“One reason why the South has such a store of family history and culture is that families lived in close proximity to each other for generation after generation,” Yates writes in the preface to The Bear Went Over the Mountain. “Sunday afternoon visits, dinner on the grounds, weddings and funerals provided occasions for affirming a rich oral tradition. When I moved to the North (where I have lived for most of my life), I realized what I had lost. I am persuaded no Southerner who has not experienced exile from the mother culture can adequately represent it” (p. xv).
Appendix III, “Southern Language,” surveys the roots of Appalachian storytelling and comments on a number of proverbs and sayings Yates recalls from his youth.
“Traditional Southern long stories, endless table talk at coffee-shops, marathon political speeches and hours-long Baptist sermons are of a piece,” suggests Phillip B. Anderson, a professor of English at the University of Central Arkansas. “The truth is, your Southerner really does like language—not as a tool or a means of communication, but as a way of expressing and creating” (p. 249).
In midlife, Yates rediscovered his Native American genealogy and made numerous contributions to American Indian, and in particular, Cherokee, studies. In one article, he identified the figures depicted in a 1730 etching of seven Cherokees in London. The article was dedicated “to the memory of Attakullakulla, my 6th-great-grandfather,” one of the Cherokees identified in the original painting. Correspondences were also suggested with Kolannah (Kalanu, Raven, “war chief,” perhaps a young Oconostota), Tathtowe (Tistoe, “fire-maker”), Clogoittah (“gun carrier”) and Kittigusta (Skalilosken, “speaker”).
Yates contributed the Southeast entries on ceremony and ritual, mourning and burial, oral traditions and spiritual and ceremonial practitioners in American Indian Religious Traditions: An Encyclopedia, ed. Suzanne J. Crawford & Dennis Francis Kelley, 3 vols., Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005.
In 2002, Yates and his wife Teresa returned to Judaism at Mickve Israel in Savannah, Ga. He delivered a talk titled “Remarks on My Return to Judaism” to the congregation on December 28. In reprinting it, the synagogue made a distinction between a conversion and a welcoming back ceremony. Yates and his wife “were ‘welcomed back’ to Judaism,” it said, “though they also fulfilled all the requirements for conversion.” Of genealogical interest, several prominent Melungeon families are named in the speech:
“My Coopers were Melungeon. Teresa’s Rameys were Melungeon. My Blevinses were Melungeon. Teresa’s Goods were Melungeon. My Sizemores were Melungeon. Teresa’s Whiteheads were Melungeon. Every single surname in our family tree was Melungeon, and all the Melungeons were intermarried. When we plotted our genealogy chart it looked more like a telephone pole than a tree. It only had one branch, and that was the same as the main trunk. Everybody married cousins, it seemed.”
Yates and Cooper families are mentioned in the cemetery and marriage records of Beth Elohim in Charleston as well as Mickve Israel. The yahrzeit of Yates’s mother Bessie Louise Cooper Yates, a descendant of Cherokee chief Black Fox and Daniel Boone’s scout William Cooper, who died January 7, 2006, is commemorated at Mickve Israel.
In 2003, Yates started a DNA testing service, DNA Consultants, now located in Longmont, Colorado. It began as a consulting service offered by him to research project participants when he was a professor at Georgia Southern University. The company provided independent evaluations of genetic geneaology results, especially to subjects in academic studies involving American Indian and Melungeon ancestry. Early investigations, many with Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman, resulted in a number of studies published in the field of genetic genealogy and ethnic identity. Yates and Hirschman brought out one of the first papers on direct-to-the-consumer genealogical DNA tests in an academic venue at the International Conference on Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations held in Los Angeles in 2004. "Peering Inward for Ethnic Identity," another general article emerging from the intersection between DNA testing and identity, was published in 2008. About the same time appeared “Suddenly Melungeon! Reconstructing Consumer Identity across the Color Line” and “Romancing the Gene, Making Myth From 'Hard Science’.” In June 2011, co-author Hirschman published "Altruistic Economics and Consumer Cooperatives in the DNA Marketspace," the result of a case study from the founding years of genetic genealogy companies. The main finding concerned the value-added co-production of consumers in a product and the "intellectual factories" formed by forums, listservs and end-users.
DNA Consultants has developed an autosomal population database for use in its in-house studies and fulfillment of the direct-to-the-consumer tests it offers to the public. Called atDNA (“at" standing for autosomal), it is under the curatorship of Wendell Paulson, the company's statistics consultant. The current version more contains more than 500 world populations representing over 150,000 subjects’ STR (short tandem repeat) frequencies. DNA Consultants also sponsors DNA Communities, a free, public genealogy site, and publishes monographs in the series Consumer Genetics, the last title in that series being Cherokee DNA Studies II: More Real People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrong. In 2020, Yates began a study of the goddess religion in the Americas and the varieties of matriarchy among Native American societies.