African Americans are part of an African diaspora whose ancestral displacement was due to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. African family connections were lost due to imposed disruptions of familial ties during the U.S. slave era. Nevertheless, African Americans are increasingly using commercial genetic genealogy services to identify living genetic relatives from Africa. Some interpret finding biological relatives from Africa as finding the families in Africa that their ancestors were separated from during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This series is based on a study that examined family identity among African Americans who are engaging with genetic relatives from Africa found in the results of commercial autosomal genetic genealogy testing services. The study also examined ethnic identity within this genetic relatedness context.

The study originally started as an examination of the motivations and meanings that African Americans associate with seeking, identifying, and engaging with genetic relatives from Africa as determined by using autosomal genetic genealogy testing. However, during the early stages of data analysis, I recognized that ethnic identity development was very much intertwined within family identity processes. It became almost disingenuous to continue an analysis on family identity experiences without also including its association with a shifting ethnic identity. In keeping with the process of the analytical method of grounded theory development, I modified the study’s focus to examine processes of both family identity development and ethnic identity development among African Americans who have used commercial autosomal genetic genealogy testing services to identify and engage in social interactions with genetic relatives from Africa.

This study thus examined:

  1. the familial and ethnic meanings of relatedness with an African genetic match
  2. the processes of family and ethnic identity development within the context of ancestral family reunification
  3. psychological outcomes associated with family and ethnic identity development within the context of ancestral family reunification

Examining the collective experiences of the participants of this study, I found that participants felt

  1. a sense of lack in African family history
  2. an evolving ethnic identity
  3. a sense of relatedness
  4. many emotions associated with the experience

For this study, I interviewed seven African American adults residing throughout the U.S. who were engaged in communications with at least one of their African genetic relatives. Sometimes, these seven are referred to as participants throughout the series. The age range is 27 to 65 years (average age is 40.86, standard deviation = 12.80). All the participants of the study were men except for one.

I will refer to individual participants using their pseudonym:


This story contributes to our understanding of processes associated with identifying and engaging with a genetic relative from Africa, particularly ethnic identity development and family identity development among African American adults who interact with genetic relatives from Africa.

Next: A Sense of Lack in African Family History