Ancestry DNA Results and My Mystery Grandmother


Fascinating. To me, anyway…

I just got the results back on my Ancestry DNA test.* I suppose mine are like everybody’s: they confirmed a lot of what I already knew and also threw a couple little curves at me.

A slight preface: My family has always been working folks and while official records exist, our oral history was longer on supposition than documentation. There are things we know, but a lot more we don’t.

What I Knew

A huge majority of my DNA traces to the British Isles. The population where I grew up is heavily Scotch/Irish and my family name traces to Scotland in the early 1700s at least. Other surnames, as well, are distinctly British and Irish (Marshall and Dillon, for instance, and Milraney). There’s a good bit more English and Welsh than I expected, although my grandmother (paternal) said she was part Welsh. And so on.

If you look at the map of where my relations – near and distant – live, it’s not too different from a map of Scotch/Irish immigration. Lots of Red country. Too much Ozark to suit me.

What I Didn’t Know

  • I’m 3% French. Kinda embarrassed about that.
  • Not much German at all. We had suspected we had a good bit of German and at one point there was even speculation that the Smith might be an Anglicized Schmidt. Apparently not.
  • I’m a wee bit Norwegian. No family insight at all into that one.
  • I expected some Central European. My great-grandfather was a member of one of the Moravian churches in the area. They’re a small denomination and they never seemed to recruit a lot, so my assumption is that many members are there through family tradition. The Moravians came from Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. But the test says no.
  • Most interestingly, I was always told we had a Native American grandmother a few generations up the family tree. Specifics were fuzzy, but there are some dominant physical traits running down the paternal side of the family that my relatives interpreted as Native-ish, and this was taken as evidence. But no – the test found not a drop of Amerind blood in me.

What it did find was a small trace of “Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu Peoples” – folks originating somewhere in the Southern half of Africa.

Given the small amount of said DNA, coupled with the absence of a perhaps similar amount of Native American, I find myself wondering about that mystery grandmother, who probably lived in 18th/early 19th century. Did she pose as Native for social reasons? Was she an escaped slave? Was the family in on the secret? Did they pass down the story that she was American Indian for safety reasons or, us being Southern and all, was it a scandal?

Or perhaps my Native grandmother never existed? Who knows where stories come from after a couple hundred years. Maybe she’s a myth and that little bit of African DNA comes from somewhere else entirely.

I can speculate all night here and probably will. I don’t imagine there’s anything remotely unusual about my family history, but I’m fascinated by these questions for the same reasons everybody else is. I want to know everything there is to know about where I came from, even though it makes not a lick of difference.


* Yeah, I know. DNA companies work with the Security State. I made this decision informed of all that. If they use it to lock me up they can pay my rent and medical bills for whatever time I have left.


  • I’ve been on for a number of years. But I’ve never done the DNA test. Some people have said it’s useful for solving certain mysteries.

  • Marshal and Dillon? Really? Were they from Dodge City?

    I’ve not taken one of these, but I bet it would be interesting. I’ve done a lot of genealogy and I’m mostly English with some Irish, Scottish, German, and Swiss.

    I’ve got stories about some Native American blood, but I haven’t found any. It would be interesting if you did some digging and found out about your grandmother. Marriage records, death records, census, etc. can be very useful.

    • A friend who knows a lot about genealogy says the “Indian ancestor” thing is common in many families. It’s apparently a kind of authentic American badge of honor trope. The digging we’ve done on that side of the family finds a direct line Scottish ancestor in the early 1700s but no Native Americans at all.

      • It is a trope. But it is also a historical fact that there was a lot of mixing in the colonial and frontier eras.

        Part of my family comes from the Upper South, especially Kentucky. There is a particular appearance that is common with high cheekbones that probably comes from the large number of Cherokee in the region.

        If you have family that has been here since the 1600s and 1700s, there is a reasonable possibility of native ancestry. It’s similar to being a whites with black ancestry, especially in the South:

        “Around a third (30%) of white Americans has the equivalent of three African ancestors in recent centuries (2.3% African genetics).”

      • The Indian ancestor seemed plausible enough. The test says not in my case, though. And really, I’m almost surprised there isn’t a little more African in my background. Do tests vary between different companies? As in, might 23 and Me find something else?

      • That is a good question. I did the National Geographic DNA test. But it only gives you broad info. I’ve been wanting to do the test. I don’t know what different details are given by each test.

        I traced my own family tree back to a possible African ancestor. This isn’t confirmed, though. It wouldn’t be surprising. Much of my family was in the South since the colonial era, with one line already in Virginia by 1650.

        The other side of my family was on the frontier early on as well. Many of them were Indian fighters. There was plenty of mixing going on among the poor whites in the backwoods.

        All that I know is that I’m 100% pure American mutt.

      • If you ain’t a mutt or pure Native you ain’t American.

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