Independence Day weekend was my most uneventful time off this year, and I’m not mad about it. My plan to attend the Essence Festival in New Orleans failed at the last minute, and it was my first time missing the “Black Family Reunion” in some years. Instead, I spent the entire weekend relaxing alone at home because I had been spending so much of my spare time stroking the ego of a man, and was over it. I kicked my feet up and watched Power, Underground, and Greenleaf, while browsing the internet and sipping Riesling. Twas lovely.
At some point in my internet browsing, I came across an interesting discussion within my travel community about DNA testing. I erroneously thought the only ancestry testing possible was through mitochondrial DNA, i.e., the maternal lineage, leaving too many unknowns on the paternal side. For that reason, I never found any true interest in it until then. Furthermore, DNA testing was marked in my mind as a scam after watching a series on Dateline or 20/20 where people submitted DNA testing to different companies and got different results.
I’m a spur-of-the-moment kind of gal. Some of the best moments in my life came from spontaneity, so no need to change a formula that works. After browsing through my travel community, taking everyone’s word for it, and failing to do any of my own thorough research, I went online and purchased a discounted AncestryDNA kit.
Before I even got my results, I was filled with assumptions. I expected to have mostly West African ancestry, of course. I mean, I’m chocolate brown with African features. Look at that nose, Maury. Look at that hair texture. Look at those lips, Maury!
From my father, I expected some Caribbean blood there, which just goes back to Africa anyway. But aren’t we all from Africa anyway?! On my mother’s side, I expected a small trace of European ancestry. I mean, I’m from Louisiana. We have French surnames that could simply be the result of one of my ancestors taking the last name of his master or quite possibly being his descendant. Also, no multigenerational American is purely one ethnicity, but I expected to be about 90% African.
I received my kit in the mail a week after ordering. The process was simple. Spit in a tube until it gets above the line, mix it with the provided solution, and send it back. I thought I would be spitting in the tube forever, but it actually only took one good spit to hit the line. The DNA analysis took 6-8 weeks before I received my results.
AncestryDNA was good with communication. They notified me when they actually received my sample, and when it was being processed in the lab. In the meantime, I started working on my family tree and was able to trace it back to the 1870s – right after the Emancipation Proclamation became official in the state of Louisiana and end of the Civil War. Let me just say that genealogy research is exhausting. My ancestors were illiterate and didn’t even know how to spell their names, so it was up to the records clerk to get it right. And boy, did they get it wrong! There have been so many translations of my maternal side of the family’s French surname, Étienne. The number of Ts and Ns vary. Some even have it with a phonetic spelling as Achane.
So far, I haven’t discovered anything scandalous, but who knows what I might uncover. I haven’t had the time and resources to dig deeper into the period when my ancestors were enslaved yet. So far, I’ve found it interesting that every generation has remained in Louisiana in the same general area since slaves were freed. How can anyone tell me to go back to Africa when we have been right here in the state of Louisiana for six generations as free people?
Seven weeks after I placed my order, on a Monday morning while a guy I’m dating was barfing in my toilet, I checked my email and received notification that my results were available. I had it in my mind to video myself viewing the results, but when I saw that email, that all went out of the window, and I opened it immediately.
Let me tell y’all. I looked at my screen like this:
Nigerian? For some non-scientific reason, I just knew I was Ghanaian, so I had started planning my trip to Accra and added the national flag to my cart on eBay! Yo, I was ready to take a ride on the tro tro! To see that a significant portion of my DNA traces back to Nigeria was almost a let down from that aspect.
It didn’t take long for me to get over it. Looking at other people’s results, I’m actually happy to have such a significant portion of DNA allocated to one particular country. I’ve seen others with equal estimates across several countries. The results opened a whole new box of questions. How exactly did we get from West Africa to Louisiana? Which tribe in Nigeria – Igbo, Yoruba, or another? What was the religion of my people before we were taught Islam and/or Christianity? There are questions that will never be answered with certainty. Being unable to connect all of the dots, perhaps, is the saddest part.
Of that 11% of European ancestry, most comes from Ireland. That was very unexpected, but I don’t have any true interest in learning further details since there probably is a sad and unfortunate story behind it. That insignificant 2% of Asian DNA is in the area of India. I have no idea how that trace got there, and it’s too minute to seriously consider.
Overall, I was partially satisfied with the results. I didn’t have any real expectations since I ordered without doing any real research. What can I say? I’m black, y’all! My main qualm was that the estimated range is large. For instance, my Nigerian estimate is 37% is noted above. The actual range is anywhere between 20 – 53%. So I could be more or less naija.
So what’s next? Nothing, really. I still want to travel to West Africa and learn more about the region and its history. More importantly (to me at least), I have to try Nigerian jollof rice, and watch more Nollywood movies! Listen, I love those Nollywood movies. It’s just so bad until it’s good.
I’ll never really be able to trace my family back to Africa, but I find some comfort in knowing a bit more about my history, how much my ancestors have overcome, and how our bloodline is still here today and stronger than ever. It has brought about a greater sense of pride in who I am.