Posted by Ancestry Team on May 12, 2017 in Who Do You Think You Are?

tylerWhile it’s not uncommon for details on various censuses to conflict, in the case of Liv Tyler’s Elliott ancestors, one such conflict hinted at hidden ancestry. While census records for George Elliott consistently recorded him as white, his father Robert Elliott was listed as mulatto in the 1870 census. Was this just an enumerator’s error or did the Elliott family have some African American roots? Clues lie in the context of additional records and of history.

Few records provide the facts surrounding how a person viewed themselves racially or how they were accepted in the community. The area where the Elliotts lived was ninety-five percent Caucasian. This was particularly relevant when it came to learning about the lives of these ancestors.

George Elliott was a veteran of the Civil War and one particular record held a clue.  The U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 for George W. Elliott includes the battles he fought, and enlistment dates, as well as personal details. In addition to the enlistment and discharge dates, the record includes at least the year of birth (often a full birthdate), the place of birth, and a physical description.

A physical description can be of immense value in an era when photography was not widely available to the general population and is particularly helpful in this case. For George W. Elliott his description of black hair, black eyes, and dark complexion matched the mulatto ancestry. Taken by itself this detail was interesting, but it also stresses why it is important to know the history of a specific source and what was included in it. The fact that only white soldiers were included on this list showed that George W. Elliott either viewed himself as white or at least presented himself that way. The added detail that he was a musician in the military delighted Liv Tyler because of the tie to her father’s early life as a drummer.


George Washington Elliott listed in in U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 at

The second record that added detail to this family was the newspaper article found in the Plattsburgh Republican. Too often we assume that only vital events (births, marriages, and deaths) or details of specific newsworthy stories will be found in the newspaper. The article about Robert Elliott was based upon an interview he gave when he was an elderly man. It recounted his service as a drummer boy at the Battle of Plattsburgh (again highlighting the musical background of the family), as well as his guardianship by Captain Wright.

A county history mentioned that Robert Elliott was a black man, thus raising the possibility that this guardianship was in fact service as an indentured servant. In this instance, it was important to understand the historical background of slavery in New York.  At the time of Robert’s birth, male children born to a slave would have been indentured servants until age 28.

The research on Liv Tyler’s ancestors demonstrates how important it is to not only understand the reason records were created, but also who should be included in them. Additionally, the laws and historical context of an area can impact how a document is viewed.

Learn more about Liv’s journey or see videos about other celebrities’ ancestries on Watch full episodes of the show on Discover more celebrities uncovering their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.



  1. Lisa

    I am looking at getting Ancestry for a Mothers Day gift But when I saw one of the questions was “Can women take this test” I think I have to pass. Are you kidding me!!! What year is this?? What a shame!

  2. mkh5921

    Lisa: Not sure where you saw the question, “Can women take this test,” apparently in reference to Ancestry’s DNA test, but, everybody can take it. Ancestry tests autosomal DNA, which everybody has. Only men have a Y-chromosome which passes only in the male line and is done by other DNA companies. There is also Mt-DNA, which exists in the mitochondria of the cell, not the nucleus and is passed in the maternal line to all a mother’s children,both male and female. Other companies will do Mt-DNA testing.

  3. Linda

    I took the Ancestry DNA test and was very pleased with the results. We were looking for a female line and it was quickly established with the results of the test. My male cousin took a test also which proved all the male lines that I had done was correct. You should take the test you will be very surprised by the results and matches that you get. My husbands DNA got 357 pages of results and matches.

  4. toni

    You were not at the web site when you saw that DNA requirement. That is specifically for the female line of DNA tests and has nothing to do with or a subscription for the DNA test there or to research their records. Be aware if you are specifically researching your female line or your male line, you would need a test such as FamilyTreeDNA has. Costs more but is more specific. If you just want an all around test for everybody then test will work for you. I would than upload the raw data to GEDMatch and to FTDNA. Just google them and they’ll come up.

  5. Judy Broughton

    I had my DNA done by ANCHESTRY and they are completely off base! I have Cherokee and can prove it, and nothing came back! MY great grandmother on my dads and moms are full blooded!!!! DON’T WASTE UR MONEY! SCAM! Judy

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Judy: We’re sorry to hear that you’re disappointed. The DNA test can show if you inherited the markers for Native American. But you do not inherit every trait or marker from your Ancestors so even if you are a direct descendant it might not show up in your DNA test. The results do not provide a specific tribal affiliation, however. Please see the following articles that explains more about this: and

  6. Connie

    Claiming that Ancestry DNA is a scam because Native American ancestry was not found is a huge stretch and shows a big lack of understanding DNA. Do your homework before making such a remark. Determining Native ancestry through DNA is an imperfect science. If you have not inherited the specific markers, the native blood lines will not show. We do not inherit all of the DNA markers each of our ancestors had. Genealogists will encourage you to prove your native ancestry through other records, such as the Dawes Rolls. It is also a good idea to have all the siblings in a family tested as one may show markers the others don’t. With each generation, the chances of the markers showing drops greatly.

  7. Ellen Franks

    Well, finally, my husband and I received our DNA results. I thought we would get a printout from At least we received something. I was expecting more than I got but I guess unless you specifically ask you just don’t know. Well, we do have some questions but will wait and see what else comes through. We are thinking about having one child of each of our son’s DNA done then they will all know. The thought is very exciting.

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Ellen: The print option is not currently available from the new ethnicity page and we are working on that, but we do have a work around if you want to print these results. When you go to Genetic Ancestry, the URL should look like this:…/xxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx….
      To get to the old version of the Ethnicity Estimate page, change “origins” in the URL to “ethnicity” and the print option will be in the top right corner of the page. We hope that you will make many new discoveries and wish you the best of luck with your further research!

  8. Joanne Kearney

    I find the ancestrydna to be interesting and helpful to breaking down some of the family tree walls. To be honest I am not sure what to make of the ethnicity info. I uploaded by dna results to Initially they said I was 32% Scandinavian, while ancestry said I am 38% Scandinavian. Now I have a pretty good tree and while there are many missing, I have not found a single ancestor of Scandinavian ancestry. But since two services had similar results I concluded that Viking invaders heavily impacted my genes. But then ftdna changed their reference data base and I dropped to 8% Scandinavian… and a whopping 72% western European…. ancestry had me at about 10% Western European. At this point the ftdna estimates tie much more closely with my tree. I do not doubt some Scandinavian… but with a range from 18-59%… I just dont buy it….

  9. Laura Ann Williams

    Hi. About 6 weeks ago I received a shocking email. I wasn’t sure it could be real. I was informed my father had died (which I didnt know well and neither did the person contacting me know at all but through research learned of his passing 2 years ago). The woman contacting me had dna tested with Ancestry and matched to 2nd and 3rd cousins in my father’s blood line…linking her to my paternal grandmother. It was suggested by Ancestry that I would be best to test dna with to see if I would in fact match her. We are hoping that we are sisters. We are less than 2 years apart. Lisa originally is from California and now lives in Surprise, Arizona and I was born and still live in Pittsburgh, PA. My father was in the Army stationed in California about the mid 1960s. We feel the dna will match us and are looking to confirm our relationship and make it official. My dna test is on its way to Ancestry. I can barely stand the waiting….I love you already Lisa Mojica and feel confident this test will solidify our relationship. Love Love Love Kiss Kiss Kiss 🙂

  10. Cynthia

    Is there any way to delete matches that are not high in confidence level without having to go through them one by one. It takes forever. I not only can’t keep up with deleting them but I’m just not interested in so called matches that may or may not be related. At present I have over 200 for me and at least that many for each my daughter and her husband. It is overwhelming. Probably 90% don’t have a tree and have been members a long time, they don’t answer messages so to me that means they are not interested. It would be nice if ancestry would make it easy for us to go through them and delete the ones we don’t want.

  11. Lois d Michael

    Hi Cynthia, Before deleting the matches which are not high in confidence, look first at the matches you share, because sometimes those matches are higher in confidence than the original match. I’ve seen this over and over again. I’m not sure why this happens, but it does.

  12. Alice

    I just received DNA results back and it was both just what I expected and also surprising. Expected the 50 percent East Asian (Mom was Japanese) so no surprise there. The big surprise was being more Irish than British and even less Western European as my father’s family came from Germany although well before the Revolution. Am almost equally Iberian/Peninsula as British although think there was a rumor of a Spanish ancestor somewhere way back – haven’t come across them yet. So from what I know of my family history especially from the possible genetic communities Ancestry’s DNA tests pretty much confirmed what I knew with the happy surprise of how much Irish I might be – ok with possible Wales and Scotland mixed in. Thanks Ancestry!

  13. Cynthia

    My brother and I under different last names both had the DNA test I was pleased to see that our DNA was similar with the exception of a couple of things. The numbers were slightly different as expected but other than that the same. I have enjoyed see others trees and being able to expand mine. I wish more were public rather than private.

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