In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – History Channel Documentary

I hope you’ll join me this Friday, October 18, 2019 at 10 PM for “In Search of the Lost Colony,” a documentary on the History Channel. Here’s the schedule.

Lost Colony History Channel

If you can’t see the episode on Friday, past “In Search Of” episodes are available for viewing and The Lost Colony episode will be available here too after airing. You can watch it on your computer after it airs if you don’t have access to The History Channel.

If you’d like more background, you can read my article, The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Did They Survive? – National Geographic, Archaeology, Historical Records and DNA.

A Little History

In 2007, I became involved in the search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a group of settlers who sailed to what is now Roanoke Island, NC in 1587 with the intention of establishing an English Colony.

Luck was not in their favor. Many elements were against them. The supply ship with their food was wrecked on the shoals during one of the notorious hurricanes that plague the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Adding even more drama, the captain of the lead ship in the voyage was supposed to transport the colonists on to the Chesapeake, but refused to do so, in essence, stranding them. Did I mention that the notorious captain just happened to be a pirate, rescued from the gallows by a man who was scheming for the colony to fail?

You might be guessing by now that there are layers upon layers of drama – and you’d be right.

The transport ships themselves were headed back to England after depositing the colonists and agreed to carry only one person from the colony with them. The colonists elected their “governor,” John White as their representative to return to England and request resupply. Somehow, somehow, the colonists, White’s daughter among them, would try to survive half a year, until about Easter 1588, when crossing the Atlantic would once again be safe. At that time in history, winter crossings were not undertaken.

However, the Spanish Armada and the war between England and Spain interfered with the resupply plan. It wasn’t until 1590 that John White was able to return, on yet another pirate ship, to attempt to resupply or rescue the colonists.

A Big Mystery

He found…nothing.

The colonists were gone – disappeared – but they left White a one-word message – Croatoan – carved into a post at their fort and “Cro” carved into a tree.

Croatoan tree

Dawn Taylor (left) and Anne Poole beside a reproduction of the carving White discovered upon his 1590 return to Roanoke Island.

Croatoan was the name of the friendly Indians who lived on Hatteras Island, just south of Roanoke Island.

Another hurricane arose, preventing White from visiting Hatteras, but their ships had sailed within sight of Hatteras on their way to Roanoke.

Were the colonists gone?

Had they survived?

Did they perish?

Or move on?

Inland perhaps?

What do we know?

What is yet to be discovered?

The Documentary

Along with others involved in the search, I filmed a segment for the History Channel in June. My portion was recorded at the Family Tree DNA lab in Houston, Texas. As you might guess, my portion involves DNA testing.

Lost Colony, Dr Connie Bormans and Roberta Estes

Here’s a sneak peek, Dr. Connie Bormans, Lab Director, at left, with me in the dark lab coat, at right, during the filming. You’ll enjoy a lovely tour of the genetics lab while walking a test through the process, assuming that portion is included in the documentary.

This is the first production of this type that I’ve been involved with. I’ve declined several other invitations because of concerns about sensationalism.

I’ve enjoyed programs on the History Channel before and hoped that they would be less inclined to fall into that trap.

The DNA Projects

Regardless, the DNA part of this story is mine to tell, and I wasn’t about to forego that opportunity.

I founded the Lost Colony DNA projects in 2007.

The Lost Colony Y DNA Project for males who carry the Lost Colony surnames AND whose families are found in early eastern North Carolina OR among the Native people is here, and the Lost Colony Family Project for those interested but aren’t male who carry the colonist surnames is here.

How Does Filming Work?

I’ve always wondered how this works, so I’m sharing with you.

It’s interesting to note that people in the episodes don’t know what the other people said or who else is involved.

In my case, I did happen to know about two other people, Anne Poole, Director of the Lost Colony Research Group and Andy Gabriel-Powell. The three of us along with Dawn Taylor and others have worked on solving the mystery together for a dozen years now, focused on archaeological excavations in various locations on the Outer Banks along with historical records in the US, England, Spain and Portugal.

Lost colony dna

Anne and I sifting during one of the digs.

Andy, the former mayor of historic Bideford, England, home of Richard Grenville, authored the book Richard Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke which you can view, here.

I know the production crew interviewed other people as well, but I’ll find out who they are and what everyone says right along with you.

It might not surprise you to learn that numerous people have been involved in the search for the Lost Colony over the ensuing 432 years – and not all of them ethical. Like anything else high-profile, the Lost Colony has attracted its share of bad actors along with some fantastic researchers.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what or whom to believe, so Anne, Andy and I, along with our colleagues working alongside us, committed to document and source all information independently. Our goal was and is to excavate the truth, regardless of where that truth leads.

In 2007, Anne and I founded the loosely organized, all-volunteer, Lost Colony Research Group to facilitate various types of research and coordinate archaeological excavations.

The LCRG sponsored half a dozen digs and committed to making our finds public, allowing future researchers access to our research, artifacts and DNA results when technology has improved and perhaps more is known or can be discovered. It’s the only responsible approach.

People interviewed during the filming are not actors and are not paid, nor are they afforded the opportunity to review and approve any footage or anything in the segment before it’s aired.

Other than clarifying a couple of questions after the filming and being informed of the date and time when the episode will air, we had no communications with the production crew or staff after filming.

None of us knows what the segment contains or how it will be portrayed. We don’t actually even know if we are IN the segment, just that we were filmed. The segment at the lab with Dr. Bormans took about a day and a half of filming, plus several days of preparation, as did Andy’s and Anne’s portions, respectively. Most of what is filmed winds up on the cutting room floor. That’s the nature of the beast.

I have my fingers crossed that the resulting program is scientifically sound as well as entertaining. The Lost Colony is, after all, one of America’s oldest mysteries.

One thing is for sure – I’ll be watching. I hope you do too.

If you have ancestors in the US or in the British Isles – you or your family might just have that critical piece of information needed to solve the mystery!



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Lost Colony DNA Project Makes The Scientist Magazine List of Top 20 Stories for 2012

Lost colony dnaThe Lost Colony DNA project, sponsored by the Lost Colony Research Group found themselves featured at number 15 in The Scientist Magazine’s Top 20 stories for 2012.

Original article, published on January 1st, 2012, is found at this link.

It’s also of note that Kerry Grens, the author of the story was honored by the North Carolina Society of Historians with an award for this article this past October.

Anne Poole (at left), Research Director,  and I are screening for artifacts in the photo at one of our excavation sites.  Anne and I seldom are actually able to do something together at the same time, as there are lots of logistics and challenges to work on every minute of every dig with 20-40 people in the field.  Please note that my t-shirt says “Well behaved women seldom make history.”  It’s my motto, and I’ve never been accused of being well behaved!

Thanks everyone for your participation and interest.  Let’s make 2013 a great year with lots of research and let’s find those colonists!!



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Lost Colony, Hyde County and Lumbee Berry Families

I am very hopeful that one of our subscribers can help solve this mystery. As you will see, several members of the Lost Colony Research Group (via the Berry and Lost Colony DNA Project) are working on this puzzle, but we currently need Berry family members ancestral to both Robison and Hyde Counties in North Carolina to DNA test.

There are two Berry families who claim descent from the Lost Colonists of Roanoke Island in 1587, Henry and Richard Berry, who are presumed to be related to each other.

The progenitor of the first line is Henry Berry or O’Berry who is first found owning land in the 1730s in what is today Robison County, NC. This is the Lumbee Berry line. Priscilla Berry Lowery, the unconfirmed sister of Henry Berry/O’Berry reportedly talked about her family’s oral history of descending from Henry Berry, the colonist. I began writing a report about the various pieces of oral history and documentation that surround this legend and that is what started this Berry comparison project. That report is lengthy and will be published in a future article.

We do have two people who believe they descend from this Lumbee Berry line and their DNA does match. We are working with the Berry Family DNA project. This is the group known as the English Colony Berry’s by the Berry family DNA project. Scroll down on this link to find “English Colony Berry Family” — there are seven men in this group, Berry project ID #43, 61, 107, 112, 138, 140, 181.

We do not have a Berry from the confirmed Lumbee line, but one of our members is attempting to find one. I do believe this is the correct line. We have one person from Craven County where Henry Berry’s son inherited his land and one from SC where other families from this group were known to have moved.

A second Berry line carries a very strong oral history of descent from Richard Berry, the second Berry colonist. This family is from the New Bern/Hyde County, North Carolina, region. Researcher Faye “Mary” Fulford Moore descends from this line. This family was introduced in 1937 when the Lost Colony play opened as the living descendants of the colonists. Unfortunately, Mary has no living Berry people to test. However, her father used to go to Hyde County when she was young and visit the Berry family there whom he claimed to be related to. One of them was a mortician. Mary’s father also duck hunted with a Mr. Stotesbury whom he also referred to as “cousin.”

Sharron Brace’s father was a Berry, also from Hyde County and this line has DNA tested.

In the Berry DNA project, this is known as the Spartanburg line and it does not match the English Colony Berry Family line to which the Lumbee Berrys are assigned.

Sharron tracked down the line of the mortician’s family and she cannot prove that this line descends from or is related to her line using documentation alone. We need someone to DNA test that we can prove is genealogically connected to the same line as the mortician, whom Mary’s father said they were related to.

Here is what Sharron found about the mortician’s genealogy:

“The funeral director in Swan Quarter in 1944 was Dan Berry. In the 1930 census I found Daniel Berry, age 44, living on Main Street in Swan Quarter with his wife Noi. At that time he was a general store merchant. He died in September 2, 1959. His father was listed in the death record as James Edward Berry Sr. and his mother was Evelyn Benjamin Williamson. According to Jim Berry’s website, James Edward Berry Sr. is the son of John Berry Jr. and Sally Stotesbury.  John Jr. is the son of John Berry Sr. and Rebecca Benson.  John Berry Sr. born in 1778 is the son of William Berry and Sarah Green.”

The John Berry born in 1778 may or may not be the brother of Sharon Brace’s ancestor, William Berry born in 1786-88 so we still don’t know if the two Berry lines were related.

So, we need a Berry male to take the DNA test who descends from John Berry born in 1778 through any of his son’s lines. I expect this line will match Sharron’s line, but it may not.

If Henry Berry and Richard Berry, the colonists, were indeed brothers or from the same paternal line (like uncle/nephew, etc.) their DNA will match each other, and their descendants DNA will match each other as well.

Sharron’s Hyde County line does not match that of the Henry Berry Lumbee line. The John Berry 1778 Hyde County line could match Sharron’s line, or could match Henry Berry’s line, or could be a completely different line.

What we need is someone to test from the John 1778 line. Because we know that Faye “Mary” Fulford Moore’s Berry family claimed to be related to this Berry line, the person who tests from the Swan Quarter John Berry (1778) line is representing the Richard Berry “potential colonist” line.

Solving this mystery is quite within reach if we can just find and test the right people.  Here’s hoping that the key lies with one of you!



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