Moore Thoughts

By
Updated: April 27, 2018

Faded Genes

By John Moore

I’m pretty sure that every Southern family I’ve ever known claims that they’re part Native American.

My family is Southern and is no different. I heard stories from both my mom and dad’s sides of the family of how much Native American we had in us. I was told who in our family’s past was Native American, who they had married, and when and where they had lived.

I even knew a couple of them. Most of my family had married young (some of the women as young as 13), and I was the oldest grandchild, so many of my great grandparents were still alive when I was born and they lived until my teens.

My dad’s mom’s mom (stay with me), my great grandmother, Granny Callicott, was part Cherokee. She had all of those striking Native American features and skin tone. This made my dad’s mom, my grandmother, part Native American, but obviously, less than her mother.

This wasn’t just something someone made up. I remember my grandfather referring to my grandmother as his “Squaw.” I’m sure that term is quite politically incorrect today, but he meant it affectionately, not in a derogatory way. Even so, if he were alive now, he wouldn’t have cottoned much to political correctness. But, I digress.

My mom’s side of the family also had a number of members who were part Native American.

So, why am I telling you all of this? I got an ancestry DNA test for Christmas and the results just came back.

When I received the email, I clicked on “DNA Profile,” logged in, and went straight to the breakout of ethnicity to see how much Native American I am. I was quite surprised to see – Nothing.

It wasn’t even a zero. Native American wasn’t even listed.

Huh?

Columnist John Moore’s great grandmother (right) was part Native American. This photo of Oscar and Viola Callicott, John’s great grandparents, was taken circa 1955.

It said that I’m 69% British. The next 15% of me is from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. And the rest is from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein.

I couldn’t even find a couple of those places on a map and had to double check the spelling on about half of them. I may not know where those places are, but I know where Oklahoma is. I know where the former Indian Territory is located. And I know that some of my family is from there.

So, how is it that I know, or thought I knew, that I’m part Native American, yet, my DNA test doesn’t even list it?

A quick online inquiry revealed that I’m not the only one who ‘knows’ that they’re part Cherokee or other Native American tribe, but their results also showed no genetic connection.

Here’s what I found.

First, many of the family claims of Native American heritage turn out to be just that. Claims. That’s not to say that people were making it up. There’s a simple explanation for how family stories get started. The claim of Native American ancestry was made, and the story stuck. Over time, each generation added to the story, and the story grew.

It’s like that game we used to play in Sunday School where the teacher puts the kids in a circle, and then the teacher whispers something in the first kid’s ear and has everyone whisper it in the next person’s ear until the last kid says the message out loud.

After going through several people, the message sent isn’t anything like the message delivered.

Again, it’s likely that no one was intentionally making anything up, but over the last several decades, oral tradition was how the information was shared. There were no DNA tests to back up the claims, so over time, the magnitude of the story grew.

Who doesn’t want to be able to say they’re part Native American? It’s just very cool.

But in my family’s case, we know that at least one family member was part Native American. She said so, and she would have known. So, why wasn’t it listed in my DNA test results?

According to a video on YouTube from the company that makes the test I used, there are a few possible answers to the question, “Where is my Native American ancestry?”

None of my ancestors were Native American.

It’s too far back to show up in the results.

I didn’t inherent that particular DNA from the ancestor who was Native American.

Now, I know that I’m wading into an area about which I know almost nothing, so I’ll stick to what the lady in the Ancestry video on YouTube said.

The DNA that shows up in your report is only the DNA you inherited.

I thought that each of us got all of the DNA from everyone who came before us, but that’s not how it works.

Each of us gets 50% of our DNA from our mom and 50% from our dad. They each received the same percentage from their parents, and their parents received the same from theirs, and so on.

Here’s where it gets confusing. Even though we each get 50% from our dad and our mom, that doesn’t mean that the 50% is an even split of all of their DNA. The half that we get from our mom and half we get from our dad is genetically random.

Consequently, if you have siblings, their DNA test results can be different than your own. Their test might show Native American, and yours might not.

The chart the lady used in the ancestry.com video called, “Why Is My Native American Ancestry Not Showing Up?” was surprising.

According to her data, if you had a great-great-great-great grandparent who was 100% Native American, then your great-great-great grandparent was 50%. By the time it gets to you, your Native American DNA would only be 1.5625%.

That’s not much.

So, the most likely answer for why many of us think we are part Native American, but a DNA test doesn’t reflect that, is often for one of two reasons: Our family stories aren’t exactly correct, and/or the DNA we inherited doesn’t include it.

I feel as if I just finished doing Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine.

So, according to my DNA test, I’m not Native American at all. The people who did my test are certain that I’m mostly British.

I have to say that I’m a little disappointed. I wanted to be part Native American.

And, I question the accuracy of whether I’m 69% British. I don’t sound British at all.

John Moore is an Ashdown native and a 1980 graduate of Ashdown High School. He lives in Tyler, Texas, where he writes and owns a recording studio. John Moore’s new book, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now,” is available on amazon.com. You can reach him through his website, www.johnmoore.net.