Tom Clyde: Digging into the DNA
You think you know your own family, and then something pops up that sends it all sideways. I was at a family funeral, with all the siblings, nieces and nephews, and assorted cousins in attendance. One of my nieces said she had been at a business conference in Denver that was so boring that she decided to start exploring genealogy on her phone. She’s never had the slightest interest in that before, and a widowed aunt had previously and definitively closed the book on it anyway. Nobody has cared since.
Her big discovery was that we have Native American ancestors. To which everybody said, “No, we don’t.”
There are Danes, Norwegians and some stray Swedes on my mother’s side. There are lots and lots of Scots and Swiss-Germans on my father’s side. Dad’s side has been in the country forever, moving from Scotland to Ireland, then Canada, and into the British Colonies before the Revolution. Some of them were on the Mayflower, others came shortly after.
My niece insisted that, really, some of the family were actually standing on the beach to welcome the Mayflower. Right next to Elizabeth Warren’s ancestors.
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Well, that set it off, and everybody started digging into the software of their choice, all coming up with the same thing. There was a lot of begatting, and the line traced back through great-grandmother Clara Alexander Clyde all the way back to Colonial America, and then, out of nowhere, there’s this Native American couple. They’re not just some random Native Americans. The stuff online claims to trace back to Massasoit, the Pokanoket leader who convinced the other Indians not to slaughter the Mayflower colonists. I guess we know how that turned out, but Massasoit is a regular in all the (non-Indian) Thanksgiving stories. And here I am, only 12 generations removed, 1/2048th Pokanoket. Or not.
I’m not sure I believe it. Numerous family members have done the commercial DNA tests, and they all say Scots and Danes with a hint of German/Swiss. Nobody has had anything that says Pokanoket. Who are your going to believe, the internet or actual science? It all makes sense until somebody finds a reference to a court record that said Massasoit’s son, Womsettan Moonanam Wamsutta, changed his name to Alexander. It seems tenuous. But there are enough histories several generations back that refer to it that, who knows.
So I’ve decided to fully embrace it. The ranch has been a financial failure since the earliest homesteaders stole the land from my Native brothers. It’s never worked as a business. But now, given the newly found Native heritage, maybe we can get it set aside as a Pokanoket reservation, even though they lived in Rhode Island (which isn’t an island). But they could have come West any time they wanted. Who’s to say they didn’t? We can set up a casino in the old dairy barn, and rake it in. As a sovereign Pokanoket nation, we wouldn’t be bothered by any of those pesky local regulations. We could do what we wanted.
Well, you say, that sounds bogus. That sounds like a scheme to skirt around all kinds of well-meaning and important laws and regulations adopted by duly elected officials. Yeah, but it’s nowhere near as bogus as that MIDA deal around Jordanelle. Somehow they are claiming that it takes the property tax base from 5,500 acres to build a handful of hotel rooms for military personnel to stay in while skiing at Deer Valley on soldiers’ pay. Meanwhile, they will bankrupt the Wasatch County School District. Show me the genealogy on that one.
I don’t know if the people working on that “Yellowstone” TV show read this, but they might want to look into this as a possible plot twist. Kevin Costner’s character is besieged by corrupt Native American casino developers, and corrupt Anglo casino/ski resort developers, and all he wants to do is raise cattle and occasionally hang a few of his neighbors. But what would happen if Costner’s character, John Dutton, discovers that he is Native American himself? I mean there’s that whole “Dances with Wolves” angle (one of my favorite movies, by the way). He might be able to save the ranch if he could get it declared a reservation before that Rainwater guy does, and it might do wonders for his mixed-up family relationships.
So I’ll pass that suggestion on, and they can use if it the want. I don’t expect credit for the idea. But they need a little help. There’s no way a dozen alfalfa hay bales dropped out of a plane could bloat a whole herd of cattle. I mean, they eat it all winter. It’s green alfalfa that’s a problem.
Anyway, as we Pokanokets always say, it’s been a very strange week.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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