Tag Archives: AncestryDNA

My Journey with AncestryDNA, Part 2: 4 things I’ve learned from my results!

My AncestryDNA results! (Screencap)
My AncestryDNA results! (Screencap)

It’s time. It’s finally time to go over my AncestryDNA results!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my reasons for taking the test in the first place. Now, we are here, over the rainbow, in a point in time where I now what what makes me me! Let’s get into the percentages.

Despite the popular belief of too many people from my childhood, I am indeed BLACK. 80 percent black, to be clear. What I’ve always wanted to know is what part of Africa I’m from, and as it turns out, I’m from several different parts of Africa!

I already gave a hint at some of my heritage on Twitter the Sunday I got my results:

I am 26 percent Cameroon, to be exact. Here are the other African percentages:

Cameroon/Congo: 26%
Mali: 16%
Ivory Coast/Ghana: 16%
Nigeria: 11%
Benin/Togo: 6%

Trace regions:
Senegal: 3%
Africa North: less than 1%
Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers: less than 1%

I have a lot of research to do on my peoples. Now that I know exactly where I’m from, I’m ready to dive head-first into everything I need to know to be more of myself.

Here are some more percentages to take a look at some of which surprised me:

Native American: 2%
Asia Central: less than 1%
Asia East: less than 1%
Ireland: 9%
Scandinavia: 4%
Iberian Peninsula: 2%
Middle East: 1%
(Most percentages listed here are trace regions in my DNA)

After I have this information, I now feel like a more secure person; I’ve always wanted to know what ethnicities made me me, and now I know. Here are four things I’ve learned from this experience.

1. America has a limited view of what blackness entails:

As I’ve said many times before, one of the things that irritated me the most about my childhood were individuals believing that I was more than just black because of how I looked. What people failed to realize is that blackness isn’t just one look; blackness encompasses a myriad of looks.

There’s even more looks than just what’s featured here. In short, instead of some of us limiting what blackness  “should” look like, let’s accept the wide array of blackness as a whole. We say blackness isn’t a monolith, but some of us have got to truly believe that.

I do have to say, though, that it is a very rewarding feeling to know exactly what parts of Africa I’m from. The pain of being African-American is having your ancestry essentially robbed from you through slavery. Whereas others know exactly what part or parts they come from (or at least have a idea of where they come from), many African Americans don’t know anything about our pasts. This journey with AncestryDNA is the start of me knowing exactly where I come from, and that knowledge–the knowledge that was taken from us to dehumanize us–is something we should all have. We as a people aren’t just a group of people without a past; we do have a past, and I think it is important to learn about it (especially if you’ve always been interested in ethnic studies) because through that knowledge, I feel we can better honor our ancestors and, in some ways, ourselves.

2. The Native American ancestor myth is real:

The Native American ancestor is a big deal in black American households. It was a part of my childhood, too; supposedly, my paternal great-great-grandfather (my great grandmother’s father) was supposedly a Native American. I was told it with such conviction and with such clarity from relatives that I was like, “Well, it must be true; why would they make that up?” However, I never really discussed it with anyone except on the rare occasion, since I later came to the fact that this just might not be true, particularly thanks to the wisdom of my mother, who said in so many words, “You’d probably need to check that to see if it’s true.”

Learning about how rampant the Native American ancestor myth was in black households also made me doubt my great-great grandfather’s heritage. Granted, there are black Native Americans, but if you’re a black Native American, you probably have concrete records showing such. My family, like many families, have none, except for what we’ve been told by other relatives who swear we’re related to Pocahontas or some Native American chief (my great-great grandfather wasn’t labeled to me as anything but Cherokee, so the fact that he was just some dude made me think that the story of his heritage could actually have been true).

Now that I know the actual percentage of my Native American ancestry, I could say, technically, that I have 2 percent Native heritage. But what does that even mean? How could I even claim such when it’s already part of my “trace regions” ancestry? The truth of it is is that my Native American ancestry has been greatly reduced over time, to the point where I virtually don’t have any Native ancestry, which is in line with how I’ve always lived anyways. Also truth: my great-great grandfather was probably just black, since it’s mathematically impossible for me to be just 2 percent Native and my great-great grandfather to be 100 percent Cherokee.

3. The effects of the Slave Trade are, thankfully, not as large as I expected, but still in effect:

The amounts of Iberian and Ireland ancestry I have, as well as the amounts of Middle Eastern ancestry I have, could be more than likely attributed to the slave trade and/or migration. I’m surprised that there weren’t larger amounts of what I expected, which was a larger amount of British or Irish heritage. I’m guessing that’s because of one or two things (or both): 1) like with the Native ancestry (probably), my African ancestry has been reinforced over centuries through marriages and couplings in general, dulling down the other strains of DNA I have and 2) perhaps my ancestors’ journey to America is a lot more of a winding road than I expected.

I believed that I’d find a large percentage of European ancestry because my ancestors, like a lot of ancestors, were brought over the Middle Passage. Or so I believe. They still could have taken that route, but perhaps the low amount of European ancestry I have means something less straightforward happened in ancestors’ past. Basically, whereas many black people are shocked to find European ancestry, I’m shocked to find so little, and I’d like to know the story behind these percentages.

However, it still is interesting to see the echoes of those ancestries still kicking around in my bloodstream. If I decided to go deeper into my ancestry (which I just might, since I still want to have my own Roots moment), I’m sure I’ll find ancestors I’ll be deeply, deeply disappointed with. I’m sure I’ll find ancestors who have been violently misused by some of my other ancestors. But still, it’s fascinating to see just how far around the world my ancestry goes.

4. Where’d the Asian and Scandinavian heritage come from?

The only question marks I have are where the Asian and Scandinavian heritage stem from. I’m intrigued by this. Again, the percentages of these aren’t enough for me to claim them outright, but I’d really like to know who from Scandinavia and Eastern and Central Asia contributed to the person you see today.

Final thoughts

This journey is just the beginning, however this chapter has come to a close (doing this ancestry work takes money after all, and the next step is going to take even more money than just this DNA test). I’ve been shocked my results, and at the same time I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m proud to know that I come from so many African nations, and I’m fascinated by the other aspects of my ancestry that I have yet to explore. Overall, it is neat to be a person of the world.

(Another startling thing: Ancestry shows you individuals who are the best matches at being your 4th cousins or closer. The service shows you at least through your 8th cousins matches. I haven’t contacted anybody yet mostly because it’s startling to see people you don’t even know listed as your possible family members. I’m still processing that bit of information right now, so if you’re reading this and I’m one of your cousin matches on Ancestry.com, feel free to reach out to me, since it’s taking me a while to process a lot of this.)

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My Journey with AncestryDNA, Part 1: Why I’m Taking the Test

AncestryDNA/screengrab
AncestryDNA/screengrab

“Are you Indian?” “Are you French?” “Are you Filipina?” “Are you from the islands? You’re from the islands, right?” How many of you out there have come up against questions like these? I have, and it’s annoying. However, this aggravation is also the start of a journey that I have wanted to take for years. I’m getting the AncestryDNA test.

Why am I doing the test? Well, I’m tired of not knowing my history. More importantly, I’m tired of carrying around the baggage of being seen as an “exotic” object, something that’s affected me since childhood. I want to officially arm myself with the knowledge of my cultural heritage so I can feel a lot more confident in my own identity.

I’ve already talked about my personal difficulties coming to terms with identity, which you can hear on the No, Totally podcast. But just to be brief: I have often been made to feel like I’m in the middle of blackness and…something else.   Dealing with that is tiring, especially when you don’t have knowledge of your own background apart from what your skin can tell you. In short, I’ve let other people control my identity; because I’ve practiced not being in total control of knowing my own identity, I’ve basically become a mystery to myself. That’s a problem, and it’s a problem I intend to fix.

Keep in mind: none of this is about escaping blackness. As I’ve said in my podcast episode, I love being black, and I strongly identify with my blackness. With that said, it would be nice to have some closure about my complete identity. Throughout my childhood, especially when I was wearing chemically relaxed hair, people would always assume I was something else other than a black girl from the south, which is what I have always been. However, I don’t want to have my identity decided for me by some random people who feel like I can’t be black just because I don’t look like how they think blackness should look. On the flip side, I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to learn more about myself, including what’s in my bloodline.  It’d be nice to be able to feel in control of my own identity, regardless of what that identity entails. I want to be able to celebrate all of me and defend all of me from persecution and ignorant “exotic” comments. If I have a varied ancestral background, I want to feel whole in that knowledge and honor all of those parts of myself. That’s what’s really at the root of this: this is a getting-to-know-me process on my own terms, not terms set by other people. I no longer want to carry shame for looking some way that others view as “acceptable blackness” or “exoticized blackness”. I want to be proud of myself and the group (or groups) I represent.

Regardless of that issue, though, I’ve often personally been curious about tracing my ancestry, and I feel a DNA test is the start of that, since I’ll know what ballpark I should be looking in for my ancestors. Tracing my ancestry has been a project that I’ve never fully had the time or money to engage in. I have always imagined myself to one day be like Alex Haley, having full knowledge of my lineage and the people who have shaped my history. I’ve always wanted to know how my experiences reflect those whose blood run through my veins. Knowing my personal history is something I’ve always felt needed to be done.

As a late birthday present to myself, I decided it was time to take the first step towards tracking my ancestry and ordered the AncestryDNA kit. The kit itself is simple; according to the instructions, you just provide a saliva sample and send it back. In six to eight weeks, you are sent an email linking you to your results page. Also, it’s $99, which is far cheaper than my first choice 23andMe. It also doesn’t check for stuff you don’t want, unlike 23andMe, which provides you with information on what health factors and health risks you could have. That information is useful in another setting, but it’s not particularly useful to me, who just wants to know what ethnic makeup is in my DNA.

The thing that sold me on AncestryDNA was this testimony from their site:

ancestrydna-who are you

Look, this is not a sponsored article for AncestryDNA, so I have full rights to say that I don’t know if this woman is a real case study and if her testimony wasn’t just something made up by Ancestry’s PR to attract people like me, who are tired of being told they look like “something.” But regardless, it worked. I saw myself in that woman, and thought to myself that if she could find some answers, I sure could too.

For now, this post will act as the first in a series of posts about my identity journey. We’ll see what I find together! If you’ve been thinking about taking the AncestryDNA test or some other heritage DNA test, discuss in the comments section. If you’ve felt like you’ve been labeled “exotic” by others and are sick of that title, talk about that too. I’d like to read what you have to say about your own experiences with identity, identity questions, etc.