Ancestry: Taking the First Step

For more than six decades I have been content with the idea that my ancestral home is located in Clarke County, Alabama. Though I was born in Thomasville (in my Aunt Ida’s house), I tend to claim my father’s homeplace as my own. While people who grew up there say that they are from Whatley, I only claim Indian Ridge.


Both of my parents and all four of my grandparents were born in Clarke County. It was also easy to identify six of my great grandparents as having been born in the same county. I am confident that my final set of great grandparents were also born there, however I do not have sufficient evidence to consider it an established fact. Nevertheless, I often declare that I am in, one way or another, related to the entire African American population of Clarke County.


Much of what I know about my familial connections to people outside of the immediate families of my mother and father is the result of childhood memories. Last year a Facebook friend asked how I was related to her family. I had to admit that I did not have the slightest clue. I just remember that when I was near her grandparents, one of my father’s sisters would send me to speak to them with the admonishment that they too were my people.


I am also in contact with several people who have taken on the role of family historian for at least one of these lines. These people visit cemeteries, courthouses, as well as state and local libraries. From one of these people I learned that one connection between myself and my Facebook friend is most likely one of my second great grandmothers.


Recently I was contacted by a person to whom I am related on my father’s line. She is the great granddaughter of one of my father’s brothers. She has studied the paper documents that trace our paternal ancestors through Maryland and Virginia and into Alabama. She uses for her genealogical research and her DNA has been analyzed through their service. She convinced me to submit my DNA to the same service.

Lineage Testing

I did this wondering what these tests could tell two women about their paternal ancestry. Because we both have two X chromosomes, “lineage” testing will be done using our mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial testing will trace our mother, maternal grandmother, maternal great grandmother, and so on. I am interested in this result. I know who these women were back to that second great grandmother and it will only take a few minutes to find out somethings about her mother. The only living person who might have a strong interest in my lineage testing using my mitochondrial DNA is the sister with whom I share a mother.


The best advice that I can give to a woman who wants to learn about her paternal lineage is to test her father’s DNA. It might also be informative to test his son. I have missed the opportunity to test my father because he died in April of 2014. My father had no son for me to test.
I could also learn a great deal about my paternal lineage from a cousin who is the son of my father’s brother. There are several of them around. Perhaps their children could persuade them to submit DNA for analysis as a gift to future generations.


Admixture Testing

In addition to lineage testing, also does “admixture testing.” This type of testing will use the 22 nonsex chromosomes in each cell of my body. Since one of these chromosomes came from my mother and one from my father they contain recombined DNA segments from all of my ancestors. This test will compare my DNA with specific sequences of DNA that are more prevalent in people from one area of the world than from another area.


This admixture testing can determine to which of the major bio-geographical population groups my ancestors belonged: sub-Saharan African, European, East Asian, or Native American. The test results are given as a percentage breakdown.The current test breaks admixture results down into smaller geographical areas. I don’t expect to get just percentage African and percentage European. I expect to get the region of Africa and perhaps the country in the British Isles.


As a sociologist, I am conditioned to predict results (to call my shots). Even though my father’s homeplace and the one that I claim as my own, is called Indian Ridge, I have hypothesized that my paternal relatives have no significant Native American ancestry. This hypothesis is based on my understanding of US history. This hypothesis has been discussed in an earlier blog.
Indian Ridge is located on Old Line Road. This road separated the land of the Choctaw from the land of the Creek. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and its consequences meant that relatively few Native Americans remained in the area when my ancestors arrived. It is also important to remember that both the Choctaw and the Creek were among the Native American groups that enslaved Africans. It is quite likely that like the Cherokee, they took their enslaved Africans with them on their Trail of Tears.


Therefore, I continue to hypothesize, based on the history of the region, that I have little Native American ancestry. Though my 5 foot maternal grandmother is more likely than my 6 foot paternal grandmother to have some Choctaw ancestry, I will consider anything below 5% as not significant, as a likely error in the analysis.


Of course, the more I study the more I realize how wrong my hypothesis could be. I tend to forget about the earlier arrival of the Spanish in the area.  Then I remember the aunts with the names that were clearly influenced by their presence in the region. Names such as Una Belle and Dulce Belle remind me that the Spanish were there before people from the Isles.

I have also learned that the Choctaw opened up land for European settlement as early as 1805 and that Clarke County was founded in 1811 . This means that there was a longer overlap in the presence of the indigenous groups and the Africans who accompanied the various groups of Europeans.,_Alabama
I don’t know very much about my maternal grandfather’s family history. I have been informed by a relative on that line that his grandfather or great grandfather entered the territory by way of Jamaica. However, this relative has not been willing to share the evidence with me and I have no contact with anyone on that line.


I have always suspected that my maternal grandfather and his relatives shared an admixture profile that was slightly different from that of my other grandparents. However, he too was born before government agencies recorded births. His parents died when he was a child and his only sibling, a sister, was childless. For now, his history is a dead end for me and given the randomness of which genes I have inherited from each of my parents, I don’t expect to be enlightened by the results of these tests.
I expect my admixture results to indicate that I am a generic mix of of people from West Africa and people from the British Isles.
I have also submitted my DNA to National Geographic for the Geno 2.0 Next Generation test. This will allow me to compare the results of two tests and to explore differences in methodologies and goals.
Will I pursue my African ancestry? That is a question to be addressed in the future.



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