When I was a young boy I had close relationships with my grandparents and even three great-grandmothers. From my earliest memories, I had been told by my dear great-grandmother, Louisa Cornelia Dodson Gilliam, that her mother (Mary Alta Myra Johnson Dodson) was 1/2 Cherokee.) I never questioned the words of my Mother, Grandmother, or Great-Grandmother. I assumed that she should know the authentic genealogy of her own mother. My Great-Grandmother (Loueisey is how she spelled it and pronounced it loo-EYE-zee GILL-um) did have physical features which resembled what I thought (perhaps mistakenly) a person with Cherokee ancestors might look like: reddish brown skin tone, more wrinkled skin than most of my relatives, high cheekbones, certain speech patterns which were totally different from others, etc.

Gilliam Family, 1913?
Great-Grandpa Jesse (1860-1928) and Great-Grandma Louisa seated
2nd Great Grandmother
Mary Alta Myra Johnson Dodson
(My 2nd great-grandmother)

Grandma Gilliam was born in rural Tennessee and lived a full life, and died at the age of 91. She often spent extended periods living in our house in Kentucky until I was 18 years of age. At the time I was not interested in genealogy. Like most young folks, I had no interest in deep research into my lineage until those who could be most helpful were already deceased!

Louisa Gilliam
Louisa Cornelia Dodson Gilliam (1864-1955)

Actually, I never thought much about my “Cherokee” background until one day in the late 1990s I had a conversation with a male student about his studies. He told me that he was registered as an “American Indian” which allowed him to receive a tuition grant provided to Native-American descendants. He related that he was 1/64th Native. I told him that I was also part Cherokee (probably 1/32nd.) This was the first time that I had learned that such financial grants were available.

After retirement, I developed a curiosity about my background. When researching my genealogy, I had learned that my 6th maternal great-grandmother, Sara Cassandra Boone, was Daniel Boone’s sister. Thus, Daniel Boone's father was my 7th great-grandfather. My paternal grandmother had been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and had done the required genealogical research for entrance in that organization. I used this as a starting point for further investigation.

I write this “memory” because of the tremendous interest which has recently erupted over the ethnic background of Elizabeth Warren and the derogatory name which has often been applied to her. As with Warren, I was proud to have some Native-American heritage. It was only recently that DNA testing became available to the general public at a somewhat reasonable price. One of my cousins (also in direct line of my “Cherokee” great-grandmother) had submitted his DNA for evaluation and amazingly, there was no detectable evidence of Cherokee. I had discussed this with our offspring, and they suggested that I also do the “spit test” to ultimately determine my ancestry.

I anxiously awaited the report. After approximately 6 weeks, I received the ethnic estimate:


I suppose that I write about this because it never occurred to me that I would ever fully know my ancestry (as is evidenced by the TV series, Finding Your Roots.) I am delighted to know more about my DNA (Do Not Anticipate?) but disappointed that no Cherokee is present. I am not descended from “an Indian Princess” as had been a part of my family’s legend.


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