DNA - Trace Your Roots
Modern technology makes it possible for people of all races to trace their ancestral origins through the use of DNA, and this is a particularly powerful tool for people of African descent who wish to trace their roots to mother Africa. For US $700 or less (depending on which DNA tests you take) you can easily discover within a few weeks which African tribe(s) you are descended from.
Types of tests
The most popular ancestry tests are Y chromosome (Y-DNA) testing and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. Other tests attempt to determine a researcher's comprehensive genetic history and/or ethnic origins.
Y chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) testing
A man's paternal ancestry can be traced using the DNA on his Y chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) through Y-STR Testing. This is useful because the Y chromosome, like many European surnames, passes from father to son, and can be used to help study surnames. Women who wish to determine their paternal ancestry can ask their father, brother, paternal uncle, paternal grandfather, or a cousin who shares the same paternal lineage to take a test for them.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing
A person's maternal ancestry can be traced using his or her mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The DNA in the human mitochondria is passed down by the mother unchanged. One exception, which was linked to infertility, has been shown. Additionally, some people cite paternal mtDNA transmission as invalidating mtDNA testing, but this is not considered problematic in scholarly population genetics studies or genetic genealogy.
Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA testing can determine with which present-day African country a person shares a direct line of part of his or her ancestry. Testing company African Ancestry maintains an "African Lineage Database" of African lineages from 30 countries and over 160 ethnic groups. Mostly due to Caucasian slave owners or overseers impregnating female African slaves, approximately 30% of African American males have a European Y chromosome haplogroup. More than three-quarters of families of African Americans free during the colonial period, however, have been documented as descended from white women (servant or free) and African men (servant, slave or free).
As for the mitochondrial haplotypes, African Ancestry lists approximately 300 tribal affiliations and seeks to assign, within a certain measure of likelihood, an African tribe to testees. This is how Oprah Winfrey, discovered her direct line of maternal ancestry. When Oprah had her DNA tested, the results suggested her most likely match in direct matrilineal ancestry was to the Kpelle people of Liberia. According to authorities like Salas, nearly three-quarters of the ancestors of African Americans taken in slavery came from West Africa.
The African American tribal movement has burgeoned since DNA testing. Often members of African American churches take the test as groups. African Americans cannot easily trace their ancestry during the years of slavery through surname research, census and property records, and other traditional means. Genealogical DNA testing gives them another tie to their African pasts.
The general procedure for taking a genealogical DNA test involves taking a painless cheek-scraping (also known as a buccal swab) at home and mailing the sample to a genetic genealogy laboratory for testing. Some laboratories use mouth wash or chewing gum instead of cheek swabs. Some laboratories offer to store DNA samples for ease of future testing. All United States laboratories will destroy the DNA sample upon request by the customer, guaranteeing that a sample is not available for further analysis.
The cost of a DNA test kit varies from company to company. At the time of this update, African Ancestry offers MatriClan and PatriClan DNA test kits at US $349 for a single test or US $600 for both tests, plus shipping charges. For black people whose ancestors came from Africa during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, it is probably best to spend the extra money and have both tests done.
Kwame the Webmaster's DNA Test Results
I will soon be taking my second set of DNA tests to trace my African ancestry. I will be taking both the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests which will trace my ancestral lineage on my father's and mother's sides respectively. My parents are both black Barbadians, who were born here on the Caribbean island of Barbados. I also intend to check the parish church records and trace my family tree as far back as the church records go, since the paper records will provide valuable family history as well.
On 15 March 2006 I ordered a Y-chromosome DNA test from the National Geographic Genographic Project.
The results came back on 19 May 2006, informing me that I belonged to Haplogroup E (E3a). DNA results are recorded as a series of numbers called Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). Below are the results from the 12 marker laboratory analysis of my Y Chromosome.
When I got the results I also discovered that the National Geographic Genographic Project works closely with another genetic researcher called Family Tree DNA, and that I could add my results to the Family Tree DNA database. I did exactly that, and within minutes I was able to log onto their website and utilise some of the free services they offer, including Y-DNA Match to find other participants whose DNA matched mine. At that time there were no matches at Family Tree DNA for my Recent Ancestral Origins, and this might have been because my test was a 12 marker one, as opposed to a 25 marker or 37 marker one.
Two years went by as I became involved with other personal projects, such as twi.bb, though I did intend to have further DNA testing done, especially the mtDNA one.
On 11 May 2008 (Mother's Day) I was doing some updates on the twi.bb DNA page when I remembered the National Geographic Project and decided to check up on it again. I got a very pleasant surprise when I logged onto the Family Tree DNA website and discovered that they had updated their database and there were some match results for my Recent Ancestral Origins, linking my family ancestry on my father's side to three specific West African tribes.
Years of research on Ghana, plus a trip I made to that country in 2002, had made me very familiar with the Fante and Ga people of that country, but I had never heard of the Aizo or Torri people of Benin. After a few hours research on the internet, I discovered that the Aizo are also referred to as the Ayizo, that Torri is more commonly spelt Tori, and that Tori is a shortened form of Ayizo-Toria, a dialect of the Ayizo language. The Ayizo have a population of around 328,000 people and live mostly in the Mono and Atlantique provinces located in southern Benin. Many of them are centred around the city of Allada which is the famous historical capital of the most powerful king in Ajaland before it fell to the armies of Dahomey. I now need to contact someone from Benin, preferably from Allada, and preferably an Ayizo, to learn more about the Ayizo people.
The Ayizo language is classified as one of the Gbe languages of West Africa. In the late eighteenth century, many speakers of Gbe were enslaved and transported to the New World, causing Gbe languages to play a role in the genesis of several Caribbean creole languages.
The Fante are one of the Akan people living in southern Ghana. Please refer to our page on the Akan people for more information about the Fante.
The Ga people are based in and around Ghana's capital city of Accra located in the southern coastal area of Ghana. The Ga people have a population of around 600,000 people. They are not Akans but they have been living close to Akans for a number of centuries and have been influenced by Akan customs and language. There are also several Akan words which originated from the Ga language.
It has really been exciting to discover these African roots, though there is still a lot more for me to do and to learn. The mtDNA test will give me my first insight into my mother's ancestral lineage, and the second Y-DNA test will be used as a confirmation of my father's ancestral lineage. Strangely enough, because of historically noted similarities between my own Barbadian culture and Ghanaian culture, I have been studying the history and culture of Ghana, including that of the Fante and Ga people, for several years now, though I did not know for sure until yesterday that I had any scientifically proven genetic links to them.
Please keep visiting often as I share my unfolding story with you.
Kwame the Webmaster.