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?

***Map 1 (click to enlarge)

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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

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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Jamaican maternal lineages trace back mostly to Ghana?

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“In line with previous findings, the matriline of Jamaica is almost entirely of West African descent. Results from the admixture analyses suggest modern Jamaicans share a closer affinity with groups from the Gold Coast and Bight of Benin despite high mortality, low fecundity, and waning regional importation. The slaves from the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa were imported in great numbers; however, the results suggest a deficit in expected maternal contribution from those regions.” (Deason et al., 2012)

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Virgin Islands Roots (part 2)

Virgin Islanders (US) have multiple ethnic African origins across West & Central Africa just like other West Indians. And similarly they also have absorbed within their genepool many migrants coming from other surrounding Caribbean islands. Making for a complex mix to disentangle. However because of their rather unique colonization history involving the Danes – whose slave trading activities were centred mainly on their fortresses along the Gold Coast –Danish triangular slave tradeit might be that proportionally speaking the share of Ghanaian ancestry for Virgin Islanders could be among the highest within the Carribean or even the entire Americas. I will post some slave trade statistics that seem to be in support although they can only give an inherently limited perspective. Plus i will discuss the highly valuable testimony concerning the ethnic make up of Virgin Islanders written down by the Moravian missionary Oldendorp circa 1768. His report of originally 3000 pages (!) is among the earliest ethnographic descriptions of Caribbean slaves. Lees verder