GUEST COLUMN: Letter from Dogwood

David Black

My ancestors – Scotch-Irish farmers on one side, Scottish-English border country Jacobites on the other – reached Central Virginia about 250 years ago, and here I am, still not that far from my birthplace. A couple of years back, I spat in a tube and had my saliva tested for DNA, and the results pretty much bore out the family anecdotal history: heavy on the UK, some northern European and Viking genes as one might expect – but there was some news.

The surprises were the one percent Pacific Islander and one percent Sub-Saharan African. Well, the families have been in the South a long time, and I suppose the 1 percent Black really isn’t a shocker. I suspect most so-called Caucasian Southerners would test similarly, if not higher. But that Pacific Island limb on the family tree, that’s a puzzler. There’s zero family lore about that, and people who know more about genes than I do might guess as to how many generations back that marriage or dalliance occurred. I’d like to make up a romantic story to account for it, but frankly, I am stumped.

The last 100 years or so of family history sound pretty boring by comparison. As an old friend once said by way of explanation, “Roads were bad back then,” and so neighboring families – and even cousins – tended to intermarry and there was a time I wondered if I were kin to every family within a hundred square miles. On a Sunday afternoon every summer, Dad would drive us to two or three cemeteries so we could get acquainted with the kinfolk, and we dutifully wandered the rows of familiar headstones as he recited some tidbit of genealogy.

I still play “Virginia Match Game” on rare occasions …that interrogation of a new acquaintance, probing for ancestral ties. “Now, was he the one who_____?” or “Didn’t she marry_____?” or “Was that the one who moved to_____?” And unless I am talking with a true transplant, we can often come up with some crossover of lineages and make a connection.

America is still a relatively new country, and 250 years is not that long. Our tenth president, John Tyler, who died in 1862, has a living grandson, Harrison Ruffin Tyler. “Harrison Ruffin” –both fine old Virginia names, and since my grandmother was a Harrison of Virginia, I may be related, for all I know. I’ve not checked that, but I’d bet on it.

Still, most of us cannot cite ancestry the way Adrian Targett can. He’s a school teacher in the little village of Cheddar, Somerset, England. Yes, the original source of THAT cheddar. Some years back, he had his DNA tested, and it turns out that he is a descendant of “Cheddar Man,” a 9,100-year-old skeleton found in a cave near there. That’s about 300 generations, maybe more. Now, truly, there is a family that never wandered far from home. 

David Black is a Louisa County resident.

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