Mom's DNA test reveals previously unknown genetic connection to Northeast Tennessee

Jeff Bobo • Oct 20, 2018 at 7:00 PM

Someone famous once said life is like a box of chocolates, but if you ask my mom, DNA is more like a bowl of M&Ms.

I’ll explain more about the M&Ms a little later.

I’m tempted to order one of those DNA test kits from Ancestry.com just to compare it with the revelations my mom received in her DNA results earlier this year.

But frankly I’m still a little bit paranoid about what they’ll do with my DNA once the tests are completed.

We’ve all heard the conspiracy theories about why they are collecting our DNA.

Best case scenario: They’ll use my DNA to clone a genetically superior race of super human genius warriors.

Worst case scenario: Our DNA is being collected by mega-billionaires to look for perfect genetic matches so they can send teams out to kidnap us and harvest our organs when they need a transplant.

If I was a mega-billionaire in need of an organ transplant, that’s probably what I’d do.

Eventually I’ll probably break down and have my DNA tested and take my chances with the snatch teams. For now, however, I’m having fun analyzing my mom’s results.

Mom and dad’s ancestry is surprisingly similar

I’ve written extensively about my dad’s genealogy, which we traced back to St. Savaunt, France. His family were French Huguenots who fled religious persecution, landing in King William County, Va., in 1700.

According to family lore, my mom’s genealogy story is surprisingly similar. Her maiden name is Miniard, which is French, and her ancestors were supposedly French Huguenots who fled religious persecution in France in the late 1600s to England, and then joined up with an English family called Turner.

The Miniards and the Turners arrived in Isle of Wight County, Va., around 1700 and stuck together for 300 years.

 Around 1800, they ended up in Kentucky together in a place called Greasy Creek, which begins on the north side of Pine Mountain in Harlan County and empties into the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River near Hyden in Leslie County.

To this day, Miniards and Turners live together on Greasy Creek. In fact, my grandfather was a Miniard, and my grandmother was a Turner.

And his brother married her sister. As a result, my mom has two double first cousins, which you would think is just about as close as you can be to another person genetically.

A double first cousin’s DNA results

This is interesting because one of my mom’s double first cousins had an Ancestry.com DNA test done which showed her to be 85 percent French, 9 percent English. There were small traces of Scottish, Native American and the combination of Southern European and North African commonly associated with the Melungeons.

But this cousin has very dark skin and black hair. There are three physically distinct types of people on my mom’s side of the family, and each of those three types can be found among her and her siblings. Her brother is very dark skinned with black hair and probably has more of the French, Native American and Melungeon DNA traits.

When he was a young man working in Arizona, a police officer thought he was an illegal alien asked him for his papers. When he answered back with his Kentucky accent, “Papers? What do you want to see my papers for?” the officer said, “Oh. Never mind.”

Then there is Mom’s sister, who has red hair and freckles and very fair skin, and probably takes more after the Napiers, which are our Scottish ancestors.

My mom is somewhere in the middle. Brown hair. Fair skin. Just an average looking European person.

I’d love to see my aunt and uncle’s DNA study, but they’re like me. Conspiracy theorists. The organ stealing snatch teams are out there.

It’s really hard to believe those three people have the same parents, but that’s the thing about the M&Ms, as my mom describes it.

How my mom explains DNA

Your mom and your dad pour all their M&Ms into a big bowl. All the different colors that make up their DNA. When you’re born, you get a big scoop of M&Ms from both parents. But you’re not going to get the exact same number of reds, blues, browns and greens that your parents have, or your double first cousins, or even your brothers and sisters.

Sometimes it can be almost all browns (uncle), and sometimes it can be almost all reds (aunt).

Mom’s results revealed her genetic makeup to be 85 percent Great Britain; 9 percent Ireland/Scotland/Wales; 2 percent Native American; and a small fraction of the Melungeon traits.

Everybody gets different M&Ms

“I was most surprised that I wasn’t more Scottish because of my Great-great grandfather (Israel) Napier,” Mom said. “But I’m only 9 percent Scottish, and I thought it would be mostly Scottish. And hardly any French. Less than 1 percent of Western European (French), and my double first cousin was 85 percent French. That was surprising also.”

Israel Napier (1845-1915) was married to a woman named Joannah, mom’s great-great-grandmother. If she wasn’t full-blooded Native American, she was close.

“I thought because of him I’d have more Scottish DNA, and I thought because of her (Joannah) I’d have more Native American DNA,” Mom said. “But I suspect if my brother did it, he’d have more French and Native American, and if my sister did it she’d have more Scottish, just because of the way they look.”

My Northeast Tennessee genetic connection

When you receive your DNA results, you also get information about when and where your ancestors migrated. I was pleasantly surprised to learn Mom’s people settled not only in Eastern Kentucky, but Northeast Tennessee as well.

It’s kind of a weird coincidence that I ended up here. I was born in Northern Illinois and never even heard of Northeast Tennessee until I was 27 years old and moved to Harlan, Ky., to be near my fishing cabin on Greasy Creek and work for a newspaper.

I drove through Kingsport for the first time in 1997 on my way to the Bristol races, bought a newspaper here, decided I liked the paper and this area and moved here a year later.

Now I find out, according to Ancestry.com, I have a genetic DNA connection to Northeast Tennessee. 

We might even be cousins. It would appear that my M&Ms have finally come full circle.

Jeff Bobo covers Hawkins County for the Times News. Contact him at [email protected]

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