November 4, 2013

Surprises in my Genealogical Search

Part Two of a Three Part Series

When I received my first DNA results from AncestryDNA, I was very disappointed. For whereas I could trace my European ancestry, nation by nation, for my African ancestry, I could only get a broad reading of West Africa, which included Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin/Togo, and Nigeria. I wanted specifics.

I began researching other options such as 23andMe, Family Tree DNA,  and National Geographic Geno 2.0  Project. I also contacted Richard Hill, author of Finding Family and a nationally recognized authority on genetic testing. I emailed Mr. Hill, who maintains the DNA Testing Adviser site, and sent him a message via Facebook. Mr. Hill graciously answered all my questions and pointed me to one of the pages on his DNA Testing Adviser site, African DNA Test, which has a wealth of information on DNA testing for peoples of African descent.

23andMe had many favorable reviews. 23andMe is the company that Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. used on the PBS series Finding Your Roots to help celebrities map their heritage and discover their global origins. 23andMe also offers reports on over two hundred and forty health conditions and traits such as carrier status, drug response, health tools, and inherited traits.

Just before I made the decision to go with 23andMe, AncestryDNA upgraded their DNA database and sent me my revised DNA results. According to Richard Hill: "AncestryDNA recently rose to the top of this list. Both men and women can take the test and it will identify other people in the database who share common ancestors with you. The test includes an Ethnicity Estimate that summarizes the percentage contributions of different regions of the world to your overall ancestry. That estimate now breaks African Ancestry into nine regions: Africa North, Senegal, Ivory Coast / Ghana, Benin / Togo, Cameroon / Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Africa Southeast Bantu and Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers.” I stayed with

I couldn't wait to see the results for my African ancestry. My brother, Richard, had told me that our great-grandmother had claimed to be Ashanti, but that wasn't necessarily true. It’s like how everyone from Jamaica claims to be from Kingston.  I wanted the facts and AncestryDNA gave them to me. Here's the breakdown of my African ancestry:

Benin/Togo 24%
Mali 19%
Trace Regions: 8% (Cameroon/Congo 3%
Nigeria 3% 
Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers< 1%,
Ivory Coast/Ghana< 1%)

From the looks of it, I am West Africa! But what did this mean? Would this information change my self-identity?

Next week: Have my DNA Results Changed my Life?


As part of the Bob Marley: Messenger exhibition, Gerald Hausman and I will be reading Jamaican Tales at HistoryMiami on November 9, 2013.

Geoffrey Philp @Jamaican Tales

Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories

2:00—3:00 p.m
November 9, 2013


101 West Flagler Street

Miami, Florida 33130

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