Derek Jeter’s Surprising DNA Test

by Angel Cohn

Five-time World Series champion Derek Jeter openly spoke about stares he got when people realized his parents were a mixed-race couple (Jeter’s father is African-American and his mother is of Irish descent) in the “Born Champions” episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots.

The show dug deep into his family tree and found some interesting surprises.

Who Was Grandpa Green?

Jeter was most curious about an African-American great-great-grandfather on his father’s side of the family: Green W. Jeter.

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team were able to discover quite a bit about Grandpa Green.

He was a minister who established the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Coosa County, Alabama. His surname actually belonged to slave owner James W. Jeter.

Slaves in the pre-Civil War era were considered property, so they weren’t given surnames and sometimes took the name of their owners.

Could Green be the offspring of the slave owner?

Image via Library of Congress
African American slaves in 1862 (via Library of Congress)

Their first clue came from finding Green in the 1870 census.

It was then they made a shocking discovery: Green’s race was listed as “M” for mulatto, suggesting that Green was a mixed-race child.

Jeter looked absolutely gobsmacked to find out that his ancestor was also born to a mixed couple.

DNA Solves the Mystery of Grandpa Green

There is additional evidence, in the form of large amounts of money and the fact that Green’s church was on Jeter family land, that suggests that James W. Jeter was actually Green’s father.

To obtain concrete proof that Green was James’s son, and that Derek’s Jeter family line is related to the plantation owner’s family line, they turned to DNA testing.

The team found descendants of James Jeter to take a DNA test and compared their DNA with Derek’s.

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To prove that Jeter was related to the plantation owner James W. Jeter, researchers turned to DNA testing.

The results were 100 percent conclusive that Derek’s great-great-great- grandfather was indeed the plantation owner James W. Jeter.

With this established, the research team was able to uncover relatives that trace back to 17th-century England.

Derek’s Irish-New York Roots

The family historians also looked into Derek’s Irish lineage and learned that his 3x great-grandfather William C. Pierce was born in Manchester, England. He moved to America and settled in the tenements of lower Manhattan.

Old newspaper clippings show that oyster saloon keeper William C. Pierce was once charged for keeping a disorderly house. Apparently, he had quite the rowdy bar back in the day, before moving to Jersey City and starting a furniture business.

After digesting all of this information on his lineage, Derek coolly summed up the information by saying,

“To know where the Jeter name came from, it’s important. It’s important to know.”

Where Did Your Family Name Come From?

Derek’s family story revealed a mixed race ancestor and deep New York roots.

While it was incredible, we all have surprising stories in our families’ previous generations.

What will your family research uncover? An AncestryDNA test is a quick way to get started.

—Angel Cohn