Personal stories of project participants.
It's funny, but as I was growing up as a kid, I always had a sense that there was a secret lurking in my family. I'm not exactly sure how I knew this. I recall overhearing my dad talking about adopting a child... of course, I immediately thought, feared, and dreaded, that it was me he was talking about... Finally my sister confessed - she was adopted by my dad, pop-pop, and that she had another biological father... and he was an American Indian... she even knew his name. With this disclosure a 50 year old family secret came to light.
When he decided to do the DNA test at West Chester University, this student approached his family to determine what his ancestry might be. To his surprise, they revealed that it could be anything. He writes: "My great, great grandma on my mother's side was a prostitute. No one knows who fathered her children."
I received results from a DNA test I had volunteered to take at West Chester University. I was in tears when I saw my results. The DNA test read that I had strong African American genes with a little of Asian and something else as well. I was told my whole life I was Puerto Rican. My teacher explained that Puerto Ricans do have African American blood since they are a product of a mixture of cultures although adoption could be a possibility. I decided to ask my niece instead because I felt closer to her. We decided to talk about it the next day along with my other niece. As I sat down and both my nieces began crying. I was adopted. In addition, I am not only Puerto Rican but Cuban as well. To know that your family has kept such a secret for 21 years of your life is detrimental. Although a little angry, I felt more relieved. I finally knew my true history.
The family members that we spoke with were very interested to determine which side of the family the African markers were inherited from. They always believed that a maternal-great grandmother was Cherokee. We know now that this is not true. My sister-in-law, who did her thesis on the peopling of Western Appalachia, indicates that it was fairly common for freed people to live with the Native American population in western North Carolina. I pointed out that they shouldn't make assumptions until we determined which side of the family contributed the markers. I asked him if he felt any different about himself and his heritage - he laughed. He has always been proud to be a mutt and this doesn't change a thing. He would have been disappointed if the test showed that his heritage traced entirely back to Europe which would be just too boring.
In one branch of my family, there were officers in the British Army. Major Robert Gill married Florence Rickaby and they went to live in India. At some point he took up an Indian Mistress, Peroo, around 1845, and his wife came back to England around 1849. He stayed in India (see photo).
In another picture, Robert Gill sits with a dead tiger at his feet. In his life he was supposed to kill 100-150 tigers. But the woman in this picture may be Peroo the Indian woman. Peroo died in 1856 and one version is that she was murdered by Indians who didn't like the fact that she had taken up with this English Man. All her children were buried around the same time. Anyways, after she died or was murdered, Gill took up with another Indian Mistress, and they had a daughter (Mildred Mary Gill) in 1866. Mildred was my great grandmother. That's her picture there in the white shirt. I don't know if you think she looks kind of Indian or not. It's hard to say if she was Indian. The reason we think she is Indian is that when she was 15 she married another soldier called Charles Fisher, from Ireland. And on the wedding certificate his origin was given as "Hibernicus" meaning "Ireland". Her origin was given as "Euro-Sind", meaning "European-Indian". That's really the only written evidence we have that she was Indian or half-Indian. She married this guy (Charles Fisher) when she was fifteen years old in 1889 and came back to Ireland. My grandmother (Josephine) was born in 1900. Mildred Mary Gill eventually left Charles Fisher and went to live with another daughter in London. And my grandmother married another Irish man and had a daughter (Una) in 1918, and that was my mother. And that's what I think happened. There is another version of the story that she is Portuguese, but that could be because the family did not want it known that Major Gill had a daughter by an Indian mistress (for reasons to do with social class, religious morality and race).