The people's voice of reason

23andMe – WHAT THE??

We have all seen those genetic testing commercials on television. Ancestry DNA, 23andMe to name just two. I have several friends who are way, way, way into genealogy and tracing their family roots back to caveman days but as for me, I never had the desire or energy to find all of my family tree. But something strange happened back in January 2002. That is when my mother died.

After her death, my family all converged up in the East Tennessee town of Morristown where she lived. My wife, my brother and I got there before any other family members and we went to work sorting through her possessions as surviving family members have done for thousands of years. Nothing too strange occurred until the morning of her funeral when truck and car loads of black hillbillies started showing up. Nicest people on the planet but a far cry from my city-self. My mom was initially raised in a place called Puncheon Camp, Tennessee. It was a town, in a very loose sense of the word, deep in the woods on a place called Clinch Mountain. Puncheon Camp no longer exists and when she had my wife and I take her “home” a couple of years before she died, she showed us what was left of the cabin she lived in. She was a real, no kidding, gotta walk 1 mile every day to get water kinda girl growing up.

Well at her funeral, my hillbilly relatives from a neighboring metropolis of Thorn Hill, Tennessee started telling us of my heritage; stuff I never knew before. Likewise, things my mother either did not want to talk about or did not know herself. They told my brother, sister and me that we were Melungeons. What?? What the heck was a Melungeon? Well, apparently, back in the 1700s-1800s, in the southeast regions of the US, you had a lot of the local blacks mating with traders and visitors from Europe, Turkey, Greece and other parts unknown. As a result, you have many blacks that are lighter skin colored with blue, green or hazel eyes. Well, that’s me. I did some other research and yeah, I have a couple other pretty noticeable, physical Melungeon characteristics.

So over the past several years, I did become a little more interested in “what the heck I am.” When people first meet me, it is obvious that it is my really green eyes that stand out. Sometimes they are actually blue and at other times they are gray in color. Weird. Yeah but as a younger guy dating girls, they did come in handy. About two years ago I wrote about a gate agent in Jackson, Mississippi looking at me and asking, “What are you.” My answer was simply, “A black guy from New Jersey.” Not so fast, sports fans.

About two months ago I got curious enough to send away for the DNA testing kit from 23andMe and just got my results two weeks ago. When they came in I quickly read them. After I woke up on the floor about two hours later, I shared them with my wife. She kind of laughed at me. When talking with my family when I grew up, I always knew I was at least part Irish, Scottish and Cherokee Indian. Of course there was African in there but Lord knows what else, especially after learning of my Melungeon background. I also knew that I was related to a quite famous, but white country singer from the 1950s-70s. Since I knew I had the green eyes, and my mom’s dad had piercing blue eyes, I knew I had to have white on both sides of my family because of the whole pesky, recessive gene thing. But still, I was surprised at what 23andMe came up with.

First of all, I did pay for the full analysis which cost me $199. Worth it? Yes. Their analysis hit right on in statistically nailing my eye color, height, weight, detached ear lobes, tolerance to milk products and many other factors. They also look to see if you are a carrier for 41 different diseases or syndromes which I was not. They also look at your Neanderthal linkages which I am in the lower 3% of all those people tested. So the next time someone calls me a Neanderthal I have the data to prove they are wrong. But I thought it would be interesting to share some of the findings with you guys. Here goes.

1) I am 51.9% European. What? 39.3% Northwestern European, (19.2 Irish/British; 1% Scandinavian; 19.1% Broadly Northwestern European) Does that account for my fascination with the German Luftwaffe and all things German? Okay, probably not.

2) 45.1% Sub-Saharan African. (40.6% West African; 1,4% Central and South African; 3.1% Broadly Sub-Saharan African).

3) 2.3% East Asian and Native American. But what about all the Cherokee I heard so much about?

4) .7% other stuff. (Middle Eastern, North African and unassigned.) I believe the unassigned is my alien DNA from the planet Argonia where my dad used to tell us he was from.

Well that’s it. That’s me. If someone asks me if it was worth it I would say, “Yes, no doubt.” For me, it was interesting to know for sure certain things about my lineage. Hey when you are a black guy walking around with these eyes, everybody knows something is amiss. No secrets there. For those out there who may be offended by what they might find out (and yes there are some who will) tread lightly and be careful what you ask for. For example, several years ago, I saw a Klansman on some Jerry Springer type show find out he was something like 45% black. He almost died on stage. As for me, I embrace all of what was found because this is how God made me and I am who I am as a result of all the genetic splicing in my past. I for one would not trade it for anything.


Reader Comments(1)

mgreen55 writes:

Hello, I really enjoyed reading your story. It turns out I am also descended from Melungeons. My African, Native American, Anatolian, Jewish and Portuguese percentages were low, but still there. When I met my distant cousin, Dr. Brent Kennedy, at a Melungeon Conference in 2004, he remarked to a Melungeon lady that I was talking to that every Melungeon mother wished their child had a face like mine. It was because they knew their children would face discrimination.

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