Can genetic genealogy and DNA tell us the history of Colonial America?
I have to give credit where credit is due. Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign slogan, Stronger Together, crystallized and galvanized the focus of a genetic genealogy project that has been brewing for the past few years. The central theme of the project focuses on how millions of Americans – regardless of melanin, religion, culture, or ethnicity – are related to one another. Even if you only have one ancestral colonial line, that could be enough to connect you to thousands of fellow countrymen and women.
It’s not necessarily a project based on changing hearts and minds. It is designed to make Americans think, and learn about the earliest period of the American colonies.
Over a decade of research has resulted in a rather large and extensive family tree. It’s a tree that enables me to apply all of my Big Data marketing analytics experience in order to identify and understand patterns and trends. It’s like applying the basics of ‘big data’ to genealogy. So what is ‘big data’? Boiled right down, it’s a collection of data from traditional and digital sources, usually for a company, which represents a resource for streams of discovery and analysis. Companies collect data about their customers in order for forecasting / trending, and issue-related purposes. Put another way, large data sets can be analyzed in order to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.
I started applying the same methodology to my genealogy about a year ago. It’s been a truly revelatory experience.
So what associations and patterns have my rather large family tree revealed?
Roughly 63% of my ancestral American African-descended, European, and Native American lines converge in the Northern Neck and Tidewater regions of Virginia.
It’s not surprising. Northern Neck and the Tidewater regions are among the oldest parts of the Virginia colony. My African, European, and Indigenous lines converge there as early as 1619 with the arrival of Africans along the James River corridor of Virginia.
Another 48% of my American ancestral DNA converges in the Quaker stronghold of southern Pennsylvania: notably Chester, Berks, Delaware, and Lancaster Counties in southeast Maryland.
This 48% is roughly split evenly between three groups. Two-thirds of these groups were European. The first third were Quakers from Scotland, Wales, and England. The second is a mix of non-Quaker Scottish, Irish, and German ancestors. The final third of my early colonial period kin were Native American, African, and Jewish peoples. DNA tests strongly suggest that relationships between these three colonial groups of people happened at a higher rate of frequency than even I could have imagined.
The final 4% of my DNA in early colonial America can be found within the Puritans of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
Not unsurprisingly, as colonists moved from north to south, as well as westwards, they carried their DNA, connecting millions of Americans to one another. While I know that not all who carried their DNA into other parts of the US will have mixed DNA, I’d wager that a statistically significant number of these family lines carried an ethnically mixed ancestry. It’s something that I’m seeing in countless DNA results of my DNA matches. As I’ve already covered in 1667: The Year America was Divided by Race, colonial Americans who were not part of the governing elite didn’t attach importance to melanin levels. They worked, ate, and caroused together. They also married and/or produced children together. Millions like me will be the children of those unions.
Let me not forget the Spanish and the African descended people who were in America along the southern part of the East Coast long before the arrival of the British. Exploring and occupying territory from Florida to Tennessee, they probably made a genetic contribution to the colonial DNA pool (see Exploring North Carolina (the Spanish), The North Carolina History Project via http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/exploration-in-north-carolina-spanish). This came as a bit of a revelation. I had no idea the Spanish had made it as far north as Tennessee in their exploration of the continent.
So this sees me preparing to do some fundraising. An initial US$ 500K to get the ball rolling with an eye towards US$ 3M overall. A small army of professional genealogists, genetic genealogists, researchers, anthropologists, historians, two American research universities, a technology university, and the British National Archives doesn’t come cheap. Nor does an estimated 10,000 DNA testing kits.
Why so many DNA kits? Quite a number of colonial records have been lost through uprisings (e.g. Bacon’s Rebellion), war (i.e. the American Revolution and the American Civil War), fire, etc. DNA testing and triangulating DNA results is one route to restoring lost and forgotten colonial family branches to an American family tree. Testing more than one person per line will be an important step. It covers what I refer to as ‘non-paternity events’; in other words, the off-chance that somewhere along a familial line a man who is believed to be an ancestor’s father turns out not to be. Hey, it happens. We’re just being realistic.
It’s also why we’re including the British National Archives. It has an impressive archive of American colonial-era documents: everything from land grants, to tax rolls, to probate, and court records.
Of course, my inner academic is already thinking about educational outreach, and learning materials, for middle and senior schools as well as universities.
That’s the backdrop to Stronger Together – The Story of U.S. I’m psyched to have the opportunity to share it with you.
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Whether you’re new to genealogy, don’t have the time to pursue your own research, or have a stubborn brick wall you just can’t break through: you can hire one of our experienced research team who will happily work with you to achieve your genealogy research goals. As the first Black-owned genealogy research company, our African American genealogists excel at African American genealogy! As African Americans with caucasian ancestors – our genealogists are just as experienced in researching European-descended American ancestry.
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