Researching enslaved ancestors was the theme of last night’s “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.”
All three of the show’s guests—Ruth J. Simmons, president of Brown University; Condoleezza Rice, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and now on the faculty at Stanford University; and actor Samuel L. Jackson—grew up under segregation. Simmons’ parents were sharecroppers; as a child she picked cotton alongside her brothers and couldn’t attend school regularly until the family moved to Houston.
Condoleeza Rice was the only one of the three I knew much about, and I admire her for achieving such success despite living in a system designed to prevent her from believing that kind of achievement was possible.
All three also have family stories about white ancestors in their family tree, and identifying them was the focus of the episode.
The show showed some research in genealogical records, but concentrated on using genetic genealogy testing in confirming relationships. For each guest, a potential white cousin was tested.
In the case of Simmons, the test confirmed a relationship, and she and her brothers met the descendants of the man who owned the father of their great-grandmother Flossie.
Each guest—along with high school students participating in the Continuum Project—also took an admixture test, which evaluates percentages of African-American, European and Asian/American Indian heritage along either the Y-DNA line (for a man) or the mitochondrial DNA line (for a woman).
Some tests also can compare an African-American’s DNA to that of members of African tribes that were the source of the slave trade, estimating what tribe the person’s ancestors in that Y-DNA or mtDNA line came from.
You can watch the show online to see all the test results. Also check the Your Genetic Genealogist blog for a post with more details about the DNA testing in this episode.
My sense is that it’s not so much which African tribe a person might be from, but just being able to say that they’re from a particular tribe. I feel a certain pride and sense of belonging when I can tell people my ancestors came from Germany, Syria, England and Ireland, and that’s missing for people descended from slaves.
- How exactly can genetic genealogy testing help in your genealogy research? Discover the truth behind six common genetic genealogy misconceptions with our guide, a $4 digital download from Family Tree Shop.