12 May 2017

The Makings of Me: Discovering my Heritage + AncestryDNA Results

For as long as I can remember I've always been quite intrigued about my family's history but the attempts to dig deeper into our roots always seemed to end with a concrete wall. I mean, I could only verbally trace back so far, only about 2 generations to be exact. Which included my maternal & paternal grandparents on my mother and father's sides and my great-grandparents whom they only had vague memories of. I remember my grandfather telling me stories of fighting in WWII and the Korean wars. I could listen to him for hours and I wish I had documented the memories before he passed.

My grandfather, Korea 1950

Being African American the loss of our family history is just the reality for most of us. Of course, I know the painful truth of the less than pleasant voyage of how we got here but I also feel like I deserve to know who I am beyond just the descendant of a people who were stripped from their culture. Thankfully, through science and forever progressive technology I am finally able to tap more into my long awaited journey of self discovery.  Although there are so many options, choosing the right DNA test for me was pretty simple. I wanted something that had a confident probability rate, that was straightforward and specific in terms of possible trace regions. AncestryDNA had all of that and more. In an effort to not make this sound overly complicated here's the simply put version of how Ancestry's DNA testing works. You send them a saliva sample and they run it through their labs. The process can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks or more depending on the demand. My test took exactly 9 weeks, it was received on February 14th and my results were ready on April 15th. In your sample, Ancestry looks at what's called your Autosomal DNA which has the ability to look at both your maternal and paternal lines and discover your genomes (chromosomes that are present in a living cell) in over 700,000 locations where genetics markers appear in your DNA. To my understanding this is how they also identify specific regions and countries that you are likely from. They basically take their findings and compare it to other DNA with similar traits.

Going into this I recognize that this science isn't exact but more so an estimate of my possible lineage. With centuries of lost generations it's impossible to know all the specific details of your family history but for me, this DNA test at least gives me a structured understanding of where I came from and what makes me individually me. Which brings me to my results. In the midst of waiting I became more obsessed by the day with watching people's DNA results on YouTube. I couldn't wait to see how mine compared. Honestly, to say I was shocked about some of the findings is an understatement, lol I was SHOOK. Check out my video below for a few details on my family history and my initial reactions to my results.

 Ethnicity Estimates and Percentages: 

So here's how I summed up. Below are my estimates from AncestryDNA. The continents tested were Africa, Asia, Europe and  America. Other regions tested were West Asia and the Pacific Islands. There are only 2 continents that share 100% of my DNA. Africa and Europe. All the other regions tested were 0% which dispels all the family related tales and random stranger observations of "wow you look *insert random ethnicity here* LOL! I must admit that I am still sorta shocked. Not at being from Africa and Europe but shocked at the percentages. I already had a general idea of what to expect based on history. If you're African American there really should be no shock in having a majority of DNA from Africa and some traces from Europe. European DNA isn't a shock because of the slave trade. Many slaves were raped and conceived children by their owners. I think the shock factor for me is solely on the percentages. Being 64% African was a shock as I expected that number to be much higher. Most of the result videos I watched, African American's were in the 75-95 African percentile with only small percentages of European. So, yes, having nearly 40% European DNA seemed pretty wild to me.


I learned that there are other websites that allow you to upload your raw DNA data files. Some of these sites offer more insight about your results as well as calculate their own geographical percentages based on their findings in your DNA.  I used DNA.Land and GEDmatch which are both completely free and only take about 24hrs to complete.

Below are my GEDmatch results. The site is a little more complex to figure out because they have so many comparison options. I found that the best option for me was the EthioHelix K10 + French Admixture Proportions. This specific comparison is best used by people who are mixed with African and European which is ideal in my scenario. With this one the percentages varied slightly and more African trace regions were found.


Next are my DNA.Land results. This site was a lot more user friendly and easier to understand. They give a detailed ancestry report which consisted of similar percentages to my AncestryDNA. With this one my African & European percentages were nearly split evenly. It also picked up a small percentage of East African which I'm curious about. A tiny percentage of Gujarati which is actually the term for the language spoken in Gujart which is a state in Western India. That's fascinating, I guess it wasn't significant enough to be picked up by Ancestry's test.


What does all this mean for me?

I am still kinda processing everything. In the grand scheme of things these percentages don't have a significant influence as to who I am today. I am black, I have always identified as black and always will. I'm very proud of that. I am proud of all the pieces that make me, me. I am proud of the big chunk of African blood that runs through me. Being someone who's extremely conscious and slightly militant (lol) I'd be lying if I said that knowing my bloodline has been significantly diluted with Euro DNA doesn't make me feel kinda emotional. My highest Euro percentage was in Great Britain which was known to have dispatched over 10,000 voyages to Africa for slaves. And coincidentally my highest African percentage is in Ghana, in earlier years referred to as the "Gold Coast". Ghana was once the center of the British slave trade. Although it happened in many parts of West Africa, Ghana was also notoriously known for having slave dungeons along the coast which allowed them to easily sell their own people into slavery. This is what makes me uneasy on both sides of the spectrum. I kinda get this triggering sadness with the question of where did my ancestors and myself ever really belong? What could I genuinely call my homeland? Aside from the ugly history, knowing these results have given me a deeper feeling of connection so to speak.

It would be a dream to one day experience the culture of both Continents. Until then, I plan to continue my research and learn more about all of my trace regions. I would love to visit parts of Europe. Right now I feel the most passionate about connecting to my African roots. Ghana and Cameroon are my highest region percentages so I'm very interested in visiting and consuming everything I can about both countries.

If you're at all curious about your personal family history and ancestry I would highly recommend taking one of these tests. I also plan on having my parents tested as well, just to kinda get an idea of what side specific percentages come from. It's truly been an awakening experience for me and I look forward to digging deeper into my journey.


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