ROOTS.NL (S1E1) – Dutch woman in search of West African forefather

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AncestryDNA results of a Dutch person with one single African ancestor, Christiaan van der Vegt, possibly depicted in the drawing (c. 1760) to the left.

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“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?

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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 of 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.

If you continue reading i will discuss the following topics:

  1. What can be learnt from AncestryDNA when trying to trace African ancestry? (ROOTS.NL, part 1)
  2. Is it possible to find a plausible ethnic background for Christiaan? (ROOTS.NL, part 2, upcoming blogpost)
  3. How does Christiaan’s life story relate to the currentday discussions on race within Dutch society? (ROOTS.NL, part 3, upcoming blogpost) Lees verder
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AncestryDNA results from Asia, the Pacific & Native Americans

As the name already implies this blog is dedicated to Tracing African Roots. However many if not most Afro-descendants actually also have additional non-African ancestry. And for some people this part of their DNA might also be interesting to explore further. I have therefore started a new survey featuring the AncestryDNA results of persons from all over Asia, the Pacific as well as Native Americans. In order to improve correct interpretation of AncestryDNA’s regions by comparing results with persons from verified backgrounds. At the very end of this blog post i will attempt to outline some of the most important implications for Afro-Diasporans who have received any Asian, Native American or Pacific regions in their AncestryDNA breakdown.

I am currently creating new blog sections to feature screenshots of these results. Statistical data, background information and relevant context will also be provided. Follow these links for more details:

***Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

STATS (Iran, n=15)

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AncestryDNA results from Europe

As the name already implies this blog is dedicated to Tracing African Roots. However many if not most Afro-descendants actually also have additional non-African ancestry. And for some people this part of their DNA might also be interesting to explore further. I have therefore started a new survey featuring the AncestryDNA results of persons from all over Europe. In order to improve correct interpretation of AncestryDNA’s regions by comparing results with persons from verified backgrounds. I am currently creating new blog sections to feature screenshots of these European results. Statistical data, background information and relevant context will also be provided. I shall eventually publish new sections for other parts of the world as well (West Asia, Asia & Pacific, Native Americans).

Follow these links for more details:

 

***Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

EU stats (PT=24)

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African DNA Cousins reported for people across the Diaspora

This blog post features the AncestryDNA results of 8 persons from 7 different countries. In particular i will list the (most likely) African DNA matches i was able to find for each profile. Using the tutorial i blogged about in my previous blog post:

Naturally this overview is not meant to be representative per se because these persons are in the first place individuals with unique family trees. It is mainly to show the variation across the Afro-Diaspora. Nonetheless I strongly suspect that many patterns to be observed will still be valid as well for other people of the same nationality or ethnic (sub)group.

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Diaspora Overview

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For this overview I specifically chose people with one single predominant African regional score on AncestryDNA. In order to see how Ancestry’s “Ethnicity Estimate” lines up with predicted African DNA matches. More detailed analysis will follow in this blog post. If you continue reading you will also come across a section featuring inspiring stories of people who were able to reconnect with their African kin through DNA testing.

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How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry

Zoom in Gambia

Ethnicity summary of my most likely Gambian DNA match on Ancestry.com

Gambia Match

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A couple of months ago i found my very first mainland West African DNA cousin on Ancestry.com. Judging from his name and ethnicity preview he is a Mandinga from Gambia. I was exhilarated!  I had never been able to find a mainland West African match before. Even when i took my first DNA test with 23andme already in 2010! In other words I had to wait seven years for it! Inspite that i haven’t had any meaningful contact yet this genetic connection is still very valuable to me. As I am of Cape Verdean descent this finding seems very appropriate and in line with my primary Upper Guinean roots (see Top 20 Ethnic Roots for Cape Verdeans).

Many people seeking to trace back their African ancestors are very eager to be connected to a specific place and person within Africa. They hope to achieve this by finding a DNA match from the continent. But just like me they are having a hard time to do so. In the beginning this was mostly because only very few Africans were included in the customer databases of companies such as 23andme or Ancestry.com. 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. This increases the likelyhood of receiving African DNA matches. However many people still find it difficult and/or tedious to sort out their DNA matches. In this blog post i will therefore describe a method which enables a systematic, comprehensive and time saving detection of your “100% African” DNA matches on Ancestry.com.

If you continue reading you will find:

  • Some considerations on how to interpret your African DNA matches
  • A step by step tutorial on how to sort out your African DNA matches

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“Cameroon/Congo” = moreso Angola/Congo for Diasporans?

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for persons from Central Africa as well as Southern Africa. I will create a new section for West Africa shortly. Despite the minimal number of results i have collected sofar i also provide some statistical data, background information and relevant context.

Follow this link to view the page:

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AncestryDNA results from Cameroon & Congo contrasted with AncestryDNA results from across the Diaspora showing maximum scores of socalled “Cameroon/Congo”.

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In addition i also discuss the implications these results might have for Afro-Diasporans. Generally speaking when it comes to tracing back the main strains of regional African lineage for Afro-Diasporans in the Americas undoubtedly results from the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Angola will be most relevant, given historical plausibility and cultural retention. Although also Cameroon, Mozambique, Madagascar and directly surrounding countries, such as Zambia, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville and Malawi are not to be overlooked. As a general disclaimer of course in individual cases several ancestral scenarios might apply. And with corroborating evidence a Cameroonian or rather a Bight of Biafra connection might still be demonstrated to be valid for many persons. Even when based on the discussion below Congolese & Angolan ancestry seems much more likely on average.

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AncestryDNA results from East & North Africa

I have created a new page featuring the AncestryDNA results for persons from East Africa as well as North Africa. I will create new sections for West Africa and also Central/Southern Africa shortly. Despite the minimal number of results i have collected sofar i also provide some statistical data, background information and relevant context.

Follow this link to view the page:

***(click to enlarge

compilnea

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45 Haitian AncestryDNA Results

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.

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ht-dna

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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)

ht-stats

 

***Chart 2 (click to enlarge)

ht-admix-n45

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More charts and analysis when you continue reading!

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AncestryDNA Results Across the Diaspora

In 2013 AncestryDNA updated their Ethnicity Estimates to include a very detailed breakdown of West African ancestry (see this article). Soon afterwards I started collecting AncestryDNA results in an online spreadsheet in order to conduct a survey of the African regions being reported by AncestryDNA, among both African Americans as well as other Afro-descended nationalities. Attempting to establish how much the AncestryDNA results on an aggregated group level can already (despite limitations of sample size) be correlated with whatever is known about the documented regional African roots for each nationality.

Rumour has it that AncestryDNA will shortly start rolling out a new update of their Ethnicity Estimates. So it seems the time is right to finalize my survey. The sample size for most groups appears to be suffciently robust now to allow a meaningful intercomparison. In the AncestryDNA section of my blog (see the menubar) you can find a detailed summary of my survey findings based on 707 results for 7 nationalities:

Gathering all the results was a great learning experience. It has been a very satisfactory project! My survey report merely represents my personal attempt at identifying generalized, preliminary and indicative patterns on a group level inspite of individual variation. Everyone has a unique family tree of course first of all.

I would like to thank again all my survey participants for sharing their results with me. I am truly grateful for it!

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This frequency of regions being ranked #1 (regions with the highest amount in the African breakdown) is perhaps the best indicator of which distinct African lineages may have been preserved the most among my sample groups.”

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FREQ #1 regions

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Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors

familytree

Fair warning in advance: this whole post is just meant as an eloborate thought experiment. Let’s imagine that somehow for a fictional Afro-Diasporan we ARE able to trace back and identify the ethnic origins of ALL of his African born ancestors for the last 7 generations. How would that look like on paper?  And what does it imply for anyone in the real world who’s faced with a missing paper trail in most cases and usually in need of tons of luck and perseverance to even identify 1 single African ancestor? Lees verder