I’VE WONDERED MYSELF these days what if any is my connection to North Carolina’s indigenous communities. I became obsessed as a teenager in learning about them, in part spurred on by that portrait of my great grandfather, but also because it helped me to learn some deep history of a region where my ancestors had been living at least since the 17th century. It was very hard to understand how uprooted British settlers managed to eke out an existence in the swamps of the Carolinas, and how they managed to do so. Add some Native Americans into the picture and I was hooked.
My own link is very, very tenuous. It’s through my father’s mother, Margaret Pittman (1918-2016), who was actually educated at James Madison University and became a schoolteacher. She was born in 1918. Like most people of any generation, she only knew her family history back a few generations. Our family memory goes back to the Civil War, but no further.
Through her father, Tom Pittman (1896-1971) though, we are connected to the settlers of the Chowan River area, particularly through his mother, Martha Lydia Collins (1877-1945). His father’s family, the Pittmans, were mostly of English ancestry and came from Isle of Wight County, Virginia, migrating south via Southampton County, and then back across the river into Gates County, eventually settling on the state line in about 1870.
As the DNA has more or less confirmed, along with a smattering of paper documents, these Collinses were related to the Halls, Weavers, Basses, Bissells, Meltons, and other families of indigenous descent in the region. It is excruciatingly hard to say through which family, or from which indigenous nation, but we can say, from the same family clusters, which included indigenous individuals. According to GEDmatch calculators, I am something like 0.7 percent Native American, which isn’t a hell of a whole lot, is it?
But of course, I already knew that. I know most of my ancestors come from the Mediterranean and the British Isles in a somewhat distant second place, just as I knew that I had indigenous ancestors, which is the case. I only wish I knew more about them.