Category Archives: Ghana

Ghana, Kassena: Finding Safiah’s Diaspora Relatives

Kabagworiwe Safiah and her parents Kabagworiwe Adam and Kabagworiwe Saleimabu are members of the Kassena ethnic group who have tested with Ancestry and subsequently had their DNA profiles uploaded to GEDmatch. This is a narrative of the practice of finding their relatives in GEDmatch.

I did a one-to-many comparison for Safiah to find all the matches in the GEDmatch database that match Safiah at a minimum of 7 cM. There were 129 matches, plus Safiah, for a total of 130. Among these matches were Safiah’s parents, Adam and Saleimabu, and several other family members from their local village of Nania in Paga, Ghana.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s One-to-Many Comparison Results

It is very exciting to see these 129 matches for Safiah. There is a chance that all are true matches, but the reality is that some of these are not true matches. This is a reality of the testing technology and not GEDmatch.

Imagine that when the equipment reads the testers’ DNA, the 22 pairs of chromosomes were first broken into many pieces and duplicated. These were read and recorded into a text file. The equipment reads each chromosome piece and records it in the text file. Each position along the chromosome piece will have two reads, one for a biological mother and one for a biological father.

This situation is that when the pieces are recorded, it cannot tell which parent to assign the chromosome reads. The equipment only records what’s there but not how it was inherited. Sometimes the first variant is from the father and sometimes the first variant is from the mother. We just don’t know which is which without further analysis. This results in a text file with the chromosome positions read for the chromosome pairs without being aligned by a specific parent. This is an unphased DNA profile.

When the DNA profile is downloaded from Ancestry and uploaded to GEDmatch, the profile is unphased. Regular kits on GEDmatch are unphased kits. This is no fault of Ancestry or GEDmatch, but it is a reality that we must account for when finding matches.

The most accurate way to align the kit on GEDmatch is to test the person’s parents and create phased kits. In this case, Safiah’s parents have also tested and their kits were uploaded to GEDmatch. I used GEDmatch’s Phasing tool to create two phased kits for Safiah, one is phased with her mother’s kit (M1 kit) and one is phased with her father’s kit (P1 kit). These phased kits have Safiah’s DNA variants aligned by the parents so we know that the DNA segment was inherited by one (or both) parents.

Kabagworiwe Saleimabu, Safiah’s mother

At the very least, we should expect that when two persons match, at least one parent of both persons should also match. For any set of cousins, one parent for both cousins should also match. This is a fact of inheritance. There are sure to be some exceptions but this is the situation for the vast majority of the cases. For example, for any person that matches Safiah, we expect, at a very minimum, that the person also matches Safiah’s father Adam or Safiah’s mother Saleimabu. We also expect that Safiah matches at least one parent of that match.

Kabagworiwe Adam, Safiah’s father

So let’s see how many of Safiah’s 129 matches also match her father.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s kit phased with her father

Using a one-to-many with Safiah’s P1 kit, her kit phased with her father, we see that she shares 44 matches with her father. Minus the kit itself, her, and her father, there are 41 matches.

And let’s take a look at how many of Safiah’s 129 matches also match her mother.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s kit phased with her mother

Using a one-to-many with Safiah’s M1 kit, her kit phased with her mother, we see that she shares 47 matches with her father. Minus the kit itself, her, and her mother, there are 44 matches.

Alright, so there are 41 matches with father and 44 matches with mother for 85 matches. So of the 129 matches that Safiah started with, only 85 matches at most meet the basic expectation of also matching one of her parents. This is not yet addressing those that match both mother and father or some other reason to reduce the total count of matches.

At this point, I would say that Safiah has about 85 possible matches, some of which would prove to be false trough further analysis. I consider the following to be true matches: (1) kits that match Safiah’s unphased kits at a minimum of 15 cM on a single segment, (2) unphased kits that are 3 to 14.9 cMs with the Safiah’s unphased kit must also match at least one other of Safiah’s matches at a minimum of 200 cM total on an overlapping segment (e.g., using the 3D chromosome browser and triangulation), and (3) phased kits or Lazarus kits compared to Safiah’s phased kit can be at a minimum of 3 cMs.

It turns out that only 53% or 68 of the 129 matches remained after excluding those that did not also match her phased kits. However, all of the unphased matches at 14 cMs or more remained as possible matches after comparing the match with Safiah’s phased results. From this, we assume that any kit matching at least 15 cMs more will prove to be a true match even if their parents or other close match is not available to provide additional evidence.

Kabagworiwe Safiah’s Matches that Remained

In the chart above, cMs is the number of cMs in the match and S1 is the number of matches in Safiah’s unphased one-to-many comparison results. For example, using Safiah’s unphased kit, she had 9 matches at 40 cMs or greater, 2 matches at 30 cMs – 39 cMs, and 7 matches at 20 cMs – 29 cMs. At 13 cMs, 2 of the 4 kits that matched her unphased kit did not match at least one of her parents. At 7 cMs, only 21% of the matches also matched at least one of her parents. At this rate, we cannot tell which of the matches less than 14 cMs would remain as an inherited DNA segment when the person she matches also compares their results with their parents. This is why when working with unphased kits, we maintain the rule of 15 cMs minimum for a single segment.

I then use GEDmatch’s 3D chromosome browser to compare all of Safiah’s one-to-many matches with her M1 phased kit and her P1 phased kit. In the 3D chromosome browser results below are based on a 7 cM threshold. I also removed the kits that were in the TAKiR database (which would be other people from Ghana or Burkina Faso). This leaves a matrix comparing all the matching kits to determine how much they match each other.

In the 3D chromosome browser results, I look for kits that match each other at a minimum of 200 cMs. This would be a stand-in for not having their phased kit. This threshold of 200 cMs is not entirely arbitrary. It’s an amount where I assume would be at the bounds of a person being able to name the shared ancestor without DNA testing. According to statistics published by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), second cousins would share 212.5 cMs or 3.125% of DNA on average. In practice, according to statistics published by The Shared cM Project, second cousins share 233 cMs on average (46 – 515 cMs). Second cousins share great grandparents. Although the matches would more than likely be true at 15 cMs, using the 200 cM threshold would increase the chance of being able to contact the persons for the kits matching each other and confirming their relatedness.

Safiah’s M1 3D Chromosome Browser Results

In Safiah’s M1 3D results, there are 14 matches (7 pairs) that are of interest because they share 200 cMs or more total. An additional 6 matches (3 pairs) are also worth investigating because they share 15 cMs – 199.9 cMs total, though I need to check how much they share on a single segment.

Using the statistics published by ISOGG and The Shared cM Project, I hypothesize the following:

  • 3 pairs at about 3,500 cMs are parent-child
  • 1 pair at about 2,300 cMs are siblings, grandparent-grandchild, or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew
  • 3 pairs at about 1,600 – 1,700 cMs are grandparent-grandchild or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew
Safiah’s P1 3D Chromosome Browser Results

In Safiah’s P1 3D results, there are 18 matches (9 pairs) that are of interest because they share 200 cMs or more total. An additional 2 matches (1 pairs) are also worth investigating because they share 15 cMs – 199.9 cMs total, though I need to check how much they share on a single segment.

Using the statistics published by ISOGG and The Shared cM Project, I hypothesize the following:

  • 7 pairs at about 3,500 cMs are parent-child
  • 1 pair at about 2,600 cMs are siblings
  • 1 pairs at about 1,700 cMs are grandparent-grandchild or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew

So now I have 32 matches (14 + 18) that I am very confident are true matches. There is also an additional 8 matches (6 + 2) that I could check to see if they also share 15 cMs on a single segment.

Looking back at the 3D chromosome results for Safiah’s M1 and P1 kits, I now look at the first column. This columns tells me how much DNA each kit of interest shares with the key phased kits.

In the M1 results, matches in the first pair share 2,326.7 cMs with each other and, from column 1, 17.5 and 17.8 cMs with the M1 phased kit. I’m very confident that these two kits are true matches with Safiah and her mother, and I would contact them saying so.

In the M1 results, matches in the second pair share 1,626.3 cMs with each other and, from column 1, both share 8.1 cMs with the M1 phased kit. Based on the amount of shared DNA between each other, this pair is likely grandparent-grandchild (or uncle/aunt-niece/nephew). Because I’m using the M1 phased kit, I’m very confident that the shared segment is true between Safiah and her mother. However, using unphased kits for the possible grandparent-grandchild pair means that there is a chance that this 8.1 cM segment is not a truly inherited segment between the matches in the grandparent-grandchild pair. After all, only 69% of Safiah’s matches at 8 – 8.9 cMs also matched at least one of her parents (see Kabagworiwe Safiah’s Matches that Remained picture above). So there is a possibly that when aligned (i.e., phased), this segment would end up not being a true segment for the discovered grandparent-grandchild pair. At the same time, the kits in the grandparent-grandchild pair were read by the equipment separately and as such, this segment is more than likely not based on an error. I am fairly confident that this is a true match and would proceed with this pair as a true match. However, I would also encourage the grandparent-grandchild pair to create a phased or Lazarus kit (as I would encourage all potential matches to do) and use that to compare with Safiah’s phased kit for stronger evidence of relatedness.

This may seem like a lot of unnecessary steps, but Safiah’s P1 3D results illustrate why these steps are necessary. Recall that these matches were selected from Safiah’s P1 one-to-many comparison results. The first pairs share of interest are a block of 4 matches sharing at least 3,500 cMs with each other. However, looking at column 1, none of these matches actually share at least 7 cMs with Safiah and her father. In a one-to-one comparison between Safiah’s P1 kit and each of these 4 kits, none share a minimum of 3 cMs with Safiah and her father. This is a prime case of matches that appear to be true matches from a one-to-many comparison but ends up not really matching the key person on a one-to-one comparison even at a lower threshold. These would not be counted as true matches.

Using the 15 cM (or 14 cM from Kabagworiwe Safiah’s Matches that Remained picture above), of the 32 confident matches, only 4 are very confident matches, and an additional 4 are already shown to not really be matches after all. Testing additional people and/or phasing kits would provide additional evidence of relatedness and make for more certain matches, even with the actual shared ancestor remaining unknown.

It is exciting for all of us to find relatives. It’s exciting for people of African descent to find their relatives from Africa and it’s exciting for Safiah’s family to find the descendants of those who were taken away during slavery. However, in this excitement, it is important to maintain certain rules based on the technologies we are using to claim relatedness. People of African descent are increasing finding relatives from Africa so there’s no need to shortcut the verification process.

If you are related to Safiah, please send us your information so that we can send you Safiah’s contact information. Consider sending her family a gift to announce your newfound relatedness.

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
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