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source was a chart drawn up by an uncle, but since then Vick has turned to old Census files, birth certificates and historical documents to piece together his family tree.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.