancestors, that likely includes ancestors of European origin. Yes, this is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s the unvarnished truth.

Full stop.

How Can African Americans Identify European Ancestors?

While enslaved people did not have surnames from the beginning of their history on these shores until emancipation, European families did. Male lines carried the same surname generation to generation, and female surnames changes in a predictable pattern, allowing genealogists to track them backward in time (hopefully.)

Given that African American researchers are literally “flying blind,” attempting to identify people with whom to reconnect, with no knowledge of which families or surnames, they must be able to use both DNA matches and the combined ancestral trees of their matches in order to make meaningful connections.

For more information on how this is accomplished, please read the articles here and here.

Tool or Method How it Works Available at Ancestry?
Y DNA for males Identifies the direct paternal line by surnames and also the haplogroup provides information as to the ancestral source such as European, African, Asian or Native American. No, only available at FamilyTreeDNA.
Mitochondrial DNA Identifies the direct matrilineal line. The haplogroup shows the ancestral source such as European, Native American, Asian or African. You can read about the different kinds of DNA, here. No, only available at FamilyTreeDNA
Clustering Identifies people all matching the tester and also matching to each other. No, available through Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom before Ancestry issued a cease and desist letter to them in June.
Genetic Trees Tools to combine the trees of your matches to each other to identify common ancestors of your matches. You do not need a known tree for this to work. No, available at Genetic Affairs before Ancestry issued a cease and desist letter to them.
Downloading Match Information Including the direct ancestors for your matches. No, Ancestry does not allow this, and tools like Pedigree Thief and DNAGedcom that did provide this functionality were served with cease-and-desist orders.
Painting Segments Painting segments at DNAPainter allows the tester to identify the ancestral source of their segments. Multiple matches to people with the same ancestor indicates descent from that line. This is how I identify which line my matches are related to me through – and how I can tell my African American cousins how they are related and which family they descend from. No. Ancestry does not provide segment location information, so painting is not possible with Ancestry matches unless both people transfer to companies that provide matching segment information and a chromosome browser (MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA)
ThruLines at Ancestry Matches your tree to same ancestor in other people’s trees. ThruLines is available to all testers, but the tester MUST have a tree and some connection to an ancestor in their tree before this works. Potential ancestors are sometimes suggested predicated on people already in the tester’s tree connected to ancestors in their matches trees. For ThruLines to work, a connection must be in someone’s tree so a connection can be made. There are no tree links for pre-emancipation owned families. Those connections must be made by DNA.
DNA Matching Matching shows who you match genetically. Testers must validate that the match is identical by descent and not identical by chance by identifying the segment’s ancestry and confirming through either a parental match or matching to multiple cousins descending from the same ancestor at that same location. Segments of 7 cM have about a 50-50 chance of being legitimate and not false matches. Of course, that means that 50% are valid and tools can be utilized to determine which matches are and are not valid. All matches are hints, one way or another. You can read more, here. Ancestry performs matching, but does not provide segment information. Testers can, however, look for multiple matches with the same ancestors in their trees. Automated tools such as Genetic Affairs cannot be used, so this needs to be done one match at a time. The removal of smaller segment matches will remove many false matches, but will also remove many valid matches and with them, the possibility of using those matches to identify genetic ancestors several generations ago, before 1870.
Shared Matching Shows tester the people who match in common with them and another match. Ancestry only shows shared matches of “fourth cousins and closer,” meaning only 20 cM and above. This immediately eliminates many if not most relevant shared matches from before emancipation – along with any possibility of recovering that information.

The Perfect, or Imperfect, Storm

As you can see from the chart above, African American genealogists are caught in the perfect, or imperfect, storm. Many tools are not available at Ancestry at all, and some that were have been served with cease-and-desist letters.

The segments this community most desperately needs to make family connections are the very ones most in jeopardy of being removed. They need the ability to look at those matches, not just alone, but in conjunction with people they match in clusters, plus trees of those clustered matches to identify their common ancestors.

Ancestry has the largest database but provides very few tools to benefit people who are searching for unknown ancestors, especially before 1850 – meaning people who don’t have surnames to work with.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to African American researchers, but any genealogist who is searching for women whose surnames they don’t know. This also applies to people with unknown parentage that occurred a few generations back in time.

However, the difference is that African American genealogists don’t have ANY surnames to begin with. They literally hit their brick wall at 1870 and need automated tools to breach those walls. Removing their smaller segment matches literally removes the only tool they have to work with – the small scraps and tidbits available to them.

Yes, false matches will be removed, but all of their valid matches in that range will be removed too – nullifying any possibility of discovery.

A Plan Forward

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m no longer invited to the Ancestry group calls. I’m fine with that because I’m not in any way constrained by embargoes or expectations. I only mention this for those of you who wonder why I’m saying this now, publicly, and why I didn’t say it earlier, privately, to Ancestry. I would have, had the opportunity arisen.

That said, I want to focus on finding a way forward.

Some options are clearly off the table. I’m sure Ancestry is not going to add Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, since they did that once and destroyed that database, along with the Sorenson database later. I’m equally as sure that they are not going to provide segment location information or a chromosome browser. I know that horse is dead, but still, chromosome browser…

My goal is to identify some changes Ancestry can make quickly that will result in a win-win for all researchers. It goes without saying that if researchers are happy, they buy more kits, and eventually, Ancestry will be happier too.

Right now, there are a lot, LOT, of unhappy researchers, but not everyone. So what can we do to make everyone happier?

Immediate Solutions

  • Remove the cease and desist orders from the third-party tools like Genetic Affairs, DNAGedcom, Pedigree Thief and other third-party tools that researchers use for clustering, automated tree construction, downloading and managing matches.

This action could be implemented immediately and will provide HUGE benefits for the African American research community along with anyone who is searching for ancestors with no surnames. Who among us doesn’t have those?

  • Instead of purging small segment matches, implement a setting where people can define the threshold where they no longer see matches. The match would still appear to the other person. If I don’t want to see matches under 8 cM, I can select that level. If someone else wants to see all matches to 6 cM, they simply do nothing and see everything.
  • Continue to provide new matches to the 6 cM level. In other words, don’t just preserve what’s there today, but continue to provide this match level to genealogists.
  • Add shared matches under 20 cM so that genealogists know they do form clusters with multiple matches.

Longer-Term Solutions

  • Partner with companies like Genetic Affairs and DNAgedcom, tools that provided not just match data, but automated solutions. These wouldn’t have been so popular if they weren’t so effective.
  • Implement some form of genetic networks, like clustering. Alternatively, form alliances with and embrace the tools that already exist.

The Message Customers Hear

By serving the third-parts tools that serious genealogists used daily with cease-and-desist orders, then deleting many of our matches that can be especially useful when combined with automated tools, the message to genealogists is that our needs aren’t important and aren’t being heard.

For African American genealogists, these tools and smaller matches are the breadcrumbs, the final breadcrumb trail when there is nothing else at all that has the potential to connect them with their ancestors and connect us all together.

Let me say this again – many African Americans have nothing else.

To remove these small matches, rays of hope, is nothing short of immeasurably cruel, and should I say it, just one more instance of institutionalized racism, perpetrated without thinking. One more example of things the African American community cannot have today because of what happened to them and their ancestors in their past.

Plea

I will close this plea to Ancestry with another quote from Margaret Georgiadis from Ancestry’s blog.

Ancestry Margo 2.png

Businesses don’t get to claim commitment when convenient and then act otherwise. I hope this article has helped Ancestry to see a different perspective that they had not previously understood. Everyone makes mistakes and has to learn, companies included.

Ancestry, this ball’s in your court.

Feedback to Ancestry

I encourage you to provide feedback to Ancestry, immediately, before it’s too late.

You can do this by any or all of the following methods:

Ancestry support

Ancestry BLM.png

Speak out on social media, in groups where you are a member, or anyplace else that you can. Let’s find a solution, quickly, before it’s too late in another 10 days or so.

As John Lewis said, #goodtrouble.

Make a difference.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Mitochondrial DNA Resources – Everything You Need to Know

Mitochondrial DNA Resources

Recently, I wrote a multi-part series about mitochondrial DNA – start to finish – everything you need to know.

I’ve assembled several articles in one place, and I’ll add any new articles here as well.

Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups or on social media.

What the Difference Between Mitochondrial and Other Types of DNA?

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited directly from your matrilineal line, only, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother – on up your family tree until you run out of direct line mothers that you’ve identified. The great news is even if you don’t know the identities of those people in your tree, you carry their mitochondrial DNA which can help identify them.

Here’s a short article about the different kinds of DNA that can be used for genealogy.

Why Mitochondrial DNA?

Let’s start out with why someone might want to test their mitochondrial DNA.

After you purchase a DNA test, swab, return the kit and when the lab finishes processing your test, you’ll receive your results on your personal page at FamilyTreeDNA, the only company that tests mitochondrial DNA at the full sequence level and provides matching with tens of thousands of other testers.

What About Those Results?

People want to understand how to use all of the different information provided to testers. These articles provide a step-by-step primer.

Mitochondrial DNA personal page update

Sign in to your Family Tree DNA account and use these articles as a guideline to step through your results on your personal page.

We begin with an overview. What is mitochondrial DNA, how it is inherited and why is it useful for genealogy?

Next, we look at your results and decode what all the numbers mean. It’s easy, really!

Our ancestors lived in clans, and our mitochondrial DNA has its own versions of clans too – called haplogroups. Your full haplogroup can be very informative.

Sometimes there’s more than meets the eye. Here are my own tips and techniques for more than doubling the usefulness of your matches.

You’ll want to wring every possible advantage out of your tests, so be sure to join relevant projects and use them to their fullest extent.

Do you know how to utilize advanced matching? It’s a very powerful tool. If not, you will after these articles.

Mitochondrial DNA Information for Everyone

FamilyTreeDNA maintains an extensive public mitochondrial DNA tree, complete with countries of origin for all branches. You don’t need to have tested to enjoy the public tree.

However, if you have tested, take a look to see where the earliest known ancestors of your haplogroup matches are located based on the country flags.

Mitochondrial resources haplotree

These are mine. Where are yours?

What Can Mitochondrial DNA Do for You?

Some people mistakenly think that mitochondrial DNA isn’t useful for genealogy. I’m here to testify that it’s not only useful, it’s amazing! Here are three stories from my own genealogy about how I’ve used mitochondrial DNA to learn more about my ancestors and in some cases, break right through brick walls.

It’s not only your own mitochondrial DNA that’s important, but other family members too.

My cousin tested her mitochondrial DNA to discover that her direct matrilineal ancestor was Native American, much to her surprise. The great news is that her ancestor is my ancestor too!

Searching for Native American Ancestors?

If you’re searching for Native American or particular ancestors, mitochondrial DNA can tell you specifically if your mitochondrial DNA, or that of your ancestors (if you test a direct matrilineal descendant,) is Native, African, European, Jewish or Asian. Furthermore, your matches provide clues as to what country your ancestor might be from and sometimes which regions too.

Did you know that people from different parts of the world have distinctive haplogroups?

You can discover your ancestors’ origins through their mitochondrial DNA.

You can even utilize autosomal segment information to track back in time to the ancestor you seek. Then you can obtain that ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA by selectively testing their descendants or finding people who have already tested that descend from that ancestor. Here’s how.

You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your mitochondrial DNA. I discovered that although my earliest known matrilineal ancestor is found in Germany, her ancestors were from Scandinavia. My cousin discovered that our common ancestor is Mi’kmaq.

What secrets will your mitochondrial DNA reveal?

You can test or upgrade your mitochondrial DNA by clicking here.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

African DNA in the British Isles

While the Slave Owner registers from 1834 in England and the recent project to index and study their contents has raised consciousness about slavery and how intertwined slavery was through Caribbean sugar production to all of the British Isles – DNA is telling a story too.  While the slave owner registers speak to the ownership of slaves in the Caribbean by Britains, those weren’t the only slaves.

I have done several DNA Reports in past decade for people who received unexpected results.  By unexpected results, I’m referring to clearly African haplogroups in Europe, primarily the British Isles, found in people who are just as clearly “white” today – and whose ancestors have been considered as such for generations.  Furthermore,  their autosomal DNA generally shows no trace or occasionally shows minute amounts of their African heritage, yet it is clearly there as proven by Y and mitochondrial DNA.

When these people are found in the US and their ancestors have been here for generations, especially in a slave-owning area, my first thought is always that perhaps the genealogy is in error – or that there was an undocumented adoption that would never show in genealogical records.  But when the people are not in the US and their ancestors have never lived outside of Europe and are well-documented, the results are impossible to explain away or rationalize in that fashion.

blacks in london

I’m also not referring to haplogroup E-M215, old E1b1b or E-M35, old E1b1b1, which is known to be North African, or Berber, found in the Mediterranean basin.  This haplogroup is found sparsely in England, likely due to the Roman legions who arrived and stayed or at least left some of their Y DNA behind.  Steven Bird wrote the paper about this titled “Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement of Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin.”

I’m talking about haplogroups that are unquestionably sub-Saharan African in origin, such as Y DNA E-M2, old E1b1a now E-V38, and often, mitochondrial haplogroups such as L1, L2 and L3  – meaning that they originated with women, not men.

This begs the question of how those haplogroups came to be embedded in the British population long enough ago that there is no record that the people who carried them were not white.  In other words, the person who brought that haplogroup to the British Isles arrived long ago, many generations.

I have always found this a bit confounding, because while England was indeed heavily intertwined in the slave trade, England never had the space or need to employ slaves in the way that they were engaged on large plantations in the Caribbean or in the Southern US.  Furthermore, England had its own surplus of people they were trying to send elsewhere, which was one of the benefits of colonization.  You could send your undesirables to populate your colonies.  For example, those pesky recusant Catholics who refused to convert settled in Maryland.  Many people convicted of small crimes, such as my Joseph Rash for stealing 2 bags of malt, were transported to the colonies, in his case, Virginia.

We know that there were some Africans in Elizabethan England, although those records are almost incidental, few and far between.  Africans have been in England since the 12th century, but it wasn’t until slaving began in earnest that their numbers increased.  At this point, blacks in England were mostly novelties and were often owned by captains of slave ships and occasionally sold on the quay of coastal cities like Bristol.

Although not widespread, slavery was practiced in England until 1772, when the Somerset case effectively determined that chattel slavery was not supported by English law.  This legally freed all slaves in England, if not in actual practice.  Slaves in England at that time were mostly domestic servants and flocked to be baptized in the hope it would ensure their freedom.  The good news is that those baptisms created records.

Buried in the details of the Somerset case and arguments are an important tidbits.

James Somerset, a slave, was purchased in Massachusetts and brought to England by his master, Charles Stewart.  James escaped, was captured and was going to be shipped to the Caribbean by Stewart and sold as a plantation slave.  However, while in England, James had been converted to Christianity and his three god-parents upon his baptism filed suit claiming that while he may have been a slave when brought to England, that English law did not support slavery and he was therefore not a slave in England and could not be shipped against his will to the Caribbean to be sold.  This was not a humanitarian case, per se, but a case about law and legal details.

Somerset’s advocates argued that while colonial laws might permit slavery, neither the common law of England nor any law made by Parliament recognized the existence of slavery and slavery was therefore unlawful. The advocates also argued that English contract law did not allow for any person to enslave himself, nor could any contract be binding without the person’s consent. When the two lawyers for Charles Stewart, the owner, put forth their case, they argued that property was paramount and that it would be dangerous to free all the black people in England, who numbered at the time approximately 15,000.

That’s the information I was looking for.  There were 15,000 African or African descended slaves in England in 1772.  Given that most were domestic servants, the females would have been subject to whatever their owner wanted to impose upon them, including sexual advances.  Let’s face it, there were a lot more English men available in England than African men, so it’s very likely that the children of enslaved women would have been fathered by white men whether by consensual or nonconsensual means.

Their half white children would also have been enslaved, at least until 1772, and if they also bore children from an English male, their offspring would have been 25% African and 75% English.  Within another generation, they would have looked “white” and their African heritage would have been forgotten – at least until their descendants eight or ten generations later took a mitochondrial or Y DNA test and turned up with confusing African results.

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I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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Cultural Footprints

I was recently corresponding with a descendant of Valentine Collins, one of the Melungeon families of mixed race found in and nearby Hawkins County, Tennessee in the 1800s.

Here’s what he had to say.

When I first started looking into my Collins’ family history, I realized very early this was going to be a real adventure. What I did was set up a system to look at different aspects of their lives/history. I call it ‘cultural footprints’. I have those foot prints broken down as:

  • Religion
  • The Table (food)
  • Music
  • Language

Most of the data I’ve mined are based on these four Cultural Footprints. But I would have to say Genetic Genealogy provided the biggest breakthroughs, the best tool by far.

Well, obviously I liked his commentary about genetic genealogy, which gives us the ability to connect and to prove, or disprove, connections.  But as I looked at his list, I thought about my own ancestors.  Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I love to learn about the history during the time that my ancestors were living – what happened to and near them and how it affected them.  But his commentary made me wonder what I’ve been missing.

As I think back, one of the biggest and most useful clues to one of my ancestral lines was an accidental comment made by my mother about her grandmother. She mentioned, in passing, “that little white hat that she always wore.”  I almost didn’t say anything, but then I thought, “little white hat, that’s odd.”  So I asked and my mother said something like, “you know, those religious hats.”  I asked if she meant Amish or Mennonite, given the context of where they lived and she said, “yes, a hat like that.”  Then, when questioned further, it turns out that the family didn’t drive, even though cars were certainly utilized by then.  My mother never thought about it.  Turns out that the family was actually Brethren, also one of the pietist faiths similar to Amish and Mennonite, but that hint sent me in the right direction.

How could my mother have been unaware of something that important, well, important to me anyway?  Easy.  It was, ahem, not discussed in the family.  You see, it was somewhat of a scandal.

My mother’s father had married outside the Brethren religion, so was rather ostracized from the family for his choice to marry a Lutheran. Then the family became, horror of horrors, Methodist.  So, I would add clothing to my friend’s list of cultural footprints as well.  Sometimes, like in my case, dress will lead you to religion.  In the photo below, my mother’s grandmother is the female in the middle back row.  If you look carefully, you can see that both she and her mother are wearing a prayer cap.

John David Miller Photo

I know the religion of many of my ancestors. Whatever their religious choice, it was extremely important to many.  I have 1709ers, Acadians, Brethren, Mennonites, Huguenots, fire and brimstone Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians in my family line.  I always try to find their church and the church records if possible.  Some are quite interesting, like Joseph Bolton who was twice censured from the Baptist church in Hancock County, Tennessee.  Many of my ancestors made their life choices based on their faith.  In particular, the Huguenots, 1709ers, Brethren and Mennonites suffered greatly for their beliefs.  Conversely, some of my ancestors appear to never have set foot in a church.  I refer to them as the “free thinkers.”

Well, in one case, my ancestor was a bootlegger in the mountains of Kentucky. What the hey…every family has to have some color, and he was definitely colorful….and free thinking.

Most of us are a mixture of people, cultures and places. All of them are in us.  Their lives, culture, choices and  yes, their DNA, make us who we are.  If you have any doubt, just look at your autosomal ethnicity predictions.

Language of course is important, but more personally, local dialects that our ancestors may have spoken. In the US, every part of the country has their own way of speaking.

Here’s a YouTube video of a Louisiana Cajun accent. Many Acadians settled in that region after being forcibly removed from Nova Scotia in 1755.

Acadian-Cajun language, music and early homes in Louisiana

Here’s a wonderful video of Appalachian English. In my family, this is known as “hillbilly” and that is not considered a bad thing to be:)  In fact, we truthfully, all love Jeff Foxworthy, well, because he’s one of us.  I’m just sure if we could get him to DNA test, that we’d be related!

There are regional and cultural differences too.

Here’s a video about Lumbee English. The Lumbee are a Native American tribe found in North Carolina near the border with South Carolina.

Going further east in North Carolina, the Outer Banks has a very distinctive dialect.

What did your ancestor’s speech sound like?   What would it have sounded like in that time and place?

That, of course, leads to music. Sometimes music is the combination of speech and religion, with musical instruments added.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with religion, but moves us spiritually just the same.  Music is the voice of the soul.

Here’s Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. If you can get through this dry-eyed, well, then you’re not Scottish…just saying.  This connects me to my Scottish ancestors.  It was played at both my mother’s and my brother’s funerals.  Needless to say, I can’t get through it dry eyed!

Amazing Grace isn’t limited to bagpipes or musical instruments. The old “hardshell” Baptists didn’t utilize musical instruments, and still don’t, in their churches.  Listen to their beautiful voices, and the beautiful landscape of Kentucky.  This is the land, voices and religion of some of my people.

A hauntingly and sadly beautiful Negro Spiritual. Kleenex box warning.  This, too, is the music of my family.

Yeha – Noha – a Native American song by Sacred Spirit. One of my favorite music pieces.

Bluegrass gospel – Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Bet you can’t keep your foot from tapping!!!

Appalachian fiddle music. Speaks directly to my heart.  And my hands.  I just have to clap my hands.

Acadian music. This would be very familiar to my Acadian ancestors.

At this link, you can hear samples of Acadian folk songs by scrolling down and clicking on the track listing.

Moving a little closer in time. This is the official state song of Tennessee – one of my all-time favorites.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve danced to this.  This just says “home” to me and I can feel my roots.

What kind of music did your ancestors enjoy? Did they play any musical instruments?  Can you find the music of the time and place in which they lived?  YouTube has a wide variety and the videos are an added benefit, bringing the reality of the life of our distant ancestors a little closer.

Now that you know what fed their souls, let’s look at what fed their bodies.  Along with regional speech and musical differences, the diet of our ancestors was unique and often quite different from ours of today.

On the Cumberland Gap Yahoo group, we often exchange and discuss regional recipes, especially around the holidays. Same on the Acadian rootsweb group.  Although this year we’ve been talking about deep fried turkeys.  Maybe in another couple hundred years that will be considered representative of our time.  Hopefully it’s not McDonalds!

The Smithsonian sponsors a website about Appalachian foods.  Let me share with you what I remember about my childhood.  We made do with what we had, whatever that was.  Some things were staples.  Like biscuits, with butter, or honey, or jam, or apple butter…whatever you had on hand that was in season.

biscuits

Chicken fried in bacon grease was for Sunday, or company, which usually came on Sunday.

fried chicken

We wasted nothing, ever, because you never knew when you might not have enough to eat. So, we ate leftovers until they were gone and we canned. Did we ever can.  Lord, we canned everything.  Mason jars in huge boiling kettles in the hottest part of summer.  Let’s just say that is not my favorite memory of growing up.  But green beans at Christmas time were just wonderful, and you couldn’t have those without canning in the August heat.

cans

Different areas have become known for certain types of cuisine. In North Carolina, they are known for their wood-fired BBQ.  In western North Carolina, they use a red, slightly sweet, tomato based BBQ sauce, but in eastern NC, they use a vinegar based BBQ sauce.  Want to start a fight?  Just say that the other one is better on the wrong side of the state:)

BBQ pit

Creole cuisine is found in the south, near the Mississippi Delta region and is from a combination of French, Spanish and African heritage.

creole

Jambalaya is a Louisiana adaptation of Spanish paella.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soul food is the term for the foods emanating from slavery.  When I looked up soul food on wiki, I found the foods my family ate every day.  When I think of food that we didn’t eat, but that my African American cousins did eat, I think of chitlins.  Yes, I know I didn’t spell that correctly, but that’s how we spelled it. And the chitlins we had were flowered and fried too, not boiled.  Maybe that is a regional difference or an adaptation.

chitterlings

Another “out of Africa” food is sorghum, used to make a sweet substance similar to molasses, used on biscuits in our family. Sorghum is an African plant, often called Guinea Corn, and arrived with slaves in colonial days.

sorghum

Native American cuisine varies by where the tribe lived, and originally, they lived across all of North and South America. Originally, the Native people had the three sisters, corn, squash and beans.  Hominy is Native, as is grits, a southern staple today.  I’m drooling now…

grits

Today, however, one of the signature Native American dishes is FryBread. Fried and seriously unhealthy, the lines at powwows are longer for frybread and a derivative, Indian Tacos, than anything else.

frybread

In many places, the settlers, slaves and Native people assimilated and the food their descendants ate reflected all three cultures, like Brunswick Stew.  Even Brunswick Stew varies widely by location as do the origin stories.  Many foods seems to have evolved in areas occupied by European settlers, Native people and slaves, to reflect ingredients from all three groups.

Brunswick stew

That’s the case in my family, on my father’s side. We didn’t know any differently, or where that particular type of food originated.  However, sometimes by looking at the foods families ate, we can tell something of their origins.

In marginalized populations, and by that, in the US I mean mixed race or descendants of enslaved people, it’s often very difficult to use traditional genealogical records because they didn’t own land or leave other records. Many of them spent a lot of time trying to make themselves transparent and didn’t want to attract any attention.

Often, it’s the DNA that unlocks the doors to their heritage, and after making that discovery, we can then look the cultural footprints they left for us to follow.

I’m starving. I’m going to eat something unhealthy and listen to some wonderful music!  How about grits with butter and Indian tacos for lunch along with powwow music?  Oh yeahhhhhh…….

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

10 Things to Do With Your DNAPrint, renamed AncestrybyDNA, Test

birdcage

Please note, AncestrybyDNA is NOT the same as the AncestryDNA test sold by Ancestry.com.  Both CeCe Moore and David Dowell have written about this in their respective blogs.

Back in 2002 (no, that is not a typo,) a new product called DNAPrint was introduced by a company then called DNAPrint Genomics.  It provided you, in percentages, your percentages of 4 ethnic groups: Indo-European, East-Asian, Native American and African.  Family Tree DNA remarketed this test for just over a year but ceased when they realized there were issues.

It was the first of its kind of test ever to be offered commercially, and version 2.0 utilized a whopping 71 ancestrally informative markers, according to the user’s guide delivered with the product.  The next version of the test, 2.5, titled AncestrybyDNA included 175 markers, and a third version, which I don’t believe was ever released, was to include just over 300 markers.

In 2002, this was a baby step in a brand new world.  We, as a community, were thrilled to be able to obtain this type of information.  And of course, we believed it was accurate, or relatively so.  However, the questions and ensuing debate started almost immediately and became very heated.

The company’s representatives indicated that East-Asian and Native American could be combined for those without a “Chinese grandpa” and that would have given me a whopping 25% Native American.  Even then, before pedigree analysis, I thought this was a little high.  My East Asian was shown as 15%, Native American at 10% and Indo-European at 75%.  For reference, my real Native results are probably in the 1-3% range.  Keep in mind that we were all babes in the woods, kind of stumbling around, learning, in 2002 and 2003.

Interestingly enough, I found the answer recently, quite by accident, to one of the burning questions about Native American ancestry that was asked repeatedly of Tony Frudakis during that timeframe, then a corporate officer of DNAPrint, and left unanswered.  In Carolyn Abraham’s book, The Juggler’s Children, which is a wonderful read, on page 55, the answer to the forever-hanging question was answered:

“When I finally reached Frudakis, that’s how he explained the confusion over our Native ancestry result – semantics.  The Florida company had pegged its markers as being Native American to appeal to the American market, he told me.  But it was accurate to consider them Central Asian markers, he said, that had been carried to different regions by those who migrated from that part of the globe long ago – into the Americas, into East Asia, South Asia and even southern Europe – finding their way into today’s Greeks, Italians and Turks.  ‘We may do ourselves a favour and change the name of this ancestry [component] in the test,’ he said, since apparently I wasn’t the only one baffled by it.”

So, now we know, straight from the horses mouth, via Carolyn.

Of course, since that time, many advances have occurred in this field.  Today, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, Ancestry.com and the Genographic Project utilize chip based technology and utilize over half a million markers to achieve ethnicity predictions.  If DNAPrint, renamed AncestybyDNA was the first baby step, today we are teenagers – trying to refine our identity.  Today’s tests, although not totally accurate, are, by far, more accurate than this first baby step.  Give us another dozen years in this industry, and they’ll be spot on!

For 2003, when I ordered mine, DNAPrint was an adventure – it was exciting – it was a first step – and we learned a lot.  Unfortunately, DNAPrint under the name AncestrybyDNA is still being sold today, currently owned by the DNA Diagnostics Center.  If you are even thinking about ordering this product, take a look first at the Yelp reviews and the Better Business Bureau complaints.

I don’t regret spending the money in 2003.  Spending money on this outdated test today would be another story entirely – a total waste.  The results are entirely irrelevant today in light of the newer and more refined technology.  Unfortunately, seldom a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail from someone who bought this test and are quite confused and unhappy.  The test has been marketed and remarketed by a number of companies over the years.

So, here are some suggestions about what might be appropriate to do with your DNAPrint or AncestybyDNA results if you don’t want to just throw them away:

  1. Line the bottom of the birdcage.
  2. Use to light the BBQ grill or camp fire.
  3. Use under boots in the hallway in the winter.
  4. Shred, then use as confetti.
  5. Cut into strips and use as bookmarks.
  6. Use as scratch paper.
  7. Use in the garden between rows to minimize weeds.
  8. Make into a paper airplane.
  9. Roll, along with other excess paper, into logs for the fireplace.
  10. Frame, and display along with your other antiques.

Yes, it’s really that old and outdated!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The African Diaspora Conference Videos Available

HeywoodIn September,  2013, The African Diaspora: Integrating Culture, Genomics and History was held at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC.  Sadly, I had commitments elsewhere and could not attend.

The National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of Natural History held a full-day symposium that brought together scholars, scientists and practitioners from various disciplines who are exploring the African Diaspora throughout historical, cultural and genomic lenses with the purpose of understanding a person’s ancestry and how that impacts individual health and collective identity.

The symposium’s objectives were to foster interdisciplinary dialog on what we can learn about:

  • Ancestral history from genomic information and historical records.
  • Ethnic identity and cultural diversity from historical and genomic information.
  • The arts and culture from ancestral information.

I was not able to attend, but reports from those who did were very positive.  Fortunately, the videos are now available to view, for free.

http://www.genome.gov/27555386

Furthermore, I’d like to mention that one of the papers I co-authored with Jack Goins, Janet Crain and Penny Ferguson, Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population was cited  by Dr. Linda Heywood.

Dr. Linda Heywood is a Professor of African American Studies and History at Boston University.  I was impressed with her throughout this panel discussion.  At about 6:48 she discussed identity, and her comment, “History, it’s personal, it’s communal, it’s national, it’s identity.”

She mentions our paper at about 57:46.  At 22:54 she comments about various Africans being incorporated into the Portuguese settlements in Africa before being shipped out as slaves, something we also mentioned in our paper.  And finally at 1:15:00 she referred to the paper again as a resource.

I was also very impressed with Dr. Sarah Tiskoff and was disappointed to see that there were not any individual sessions by her.

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to watch a few of these videos, and a big thank you to the Smithsonian for making them available.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Correlating Historical Facts to DNA Test Results

Sometimes DNA tests hold surprising results, results that the individual didn’t expect.  That’s what happened to Jack Goins, Hawkins County, Tn. Archivist and founder of the Melungeon Core DNA project.  Jack, a Melungeon descendant through several ancestors, expected that his Y paternal haplogroup would be either European or Native American, based on oral family history, but it wasn’t, it was E1b1a, African.

Jack’s family and ancestors were key members of the Melungeon families found in Hawkins and Hancock Counties in Tennessee beginning in the early 1800s.  In order to discover more about this group of people, which included but was not limited to his own ancestors, Jack founded the Melungeon DNA projects.

Over time, descendants of most of the family lines had representatives test within both a Y-line and mitochondrial DNA project.  The results were a paper, Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population, published in JOGG, the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, in April 2012.

Many people expected to discover that the Melungeons were primarily Native American, but this was not the outcome of the DNA project.  In fact, many of the direct paternal male lines were African and all of the direct maternal female lines tested were European.  While there are paper records, in one case, that state that one of the ancestors of the Melungeons was Native American (Riddle), and there is DNA testing of another line that married into the Melungeon families that proves that indirect line is Native American (Sizemore), there is no direct line testing that indicates Native ancestry.

Aside from the uproar the results caused among researchers who were hopeful of a different outcome, it also begs the question of whether the documents we do have of those families support the DNA results.  What did the contemporary people who knew them during their lifetime think about their race?  Census takers, tax men and county clerks?  Are there patterns that emerge?  Sometimes, when we receive new information, be it genetic or otherwise, we need to revisit our documentation and look with a new set of eyes.

It’s common practice in genetic genealogy circles when “undocumented adoptions” are discovered, for example, to revisit the census and look for things like a child’s birthdate being before the parents’ marriage.  Something that went unnoticed during initial data gathering or was assumed to be in error suddenly becomes extremely important, perhaps the key to unraveling what happened to those long-ago ancestors.  Like in all projects, some descendant lines we expected to match, didn’t.

Recently Jack Goins undertook such an analysis of the documentary records collected over the years in the various counties where the Melungeon families or their direct ancestors lived.  We know that today, and in the 1900s, most of these families appear physically primarily European, an observation supported by autosomal DNA testing.  So we’re looking for records that indicate minority admixture.

Do the records indicate that these people were black, Native, European, mixed or something else, like Portuguese?  Was the African admixture recent, so recent that their descendants were viewed as mixed-race, or were the African haplogroups introduced long ago, hundreds or thousands of years ago perhaps, maybe in Mediterranean Europe?  If that was the case, then the Melungeon ancestors in America would have been considered “European,” meaning they looked white.  What do the records say about these families?  Were they uniformly considered white, black, mixed or Native in all of the locations where family members moved as they dispersed out of colonial Virginia?

If these men were Native Americans, would they have likely fought against the Indians in the French and Indian War in 1754?  Melungeon ancestors did just that and they are specifically noted as fighting “against the Shawnee.”  Their families were found in census records as “free people of color” and “mulatto” countless times which indicates they were not slaves and were not white.  On one later census record, below, in 1880, Portugee was overstricken and W for white entered.

1880 census
1880 census 2

Melungeon families and their ancestors were listed on tax records and other records as mulattoes, never as mustee and only once as Indian.  Mulattoes are typically mixed black and white, although it can be Native and white, while mustee generally means mixed Indian with something else.  On one 1767 tax list, Moses Riddle, a maternal ancestor of a Melungeon family is listed as Indian, but this is the only instance found in the hundreds of records searched.  The Riddle family paternal haplogroup reflects European ancestry so apparently the Indian ancestor originated in a maternal line.

Court records identify Melungeon families as “colored” and “black” and “African” and “free negroes and mulattoes” as well as white.  In the 1840s, a group of Melungeon men, descendants of these individuals classified as mulattoes and free people of color were prosecuted for voting, a civil liberty forbidden to those “not white,” and probably as a political move to make examples of them.  Some of these men were found not guilty, one simply paid the fine, probably to avoid prosecution due to his advanced age, and the cases were dismissed against the rest.  Some were also prosecuted for bi-racial marriage when it was illegal for anyone of mixed heritage to marry a white person.  In earlier cases, in the 1700s in Virginia, these families were prosecuted for “concealing tithables” specifically for not listing their wives, “being mulattoes.”  In another case, the records indicate an individual being referred to as ‘yellow complected,’ a term often used for a light skinned mulatto.  And yet another case states that while the men were “mulattos,” their fathers were free and their wives were white.

There are many records, more than 1600 in total that we indexed and cataloged when writing the paper, and more have surfaced since.  In all of those records, only one contemporaneous record, the 1767 Riddle tax list, states the person was an Indian.  None, other than the 1880 census record, state that they were Portuguese.  There are many that indicate African or mixed heritage, of some description, and there are also many that don’t indicate any admixture.  Especially in later census, as the families outmarried to some extent, they were nearly uniformly listed as white.  Still, this group of people looked “different” enough from their neighbors to be labeled with the derisive name of Melungeon.

While this group, based on mitochondrial DNA testing, did initially marry European women, generations of intermarriage would have caused the entire group to be darker than the nonadmixed European population in the 1700s and 1800s.  By this time, neither they nor their neighbors were sure what they were, so they claimed Portuguese and Indian.  No one claimed to have black ancestors, in fact, most denied it vehemently.  By this time, so many generations had passed that they may not have known the whole truth, and there is indeed evidence of two Indian lines within the Melungeon community.

In light of these records, the DNA results should not have been as surprising as they were.  However, this body of research had never been analyzed as a whole before.

Since the original paper was published, four additional paternal lines documented as Melungeon but without DNA representation/confirmation in the original paper have tested, and all four of them, Nichols, Perkins, Shoemake/Shumach and Bolin/Bolton carry haplogroup E1b1a.  They are not matches to each other or other Melungeon paternal lines, so it’s not a matter of undocumented adoptions within a community.

The DNA project administrators certainly welcome additional participants who descend from the Melungeon families.  Y-line DNA requires a male who descends from a patriarch via all males, given that males pass their Y chromosome to only sons.

There may indeed be Native American lines yet undiscovered within the female or ancestral lines, and we are actively seeking people descended from the wives of these Melungeon families through all women. Mitochondrial DNA, which tests the maternal line, is passed to both genders of children, but only females pass it on.  So to represent your Melungeon maternal ancestor, you must descend from her through all females, but you yourself can be either male or female.

While the primary focus is still to document the various direct family lines utilizing Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, the advent of autosomal testing has opened the door for other Melungeon descendants to test as well.  In fact, the project administrators have organized a separate project for all descendants who have taken the autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA called the Melungeon Families project.

The list of eligible Melungeon surnames is Bell, Bolton, Bowling, Bolin, Bowlin, Breedlove, Bunch, Collins, Denham, Gibson, Gipson, Goins, Goodman, Minor, Moore, Menley, Morning, Mullins, Nichols, Perkins, Riddle, Sizemore, Shumake, Sullivan, Trent and Williams.  For specifics about the paternal lines, patriarchs and where these families are historically located, please refer to the paper.

Furthermore, anyone with documented proof of additional Melungeon families or surnames is encouraged to provide that as well.  Surnames are only added to the list with proof that the family was referenced as Melungeon from a documented historical record or is ancestral to a documented Melungeon family.  For example, the Sizemore family was never directly referred to as Melungeon in documented sources, but Aggy Sizemore (haplogroup H/European), daughter of George Sizemore (haplogroup Q/Native) married Zachariah Minor (haplogroup E1b1a/African).  The Minor family is one of the Melungeon family names.  So while Sizemore itself is not Melungeon, it is certainly an ancestral name to the Melungeon group.

For more information, read Jack Goins’ article, Written Records Agree with Melungeon DNA Results.

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Black, White or Red – Changing Colors

henry finding your roots

The Root recently published the article, “Did My White Ancestor Become Black?”, written by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Eileen Pironti.  We all know who Henry is from his PBS Series, Finding Your Roots.

America is the great mixing bowl of the world, with Native American, European and African people living in very close proximity for the past 400 years.  Needless to say, on the subject of admixture and race, things are not always what they seem.

Henry Gates sums it up quite well in his article, regardless of what your ancestor looked like, or your family looks like today, “the only way to ascertain the ethnic mixture of your own ancestry is to take an admixture test from Family Tree DNA, 23andMe or Ancestry.com.”

Interestingly enough, in an earlier issue of The Root, Henry talks about how black are Black Americans.

In that article, Henry provides this information.

* According to Ancestry.com, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.

* According to 23andme.com, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American.

* According to Family Tree DNA.com, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.

* According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

The message is, of course, that you never know.  Jack Goins, Hawkins County, Tennessee archivist,  is the perfect example.  Jack is the patriarch of Melungeon research.  His Goins family was Melungeon, from Hawkins County, Tennessee.  Jack founded the Melungeon DNA projects several years ago which resulted in a paper, co-authored by Jack (along with me, Janet Lewis Crain and Penny Ferguson), cited by Henry Louis Gates in his above article along with an associated NPR interview, titled “Melungeons, A Multiethnic Population.”

jack goins melungeon

Jack, shown above with the photo of his Melungeon ancestors, looks white today.  His family claimed both Portuguese and Indian heritage.  His ancestors and family members in the 1840s were prosecuted for voting, given that they were “people of color.”

But Jack’s Y DNA, providing us with his paternal link to his Goins male lineage, is African.  No one was more shocked at this information than Jack.  Jack’s autosomal DNA testing confirms his African heritage, along with lots of European and a smidgen of Native in some tests.

When in doubt, test your DNA and that of selected relatives to document your various lines, creating your own DNA pedigree chart.  For a broad spectrum picture of your DNA and ethnicity across of all of your heritage, autosomal DNA testing is the way to go.  Without all of these tools, neither Jack nor Henry would ever have known their own personal truth.

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Family Tree DNA Research Center Facilitates Discovery of Ancient Root to Y Tree

The genetic genealogy community has been abuzz for months now with the discovery of the new Root of the Y tree.  First announced last fall at the conference for DNA administrators hosted by Family Tree DNA, this discovery has literally changed the landscape of early genetic genealogy and our understanding of the timeframe of the origins of mankind.  While it doesn’t make much difference in genetic genealogy in the past few generations, since the adoption of surnames, it certainly makes a difference to all of us in terms of our ancestors and where we came from – our origins.  After all, the only difference between current genetic genealogy and the journey of mankind is a matter of generations – and all of our ancestors were there, and survived to reproduce, or we wouldn’t be here.

One of the important aspects of this discovery is the collaboration of citizen scientists with academic institutions and corporations.  In this case, the citizen scientist was Bonnie Schrack, a volunteer haplogroup project administrator, Dr. Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona, National Geographic’s Genographic Project, and Thomas Krahn and Astrid Krahn, both with the Gene by Gene Genomics Research Center.  Without any one of these players, and Family Tree DNA’s support of projects, this discovery would not have been made.  This discovery of the “new root” legitimizes citizen science in the field of genetic genealogy and ushers in a new day in scientific research in which crowd sourced samples, in this case, through Family Tree DNA projects, provide clues and resources for important scientific discoveries.

Today Gene by Gene released a press release about the discovery of the new root.  In conjunction, Family Tree DNA has lowered their Y DNA test price to $39 for the introductory 12 marker panel for the month of March, hoping to attract new participants and to eliminate price as a factor.  On April 1, the price will increase to $49, still a 50% discount from the previous $99.  Who knows where that next discovery lies.  Could it be in your DNA?

Family Tree DNA’s Genomics Research Center Facilitates Discovery of Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree

HOUSTON, March 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/   — Gene By Gene, Ltd., the Houston-based   genomics and genetics testing company, announced that a unique DNA sample submitted via National Geographic’s Genographic Project to its genetic genealogy subsidiary, Family Tree DNA, led to the discovery that the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree is potentially as old as 338,000 years.  This new information indicates that the last common ancestor of all modern Y chromosomes is 70 percent older than previously thought.

The surprising findings were published in the report “An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree” in The   American Journal of Human Genetics earlier this month.  The study was conducted by a team of top research scientists, including lead scientist Dr. Michael F. Hammer of   the University of Arizona, who currently serves on Gene By Gene’s advisory board, and two of the company’s staff scientists, Drs.Thomas and Astrid-Maria Krahn.

The DNA sample had originally been submitted to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the world’s largest “citizen science” genetic research effort with more than 500,000 public participants to date, and was later transferred to Family Tree DNA’s database for genealogical research.  Once in Family Tree DNA’s database, long-time project administrator Bonnie Schrack noticed that the sample was very unique and advocated for further testing to be done.

“This whole discovery began, really, with a citizen scientist – someone very similar to our many customers who are interested in learning more about their family roots using one of our genealogy products,” said Gene By Gene President Bennett Greenspan.  “While reviewing samples in our database, she recognized that this specific sample was unique and  brought it to the attention of our scientists to do further testing.  The results were astounding and show the value of individuals undergoing DNA testing so that we can continue to grow our databases and discover additional critical information about human origins and evolution.”

The discovery took place at Family Tree DNA’s Genomic Research Center, a CLIA registered lab in Houston which has processed more than 5 million discrete DNA tests from more than 700,000 individuals and organizations, including participants in the Genographic Project.  Drs. Thomas and Astrid-Maria Krahn of Family Tree DNA conducted the company’s Walk-Through-Y test on the sample and during the scoring process, quickly realized the unique nature of the sample, given the vast number of mutations.  Following their initial findings, Dr. Hammer and others joined to conduct a formal study, sequencing ~240 kb of the chromosome sample to identify private, derived mutations on this lineage, which has been named A00.

“Our findings indicate that the last common Y chromosome ancestor may have lived long before the first anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa about 195,000 years ago,” said Dr. Michael Hammer.  “Furthermore, the sample, which came from an African American man living in South Carolina, matched Y chromosome DNA of males from a very small area in western Cameroon, indicating that the lineage is extremely rare in Africa today, and its presence in the US is likely due to the Atlantic slave trade.  This is a huge discovery for our field and shows the critical role direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies can play in science; this might not have been known otherwise.”

Family Tree DNA recently dramatically reduced the price of its basic Y-DNA test by approximately 50%.  By offering the lowest-cost DNA test available on the market today, Gene By Gene and Family Tree DNA are working to eliminate cost as a barrier to individuals introducing themselves to personal genetic and genomic research.  They hope that expanding the pool of DNA samples in their database will lead to future important scientific discoveries.

About Gene By Gene, Ltd. 
Founded in 2000, Gene By Gene, Ltd. provides reliable DNA testing to a wide range of consumer and institutional customers through its four divisions focusing on ancestry, health, research and paternity.  Gene By Gene provides DNA tests through its Family Tree DNA division, which pioneered the concept of direct-to-consumer testing in the field of genetic genealogy more than a decade ago.  Gene by Gene is CLIA registered and through its clinical-health division DNA Traits offers regulated diagnostic  tests.  DNA DTC is the Research Use Only (RUO) division serving both direct-to-consumer and institutional clients   worldwide.  Gene By Gene offers AABB certified relationship tests through its paternity testing division, DNA Findings. The privately held company is headquartered in Houston, which is also home to its state-of-the-art Genomics Research Center.

SOURCE Gene By Gene, Ltd.

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