ROOTS.NL (S1E3) – True Colours (Dutch Race Relations)

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Cover of Dutch Genealogy magazine in which Annemieke’s research was featured in 2015. The portrait is of a Dutch Countess with her African servant named Cocquamar Crenequie.

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“ The exhibition “From the Shadows, new light on African servants at Weesper notables,” opened at the Weesp Museum to a small crowd of townspeople on March 25, fittingly one day before the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It aims to confront Dutch people with the possibility that their history contains more nuances than they are probably aware of.” […]

Another prominent figure who appears in the exhibition is Christiaan van der Vegt, servant in the 18th century to Weesp mayor Abraham D’Arrest. What Christiaan’s African name was and how he ended up in the town is unknown, but he had married a girl from Weesp and they had ten children. “Imagine the surprise of (white) Dutch woman Annemieke van der Vegt when she in 2013 – 250 years later – unsuspectedly decided to research her past and came to find that she is a direct descendant of this African servant.” (Daily Herald Sint Maarten, april 4th 2017)

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In the previous parts of my blogseries about Annemieke van der Vegt and her search for her West African forefather (Christiaan van der Vegt, ca.1750-1825) I have already discussed the following topics:

In this third part i will attempt to shed more light on the following question: how does Christiaan’s life story fit in the currentday discussions on race relations within Dutch society? I will also include other known cases of African or Afro-descended persons living in the Netherlands before the 1900’s. Specifically i will deal with the hotly debated “Zwarte Piet” topic and the origins of this increasingly contested figure of Dutch folklore. Lastly i will describe the potential role DNA testing might play in uncovering the genetic legacy of the colonial past of the Netherlands. Not only for Dutch people but also across the Afro-Diaspora and even within Africa.

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ROOTS.NL (S1E2) – Searching for Gold

This is the second post in my blogseries about a Dutch woman (Annemieke van der Vegt) who is in an ongoing search for her West African forefather (named Christiaan van der Vegt after his baptization in 1777). In the first post i discussed how AncestryDNA can be very helpful when trying to trace African ancestry. It provided Annemieke with conclusive evidence of her African genetic inheritance. Furthermore i gave an overview of Annemiekes astonishing archival research findings sofar. Follow these links for more details:

Many fascinating details about Christiaan’s life have been uncovered by Annemieke already. The one thing she is still very eager to discover though is his original name given to him by his parents. And also his ethnic identity before getting caught up in the slave trade as a child and being forcibly relocated to the Netherlands. This blog post will therefore be centered around the question facing not only Annemieke but many Afro-descendants in the Diaspora: Is it possible to pinpoint a plausible ethnic origin for one’s African bloodline?

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Man from Ivory Coast (source) & map of Ghana showing locations of historical gold trading cities of Nsoko and Begho.

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ROOTS.NL (S1E1) – Dutch woman in search for 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 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.

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, Searching for Gold)
  3. How does Christiaan’s life story relate to the currentday discussions on race within Dutch society? (ROOTS.NL, part 3, True Colours) Lees verder

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

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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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Virgin Islands Roots

Already old news apparently but just came across this as i finished my series on Caribbean slave registers 🙂

Caribbean Slave Records on Ancestry.com

There’s also this wonderful website, Virgin Islands Roots, too bad i can’t seem to find any summarized findings on slave ethnicity for Virgin Islanders based on this data. If you read the article i linked to above they also mention how they were able to trace back the Senegalese ancestor for someone who now lives in the USA. It’s an amazing story of which i found a more detailed version via this source (page 7) :

VENUS JOHANNES – A WOMAN FROM SENEGAL ON ST. CROIX 

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Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors

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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