Spit. Shake. Send. Following the instructions was the easy part. But things began to get intense once I fully realized what I was doing - submitting my own saliva for a DNA test. Back in the 90s, Jerry Springer showdowns and infamous Maury mom meltdowns were what people imagined when they thought of DNA tests. Nowadays, autosomal DNA testing kits from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA are slowly becoming the new paternity tests of this generation, but instead of helping us identify our fathers, we’re all discovering a deeper, greater knowledge of self.
Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Do you believe this? While it has its truths, many of us can already trace our ancestry back to one or more locations and have been living full, fruitful lives, unaware of our entire genetic makeup. Even exotic crops from specific areas of the world have been forced to travel away from their origins and grow roots in other regions. But like plantain, okra and ackee crops sprouting from soil in the Western Hemisphere, many of us are hundreds of years and thousands of miles away from home.
What They Don’t Tell You
Caution, results may vary. In other words, you might not be who you think you are. If you are of the African diaspora and taking a DNA test, chances are it may reveal that you have lineage from other regions around the globe, as well. Some of our ancestors were travelers, gypsies, settlers, migrants fleeing war, or surviving natives of conquered land, while others were kidnapped, uprooted from their homes and forced into a life of enslavement in other parts of the world. The aftermath of psychological anguish, or long, wise years of memory fading, silences older generations from passing this knowledge onto us. That might explain why the deeper I delved into the world of genetic DNA testing, the more I began to feel like I was cracking open Pandora’s Box.
While you’re waiting for results, AncestryDNA encourages you to build a family tree in their database. But one look at some existing family trees on the site can feel like taking a frightening trip back to the 1500s. There they were - generations and generations of forefathers in family trees labeled as slave masters, for descendants to trace their ancestors back to. Albums filled with portraits, documented milestones and photos of said masters united with their own family members, displayed right before your very eyes. Can you handle it? Welcome to the dark side of ancestry DNA testing.
Still considering taking the test? If that didn't scare you away, keep reading to see what happened when I explored genetic DNA testing and what I discovered in the process.
Date Submitted: August 3, 2016
Lab Testing: August 28, 2016
Results received: September 6, 2016
Week 1: It took so long that I initially thought my package got lost in the mail. A week after mailing it in, the lab confirmed that it had been successfully received. Assuming that meant they would begin working on it that day, I was relieved.
Week 2: At this point, I had already told my friends and family about the DNA test. Most people my age were intrigued, but there’s something about new age technology and genetics that doesn’t seem to sit very well with older generations.
Week 3: Before week 3 ended, I was notified that my DNA sample had entered the lab processing stage. Uh-uh, I wasn't getting my hopes up this time around.
Week 4: I forgot about it. After the lab processing notification, it was simply out of sight, out of mind.
Week 5: What have I done? I was becoming anxious and a little regretful, but it was too late. The moment I received the email that my results were ready, all those emotions dissolved into one satisfying smile.
My AncestryDNA results were pretty obscure, to say the least. $99.00 and 5 weeks later, I found myself having more questions now than ever before. Mission accomplished, or was it? I certainly didn’t feel fulfilled. AncestryDNA uses a color-coded map that navigates you across regions they can trace your DNA back to. Some areas are so large and consist of so many different countries that they are overlapping into neighbors and other regions. Others are small and still very confusing to identify. How can I tell which one it is supposed to be? Which tribes do I come from? I wanted better answers.
Hungry for more, I scoured the web for clarity. One Google search in and I realized there were dozens of other people out there, who just like me, were searching for ways to get the most out of their AncestryDNA results. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered a few fantastic resources (which I plan to share with you soon) that helped simplify my origins even further.
Below is the intricate story my DNA tells as it connects me to the following tribes and regions:
Yoruba Tribe - Lower Niger Valley
Includes: Yoruba and Esan in Nigeria and Yoruba in Ibadan, Nigeria
Confirmed: Yoruba tribe, Nigeria
*Ancestry traces my highest African roots to the Benin/Togo region, neighbor of Nigeria.
Mende Tribe – Sierra Leone
Includes: Mende in Sierra Leone
*Ancestry left this out of my report.
Mandinka Tribe - Senegal River Valley
Includes: Mandinka in Senegal and in Western Gambia
*Ancestry traces my Mandinka roots to Senegal.
East African Tribes - Kenya
Includes: Bantu, Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo and Masai, Webuye, Kinyawa; Datog in Tanzania
Confirmed: Luhya and Bantu tribe, Kenya
*Ancestry doesn’t identify East African heritage well. Listed as South African Hunter-Gatherer.
Includes: Basque/French, France, Basque/Spanish and Iberian population in Spain
Confirmed: Basque, Spain
*Ancestry traces my highest European roots to Spain/Iberian Peninsula.
Includes: Scottish Argyll and Bute, GBR and British in England, Icelandic in Iceland, Norwegian in Norway and Orcadian in Orkney Islands
*Ancestry traces my Northwestern roots to Ireland (Scotland).
Includes: Finnish in Finland
*Ancestry traces my Finnish heritage to Finland.
Includes: Ami and Atayal indigenous tribes in Taiwan
Confirmed: Pacific Islander
*Ancestry traces my indigenous Taiwanese roots to the island of Polynesia.
Ambiguous West Eurasian
Includes: Arab/Egyptian, Ashkenazi/Levantine, Central Asian, South Asian, Central Indo European
*Ancestry traces my Ambiguous West Eurasian roots to North Africa.
Includes: North America, South America or Central America
Confirmed: Taino tribe, Hispaniola
*Ancestry traces my Native American roots with broad region specifications.
The journey isn’t over just yet. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will reveal more details on how I identified tribes and exact locations from my AncestryDNA report.