Reconstruction of the Kassena genetic genealogy

Residents of Paga, Ghana using genetic genealogy to identify diaspora relatives
Residents of Paga, Ghana using genetic genealogy to identify diaspora relatives

According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 1.2 million enslaved Africans were routed through Ghana and sent to various diasporic locations in the world between 1501 and 1900. With very few exceptions, DNA testing is the only way for Africans to identify descendants of those who were taken away in slavery. With the aid of autosomal genetic genealogy testing services, members of the Kassena ethnic group living in Paga, Ghana are engaging in historically significant processes of reunification with their diaspora relatives. Through genetic genealogy and web tools such as GEDmatch, they are identifying and communicating with people of African descent living throughout the world who are descendants of those who were taken away from their ancestral family homes up to 10 generations ago.

People engaged in this novel activity can help inform research on family group identity development and ethnic identity development, both of which are key processes within human development and family studies.

The Northern Ghana Family Reunification project is a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project developed in consultation with community residents in northern Ghana.

The project starts in Paga, Ghana, a town located in the upper eastern area of Ghana. Within the Nania village of Paga is a the site of the former Pikworo Slave Camp. When slave raiders took people from Nania and the surrounding countries, raiders would hold their captives in chains at this camp until the raiders were ready to march selected captives southward to the slave market. The community narrative of Nania is that slave raiders came and took the strong, leaving the remaining family to plummet into poverty. They agreed to engage in genetic genealogy to try to find the descendants of those who were taken away in slavery.

Using family-based phasing in which a parent-child pair among the residents of Paga and a parent-child pair among the African diaspora genetically match, we have identified several African diaspora relatives within the GEDmatch Genesis database. The picture on the left captures a moment in a family reunion based on this process. Shown in the picture on the left is Dr. Ameera Zakari, an African American who, on learning that she is related to a family living in Paga, spent a few days visiting with her ancestral family members there.

In the process of identifying and contacting diaspora relatives of Paga residents, we are learning a lot about kinship, family expectations, transnational families, family stories, identity, restoration, and so much more.