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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Appalachian DNA

For several years, my wife and I talked intermittently about having our DNA analyzed but never seemed to get around to it.  Finally, last summer, we both sent off DNA kits to Ancestry DNA.  After about six weeks, we got the results back and much like everyone else who has DNA analysis done, we found a couple of surprises.  I had heard a far too common Eastern Kentucky rumor, prevarication, and old wives' tale that my paternal third great-grandfather, Aulse Hicks, had been the son of a man named Charles Renatus Hicks, who had been the first mixed blood chief of the Eastern Band Of Cherokee.  There had always been two schools of thought about this purported connection.  Most of us who had done much in depth genealogical research leaned strongly toward the opinion that there was far too insufficient proof to justify the common belief and there was too much geographical distance between the well known homes of Charles Renatus Hicks in Spring Place, Georgia, and the area of Western Virginia from which Aulse Hicks emigrated to Prestonsburg, KY, about 1790 to 1810.  In the misguided attempt to connect Aulse Hicks to Chief Charles Renatus Hicks, various people had tried to change Aulse's first name from Aulse to Austin or Augustus despite the fact that every piece of paper he ever signed in Floyd County Kentucky as a minister and well known man had been signed Aulse.  There has also never been found a list of the names of the children of Chief Charles Renatus Hicks which listed either an Aulse, Austin, or Augustus.  In my own mind, I was clearly convinced that the connection between the two was purely the work of too many overly active imaginations which wanted to fulfill the oft repeated Appalachian fantasy of "being descended from a full blooded Cherokee Indian".  I freely admit that as I learned more about Chief Charles Renatus Hicks I grew to respect him highly as a successful man in a difficult world.  I would have loved to learn that I was descended from a man who was the first mixed blood Chief of The Eastern Band of Cherokee, who was bilingual and wrote and spoke both English and Cherokee, acted as a primary interpreter for the tribe and the US military, served as a primary sub-chief for many years, owned one of the largest private libraries in the country as an Indian, and died as the Primary Chief of the tribe.  But I knew better and my DNA analysis proved me correct.  

My Father, Ballard Hicks, Photo By Roger D. Hicks

At this point, I will burst bubbles of fantasy for many descendants of Aulse Hicks and other Hicks' in Eastern Kentucky that they are "descended from a full blood Cherokee Indian".  My genealogy is Hicks on both sides.  My father was Ballard Hicks, a second great grandson of Aulse Hicks with the documentation to prove it.  My mother was Mellie Hicks, the granddaughter of Hence Hicks, whose name I have also seen misspelled and misconstrued in various ways in order to support the Chief Charles Renatus Hicks fantasy.  I have seen Hence Hicks mistakenly identified as being named Henderson or Hensley when I knew numerous people in my childhood who knew him well. He was a well known ambush murder victim in 1935 and every public record about him calls him only one name, Hence Hicks.  Both sides of my family were in Knott County in the late 1700's to early 1800's.  I have always said that I am lucky I wasn't born with a square head and that I suspect that if the truth can ever be proven it is highly likely that "grandpa" came through the Cumberland Gap alone.  By that I mean that I suspect that our original ancestor to emigrate to Kentucky came into the region very early in the settlement process, had a large family which dispersed widely, and eventually converged again to intermarry a few generations later after all family memory and the nearly non-existent record keeping of the time had completely forgotten about any family connections three or four generations in the past.  

Now let's get to the results of the DNA Analysis and burst some of those bubbles.  The first, and most painful bubble to be burst involves Native American DNA.  I, Roger D. Hicks, well-documented third great grandson of Aulse Hicks and a Hicks on both sides,  have absolutely no Native American DNA.  The major aspect of the analysis that was not a surprise also confirmed what most Eastern Kentucky genealogists have believed for years.  Ninety-eight percent of my DNA came from Europe and seventy-seven percent of it came from Great Britain and Ireland.  That was no surprise whatsoever.  But there were a couple of other minor surprises and two fairly major surprises left in the DNA. I have seven percent DNA from Scandinavia.  I also have two percent DNA from the Iberian Peninsula and less than one percent each from Finland/Northwest Russia and Eastern Europe.  But the bigger surprise was that I have less than one percent DNA from each of Southern Asia and Nigeria.  Since I have learned of the connections to Southern Asia and Nigeria, I have tried to imagine just how that interaction took place at a time which must have been at least eight or ten generations in the past, roughly two hundred years or more.  With most of my DNA coming from Europe and Great Britain in particular, someone in my far distant bloodlines had to be a bit of a world traveler.  Was an ancient grandfather a sailor who followed the canvas to points in Africa and Asia?  Was an ancient grandmother a slave who was raped by a slave trader?  Or did a pair of my distant ancestors both find themselves stranded in isolation somewhere in a place and time where the most logical response for their own good was to assume an interracial marriage?  I doubt that I will ever find the answers unless the religion of some group of my ancestors or another is correct and we all end up in a common hereafter either sitting around a cooking fire in the darkness, sailing a common vessel on seas yet unknown, or sharing iced tea on a shady porch and telling the stories in whichever place of exactly how we all came to be.  Sorry about all those bubbles!  

An Appalachian Graveyard


Unknown said...

Good morning,
I believe I am a descendant of Aulse through his daughter Mary who married Reese Owens. Still trying to prove the connections. I have 0 NA DNA as well. I was wondering if you have ever found his parents?

Thank you,

Roger D. Hicks said...

Jennifer, I have not been able to trace Aulse Hicks to anyone beyond him in the genealogy. It is relatively certain that he came to Prestonsburg from Western Virginia sometime between 1790 and 1810. He was in the 1790 census in Western Virginia and in the 1810 census in Prestonsburg as a preacher. He also signed a lot of marriage licenses in Prestonsburg. I have also seen him listed by a widow as a reference for a war pension based on her husband's service. My belief is that the best way to possibly find him is to spend the time and money to go to Western Virginia and search court houses for paper related to him. You would probably need a good week of searching and might have to go to several different counties to find anything, if anything exists at all. If you send me an E-mail to one of my addresses, we can converse more directly and share what we have.

Mary-Jacq Holroyd said...

DNA analysis is actually silent as to Native American geneoology. It is unlawful to use known Native American DNA from USA resident tribes in the analysis. Therefore, the exclusion of USA indigenous genetics is not currently possible. The DNA used for comparison is from South America. That question remains unknown in your review. You can say that you are not related to South American indigenous peoples but not central North American peoples. Russian and Iberian DNA are associated with indigenous North Americans. Russian DNA is one of the two founding genetics along with pacific rim. So.....

Roger D. Hicks said...

At this link, you will find the Wikitree Genealogy page about Aulse Hicks which quotes this blog post. Thanks to the writer who posted the link and quotation from this post.
Roger D. Hicks

Anonymous said...

"It is unlawful to use known Native American DNA from USA resident tribes in the analysis. "

And where is it unlawful? As against the law for NA to do a DNA test? Well then evidently many have broken the law.Please provide citations.

Roger D. Hicks said...

Here is a valid toll free number for Ancestry DNA. I am sure they will be glad to talk to you and learn how to do their job. 1-800-401-3193

Anonymous said...

I am trying to trace the lineage of my grandmother who was born in South Dakota, her name was Cora Elizabeth Hicks and she had a brother named Ballard. My mom said her father, James W. (Walter?) HIcks, was born in Kentucky but I could find no record of that. I think he later went to Tennessee and married but am not sure. I was on ancestry a few years ago and need to get back on to check again but I was never able to find where James was born nor his family.

Lol, my grandmother had pretty dark skin and we have also speculated she had Native American blood. Not sure but I think I read something that said your Asian bit of DNA could actually be Native American left from their Asian roots.

do you think there are unrelated people named Ballard Hicks from Tennessee? Can you point me in the right direction to find more?

Thank you, judi

Roger D. Hicks said...

Anonymous, Please send me an E-mail to my personal addresses and I will tell you what I know. Keep in mind that Hicks is not as common a name as Smith or Jones, but it is one of the most common last names in the country. I have seen Hicks' in nearly every place I have ever traveled from NY state to AZ and from ND to South Florida. Try me at

Chris Robinson said...

There is also a false claim by some that Aulse's wife was Sarah Handshoe. Aulse's wife was Sarah Robertson / Roberson. The earliest records pertaining to them are found in Washington Co., TN, where Sarah Robertson sued Aulse Hicks for child support in 1807 (for their newly born son, Hiram). Aulse and Sarah were not married at this time. Aulse also appears on the Washington Co., TN tax list for 1806 (Captain Anderson's District) on the same page with James Robertson (Sarah's father). After their marriage, Aulse and Sarah moved to Floyd Co., KY, where they lived next to the family of Sarah's sister, Delilah (Robertson) Langley at the mouth of Spurlock Fork on Middle Creek. Aulse and Sarah were buried in the Langley family cemetery in Floyd County. You can find more about them here: