Black, White or Red – Changing Colors

henry finding your roots

The Root recently published the article, “Did My White Ancestor Become Black?”, written by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Eileen Pironti.  We all know who Henry is from his PBS Series, Finding Your Roots.

America is the great mixing bowl of the world, with Native American, European and African people living in very close proximity for the past 400 years.  Needless to say, on the subject of admixture and race, things are not always what they seem.

Henry Gates sums it up quite well in his article, regardless of what your ancestor looked like, or your family looks like today, “the only way to ascertain the ethnic mixture of your own ancestry is to take an admixture test from Family Tree DNA, 23andMe or”

Interestingly enough, in an earlier issue of The Root, Henry talks about how black are Black Americans.

In that article, Henry provides this information.

* According to, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.

* According to, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American.

* According to Family Tree DNA, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.

* According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

The message is, of course, that you never know.  Jack Goins, Hawkins County, Tennessee archivist,  is the perfect example.  Jack is the patriarch of Melungeon research.  His Goins family was Melungeon, from Hawkins County, Tennessee.  Jack founded the Melungeon DNA projects several years ago which resulted in a paper, co-authored by Jack (along with me, Janet Lewis Crain and Penny Ferguson), cited by Henry Louis Gates in his above article along with an associated NPR interview, titled “Melungeons, A Multiethnic Population.”

jack goins melungeon

Jack, shown above with the photo of his Melungeon ancestors, looks white today.  His family claimed both Portuguese and Indian heritage.  His ancestors and family members in the 1840s were prosecuted for voting, given that they were “people of color.”

But Jack’s Y DNA, providing us with his paternal link to his Goins male lineage, is African.  No one was more shocked at this information than Jack.  Jack’s autosomal DNA testing confirms his African heritage, along with lots of European and a smidgen of Native in some tests.

When in doubt, test your DNA and that of selected relatives to document your various lines, creating your own DNA pedigree chart.  For a broad spectrum picture of your DNA and ethnicity across of all of your heritage, autosomal DNA testing is the way to go.  Without all of these tools, neither Jack nor Henry would ever have known their own personal truth.

If you’d like to take a DNA test, click here.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in DNA, Melungeon, Portuguese. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Black, White or Red – Changing Colors

  1. Pingback: Black, White or Red – Changing Colors | Mixed American Life

  2. Pingback: Check out Alien Citizen & these other links | Mixed Reader

  3. Scott Sewell says:

    Reblogged this on Life On Mundane Lane and commented:
    DNA is changing a lot of the ways people see themselves and others

  4. I am researching my family tree. I am Johnny Fountano, My father and the Fountano side of the family is from Texas and Louisiana and was told the sirname was originally French or Creole probably Fountaneau or Fonteneau. My mother is from Troutman and Lowery. My mothers side is suppose to be Cherokee and Muscogee and african from Georgia. My fathers side is White and African. My cousin did a DNA test on to find his afican roots. His MtDna came back 97% Yoroba, His Y chromosome came back 99% Native American. I am related to him through my father so my Y chromosome should be 99% Native American. The dicrepenncey is I did the Autosomal test through Ancestry. And it initially came back 76% West African 16% European that 9% British Isles and 7% Scandanavear. 8% uncertain which I thaught may be Native American. They just updated it and it is now 78% African from all over. 9% british Isles,2% Finnnis/Russian 2% west Asian, 7% Scandanavean, and 1% Native American. I thought I was more Native American than that especially on my mothers side. But why do I show with differennt results. and not as much Native American there like my cousin, and we share the same Y chromosome.

  5. Johnny Fountano says:

    I did the y-DNA test through Ancestry after I posted the Autosomal Test. The result was almost identical to my cousins African Ancestry Y-DNA test result. My cousin is related to me through my father. (my father and his father are brothers). My result came back Haplogroup Q, Siberean, central and northeast Asians that crossed ther Baring land bridge about 18000 years ago and most populations of Native Americans of North, South, and MesoAmerica. They did not give a percentage or name of a tribe.

  6. Johnny Fountano says:

    I transferred my data manually to Family Tree DNA, and I have a copy of the test. I also tested again with Family Tree and they will add more markers to what I already have. I am awaiting the results.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.