African American Genealogy Part X: The Modern Marvel of DNA

Posted November 4, 2011 by SharonGeni | One Comment

This blog series provides information on how to conduct family research — with a special focus on the challenges that apply for African Americans. Our goal is to help you appreciate history, learn how to research your family and be inspired to join a community – Geni.com – that seeks to unite the entire world into one big family. Join us for an adventure that is sure to last a lifetime!

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The Modern Marvel of DNA

by Sharon Leslie Morgan

DNA testing is a modern marvel that makes it possible to “prove beyond doubt” whom you are related to and where your family originated.

National Geographic is leading a project that seeks to chart “new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.  In this unprecedented real-time research effort, the Genographic Project is closing the gaps of what science knows today about humankind’s ancient migration stories.” Their research suggests that “all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who—about 60,000 years ago—began a remarkable journey.”

DNA tests are commercially available from a variety of sources, costing from $150-300 per person. This technique is especially useful for African Americans, for whom recordkeeping during slavery was so incomplete and paternal evidence so obscured.

During slavery, it was common for slaveholders to produce children with their female slaves. Because slave children followed the status of their mothers, many of our forefathers (black and white) are lost. In a best case scenario, mixed race children were cared for, educated and enabled to have privileges. In the worst case, they were shunned and sold away.

I am not an expert on DNA, but I do know that there are two strains of genetic material: One comes from the father and the other comes from the mother. When you do DNA testing, you need a person who is a direct line descendant. If you test a male, you will get the paternal result. If you trace a female, you will get the maternal line. That means for me, my mother, her mother, her mother…..  I need a male relative to trace back his father, his father, his father….

I have recently found through testing that my maternal ancestral origins are within the Makua tribe of Moçambique. DNA tests revealed a definite match with the Bantu people there. In my joy, I researched to find a picture of a Makua woman. She has the same high cheekbones and broad nose that my great grandmother had. Our family ascribed that to being “Indian.” But the DNA results said otherwise. On my paternal side, I found a preponderance of Scottish and Puerto Rican. Huh?!! The Scottish certainly confirms the origins of my Leslie maiden name. I haven’t figured out the Puerto Rican part yet.

Whatever the results, I cannot express how happy I feel to finally have a definitive answer to where I came from. Now I know for sure, I came from somewhere. What DNA testing did for me was to provide a “homeland,” a place “from whence I came.” That is a major reward for all of the genealogical research to which I have devoted myself over the last 30 years.

I am told there is now a test that can verify both lines and bring the results much closer in physical time. I wish I could tell you more, but, like  you, I am still learning.

DNA aside, Geni can help you connect with living people — your family — people who are alive right now who want to make connections.

 

Post written by Sharon Morgan

Sharon Leslie Morgan is a marketing communications consultant and the founder and webmaster for OurBlackAncestry.com, a site dedicated to African American family research. She is co-authoring a book entitled Gather at the Table: Steps Toward a Post-Racial America to be published by Beacon Press in 2012. These blogs express the views and opinions of the author and should not be attributed to Geni.com.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/taneya Taneya Koonce

    Sharon, you may be interested in knowing that 23andme currently has an initiative going on to test 10,000 African-Americans for free! https://www.23andme.com/roots/ad/. In addition to myself, I’ve had my husband and my sister’s done and have been blogging about it on my genealogy blog. http://www.taneya-kalonji.com/genblog/?cat=118. Even without this initiative, their testing is only $99 – I love to see prices dropping like they are. They, unlike the tests you mention here, also include autosomal DNA testing which can also be helpful for finding connections with others. I hope your readers don’t get the misunderstanding that one DNA test alone can tell you where you come from. DNA is quite varied and we inherit bits and pieces from many ancestors. I do look forward to seeing the growth of genetic genealogy over the upcoming years though; there is so much potential now yet even more untapped potential. Thank you for taking the time to write about this topic.