Being a native Floridian is something I have always felt equal amounts of pride and trepidation about because the geography and history of the state (we were occupied by France, Spain and England), itself implies that my heritage should resemble vegetable soup – a little of this and a little of that with a dash of whatever.
If you have read any of my Florida road trip series, you know that Florida was pretty much a dumping ground during the Civil War and that although a couple of significant battles were fought here, mostly it is where deserters, slaves and an assortment of ‘conscientious objectors’ fled to escape the war. I have always assumed that my ancestors were probably among them. While that may still be partly true, my story appears to have begun much earlier. My daughter, tired of hearing that she is a purebred on one side and a mutt on the other, gifted me with a DNA kit, and firm instructions to spit! It is as easy as that.
Results from the test arrived via my email inbox in about three weeks. Drum roll please…..As it turns out, I am 79% English and 16% Scottish. What? No way!
No American Indian, no Spanish, no French and not a sliver of German, as family members have contended for years. I’m English! Ha, not a mutt after all.
The neat thing about the Ancestry report that I received is that it pinpoints not only where my ancestors came from in Europe but where they likely settled in the new world sometime during the 1700’s. My DNA matches show that my ancestors settled along the Carolina Coast, down through Georgia and into Florida. Hmmm…English, Scottish with origins dating back to the 1700’s. A quick look at history reveals that there were several English/Scottish settlements along that coast during that time.
As fate would have it, Malcolm and I had a trip scheduled to Jekyll Island, GA in early February, which was just a few weeks after my DNA results arrived. We love the region and have visited there many times, but this time it took on a whole new meaning. Just across the bridge from Jekyll Island is St. Simons Island, where in 1733 General James Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica named for the Prince of Wales, Frederick Louis (1702-1754).
Hmmm…connecting the dots. My ancestors were 95% English/Scottish and there was an English/Scottish settlement on St. Simons Island. My DNA matches have a high concentration in this region. So, for lack of collaborating or disputing evidence, I am going to contend that I have found my people and that is that!
My brother and his wife joined us at Jekyll for a few days, and after hearing of my ancestry results we decided to visit the place that could very likely be our family’s hallowed ground. Our day at Fort Frederica was educational and fun, as we posed with the British flag and paid homage to ‘our people.’
More About Our People
There are several accounts of how Fort Frederica was settled. Below is my very brief summary of a whole lot of history that can be learned when you visit this historic site.
Georgia was considered ‘disputable ground’ since the English held South Carolina and the Spanish held Florida. England decided to claim the territory and initiate a grand experiment, under the leadership of General James Oglethorpe. The plan was to build a Utopian Society, of sorts, comprised of people from all walks of life. Each person would have a purpose and fulfill a need to the society ensuring self sufficiency for this ‘slave free’ settlement.
A disputable account of who the original settlers were, is that they were families released from ‘debtors prisons’ in England and given passage to the new settlement. Records show that approximately eleven families did fit that description, however, it is widely believed that Oglethorpe hand picked most of the early colonists based on their ability to provide a specific service or contribution. The settlement, which is easily distinguished from the ruins, was perfectly laid out on a grid (much like English villages), with a wide center street and neat rows of homes and businesses. A Garrison on the bay provided protection for the colony.
Although Oglethorpe tried for the better part of ten years, the colony never materialize as the economic and social success that he had dreamed of. Not all was lost, since Fort Fredrica proved to be an excellent stronghold for England and after a nine year battle with the Spanish, the British Crown successfully claimed the remaining territories in the region.
From a genuine English settlement to a historic lighthouse to majestic Spanish Oaks, St. Simons Island is rich in history and picturesque landscapes. Yep, that’s Malcolm looking about the size of an ant at the base of a three hundred year old oak tree.
In addition to historic St. Simons Island, this entire region is dotted with unique barrier islands that draw history buffs and photographers from across the globe. The photos below are from Jekyll Island and Sapelo Island respectively. While we prefer staying at Jekyll Island, (which we wrote about here), St. Simons is also a great base for island hopping. Sapelo, which is well worth the effort, can be reached by a short ferry ride from Darien, GA.
While I may never know for sure that I have a legitimate connection to coastal Georgia, I do have a lot of dots that seem to connect; possibly because I want them to. It is fun to imagine that my British/Scottish ancestors might have been candle makers, blacksmiths, pub owners or clergymen looking for a new life in a brave new world; or maybe they were just trying to get out of jail free! Who knows for sure. What I do know is that this place draws me back time and again. From I95 the car turns East and I see endless vistas of salt marsh, compelling me toward the barren shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the kind of peace that has no words.
Note: My experience with Ancestry.com is based entirely on the basic DNA results which are given with the price of the kit. I did not take the offer to subscribe to the complete program, but that is still an option should I wish to take my ancestry quest further.
19 thoughts on “Discovering My Roots”
This “roots” quest is fascinating, isn’t it! When I was young I had geneology buffs on both sides of my family, so I have complete histories going back quite far. We are from New England and Atlantic Canada so we are mainly of English descent on both sides – although I have not done the DNA test thing YET. Traced back to the Mayflower on my mom’s side.
I had only a passing interest in the past, but now am increasingly so. Perhaps it has something to do with getting older and wanting to understand our place.
Nancy, how wonderful that you have actual evidence of your history on both sides of your family. I was skeptical about the DNA test, but now, I encourage everyone I know to just do it. You never know what might turn up. Thanks for stopping by.
The Georgia Coast truly is a special place. This is a very timely post for me to read. My brother recently received the results ofbis DNA from ancestery and You and I have very similar DNA results thanks for the post.
Hi Beth, has your family always been in and around GA? Wouldn’t it be funny to find out we are cousins? My DNA matches included over 1,000 4th through 2nd cousins. Of course those are the ones that have recorded their DNA. Can’t imagine how many are actually out there. Just read your Anastasia Island post. It will definitely be a stop on our next trip in that direction.
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My mother’s family has been in middle Georgia since before the civil war.
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These DNA kits can produce some very interesting and unexpected results – as yours did! I have a feeling that this journey has just started for you 🙂
Joanne, you are so right. I have one friend who discovered that the father who raised her was not her biological father. You definitely have to be prepared for a surprise or two.
Ouch! That’s a tough message!
I’m glad the results tie you to some interesting things in history, and that you’re able to explore them further. Enjoy!
Dan, it has been fun reading about all the English/Scottish settlements along the East coast from SC to Florida. Lots to keep me entertained! I am very tempted to pay the subscription fee and dig a bit deeper. 1000+ cousins surely have something to contribute to the story.
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I can understand the attraction.
I’m fortunate enough to have ancestors who kept detailed histories of the family so I doubt a DNA test would reveal much I didn’t know. I was surprised to find out on a recent trip to Canada that my Canadian ancestors who claimed to be Scottish actually migrated from Ireland but a Celt is a Celt…
Interesting history of Fort Fredericka – I guess communes have always been hard to keep going! Lovely picture of the driftwood trees… really nice!
I found it interesting that the need for “protection” won out over the social experiment.Thanks for the mention of the photo. It is a recent favorite, for sure.
I haven’t had my DNA test (not sure I want to) but I’ve been told that I am solidly English too. Maybe a few other bits thrown in, but not much beyond the UK. One of these days, I would like to visit my roots across the pond.
You should absolutely do it. Basically, we all came from Europe, but where exactly, and where did your people settle once they got here, then, how did they get to where you are today. It is fascinating to follow the breadcrumbs.
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Suzanne you found your tribe😄 I find the history of our ancestry absolutely fascinating. I have not yet done my DNA testing but it is something that I would like to do for sure. My grandparents were Italian, but who knows what else is mixed in there. Great photos 😄
Ha ha, my tribe, and not a trace of American Indian. I was already getting the papers ready to claim reparations.I’m enjoying your travel stories. Keep them coming.
Well that sounds like it was a fun journey of discovery. You are 1% Nigerian! Now THAT is really interesting, and imagine the story behind that one. Plus 2% European Jewish! A while back my older sister and I were interested in piecing it all together and managed to accumulate a family tree that went way back, but not that many surprises in terms of origin. But there was a very famous sculptor and all of us siblings have artistic ability, so that seems to explain that.
Love the island hopping photos.So beautiful.
It’s’ like this wonderful mystery, waiting to be unraveled. I am anxious for other close family members to participate so we can compare notes. The Nigerian and European Jewish have me intrigued, for sure.