How my DNA Set me Free

How my DNA set me free


For the past fifty years, I have been living under the shadow of a lie. I think it has to do with the shape of my eyes. From the time that I was in primary school, my friends and classmates thought that I was part Chinese. In high school at Jamaica College, one of the boys in Cowper, the upper house to Murray, called me a “Tappa shop Chinee bwai.” The name calling didn’t bother me. Growing up in Mona Heights with Jamaicans of African, English, Chinese, and East Indian ancestry, I knew that Jamaicans of Chinese descent (especially our fathers) were just as crazy as everyone else.

Yet even after I graduated from Jamaica College and I moved to Miami, the mistaken identity followed me. I just smiled whenever someone called me, “Mr. Chin,” and went on with whatever I was doing. However, when a Chinese-Jamaican cashier at our local supermarket asked me how I was going to celebrate the New Year—she meant the Chinese New Year—I decided to research to create a family tree.

This was not as easy as it seems. My father, Sydney Philp, was married four times and I have brothers and sisters living in Jamaica, Canada, England, and Switzerland. My mother’s family is even more complicated with cousins and aunts living in Jamaica, Cuba, Canada, and Panama. Piecing together a family tree under these circumstances was going to be a challenge.

With the help of my brother, Ricky, who lives in Canada and who had already begun putting together the Philp family tree, I began working on the Lumleys, my mother’s side of the family.

Using Ancestry.com, I created a family tree and traced my roots to the early nineteenth century when the Philp and Lumley males came to Jamaica from Great Britain and began marrying Jamaican women. Both Philp and Lumley males were also very religious and left behind family Bibles and other artifacts. My great-grandfather, Frederick Andrew Lumley, Sr. was one of the earliest founders of the Seventh Day Adventists in Jamaica and one of my grandaunts, Marie Evelyn Jones née Lumley, “is thought to be the first Negro to enroll at Loma Linda University.”

But then my research came to a halt. Using immigration records, the males on both sides of my family could be traced back to Scotland and England, but the females on either side ended up in slavery as property. I always knew I had African ancestry, but  after being called “Mr. Chin” for so many years, I wanted to know if there was even a trace of Chinese blood flowing through my veins. After collecting the email and snail mail addresses of my relatives, I asked the question, “Do we have any Chinese ancestry?”

All the answers came back negative. This I suspected could have been due to the prejudice that many Chinese Jamaicans have faced. I continued asking what could have been perceived by my relatives as uncomfortable questions, but I wanted to know the truth. Despite making connections with living first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth cousins, many of whom I had never known before, I kept hitting genealogical dead ends.

I was just about to give up when Ancestry.com introduced AncestryDNA, which promised an accurate reading of my DNA. I purchased the kit and within a few days, it arrived on my door step. After following the instructions, I returned the kit and waited for the results.

A few weeks later, I received an email from AncestryDNA. My ancestry was 51% West African and 49% European (36% Great Britain, 5% Scandinavian, 3% Ireland 3%, 2% Italy/Greece, < 2% Iberian Peninsula, and < 1% Finnish/Northern Russia.  

Scandinavian? I guess that’s where I got my "Chinee eyes" or the epicanthal fold found in Europeans such as Poles and Scandinavians.

The DNA test had lain to rest all the doubts about my so-called Chinese ancestry. But now a new set of questions opened up before me. Which part of Africa did my ancestors come from?


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As a part of the Bob Marley: Messenger exhibition at Miami History,  Cedella Marley, Gerard Hausman and Geoffrey Philp will be reading Jamaican Tales at MiamiHistory on November 9, 2013

HistoryMiami, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, FL



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