Nikki Landerkin Uses DNA to Find Her Family

by Jim Surkamp on September 23, 2016 in Jefferson County


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My name is Nikki Landerkin and I am a lifetime resident of Martinsburg, West Virginia, Berkeley County. However, through research I’ve discovered that almost all of my line come from or came to Jefferson County, West Virginia.

I began researching when I was just new to genealogy. My cousin had started researching our Basey line. He had found a lot of names but had absolutely no records. He was getting sick and in a random conversation on a random Saturday, he asked me if I wanted to take it over. Because he was dying, I said: “Sure.” The next weekend the records came to my home. Like I said I had a million names and absolutely not one shred of records. I dabbled with it off-and-on in the summer. I’m a school teacher so anytime when summer came I would check into my ancestry and “my leaf wouldn’t shake.” I thought: ”Well I’ve done the best I can.” I put it away for another year. This went on for about two years. Until about two years ago – on a random Saturday on a summer day – I went down to the library in Martinsburg and I went to the West Virginia genealogy room, and really expected to find everything there was about my family because we’ve been here for several generations. I was really shocked to learn there weren’t any records – not only of my family, but of any family of color in Martinsburg. So I thought: “You know, I’m going to go to the historical society. Surely they have something. The people there are wonderful and they had one record at that time and that was of a barbecue of an off-branch of my family from 1998; and the year was 2014. So they didn’t have any records at all. My family owned businesses. There were no pictures of those businesses. There were no pictures of my family members – they are like “dust in the wind.” Someone made a comment to me that I would never be able to find anything on them because we were black. And I got angry. I got determined and I made it a goal to compile as much as I could. And I did. I used all my records and hard-copy records. But after a while I went cold. I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t find anything else.

So I turned to DNA. I tested my mother. She’s the last and oldest remaining relative that holds both of my maternal grand-parents’ DNA. And they raised me. So that’s the absolute, best way to honor them is to find out much as I could about my family. And, we were shocked with the results. My mother’s DNA came back: 27 plus per cent European, Middle-eastern, west Angolan, Portuguese, Scandinavian, Italien, Iberian Peninsula – and African. But it wasn’t exactly what we thought. The first set of DNA was all text. People had written in Arabic. It had descendants of the original Arabian tribes. I had to have a student who was at my school who was from Morocco translate for me, and I realized quite quickly I was over my head. I had every answer you could possibly have. DNA provides you with more than enough answers. But if you don’t know the questions, it’s pretty dismal. So I cried, and I cried some more. Then, I got determined. I determined that I had to really learn how to incorporate DNA into research. I stopped looking at the results. I spent about two months just reading up on everything that had to do with research, with DNA, chromosomes – anything and everything that I could use to further my search. At the same time, I had one of my male cousins tested for one of our lines, our Basey line, and it provided me with 954 ancestors – all of them from no where near Martinsburg, West Virginia. I realized quite quickly that I had to break that information down, make it user-friendly, try to compare ancestor names with living matches and really start using every resource out there to get what I needed. Facebook has been a godsend if not just for “likes” and “pokes.” I’ve met people on groups. There are tons of genealogy groups and historical society groups for people like me, who are new to it and want talk to other people – but there isn’t anyone in your area. There’s no one around to help you. So through those groups, I was able to become educated about what I needed to do. No question is too stupid. They never make you feel stupid. You may ask the same questions more than once and that’s fine. And through that I met my cousins – Dr. Shelley Murphy, Joyceann Gray, and Monique Crippen-Hopkins – and they are amazing. I love them to death. They intimidate me because they know so much, and they make me want to be better . Like if you’re gonna hang with those ladies you better have your A-game. It can’t be a B- game. it has to be an A-game. Whether they know it or not, they have inspired me to know more, and do more, and become more pro-active. I was afraid to talk to people, especially when I have white DNA – especially when you have local family white DNA. I was afraid to have one of those courageous conversations and say: “I am your relative and I can prove it.” But listening to their stories and listening to their pep talks, and their guidance – they helped me! And so, with all of that, I am able to now start with my great-grandparents and work my way back. I’m still working on it, because all of this is relatively new and you learn something every day.