They are many, the ethnic Africans in the Diaspora who lost their family history to the slave trade. But now a DNA research company, African Ancestry, says it can help reconnect them with their origins.
Although it’s not possible to trace links to specific families, Gina Paige, president and co-founder of the Washington, DC-based company, says its success so far has transformed the way Africans and African Americans view themselves: “We do what we do because the community wanted to know where in Africa they are from. African Americans are the only group in America that cannot point to a country of origin. There [are] a variety of activities that people embark upon once they have determined their ancestry.”
She says the existing DNA connection has resulted in great personal fulfillment and that, in turn, has fostered learning, cross-cultural communication and investment: “There are people who have traveled to their countries of ancestry, started foundations, built schools, hospitals; people are learning the languages, [and] lobbying the US government on behalf of issues that affect countries that they share ancestry.”
Paige cites two African organizations that African Americans have been able join -- the Sierra Leone Society in Minnesota and the Mandingo Women’s Association of Philadelphia. “It’s a win-win for everybody because it increases the dialogue and gives a sense of connection that is very empowering and transformative,” Paige says.
Asked why some white people have also traced their origins to Africa, the African Ancestry executive attributes it to a history of mixed races and the dynamics of slavery. “We certainly have had people who have identified, lived their lives as white people, and then they may test a maternal lineage and find that that ancestry is indeed African, not European."
Those challenging the work of African Ancestry include Bert Ely, professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, and Family Tree DNA of Houston, Texas. A recent article in a British peer review journal reports a finding that suggests “few African Americans might be able to trace their lineages to a single ethnic group.”