DNA Testing for African Ancestry
African Americans as a group face a unique genealogical dilemma. Their identities are shaped by
having African ancestry, but due to the slavery of their ancestors, most do not know which African
tribes they descend from. DNA testing is now able to fill in the blank and tell African Americans their
particular genetic link to certain tribes and areas in Africa.
DNA Testing to Reveal Ancestry
Certain DNA tests can trace two of a person's many
lineages. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test traces a
genetic signature along the maternal line - the lineage of a
person's mother's mother's mother and so on. A Y
chromosome DNA test traces the paternal line - someone's father's father's father and so on.
While both men and women can have their mtDNA traced, only males can have their Y chromosome
tested. A woman wanting to know her paternal line must have a brother, father or paternal
grandfather or uncle tested.To test other lineages, say a paternal grandmother or maternal
grandfather, other relatives who carry those lines as their mtDNA or Y chromosome lineages must
be tested instead.
How DNA Results Reveals African Ancestry
An African American can learn which African countries he or she shares genetic ancestry with by
comparing mtDNA or Y chromosome signatures with samples from different African tribes. DNA
testing service African Ancestry is a popular company that offers this information. "We cannot
necessarily tell you the particular tribe with which you share genetic ancestry," writes AA on its
website. "However, we can tell you the present-day country of Africa with which your lineage shares
More DNA Testing for African Ancestry
Other DNA testing for genealogical research includes autosomal testing, which analyzes a person's
maternal and paternal DNA inheritance. DNAtribes uses this testing to compare a person's genetic
signature to populations and geographic areas where similar sequences are found. If a person's
genetic ancestry is dominated by European matches, they offer a DNAtribes African Panel to show
which weaker genetic links match certain African populations.
Caution and Limits of DNA Results for African Americans
Discovering strong genetic links to Europe is a possibility that African Americans must be prepared
for when filling out their family tree with DNA results. African Ancestry states on its website that
while 92% of mtDNA lineages they test prove to be African, only 65% of Y chromosome lineages
tested originate in Africa. "The remaining 35% of the lineages we test typically indicate European
ancestry," they write. The idea of white paternal ancestry, especially considering the possibility that
it was forced into the family tree, can be very upsetting.
Some caution, however, that a DNA result of white ancestry can be unnecessarily upsetting. "You
can be 31/32 black, but if that 32nd ancestor is white you could show up as white, too," said Terry
Melton, president of Mitotyping Technologies in a February 1, 2006 USA Today article. A person has
many lineages - one mtDNA and one Y chromosome test result gives some answers for the family
tree, but not all of them. Lineage and autosomal tests do not reveal percentages of ancestry, either.
The Benefits of DNA Testing for African
Despite the risks and lack of complete
information, there are many benefits to learning a
few of one's many African lineages. African
Ancestry advises on its website that many
participants share results with their families,
travel to their ancestral homelands and become
more involved with African communities.
"Nigerians tend to have a natural affinity toward my family and I. To find out definitively that my
ancestors are the Yoruba and Hausa people from Nigeria was awe-inspiring," writes Pastor Kenneth
Edward Copeland on African Ancestry's Testimonials page. "It felt like a missing piece of my family
puzzle was finally put into place."
Many African Americans also carry Native American ancestry. Find out how DNA testing can
confirm this by reading DNA Testing for Native Ancestry.