How Native American was Elvis Presley? DNA Consultants’ new forensic data for 60 American Indian tribes was applied to his personal autosomal profile, extracted from 30-year-old blood. The underlying lab feat was accomplished by Sorenson Genomics in February 2006 on the basis of a stained pillowcase preserved from June 1977. The relic had fallen into the hands of Houston private investigator Bobbi Bacha, as described in Donald Yates’s 2012 book Old World Roots of the Cherokee.
How did Bacha get Elvis’ sheets? Attending a celebrity auction more than two decades ago, she put in the winning bid for some blood and semen stained sheets. Nearly 20 years old, but carefully preserved, they were reputed to come from the hotel room where Elvis Presley stayed on his Farewell Tour in 1977. She won’t tell us how much she paid but says, “I could have bought a comfortable medium-sized home.”
Elvis, of course, is a Portuguese name, and Melungeon connections are not far off. Bacha is also of Melungeon descent. “As you know,” she told us in a phone interview, “Nevil Wayland is my grandfather, and it was he who first coined the term Melungeon.” She continued: “We believe his wife was the daughter of Chief Red Bird as his son was the Scribe to Chief Red Bird. Nevil built the first church in Arkansas after the family told of a great war against the Indians and he took them to Arkansas and built Stoney Creek Church. That’s the name of it.” And that was the name of the “mother church” back in Tennessee which still preserves the first mention of the word Melungeon in the minutes from 1813.
Yates had mentioned at the time there were numerous American Indian matches both to Elvis’s autosomal and to his mitochondrial DNA. He drew attention to a strong Maya match for Elvis’s particular haplotype B. The specific mutations are listed below:
|CRS – HVS1||16182||16183||16189||16217||16519|
|DNA Sequence Position||A||A||T||T||T|
|Change from reference||C||C||C||C||C|
|CRS – HVS2||73||159||263||309.1||309.2||315.1|
|DNA Sequence Position||A||T||A||:1||:||:|
|Change from reference||G||C||G||C||C||C|
Yates speculatively traced Elvis Presley’s maternal line to Nancy Burdine, a professed Jewess born in Kentucky, whose father was a Frenchman and whose mother was White Dove, a reputed fullblood, though it was uncertain of what tribe. The direct male line was a Scottish type of I with numerous matches to the surname Wallace.
The forensic databases were still in a rudimentary state as far as Native American population samples were concerned. All that changed when tribal populations were doubled last year. The Cherokee DNA Test added enrolled Cherokees from North Carolina as well as Choctaw, Creek and other Southeastern Indian groups. The most sensitive test today is the Basic American Indian DNA Test, available exclusively from DNA Consultants.
So here is our holiday treat for Elvis fans, the top fifty population matches for his profile, as would be reported in our Basic American Indian DNA Test or Cherokee DNA Test or Native American Indian DNA Fingerprint Plus (click on hyperlinked name to go to the main information page).
If we examine Elvis’s metapopulations, the No. 1 match is Native American and the No. 2 is Central American. This seems to mirror the Maya match for his matrilineal haplotype. Similarly the megapopulations feature American Indian as twice as pronounced as European American.
The global matches light up almost every population in the Western Hemisphere, emphasizing the subject’s American Indian ancestry. Significantly, Elvis Presley has the Aztlan Gene, whose distribution is shown below. It would have been reported if he had anachronistically taken Rare Genes from History.
As we observed last year when the new forensic samples first became available for study, a value of 15 STRs for D3S1358, one of the 15 standard loci examined, has a frequency of .37879 in enrolled Cherokees. In other words, almost 40% of Cherokees carry it. As such, it stands out as almost diagnostic of Indian ancestry in the South. And among other Indians it is even higher. Navajos have a frequency of .739, almost twice as high as Cherokees, while North American Indians as a whole (population 467, n=533) have a frequency of .546. The world average is .29019153. One of the lowest frequencies, conversely, occurs in Ashkenazi Jews. Only about 18% have it.
Putting all this together, Elvis Presley was, in a forensic sense, more American Indian than anything else. His tribal affinities ran to Mexican and Central American, including, in ranked order:
Western Mexican Indians (Huichol, Cora)
Maya (Chiapas, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador)
Chippewa/Ojibway (Minnesota, Michigan)
South American Indian (Colombia, Venezuela, Amazonian, Andean)
Curiously, he also got a match to Polynesians (#34), a new population in the database. As many know, Elvis had a special fondness for Polynesia, and “Blue Hawaii” was his favorite movie appearance.
As for his European side, his top matches were Croatian, Scots-Irish, Dutch and Portuguese—not surprising if we are to believe (and I think we must) Richard Thornton’s new history of American Indians in the Southern Highlands. Stone Maya ruins and South American languages were identified and brought to light again in the Appalachians only in the twenty-first century. But Elvis Presley’s diverse South and Central American Indian ancestors, along with the Cherokee and others among his forebears, were welcoming Croatian, Scots-Irish, Jewish, Huguenot and Spanish/Portuguese colonists to the region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Check out these other products of Native American interest
Rare Genes from History Update: Among the matches are the Amerind Gene, Atzlan Gene and Cochise Gene.