Was She Or Wasn’t She? How a Family Legend Might Have Begun

Was she or wasn’t she? That is a question many of us are asking about our ancestors – was she or wasn’t she a Native American. I’ve noticed that MANY folks in Facebook genealogy groups are attempting to prove or dis-prove tales of a Native American ancestor, usually female, and usually Cherokee. I am also trying to figure out if Anna Parker McWhorter was Native American, or as family legend told – half Seneca. With the advent of DNA enhanced genealogical research proving or dis-proving such tales is becoming possible. Anna Parker was born in 1777 in PA to a Nathaniel Parker (a brick wall) and Abigail Garlinghouse. Abigail’s parents were from the Netherlands, and her mother was Scottish, named Joanna Buchanan. Late last year Ancestry DNA matched me to a descendant of Abigail Garlinghouse’s brother. Lurking deep in my genes are some tantalizing trace regions that are too large to be background noise. I may look “white bread”, but according to Eurogenes my trace regions include some surprises, including the Middle East!  Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity, these trace regions came through my McWhorter-Buchanan-Garlinghouse line, this could explain quite a bit. I have a photo of Anna taken a few years before she died in 1854. Life on the upstate New York farm was rough, her face appears heavy and leathery, her skin tone appeared dark, hair quite dark, eyes medium dark, cheekbones strong, broad and high. Now, we go back to her Dutch-Scottish grandparents; John James Garlinghouse and Joanna Buchanan. The Dutch were great sea traders and the Netherlands drew people from all over Europe for trade and education. The Netherlands were ruled by Spain for many generations. Even Scottsmen traveled and traded all over Europe as part of the “Scottish Diaspora.” And these Dutch and Scottish traders may have brought back brides from those southern regions, or the local Dutch and Scottish girls “got in the family way” with traders from these more southern regions!
Back to the old photo of the very old Anna. She could have inherited the dark and swarthy look of someone descended from people with both northern and southern European ancestry. Photos of her first and second cousins from the Garlinghouse line shows people with similar features – strong, broad and high cheekbones and dark hair. 

Anna Parker McWhorter, her cousins and two of her children.
Anna Parker McWhorter, her cousins and two of her children.

Top row: Rachael Garlinghouse, her first cousin once removed Keziah McWhorter, Anna Parker McWhorter. Bottom row: Anna McWhorter, her brother Tyler, and their second cousin Leman Garlinghouse.

Granddaughter of James John Garlinghouse and Johanna Buchanan.
Anna Parker McWhorter, Granddaughter of James John Garlinghouse and Johanna Buchanan.


Flash forward to my more recent ancestors who came upon the photo of Anna. They may have looked at it and speculated about her ethnic origins, especially if her story didn’t follow the photo. “She looks Indian!” Since they would have known where she was born, they may have speculated as to which tribe, Seneca in this case. And so the legend of a Native American woman began in my family.