Stories From 23andMe: James Larry Vick and the “Black Dutch” of Newman’s Ridge

It started innocently enough with a simple question from his daughter.

“Where did our family come from?”

(Image from Larry Vick’s blog)

For 20 years Larry Vick has been trying to answer that question. His first source was a chart drawn up by an uncle, but since then Vick has turned to old Census files, birth certificates and historical documents to piece together his family tree. It’s grown to 40 pages that trace ancestors back to the early 1600s in colonial America and another branch of the family back to Germany.

He traced the origin of his family name, and created a whole website on the study of the name Vick.

Retired from the Air Force, Vick is fascinated by genealogy, so when he learned about “genetic genealogy” and the ability to trace ancestry through DNA, he decided to give it a try.

He first used 23andMe in 2009.

“My most distant (that I can identify) paternal line ancestor (Y-DNA) was Joseph Vick of Lower Parish, Isle of Wight Co., VA, born about 1640-1650,” Vick said. “My most distant maternal line ancestor (mtDNA) was Elizabeth, born about 1792 in NC.”

The test also revealed some surprises.

He noticed on his maternal line African ancestry. “I thought, ‘that’s an artifact,’” he said.

But what he found was that his mother’s 2nd great grandmother, Elizabeth Collins, probably did indeed have some mixed ancestry. She’d come from an area in Tennessee called Newman’s Ridge, where people often referred to themselves as “Black Dutch.” The population there — and in the Cumberland Gap area of Appalachia — was also referred to as “Melungeon,” tri-racial with a mix European, African and Native American ancestry.

Vick’s use of 23andMe’s ancestry finder also helped him track down a distant cousin — who also happened to share his interest in genealogy. They traced back their connection to a common ancestor in pre-revolutionary America. That story was picked up by CNN three years ago.

While Vick’s interest is primarily in the ancestry functions of 23andMe, he said the service offers more.

“At first I had no interest in the health side,” Vick said.

That has since changed he learned his granddaughter, who has also been tested by 23andMe, had a high risk for deep vein thrombosis. He immediately talked to his daughter. Since neither he nor his daughter had an elevated risk for deep vein thrombosis, it appeared his granddaughter had inherited this risk from his son-in-law’s side of the family. Because his son-in-law was adopted and did not know anything about his biological parents’ health history, the insight about this risk told them something they otherwise would not have known. This risk can be heightened for women who are also taking an oral contraception, hormone replacement or who are pregnant.

Vick said that because the number of people who use 23andMe, its power grows.

“It’s kind of like panning for gold, when you find a relative it can be golden,” he said.

23andMe provides genetic testing services for informational purposes; your results may or may not help you to search for or identify relatives or family members.

What’s your story? If you’re willing to share, we want to hear. Drop us a line at stories@23andme.com.


  • http://23&me Dayna Tolley

    I’m writing about the term “black dutch” in the above article. My maternal grandmother, from the Ozarks in Arkansas, said one of her grandmothers referred to herself as “Black Dutch”. I looked for years trying to find the origin of the term. Then, while I was in an African Studies course at Indiana University, my professor wrote “black dutch” on the blackboard. He said it was what the Afrikaaners (the dutch in South Africa) called themselves and their language (which would have been a form of dutch). To this day I have never been able to verify this. But, I doubt, as the article infers, it had anything to do with any real black ancestry. For one, people back then did not refer to negroid peoples as “black”. And it could be a term like “Pennsylvania Dutch”, where the “dutch” is actually “deutsch”, meaning German. There are also”Black Irish”, which does not mean that they were of negroid ancestry. So, it is possible that the Black Dutch of Newman’s Ridge are of South African Dutch (Afrikaaner) ancestry, German Ancestry, or something signified by “black” (outsiders) altogether.

    • jack Sallee

      My maternal grandmother, also from the Ozarks in Arkansas (Cline family), said her father’s ancestry was Black Dutch. My understanding of the term was that it was a corruption of the words platt Deutsch, meaning flat German, who were people from the low, flat areas of the northern German coast, not far from the Danes. These people were shorter and darker than most of the regular Germans.

  • Katy Brown

    The term “black” was used early on in this country.

    From the minutes of Stony Creek Baptist Church (SW Virginia or NE Tennessee, due to border fluctuations.)

    August the 22, (1801)
    Met in order. Referred the hearing of Sister Mary Jones till next church meeting:
    Brother Jesse Wilson and Br. David Cox to cite her to appear. Received by experience John Watson, Senr. Baptised Nevel Wayland, Senr., William Marshall Cockrel, Henry Leath, David Cox Jr., Nancy Wayland, black Rode (Rhoda).

    March the 27, 1808
    Church meeting held at Stony Creek and found in love. Simon Dotson, Feby Dotson, Mary Dotson, William Hollan, and black John and Eve. Elizabeth Bradic excluded from this church this 27th day of March 1808. Brother Cock, Brother Wells, Brother Brickey appointed to attend at Copper Creek the third Saturday in April. Brother Cock has given a letter of recommendation from the church where he came from. Elizabeth Carter came forward told her experience and was baptised. Lidish (?) Ogden has taken a letter from this church. Presley Carter received by experience and baptised. Dismissed in order.

    The Blacks referred to here may have been free people because elsewhere in these minutes there are references e.g. “James, Mr. Smith’s black” indicating James was the property of Mr. Smith.

    http://files.usgwarchives.net/va/scott/church/stonycrk.txt

  • aber

    My father claimed he was black dutch. He had dark wavy hair and olive skin and almond shaped slanted eyes..sort of oriental-like. But from looking on the web I found that Native American’s used to call themselves “Black Dutch”…back when there was some shame in being an American Indian.

  • ken reed

    I was walking in downtown Houston, and stopped for a traffic light. A man next to me looked me in the eye, and said, “I’ll bet you’re black Irish.” I was leery, but just then the light changed, and he hurried on ahead. I never knew until now what the term meant. I do know I am primarily Scots-Irish on both sides of my family, with a touch of German on my father’s side and one Cherokee Indian on my mother’s side. I would really love to go back in time and visit with some of my ancestors. I can see speech patterns, character traits, and ways of thinking in myself and my siblings that came to us through our parents. I would like to know how far back they originated.

  • Jason Hill

    My GG-gmother was born in south central KY and has been called “(black) Dutch” and I am looking forward to having her last surviving granddaughter tested to see her admixture results. I have traced the usage of the term back to the Wars of Religion in Continental Europe. Basically, Iberian mercenaries raped women from Holland down into Germany and the children would be called “Black Dutch” or “Black Deutsch,” hence roughly equating the original meaning of the term with today’s “Hispanic.” Johannes Kepler’s mother is an example of one of the offspring of these traumatic times. When the Palatinate Germans came to America they brought this term with them and it would come to apply to anyone looking darker than a typical Northern European. The older term in colonial times used for a “Hispanic” looking person was “Portugee.” Over time in America these terms evolved to refer to an individual with questionably racially mixed ancestry without necessarily implying African heritage. “Melungeons” have always maintained that their ancestors were not slaves.

    I am also a documented descendant of the Bunch family in another line. From Y-DNA testing it is known that the Bunch family progenitor is from Africa. In one of the Bunch branches the name changed to Collins around Louisa County, VA. From there Vardy Collins later moved to Newman’s Ridge, TN ca.1790 and became a local patriarch of the “Melungeon” Collinses. So we may be related somehow through the Collins/Bunch family. I have a hypothesis that there is a tendency for these “Crypto-Africans” to “recognize” and marry one another throughout the generations, hence preserving this genetic legacy better in some branches. In the early days, African genes like the sickle-cell trait may have provided an advantage with malarial resistance. These early African “colonists” may have been more genetically adapted to the environment of the Southern Colonies than their European contemporaries.

    • latrell malone

      black dutch, means you are a descendant of king arthur, and his queen ,guinnivere.and the other early english kings and queens.black means out.like out of office and dutch means he was of dutch ancestry

      • Linda

        latrell, your post makes more sense than any of the others I’ve read. Thank you.

  • William Duncan Warren

    There are also Black Irish and Black Scots.

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