Local 10 News' Calvin Hughes traces family's past through DNA evidence

Records reveal great-grandfather was first black man to vote in Missouri county

By Laurie Jennings - Anchor

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Local 10 News anchor Calvin Hughes is learning about his past, thanks to modern-day technology that can help him trace his genealogy.

"So what do you think of embarking upon this journey to learn more about your family history?" genealogist Marlis Humphrey asked.

"Oh, my, let's see, I'm a little nervous about it," Hughes said. "I'm curious. There's a mystery side of it that I'm looking forward to sort of uncovering."

Humphrey and DNA expert Diahan Southard can help people fill in the branches of their family trees.

With a swab of the cheek, several companies, including Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA, can trace a person's genealogy.

"It allows this almost tangible connection with our ancestors because you are a walking, living, breathing record of them," Southard told Hughes.

His DNA shows he is 80 percent African, mostly from the western part of the continent, which means that someone in his past likely came through the slave trade.

"It's very emotional to think about, you know, where I am now versus where my family members were and how they were just seen as a piece of property," Hughes said.

His DNA also revealed European roots -- 10 percent British and 10 percent Irish.

"Are you sure it's not Calvin O'Hughes?" Hughes asked, laughing.

There were more surprises to come.

Hughes launched this journey armed with a family history of his great-grandfather, Ernest Lee Hughes, lovingly referred to as "Big Poppa."

Calvin Hughes' great-grandfather, Ernest Lee Hughes, lovingly referred to as "Big Poppa," was instrumental in getting government housing for sharecroppers.

"So he has this wonderful document … and it put some good biographical information in about Big Poppa, which are kinds of things that we don't find necessarily from the records alone," Humphrey said.

The records revealed that Big Poppa was the first black man given the right to vote in Scott County, Missouri. Hughes' great-grandfather was also instrumental in getting government housing for sharecroppers.

He also learned that Big Poppa had not two, but three, wives. His first wife died in 1910.

"This sounds almost like 'Dynasty' or 'Dallas' or something," Hughes said.

Humphrey and Southard uncovered some things that Hughes never knew, but also corrected family lore. It's information he can't wait to share.

"We have a family reunion coming up in June in Chicago, so this will help me share this information with them," Hughes said.

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