Hooray! Rooting for roots, DNA points to far-flung branches of my family tree
Posted by Holly Edgell on May 27, 2012
Three things so absorb me that hours can go by before I look up and realize I am still in my pajamas. Reading and writing are two; genealogy research is the third.
Over about the past ten years I have periodically immersed myself in family tree exploration, finding resources and distant relatives online. And, now there’s DNA! More on that in a moment.
Who made me?
As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I am the proud daughter of a mixed race couple: my mother is a black woman from Belize and my father is white American.
The Edgell branch of my heritage has been very well researched. There is a an amazing Edgell family tree online; it dates back to one Benjamin Edgell, who died in Maryland in 1758. His wife’s name was Mary (maiden name unknown), and they had seven children. It is believed that Benjamin may have been born in Wincanton in Somerset, England.
There is an Edgell Genealogy Facebook group, which has proven a great hub for connecting with cousins as far away as Australia. My theory is that the Edgells were strivers, ne’er do wells, paupers, or downright criminals who shipped out of the Somerset area (where Edgells still abound). The lawbreakers headed down under as punishment, while the poor and ambitious signed on as indentured servants in America. Again, just a theory.
Read more: Edgell is a household word in Australia. One can find Edgell brand legumes, corn, beetroot and “loads more vegetables” in grocery stores.
My paternal grandmother’s side of the family hails from Bohemia, in today’s Czech Republic. Emma Blahnik Edgell’s ancestors settled in Wisconsin in the mid-1800s. Eventually, her parents made their way to Menominee, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Blahniks also have done a great deal of family tree work, with a website as well as a Facebook group and page (hoping these will be combined).
Read more: Could I be related to Manolo Blahnik, that purveyor of amazing footwear? His father was Czech!
On my mother’s side of the family, most of what I’ve learned about my forebears has been passed down through oral history, and in one case, noted in a family Bible. Belize is a small country with a small population, where it is assumed that many people are related. It is not unusual to run into people in Belize who tell you, “we are cousins,” and then spend some time talking about the connective branches of various family trees.
It’s been a mixed race nation from the outset; Africans, Europeans (Scots, Englishmen, Irishmen and Spaniards), Maya, Garifuna, East Indian, Chinese, Arabs–you name it!
My grandmother, Veronica Walker Tucker, was born in Honduras and grew up in Belize. Family lore has it that her mother was very dark-skinned, while her father (they never married) looked European (bakra, in Belize Creole) and whose sisters emigrated and may have “passed for white” in the United States. My grandfather, Clive Alexander Tucker, had a dark-skinned father named Walter; Clive’s mother Inez Lamb Webster (she didn’t marry Walter) was “clear-skinned,” owing to her white mother.
Recently, a friend of mine named Richard Harrison began a fascinating Facebook thread that shows my mother’s grandmother Inez was related to a whole host of Harrisons, Waights, Ysaguirres and many more Belizeans!
Enter genetic testing
Around the same time I started watching the excellent Finding Your Roots on PBS, I heard from a young man named Akeem Genus, a Belizean living in New York. He contacted me through Facebook to say he’s engaged in a Belizean genealogy project, using the website 23andme.com to find connections.
I had my DNA tested. Here are the results:
Behind the numbers
I was not particularly surprised by the breakdown on my genes. My father is most likely 100 percent white; my mother has black and white ancestors. The Asian factor is a bit of a mystery, and one I hope to unravel!
With the help of Akeem Genus and a University of Illinois professor he referred me to, I’ve learned more about the numbers. 23andme.com provides the raw data that my DNA sample yielded; experts can parse this data.
What I learned from Akeem and Dr. Douglas McDonald is that I am comprised of:1.99% Amerindian — This was not apparent in the overall 23andme.com snapshot (above), but discovered through the raw data.30.67% African — Mandenka (West Africa)50.06% Atlantic_Baltic — Low Countries, Great Britain0.24% Australasian1.12% Siberian — including Chuvash9.14% Southern — Mediterranean and Arabian mixed cluster0.62% South_Asian