View Full Version : Amerindian vs. Gypsy (Romany) vs. African?: Looking for help with a single ancestor

06-11-2018, 05:37 PM
Hi all. This one is a doozy for me and any assistance in evaluating the kit would be hugely appreciated. I have come across people online who say they have been trying to pin down who this man is for 40 years. My grandfather spent his entire life convinced he was Native American...but we're not so sure now.

African? Or Native American?

Interesting thing – people have for years in my family sworn that we are Native American through my 4th great grandfather. All my life he was referred to as "Simon 'Running Bear' Butler." On the 1860 census, he even lists himself as "Indian." It claims he was born in Tennessee, and he lived in Kentucky, as did his descendants. He went by the name "Simon Butler." His daughter's marriage record states for where her father was born as "don't know."

Now, Ancestry.com has placed descendants of his daughter into a DNA circle. Among 12 of us, not a single one of us has Native American DNA, and all of us have African DNA. Imagination running wild, my best guess was that he was a runaway slave, perhaps "mulatto," who posed as Native American. This would be bizarre, though, because Kentucky was still a slave state at the time. It doesn't make sense.


I have a strong suspicion that he may have been a gypsy (Roma/Romani), but it's nothing more than what I'd call an informed hunch and nothing conclusive to back it up yet.

Historically, this is possible as gypsies were brought to the Americas in some numbers as indentured servants to the colonies and as slaves by the Spanish to Louisiana Territory, both in the 1700s. This would match Simon Butler's timeframe as he was allegedly born anywhere from 1750–1776, though this is hard to really corroborate.

Simon Butler listed his occupation as “fifer” which means a flute player. His daughter was a “fortune teller” during the civil war. Those both seem indicative of "typical" gypsy occupations. From what I understand from doing a bit of cursory research, “Butler” is apparently a historically-known gypsy alias in America. I found multiple stories of people finding out that their “Native American” ancestors were gypsies who pretended to be native and told no one once they forged their new identity due to the heavy stigma.

But as to DNA...There is no significant amount of "Amerindian" DNA for me. When I put it through closer analysis on GEDMATCH, however, patterns of known gypsy migration show up (I think), but I am very novice at evaluating these results. There is a small but elevated percentage of South Asian that presumably has no business being there at the level it is unless it’s from him. Everyone else in my family is very much British/Western European. No one else on either side of the rest of my family has shown even a slight connection to the Middle East or Africa. Other DNA circles from other relatives show no sign of those trace regions whatsoever – completely British/Western European.

North_Atlantic 49.90
Baltic 22.84
West_Med 9.48
West_Asian 8.92
East_Med 4.51
South_Asian 1.17
Siberian 0.05
Amerindian 0.55
Sub-Saharan 2.56

East_European 10.97
West_European 52.55
Mediterranean 22.40
Neo_African 1.12
West_Asian 8.96
South_Asian 1.40
East_African 0.07
Southwest_Asian 0.45
Northwest_African 1.68
Palaeo_African 0.41

S-Indian 0.05
Baloch 11.16
Caucasian 7.65
NE-Euro 49.54
American 0.15
Beringian 0.25
Mediterranean 28.95
SW-Asian 0.18
W-African 2.06

Ancestral_Altaic 4.46
South_Central_Asian 5.81
South_Indian 1.20
Caucasian 22.64
Archaic_Human 0.23
European_Early_Farmers 24.92
Archaic_African 0.76
North_African 2.28
African_Pygmy 0.08
Subsaharian 1.40
European_Hunters_Gatherers 36.22

06-13-2018, 01:25 AM
Can't answer your other questions, but in Kentucky while slavery was still legal someone claiming to be Native American and able to pass as one would be able to move freely, while an African American man who didn't have papers would have been whisked right back into slavery. Most escaped slaves went north, but not all did. Some wanted to stay close to their families (I watched a documentary that touched on one man who stayed in the South and worked for the money to buy each of his family members). Some stayed or returned and joined in the Underground Railroad (see Harriet Tubman). After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, the North wasn't always a refuge, either, since slave hunters could capture people and drag them back to the South completely legally.

So if he was an escaped slave, staying in Kentucky and claiming to be Native American would have been uncommon but not unheard of. He might have even been part Native American himself, but enough generations back that it's "washed out" by now among his descendants. Or he may have had some white ancestors, as many slaves did, and while he couldn't pass for white, he had straight enough hair and was light enough to pass for Native American.

06-13-2018, 03:33 AM
yeah, I see the high probability of a 100% west African about 7 generations back according to the numbers in those models. I do not see "gypsy" romani though.