Research Group seeks local DNA to help solve mystery of Lost Colony

The Enterprise, Williamston, NC, July 12, 2007
Written by Scott Kimball

    Williamston - The Lost Colony Center for Science and Research is interested in your DNA and their effort to collect it is attracting worldwide attention.

    The Center’s DNA collection project, which aims to discover scientifically authenticated descendants of the Lost Colony can be found on the front pages of recent newspapers in France, England and Finland, just to name a few.

    It has been 417 years since John White returned to the colony at Roanoke and found the encampment abandoned with only the word “Croatan” carved into a tree.

    Settlers were supposed to have carved crosses if they had to leave because they were in danger; the absence of these crosses has sparked a number of theories and centuries of searching for the colonists and their surviving descendants.

    The Lost Colony Center will be hosting a symposium Sep. 7-9 that will focus on the efforts to gather DNA information from Eastern North Carolinians.

    This is done in the hope that a reverse genetic path can be mapped to Lost Colonists that assimilated into Native communities.

    Fred Willard, director of the center, will present the keynote ...(there is an omission here in the printed article)... will just go on forever," he said, explaining that the technology surrounding DNA is evolving so fast that new applications of a DNA database could arise indefinitely.

    The research taking place through the Lost Colony Center is not just based on pure genetics.

    Willard explained the importance of their multidiscipline research system that makes the critical pairing of DNA testing with genealogical certification.

    "The main problem with DNA [research] is that there's no genealogy," he said. "(We) can't prove anything with just DNA."

    Jennifer Sheppard, a local genealogist with a degree in professional genealogy from Brigham Young University, will be conducting the certification of links found in the gathered data between living persons and Lost Colonists.

    Five different types of DNA testing will be offered in the following testing options:

    Mitochondrial DNA testing follows matrilineal DNA through both males and females:

    For certification as a descendent of the Lost Colony survivors, a minimum 37-marker y-line test or an mtDNAplus test will be required.

    This symposium is much more than just a gathering to collect DNA samples, however.

    Along with a list of speakers that will be presenting at the symposium, the legendary Eleanor Dare Stone will be displayed under protection of armed guard.

    The stone, which contains etchings supposedly carved by Eleanor Dare and intended for her father John White, is a point of contention among historians but remains a fascinating piece of a four-century-old mystery.

    Discovered in 1938 in a swamp 60 miles west of Roanoke Island, the stone's etchings appear to be authentic and it's possible forgery was originally discounted considering it was found by an illiterate vegetable farmer who could not have conceivably forged the 16th century elements found on the stone.

    Willard expressed great excitement because "to have (this) come back to North Carolina where it originated is something people have been talking about for 75 years."

    It has been housed in Georgia since its discovery, but its temporary return to North Carolina could be a helpful piece in the scientific puzzle that has evolved from the mystery of the Roanoke Island Colony.

    Registration costs for the Symposium are $129 if registered before Aug. 1 and $149 after. Lodging will be provided at a discount rate through a partnership with the Holiday Inn in Williamston.

    See the Center's website,, or contact 792-3440 for more information regarding the Symposium or any Lost Colony information.

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