Please note at the end of this blogpost I included a primer for those people who have DNA cousins of color. This blog is dedicated to all my Euro DNA cousins who have embraced me as a distant cousin and who are consistently working on finding our common ancestor. I consider all of you, and there are many, to be my distant cousins without hesitation.
There Sure Was Some Pepper Up in All That Salt: An Ode to Those Who Would Say Otherwise”
Oh DNA, the truth you revealed was received like a 75% off sale,
That which was hidden has been brought to light,
The darkness now gone with pure delight,
Oh DNA, the pepper you have exposed has led to salty souls,
That which is being denied has wounded someone’s white pride,
Our family will always proudly represent all our black, brown, red and white ancestors’ sides,
Oh DNA, the real history you discovered has led to a complicated situation,
That our family, from the start, was baked-up in a US mixed-race oven,
Our genes playing the historical dozens on all those who felt the need to racially govern,
Oh DNA, the overall message you represent will always be one of diversity and genetic unity,
That which is factually-based can never be destroyed,
By those who seem to be pumped up on family falsehoods and antagonistic racial steroids.
Oh DNA, the pepper in all that salt has been passed down to the present,
That which was inherited still remains,
A beautiful testament to all our ancestors in our veins.
DNA Doesn’t Lie: The Denial of the Pepper in Salted Histories
As a descendant of enslaved people and enslavers, I am always amazed at how my family history is often denied by some Euro DNA cousins or by descendants of my family’s slave owners despite DNA proof. Over the past 3-4 months, I’ve had a couple of individuals take issue with some of my blogposts that mentioned their ancestors or family surnames. The problems they have are rooted in the fact that I have shined a light into the dark closets of their own family histories. You know, the places where all the skeletons hang out and history is miraculously erased or revised.
DNA doesn’t lie. What I stated was and is the truth. My ancestors were related to the founding families of Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY because they were either Tappan Patent land grantees, via the Manuel and De Vries Afro-Dutch families along with the Van Dunk family, or enslaved people of other Tappan Patent land grantees. The historical documentation on the formation of the Tappan Patent backs my claims up and our Euro DNA cousins further testify to our genealogical ties to the founding families of this area. Those founding families were the Blauvelts, Ackerman/Ackerson/Emerson, Demarest, Banta, VanBuskirk, Haring, Hopper, Zabriskie, Wortendyke, Van Winkle, Bogardus/Bogart, and others. They also intermarried among each other repeatedly. For example, Bantas married Blauvelts, Demarests, Ackermans, DeGroots and others. There are published Banta and Blauvelt genealogies onAncestry.com that serious researchers can access that documents these marriages.
Recently, I was contacted by a woman who initially portrayed herself to be a distant cousin of my 4th great-grandmother of Malagasy descent, Tun Snyder. This person was not a descendant of Tun at all. In fact, she was a descendant of people who had two surnames, Demarest and Banta, which were among the surnames I mentioned in my blogpost as well as just now. I spoke to her on 2 occasions and then received the email below from her.
It became apparent that she was phishing for information on my genetic ties to people who have the same surnames to the people on her family tree. She was looking for “proof” that I shared the same exact ancestors as her. She told me that she tested at FTDNA and if I wasn’t on her FTDNA Family Finder list, or matched her on Gedmatch, that I needed to follow her instructions above. I never responded to this person’s email as her claims are ridiculous. I never slandered or defamed her ancestors as I don’t even know who they are. Just because two individuals share the same surnames, does not mean they are even related to each other or share DNA with each other. The fact that I do have DNA cousins who have ALL the above surnames on their trees that go back to the same ancestors indicates that we have a genetic tie to someone in their family probably as a result of a Blauvelt marrying into their families. I may not be a DNA match to the above Banta/Demarest descendant, but several people in my family, myself included, have DNA Demarest and Banta cousin matches. In addition, her claims about me and CeCe Moore are totally unwarranted and baseless. And, no, she doesn’t have the right or privilege to take away my First Amendment right to free speech especially when I am discussing my own family history. Not today nor tomorrow.
On Demanding “Proof” from Slave Owner Descendants and Historical Amnesia: An Inconvenient Truth
A Primer on How to Approach your DNA Cousins of Color
I came up with this primer because I think it is a topic that should be discussed. Many African-Americans have Euro DNA cousins which should come as a surprise to no one. There have been studies done that show African-Americans on average have 24% Euro DNA ( see http://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(14)00476-5 ). Southern white Americans have on average 1% African DNA. Once people accept the fact that slavery happened and DNA was shared between the enslaved and enslavers, we can have a real honest conversation, without judgement, about how we are related. African-Americans and other people of color, who have DNA tested, want to know what anyone else wants to know when they finally get their DNA cousin list. How are we related to these people? Given the nature of slavery, the separation of family members, the geographical dislocation of our ancestors, we are hungry for more info on our roots.
Here’s my advice:
1) Acknowledge that you DO have a genetic link with a person of color. DNA doesn’t lie. That link may be due primarily to slavery or it could be due to consensual interracial relationships, racial passing, white immigration not related to slavery, immigration of one Euro descendant to the US and their siblings/other relatives to other parts of the world like the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc. Keep an open mind as to all possibilities.
2) Don’t assume any guilt, or fear judgement, for actions that happened in the past. You are not responsible for the actions of your ancestors. That being said, don’t repeat the mistakes of the past by denying your DNA cousins in this day and age. While you can’t change the past, you can change the present. You are 100% responsible for educating yourself about all of your family history given the results of your DNA test and DNA cousin matches.
3) Don’t assume that your DNA cousins are looking for 40 acres and a mule, an inheritance, or any material gain from you. Your DNA cousins are looking for any info you can provide on your ancestors in relation to theirs. You may not be able to provide this info and that’s OK, too.
4) Share any info that you may have (e.g., names/surnames, family locations, names of slaves documented in family wills, cemetery locations, etc.). You never know what info may be valuable to someone. When you have nothing to go on, any info should be welcomed. Please be mindful that you may or may not share the same surnames. During slavery and after, African-Americans took on different surnames — either a slave owner surname or one of their own choosing. If you don’t match via a surname, then look for family records, like wills, that list slaves’ first names.
5) Don’t deny the other person’s family history. Don’t assume that because they provide you with new info on your family that what they are saying is a lie because it does not match up with what you’ve been told. Take seriously what has been relayed to you. Ask questions of your DNA cousins. Ask them where they got their info and then do your own research. You may just learn from a different perspective. It’s fine to be proud of your ancestors without denying historic reality. You may also find out more info on your family that expands your own view of your ancestors and the time period they occupied.
6) Take the time to learn about your local history so you can inform your DNA cousins about their potential ancestral geographic places of orgin(s). In addition, if you are related to an African-American from a different geographical location, remember that there was a Transatlantic Slave Trade as well as a domestic slave trade. Your ancestors may have lived in the Northeast, for example, but sold enslaved people South. If you share cMs with someone, you share a genetic tie. Don’t discount differences in geographical locations. You may have to dig deep into your family history.
7) If your family history included hearing “whispers” of your ancestors having Black children or other children of color, share that info with your DNA cousins as it just may be true. Not everything was recorded and oral history still counts as history. With DNA testing, that oral history may have been documented in someone’s genes.
8) Recognize that racial passing occurred whereby some African-Americans, especially Mulattos, passed as “White.” If you match an African-American or other people of color, it may be because one of your ancestors racially passed. Their descendants were later recorded as White and their racial/ethnic origins were forever disguised. Also, recognize that slavery was not a monolithic experience and varied over place and time. In the 1600s, in Virginia, for example, White female indentured servants did in fact marry enslaved and Free men. Their children took the status of their mother before the Black Codes came into being.
9) Recognize that you have an opportunity to celebrate your family’s diversity and that is a good thing. Consider that the results of your DNA test provide you with a chance to let go of the notion of racial purity. It’s highly overrated. The concept of race is a social construct and our DNA link to each other proves that.
10) At a time when our country is at odds with itself over issues of race, embrace the opportunity to be part of the solution to bring about racial healing. If everyone would stop and think about how DNA testing offers us the PROOF of how we are all inextricably linked to each other, then maybe we can start a new chapter in race relations.
For an example of how DNA cousins of different races can work together to their mutual benefit and joint family history , please see my last blogpost on Coming To the Table in Honor of Jack Husted. It can be done.
53 thoughts on “DNA Doesn’t Lie: The Denial of the Pepper in Salted Histories”
Excellent narrative proud of my cousin
Such an amazing post, Teresa. I’m a descendant of numerous slave-owning ancestors and am very open to finding DNA connected descendants of people who were slaves. I am saving this post to refer to as my research continues. I have some leads with a couple of people but finding the common ancestor is difficult and elusive. Many of my ancestors were from Northeastern NC where there were also stable, long-term free black communities. I have learned so much and look forward to learning more. Your insights and experiences are so helpful.
I embrace all of my cousins .. regardless of color, age, gender, gender identity, only usually don’t keep in close contact with the crazy ones!! Any SALT who has family in the US from the 1800s on .. particularly in the south, have to accept the reality that there is “pepper mixed with the salt'”
I love your advice at the end! Thank you. I recently was contacted by a 3rd cousin (of Cape Verde ancestry) who was unknown to me at the time. One of my great uncle’s sons had a relationship with my cousin’s grandmother. The cousin’s father had fretted all of these years about parentage. Regardless of our color differences I felt so fulfilled that I could finally give that family the facts. We communicate regularly and testing will be done on my cousin’s father and brother so that the genetic puzzle will have another piece to it. BTW, I think I followed your points that were applicable ☺️
Not only was this an excellent read for its content, but for persons that are new to genealogy and DNA testing it provided some guidelines on how to treat the DNA results. The discussion on how building trees and experiencing brick walls gave me something to thing about with the hundreds of cousins listed. It also provided me another perspective about how to research some of those cousins out there, So far, I haven’t reached out to many, but the ones I have so far have not been as in denial as the one mentioned in this blog. Most has stated that they were not sure of the connection and were willing to share their trees. There one match that got back with me and discussed how disturbed she was knowing that her ancestor owned slaves. We were somewhat at the opposite pole. Sharing common ancestors, she was White and I was African American. So we both had some feelings about this history. We, both, were interested in discovering our history. Periodically, we touch base. I’m still searching. I have hit a brick wall and still learning how to research wants out there.
Thank you for a well written article.
Awesome article. Thank you.
Thank you Teresa for this timely and well written article. I really enjoyed the ten steps that you so wonderfully shared and well worth it for all of us to follow.
Excellent post, Teresa. Well done!
Your post is so well done! Thank you so much for sharing, Teresa.
Well, well, well. Finally it is clear and understandable. You just outlined the mood of the country. The back room discussions. Yes, there is so much denial, yes you are correct DNA does not lie. It is at the point now that people who test via DNA should expect some surprises. We are family! There are more of us related than not related. I will share your Primer. Thank you for putting this out there and it should be required reading in the genealogy world. Shelley
Such a rewarding read…first time visitor
Wonderful article! I have not been contacted by any cousins of color, but I would not be surprised to be. I am also from a deep Colonial ancestry, and know for a fact my ancestors owned slaves. It is so well-known in this country that it surprises me more that there are people who deny it. I’m certainly not proud of mine being slave owners, but I can’t change the past, and I’m always open to anyone who wants information. You have as much right to know where you came from as anyone.
I also wanted to say that part of my ancestry is also Dutch. Blauvelt and Bogart are names I’m somewhat familiar with. While not direct ancestors, they did marry into my Dolsen (pick a spelling) and Waldron lines.
I too have been researching the Dolsen family as well as collateral families such as Waldron. I have discovered some information regarding slave ownership, the names of a few of the slaves, indentured servants, and several Irish domestics in conjunction with the Dolsen families. Just finished a book entitled The Dolson Family Heritage: A Research-based Narrative. I would be willing to exchange information with you. I was not aware of Blauvelt and Bogart links to the Dolsen.
Continue to educate 👌🏼📚
Just found your blog thanks to a cousin on Facebook. Very interested in this whole group of people. I have not had time to go through all the names but I can document back to the Demarest and Bogart lines that came here from Holland which gives me a lot of others from that area. I do a lot of atdna mapping and I have always thought this was an admix group but have never found a breakthrough. My husband also descends from the Demarest but way too much to post here.
I found this article very interesting, but also the behavior of your interlocutors very sad. EVERY human being will have disreputable people among their direct ancestors, and likely many times more in collateral lines. I have some West African DNA (<1%), and both British and Dutch ancestors who likely were involved in the slave trade and/or slave owning between Barbados, the Carolinas and the Hudson Valley. Apparently, that's not all they did! But we are one human family, and the more we actually see and appreciate that the better the world will be!.
Fantastic article, especially the primer. I have not yet run across this exact situation, at some point I am sure I will as I just submitted my DNA. It is interesting to think that perhaps my ancestors varied in race as my family is today. I an saddened by the way you have been treated, I am not at all surprised.
Very well written. I am stunned (though I shouldn’t be) that someone would question the DNA connection. As a descendant of someone who passed for white in the 1800s, this post was very timely and eye opening as to how our DNA kin might react to the real histories of our families — thank you very much!
Thanks Shannon! I appreciate this post and am asking your permission to share with my white dna relatives. I’m proud of you cousin.
Slander means proving damage to a person’s reputation. DNA fact should not constitute damage to a person living today, and if it does, I suggest they are fundamentally damaged in a manner that can’t be relieved or contributed to by a fact.
You and I have communicated in the past, and I hope I didn’ t respond cluelessly.
Beautifully written!!! Thank you for your wonderful insight!!!
I’ve been doing research for a 94 year old woman that jumped the color line in 1943. Both of her parents were biracial. We’ve been very fortunate that her “white” cousins have been very open to include sharing photos and dna testing at our request. I’m so sorry you’ve encountered such a narrow minded, obviously deluded individual in your research. Pathetic really.
As always, Teresa, very well written. DNA doesn’t lie, and enlightening those that don’t fully understand the science behind – that is the simplest, truest of all statements!!
Proud to say say you are my cousin – actually I brag about you all the time and share the Ancestry commercial!! You have always been / will always be a star!!
Interesting post. I haven’t run into yet myself but as far as intersectionality goes I am sure at some point I will run into someone who will want to deny their Jewish heritage on my vast tree. The sarcastic person in me hopes it someone who is from one my Levy or Cohen lines.
Being from Australia I was somewhat surprised to find relatively close US cousins who are black. We haven’t yet worked out the most common recent ancestor yet but I have no qualms about doing so. I found your post very interesting.
I’d just like to add that you don’t have to live in the States or even have known family living there in slave times to match to African Americans. I match with two people ( related to each other) but I live in New Zealand and all my ancestors are from Ireland, UK and one German. Our assumption is that our unknown, shared, European ancestors ( possibly 4th gr grandparents) lived in one of these places with one of their children emigrating to USA and becoming the ancestor of my African American cousins and another child staying in the old country with a later descendent emigrating to New Zealand or Australia. However we have no idea who these ancestors are currently. Both of my cousins have, understandably, large gaps in their trees right down to recent times and I know virtually none of the names of my 4th gr grandparents.
Very Well done article. Love it. Perfect. Now maybe I Can narrow down for why so many are matching my MILLS fellow, who some have been adopted. Both on FTDNA and Ancestry dot com.
I do see a peter DEMAREST, and his descendants come down the line to BANTA and then marry a SHEETS.
This branch, goes back up to a BUCKLEY and that surname is also on that matched to my MILLS fellow on both sites once again.
So it may be that there is LOTS OF PEPPER within the Salt shaker.
Yes, and Oh, that was for Y DNA testing.
I have not had any success as yet with any one contacting me for the autosomal testing from compare on http://www.gedmatch.com.
Hoping for more matches soon.
I would be willing to share Gedmatch id’s with anyone. My Demarest is Jeanne DeMarets (the originial French/Dutch spelling) 1590-1631 Zeeland, Netherlands who had children that came to America. And my husband is also a descendant who’s surname changed to Demaree and then Demory. We are both very aware of our mixed heritage coming out of North Carolina and Virginia, so it is not an issue. We are aware of known Free Black and slave connection along with Native American mix and Quakers. I have Mills and Sheets that married in. I also have just one Buckley atdna match that I know of Benjamin Buckley/Mary Winston and one Banta, John Banta/Augen Hendric. I have not researched them further but I would think the Hendric is from the Dutch/Quaker Indian trading families. I am building a Demarest atdna database using Genomemate.
I’m so glad i ran across your blog. I am researching my family and I’m finding that quite a few of them crossed the color line and never shared with their descendants that they were Mulatto. I understand, due to the times, that life afforded more, as it does today, for denying your african lineage, but what is happening today due to the dna testing and family trees is all the secrets are flooding out of the closet. One branch of my family was astonished to see me pop up in their tree and when searching the census to see that their grandmother was mulatto before she moved from SC to Indiana with her husband and began rearing her children. One particular descendant from this line called me and we had an extensive conversation. She cried and became angry because her grandmother denied her after she had a child by a black man only to find out that she was black all along. Now, I’ve reached out to many of my family members of other ethic roots who’ve not replied to any message. It really hurt my feelings at first but now with almost 20 years into this thing I’ve toughened up a bit. What do they think we want 40 acres and a mule? what would i do with a mule today.. now those 40 acres .. hhmmm we can talk about.. JK.. but they seem to fear the truth and want to keep it shielded from their families.. Unfortunately, that is not an option and when your children’s children become curious about their family, they too will find my information and may become angry because they were never told their truth.
Thanks for an honest testimony of The African-A.merican experience. As soon as the slave ships embarked to the New World, a new people were created. Regardless of their efforts, the white man can never erase the DNA evidence. Keep up the research. Hopefully, the rest of us will join you.
Hi, I also have DeGroot in my family line, as well as Storm, Van Texell and a bunch of others. My ancestors arrived in New York, in the Sleepy Hollow, etc. area. And De Forest, too. It has been very difficult to trace these family lines, at least for me.
I have been recently discovering that there is also Jewish and possibly Moroccan DNA, too. Very fascinating. I accept them all!
One of my goals with my genealogy is to record the Y-DNA and Mt-DNA haplogroups of all my ancestors. Today I was looking for the DeGroot Y-DNA and stumbled on to your blog. Yes, we are all connected and it’s fascinating and exciting to me! I have DeGroot and Demarest through my Mom’s father’s maternal line. My grandfather was an Owens. He had ancestors who had slaves. On my paternal line I also have ancestors who had slaves. In fact, one of my ancestors was Hawkins, father, Sir John and son, Sir/Admiral Richard Hawkins are responsible for bringing slaves to America. Through my Hawkins / Crockett (my 6th gg parents) line I share DNA with a man whose ancestor Juilet Kilby, was a slave owned by Thomas Kilby and Malinda Hawkins (my 7th cousin 5x removed). Juliet was given to Thomas by Malinda’s father, James. Malinda being a descendant of Capt. John Sidney Hawkins and myself a descendant of his brother Richard Hawkins, both sons of Sir/Admiral Richard Hawkins. All of Juliet’s children were fathered by the nephew of Thomas Kilby. The nephew’s mother was a Hill. I also have a Hill line but our Hill lines aren’t matching up. My DNA Match and I show a 4.6 Gen to MRCA on Gedmatch (M886960 & M204618). He thought we matched through his mother but I didn’t. So, we looked through his father’s line and found the Kilby/Hawkins connection and valuable history on both our lines. This opened up a brick wall for him! We are not our ancestors and we have no control over the choices they made in their lives. As descendants, we can bring truth to light and know that we are not our ancestors…. I embrace all my cousins everywhere!
Great post! Glad I took the time to read it. I don’t know if we’re DNA cousins or not, but I would be honored if we were! Some comparisons of my own family background to some of the things you mentioned in this post. My maternal haplogroup is R0, which apparently hails from Arabia. Since my mom’s maternal line traces back to Scotland, I thought that was pretty neat! My mom’s line is where all my African DNA comes from, through her father’s line. I ring in at a whopping 2.5%, which admittedly isn’t much, but I was pretty excited to see it on my test! My mother’s maiden name is Driggers, and there’s a lot of information online about Emmanuel Rodriguez(Driggers) who was a Portuguese-Angolan enslaved man who ended up in Virginia in the 1600’s. So many people try to prove “Driggers” comes from German or European ties, but they’re sadly in denial. He’s too far back to have contributed 2.5% of my DNA, so that means I have more African Americans in my family tree. Sadly I haven’t had any luck yet finding them. I suspect I had one or more people who were passing for white and I’m going to have to do some sleuthing to figure out who they were!
And I have a question for you. You have a lot of knowledge about old families of the Northeast. Do you know the name Van Leuven? They come from New York, I believe, and my maternal grandfather’s mother’s line originates from them. I don’t know much about them, but thought maybe you’d heard of them? Well, this has been a very long and meandering reply, so I’ll wrap it up now. I’m glad we stumbled across one another on twitter!
Congratulations on having such a distinguished Atlantic Creole ancestor! Jerome Dewulf recently wrote a book titled The Pinkster King and the King of the Kongo: The Forgotten History of America’s Dutch Owned Slaves. Although it deals primarily with New Amsterdam, it contains one of the best analyses of Atlantic Creoles I’ve ever read. I think you would find it informative.
Regarding the Van Leuven family, they also,go back to New Amsterdam. If you haven’t done so, please join the Facebook groups Dutch Genealogy and New Netherland, 1690-1674. There are people in both groups who can assist you with learning more about that family. Also, you can find info out about the family by doing a simple google search like “Van Leuven” and “New Amsterdam” and “Van Leuvan” and “Genealogy.” Sometimes, I just google as many search terms as necessary and I often end up going down rabbit hole after rabbit hold and finally hit pay dirt which I call deep digging. Good luck to you.
Thank you for all this information! I will definitely look into all of it!
I also have a Drigger line. My 2nd great grandmother was Lizzie Driggers who married John Nelson in South Carolina. She died sometime after 1883 after giving birth to my great grandfather Walter Nelson. She is a road block for me, I can not find who her parents were, as well as John Nelsons parents. I have DNA connections with Drigger lines in South Carolina but I am still stuck on proving her family.
Naomi Nelson Young
Naomi- Keep on deep digging. I encourage you to look at BlackProGen LIVE! past episodes on our YouTube channel. Don’t give up. Keep reaching out to your DNA cousins and triangualte your matches. Good luck!
I have Driggers relatives in SC, too. I had an Aunt Lizzie.
Curious about your Driggers relationship
I’m a Demarest with DNA being analyzed right now. If my results are useful, I’ll be happy to help with the puzzle!
We have Demarest from Bergen County in our line.
Same. My DNA didn’t pick up anything useful on this front, but I’m still trying to connect some 1800s dots in Paterson, where there are some interesting records. I feel like I’m looking directly at key information, but it hasn’t come into focus yet.
Definitely a post to recommend! Gracias Teresa!
Wonderful post, particularly appreciated the primer at the end.
Slater is one of our surnames from Middlesex County and elsewhere!
I am researching Black Loyalist history and came across this While researching a member of the Black Brigade (A Black militia unit who raided New Jersey until the end of the war). He belonged to a Cornelius Vaninkle of Acquackanonk. I believe two things can be said here. The vicious nature of the British raids into New Jersey probably stems from this ring already being in operation to some degree, and there is an interesting story to be told that goes back to the American revolution and spans several of the families noted in the Book of Negroes.
please contact me.
I’ve been looking at this in the intervening time. I have a couple of questions. It seems Van Wickle and Van Winkle are interchangable. Do you know if Jacob Van Winkle and his line are related to the Van Wickle’s? I also have a colleague who has DNA ties to Madagascar and your story seems to indicate a tie between New Jersey and there. Do you have some references for this?
The Van Wickle name is spelled differently in various documents. Yes, I’ve included references at the end of my blog on the DNA Trial Part II.
Thank you so much for writing this. I’m researching family history–at the moment old Dutch New York peeps–for a novel I’m working on, and trying to trace the ancestry of a woman named Mary Jane Van Der Zee who was of African descent. I don’t think I’m related to her, but it sounds as though you and I have a great number of family roots in common, and I’m very proud to think we might be distant cousins.
It saddens me to know that I might also be related to the people who gave you a hard time about your excellent research.
Anyway, again, thank you.