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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.
-by Willie Wynn
Mohamed’s maternal uncle Aly, Willie Wynn (African American), Mohamed Fofanah (Guniea)
My desire for quite some time was to find out information about my enslaved ancestors that were once enslaved in southern U.S. Being born and raised in Mississippi, U.S., I was familiar with visiting many of the restored plantations that held blacks as slaves in the deep South. This was the closest that my mind stretched in physically connecting with an indirect part of my history as a person of African descent.
Then in March 2015, my wife and I decided to visit South Africa. In the South Africa capital city of Cape Town, there were many West African immigrants who lived throughout this region. Many told me that my looks and facial features resembled people in their West African countries. These remarks pushed me to a greater action when I got back home to the US. I decided to invest in an ancestry.com test kit to get my full ancestral story.
My results came back 91% African DNA and connected me to many relatives who were my cousins in America. One match, however, stood out in a grand way as 100% African descent. This cousin match was Mohamed Fofanah, a person from the city of Conakry in the West African country of Guinea, but who was currently living in Dakar Senegal. He and I decided to upload our DNA on gedmatch.com and the results provided us with a more detailed estimate of how close we were related, a 5.5 generation distance.
Mohamed and I messaged one another through the ancestry.com system and exchanged Skype numbers shortly after my results came in. The rest of the story now stands as history. He and I now talk at minimum once a week. He has been very instrumental in sharing with me information about my African history. Both Mohamed’s mother & his deceased father have a long oral family history rooted through the Mandinka tribe. Mohamed not only serves as a DNA gateway to my family’s true home within the West Africa region, but he’s also a true friend. Our fellowship is more meaningful than “the cousin connection.” I can truly say that he is an individual that I would befriend in the natural (if met in a regular setting) without knowledge of our DNA kinship. He and I are only three years apart in age, are very similar in personality & share many similar moral beliefs. My maternal Grandmother would always tell my mother that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Genetic research and my interaction with Mohamed both solidify that we are connected to that common family tree. Fruits of one shared distant grandparent continued to multiply in Africa while the other was transported by force to the soils of America. Both trees, however, continued to multiply and now stand as physically reunited through divine intervention in 2016 for the first time in over 200 years.
My wife and I will be returning to Africa to visit Mohamed in Spring 2017 in Dakar Senegal.
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!
“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.” http://www.mediaite.com/tv/cnns-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
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
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
Ernest, Evelyn (Ernest’s mother), Sherry, Nhyira (Ernest’s brother)
|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
|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.
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.
Sherry and 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.
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.
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
Of those 11:
Maame Efua Rhoda Quaigrain
|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
Of those 20: