“Christiaan was born around 1743. This I know by his letter from 1815: (translated from Dutch)
“Letting you gratefully know Christiaan van der Vecht, born at the Coast of Guinea, 73 years of age and living in Weesp.”
Where at the Coast of Guinea he was born I don’t know and also how he came to the Netherlands is unknown to me.”
My name is Annemieke van der Vegt and I am a grand-, grand-, grand-, granddaughter (his grand-, grandson is my grand-, grandfather) of Christiaan van der Vegt”
For the complete story see: What was Christiaan’s name?
In this blog post and two following ones i will feature the highly remarkable research findings of a Dutch woman who is in an ongoing search for her West African forefather. By simply googling her surname in 1998 she discovered that she had a West African ancestor she was previously unaware of! She found out eventually by way of archival research that her West African forefather had been a personal servant of several members of the Dutch royal family of Orange-Nassau (at the time of his employment the Netherlands were still a Republic though). And later on (c. 1765) he was also a servant of the mayor of Weesp, a small town near Amsterdam. Most likely he had been only a child when he was brought to the Netherlands. As an adult he had several other jobs and married a Dutch woman with whom he had 10 children. He was baptized as Christiaan van der Vegt in 1777. His original African name and African ethnic identity remain unknown for now but his Dutch ggg-granddaughter, Annemieke van der Vegt, is determined to find out.
The strongly personal motivation of this sixth generation Dutch descendant to uncover the life story of her West African forefather is very inspirational. At the same time her astoundingly diligent research is proving to also have great relevance for many other people. Her work has been put in the spotlight in several Dutch media articles already, incl. the national newspaper Volkskrant, as well as a national genealogy journal. The Weesp museum has recently held a special exposition about Christiaan and three other Dutch Africans who are known to have lived in Weesp around the same time (mid 1700’s). Also historians (both within the Netherlands and internationally) are eager to tap into her specialized field of knowledge which she has been steadily compiling on her amazing blog since 2013. This was the year that marked the 150th anniversary of Dutch abolition of slavery in 1863.
- Hoe heette Christiaan? (in Dutch)
- What was Christiaan’s name? (summary in English)
- Presto returns to Ghana (in English) (incl. analysis by historian Michel Doortmont)
If you continue reading i will discuss the following topics:
- What can be learnt from AncestryDNA when trying to trace African ancestry? (ROOTS.NL, part 1)
- Is it possible to find a plausible ethnic background for Christiaan? (ROOTS.NL, part 2, Searching for Gold)
- How does Christiaan’s life story relate to the currentday discussions on racism within Dutch society? (ROOTS.NL, part 3, True Colours)
Tracing one single African familyline through AncestryDNA
“This week I have been watching the remake of Alex Haley’s Roots, airing on the History Channel. It’s brilliant. Watching this updated version has me reflecting back on the original version which I watched as a child. I didn’t realize it back then, but it planted a seed in me which has now blossomed into a full blown passion (some would say obsession) to trace my own family roots back to Africa. The idea that Alex Haley could trace his ancestry back to a noble Mandinka warrior named Kunta Kinte was so powerful to me that it inspired me throughout my life to try to do the same. […]
This journey is not easy but with Roots as my inspiration I plan to stay the course.”
Quote taken from Cumbo Family Website
In 2016 a remake of the famous Roots tv series was being aired to familiarize new generations with this breathtaking American saga. Arguably this miniseries has proven to be one of the main inspirators for many African Americans in deciding to trace back their African lineage either by traditional genealogy, DNA testing or a combination of both. But “Roots” has also been enormously inspirational for other parts of the Afro-Diaspora, incl. Afro-descendants living in the Netherlands such as Annemieke but also myself (I am both Cape Verdean & Dutch descended). And to take it one step further the basic theme of Roots – reconnecting with one’s ancestors and their lifestories – can be said to have an universal appeal among all people across the world regardless of their background. Especially it seems in this age of globalization with its relentless drive towards rootlessness.
Naturally there are many key aspects about the Roots saga which are distinctive to African Americans and as such describe an experience which belongs solely to them. However it might be useful to draw an analogy with the research findings of Annemieke van der Vegt who in a way can be said to have found her own “Kunta Kinte”. Something so many Afro-Diasporans strive for in their ancestral quest. One of the intriguing things about Annemieke’s story is that precisely because she is otherwise fully European, it makes it easier to visualize what it entails to trace back one single African family line! This goes especially for DNA-testing. The AncestryDNA results which i have shown above are in fact not hers but belong to her father who is one generation closer to their African ancestor. It provides conclusive evidence of her African lineage. These results are therefore extremely educational. Summarizing i would say these are the main lessons to be drawn:
- DNA contribution from one single African ancestor born in the 1700’s or earlier will be minimal (<5%). For anyone who is of predominant African ancestry this will imply you could have dozens if not more than a hundred separate family lines connecting into different parts of Africa.
- Recombination across generations can result in differentiated DNA inheritance when comparing siblings or descendants from the same African ancestor. Admixture analysis should therefore not be expected to deliver an exact copy of a family tree along ethnic lines. There will always be an element of genetic randomness involved in how the percentages turn out.
- The labeling of ancestral categories should not be taken too literally. AncestryDNA applies modernday country names for its regions but these are in fact inherently overlapping due to bordercrossing migrations and widespread genetic similarity between ethnic groups with ancient shared origins.
- For optimal insight autosomal DNA testing is to be combined with additional clues derived from other fields of DNA testing (DNA matches, haplogroups) as well as traditional genealogy & historical research. Correct interpretation of your findings based on critical thinking & plausibility will always be crucial if you want to avoid self-deception.
DNA inheritance from 1 single ancestor
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The above chart shows how much DNA you can expect to inherit according to how many generations you are removed from your ancestor. Naturally because of dilution the DNA you will inherit decreases the further back in time you go. After 7 generations it will already be less than 1%! Annemieke’s father, whose AncestryDNA results have been depicted above, is a 5th generation descendant from Christiaan van der Vegt. His West African forebear was his 3rd great-grandparent. Therefore his estimated 4% African DNA corresponds nicely with the 3,125% DNA inheritance predicted (on average) in the above chart.
Because his daughter is one generation further removed it means that she will have approximately 1,5% African DNA, representing 1 out of 64 of her 4th great-grandparents. Luckily the average generation time in the direct family line leading to her African forefather has been rather high (close to 40 years!) which prevented her African genetic legacy from vanishing below a still detectable threshold. Obviously things will vary in each individual case but according to the chart above (based on 30 years for each generation) for a descendant born in 1950 with an ancestor born in 1740 the expected DNA inheritance would be around 0,7% only.
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It’s interesting to then also take into consideration the claim of the author of Roots that Kunta Kinte was his 4th great-grandfather. Which is similar to the generational distance separating Annemieke from her African progenitor. Likewise Alex Haley’s Mandenka lineage might have represented a mere 1/64 or around 1,5% of his DNA. This obviously doesn’t take away from the liberating feeling of having traced back atleast one family line to Africa. However to put things into perspective this does imply that the remaining 63/64 proportion of Alex Haley’s DNA most likely hailed from other places than Juffure/Gambia. Extending into other countries of Africa and including various other ethnic groups besides the Mandenka.
Annemieke van der Vegt only has 1 single African ancestor, because she is Dutch for the remaining part (63/64). Therefore she can rightfully claim to descend from just one single African place/ethnic group (assuming Christiaan’s parents were of the same background). However this will be the great exception among Afro-descendants, especially those whose ancestry is predominantly African. Without wanting to sound redundant it is advisable to avoid wishful thinking and be wary of the “single tribe origin” claim. As for practically all Afro-Diasporans dozens if not hundreds of relocated African-born ancestors may exist. Depending on your background these ancestors would have been born mostly in the 1700’s but in some cases also in the early 1800’s, 1600’s or even 1500’s. Statistically speaking it is nearly impossible for all those people to have been from just 1 or even just a handful of ethnic groups. Instead, on average an Afro-Diasporan will have various ethnic origins from several places in between Senegal and Mozambique. The particular mix and proportions will vary per individual but not so the reality that on average a Diasporan’s African DNA is basically a melting pot of many different ethnic lineages. It is highly unlikely to ever reflect just one single ancestral “tribe”, as is the case however for Annemieke van der Vegt.
Follow these links for more details or further discussion:
- Alex Haley’s Family Tree
- From ‘Roots’ to DNA kits: the quest for African-American identity (Alondra Nelson)
- Your Family: Past, Present, and Future (wait but why)
- “What tribe am I?” (Tracing African Roots)
- Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors (Tracing African Roots)
Recombination causes differentiated results among relatives
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The picture above depicts the African admixture scores for six Dutch descendants of Christiaan van der Vegt. In the top left corner we see the breakdown for Annemieke’s father. All the other screenshots belong to relatives who have also tested with AncestryDNA. All of them are 5th generation descendants. Nevertheless we can verify that their African DNA is described in varying amounts and regions. The total amount of African DNA ranging from 2% to 5%. While only Annemieke’s father received a somewhat solid score for just 1 single region: 3% socalled “Mali”. The regions reported for the others being much more diverse. Although probably telling mostly West African regions are appearing.
This outcome might seem counterintuitive at first. However if you keep in mind how recombination basically involves a random shuffling of your DNA markers it is perfectly understandable. As a consequence the African segments inherited by Christiaan’s descendants are located on different chromosomes for each person. And at the same time it is very likely that the DNA of their African forefather would have been described by AncestryDNA as a mix of several adjacent West African regions. And not just 100% “Mali” or 100% “Ivory Coast/Ghana”. This would atleast be in accordance with what i have observed sofar in my survey of African AncestryDNA results: most Africans when tested on AncestryDNA, will indeed score one predominant region (>50%) however not always and in addition other regions (usually neighbouring ones) will appear with considerable amounts. For more details see also this overview.
If you carefully read AncestryDNA’s helpful information you will also realize that when parts of your DNA are being described as socalled Trace Regions this is per definition based on lower confidence and estimated ranges! As explained in greater detail on this page, trace regions are explicitly set apart because AncestryDNA cannot rule out that several regions could qualify at the same time when describing these small DNA patches. In order to attain a deeper understanding i highly recommend that you atleast browse through some of the topics mentioned in the following links:
- AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate Help and Tips (Ancestry)
- Understanding Patterns of Inheritance (Ancestry)
- Generational Inheritance (DNA eXplained)
- African AncestryDNA results (Tracing African Roots)
- Annemieke’s own blogposts about DNA testing (Hoe heette Christiaan)
AncestryDNA regions are overlapping and found across borders
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Annemieke’s father’s African admixture is being described by AncestryDNA as 3% socalled “Mali” and 1% socalled “Ivory Coast/Ghana”. This might serve as an important clue as to where Christiaan van der Vegt was from originally. However the predictive accuracy of the “Mali” region should be considered very carefully. Afterall according to Ancestry’s own information the country name labeling of AncestryDNA’s regions is not intended to be taken as gospel!
From the screenshots above we can learn that actually the “Mali” region is also found in Ghana itself. Plus it is also apparent that despite being a distinctive region, the genetic underpinning for the “Mali” region is very precarious. It is based on a mere 16 samples within Ancestry’s Reference Panel. And it appears to have the lowest prediction accuracy of not only all nine African regions but in fact all 26 regions existing within the current AncestryDNA set-up (see this chart)! As indeed the prediction accuracy of each AncestryDNA region is variable and contextdependent. The reasons for this being so have to do with ancient migrations & shared origins across the continent, irrespective of modernday country borders or (fluid) ethnic identity. Most African countries are afterall colonial creations! All of this is explained in greater detail in the links below:
Naturally one should also take into account that this minor African admixture is being reported as mere Low Confidence or Trace regions. As already discussed above due to recombination the African DNA inheritance among Christiaan’s 6 Dutch descendants looks variable with different estimated ranges for each. Still in the second part of this blog post series i will be working under the assumption that the 3% socalled “Mali” & 1% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” being reported for Annemieke’s father can nevertheless prove to be a worthwhile lead to further investigate, even if it’s far from being conclusive!
Generally speaking i would say that if you resist from fixating too much on the regional labeling you can still obtain a great deal of informational value from AncestryDNA’s socalled “ethnicity estimates”. In particular by closely studying the regional combinations being reported for “native” Africans in order to improve correct interpretation. Finding out where a specific region is most prominent or rather most subdued holds valuable lessons. This is exactly the reason why i have undertaken a survey of African AncestryDNA results. In the screenshots below are shown the preliminary group averages as well as some of the highest “Mali” scores i have observed sofar, as reported for West Africans. Although actually it’s in the Americas (USA & Jamaica) that i have seen the maximum scores of socalled “Mali” (42%, see this link). While Mexicans obtain the highest relative contribution of “Mali” within their (scaled) African breakdown (21%, see this link).
“Mali” scores reported for West Africans
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The screenshots above are merely intended to give an indication of how widespread the reporting of the “Mali” region might be. It’s not meant to single out any likely source candidate for Annemieke’s father’s 3% “Mali”. Obviously my survey is limited in scope and many relevant countries/ethnic groups are missing. Not the least being Mali itself! But also Burkina Faso and the ethnic groups living in the most northern parts of Ghana can be expected to show high “Mali” scores. Regrettably sofar i have not seen any results from these places though. The screenshots are furthermore just a selection as in fact socalled “Mali” scores of above 15% are also reported as far east as Nigeria and also in Morocco! So really there is a vast array of possible ancestral scenario’s to consider when wondering about what 3% “Mali” may imply.
Nonetheless many people who receive socalled “Mali” scores often seem to be eager to make a claim of having actual Malian lineage. The appeal seems apparent 😉 Afterall the Mali Empire has a glorious history and is also well known for its ruler Mansa Musa. Arguably one of the wealthiest persons to have ever lived. However both the genetic and even more so the cultural legacy of this medieval Mali empire (c.1200-1600) extends beyond modernday Mali’s borders! The Mande speaking people being widespread across Upper Guinea and the western Sahel. And despite many shared traditions these people do also have distinctive and separate ethnic identities.
“Mali” scores reported for Ghanaians
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As a second consideration one should keep in mind that it’s very likely that the socalled “Mali” region might not only be indicative of Mande origins but also of Gur speaking origins from southern Mali, Burkina Faso and northern areas of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin. And on top of that other ethnic possibilities (non-Mande & non-Gur) from the wider area are not to be ruled out either.
As will be described in the next section right now it seems that Ghana might be the most plausible country of origin for Christiaan. And in fact socalled “Mali” is also indeed being reported for people across Ghana. Reviewing my Ghanaian samples it is striking how sofar only a Ga-Adangbe sample received a significant “Mali” score of above 20%. Such an amount might be deemed conceivable to escape complete dilution after several generations. While for the Akan and Ewe results the “Mali” percentages were quite minimal (and in fact also for other Akan & Ewe samples in my survey, see this link). Making it less likely that people of such background would have been able to pass on a DNA component labeled “Mali” across 5 or 6 generations. However to repeat myself i have sofar not seen any northern Ghanaian results! It could very well be that the socalled “Mali” scores for people such as the Dagomba will trump those for the Ga-Adangbe.
Seek additional clues besides just admixture analysis
“Annemieke was able to make a detailed reconstruction of Christiaan’s / Presto’s life in the Netherlands, because the records about that life are abundant.” […]
“Throughout his life, Christiaan left hints about his African origins and arrival in the Netherlands.” […]
“In her letter to the King, asking for assistance, his daughter Antje gave some additional information. She wrote:
‘That in his lifetime, her […] Grandfather was General on the Coast of Guinea, where her father was stolen as a child by the Guineans’
This is a very valuable clue. ”
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From the very beginning of this blog i have always argued in favour of a multifaceted approach when it comes to Tracing African Roots. Instead of putting all your eggs in just one basket. I firmly believe that combining insights obtained from DNA testing with relevant context from historical studies as well as findings from genealogical research will increase the odds of correctly identifying (part) of your African lineage. Annemieke’s quest to find her West African forefather provides an excellent illustration of such a research strategy. She was and still is very fortunate in having access to such extensive documentation regarding her African ancestor. Most likely to be explained by his relatively “privileged” status of having been a former servant to Dutch top elite families. And all the more so unique because of the surviving letters written either by himself or his daughter! Naturally this provides a very rare perspective which generally speaking will not be attainable for other Afro-descendants. However despite representing a rather distinctive case Annemieke’s research efforts still hold valuable lessons for others to draw on and might in any case be very inspirational.
Many precious details have already been uncovered about Christiaan van der Vegt. But one of the key aspects still missing is his exact origin within West Africa. However with help of Dutch historian Michel Doortmont a plausible hypothesis has been put forward, based on solid and intricate research. In all likelyhood Annemieke’s African ancestor (known as Presto before his baptization) would have been a child-slave at the main Dutch trading castle of Elmina on the Gold Coast, presentday Ghana. Working as a boy-servant for the local Dutch governor at that time he was subsequently taken along to the Netherlands as a “gift” to a member of the Dutch royal family of Orange-Nassau (at that time they were still stadtholders). The full account of this extraordinary feat of scholarship is available on this blog (start with oldest message first):
So based on both genealogical and historical research right now Ghana seems to be the most likely departing point for zooming in closer to Annemieke’s African roots. This is also supported by taking a closer look into both Dutch slave trade patterns and Dutch cartographic traditions. Starting with the latter it should be recalled that the one concrete indication of Christiaan’s origins made by himself revolve around how the socalled “Guinea Coast” should be interpreted. In all his letters to the Dutch King, Christiaan wrote that he was born on the Coast of Guinea (‘de kust van Guinea’). Learning about this socalled “Guinea” region is actually essential for anyone tracing their West African origins. As it is a very commonly used term in contemporary documentation about the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Unfortunately it is also a rather imprecise or even confusing term without any generally accepted definition. Rather being both context- and time dependent. As shown in the map above from the late 1600’s it is however apparent that presentday Ghana was thought of by the Dutch as being located right in the center of the Guinea Coast, atleast in that timeperiod. For more details see also:
To expand on the historical context and just to get a good general idea it is always useful to also have a look at the relevant slave trade patterns. For Christiaan it is assumed that he was shipped over to the Netherlands in the 1740’s, departing from Elmina in presentday Ghana. Because of the European destination this would not have been a regular slave voyage at all. Still, reviewing the estimated slave trade by the Dutch in the period 1700-1750 we can verify that the socalled Gold Coast was indeed a very important slave trading center for the Dutch at that time. Furthermore we can also nearly rule out the possibility that Christiaan would have been shipped from either Senegambia, Sierra Leone or Bight of Biafra. As Dutch shipping to these places during that particular time frame was practically inexistent according to the slavevoyages database.
Given the 3% “Mali” score on AncestryDNA a connection with either Senegambia or Sierra Leone might have been possible in theory. The Dutch did have relatively minor trading operations in these parts in earlier time periods. However as can be seen in the below overviews, the Dutch trading posts in Mauritania, Senegal & Sierra Leone were all discontinued before 1740. Hypothetically the Windward Coast (presentday Liberia & Ivory Coast) as well as Bight of Benin (presentday Benin, Togo and western Nigeria) might still also be potential places of embarkation. Both areas also being considered part of the socalled “Guinea Coast” at times. But fortunately additional clues have been discovered (see above) which make Elmina & the Dutch Gold Coast the most likely candidate.
- Overview of Dutch Slave trade specified for each slave port, incl. Elmina (source: http://www.slavevoyages.com)
- Overview of Dutch colonial forts and trading posts in Africa
- List of Dutch West India Company trading posts and settlements
The Elmina/Ghana hypothesis seems poised to bring Annemieke closer to solving the puzzle of her West African origins. In that light the 3% “Mali” and 1% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” AncestryDNA results for Annemieke’s father might acquire a more precise meaning. I will delve into greater detail in a follow-up blogpost where i will myself atttempt to elaborate on one speculative possibility (among others!) for Christiaan’s ethnic background. Just to finish this section i would like to underline that DNA testing has already proven to be very valuable for Annemiek. Afterall the autosomal analysis performed for her father confirmed her African lineage conclusively!
Admixture analysis (based on your autosomal DNA) is often misunderstood or even mocked because it doesn’t conform with unrealistic expectations. Unjustly so as i have found AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Estimates to be very insightful as long as you know how to correctly interpret and be aware of inherent limitations. My assessment is based on the many AncestryDNA results of native Africans i have seen. Which were usually in alignment (broadly) with their verifiable background (see this overview). Also my survey of Afro-Diaspora results was largely a confirmation of historically documented African origins for each nationality.
There are however also other aspects of DNA testing which may prove helpful in narrowing down Annemieke’s West African lineage. Firstly there is the possibility of haplogroup testing along the direct paternal line descending from Christiaan van der Vegt. Regrettably Annemieke has not yet found any descendant along such a family line via one of Christiaan’s sons. She and her father themselves are descended from a granddaughter of Christiaan van der Vegt. There are several DNA testing companies which claim that based on either your paternal or maternal haplogroup they will be able to match you with an African ethnic group with near perfect accuracy. While indeed a great deal of informational value might be obtained be wary of deceptive marketing! When choosing which company to test with you will want to make sure that you will get a complete service. Including an actual haplogroup assignement based on high resolution genotyping as well as the possibility of getting matched with actual persons instead of just academic samples. Also let it truly sink in that most haplogroups will be dating back from many thousands of years ago and therefore are generally widespread across many African countries and not unique to any given ethnic group! For more discussion see:
- African-American mitochondrial DNAs often match mtDNAs found in multiple African ethnic groups (Ely et al., 2006)
- Part I: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan (Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches)
- Haplogroups versus Autosomal (Tracing African Roots)
- Locating African American haplogroups within Africa (Tracing African Roots)
A second and probably much more promising avenue is finding an African DNA match. This is something many Afro-Diasporans dream of: a genuine genetic connection to distant relatives in Africa. This used to be very difficult to achieve as only very few Africans were included in the customer databases of DNA testing companies such as AncestryDNA. Fortunately this has been changing lately because a quickly growing number of Africans or rather African migrants and their children are taking a DNA test. Which increases the likelyhood of receiving African DNA matches. Especially if you actively search for them in a systematic manner.
I myself have scanned and filtered Annemieke’s father’s DNA matches according to a tutorial i blogged about earlier this year. Unfortunately no “100% African” matches showed up yet. However Annemieke herself has been in very meaningful contact with several matches already who also share an ancestral tie with Christiaan. Finding a Surinamese or Dutch Antillean match would also be very special for her. It is too bad that currently AncestryDNA does not provide any more details on the shared DNA segments you have in common with your DNA matches. Ideally you would want to filter for matches whose shared DNA segment would also be African. Such a functionality might be incorporated in a chromosome browser i suppose.
It should be pointed out though that African DNA matches also have their limitations. First of all you will want to ensure that the match is indeed “identical by descent” (IBD) and not just a socalled false positive or random “identical by state” (IBS) match. Secondly the MRCA (most recent common ancestor) shared between you and your African DNA cousin will not per se be of the same ethnic background as your African DNA match. Without any 100% complete and accurate paper trail in place (or oral traditions to the same effect) you should not be surprised that your African match might also be ethnically mixed further down the line. If not recently than perhaps several generations ago and even beyond family recollection. The extent of inter-ethnic unions taking place within Africa itself is often ignored. For more details read:
- How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry (Tracing African Roots)
- African DNA Cousins reported for people across the Diaspora (Tracing African Roots)
- Does DNA have memory? (in Dutch but use google translate if needed) (Hoe heette Christiaan?)
- The Miracles of DNA: Our Family Reunion in Ghana, Africa (Roots Revealed)
- My “Kunta Kinte”: Part 2 of “The Search for Our African Ancestor’s Birthplace” (Roots Revealed)
Tracing African Roots: so how does it work?
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This blogpost has featured the evocative quest of a Dutch woman for her West African forefather. However despite being very inspirational and also illustrative of various common research themes her experience can also be deemed to be exceptional. And probably not to be replicated by most other Afro-descendants in search of their African roots. It would be foolish to pretend there is any one-size-fits-all answer to the above question. Despite commonalities the various parts of the Afro-Diaspora are also characterized by a great degree of unique & localized aspects. Which according to your background will impact your own research. There are however many strategies which may not per se lead to pinpointing your own Juffure(s) 😉 but at the very least will increase your awareness of ancestral locations and distant relatives within Africa.
Naturally we all might have our own priorities or preferences when searching for our African roots. But if you want your research to be all encompassing you will want to rely on the complementarity of your various findings. The truth has many angles. Explore them all! Remember that without additional clues and corroborating evidence your attempts to trace back to specific ancestral locations, ethnic groups or even persons within Africa could very well lead to a dead end. Conjecture and unfounded speculation can then quickly turn to self deception.
Take the following simply as some general guidelines:
1) Familiarize yourself with Africa
Go beyond the stereotypical thinking about Africa through self-education! At the very least learn about Africa’s ethnic diversity and Africa’s history both before and during Slave Trade. Be wary though of fanciful or agenda driven renditions! For getting started:
- African Maps (Ethno-Linguistic, Slave Trade, Lower Guinea, Upper Guinea, Sahel/Interior, West-Central Africa, Southeast Africa) (Tracing African Roots)
- African AncestryDNA results (Tracing African Roots)
- General History of Africa by Unesco (all volumes online available)
2) Familiarize yourself with the Afro-Diasporan context (relevant to your own background)
Get to know more about the specifics on which Africans were brought over to your own (or parent’s) country of birth. And also take an unbiased look on how they lived their lives afterwards. Not limiting yourself to just a national perspective but when possible also focus on a subregional / localized level. In particular for slave trade patterns this might be helpful. Do keep in mind though that both during and after Slavery many interregional or intercolonial migrations might have occurred. It might be helpful as well to learn about any cultural retention derived from Africa within your own country, region or even family. But be aware that unlike DNA cultural practices can also be transmitted by persons who are unrelated to each other! Culturally influential groups might often only have been a minority. For more details:
- Ethnic/Regional Origins of the Afro-Diaspora (Africa, Anglo-Caribbean, Brazil, Franco-Caribbean, Hispanic Americas, USA) (Tracing African Roots)
- Afro-Diaspora AncestryDNA results: A Comparison (Tracing African Roots)
- See various selected links posted on the menu to the left (Tracing African Roots)
3) Familiarize yourself with genealogy
Start building a family tree by following the conventional paper trail but also don’t forget to interview the elders in your family for more specifics! Read these links for more tips:
- Overview of African-American Genealogy Blogs (Radiant Roots)
- Overview of Latino, Caribbean and Cape Verdean Genealogy Blogs (Radiant Roots)
- Slave Research: Four Things You Need to Know (Reclaiming Kin)
- Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors (Tracing African Roots)
4) Familiarize yourself with DNA basics
Educate yourself about all aspects of DNA testing and how to correctly interpret your results. Be critical of the claims made by DNA testing companies. But at the same time aim for maximizing informational value despite imperfections. Overhasty dismissal based on unrealistic expectations can deprive you from helpful clues you may not realize at first hand!