Research indicates that my great-grandfather (above) is a descendant of coastal Algonquian peoples in eastern North Carolina.
By Sara Whitford
“Moreover, several Customs are found in some Families, which others keep not; as for Example, two Families of the Machapunga Indians, use the Jewish Custom of Circumcision, and the rest do not; neither did I ever know any others amongst the Indians, that practis’d any such thing; and perhaps, if you ask them, what is the Reason they do so, they will make you no Manner of Answer; which is as much as to say, I will not tell you.” — John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (1709)
Who were the first people of coastal Carolina? What are their origins? What would genetic studies reveal about them?
As a Group Administrator for the EastCarolinaRoots project at FamilyTreeDNA, I have been seeing some surprising trends in those who’ve tested in that group.
Individuals with known Indian ancestry on multiple lines who’ve taken the FamilyFinder autosomal DNA test are not turning up with “Native American” ethnicity in their Population Finder results, but rather Middle Eastern ancestry.
Individuals with known, or suspected Indian ancestry are showing significant percentages of Middle Eastern ethnicity, in spite of having no ancestors from the Middle East in at least the last 300 years of documented family history, and with no real probability of having any within the genealogical timeframe.
This has certainly come as a surprise. We’re also seeing that even individuals whose maternal or paternal haplogroups are identified as Native American are seeing similar Population Finder results.
Population Finder, which touts the ability to reveal someone’s deep ancestral origins from all of their ancestors in ethnic group percentages, is just one category of results that an individual receives upon taking FamilyTreeDNA’s FamilyFinder test.
The results that are coming back for members of the EastCarolinaRoots project with known Indian ancestry, however, are not showing “Native American” ethnicity in their Population Finder results, but rather varying percentages of Middle Eastern ancestry. Those with more known Indian family lines are turning up with even higher percentages of Middle Eastern ancestry, in some cases, up to as much as twenty percent.
As it turns out, these results might not be so surprising, after all. An article that appeared in National Geographic in November 2013 made this startling claim:
“Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.”
Are the Middle Eastern results in the descendants of coastal North Carolina families actually reflective of the ancient origins of the First People of the region?
The article goes on to explain that an ancient arm bone was found on the shores of Lake Baikal in south-central Siberia was tested and, “DNA from the remains revealed genes found today in western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe, as well as other aspects unique to Native Americans, but no evidence of any relation to modern East Asians.”
Is it possible that some of the ancient origins of east coast indigenous populations continued to the days of John Lawson? Why would some Machapunga families circumcise their boys? That hardly seems the sort of habit that a group of men would just willingly take up on their own unless they attached some great significance to the act.
Hopefully, geneticists will take a closer look at the populations of families who have remained in eastern North Carolina since the colonial era and using available historical and genealogical data, perhaps some greater insight can be gained as to the ancient origins of the First People of the region.
[UPDATE - An article at dna-explained.com offers a detailed look at the study referenced in the National Geographic article mentioned above, and challenges many of the assertions that have been drawn by some in erroneously attributing certain haplogroups, specifically Y-DNA U and R, to indigenous populations.]