|summary of my Genetic Ancestry results from AncestryDNA|
|My great-great-grandmother Josephine Martin, circa 1880s,|
who was apparently the carrier of a significant amount
of Asian DNA.
Percy and Violet Roberts (in the photo
above), were her niece and nephew
|Map of my DNA results, showing the Caucasus |
area in blue.
Josephine’s Documented Family
Her father, William Martin, was born in 1815 in Kentucky. His parents, Zadock Martin and Susannah Brown, were born in North Carolina and Virginia respectively. They moved to Missouri when William was a young child, and it was there that he grew to adulthood. The paternal line of the Martin family has a documented descent from an English family that settled in Maryland in the mid-1600s.
Possible Explanations for the West Asian DNA
The DNA evidence suggests that Josephine carried a significant amount of West Asian DNA. It is even possible that she was 100% West Asian. However, given the fact that at least some of her documented ancestors were English or German, it is necessary to hypothesize what might have happened.
Below are some of the theories I have come up with:
1. Josephine and her twin sister Frances were adopted by William and Harriet Martin.
4a. Her paternal grandfather, Zadock Martin. He was born in 1789 in North Carolina. Although I don’t technically have proof of his parentage, he was most likely the son of another Zadock Martin, and descended directly from an English family that lived for about 100 years in Maryland. Additionally, I also have DNA matches with two distant cousins who are documented as descendants of his brothers – and neither of them show up with Caucasian DNA, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t actually have Caucasian ancestry. (This likely is an indication that I AM biologically/genetically related to this side of the family and that the West Asian DNA did NOT come from here.)4b. Her paternal grandmother, Susannah Brown. She was born sometime during the 1780s in Virginia and was raised in Kentucky. I know nothing about her origins, except the names of two siblings and that she was possibly the daughter of Frederick Brown.4c. Her maternal grandfather, name unknown. This is the easiest guess because we know close to nothing about him. All we know is his supposed surname – Crobarger – and the fact that he apparently lived in Virginia and Tennessee as an adult. The Crobargers as a whole were German, and settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Perhaps though he was not a Crobarger at all. Maybe it was his wife/partner – Catherine Crobarger – who was really born into that family. All we know is that in 1830 she was living in a household with her four children, enumerated as Katharine Croborger. For the next 45 years, she used the name Crobarger and was never explicitly described as a widow or wife of anyone. Maybe Crobarger was her birth name, and she had a relationship with an unknown man that she did not marry, who was the father of at least one of her children.
This theory seems even more likely when I realized that Catherine Crobarger shares a birth date (December 16, 1777) with Christina Crobarger, wife of George Pence. Christina was the documented daughter of Michael and Eva Crobarger, who I know that my Crobarger family had some kind of connection to. If these two women were twins, it would make sense because twins were definitely common among the descendants of both of them.
If this theory is true, then the unidentified father of Catherine's children was in the southwest Virginia/northeast Tennessee area between about 1800 and 1820.
4d. Her maternal grandmother, Catherine Crobarger. Assuming that her husband really was a Crobarger, we know nothing about her maiden name or origins except that she was born in 1777, supposedly in Pennsylvania; and her first known child was born in Virginia in 1808. In one census she indicated that both her parents were foreign-born. Although most sources list her birthplace as Pennsylvania, one source (the 1850 census) just lists her birthplace as “O.” The census enumerator probably meant Oregon or Ohio, but neither of those is possible. Could “O” have stood for something else entirely, like Orient or Ottoman Empire?
More research is needed.
William's story is even more interesting when I realize that some of his wife's relatives (who were also southerners) supported the North during the Civil War. The sources also seem to suggest that William remained close with his various relatives; and it is interesting to see that the family remained close in spite of wars, political differences and racism, which might ordinarily tear families apart.
So although William was apparently against slavery and the poor treatment of Indians, he definitely thought that white people were superior.
It's possible that Josephine's silence on the subject and the blatant racism within her family may have partially been a result of sensitivity or resentment over their own Asian heritage.
I am fortunate that I have photographs of many members of this family, priceless aids in this journey of exploring potential Asian ancestry. I have four photographs of Josephine. In addition, I have a photograph of her father, William Martin, but none of her other ancestors or siblings. I also have photographs of 10 of her children and 5 of her twin sister's children.
JosephineBelow are the four photographs I have of Josephine. To me, her appearance was unusual; especially in contrast to her Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Various evidence suggest that she was partially northwest European and partially Asian or Native American.
FatherBelow is the only photograph I have of Josephine's father, William Martin. The image is so weird though, that it's hard to really compare it to compare it to others. That said, I really don't see any resemblance between Josephine and her father.
|William J. Martin|
ChildrenJosephine had 12 children and I have photographs of 10 of them, below. It is interesting that the majority of the children seem to take after their father; many of them had light coloring, blue eyes and his facial features. Her three youngest children were the ones that most resembled her. How does birth order play a role here?
|William L. Plymale|
|Ada C. Plymale|
|Kate M. Plymale|
|Louis H. Plymale|
|Frank M. Plymale|
|Emaline J. Plymale|
|Marie F. Plymale|
|David H. Plymale|
|Victor B. Plymale|
|Benjamin H. Plymale|
Niece and NephewsJosephine's twin sister Frances also had 12 children, and I have photographs of 5 of them, below.
|George W. Roberts|
|Joseph L. Roberts|
|Perle F. Roberts|
|Percy H. Roberts |
(Percy and Perle were twins)
|Violet R. Roberts|
Update - A Different Test
|Comparison of my DNA ancestry composition from AncestryDNA|
The region identified as Caucasus in the AncestryDNA test is covered by the Middle Eastern region in 23andMe. Yet the 23andMe test showed up at 0% in the Middle Eastern region.
To boil it down, your genes themselves don't identify where your ancestors came from. Instead, your DNA is just compared to other DNA samples and those comparisons are used to guess where your ancestors might have come from.
This process overall has been educational for me, as I learned that the way we inherit our genes is random and does not necessarily match our biological ancestry. In particular, the genes we inherit from our ancestors are not evenly distributed. This means that in a particular generation, we probably have zero genes from some of our biological ancestors and a larger amount of genes from others. So by default, it's likely that your DNA will not match your biological family tree.
Regardless, both test results are similar overall and they mostly agree with my own research. They also both seem to agree that I had some Asian ancestors in the relatively recent past. And those results seem to match with photographic and oral history evidence that my family contained some non-white ancestry. And based on the reasons highlighted in this article, those genes (whatever the ethnic origin) were probably in the ancestry of my great-great-grandmother Josephine Martin, specifically through her mother Harriet.
A New Theory - Cherokee
While doing research on this issue, I came across theories from a distant cousin in the Crobarger line who hypothesized that our family included either Cherokee or Melungeon ancestors (based on appearance, timeline, and geographic location). When briefly looking into this possibility, I stumbled across something that is actually quite fascinating. Apparently a few genetic studies have found that the DNA of certain Cherokee Indians is most similar to people from the Middle East and has little in common with other Native Americans of East Asian descent. As far as I know, all of these tests have been of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of people with a documented maternal line descent from Cherokee tribal members in North Carolina. The haplogroups resulting from these tests are by-and-large common in people from the Middle East or neighboring areas like southern Europe and north Africa, and are not found in indigenous people in the Americas or East Asia.
These findings also seem to agree with the claims of some historians, that the culture and language of the Cherokee tribe was considerably different from other tribes in the southeast United States and that there is no historical evidence of the tribe before the early 1700s (even though there is documentation of other tribes much earlier than that). As far as I know, nobody knows why or how that is the case. Many historians though think that the Cherokees actually originated in the Great Lakes region and migrated to traditional Cherokee territories relatively recently. That might explain the historical and cultural discrepancies, but does not explain the DNA evidence. Various theories though have been proposed, and as far as I can tell, they fit into four main groups:
1. The Cherokee tribe does not actually have an ancient history in North America, and instead they are descendants of Jewish emigrants and other marginal ethnic groups who moved to North America in the 1600s. Over time, these settlers merged with other groups, including some local Native Americans and eventually gained a tribal identity as Cherokees.
2. The ancestors of the Cherokee tribe moved to the New World from the Mediterranean/Middle East in a previously unknown Atlantic Ocean crossing, sometime before Christopher Columbus. Some people even think that there is a biblical explanation, and that the Cherokees are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
3. The DNA testing "proving" that Cherokees have Middle Eastern ancestry is bogus, and the Cherokees' ancestors have been in the Americas for thousands of years, just like all of the other Native American tribes.
4. The existence of Middle Eastern DNA says nothing about the tribe's ancient history, and is only evidence of a high degree of admixture (interbreeding) with other groups of people.
I am not interested in getting embroiled in this controversial issue. But, if Cherokee DNA does sometimes show up as Middle Eastern, it would potentially solve the riddle posed by this article and would explain why some of the DNA of myself and five cousins is similar to people from the Caucasus (at least according to AncestryDNA). If one accepts this Cherokee ancestry, it makes much more sense historically than either Caucasus or Yakut. As referenced in the article above, my non-European ancestry likely came from my great-great-great-grandmother Harriet Crobarger - which means it probably entered the family in northeast Tennessee or southwest Virginia; in the late 1700s or early 1800s. This was exactly where Cherokee people were living and was during a time of increased interaction between Cherokees and European-American settlers.
All of this considered, my current theory is that my great-great-great-great-grandfather (unidentified father of Harriet Crobarger) was a Cherokee Indian. He was probably born in southwest Virginia, in the second half of the 1700s, and also lived in Tennessee as an adult. He had a relationship with a German-American woman named Catherine Crobarger, by whom he had four children. The inference from surviving records is that they moved frequently during their relationship and were apparently not married, it probably not being legal to do so. The Cherokee people had a matriarchal society, in which clan identity was passed through the mother. This might also explain why their four children all used their mother's last name - Crobarger - as their own, even if the parents were married. In addition the children were all given "White" names (George, Susannah, Francis and Harriet) and they all identified as White in adulthood.
If this theory is true, then my great-great-grandmother Josephine Martin (primary subject of this article) was one-quarter Cherokee. (And would also mean that I am 1/64th Cherokee.) And if we have identified these ancestors as Cherokee, it opens up another can of words - genetically, who were the Cherokees?
|In addition to AncestryDNA and 23andMe, I also had my DNA sample run through two other prominent companies' autosomal ethnicity prediction services. This table shows my own research compared to my estimated genetic makeup from four different companies.|
Check out this recent Wire Cutter article which rated AncestryDNA as the best DNA testing service, in part because they use the largest database of samples.
The tests described above were all autosomal DNA tests, which have their limitations. There are a couple of other tests that are perhaps more accurate or specific, but are limited in different ways. The Y-DNA test will test your Y-chromosome (males only) to determine your paternal haplogroup. That is pretty accurate, but it only tests your direct paternal line (father, his father, his father, his father, etc.). The mtDNA test will test your mitochondrial DNA - which everyone has - but is only passed down in the direct maternal line (mother, her mother, her mother, her mother etc.). Both of these tests can provide clues to your origins, but only for a very small portion of your ancestry. In this case, neither my direct paternal or maternal lines contained the ancestry described in this article, so those tests are not relevant.
My paternal haplogroup (Y-DNA) is I-L161.1, which is relatively rare, but is found throughout Europe. However, it is most common in the British Isles and one theory is that the I-L161.1 haplogroup members were among the earliest settlers of Britain. They would have predated most colonizers, including the Celtics, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Vikings, and probably would have been around for the construction of Stonehenge. Apparently, members of this haplogroup were more likely to have survived in the peripheries of Britain - like western England, Ireland and Scotland - after being pushed out or repopulated by the centuries of conquest by various other groups. This haplogroup identification definitely fits with my documented family tree that my oldest known paternal-line ancestor was John Wadleigh, who was born in about 1600 in southwest England.
My maternal haplogroup (mtDNA) is V9. Like my paternal haplogroup, this one is also relatively rare, but is found throughout Europe. Apparently it is most common in northern Europe and Scandinavia. This fits with my documented family tree; my earliest known maternal line ancestor was Elisabeth Voss, who was born in about 1750 in northern Germany, near the border with Denmark.