Most Companies Glaringly Fail in Native American Results. Here’s Why.
Fig. 1. Dorene Soiret, who lives in Southern California, joined DNA Consultants’ Cherokee Studies Project Phase III only last year. Her haplogroup is H1z1. She traces this line to the sisters Emily and Paulina/Perlina Adkins, daughters of Eliza Jane Murray Adkins (1829-1908). On right: Great-Grandmother Alice Calle Bland as a young woman in Oklahoma.
When I moved to the North and began my adult professional life I used to tell new acquaintances that I was part Indian. The response was often, “Funny, you don’t look like an Indian.” “What do Indians look like?” I would ask. In the same spirit, we are going to see in this chapter what Indian mitochondrial DNA looks like. In the past few years, American Indian types are emerging as stunningly diverse. It’s an exciting time for descendants to be alive and find the truth, especially about Cherokees and other Southern Indians.
Fig. 2. Classic Native American Haplogroups across Different U.S. Populations, including Native Tribes.
Before turning to newly admissible Native American haplogroups, however, let us have a look at figure 2, which shows how the classic “official” Native American haplogroups are distributed in the U.S., from Eastern Tribes like the Mohawk and Cherokee, where they represent more than 90% of all haplogroups found, to Americans self-identifying as white, or Caucasian, where they account for only about 1% of haplogroups. These statistics leave out haplogroup X. But if we judge the presence of any one of them proof of American Indian ancestry, we can make the following observations.
- Eastern North American Indians in tribes recognized by the U.S. or Canadian governments all belong in their maternal lineage to A, B, C, D or sometimes X and no other haplogroup (like H, J, L etc.)
- Only Indians in federally recognized tribes are included in genetic surveys
- Any haplogroup not found to be A, B, C, D and sometimes X is disregarded (e.g, H, J, L etc.)
- Only Indians in geographical locations where federally recognized tribes live are studied, i.e. reservations, not in cities or regions
- Only small samples are drawn for studying Native American diversity
- Mexican Americans have approximately the same percentages of these haplogroups as Indians who live in federally recognized tribal locations
- Other Hispanic people (Puerto Ricans, Nicaraguans etc.) have slightly less American Indian “admixture,” though it is still the majority ancestry and is divided into the same haplogroup proportions.
- Whites have almost no American Indian ancestry by this measure.
- Blacks have up to twice as much as whites, though it is still minimal.
- In the Cherokee study by DNA Consultants (n=175), 8.6% of the volunteers proved to have classic A-D Native American haplogroups, 13.7% if we include those who had X.
From these observations we see that haplogroup studies are conducted on different bases and for different purposes. Your own haplogroup can be revealing . . . except when it’s not. But knowing your haplogroup—or more precisely, your haplotype and its exact matches—is a crucial. No one has a good understanding of where he or she came from without it.
Fig. 3. Cherokee Project Phase III Results Summarized
In Phase III of our Cherokee DNA Project, 56 participants tested their mitochondrial haplotype and submitted a genealogy showing what they believed to be direct female Cherokee descent. This phase lasted from May of 2008 to June of 2018. It followed the same protocol as the previous two phases, the results for which were published 2014 in Cherokee DNA Studies: Real People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrong, by Donald N. Yates and Teresa A. Yates. A forthcoming volume on Phase III will also glance at autosomal testing, which has become of great interest in the intervening years. It will be titled Cherokee DNA Studies: More Real People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrong.
The results for Phase III appear in Fig. 3. They are very similar to the previous two phases. Phase III haplogroup percentages are summarized in the pie-chart in Fig. 4. The next spreadsheet (Fig. 5) compares our so-called anomalous Cherokees to white Americans at large and two similar populations in Tennessee and North Carolina alongside a classic survey by Bolnick and Smith (2003). The distribution of haplogroups in Eastern tribes from that study is given in Fig. 7. Finally, Cherokee results are compared to select haplogroup frequencies in Europe, Egypt, the Middle East and East Mediterranean (Fig. 6).
Are haplogroups correlated to different world regions? To ancient origins and migrations? Are they continent specific? Is your mitochondrial haplogroup a good indication by itself of your ethnicity? These are all large questions that must be asked in genetic genealogy. On one hand, L haplotypes are categorized as Sub-Saharan African, TJ and K are viewed as originating in the Middle East even though they later spread to Europe, where they have relatively low frequencies, and H is considered as diagnostic of European ancestry, since it attains an preponderance of more than 50% in European and American genealogies. Even A, B, C, and D are not confined to Native Americans or their supposed Asiatic founder populations. X can point to Native American or Eurasian origins. In analyzing haplogroups and ethnicity, the authors of recent study observe:
Mitochondrial haplogroup classification was highly concordant with self-identified race/ethnicity (SIRE) in non-Hispanic whites (94.8%), but was considerably lower in admixed populations including non-Hispanic blacks (88.3%), Mexican Americans (81.8%), and other Hispanics (61.6%), suggesting SIRE does not accurately reflect maternal genetic ancestry, particularly in populations with greater proportions of admixture.
The direct maternal lineage is, after all, only one line among many. Quite possibly, it is not consistent with or reflective of other haplogroups in the family tree. Still, it has undeniable value. In cases of H, L and the Native American types, at least, the mother’s DNA type is strongly correlated with physiognomy, physical traits and societal classification. Other haplotypes like T and J remain utterly invisible until revealed by laboratory testing. On the other hand, we must not discount anomalies, since they may be part of multi-generational, repetitive admixture of the same pattern. Such an effect of persistent, unchanging admixture is highlighted by the Mitchell figures for Mexican Americans, who exhibit only 5.3% H. This is in contrast to 43.0% H in Non-Hispanic White Americans, while 81.8% of Mexican Americans carry classic A-B-C-D haplogroups, which only 1.1% of whites have.
Another close tie between haplogroup and identity is with African ancestry. In the Mitchell study, 98.3% of Non-Hispanic Blacks have an L haplogroup. Only 1% of Non-Hispanic Whites do. Such an extreme statistic shows how a mitochondrial haplogroup can define one to oneself and at the same time to society. Even if you are not a genetic determinist, haplogroups matter. They influence how you think of yourself and how society regards you. In terms of DNA testing, if you have a “non-Native” haplogroup but identify with your Native ancestry you are liable to be conflicted.
Since the 1990s, there has prevailed a rigid definition of five Native American types—A, B, C, D and sometimes X. If any other haplogroup is detected, it must come from admixture. That individual does not have a Native American lineage and cannot “claim” to “be” Native American from his or her mitochondrial heritage in any way, shape or fashion. In 2010, Mal’ta Boy, a 24,000-year-old skeleton from Siberia, was sequenced and clarified as a link between ancient Northern Eurasians and present-day Native Americans. But Mal’ta Boy’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, U2, would not be considered Native American today if it were found in, say, a Cherokee or Ojibwa, however “pure” or admixed they might be. (Full disclosure: I have Cherokee ancestry and the haplogroup from my mother is U2.) Schurr set a precedent that still continues mostly unchallenged when he rejected H and T in the Ojibwa, H and J in the Cherokee and H types in the Maya as European admixture. All commercial DNA testing companies but DNA Consultants have toed the line.
Fig. 4. Haplogroup Results Phase III.
The first thing we notice about the haplogroup spread from the Cherokee project is the great mix and high number of lineages (Fig. 4). Even such rare haplogroups as W, V and R occur. All world haplogroups but East Asian and Australoid types like M are represented. Compared with other Eastern tribes (Fig. 6), Cherokee DNA is extremely diverse and complex. The additional “other” ingredients do not mirror the surrounding white population in their proportions. For instance, H is not the first or dominant haplogroup as it is in the U.S. white population. It occupies only the third rank (16.6%), after U (21.7) and T (17.7).
|Fig. 5. DNA Consultants Cherokee Studies, Phase I-III Haplotype Distribution with Comparisons
|Mitchell et al. U.S. White n=2,631||Mitchell et al. Hispanic
|Bolnick & Smith
*123 Mohawk, 56 Cherokee, 8 Chickasaw, 130 Creek, 40 Seminole
Fig. 6. Select Haplogroups Compared to Other World Populations, including Eastern Mediterranean.
|Manitoulin Island Ojibwa||33||0.325||0.097||0.269||0.040||0.269|
|North Ontario Ojibwa||26||0.643||0.036||0.071||0.000||0.250|
|Turtle Mountain Chippewa||28||0.571||0.179||0.000||0.071||0.071|
|Oklahoma Red Cross Cherokee||19||0.211||0.211||0.525||0.053||0.000|
|Total and Average Percentage of Whole||604||41.0||22.6||19.5||7.2||9.1|
Fig. 7. Classic Native American Haplogroup Distribution in Eastern Tribes (Bolnick and Smith 2003).
At the conclusion of the second phase, we wrote:
As in Phase I, a Middle Eastern type, haplogroup T, emerged as the most common lineage (19.4% in Phase II, 22.7% overall in the project), followed by H, U and J, all Eurasian types. Sub-Saharan African haplogroup L (9%) was prominent as a minor category. Old Europe haplogroups I, N, V and W occurred in small amounts and should be considered strikingly new, unreported signals of authentic Cherokee ancestry.
Phase III data did not substantially change the picture of Cherokee diversity. The cumulative evidence now portrays the Cherokee people—and their descendants—as an unusual, very different, ancient population originating from outside the Southeast pre-Columbian region. Whether the exotic strands and strains are due to recent, colonial, ancient or primordial “admixture” is to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The Cherokee, next to perhaps Puerto Ricans, are the most mixed people on earth.
The Cherokee anomaly was predicted as early as the study “Unexpected Patterns of Mitochondrial DNA Variation Among Native Americans From the Southeastern United States.” In that paper, Deborah Bolnick and David Smith of the University of California at Davis, wrote:
None of the Muskogean-speaking populations, however, appear particularly closely related to the Cherokee, a southeastern Iroquoian-speaking population. One branch in the haplogroup B network contains one Cherokee and one Chickasaw, but as mentioned before, that branch may be the result of independent parallel mutations and not common ancestry. The other Cherokee haplotypes are all relatively distant from the other southeastern haplotypes. PCA results and FST comparisons also differentiate the Cherokee from the other southeastern populations. These results may suggest that the Cherokee did not originate in the Southeast, which would be consistent with archaeological evidence supporting a recent migration of the Cherokee into the Southeast from the Great Lakes region (MacNeish, 1952; Ritchie, 1965; Wright, 1984) or Cherokee oral traditions that suggest they came from the Ohio Valley (Mooney, 1900). Genetic data from prehistoric Great Lakes and Ohio Valley populations, which are currently being analyzed (Shook, unpublished data; Bolnick, unpublished data), are needed to help resolve this question (p.252).
The unique and deeply-seated multi-ethnic character of Cherokee population structure is clear from the haplogroup distribution in our study. If the high number and diversity of European haplogroups were due only to recent admixture (as Schurr, Bolnick, Smith, Malhi and others would have it), one would not expect such a paradox. The frequency of H would hover around 50%, as it does in Europe, and Middle Eastern and Old Europe types like T, J, K, X and U would not be so prominent. Compare the results for the Central Band of Cherokees in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and Lumbee Indians of North Carolina in Fig. 5.
Remember that a mitochondrial line must go back to a female. Were there that many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean women on the Southern Highlands frontier in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Native populations underwent their last transformations?
While haplogroups (the branches on the human tree) can point to broad ethnic connections, haplotypes (the twigs) are the real evidence we must look if we wish to combine genetics with genealogy. For example, the J2b1 haplotypes for 3.8 and 3.45 exactly match. This is because they are sisters, Ava Fink and Julie Burton. If there is an exact congruence of nucleotide variants across the board like this, the two parties are female-linked relatives and descend from the same female as long ago as two to ten thousand years ago or as recently as in the generation above them.
The C haplotypes in participants 2.66, 3.40, 3.62 are not perfect matches but one or two mutations “off.” Downstream from a common female ancestor who probably lived thousands of years ago, to judge by the mitochondrial “clock,” they added or lost a mutation or two compared to the original configuration (which can only be guessed at). They all seem to belong to a common C cluster at any rate. Is it Cherokee? Where did it come from before it was Cherokee? Is it Mexican?
Haplogroup C is relatively uncommon in Southwest Indians, where the individual known as 2.66 tested. Southwestern tribes’ ancestral DNA shows C in 15% of all cases on record (Carlyle 2000). In Mexican Americans it was the haplogroup for 20% of all persons (Mitchell). In one Northern Mexico study, it accounted for 23% modern-day Indians (Green 2000). It is more prevalent in Eastern tribes, reaching a frequency of 53% in one study of Oklahoma Cherokee (Mahli 2001). It is most common in Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian populations. Oddly, it attains its highest frequency in Patagonian Indians of South America (hence Mapuche matches), showing it is one of the oldest and most widespread lineages in the Western Hemisphere.
Turning from the haplogroup to the haplotype, the participant called 2.66 exactly matched Juana Lezalde Venegas, Guadalupe Tores, Ana Maria Abeyta d. 2000, Nancy Ward (Cherokee Tribal Mother), Juana Varela ~ 1860, Elizabeth Peaches, Maria Manuela Martin 1765, Cleofas Aguirre d. 1932, Petra Parra d. ~ 1978. Upon inspection, this list suggests the Native American founder, however long ago she lived, had many direct descendants since the eighteenth century, and that they appear to be divided between a Mexican branch and Cherokee descendants.
Participant 3.40 matches the previous haplotype exactly on HVS1 but not on HVS2. She is Elizabeth McKay of Topock, Arizona. She had even more exact matches, including users with ancestors from Mexico, Canada, South America and the United States.
It is estimated that Nancy Ward, the Beloved Woman of Cherokee history, has more than 12,000 descendants. The “Nancy Ward gene” was tied to Wolf Clan affiliation and discussed in Yates and Yates (2014), pp. 110-1. This form of C is characterized by the unusual deletions at nucleotide position 249, 290 and 291. These are exactly replicated in the specimen given by Participant 3.62, Beth Katehis, who summarizes her DNA experiences as follows:
Fig. 8. Beth Katehis, a haplogroup C participant from Brooklyn, whose whole family, as far as she knew, was Spanish and Jewish.
“All my life,” she wrote to us in 2018, “I’ve always known I am an American born in Brooklyn raised in Queens. Both my parents met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on a Sabbath trip. My mom always said her mother, my Grandma Maria Illuminada, was of Italian Descent and Jewish on both sides. My Father says that his father is a Spaniard by descent and his mother, my Grandma, had also Italian Descent. My Father, a Sabbath observer along with my Mom always kept the Sabbath holy.
“We never spoke much about our ancestry. When I was 10 years old it was Thanksgiving holiday week and my school asked the students what would they want to dress up as and I raised my hand in class and said, ‘I want to dress up as an American Indian with a feather on my head and two braids.’
“My teacher said, ‘Why would you want to dress up as an American Indian?’ and I said ‘I am a Native American.’
“I didn’t know why I said I was a Native American, I felt in my heart I was Native American. My parents never mentioned anything about Native American ancestry. On August 20, 2017, I received my first DNA test. It surely confirmed Native American—17 percent from 23andme. And then I took the Ancestry DNA test. It also confirmed 17 percent Native American. FTDNA also confirmed it, and My Heritage said 27 percent Native American. Living DNA said Native American 16 percent.
“Now I wanted to know what tribe. I was on YouTube and came across the video of DNA Consultants and When Scotland Was Jewish. I watched the video and went on line and first ordered my Jewish DNA test. When I took the 23andme upon learning of my Native American ancestry I also saw Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, also with AncestryDNA. I wanted to find out if I had Jewish from my father’s side also. I felt that my Native American ancestry was connected to my Jewish ancestry. I began to connect the dots. When I received my Jewish DNA Results from DNA Consultants I was amazed at the results. I am Jewish from both sides, my mother and father. I am Hungarian Ashkenazi, Israeli Jewish, Jewish I-One Marker, Jewish III-Two Markers. Megapopulations: Jewish Ancestry came in 3rd Place which is amazing.
“Now, my Native American ancestry. So I decided to take their Cherokee DNA Test to see if I had Cherokee. DNA Consultants confirmed my Cherokee ancestry with ‘significant amounts.’ That confirms my Native American. I still wanted to dive deeper into my Native American ancestry. I already knew 23andme gave me Mtdna C1 and I knew through research of my own that this maternal line of C1 was Native American. So I also did a full sequence through FTDNA and I received C1b2. I also did a Native American maternal DNA through DNA Consultants and received the same C1b2. Perhaps, Nancy Ward is My GGGGGGGRANDMA Ancestor! She herself was the same type of C1 Mtdna. Yes, I am Jewish, a Spaniard, and Cherokee!”
On an autosomal basis with STR testing, Katehis’ top megapopulation matches were Iberian, Middle Eastern and Jewish. Her leading world matches reflected the Spanish and Jewish background her parents had told her about.
But she also had strong Cherokee and other Native American matches (Cherokee no. 57, Amazonian Indian no. 50, Paraguayan Indian no. 95, Florida Native Americans no. 103). Could her matrilineal descent go back to an American Indian woman brought from the New World by Spanish colonials? The mitochondrial DNA matches the Nancy Ward type found in many Cherokee people but also in Mexico. Could Nancy Ward’s mother, Tame Doe, or her mother have actually been a Spanish Jewess?
Haplogroup T Matches
We found T to be one of the leading “anomalous” haplogroups for Cherokee descendants in our first volume. There, we wrote (p. 68) of one type of T brought to light in Phase I testing:
Cases 24, 25 and 26 are perfectly matching T1* individuals completely unknown to one another before testing. Two of them claim Melungeon ancestry; the other’s is unknown [because it involved a sealed adoption]. Case 26 is a distant cousin of mine with the same surname [Yates] whom I did not know before he became a customer.
These three T1s with Cherokee and Melungeon antecedents also perfectly match 2.5 and 2.6, but this was to be expected since the two were related. Both were members, moreover, of the Central Band of Cherokee in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, where they form part of a significant cluster of matching and near-matching T1s, as follows:
|131579||T1||16126C, 16163G, 16186T, 16189C, 16213A, 16258G, 16294T, 16519C|
|202633||T1||16126C, 16163G, 16186T, 16189C, 16263C, 16294T|
|28884||T1||16126C, 16163G, 16186T, 16189C, 16294T, 16519C|
|172728||T1||16126C, 16163G, 16186T, 16189C, 16294T, 16519C|
|182410||T1||16126C, 16163G, 16186T, 16189C, 16294T, 16519C|
|179390||T1||16126C, 16163G, 16186T, 16189C, 16294T, 16519C|
Such a cluster spanning two small Cherokee samples with exact across-the-board mutational matches as well as slight variations probably points to a deep history for this haplotype. Its life span began in the Middle East. Its form spread non-randomly and discontinuously to the New World while dying out in its lands of origin. It survives as an important type in Cherokee descendants living today in widely separated locations in Tennessee. The chances of encountering such evidence in modern surveys of this nature are a billion to one. The coincidence would be similar to finding Queen Nefertiti’s mitochondrial DNA in a mummy in South America as well as local villagers.
The Cherokee DNA project at Family Tree DNA was started in 2001 by Chief Joe (Sitting Owl) White with his own mitochondrial sample, which proved to be U5. The study had 202 members at one time, about half of the total membership of the tribe.
Fig. 9. Snapshot of Central Band haplogroups shortly before its shutdown shows prevailing H and outsized “Jewish” haplgroups J, K and T.
In 2003, I heard about the tribe from Family Tree DNA. Bennett Greenspan suggested renaming its leader Rolling Bagel, because so many of his members were matching Jews. But a bigger insult was yet to come. In August 2010, Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, responding to criticism by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, ruled that the Central Band of Cherokees simply were not, as they claimed, descendants of the Cherokee occupants of the 1806 Congressional Reservation and their families who had declined to be removed at the time of the Trail of Tears in the 1830s but stayed in Tennessee. The state immediately withdrew its recognition of the tribe. A caretaker chief (some said “plant” or “puppet”) replaced White. The next year in July, Family Tree DNA abruptly oliterated the Central Band DNA Project.
A final ruling by Echo Hawk on March 23, 2012 ended the tribe’s quest for recognition of any type. Richard Allen, Cherokee Nation Strategy and Policy analyst, said the CBC is one of five groups in Tennessee claiming to be a Cherokee tribe that the Cherokee Nation has “vigorously opposed.” According to the Cherokee Phoenix, the nationalist newspaper, “One reason the Cherokee Nation opposes such groups is that such groups appropriate and distort our culture and our history. For example, this group identifying as the Central Band of Cherokee claim [sic] that they are the descendants of ancient Israelites, which is by far one of the wildest claims made by any of these groups,” Allen said. “The Cherokee Nation has identified more than 200 such groups who claim to be new Cherokee bands, clans, tribes and nations. These groups cannot meet the requirements set forth by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs Branch of Acknowledgement and Research.”
After the Central Band DNA Project disappeared, a new Cherokee DNA Project run by Janine Cloud and Roberta Estes came into being. Only customers with A, B, C, D or sometimes X were admitted into this project. The last we checked, there were results for six participants listed as Native American Mitochondrial; their haplogroups were A (1), C (4) and D (1). The rest of the 97 members had their haplotypes reported as “Non-Native Haplogroup.”
Roberta Estes’ genetic genealogy site DNAeXplained site was founded with Family Tree DNA as its “godfather” in 2005. Estes is quite “eXplicit” about who gets to be considered an Indian and who does not:
Native American mitochondrial DNA consists of five base haplogroups, A, B, C, D and X. Within those five major haplogroups are found many Native as well as non-Native sub-haplogroups. Over the last 15 years, researchers have been documenting haplogroups [she means haplotypes] found within the Native community although progress has been slow for various reasons, including but not limited to the lack of participants with proven Native heritage on the relevant matrilineal genealogical line . . . .
Estes excoriates seekers of American Indian ancestry who do not have the right haplogroup or for other reasons deserve no title to American Indian ancestry in a long post titled, “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA” (Dec. 18, 2012). Included in a long section on “myth busting” are free college, joining a tribe and the good-ole Cherokee grandmother legend. Finally, she warns potential customers against other companies and “unscrupulous” services. The upshot is clear. Unless you have haplogroup A, B, C, D and sometimes X, forget it! All this information must gladden the hearts of bureaucrats and lobbyists who work in Washington and state capitols in former Indian Country like Nashville and Atlanta. A single Task Force of the Cherokee Nation government was reported recently to be spending $900,000 a year to fight disenfranchised Bureau of Indian Affairs Category 4 Cherokees seeking federal acknowledgment. Estes, Family Tree DNA and others are in lock-step with its policies.
Family Tree DNA destroyed the Central Band of Cherokee results because they did not agree with how they were being interpreted or used. The company started over with Cherokees more to the liking of federal authorities and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. One of three federally recognized Cherokee groups in the U.S., the latter has since renamed itself, tout court, Cherokee Nation, asserting its claim to be the only legitimate Cherokee group under federal law. In the eyes of the Office of Recognition in Washington, all other groups are bogus. Anyone who cannot claim Cherokee Nation “citizenship” is of inferior rank.
The guidebooks for putting the “wannabe” Indians of American society in their place are Phillip J. Deloria’s Playing Indian and Circe Sturm’s Becoming Indian. Leading geneticists campaigning for restricted notions of Indian DNA are Deborah Bolnick, Kim Tall Bear and Jennifer Raff. The irony is that DNA per se cannot be used to gain recognition in any federal Indian tribe anyway. Most people testing for it with DNA companies are interested in it for personal knowledge only, and understand this.
A minor anomalous haplogroup turning up in both the DNA Consultants and Central Band studies is W. Participant 28 in Phase III, Peter Lyle Atkins of Reidsville, North Carolina, had mutations that perfectly matched the record we label here as N89700 from the Central Band. Atkins’ mutations in 2015 were only one off from those of Linda Sponenburg (2.31, S5113), who tested in 2012 and was included in the first volume our results. “I have done extensive research on my parent’s families,” said Sponenburg. “Both of my parent’s lines came to American in the mid seventeenth century.”
Sponenburg’s story was a familiar one. “When I was twelve,” she said, “my grandfather’s sister told me that we were Cherokee Indian. They were farmers in southeastern Tennessee. As an adult I became a genealogist researching my grandfather’s family. I could not find the family on the Cherokee rolls. I knew we had to be part of the Cherokee nation because of the traditions that my mother had taught us. These traditions were identical to those of the Cherokee. I knew … the proof might not be on the paper rolls but would be in my genetic code.”
In 2012, Sponenburg thought that the Native American, which showed on an autosomal basis well enough, was “probably not through my mother’s mitochondrial line.” Haplogroup W, after all was not considered a Native American haplogroup. But when her lineage matched Phase III participant Peter Lyle Atkins almost perfectly, and Atkins’ W was exactly matched, mutation for mutation, with a Central Band of the Cherokee W, it seemed time to revisit whether W might not be, with T, J and H, an ancient contributor to the Cherokee population
In Mitosearch (online until mid-2019), there were 17 exact matches on both sectors:
|6S2HD||Unknown||Rebecca Lashley, 1790|
|7SQTZ||W||Sarah Albee, Mass.|
|FJ288||Unknown||Catherine McDonald, Ireland|
|PZKT3||W||Mary Gaskill, N.Y.|
|SHZFK||W||Sarah Catherine Moore|
|TEG9Y||W||Emily Williams, London|
All were at least genetic cousins if not genealogical cousins. Most matches went back to northern Europe, though there were some traced no farther than to North America.
Another surprising W haplotype in Phase II, whose mutations were quite different, was participant no. 30. Her only matches in Mitosearch were Georgia (her own record) and Ireland, which highlighted the ambiguity. Her earliest known matrilineal ancestress, she said, was her third great-grandmother Cynthia (Mary) Love, born about 1808 in Georgia, died in Mississippi before 1857. “At this point,” she said in 2013, “I have not yet been able to materially prove or document any Native American or Cherokee ancestry in my maternal, mitochondrial line. However, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence indicating that this might be the case.” She mentioned an exact match to another Family Tree DNA customer who identified her earliest known female line ancestor as Esther (maiden name unknown) Wilson, born 1807 in Tennessee, in other words, leading back to the same time and place. Highly detailed genealogical research yielded tantalizing clues but no solutions to the mystery.
What about Peter Lyle Atkins’ W line? It traces back also to Cherokee territory, where his earliest known female ancestor, Nancy Buckley, was born in 1824. (Her mother is unknown.) Exact matches from Mitosearch demonstrate it is a widely dispersed and common type, with high frequency in England and the British Isles. Its specific mutations have origins in West Asia and North Africa with other Jewish haplotypes. The family always regarded the line as Cherokee. Peter Lyle Atkins claims to be Native American (but more Shawnee) also in his direct male line, which is shown below. A lifelong resident of the Eden area on the North Carolina border with Southside Virginia, Atkins says, “This is where the Melungeons got together with certain Indian tribes before moving west.” He identifies as American Indian and is so expert at flint napping, bow making and other Indian arts that in January 2020 he begins a stint at the Museum of Natural History in Martinsville as the institution’s official “live exhibit” demoing primitive skills and craft making.
William V. Adkins III (1760-1848).
Male Line Descent of Peter Lyle Atkins (I2a)
|1. William Vortimer Adkins I b: 1690 in Henrico Co., Va., d: 1754 in Goochland, Va.|
|2. William Vortimer Adkins II 1721-1784|
|3. William Vortimer Adkins III b: Sep 21, 1760, d: 1848|
|4. Henry Caleb Adkins b: 1782, d: 1864|
|5. Ralph Atkins b: 1807, d: 1886|
|6. Benjamin Edwin Bartlett Adkins b: 1837, d: 1870|
|7. Beverly Lee Atkins d: 1934|
|8. Rex James Atkins b: 1889, d: 1958|
|9. James Avalon Atkins b: 1923, d: 1977|
|10. Peter Lyle Atkins b: 1958|
Nancy Buckley (1824-1911).
Female Line Ancestry of Peter Lyle Atkins (W)
|1. Nancy Buckley b: Dec 19, 1824, N.C., d: Mar 30, 1911|
|2. Mary Elizabeth McCraw b: 1847, d: 1918|
|3. Lucy Maude Towe b: 1879, d: 1916|
|4. Mary Nina M. Weddle b: 1903, d: 1980|
|5. Ruby Grey Nelson b: 1931, d: 1998|
|6. Peter Lyle Atkins b: 1958|
Before ending this survey, we should mention the Melungeon-mtDNA project at Family Tree DNA and its haplogroup percentages, such as they are (Fig. 10). The study of Melungeon DNA was inspired by N. Brent Kennedy’s book and took a great advance forward in 2001 with Elizabeth Hirschman’s Melungeon DNA Project, which looked at both Y chromosome and mitochondrial results. Unfortunately, the hosting company after taking thousands of dollars in testing fees from Hirschman, the sponsor, destroyed the entire project and all its valuable data without warning in 2008. Reportedly, Bennett Greenspan and his advisors were seeing “too much” Jewish! They did not like the way the data was being used in Hirschman and others’ publications. At any rate, the original un-whitewashed results are not available anymore. 
The projects that appeared in its stead were much less professional. They were heavily skewed toward what administrators called Core Melungeons. Here is a chart from the mitochondrial project, which had 70 members, 53 of whom shared their haplogroups, when we last checked.
Fig. 10. Haplogroups of Melungeons according to Family Tree DNA.
Notice that there are no American Indian haplogroups among the Core Melungeons, even though Jones in 2001 found levels of up to 5 percent Native American ancestry in his sample. Haplogroup H at 45.3% is even higher than we would expect of U.S. whites. This appears to be a lily-white population on the face of it. The only diversity that strikes the eye is the outsized percentage of L (African)—7.5% versus the general U.S. white population at 1.0%. The results are not really coherent or convincing. Sampling has been heavily manipulated, the sample number is small and the selection of participants does not seem to reflect a geographical basis or other strict application of criteria.
People interested in the true story of Melungeons will have to wait their day, just like those with Native American ancestry. Two other similar DNA projects at Family Tree DNA, the Mothers of Acadia and Blue Jacket Shawnee, were also peremptorily killed, their data discarded and their administrators replaced. So much for citizen science and user-generated content!
 Sabrina L. Mitchell et al., “Characterization of Mitochondrial Haplogroups in a Large Population-Based Sample from the United States,” Human Genetics 133/7 (2014), pp. 861-68.
 Theodore G. Schurr, “Mitochondrial DNA and the Peopling of the New World,” American Scientist 88 (2000):246-53.
 This edifying story can be followed in Ancestors and Enemies: Essays on Melungeons, chap. 10, “Cyberfeud on the Ridge,” pp. 157-79.
 Administrators for both projects are Jack Goins, Janet Crain, Larry Goins, Penny Ferguson and Roberta Estes according to the masthead.