Amateur genealogist Steve Woodall believed that his direct male-line ancestors, and carriers of the Woodall surname, descended from Irish stock. But, despite years of research, he could not reach further back than his 3 x great-grandfather, William Wagner Woodall, born in 1818 in North Carolina. To get past the dead end, Steve turned to DNA testing – and got an unexpected result. He told KUHF Houston Public Radio, “We got the DNA test that says that it appears that we’re Native Americans and we’re like what? We’re what?“
Steve’s European appearance gave no hint of Native American heritage, yet Family Tree DNA confirmed his Y-DNA haplogroup as Q1a3a1. This haplogroup is strictly associated with the indigenous peoples of the Americas and is defined by the genetic marker M3, which occurred on the Q lineage roughly 10-15 thousand years ago as the migration from Siberia into the Americas was in progress. Steve is now searching for Y-DNA matches with other Q1a3a1 males through FTDNA and ysearch, to enable him to track his Native American lineage before William Wagner Woodall. He has already discovered 4 other Woodalls whose markers match.
Steve has posted some fascinating details of William Wagner Woodall’s life (1818 – 1906) on geni.com. William was a full-bloodied Cherokee Indian and possibly acquired the Woodall surname by adoption; he tended to be vague about his origins on official 19th century returns, as it was common for Native Americans at the time to deny their roots and blend in with white populations. William would have been 12 years old when the US government passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a process of cultural transformation originally proposed by George Washington to open up land for white settlement. This led to the infamous ‘Trail of Tears’ between 1831 and 1838, the forced relocation of almost 50,000 Native Americans from their homelands in the southeastern United States to the newly designated ‘Indian Territory’ west of the Mississippi. Many Native Americans died from exposure, disease and starvation en route, including 4,000 of the 15,000 relocated Cherokee.
Steve, and other Woodall descendants believe that William may have escaped this fate by hiding out in the mountainous backwoods and lowlands of the southeast, relying on the hunter-gatherer skills of his ancestors. Some Native Americans fled from the march en route, while others escaped once they had reached the new reservations and returned to their ancient homelands. They kept a low profile and did not speak their native language, or teach it to their children. They lived in constant fear that their ancestry would be revealed and that they would be arrested and ‘deported’ to the Indian reservations in the west; everything they owned could be seized by the Government.
William and other Cherokee were able to assimilate into white populations in North Carolina. The Cherokee in the southeast had had the earliest contact with European explorers in the 16th century and had adopted many European cultural traits over the centuries leading up to their forced removal. To explain away their slightly darker skin tone, they claimed obscure European origins and covered up with wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves when working outdoors in the summer to ensure they did not tan too readily.
William married Mamie Elizabeth Smith and produced 10 children. He became a farmer on the lands that his Cherokee ancestors once hunted in the southern Appalachians, and by 1870 had the means to purchase 100 acres of land in Harris County, Georgia. He later moved to Alabama, where he died in 1906.
While William Wagner Woodall was forced to deny his Native American origins, Steve is in the fortunate position of being able to embrace them. After joining the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama, Steve’s company, Reliant Business Products, achieved Minority Status from the Houston Minority Business Council. I sincerely hope Steve enjoys whatever concessions this association brings to his business, as there is no denying that he is Native American – DNA does not lie!
Related post: 10 Surprising Ancestral Origins Revealed by DNA Testing