Author Archives: LaKisha David

TAKiR uses the H3Africa Array with 2.26 million markers!

TAKiR uses the Infinium H3Africa Array (Illumina) with 2.26 million markers! The array design was submitted by the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) consortium design team. Our samples are analyzed by the Functional Genomics Unit of Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center.

One of TAKiR’s core projects involves encouraging northern Ghanaians to take an autosomal DNA test to help people of African descent discover their relatedness among the Ghanaian peoples. Previously, we have relied on the services of AncestryDNA. In continuing our efforts to construct the genealogy of the Kassena people, we are excited to announce that we are now moving into higher density testing by using an array with 2.26 millions markers that is designed for the study of African populations.

TAKiR IBD Workflow:

The H3Africa Array is manufactured by Illumina. DNA extraction services are being provided by the Freund Lab. Genotyping services are being provided by the Functional Genomics Unit. Both of these labs are part of the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

We are using Plantimals/2vcf to format our genotype files. To phase and identify matching segments among the Kassena people, we are using the scientifically studied BEAGLE 4.0 for family-based phasing and identity-by-descent detection (or BEAGLE 5.0 for computational phasing and Refined IBD for identity-by-descent detection).

Having the genotype files that were provided by AncestryDNA uploaded to GEDmatch helped people of African descent to identify their relatedness among the Kassena people. We will soon provide the option for relatives who previously learned of their relatedness through GEDmatch to also upload their DNA profiles to TAKiR. Whereas relatives need to also test with the H3Africa array to take advantage of those markers provided in addition to the AncestryDNA markers, they will be able to identify relatedness based on those markers shared across both AncestryDNA and H3Africa arrays. We will also provide the option for relatives to test with the H3Africa array.

Your Support:

Consider supporting the work of TAKiR by donating for batch 2. Even $5 would be helpful.

Please email us at with questions.

Genetic Genealogical Methods Used to Identify African American Relatives of Members of the Ghanaian Kassena Ethnic Group

By: LaKisha David and Leia Jones

Part 1: Introduction

Between 1501 and 1866, 10.5 million enslaved Africans were taken from families and communities and disembarked in various diasporic locations in the world as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Slave Voyages v2.2.3, 2019). With very few exceptions, genetic genealogy is the only way for people of African descent in diasporic locations to identify their extra-extended relatives among the descendants of those who remained in Africa. African Americans are increasingly engaging in historically significant processes of reunification with African relatives by using genetic genealogy to identify members of their ancestral families. By inference, families that were separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade are reuniting. Researchers studying family formation or family reunification need to be cognizant of the methods of using genetic genealogy to identify biological extra-extended relatives.

In this methodological blog series, we demonstrate the use of publicly accessible genetic genealogy methods to identity genetic extra-extended relatives. There is an archive within the human genome which can provide information about an aspect of family history such as maternal or paternal ethnic lineages and biogeographical ancestry (BGA) estimates (Wagner, Cooper, Sterling, & Royal, 2012). One of our objectives was to identify genetic relatives among populations that experienced significant historical mass trauma, specifically family disruptions by the Transatlantic Slave Trade, by using criteria from established findings within population genetics that provides strong evidence of relatedness between our Ghanaian project participants and diaspora African Americans within the GEDmatch database. Specifically, we identified Ghanaian and African American dyads who shared a common ancestor within 10 generations (i.e., sharing ancestral great grandparents) in contrast to studying genetic matching within a biologically determined African ethnic group which has been the focus of previous genetic genealogy studies involving Africans and African Americans.

The aim of this methodological blog series is to inform family and identity researchers about the use of genetic genealogy as a method of inquiry and intervention in identifying close and extra-extended relatives. This series is based on our study that explored family identity among Ghanaians who interacted with their diaspora African American relatives we discovered using autosomal genetic genealogy. In this series, we provide our rationale for selecting publicly available autosomal genetic genealogy services for genetic matching and the specific criteria drawn from population genetics to identify genetic matches. We present the results of our genetic matching and discuss our finding diaspora African American relatives of our participants from Ghana and the inference that families that were separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade are reuniting. We then provide details of our materials and methods, including our rationale for selecting our participants and steps researchers unfamiliar with population genetics could duplicate in their research involving a reunification or biological relatedness element. We conclude with ethical considerations in the use of genetic genealogy as a tool in international research.

Part 2: Genetic Genealogy Type for Genetic Matching

Social science research on genetic genealogy typically covers associations between the results of a genetic genealogy test and racial-ethnic identity. This blog series is about the use of genetic genealogy to discover genetic matches (e.g., relatives), individuals sharing a minimum threshold of DNA with the participant tester indicating that the newly discovered individual is a potential relative sharing a common ancestral great grandparent within 10 generations (e.g., the eighth great-grandparent). The participant and the discovered genetic relative would be members of an ancestral family group such as a clan. In the context of our study of reunification after the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the names of the ancestral great grandparents are typically unknown with genetic genealogy being a tool that enables African and African diaspora ancestral family members (i.e., extra-extended relatives) to identify each other as genetic matches, relatives, or family. The difference between using genetic genealogy to identify individuals who are genetic matches for genealogical and kinship purposes rather than for the purposes of claiming an ancestral ethnic identity or membership is a key distinction in this study when selecting the type of genetic genealogy test and interpreting the social meanings associated with the results.

Advancements made in molecular biology and supercomputing propelled genealogy into the realm of genetics (Nelson & Robinson, 2014). The first genetic testing for genealogical purposes was made available in 2000 by Family Tree DNA. By 2010, there were 38 companies offering such services (Nelson & Robinson, 2014; Wagner, Cooper, Sterling, & Royal, 2012). AncestryDNA (of launched in 2012 and by July 2015, they tested 1 million people (Swayne, 2015). By April 2017, they tested 4 million people (Ancestry Team, 2017). It is no question that the use of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic genealogy testing is rapidly increasing. The type of tests that consumers purchase is associated with the type of information the tests provide and consumers’ motivation for taking the test (Nelson, 2016). The motivation to engage in genetic genealogy and the meanings associated with the results can be better understood by understanding the types of information that the tests provide.

Although companies vary in their methods and product offerings, genetic genealogy tests provide three types of information: maternal or paternal ethnic lineages, biogeographical ancestry (BGA) estimates, and genetic matches (Wagner et al., 2012).

The first type of information is maternal or paternal ethnic lineages (i.e., haplotypes). Lineage information enables geneticists to provide ancestral spatiotemporal information (i.e., geographical location and time) using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosomal DNA (Y-DNA). These tests are used to provide African American consumers with African origin ethnic groups.

A limitation with offering to identify origin countries or ethnic groups is that common haplotypes are present in multiple ethnic groups due to migration within Africa (Ely, Wilson, Jackson, & Jackson, 2006). Results consisting of geographical information based on common haplotypes or poorly sampled populations are problematic (Shriver & Kittles, 2008). According to a study on the ability to identify the African origin country or ethnic group of African Americans’ ancestors based on their mtDNA haplotypes, only 5% of the African American sample’s maternal lineages exactly matched a single African ethnic group using a database representing West, West Central, South, Southeast, and East Africa (Ely et al., 2006; Ely, Wilson, Jackson, & Jackson, 2007). Additionally, 21% exactly matched 2 – 9 ethnic groups, 31% exactly matched over 9 different ethnic groups, and 43% exactly matched no ethnic group within the database (Ely et al., 2007). In other words, using research databases, a single African origin ethnic group often cannot be identified for African American maternal lineages; their maternal lineage more often matches multiple ethnic groups whose mtDNA were not distinctive from each other. Additionally, lineage information based on DNA represents only 1% of the genome (Shriver & Kittles, 2008) and so is not representative of the consumer’s ancestral relatedness.

Another limitation is that mtDNA and Y-chromosome testing is only somewhat useful in learning about even recent shared ancestors such as paternity (Shriver & Kittles, 2008). A practical example is the case of using Y-chromosome DNA tests to settle the dispute over President Thomas Jefferson’s paternity of enslaved Sally Hemings’s youngest son, Eston Hemings Jefferson, thought by some to be the biological child of Thomas Jefferson (Foster et al., 1998). Eston has a perfect match on the Y-chromosome with four of five male descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s paternal uncle (i.e., four of Thomas Jefferson’s male cousins), meaning that Eston’s paternal lineage is biologically related to the family of Thomas Jefferson (Foster et al., 1998; King et al., 2007) and share ancestral origins with the Jefferson paternal lineage among peoples of indigenous Europe, East Africa, or the Middle East (King et al., 2007). Eston’s Y-chromosome matching other Jefferson males means that based solely on the results of the Y-chromosome test and not using other information, Eston could have been fathered by Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Jefferson’s paternal male relatives. For the same reason, King and colleagues (2007) said that “[i]f we did not have prior knowledge about the ancestry of the Jefferson haplotype, we might assign it to an Egyptian origin” (King et al., 2007, p. 588). The point here is that mtDNA and Y-chromosome tests are very informative in certain aspects but are limited in determining genealogical relatedness for the purposes of our study. They should also be used with caution when determining ancient ancestry on small-scale geographical regions.

The second type of information provided by genetic genealogy is biogeographical ancestry (BGA) estimates which are typically referred to as ethnicity estimates by companies and the general population (Pfaff, Parra, & Shriver, 2000). In contrast to the very small percentage of ancestors represented in the lineage-based tests using mtDNA and Y-chromosome, BGA is representative of the tester’s ancestors from whom the tester has inherited DNA at specific locations along the 22 pairs of chromosomes (i.e., autosomes). Developed by biological anthropologist Mark Shriver and molecular biologist Tony Frudakis (Gannett, 2014), BGA “refers to the component of ethnicity that is biologically determined and can be estimated using genetic markers that have distinctive allele frequencies for the populations in question” (Pfaff et al., 2000). This refers to the use of alleles, variants in genes at specific locations along the 22 pairs of chromosomes, to estimate a tester’s ancestral continental population(s) (e.g., African, European, Native American) (Pfaff et al., 2000) or regional populations (e.g., Southern European, Northern European) (Shriver & Kittles, 2008) in some cases. Then the tester’s total proportional ancestry is estimated as admixture proportions (Pfaff et al., 2000). For example, one African American tester’s results could indicate that their total ancestry is 80% African, 15% European, and 5% Native American. However, there is variability in the admixture of even full siblings based on which parents’ gene variants just happened to have been inherited by the siblings. For example, one sibling may appear to inherit 80% African variants while another sibling may inherit 73% African variants. The percentages provided by companies should be understood to include a confidence interval and not be interpreted as an exact number (Shriver & Kittles, 2008).

Until 2009, studies that included enough positions along the genome to produce relatively high specificity in continental populations “included few African populations” (Bryc et al., 2009, p. 1). This limited the ability to provide more regional level population analysis for African populations. Bryc and colleagues (2009) conducted a study that consisted of African Americans, people of European descent, and several populations from West and South Africa. Using principal component analysis (PCA) and a clustering algorithm and assuming two source populations (i.e., African, non-African), they find that 77% of African Americans’ ancestors were from Africa (Bryc et al., 2009). This is similar to findings from other researchers who found that 73.2 % – 84.9 % of African American ancestry comes from sub-Saharan Africa. African American remaining admixture is 21.3 % – 24.0% European and 0.8 % – 2.8 % Native American (Baharian et al., 2016; Bryc, Durand, Macpherson, Reich, & Mountain, 2015). Bryc and colleagues (2009) also find that the African component of African American ancestry “is most similar to the profile from non-Bantu Niger-Kordofanian-speaking populations, which include the Igbo, Brong, and Yoruba, with FST values to African segments of the African Americans ranging from 0.074 to 0.089%” (Bryc et al., 2009, p. 5). There are very small differences between the African portion of African Americans’ ancestors and non-Bantu Niger-Kordofanian-speaking populations.

One limitation is that BGA estimates tell African American consumers generally what they already know, that most of their ancestors come from Africa. Additionally, companies offering African BGA estimates at regional levels offer country names and geopolitical borders for current day countries that were not used by people living in Africa 500 years ago. There is more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world. Evidence based on language, DNA, and geographical distributions indicate that people have dispersed across Africa tens of thousands of years before the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Because of this, the African diversity found in the African American genome today is not solely the result of African ethnic mixing in the U.S. during slavery (Ely, Wilson, Jackson, & Jackson, 2006; Jackson & Borgelin, 2010). Companies continuing to use geopolitical borders in their results will continue to provide information that is not as informative as they could be for people of African descent. Like lineage information, BGA is dependent on the quality of a reference database consisting of population-specific gene variants. Although some commercial companies, such as, promote regional level specificity for Africa, BGA information based on a reference database does not enable researchers to identify relatives among a general population of testers.

This study makes use of the third type of information provided by genetic genealogy testing: genetic matches. By comparing the DNA profiles of each customer with every other customer within its own database, companies provide each customer with a list of persons with whom a certain amount of DNA is shared. These are genetic matches or potential relatives. Companies offering genetic matches use the amount of shared DNA measured in centiMorgans (cMs) to provide an estimate of the class of relatedness. For example, uses the following class of relatedness and approximate amount of shared DNA: Parent/Child (3,475 cMs), Close Family (2,800 – 680 cMs), 2nd Cousin (620 – 200 cMs), 3rd Cousin (180 – 90 cMs), 4th Cousin (85 – 20 cMs), and Distant Cousin (20 – 6 cMs) (Ancestry, 2018). The most distant class of relatedness provided by is in a section consisting of 5th – 8th cousins. The most common recent ancestors among matches within this group shares 4th – 7th great grandparents or have shared ancestors approximately 6 to 9 generations ago.

Companies provide matches from among their own customer database. However, having millions of customers, genetic matching results are not as limiting as using haplotype reference databases in other types of tests because consumers are bound to have at least one relative in the database (Henn et al., 2012; Ramstetter et al., 2017). The primary consideration for genetic matching is the accuracy of the genetic matching results, particularly when consumers go on to initiate contact with the genetically matching person identified in the results to learn about shared family history.

Commercial companies use modified versions of algorithms developed by academic population geneticists to provide relatedness information. For example, base their genetic matching on BEAGLE (B. L. Browning, Zhou, & Browning, 2018; S. R. Browning & Browning, 2007) and GERMLINE (Gusev et al., 2009) within its procedures for providing genetic matches to consumers (Ball et al., 2016). Ramstetter and colleagues (2017) conducted a study based on a Mexican American sample consisting of 2,485 Mexican Americans with known pedigree information to evaluate the accuracy of 12 pairwise relatedness inference methods. They find that GERMLINE is one of the most accurate methods available (Ramstetter et al., 2017).

Ramstetter and colleagues’ (2017) study measured the ability of various methods accurately specifying the degree of relatedness of a selected pair from 1 to 7 degrees or being unrelated. A degree refers to the number of birthing events separating two people. For example, a parent and child have 1 degree of relatedness, full siblings have 2 degrees of relatedness, and third cousins sharing great-great grandparents have 8 degrees. Although their study focused on accuracy of various methods predicting degree of relatedness compared to reported degree of relatedness, we are reporting accuracy of the fact of relatedness from their study. For our study, we are concerned with the methods’ ability to determine if members of a dyad are related rather than how the members of the dyad are related. Based on Ramstetter and colleagues’ (2017) findings, GERMLINE determined fact of relatedness at accuracy levels of 100% (for known 1st degree relatives), 99.89 – 99.19% (2nd – 5th degree relatives), 98.53% (6th degree relatives), and 83.57% (7th degree relatives). For those reporting being unrelated, GERMLINE predicted that 80.58% were unrelated and 19.42% were 4th – 8th degree relatives. Ramstetter and colleagues (2017) states that this could attributed to false positives predicted by GERMLINE, but it could also be due to cryptic relatedness (i.e., relatives not knowing they are related). In other words, algorithms can accurately or fairly accurately determine if two people are related up to 6th and 7th degrees of relatedness.

This is significant because some genetic genealogy services used by the general population provide results on relatedness based on these scientific methods. For example, uses an adapted version of GERMINE called J-GERMLINE that is designed to work with growing databases (Ball et al., 2016). The usefulness of results produced by algorithms that are based on detecting IBD segment sharing (e.g., GERMLINE, J-GERMLINE) relies on the use of DNA profiles that are already phased. Genotype phasing is the process of ordering allele assignments by parent across the SNP locations. Whereas statistical methods such as those used by are available to infer phasing, comparing the child’s DNA profile to the parents’ DNA profiles is the best way to ensure phasing accuracy (Ball et al., 2016; S. R. Browning & Browning, 2007; Roach et al., 2010; Tewhey, Bansal, Torkamani, Topol, & Schork, 2011). “Leveraging parental information to phase genomes provides excellent accuracy” (Tewhey et al., 2011, p. 220). By first using family-based phasing to order the child’s allele assignments and to identify segments shared by both the child and a parent, this ensures that the DNA segment being compared to other profiles of unknown relatedness to the child is truly a segment that was inherited by the child from a parent (i.e., IBD). Algorithms provided by GEDmatch enables the general public to create phased genetic profiles and then to conduct IBD segment sharing matching with other users in their database. IBD segment sharing among two target child profiles and one of each of their parents (i.e., among two parent-child dyads) infers that the segment was inherited from a shared ancestor and that the two target persons (and the matching parents) are related.

Part 3: Criteria of Relatedness for this Study

For the first time in history, technology is available to identify living members of African ancestral family groups. For African Americans, this means that they can identify the specific African ancestral family groups from whom their African enslaved ancestors were taken during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. For our Kassena participants from northern Ghana, this is a new social context in which to make kinship meanings. The emphasis we are making here is not on ancestral geography or ethnic group identification but on the ability to identify and communicate with the direct living African and African diaspora relatives within 10 generations of shared ancestral great grandparents. This challenges the common narrative that African American separation from Africa was too long ago for family history or relatives to be discovered, but it also presents new questions about the meaning of family.

For our criteria, we drew from work on cryptic distant relatives (Henn et al., 2012). We searched for 4th to 9th cousin genetic relatedness between Ghanaians and people of African descent, meaning that the Ghanaian and person of African descent share a common ancestor within the last 5 to 10 generations and within 300 years ago (Henn et al., 2012). Genetic relatedness is measured using DNA segment sharing algorithms on GEDmatch. We used “the length of DNA segments that are consistent with identity by descent (IBD) from a common ancestor” (S. R. Browning & Browning, 2007; Gusev et al., 2009; Henn et al., 2012, p. 1) measured in centiMorgans (cMs) as the genetic similarity metric. Matching is based on similarity of autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced “snips”). The amount of DNA shared in a cousin dyad depends on the number of shared ancestors and the number of generations between the cousins and the shared ancestors. The greater the number of shared ancestors or the shorter the generational distance, the greater the amount of shared DNA in cMs between the cousins. The amount shared between cousins vary greatly such that at certain generational distances, cousins will not show matching DNA at the SNP locations even though they are biologically related (Henn et al., 2012).   

To ensure IBD segments, we used family-based phased matching. This means that our final results consist of segments that match the parent and progeny of both our Ghanaian participants and the unknown relatives in the database such that all four matched and indicated that they shared common ancestors within 10 generations. We show that there is genetic evidence that Ghanaians and people of African descent show relatedness within 10 generations, supporting the claim that families that were separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade are reuniting.

Drawing from Henn et al.’s (2012) work, 4th to 8th cousins share 14 to 0.055 cMs of DNA (Henn et al., 2012). Their threshold was set to a minimum of 7 cM based on their ability to find progeny-other and parent-other segments where the progeny also matched the parent (i.e., IBD for the parent and progeny) for 90% of the segments. They used unphased data in their work (Henn et al., 2012). Our minimum segment threshold was set to 7 cMs. However, for the phased data that we used, we could have lowered the threshold to 2 cMs (S. R. Browning & Browning, 2007; Henn et al., 2012). Although there are benefits to being able to identify genetic matches using computationally phased data between 2 persons, our use of family-based phasing between 2 parent-progeny dyads ensures greater accuracy (Roach et al., 2010). Every segment recognized as a genetic match will be IBD based on matching both parent and progeny inherent in family-based phased data. Additionally, our method also enables the person of African descent to learn more about their genetic family history than with the use of data between 2 persons. For example, with our phased data, a person of African descent could learn that they, through their mother, are related to a person born in Ghana through the Ghanaian person’s father. This additional information discovered using family-based phased data is of value to people of African descent testing to learn about their relatedness with Africans.

Part 4: Results

Confirming Parent-Progeny Dyads

            We did a one-to-once comparison (GEDmatch) between parent and progeny before creating the phased datafiles to ensure that each dyad consisted of biological parent and progeny. Parent-progeny dyads will have at least 3,400 cM of shared DNA 100% of the time (Bettinger & Perl, 2017). We expected the members of each dyad to share at least 3,400 cMs of DNA. Members of dyads shared 3,538.7 to 3,568.7 cMs indicating that each dyad consisted of a biological parent-progeny pair (see Table 1). We then used the GEDmatch Phasing tool to create one phased profile for each dyad.     

Table 1: Shared DNA between parent and progeny

ParentOffspringTotal DNA
Parent 1Offspring 1.13,568.7511,616151.8
Parent 2Offspring 2.13,554.8515,810151.8
Parent 3Offspring 3.13,547.4514,166151.8
Parent 4Offspring 4.13,560.4513,923151.8
Parent 5Offspring 5.13,553.0515,325151.8
Parent 6Offspring 6.13,551.6515,063151.8
Parent 7Offspring 7.13,559.2514,105151.8
Parent 8Offspring 8.13,543.5458,832151.8
Parent 8Offspring 8.23,538.7459,252131.7

Note: As of 7 July 2019

Identifying Matching Parent- Progeny Dyads within GEDmatch

            We used the phased profile for the rest of the matching. We used GEDmatch’s one-to-many tool to find all profiles within the database that matched at least one of our phased profiles at a minimum of 7 cMs on a single segment. The number of matching profiles for each participant dyad ranged from 7 to 50. These resultant matching profiles were unphased and so we were uncertain if the segments in the matching database profiles were actually IBD. To resolve this, we searched for parent-progeny dyads within the results for each participant phased profile.

            We used GEDmatch 3-D Chromosome Browser to identify matching profiles that also matched each other sharing at least 3,400 cMs, indicating parent-progeny relatedness (Bettinger & Perl, 2017). Each parent-progeny dyad had from 2 to 6 matches with the exception being for the siblings (i.e., Progeny 8.1 and Progeny 8.2) who had 20 and 28 matches respectively (see Table 2). Every 2 matches consisted of 1 identified dyad. For example, the phased profile for Parent 1 and Progeny 1 matched 2 identified parent-progeny dyads in the database. Parent 5 and Progeny 5 matched 3 identified dyads in the database.

            We then did a one-to-one comparison between the phased profile and each member of the dyad to ensure that the matching segment matched. This is useful in ensuring that the segment found in the GEDmatch database is also identical-by-descent for the discovered dyad. The Total DNA Shared (cMs, single segment) in Table 2 is the amount that all four match each other (i.e., Ghanaaian parent-progeny dyad and parent-progeny found in database). In each matching, the dyad set matched on a single segment such that the shared cM is the amount shared on a single segment matching all four in the dyad set. For example, Parent 1 and Progeny 1 shared 9.7 cMs with a parent-progeny dyad found in the database. We regarded each dyad match as having an IBD segment. This means that the DNA segment was inherited by the Ghanaian parent and progeny and the parent and progeny found in the database from a common ancestor within 10 generations, making them biological relatives.

Table 2: Number of Genetic Matches in GEDmatch Database

ParentOffspringNumber of Genetically Matching
Total DNA
Parent 1Offspring 1.149.7819
Parent 3Offspring 3.128.3751
Parent 4Offspring 4.127.0883
Parent 5Offspring 5.167.1 – 9.8522 – 1,236
Parent 6Offspring 6.1210.4950
Parent 8Offspring 8.1208.1 – 8.3614 – 893
Parent 8Offspring 8.2288.1 – 11.1617 – 938

Note: Note: As of 7 July 2019

Part 5: Discussion

The study of family identity among the Kassena people of Ghana toward their diaspora relatives is linked to the phenomenon of ancestral families separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade reuniting using genetic genealogy. With such a reunification claim, we seek to illuminate the methods used in our study to identify extended relatives. For research, policy, and programs involving family reunification as an intervention, there is a need to develop methods vetted through the disciplines of population genetics and genetic anthropology for determining and interpreting relatedness with tools that are readily available for use in the general population.

Using the tools provided by GEDmatch, we were able to first confirm that our participants consisted of parent-progeny dyads and then to identify parent-progeny dyads within the GEDmatch database who were related to our participants. For discovered relatives in the database who are a part of the African diaspora, this provides evidence that African American and Ghanaian members of ancestral families that were separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade can be identified and reunited.

After identifying matching parent-progeny dyads within the GEDmatch database, additional steps must be taken to learn more about the dyad’s ancestral history including using GEDmatch’s admixture tools and contacting the match’s representative using the email information that the representative provided. The match’s representative need to also confirm that the discovered parent-progeny dyad is in fact a parent and progeny and not two DNA profiles of one potential genetic match (e.g., duplicate upload or profiles from two different companies) or twins.

Part 6: Materials and Methods

Participants are 9 parent-offspring dyads (n = 18) and 2 parent-offspring dyads consisting of the same parent for 2 siblings (n = 3) for a total of 11 parent-offspring dyads consisting of 21 individual participants. All participants are at least 18 years of age and are self-identified as members of the Kasena ethnic group residing in Paga, Ghana. Because 2 DNA kits for offspring failed to process, they and their parents were removed from the sample leaving us with a subsample of 9 parent-offspring dyads consisting of 17 individuals. Parents consisted of 4 men and 4 women with an age range of 47 to 80 (M = 64.88, SD = 12.30). Their offspring consisted of 5 men and 4 women with an age range of 19 to 39 (M = 29.44, SD = 8.49). The mean age of the subsample is 46.12 (SD = 20.84).

The (former) Pikworo Slave Camp is located in the Nania village of Paga, Ghana, about 10 km north of Bolgatanga. The Pikworo Slave Camp, primarily used 1500s to 1800s, is associated with both the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the African Slave Trade as a site of bondage before captured people entered slave markets. It is also used for local memorial practices. Although elders in nearby villages still hold memories of the local slave trade, the emphasis of the tour guide is on the site’s connection to people taken to the dungeons along the southern coast and eventually to diaspora locations such as North and South America and the Caribbean Islands. African Americans familiar with the site regard it as having a great historical significance to their own ancestry and family narratives. Genetic genealogy could be used to support claims of relatedness and contemporary biological connections to the African diaspora.

Paga is a town that borders the country of Burkina Faso. It is the capital of the Kassena-Nankana West district. According to the 2010 Housing & Population Census, the Paramount Chief is Paga Pio. The main ethnic groups of the region are Mole-Dagbon, Grusi (of which the Kassena ethnic group is a part of), Mande-Busanga, and Gruma. It has a patrilineal system of inheritance. As of 2010, the population of the Kassena-Nankana West district was 70,667 individuals. In the Kassena-Nankana West district, 14.0% of the population lives in urban areas. The median age is 20, the average age is 26 with 96.7 males per 100 females. The average household size is 5.0 for urban areas and 5.6 for rural areas. Among those 11 years and older, 47.8% are literate in English (some of whom are also literate in a Ghanaian language and/or French) and 49.8% are not literate for any language. Among those 15 years and older, 72.2% are employed.

Saliva Sample Collection

Saliva samples were collected in June – July 2018 and 2016 using collection tubes containing a DNA stabilizing solution. Participants who tested in 2016 (n = 3) were randomly selected by residents of the neighborhood. Offspring (n = 4) of the participants who tested in 2016 were purposively selected in 2018 based on our need to have parent-offspring dyads in the study. The remaining participants (n = 14) who tested in 2018 were randomly selected from a list of potential participants created by one resident of the neighborhood who was not a participant of the study. Potential participants were listed based on their willingness to have both a parent and offspring participate in the study. Saliva samples were collected in one public group gathering in 2016 and one in 2018 at the project site located at the former Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Ghana.

Overview of Project Procedures

In June 2018 we organized a community event to continue rapport building and to explain the project to the community. Because the project was developed in consultation with a community member, the emphasis was on being transparent and continuing to build rapport. The next day, selected participants gathered at the project site. Members of the research team explained the project, provided time to answer questions participants may have had, and gathered informed consent. We then gathered the saliva samples, conducted round 1 (July 2018) of focus group discussion data about family meanings and the diaspora, provided a communal project mobile phone for use by participants to communicate with genetic matches, returned to the U.S. with the saliva samples, and then sent the saliva samples to a commercial lab for processing. After the DNA was genotyped, meaning the specific variations of gene markers (alleles) are found, we identified relatives within the GEDmatch database, provided the diaspora genetic matches with the contact information of their genetic matches in Paga, and provided the project coordinator selected from the community in Paga with the email address of the newly discovered diaspora relative. In March 2019, the community project coordinator collected a round 2 of focus group discussion data about family meanings and the diaspora and analyzed it using inductive and deductive thematic analyses.

Procedures for Identifying Genetic Matches in GEDmatch

The essential task was to determine which persons of African descent within a database is related to the participants residing in Ghana, supporting the claim that families that were separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade are reuniting using autosomal genetic genealogy. We used several tools provided by the web platform GEDmatch (Software Version May 19 2019 00:02:33, Build 37) to identify, and then contact, genetic matches within their database.

Step one was to obtain genetic information in a text datafile for each participant. To obtain genetic information, we sent our saliva samples to Ancestry to process the DNA and create a DNA text datafile. Beyond genotyping accuracy, we selected AncestryDNA services from for two main reasons: (1) the level of accuracy of GERMLINE based matching and (2) access to millions of consumers to potentially match and connect with after the study ends.

Rather than reading the entire genome, AncestryDNA reads the DNA sequence at approximately 700,000 locations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), along the genome (Ball et al., 2016). Along with the company specific products such as the ethnicity estimate and DNA Matches, AncestryDNA provides the raw DNA text datafile that contains the Reference SNP cluster ID (rsID), chromosome and position of allele, and the unordered values of the alleles for up to approximately 700,000 SNPs. This raw DNA text datafile can be downloaded and used in other applications.

Step two was to create phased profiles for each of the 9 participant parent-offspring dyads. Although computational methods are improving, family-based phasing is the only certain way to align the allele datafile by biological parent (Roach et al., 2010; Tewhey et al., 2011), which enabled us to have greater confidence that the DNA segments were identical-by-descent (IBD). IBD segments are segments that were truly inherited from one parent to the offspring. IBD segments are needed to identify genetic matches among unknown testers. To create the phased datafiles, we used the GEDmatch’s Phasing tool which compared the DNA datafiles of the offspring participant with their parents’ DNA datafiles. This created two phased datafiles. One phased datafile consists of the DNA segments shared between the offspring and the biological mother (denoted with “M1”). The other phased datafile consists of the DNA segments shared between the offspring and the biological father (denoted with “P1”). We expected each parent-offspring dyad to share at least 3,400 cMs of DNA. We used the phased datafile that was created between offspring and participating parent who contributed saliva for the study and deleted the phased datafile that was created for the non-participating parent.

Step three was to identify potential genetic matches within the GEDmatch database. To do this, we used their one-to-many comparison tool individually for each of our parent-offspring phased profiles. This provided us with a list of unphased profiles that shared at least 7 cMs in common with our parent-offspring phased participant profiles. When using the one-to-many comparison tool, we had the option to adjust the threshold for the minimum amount of DNA that unphased profiles in the database must share with the phased profile of the participating parent-offspring dyads. As the length of an IBD segment decreases, the tools become increasingly less accurate in identifying genetic matches. While several sources claimed that a minimum of 4 or 5 cM is the appropriate cutoff, we conservatively set the cutoff to a minimum of 7 cM for a single segment. 

Step four was to identify parent-offspring dyads among the list of potential genetic matches for each of our parent-offspring phased datafiles. Selection of parent-offspring dyads among the unphased DNA matching datafiles is necessary to ensure that the matching segment that was IBD for our participant dyad was also IBD for the discovered dyad, thereby further reducing the chances of false-positive matches. To identify parent-offspring dyads among the potential genetic matches, we used a GEDmatch’s 3D chromosome browser. For each phased profile, we viewed the resultant matrix that compared the potential genetic matches with each other and displayed how much DNA each potential genetic match shared with each other. We selected potential genetic matches that shared at least 3,400 cMs with another potential genetic match, indicating a parent-offspring dyad, identical twins, or a second profile for the potential genetic match. If criteria are met, this produced at least one set of matching parent-offspring dyads consisting of four individuals: the parent and their offspring from Ghana who were participants in this study and the parent and their offspring newly discovered within the GEDmatch database.

Step five was to provide additional evidence that each of the four individuals of within a matching set were related to each other by having overlapping segments, meaning that their DNA matched at the same locations along the genome. Observing the same IBD segment in all four samples indicates that the four individuals share a recent common ancestor within 10 generations based on the use of autosomal DNA, SNPs, and current technology. To provide supporting evidence of relatedness, we used GEDmatch’s one-to-one comparison tool which provides the chromosome, start and end location on the genome, amount of shared DNA in cMs, and number of shared SNPs for each segment shared by the two profiles in the comparison. We compared each of the phased participant DNA profiles to both individual profile in the discovered parent-offspring dyad and confirmed that they had overlapping segments. Those meeting this criterion were listed as genetic matches to our participants.

Step six was to contact the administrator (sometimes referred to as the manager) of the parent and offspring profiles by the email provided in the GEDmatch database. For each initial contact, we provided information about the Ghanaian parent and offspring genetic matches, the project, and the contact information for the project phone with the research team member in Ghana. That team member was copied on each email. For newly identified genetic matches who replied, we confirmed that the non-participant members of the genetic match were African American parent and offspring. These newly discovered persons were recorded as being genetic matches with the Ghanaian participant parent and offspring, sharing a common ancestor within 10 generations.

Part 7: Conclusion

This methodological blog series demonstrated the use of publicly accessible genetic genealogy tools to identify African American extended relatives of Ghanaians of the Kassena ethnic group. By inference, families that were separated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade are reuniting. The results of this study were used in a subsequent study about family identity among members of the Kassena ethnic group who engage in social interactions with their African American biological extended relatives.

Part 8: Reflections and Thoughts



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Dismantling White Supremacy through Finding African Relatives

Drawing from my interactions with Africans and people of African descent who are interacting with each other as family members, a friend’s Facebook post brought something to mind. To explain it, I need to highlight a certain aspect of the idea of white supremacy first.

White supremacy is the idea that people racialized as white and who have no African ancestry are superior to other peoples due to inherent traits in European biology. It also carries the idea that people racialized as black due to their African ancestry are inherently inferior and less than human. White and black are at opposite ends of this erroneous human ranking with other groups thought to be in between. A black person who loves black people but who thinks something is wrong with black people is subject to white supremacy. Dismantling the idea of white supremacy has a psychological component that also needs to be addressed in Africans and people of African descent who suffer from the belief in the idea of white supremacy. In other words, internalized racism. A person thinking they are lesser than others regardless of their own accomplishments or how well they treat others often suffer mentally and physically.

So I find it quite interesting that people of African descent who are engaging in genetic genealogy and reuniting with their relatives from Africa are also POSSIBLY dismantling the ideas of white supremacy for themselves and their family members. It is usual for African Americans exploring results from an ancestry DNA test from companies like to also explore African history. When African Americans identify and interact with their relatives from Africa, African Americans often focus their learning on the specific African histories connected to their own family history. I have seen where some take on an Afrocentric view akin to an Eurocentric view such that everything about Africa is wonderful and superior. They like to emphasize that Africa is a place of Kings and Queens. But then some, after learning more details about the historical context of specific African peoples and locations because of their newly found family connections, begin to see Africa as neither lesser or greater than people in other geographies. They being to see Africa as a set of places with people who treat individuals both well and poorly. I mean, Africans are people. And people are people. A normalization of Africa. But, if this normalization of Africa in the minds of African American relatives is a true phenomenon, then that means that African Americans are either beginning to view or fortifying their view that Africa and, by extension, blackness, is not inherently bad. It is mental liberation at the root. Not only do they see themselves and the people they are a part of as not inherently bad, but they also have their budding relationships with their newly found African relatives to continue to reinforce this understanding with experiences of acceptance and inclusion.

Imagine the impact as this level of acceptance and inclusion ripples throughout segments of the African American population through those who desire to engage in genetic genealogy.

What are your thoughts about this?

Refocusing Blog to Discuss the Impact of African Family Reunions

Up until this time, this blog focused on initial family reunions between people of African descent in the diaspora and Africans immigrants. Many people, including academics, never thought this would be possible because of the amount of time that has passed between the time of separation into the Transatlantic Slave Trade and now. But people of African descent are increasingly finding their African relatives through a relatively accessible commercial product, enabling them to fill in major gaps in their family and community narrative. Rather than focusing on the initial finding of the relatives, which several individuals and organizations are facilitating, I am redirecting this blog to focus on the short- and long-term impact of these reunions.

As confirmed by autosomal DNA tests, families that were separated by the Transatlantic Slave Trade are being reunited at the 4th to 8th cousin level. Some companies, such as and 23andMe, use autosomal DNA testing to compare the DNA profile of one customer with the DNA profile of another customer to determine relatedness based on the percentage of DNA the two customers have in common. When African immigrant customers take an autosomal DNA test and have their DNA profile compared to the company’s vast database of customers, the African immigrant customer receive a list of people with whom they share a certain amount of DNA. The majority of the people in the results list are African Americans. With basic knowledge of DNA science, people of African descent are then able to identity African immigrant relatives. In this way, African families that were separated by the Transatlantic Slave Trade are actually being reunited.

What comes as a surprise to many, including academics, is that these reunions are possible. Common thinking was that African Americans and other people of African descent would never be able to find their African families from before slavery. Unfortunately, the usefulness of the autosomal DNA test is being confused with results that offer African ethnicity estimates. With good reason, many question the accuracy of ethnicity estimates and the motives of companies that offer these types of services. However, the methods to determine relatedness is different from the methods used to estimate ethnicity. Without going into too much detail, estimating relatedness is determined by calculating how much DNA two customer saliva samples have in common. Those meeting a certain threshold of common DNA are listed in the results as a DNA relative. Using this information, along with other genealogy tools, people of African descent are identifying African immigrant relatives from among the customers listed as their DNA relatives.

With that being said, I think the real hesitation with embracing the fact of reuniting African families is the idea that the moment of separation happened too long ago to be reconciled. But it is happening and the general public will soon catch on to this amazing phenomenon. So what does it mean if people of African descent still share enough DNA with a person born in Africa to be detected? How must our thinking about family and identity development change to accommodate the impact of new types of relatives? What does this mean for future engagement?

That brings me back to the point of this blog entry. Instead of focusing on these amazing reunion stories, I would like to engage you in conversations about the meanings of these reunions. The next several blog posts will be thought pieces that I hope you care to engage in. I do this as an African American woman in the journey of finding African family members and filling in major gaps in my family history. I also do this as a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) in the department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). All this really means is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of these reunions and I would really like to talk with you about it. What would you like to discuss more?

Visiting Ghana 2016: Slave Camps

For 10 weeks in May to July 2016, my mother (Wylene Hameed) and I traveled to 5 of the 10 regions of Ghana. I explored the question of reuniting with descendants of family members who were taken away during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Conversations took place in Accra (Greater Accra Region), Elmina (Central Region), Ejisu (Ashanti Region), Kumasi (Ashanti Region), Tamale (Northern Region), Navrongo (Upper East Region), and Paga (Upper East Region).

On February 1, 2017, see the new Projects tab for an introduction to four elderly women from Paga, Ghana who took AncestryDNA tests to identify descendants of family members who were separated from their homes a few generations ago.

The following are a set of pictures from former slave encampments and other locations during our travels. (See the picture and the description under each picture.)


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

Paga, Ghana is a border town in the Upper East region of Ghana. Within the neighborhood of Nania, Paga is the site of the Pikworo Slave Camp. The community narrative of Nania is that slave raiders came and took the strong, leaving the remaining family to plummet into poverty.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

When slave raiders took people from Nania and the surrounding communities, raiders would hold their captives in chains at this camp until they were ready to march selected captives southward to the Salaga slave market.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The grooves in the boulders were “bowls” where slaves ate their food.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The grooves are “bowls” where slaves ate their food.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

This was the water source for the camp. The existence of this natural water source may have been the reason this site was selected as a camp by slave raiders.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The water level depends on the rains.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

This was the Punishment Rock used to punish African captives. Chains would bind the captive forcing them to sit in the blazing sun all day. Some would die from enduring the treatment.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The large groove going around the bottom of the Punishment Rock is from wear of the chains.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Cemetery for Dead Slaves”


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

In the Cemetery for Dead Slaves, each rock formation of a large rock surrounded by several smaller rocks marks the location of a mass grave. There are three mass graves depicted in this picture.


Former Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Watch Tower of the Slave Raiders”


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

The slave raiders would climb on this rock formation and look far beyond the camp for those who attempted to come free the captives.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

Musicians were called to pacify captives. Here, drummers from the Nania neighborhood demonstrate a song being played on the drum (rock) as was done when captives were held there.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Meeting Place of the Slaves.” Here, slave raiders would get a last look at captives before selecting those who would be marched to the Salaga slave market to be sold. On being sold at Salaga, they would be marched as far as to the Elmina and Cape Coast castles. I was reminded of the U.S. Trail of Tears. Many Africans suffered and died on the way from Pikworo to Elmina/Cape Coast.


Pikworo Slave Camp in Paga, Upper East, Ghana

“Meeting Place of the Slaves”


Slave raiders would bind two people together using links such as this on captives who were marched from the Pikworo slave camp to the Salaga slave market. (In the photo is LaKisha David and Regina Nyaaba.)


Leaving the Pikworo Slave Camp. I felt a sort of symbolic gladness when I was walking away, leaving the slave camp in my freedom. (In the photo is LaKisha David, Wylene Hameed, Regina Nyaaba, with Regina’s friend in the back.)


Crocodile Pond in Paga, Ghana

One day, before work, I decided to pet a crocodile! Paga, Ghana is known for its legendary ponds of sacred crocodiles. Before entering the area, a guide explains the history and its meaning to the town. Then you buy a live bird (chicken or guinea fowl) held in a cage. The guide catches the bird and leads you into the pond grounds. The guide then makes the bird chirp which catches the attention of crocodiles in the water. The guide also makes noises and pets the approaching crocodile to calm it down. The crocodile decided whether or not to eat the bird but then relaxed, allowing the guide to position both the crocodile and me for pictures.


Shea Nut Fruit

This is the fruit of a shea nut. The fruit is edible. Tthe nut is used to make shea butter!


Shea Nut Fruit

The fruit of the shea nut naturally comes in two flavors, sweet and not sweet. You cannot tell which is which from looking at it. Only a bite into the fruit can help to identify the flavor. I’m (LaKisha David) in the middle of the picture; the one I selected was sweet! Mom (Wylene Hameed) in the left of the picture selected one that was not so sweet. Regina Nyaaba is sharing in our experience of tasting shea fruit for the first time.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The Saakpuli slave market is located in a village of the Dagomba people. Before touring the market grounds, the current chief of the village sat with us, explained to us their history, and answered any questions we had. They told us that the former chiefs of this village were slave raiders. They explained to us that when a young boy looked like he would grow up to be strong, he was selected to be trained to be a slave raider. Somewhat bewildered at this forthcoming of the village history, I asked if he understood who I was as an African American, that I was a descendent of one of the ones likely taken by this village and sent off into slavery in the U.S. He said he understood and continued to answer any questions I had.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The chief’s representative would sit here and store money he received for African captives.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The hole is the money storage area.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The markings on the tree are from the passage of chains that held captives (determined by researchers from the University of Ghana).


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

Artifacts discovered from the site


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

Old chains used to hold people.


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

A cowry shell (money in this area during the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade).


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

The current chief of Saakpuli, village of former slave raiders, after he told us about the village’s history and we toured the grounds. (In this picture is LaKisha David, the current Saakpuli chief, Wylene Hameed, and Yaw Annafi.)


The Slave Market in Saakpuli, Savelugu/Nanton, Northern Region, Ghana

Current chief of Saakpuli (traditional attire)


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

There is a program called the Kalpohin Cultural Exchange in Tamale Ghana where women share local culture with visitors. The women still live in according to many traditional ways due to their low-income status. They made an arrangement with Walisu Alhassan (the man in the picture above) such that each housing area (compound) would share a different aspect of the local culture in exchange for a fee that would be shared with the members of the neighborhood and the keep a local elementary school operating. Walisu can be contacted at 233 050 744 0426 or

Here, an elderly woman was teaching us how to spin yarn from cotton in her home. I found it ironic that I was there to “reconnect to my African roots” but was there learning how to spin cotton, something that had always reminded me of slavery in the U.S. After the initial mental adjustment to get over my aversion to ever touching raw cotton, and after I stopped wondering about the ways in which cotton planting got to this part of Ghana, I settled in to enjoy the company of this elderly lady sharing her time, craft, and kindness with us young folks. In the picture above, we were pulling out the cotton seeds.


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

In her very skillful way, she used a calabash bowl and a top to spin the loose cotton into yarn.


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

Then she let me try. After a few times, I finally got the hang of it! After spinning for a short time, she took the yarn we made and tied them around our wrists, making bracelets for my mom and I. That was such a special piece of yarn to us!!


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

In a neighboring housing area, they shared how to make shea butter. The shea nuts are getting ready!


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

In another housing area, they showed us how to make pottery.


Kalpohin Cultural Exchange (Tamale, Ghana)

The shaping of the small pot is finished. Other steps include decorating the outside of the pot with color.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

Every 40 – 42 days, the Ashanti kingdom chiefs gathered at the Manhyia Palace of the Ashanti king to honor ancestors and to hold court. This is Kwaku, the grandson of a queen mother who governed a few neighborhoods in Kumasi at the time. At the Akwasidae Festival, traditional clothes are typically worn.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

In the sitting area of the palace grounds, waiting for the Ashanti king.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

An elderly man decided to dance to the drumming.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

A younger man decided to join in.


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)


Akwasidae Festival (Kumasi, Ghana)

Future chiefs (just being children on this day!)


Friends enjoying the day (Kumasi, Ghana)


Elmina, Ghana

On the way to the Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle


Elmina Slave Castle

“Female Slave Dungeon”


Preparing to take an AncestryDNA test (Accra, Ghana)

Here we are in Accra, Ghana with friends Fatim and Gabriel Oppong. Gabriel, an Ashanti, decided to take an autosomal DNA test from AncestryDNA to help locate his relatives in the diaspora.


Ready to send the AncestryDNA test kit off for processing!

He was one of the first few Ghanaians to take an AncestryDNA test through TAKiR, as indicated by signing the number 4. On GEDmatch (A200704) as of January 17, 2017, he had 45 matches at 10 cMs or above, including 6 at 15 cMs or above. Now he starts the process of reaching out to his relatives in the diaspora and rebuilding family connections.

A Ghanaian Family Welcomes African American Relatives Home

Great grandmother Nana Faba Idun (age 81) has lived in Elmina, a Ghanaian town of one of the infamous slave dungeons, all her life. Nana’s brother, Joseph “Kawantwi” Arthur, remembers the childhood stories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Kawantwi spoke of having a great-grandfather who was taken away to work for the Europeans in another land. They thought they would return in their lifetime.

Nana and her brother believed as many Ghanaians believed, that those who left the coast of Ghana in bondage to Europeans would return to help enrich the lives of those left behind. Nana welcomes the surviving descendants of her enslaved family members, wherever they may be, to come back home and to help them build. However, it was not until after Kawantwi and other members of the family visited the slave castle in May 2016 that they came to realize some of the horrors that was the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

In May 2016, I collected DNA samples from Faustina (age 55) of the Ghanaian Fante ethnic group and conducted a conversational interview with her about identity, kinship, and slavery. A few days later, I went to her family home in Elmina and conducted a group interview with her mother, uncle, and other family members. I then collected a DNA sample from Faustina’s mother, Nana. I recorded a special message from Nana addressed to the descendants of the enslaved to come back home. I mailed the AncestryDNA kits and eagerly waited for their processed results to be listed alongside the results from Faustina’s daughter, Rhoda Quaigrain, who submitted a DNA sample several months before this visit. I was eagerly waiting for the results because identifying and reconnecting with the African ancestral family is the dream of many African Americans.

Speaking with Nana’s family and reading works such as Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana by Bayo Holsey, I learned that there is a common misconception in Ghana that the enslaved and descendants of the enslaved increased in riches in the Caribbean and the United States and selfishly chose not to return to Ghana to help their brothers and sisters who remained in their ancestral homeland.

Whereas some African Americans today can return to Africa to help develop their ancestral homelands, many in Africa do not know the history of U.S. slavery and Jim Crow. Nor do they know about the Civil Rights movements or other forms of resistance it took to get to this point. They are not aware of how the legacies of those times are expressed in the poor education and neighborhood conditions for many African Americans in the U.S. today. This lack of knowledge is understandable given that Ghana was formerly colonized by the British. The imposed British education was void of the horrors of slavery and the fullness of Ghana’s own history. Welcoming messages from the elderly in Ghana today are filled with notions of descendants returning to Africa to help develop it but are without notions of the social and psychological healing needed by people of African descent who do find their African families. Moreover, most people of African descent do not recognize how African life was shaped by pressing conflicts with colonization, making Africans preoccupied with their own independence struggles.

After I conducted the interview and collected Nana’s DNA sample, Faustina, her uncle, several other household members and I visited the Elmina slave dungeons. We learned of the horrors that was existence in those dungeons, particularly for the women. I visited the Cape Coast slave dungeons years ago, but still could not help but weep as the Elmina guide spoke. After the tour, I asked the family “Do you get it?” referring to why autosomal ancestry DNA testing and efforts to identify relatives in Africa was so important to many. They nodded their heads “yes” in unison. It was only now that they have come to understand some of the horrors associated with the slave trade and, maybe, some of the healing aspects of finding “home” for people of African descent. Maybe Kawantwi’s memory of his great-grandfather being taken away in slavery would take on new meanings for him and shape his interactions with returning relatives.

Since Rhoda, her mother Faustina, and her grandmother Nana took the AncestryDNA test, Rhoda has been able to connect with several of her relatives in the diaspora. Ailene Randolph-House and Melvin Collier are African Americans who are related to this Ghanaian family branch as confirmed through AncestryDNA results and tools on GEDmatch. Rhoda and Ailene have communicated several times by phone. Melvin recently took a trip to Ghana to visit with Nana and Faustina as family. Nana’s side of the family warmly received Melvin which included attending a Welcome Home celebration hosted by the Obeng family with over 100 people in attendance. Through ancestry DNA testing, Africans and their diasporic relatives worldwide can begin the process of forging family. Who knows what will happen next?

Note: Rhoda was first introduced through TAKiR in a blog post in January 2015: Ghanaian Connects with Caribbean Distant Cousin.

Debbie (Republic of Congo) Took AncestryDNA Test to Inform Kin about Ethnicity

Germainy Debbie Mokeleba of the Republic of Congo decided to take an AncestryDNA test in April to help identify possible kin in the diaspora. Debbie is a graduating undergraduate I met when I gave a presentation in her class in March, 2016. She was a student in the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s EPSY 203 “African/African-Americans: A Global Dialogue” with instructors Dinah Mite and Mbhekiseni Madela. As of April 28, 2016, AncestryDNA begun processing Debbie’s kit. I asked Debbie to write a few thoughts about what testing meant to her. These were her words:

Over the past few years I have seen commercials about celebrities looking to trace their identities; more specifically, I have seen African-American celebrities looking to trace their identities back to specific countries in the continent of Africa.

When talking about ethnicity, I have so much pride telling people where I come from; and without a doubt, I was excited to be a part of Ancestry DNA in order to help those who are looking to trace their identity. Having a strong sense of my ethnic identity has certainly shaped the way I view hot topic issues, especially through the lens of race. Moreover, because of that, I have a strong sense of confidence with who I am, and I never allow for others’ perception of my people to affect me simply because only I know the reality of my culture. I hope through this process that those who are looking to find their ethnic heritage will always have this pride and confidence of where they come from.

I am from the Republic of the Congo, located right next to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Though I am 25% from DRC as well, I have always identified as Congolese from the Republic since I spent the first 11 years of life living there. I have been in the U.S. for almost eleven years. I would be very surprised to find relatives in the African Diaspora in the U.S. this early on in the research; however, it would be interesting to see how that would impact me if I were to discover family living here.

We hope to get Debbie’s AncestryDNA results by June 2. I wonder how many of her kin, if she has kin in the diaspora, will we find next month! Follow this post to hear more as she shares experiences about exploring identity and reconnecting with her kin in the diaspora!

Nigerian Man Connects with African American and Caribbean Cousins Through AncestryDNA

“My maternal grandmother told me…that way back in time, we had family members who went to the stream to fetch water and never returned. This stuck in my psyche for all those years.” – Ade

As a young boy of 6 or 7, Ade and his older brother normally visited with their grandmother Alice after school until their parents returned from work. On one particular day, they decided to play instead of going straight to their grandmother’s home. Their grandmother searched their community in Ijeshaland, Nigeria, but could not find them. When Ade and his brother finally ended their play and went to their grandmother’s home, she “sternly scolded” them, Ade said. His grandmother firmly warned them about their missing ancestors.

“I am 54 years old now, but I remember it like yesterday. I remember wondering that okay, if they did not return, where are they,” said Ade.

Ade later realized that this is the story of his ancestors who were captured in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He wondered where their descendants might be. They were family, after all.

After some time, he was reminded of the missing stories in his family history when he began to ponder on why family members on his mother’s side had foreign surnames such as Da Rocha, Haastrup, and Doherty.

“I remember asking my mother why they had such names. Much later, though, I found out that Ilesha [the capital city of my home region in Nigeria] was significantly impacted by the slave trade especially in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I remember her saying that they were Saro and that we had Saro families. I didn’t know much about what that meant until much later. Saro is Yoruba for Sierra Leone. They must have been returning family members who were captives released by the British via Sierra Leone,” said Ade

When a friend in Madrid, Spain told him about the direct-to-consumer DNA testing company 23andMe a few years ago, he decided to test.

“I became really conscious about the diaspora around 1977. There was an African festival for peoples of African origin called FESTAC. It was held in Lagos Nigeria. I had always had my grandmother’s story in my psyche, but I didn’t make a conscious connection that the relatives might have been taken to the Americas. But I have the expression on her face etched in my brain. I only thought it might be true that the stories could be linked to the diaspora, and that was really the reason for testing.” – Ade

“I tested [with 23andMe] mainly because I wanted to confirm the story that my maternal grandmother told me when I was little kid…So I have been on a mission really, for my grandmother Alice. She passed away in 1983, but she sowed the seed for me to search” – Ade

Ade has since tested with 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Through the website features that allowed members to send messages to DNA matched relatives, Ade has made contact with several African American and Caribbean distant cousins. Finding these relatives has been a source of great relief for Ade. “It was a huge relief!!!,” said Ade, “and I cried and wished that Grandma Alice was still alive!”

As Ade reconnects with family members, he gives them a warm welcome and introduction on Facebook. Facebook has been a helpful tool in keeping him connected to reunited family members.

Ade Omole. Facebook. October 18, 2014:

“To my aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, and more: Please watch this, as it shows what our taken ancestors (the ancestors of our newly re-connected cousins from the other side of the Atlantic – by the way there is no doubt as we are DNA/ genes connected) typically went through…Now more importantly, please make a special effort and go out of your way if you need to, to welcome our newly re-connected cousins back home and into the family. They were taken from us, but they were never far from our hearts. Most of our newly re-connected cousins are now my Facebook friends. So keep an eye out for posts and threads on my page. You will have plenty of chances to say heartfelt welcomes. Ijesha ni a re!”

This post was accompanied by a link to article “CNN’s Don Lemon Discovers His Roots in Emotional Journey with His Mother.”

Several distant cousins discovered through AncestryDNA responded to his post.

An African American cousin, Jennifer Chambers Purefoy, responded, “Hello my new found


Jennifer Purefoy

cousin and family! I was so happy to hear from you and hope I can learn more about my family overseas. I am still trying to find out which side we are related. My mother or father’s side. I look forward to meeting you all either in person or on Facebook.”

A Caribbean cousin, José Muñoz, also responded, “Thanks cousin Ade for the post. You were the first to contact me after finding out we were cousins through DNA. It felt good to connect to a part of my African roots. I could only trace my family back to Trinidad and Puerto Rico, but through DNA I now know I have ancestors from six regions in Africa.”

Jennifer only recently engaged in her family’s African American genealogy search before being contacted by Ade saying that they were related. “Needless to say, I was very excited,” said Jennifer. After some search, she discovered that she was related to Ade through her maternal great great grandmother, Lydia Doyd Asberry. Ade and Jennifer maintain communication through phone and Facebook.

“Finding one’s roots is great but also knowing where you come from is exciting. I can now tell my friends that I come from Africa where [the specific country] I am from, and they can tell me what their country is like.” – Jennifer

José Muñoz

Jose Munoz

Ade’s cousin, José, grew up with a black family in a predominately black neighborhood in New York City. Although José knew about his Trinidadian and Puerto Rican ancestry, he did not consider how the Transatlantic Slave Trade influenced his family’s historical experiences. He used AncestryDNA to go beyond his Caribbean ancestry and discovered that approximately half of his ancestry was from Africa. “I never realized how much slavery and colonization impacted my ancestry,” said José. Shortly after receiving his results, he received an email from Ade. “I received a message from Ade welcoming his cousin and sharing that we have an African King and Prince in our bloodline,” said José.

“Ade said that even though we may never trace our common ancestors, we will always be cousins. Ade welcomed me to his family.” – José

When I asked Ade how has this experience changed him, Ade responded, “My life before and after are not even close! I have a huge sense of relief and almost completeness. I am a big fan of DNA testing! If you notice, most of my cousins are people who are not looking for much really but the sense of belonging and completeness. To be a part of this is priceless really and the sense of family that I have with my cousins is as strong as I have for my brother.”

I asked, “You’re saying that this has given you a sense of completeness, too?”

Ade replied, “Yes indeed! I always wondered why did they not return.”

“This has been a fulfilling, soul-refreshing and rewarding experience for me. For Africans, I will encourage them to get tested. If you have a family member, and they want something that you can give and share at almost no cost, the authentic African spirit says that one should give it.” – Ade

Ade’s Genetic Genealogy Information

Ade’s GEDmatch kit # M669758, A761220, and FB14213

Ade’s daughter’s GEDmatch kit # M729237; A915475 and FB37267

A Ghanaian-American Family Reunion

You couldn’t tell it from looking at the faces in this picture, but this moment captures the family embrace of descendants of common Ashanti ancestors separated through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. One is an African American descendant of those who endured American Slavery. The other three are Ghanaian descendants of Ashantis who remained in Ghana during the Transatlantic Slave Era. With the assistance of AncestryDNA testing, they were able to embrace in their first family reunion.

Ernest Mensa-Bonsu Yaw Adjekum
Ashanti Ethnic Group
Tested with AncestryDNA to find African descendant relatives

Ernest was eager to conduct DNA testing to identify family among the diaspora. He was excited as he took a moment to explore the ethnicity estimates and DNA matches provided by AncestryDNA. He shared his results with his mother in the U.S. and father in Ghana.

Ernest’s father is of the Ashanti ethnic group and mother is of the Ewe ethnic group. Ernest says that his father was “somewhat surprised” that the ethnicity results showed so much of Ernest’s mother’s ancestry. It wasn’t the Ewe that his father was referring to. Ernest’s maternal grandfather’s mother is European, reflected in the 3% European markers in his DNA. Although the autosomal DNA test results show national ethnicities for both parents evenly, this European percentage was interpreted as Ernest sharing more of his mother’s biological heritage. For Ernest, he is Ashanti with a European great grandmother.

After browsing through his listings of DNA relatives, the vast majority of whom were African American, Ernest set out to contact some of the relatives using the website’s messaging feature.

“Dear Fam,

Hi! My name is Ernest Mensa-Bonsu Yaw Adjekum (Amegashie). First of all, I must say I’m super excited to have found out that I have bloodlines here in the United States…” – Ernest

From August to October 2015, Ernest sent out introduction messages to 41 different relatives through an AncestryDNA online feature that allows testers to send messages to DNA relatives. In his introduction messages, Ernest expressed his excitement in finding biological relatives in the United States. He shared a short history about his parents’ heritage in Ghana, his current residency in the U.S., and contact information for relatives to reach him. One day after sending his first message, he received his first reply.

Some relatives flooded Ernest with overwhelming details of genealogy results and search details in pursuit of determining direct lineage in response to his introduction. Some asked Ernest to tell them the direct lineage. One wanted to focus on charting each generation through U.S. kinship and slave records before venturing to chart their African lineage. Others wanted to work with Ernest to determine their direct lineage. To these, Ernest offered to share pre-slavery history about their shared Ghanaian ancestry, the companionship of kinship…and an invitation to visit Ghana.

For others, there was more of an excitement of getting to know one another and to learn more even though their direct lineage was yet to be determined. One African American relative compared the AncestryDNA results of his own parents and determined that Ernest was related to him on his father’s side. They are now in contact with each other through phone and Facebook.

In addition to these message exchanges, Ernest has spoken to three relatives found through AncestryDNA, two of whom he met in person.

Meeting one of his African American relatives in person for the first time
After 25 years of African American personal genealogy research, Sherry Williams received a message from Ernest.

Ernest and Sherry’s first reunion didn’t get around to much history sharing. And they didn’t have to warm up to each other, either. Sherry said meeting Ernest and his mother was “like we haven’t seen each other for a while…right away we started laughing and talking and hugging.” Ernest said that “meeting Sherry was awesome. It felt as though we’ve known each other a lifetime, like an aunt I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

Before the reunion, Sherry made arrangements to Skype with Ernest during a class she attends at Northeastern Illinois University. The first time she would see her distant cousin was shared with her classmates. “They insisted he was my son or nephew.  I had to leave the room because they were amazed by the likeness,” she said. 

When asked what were her future hopes, plans, expectations regarding her new found kinship with Ernest, Sherry said, “The future will be far different than the past.  Our kinship/families have been separated for more than 300 years, at least 200 of those years our ancestors were enslaved in this Nation.  I never imagined that someone would take the test, match in ancestry, and live this close by.  It is truly a gift from God.” – Sherry

Ernest plans to continue to learn more about genetic genealogy and connect with his relatives who were separated from Ghana during the slave era in the Americas and the colonization of Africa. He is now waiting on additional DNA kits for his father, mother, and maternal aunt. This will help his Diaspora African relatives determine more about the direct lineages between them. Ernest knows that the results of those tests, plus any descendants of his maternal grandfather’s father’s siblings, will be particularly important to help affirm Ghanaian versus European heritage for his distant relatives who wonder if it’s possible that they are related through his maternal grandfather’s mother who is European. Group history has been a symbolic stand-in for those who were unable to recover lost family history.

For Sherry, this is not a necessary measure except to learn more about herself. She is already convinced that she is related to Ernest through his mother’s Ewe side. When her 82-year-old mother saw a picture of Ernest’s Ewe grandmother, her mother began to cry. “She immediately thought this could have been her grandmother,” Sherry said. Although they were reunited through AncestryDNA, their connection is more than biology. It’s about a sense of belonging. “Ernest and his family welcomed me like family.  We jumped into each others’ arms with hugs and kisses.  I am loved. And I love them,” explained Sherry.

It’s about a biological kinship, but it’s also about a sense of belonging, reclaiming ethnicity, reclaiming identity, resilience and resistance, reactive enculturation, and the act of creating family and community. It’s so many things. “I am sure that the future is brighter for the children in our families.  They will now learn about the strong will it took to survive being stolen from Africa, travel across the Atlantic Ocean (the middle passage), land on the shores of America, survive slavery, and endure the racism, fear, theft of property and life, pick cotton and more in Mississippi. Through all these trials and tribulations I am sure that Ernest and I came from the very best cloth. We are the strongest of the strong. I have been searching for my kin from Africa for more than 25 years.  I value the family  I have matched here in the U.S. but I wanted to connect with the Motherland.” – Sherry.    

Ernest said that “my experience with the DNA testing has been awesome…I strongly hope everyone that shares my bloodline will be willing to visit the motherland someday.” Perhaps that will be the next saga in Sherry and Ernest’s family building.

Follow this blog to stay posted on Ernest’s journey of reconnecting to his Diaspora African distant relatives.

Ernest’s Genetic Genealogy Information

GEDmatch kit # A673674

AncestryDNA user name: Ernest Adjekum
Number of people Ernest shares at least 12 cMs with on AncestryDNA: 11 (as of January 10, 2016)

Of those 11:
1 share 188 cMs
4 share  17.5 – 23.4 cMs
6 share  12.1 – 17.1 cMs

Ghanaian Connects with Caribbean Distant Cousin

Rhoda, a Ghanaian woman of the Fante ethnic group, recently conducted an autosomal DNA test through AncestryDNA. After receiving her results, she discovered that among those who previously tested with AncestryDNA, she is related to at least 20 people of African descent with a 100% to 95% chance of finding their common ancestors within 5 to 6 generations.

Some of her more distant relatives is a woman of Caribbean descent living in the U.S. as well as the Caribbean woman’s maternal grandmother living in the Caribbean. They exchanged initial messages through AncestryDNA’s website features, but eventually used their personal email accounts to continue conversations. They also engaged in a four-way Skype video conversation that included the Caribbean grandmother, mother, adult child (original contact person), and Rhoda. Rhoda has plans to travel from Canada, where she is enrolled in a PhD program, to the U.S. to meet with her Caribbean cousin. They also have plans to meet in Ghana so that the Caribbean cousin can meet her family in Ghana.

Recently, one of Rhoda’s African American distant cousins reached out to Rhoda through facebook. Rhoda plans to engage more with this new cousin next week once she returns to her university from a school break spent in Ghana. These encounters and many more like them have monumental implications for community building and psychological well-being for people of African descent. Through these new kinship connections, people of African descent can really begin to see each other as family and community.

As for now, Rhoda is trying to convince her father in Ghana to also do a DNA test. Because he is one generation closer to common ancestors shared with newly discovered kin, Rhoda will be able to identify more relatives of African descent in the diaspora. She will also be able to let her newly discovered kin know if they are related to her on her father’s side, another DNA confirmed person in the now-less-foggy direct lineage between Africa and the diaspora.

Rhoda’s Genetic Genealogy Information

GEDmatch kit # A095966

AncestryDNA user name: Rhoda Quaigrain
Number of people Rhoda shares at least 12 cMs with on AncestryDNA: 20 (as of January 6, 2016)

Of those 20:
2 share 28.4 – 33 cMs
3 share 18 – 25.4 cMs
15 share 12.2 – 16.6 cMs

A Conversation with Daudet

Daudet and I invite you to listen on parts of a conversation we had about ancestry DNA testing and finding distant African-African American relatives. This is about 14 minutes of a 45 minute conversation.


Daudet’s family is of the Luba ethnic group, a Bantu group in the the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Daudet and his parents tested with AncestryDNA to determine if they were related to anyone among the African diaspora who were separated from his family through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The relatives they could find would include African Americans, African Caribbeans, African Brazilians, and anyone of African descent who may have also tested with AncestryDNA. Because Daudet’s parents also tested, they were able to identify several distant cousins as being related on either the mother’s side of their family or the father’s side of their family. This additional measure was necessary because of the distance by generations between Daudet, his African Diapora cousins, and their common Congolese Luba ancestor parents. Continue to follow Daudet’s journey as he meets his African Diaspora kin.

Daudet’s Genetic Genealogy Information

GEDmatch kit #
Daudet A641281
Daudet’s mother A637046
Daudet’s father A281139

AncestryDNA user name: Daudet Ilunga
Daudet’s mother: A. T. (administered by Daudet Ilunga)
Daudet’s father: S. I. (administered by Daudet Ilunga)