On the 3rd of October 2015 i published my first preliminary findings based on 15 Haitian AncestryDNA results. Right now, a year later, i have managed to collect a sample group which is three times greater. Consisting of no less than 45 AncestryDNA results of Haitian born or Haitian descended persons! Eventhough this tripled sample size is obviously still limited it will most likely provide a greater insight in the African regional roots for Haitians than was possible last year.
In the remaining part of this blog post i will briefly discuss the main differences with my previous findings from last year. And in addition i will also present some new statistics and background information on the European and Amerindian origins of Haitians as reported by AncestryDNA.
Follow these links for my complete survey:
*** Chart 1 (click to enlarge)
***Chart 2 (click to enlarge)
More charts and analysis when you continue reading!
***Chart 4 (click to enlarge)
***Chart 5a (click to enlarge)
Trans Atlantic Slave Trade to Haiti (St. Domingue) according to timeperiods (Inter-Colonial trade by the English not included!)
***Chart 5b (click to enlarge)
The above summaries of my findings are on a whole not radically different from what i established one year ago based on 15 Haitian samples instead of 45. However there are still some notable distinctions:
- This time the roles are being reversed and “Cameroon/Congo” has a slight but clear edge on “Benin/Togo” for claiming the title of primary region. This can be seen from both the group averages (24,2% versus 21,9%) as well as the frequency of being reported as top region (16x versus 13x).Combining with the socalled “Southeastern Bantu” region the relative share of Central Africa has also increased slightly this time around to 32%.
- However West Africa, and more specifically the “Lower Guinea” area, is still the predominant zone of provenance (56%) for Haitians, in my sample group. Eventhough according to most estimates Central Africa had an estimated ~50% share going by slave trade statistics (excl. inter-colonial trade with Jamaica). See chart 5a above or also this one . This outcome might very well be caused by a generally later arrival of most Congolese captives in Haiti (1750-1800). While captives from the Benin area were more predominant during earlier periods (1700-1750)1. Despite a very high mortality rate this “headstart” of several generations would have implied that the number of their descendants among socalled Creole or locally born Haitians would have been greater.
- The “Nigeria” region stays firmly in third place. And undoubtedly belongs among the most important ancestral regions for Haitians as a whole. It is probably no coincidence that up till now no single survey participant showed a zero score for “Nigeria”. The same goes for “Benin/Togo and “Cameroon/Congo” which also show minimum scores of around 2%. Still going by the median scores it becomes more obvious that especially “Cameroon/Congo” is much more consistent than “Nigeria” (23,9% versus 14,1%).
- The genetic contribution from “Ivory Coast/Ghana” looks robust. Representing a relative share of around 14%-15% of the entire African breakdown on average. Several times (4/45) it was even reported as being the biggest region! Definitely not to be overlooked as a significant source of African origins for Haitians. Despite any prevailing stereotypes. This outcome is also a reminder that Trans Atlantic slave trade statistics usually do not include Inter-Colonial or Intra-Caribbean trade which took place (often clandestinely) with the English.
- The overall contribution from Upper Guinea (“Senegal” + “Mali”) remains subdued (12%). Despite its average and especially median score being quite low I did however observe several notably high amounts for the socalled “Mali” region. For one survey participant it was even the biggest region! Interestingly the same cannot be said for the “Senegal” region, which seems more steady but also generally speaking much more diluted without any high outliers sofar.
Maximum regional scores
***Chart 6 (click to enlarge)
The above compilation is meant to illustrate those regional lineages which seem to have been the least diluted within Haiti’s genepool. Besides the “average” result the other 5 screenshots feature a maximum or highest ranking regional score i have observed sofar. See also this page for an actualized overview:
Obviously a much greater variation and a usually more regionally mixed outcome can be observed if you closely examine each and every single individual result (see last section of this page). Also the screenshot i selected as the “average” Haitian result is naturally just based on the limited samples which were available to me. It happens to show the closest similarity and most likely also closest genetic affinity to the regional averages i have calculated for my 45 Haitian samples. Especially with regards to the total African amount (92% being both the median and mode score for my sample group) and the ranking of the first four regions.
Determining the largest regional components within the African breakdown, on average, for each of my sample groups has been a primary research effort during my AncestryDNA survey. Afterall these most prominent regional scores can be considered to have the highest reliability at this stage and might also be confirmed independently by historical sources. Establishing where each African region is relatively more pronounced or instead more subdued might therefore provide insightful clues into localized ethnogenesis across the Diaspora. For further reading see also:
It seems a meaningful finding that sofar among my 45 Haitian survey participants only three regions produced amounts of above 50%: “Cameroon/Congo” (54%), “Benin/Togo” (51%) and “Nigeria” (53%). Most likely not by coincidence these are also the three primary regions when going by other statistics such as group averages (see chart 4), frequency of being the top region (see chart 3) as well as slave trade statistics (see chart 5).
Nonetheless it pays to be cautious with the country name labeling of the AncestryDNA regions. As often in fact border-crossing overlap is rampant and it should be kept in mind that these “ethnic estimates” are not meant to be seen as exact 😉 . See also:
- AncestryDNA Regions
- Is “Benin/Togo” really pinpointing origins from within Benin’s borders?
- Nigerian AncestryDNA Results
*** Chart 7 (click to enlarge)
The chart above is intended to demonstrate the full extent of African ancestry among my Haitian survey participants. A majority of Haitian AncestryDNA testers (23/45=51%) falls within the range of 90%-99% African ancestry. Which is therefore easily the most frequent admixture interval i observed. Still at the same time a considerable number of people showed non-African admixture of inbetween 11%-30%. So generalizations should be avoided as individual variation will always exist.
To enable group comparison i have scaled everyone’s African breakdown to 100% within my AncestryDNA survey (see also this page for further details on my methodology). But obviously to put everything in broader perspective the original total African amounts are also still relevant. This kind of data often gets presented in a potentially misleading manner. Only highlighting the mathematical mean of all the results as the average. Which tends to downplay individual variation and obscure possibly skewed distributions. Especially atypical lower scores tend to pull down the mean. Therefore I have compiled various other statistical measures in chart 2. As shown in the chart above my Haitian sample group is clearly showing an asymmetrical data distribution. Therefore i believe the median score of 92% (50% cut-off point of all observations) is a more representative reflection of the group average than the mean of 88.5% i obtained for my Haitian sample group (n=45).
I like to emphasize that no fictional national averages are implied. This graph firstmost reflects the limited sample group which was available to me. Follow this link for the source data. Even so i think that my sample size (n=45) is pretty robust already and will correlate closely to what is to be found within the Haitian genepool as a whole. As a crude rule of thumb it is often stated that n=30 is a large enough sample size for most standardized types of research. Also my samples have been randomly picked and are – as far as i have been able to tell – from various regions within Haiti as well as from various social backgrounds.
I have sofar seen 5 results for Haitians who are of fully 100% African descent, which represents a share of 11% (5/45) of my sample group. Again this is of course based on limited sampling. But sofar it seems this frequency of “pureblooded” African descended persons (11%) might be the highest for Haiti when compared with most other parts of the Diaspora. It is good to keep in mind though that these people are still usually thoroughly “mixed”, even if only within an intra-African regional format as defined by AncestryDNA. It is very insightful to compare with other “100%” African results from actual Africans. They tend to show a much narrower scope of regions, almost always neighbouring ones, limited in number and one of them usually being truly predominant (>50%). See also:
*** Chart 8 (click to enlarge)
***Chart 9 (click to enlarge)
***Chart 10 (click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
Given the theme of this blog my survey has naturally been focused on Tracing the African roots of AncestryDNA testers. Attempting to elucidate their African origins in the process as well. However most Haitians, just like most other Afro-Diasporans, are actually not exclusively of African descent. They show variable amounts of minor non-African admixture as well. As shown in chart 2, this consists practically only of additional European ancestry for Haitians. I fully understand and respect that given the brutal history of the Slavery Period many Afro-Diasporans might not be inclined to learn more about their minor European origins. Even if the possibility of this European ancestry (partially) dating from the Post-Slavery Period cannot be ruled out in advance.
Still other Afro-Diasporans, incl. Haitians, might be more curious about their complete genetic make-up and how this might define them. In fact there can be several valid reasons to also explore the European origins of Afro-Diasporans in a neutral and unbiased manner. Ironically in the process you might often also acquire more details about African ancestors linked to your European ancestors as well as their biracial offspring. At any rate i myself strongly believe that personal family histories are bound to sometimes deviate from the assumed narrative. I also think it is selfdefeating to allow generalizations (often ideologically charged) about European admixture to determine how you should feel about your own unique DNA makeup. Especially without atleast having done any basic genealogical & historical research of your own in advance.
In the context of my survey i find it intriguing that Afro-descended populations often seem more distinctive and recognizable in their non-African components rather than their overlapping African breakdowns. Implying that based on group averages it will actually be the non-African regions which might prove to be most useful to identify each separate Afro-descended group based on their DNA results. I will revisit this theme in greater detail as i keep on updating my AncestryDNA survey across the Diaspora. However right now i can already state that it seems that the European composition as reported for Haitians on average seems to be intermediate between the European breakdown as obtained for Hispanics on the one hand and Anglo-Caribbeans+ African Americans on the other.
As can be seen in chart 8 and chart 9, the 9 European regions being reported for Haitians at first sight show a bewildering range and variety. Arguably more so than the 9 African AncestryDNA regions. Due to the generally only minor amounts of European DNA as well as due to “quirky” recombination it might be that some regions have been disproportionately inherited merely by chance. But most of all it seems that this outcome is caused by the splintering effect of Trace Region reporting. Which according to Ancestry’s own information is less reliable because of the higher degree of uncertainty involved with exactly determining the regional affinities of small DNA segments. This doesn’t imply by the way that these small trace segments of your DNA would not be unmistakingly European in origin! Continental assignment can be performed much more reliably than regional assignment. Rather it means that AncestryDNA cannot rule out that several European regions could qualify at the same time when describing these small DNA patches. Personally therefore i tend to take anything reported at trace level with a grain of salt unless additional clues and corroborating evidence exists.
However we may arrive at a less confused picture by focusing only on the results of Haitians with above average European ancestry and/or featuring at least one region above trace level. See also chart 10. Then it seems that the “Iberian Peninsula” and “Europe West” regions show up most prominently and frequently for Haitians. Followed by “Great Britain”, “Italy/Greece” and “Ireland”. This might still seem surprising or even inaccurate when history teaches us that the European presence in Haiti has overwhelmingly been French (although not exclusively). However it is crucial not to be mislead by the country name labeling of AncestryDNA regions! Misinterpretation can be avoided by closely reading the information provided by Ancestry.com when clicking on the regions in your results:
AncestryDNA Regions compatible with French ancestry
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
A further aspect to keep in consideration is that the French ethnicity is basically a mélange of Mediterranean, Celtic and Germanic genetic components, resulting from centuries or even millennia of migration, conquests and intermarriage. These broadly defined origins are described by AncestryDNA through the use of several overlapping Northwestern and Southern European regions. This can be verified from the AncestryDNA results of actual French or French-descended people, as shown below.
French & French Canadian AncestryDNA results
***Chart 11 (click to enlarge)
Unless you already are aware of the ethnic specifics of your European ancestry – going by confirmed family history or other sources – it wil be wise not to jump to conclusions. Receiving a multitude of European (trace) regions does usually not imply that you have a confusingly diverse European background. Rather it suggests that your European ancestors were themselves genetically diverse, going by the Ancestry DNA format. But still these ancestors could have been from just one or two ethnic groups only. Especially do not rule out French ancestry even when you don’t score any “Europe West”, but instead your results show “Iberian Peninsula”, “Italy/Greece”, “Great Britain” or “Ireland” amounts. Afterall all of these regions and even “Scandinavia” are also present in actual French persons as described by AncestryDNA! Due to random recombination you may have inherited any of these regional scores from a French ancestor. Although obviously other ancestral options, involving other European countries, also always remain possible.
A few of my Haitian survey participants received noticeable scores for “Europe East” and “Finland/Northwest Russia”. Even when the group averages for both regions seem negligible (around 0.5%). There was a highest score for “Europe East” at 7% while “Finland/Northwest Russia” reached its maximum at 4%. Also for 4 Haitian persons in my survey either one of both regions represented their biggest European score. These regional amounts are least likely to have been inherited through French ancestors as these regions are more genetically distinctive and geographically confined to people of East European descent, as can be verified from chart 12. Unlike the 6 overlapping AncestryDNA regions from various parts of Northwest and Southern Europe which i already described above as all (to various extent) potentially to be linked with French ancestry.
In addition a few Haitians in my sample group also scored some minor amounts of “European Jewish”. Which could in fact be the most easily interpretable European region, even at trace level, because of the uniquely bottlenecked and therefore highly recognizable genetics of Jewish people.
To return to the minor Eastern European amounts i observed in my Haitian survey it is very tempting to make a (speculative!) connection to the remarkable saga of the socalled Polish Haitians. Descendants of around 5000 Polish soldiers who arrived in Haiti during the Haitian revolution. These soldiers are famously said to have switched sides to fight alongside the Haitians against the French! Those who survived decided to settle in Haiti and intermingled with the local population. The memory of their (diluted) lineage remains strong even after 200 years. However some descendants might not be aware until having done a DNA test. It is a good reminder that generalizing assumptions about the nature of European admixture are not always valid. As in fact the minor European DNA found in Afro-Diasporans may (partially) be related to the Post-Slavery Period as well.
Even when your minor European DNA does (partially) happen to be linked to the Slavery Period, it is prudent to remain open-minded. Beyond a shadow of a doubt slavery itself was a dehumanizing institution tending to incite cruelty among the slaveholders. However even under these unlikely circumstances history teaches us that there must have been room for human agency: individuals who went against the structurally defined norm. And when engaged in interracial unions these individuals may have very well have acted out of other motivations than the assumed ones, incl. genuine long term mutual affection besides shortlived mutual attraction, opportunism or self-improvement.
For more details on the Polish legacy in Haiti follow these links:
- Wikipedia Article on Polish Haitians
- Amazing Photo Gallery of Polish Haitians living in Cazales, by Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak.
- The Tragedy of the Lost Polish Brigades (1802-2002)
- La Pologne- The Story of Haiti’s Polish Community
***Chart 12 (click to enlarge)
I would like to emphasize that without any additional supporting evidence this Polish-Haitian connection remains speculative, despite any minor “Europe East” and/or “Finland/Northwest Russia” scores! The reservations i mentioned earlier – arising from Trace Region reporting – remain valid in this case as well. Especially when dealing with minor socalled “Finland/Northwest Russia” scores. I have actually observed similar scores among other Afro-Diasporan populations who do not have any historically documented connection with Eastern Europe. And i suspect therefore in many cases something else might be at play as well. Such as the possibility that this type of DNA represents socalled “cold spot” DNA segments, which are least likely to be affected by recombination. Possibly representing the remnants of a very ancient prehistorical European bloodline.
On the other hand if you wish to cross-check any possible Polish lineage i would advise to take a 23andme test as well. This DNA test also attempts to detect and single out Eastern European and Finnish ancestry. And judging from what i have seen possibly with a higher degree of accuracy when dealing with smaller amounts! A second option would be to search your AncestryDNA matches by birth location for confirming not only your possibly Polish ancestry but any other type of European and also African lineage! Simply type in country names like Poland, Ukraine, France or Spain and see what shows up among the results. This can actually also be done for finding any African DNA cousins! (try countries like Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia). Do keep in mind you will have to verify carefully if these matches are truly 100% belonging to the nationality you are searching for. Either through their family trees or the information they are willing to share with you. And even so a myriad of other ancestral options might still be possible as well if you have no certainty how these matches would exactly be related to you or your MRCA. Still if any clear patterns are discernable, conjecture should give way to plausibility eventually 😉
***Chart 2 (click to enlarge)
“When the first modern black state declared its independence on January 1, 1804, it adopted an Amerindian name, though its population was overwhelmingly African […]“
“The sixteenth century no doubt saw some cultural transmission between the last survivors of the pre-Columbian population and the first generations of African slaves, though the two groups tended to live in separate locations.“
“Like the Spanish before them, the French enslaved other Amerindian peoples and brought them to the colony. […], the few Indiens who appear in plantation inventories and colonial newspapers in the eighteenth century were likely to be Natchez and others deported from Louisiana, Canada, and South America, or Asian Indians shipped through Isle-de-France (modern Mauritius).”
“By the 1780s, even with their mixed-race descendants (mulatres indiens), they represented a small fraction of one percent of the slave population.”
Source: “The Naming of Haiti”, (D.Geggus, 1997)
Highest Amerindian score among Haitians sofar (3%)
***(click to enlarge)
As can be verified from Chart 2, generally speaking the Amerindian genetic legacy among Haitians seems to be statistically very much insignificant. The group average being only 1/10 of a percent2. For 40 out of 45 Haitian survey participants zero% Native American ancestry was detected. Three out of five results only showed the most minimal trace amount of “Native American”: <1%. However given the limited sample size of my survey this still doesn’t rule out the possibility that among selected sections of Haitians somewhat more detectable amounts of Amerindian ancestry might be found. Especially those living in isolated and mountainous rural areas where possibly indigenous Arawak or Taino people and their mixed descendants might have persisted the longest.Only future research may establish how much of their bloodlines has been preserved in these areas.
An important aspect to keep in mind is that due to recombination and dilution over the generations any distinctive genetic component inherited from 1 single ancestor only, will eventually be “washed” out. This might occur already after 7-10 generations (see this useful graph). Theoretically speaking a Haitian person who scores zero percent “Native American” on AncestryDNA might yet still have had one single Arawak ancestor living in the 1500’s. However without “replenishment” this ancestral line might already in the 1800’s not longer have been genetically detectable. Unless this Arawak ancestor was from a direct maternal or paternal line. In this (fortunate) case uniparental markers (mtDNA or Y-DNA) would have been inherited and the confirmation of Amerindian lineage would be more straightforward. For a much more comprehensive discussion read the following insightful article:
Even so, in rare cases Haitians can in fact score Amerindian amounts above tracelevel. Without any recent Hispanic lineage being required per se (introducing an external source of Amerindian geneflow). As illustrated above the result of 3% Native American was reported for a person with confirmed Haitian background for all four grandparents and going back many more generations. In fact this person is a certified genealogist who has done extensive family tree research, not only for himself but also for others. See also his commendable website:
A good thing to keep in mind though is that whenever Native American ancestry is reported for Haitians instead of Arawak lineage it might also signal Amerindian ancestry from Louisiana, Canada, Guyana or elsewhere on the mainland due to French slave trading. See also the quotations above.The same actually also goes for Dominicans. All too quickly for them an indigenous Taino/Arawak lineage is being assumed. While actually it is historically documented that after the local Taino populations had greatly diminished the Spanish settlers in Hispaniola started to import a large number of enslaved Amerindians from all around the Caribbean, Florida, Mexico and as far south as the Amazon river in Brazil!
Leaving aside any petty-minded motivations it is actually worthwhile to compare Haitians with Dominicans when it comes to their genetic legacy from the Arawak/Taino as well as other Amerindian populations deported to Hispaniola/Saint Domingue. Because this may lead to valuable insights into the demographic evolution of the Haitians as an ethnic group within its own right. Unlike my Haitian sample group (n=45) the Dominicans i have surveyed sofar (n=101) do show a considerable Native American genetic component reported consistently above trace level. Sofar on average about 7%, with no persons scoring zero %. This stands in contrast with the findings i have presented above.
Intuitively i suspect this difference might be a striking confirmation of how Haitians overwhelmingly will trace their African ancestry to the 1700’s when according to historical sources the Arawak would have been extinct for many generations already. And in fact also their dwindling mixed descendants as well as deported Amerindians from other places only formed a very small fraction of the population. Hence why the occasion for Amerindian admixture within the evolving Haitian population simply would have been nearly non-existing for most of its history during the late 1600’s and 1700’s. Which ultimately explains the very low level of Amerindian ancestry among currentday Haitians as detected by AncestryDNA sofar.
Haitian demographics during the colonial period
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
***(click to enlarge)
For more info on the Amerindian legacy in Haiti follow these links:
- The Naming of Haiti
- Haitian Arawak Movement
- Pre-Columbian Hispaniola — Arawak/Taino Native Americans
- Reclaiming Indigenous heritage in Haiti
- Can you be Indigenous without Indigenous blood?
- However apparently the very last captives to arrive in Haiti were actually from Benin! The socalled Royal Dahomets. See also this fascinating article:
- Which is very similar to a finding of 0.3% Amerindian admixture among a sample group of 123 Haitians. This was however based on a much less comprehensive and arguably outdated analysis of Y-DNA and autosomal STR markers. For more details see: Simms et al. (2012), “Y-Chromosomal diversity in Haiti and Jamaica: Contrasting levels of sex-biased gene flow“.