Over the past year I have really taken an active interest in studying genealogy and recording my family history. I’ve always been interested in this, even as a child. Now that companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com offer DNA tests, I’ve been able to find out information I’ve always wanted to know. All of my life I was asked “What are you?”. Although I wasn’t born to one black parent and one white parent (both of my parents have African and European blood), my experience was that of a biracial child. I remember telling people many times what they wanted to know and they would debate with me about my ancestry as if I was wrong. For one, they had a hard time believing that I didn’t have a 3rd ancestry, like Asian. As far as I knew my ancestors were all African and European decent, though we suspected there could be some Native American.
I remember many incidents that revolved around ethnicity. They were often sad and confusing.
My bus driver in 1st grade was an older black woman. She would always stare at me in the rear view mirror. One day my mom walked me up to the bus and said goodbye. She looked at my mom, then looked at me. When we pulled up to the school she said, “Ok kids, today we are going to get off the bus a little differently. We are going to do it like we did when I was your age, by race”. I could feel my little heart tense up. She then went on to dismiss the white kids first, then the Asian kids, and then the Mexican kids. I waited. She finally called the black kids last and I got up. She smiled at me as if she were satisfied. I don’t remember her really staring at me much after that, except for the occasional smile.
I was so embarrassed the time I spent the night at Amanda Miller’s party in 5th grade. She was popular and blonde and came from a wealthy Mormon family. All of us girls sat in the living room talking when Amanda said, “Yeah my parents said I just wasn’t allowed to invite any black girls.” I hesitated because based on history I knew how this would play out. “Well, I’m black Amanda.” After several gasps, Amanda responded, “Well you know what I mean, you aren’t really black Lezlie.” She stopped hanging out with me though in the days to come.
There are more memories, like the time a white boy behind me on the bus as a freshman yelled out the window to a black boy, “NIGGEEEER”. I turned around and shot him the look of death. He looked confused and I had to tell him I was black. I reported him to the school and we had a mediation. During the mediation he said, “She isn’t even really black, why is she so upset?”
And there were the countless times I received hatred from black girls because of my appearance. That always broke my heart because I wanted nothing more than to be accepted as a black girl. Once I was walking down the hallway at school and a black girl tried to cut all of my hair off out of jealousy as she called me a “yellow bi***. I did nothing to this girl previously aside from try to be friendly.
There were times where I felt if one parent was one thing and one was the other it would have been a little easier, but since they were both a mix who identified as black I felt odd. Could I self-identify as mixed? God knows that was and continues to be my life experience. I had a feeling based on what I knew about my family history that I was close to being half and half anyway but a little more black than white. My recent DNA results proved my suspicions to be correct with basically a 60/40 split (African 57%, European 42%, Asian 1%).
Well, enough of that. Here are some of my findings on my actual genetic breakdown ;-).
My maternal haplogroup is H6a1 and according to an Oxford Journal study on the haplohroup H, my particular branch is Caucasus/Ossetians. You will see later in my breakdown that I have 2% Caucasus DNA that still shows in my blood. I find that pretty amazing since the connection goes back so far. I wasn’t sure who Ossetians were but after a little research I discovered that they are are an Iranian ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains. So not only was I able to discover the Caucasus root, but I know which specific people group within Caucasian I belong to. I’ve been able to connect several dots like this through months of analyzing my DNA through various programs. For instance, I ran my DNA through a program on GEDmatch.com and it showed that I had traces of “Indo-Iranian”. I thought that was strange (only because I had no previous knowledge of that ancestry). But this Ossetian discovery just confirms that finding is accurate.
Here is a lovely traditional Ossetian dance.
Great Britain – 35% (England)
If we are friends you know how much I adore England. I love my English tea and I love my English TV. Since my nana was born and raised in England, it has always been very special to me. I definitely knew I had British ancestry but I was surprised that it was my largest single %. The European blood on my father’s side must include some British as well.
I’ve been piecing together my family tree on Ancestry.com and the English ancestors that I am aware of so far have taken be on a journey all the way back to 1550.
The people of the Great Britain region have been witness to sweeping political changes and amazing technological progress through the centuries, from the Glorious Revolution to the Industrial Revolution. But despite their penchant for reform and progress, they have always found a way to preserve the past. From royal families to prime ministers, ancient languages to international diversity, from venerable cathedrals to glass skyscrapers, their culture is a fascinating blend of old and new. – Ancestry.com
Ivory Coast/Ghana – 24%
I don’t have any known relatives from this region so I can only assume that this connection is through my ancestors who were slaves. Slaves were commonly taken from the Ivory Coast to the Americas. They are such beautiful people, aren’t they?
Early French and Portuguese explorers identified sections of the West African coast by the area’s resources, which is how Côte d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, got its name. Neighboring Ghana was known as the Gold Coast until it won independence from colonial rule in 1957 and renamed itself after a medieval West African empire. Today, more than 46 million people live in the two countries, which depend less on gold and ivory than they do chocolate: Ivory Coast and Ghana produce more than half of the world’s cocoa. – Ancestry.com
Cameroon/Congo – 22%
One of my DNA relative matches that appeared on my list was a man from Cameroon. I knew he had to be a relative through my great grandfather who was African and from this area. So I sent him a message and he has helped me as much as he can. We don’t know which relative we connect through yet but he was able to tell me that the people group that we come from in Cameroon are the Bamilekes. I was so excited to discover this because now I at least know one group I come from in Africa.
Also I have had some Middle Eastern appear in my results when I ran my DNA through a program on GEDmatch.com. Considering the Bamilekes originated from Egypt I think this is an additional dot I can connect.
The Cameroon-Bamileke Bantu people cluster encompasses multiple Bantu ethnic groups primarily found in Cameroon, the largest of which is the Bamileke. The Bamileke, whose origins trace to Egypt, migrated to what is now northern Cameroon between the 11th and 14th centuries. In the 17th century they migrated further south and west to avoid being forced to convert to Islam. Today, a majority of peoples within this people cluster are Christians. – People Groups
Nigeria – 5%
I was told that my great grandfather from Cameroon also had family from Nigeria so this made sense.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with more than 168 million people living in an area about twice the size of California. In fact, Nigeria has six cities with populations over 1 million (the United States has nine). From its tropical south to the arid north, Nigeria as a country is a concept and product of colonialism, bringing together more than 250 ethnic groups within fairly arbitrary borders. – Ancestry.com
Finland – 3%
This was very exciting and surprising to me because the only European that I was aware of was from Great Britain. Apparently Finnish blood is very unique and very easily recognized so if it appears on your results you can rest assure it’s a part of your family history. I noticed that I had two DNA relatives on my list from Finland named Jukka Häkkinen and Raija Faren. They were both 99% Finnish. So this is definitely a part of my ancestry. I hope to find the connection one day but I suspect it’s from the Taylor line on my father’s side.
Finland is one of the Nordic nations, straddling the Arctic Circle north of continental Europe. Although it shares long borders with the Scandinavian nations of Sweden and Norway, Finland stands apart in both language and ethnic identity. Politically controlled by its neighbors Sweden and Russia through much of its history, Finland today is a strong, independent nation with a unique, ancient heritage. – Ancestry.com
Benin/Togo – 3%
Woah, that’s all I can say about this one.
Pythons, preserved skulls and Voodoo ceremonies draw us from Ghana to Benin, the birthplace of Voodoo. These fetish origins of worship predate many religions by 10,000 years, and keep a link of ancestry alive in West Africa. – Go Nomad.com
Senegal – 3%
I’d love to visit Senegal one day :).
Africa’s westernmost nation, Senegal, lies about 1,000 miles above the equator and boasts miles of beaches along the Atlantic. It’s bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau and almost completely encircles the Gambia. The country’s current population is just about evenly divided between urban and rural dwellers, with more than 2 million Senegalese now living in and around the capital city of Dakar. Senegal is widely known for its music, including mbalax (“rhythm” in Wolof, the working language of Senegal) and dazzling sabar drumming. – Ancestry.com
Caucasus – 2%
The people group I come from in the Caucasus are the Ossetians and noted in the section above about my haplogroup, H6a1.
The Greater Caucasus Range, running northwest to southeast between the Black and Caspian Seas, is the traditional line of demarcation between the continents of Europe and Asia. It was here, according to Greek mythology, that Zeus bound Prometheus for giving fire to humans. Linguistically, culturally, and even ecologically diverse, the Caucasus area is home to more than 50 ethnic groups and is one of 34 “biodiversity hotspots” (areas with significant, threatened biodiversity) in the world. – Ancestry.com
South Asia – 1%
I believe that the South Asian blood I have is Indian because it has appeared on other tests I’ve taken. I have no idea who carries this in my family at this point in my research but I hope to connect this dot one day. I have always loved India.
The Asia South region includes the modern-day nations of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan and is home to approximately 20% of the world’s population. The mighty mountain ranges of the Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Karakoram were formed here around 75 million years ago when the floating Indian tectonic plate smashed into southern Asia, giving birth to the world’s tallest mountains peaks. These include Mount Everest, known to the Nepalese as “Sagarmatha.” – Ancestry.com
Ireland – 1%
I was surprised that Ireland only showed 1%. My great grandmother was half Irish and half English. I only recently discovered the Irish connection and was so happy about it. As long as I can remember I have been intrigued by Ireland and its culture. I’ve always wanted to visit and I never knew why. I used to go around singing Celtic songs and dancing Irish jigs as kid. And I always wanted dolls with red hair.
The Irish ancestors that I’m aware of through my family tree research are the following:
Emily Brown O’Brien (g-g-grandmother), William Brown O’Brien (g-g-g grandfather), Maria Brown O’Brien (g-g-g- grandmother), Gulielmus O’Brien (g-g-g-g-grandfather), Maria O’Neil (g-g-g-g-grandmother). I’ve been able to connect with the O’Brien clan online and they sent me a membership certificate with my name and the O’Brien crest.
Called the Emerald Isle for its rolling green hills, Ireland is the second largest island in the British Isles, just off the west coast of Britain. Along with Wales, Scotland and a handful of other isolated communities in the area, it is a last holdout of the ancient Celtic languages that were once spoken throughout much of western Europe. Though closely tied to England, both geographically and historically, the Irish have fiercely maintained their unique character through the centuries. – Ancestry.com
This is pretty cool, though I am clueless about the connection in my family.
Located in the south of Europe, against the Mediterranean Sea, this region gave rise to some of the most iconic and powerful cultures the Western world has known. The Greeks were first, with their pantheon of gods, legendary heroes, philosophers and artists. They subsequently influenced the Romans, whose vast empire spread its ideas and language across Europe. – Ancestry.com
I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 in my series on identity. This is something very dear to me and I’m excited that God is taking me on a detailed journey through it (finally). As I’ve discovered more about my physical identity, I’ve come to understand more about my spiritual identity in Christ too. It’s funny how that works.
Have you searched for more information on your family or identity? What was it like for you?