Category Archives: Ghana

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.

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
Ghanaian
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