The mystery of Henry West (1608-1647)

Genealogy requires rather a substantial amount of critical thinking and deductive reasoning. This is especially true the further back in time you go…when the paper trail becomes sparse. I’m going through this right now with one ancestral cousin, the English immigrant Henry West who settled in the Virginia Colony. He would found an outpost settlement in what is the Richmond, Virginia area (The Origins of Richmondhttp://www.envisionthejames.org/detail/the-origins-of-richmond/evj79769abf7da845298)

He’s a double cousin. He an ancestor that is shared in my father’s Roane family line and my mother’s Matthews family line.

I have two distinct lines of Wests in my family tree. Henry “The Immigrant”‘s is one. The Barons de la Warr are another (the State of Delaware was named for this line). Contemporary records say that Henry was related to the Baronial line of Wests.  He is cited as being a nephew of Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr and the 2nd Governor of the Virginia Colony:

contemporary account of the death of Henry West

Account gathered from contemporary records. Taken from Plantation Homes of the James River by Bruce Roberts, Elizabeth Kedash https://books.google.com/books?id=6S515rAAEpgC&pg=PA6&dq=henry+west+killed+by+indians&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiC4P7G_7bMAhULHD4KHY1BC9gQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q&f=false Click for larger image

Nephew is a pretty cut and dried familial term. So you’d think that Henry’s relationship to either Thomas should be all done and dusted. Far from it.

Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr, 2nd Governor of Virginia.

Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr, 2nd Governor of Virginia.

Thomas West does have one known brother. However, records for that brother are extremely scare. So far, I have only found one son for this brother. His name isn’t Henry. So no nephew Henry’s to be found here. My hunch is that untangling his descendants will require a visit to the British National Archives in London.

On numerous online family trees, I’m finding stories that my Henry’s proper name was William. So it was back to the drawing board to search. It turns out that Thomas West did indeed have nephew named William West:

A few months short of a year after he arrived, [Thomas West, 2nd Baron] De La Warr left Virginia because of illness. A third of the colony’s population was dead, mostly from disease. Miners, brought to Virginia to search for gold, silver, and copper, had planned a mutiny and seen their ringleader hanged. The governor’s nephew, Captain William West, had been killed in battle [with the Powhatan tribe]. From http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/jamestown_settlement_early

This William West, however, was born earlier than Henry “The Immigrant” West – and died much earlier.

So this William isn’t a match either.

It’s the usual genealogy blunder.  Just because two men from the same family died in battles with Native Americans does not make them one in the same person.

So it was back to the drawing board yet again. I’ve had to go back to the first West who was created Baron de la Warr and sketch out his descendants. There are Henry Wests to be sure…none are even close to being a match for my cousin, Henry “The Immigrant” West. They are either born too soon, too late or never travelled from England to the American colonies.

At the moment, I’ve ruled out all of the possibilities for identifying who Henry “The Immigrant” West actually is. That’s not a bad thing. While I know who he isn’t…I know enough about to him to eventually identify who he is in terms of his relationship to the overall West family. If he’s a relation at all. It just requires more research and hunting.

What is interesting is that Henry “The Immigrant” West had land along the James River, near to properties owned by Thomas and Francis West. Henry is also associated with Jamestown, Thomas and Francis West’s base of operations in the Virginia Colony, upon his arrival in the Virginia Colony. Which leads to me to believe that the strongest possibility is that Henry was a cousin to Thomas, rather than a nephew.

Critical thinking and deductive reasoning suggests:

  1. The original account for Henry “The Immigrant” is incorrect. This would mean that somehow, somewhere back in time, Henry “The Immigrant” West was confused with Henry West, son of Thomas West.
  2. My Henry may not be a relation to the Baronial line of Wests at all. He may simply be from an unrelated West family.
  3. My Henry may share a much older common ancestry with the Baronial line of Wests in England; making him a cousin.
  4. A contemporary may have heard the name West and simply assumed he was a relation to Thomas West.
  5. Henry may be his middle name, which he preferred using. Meaning his first name is unknown.
  6. Whatever colonial records that could shed light on Henry’s relationship to Thomas West have either been lost or destroyed in the course of time, skirmishes (e.g. Bacon’s Rebellion) or various wars.

The search for Henry continues…

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, Matthews/Mathis family, Roane family, virginia

Calling Edgefield, South Carolina-descended families for one of the biggest American Family reunions

CallingAllBranchesHeader
The 2nd to 4th of September 2016 (Friday to Sunday) will see descendants from over 120 family branches from one family tree gather in Washington DC for a historic genealogy event.

Each branch of this tree represents a different family surname with deep roots in Old Ninety-Six / Edgefield County, South Carolina. 

The ‘Calling All Branches’ family gathering will see kinsmen and women gather in the same place for the first time since the early 1800s.

This multi-ethnic and multi-racial family reunion also promises to be the largest family gathering in the Metro Washington DC area’s history.

The story of our family is the story of America in microcosm. There will be plenty of family stories and history to share!

Below is a working list of surnames from the extended family:

Adams
Abney
Alexander
Allen
Anderson
Andrews
Berry
Bettis
Blalock / Blaylock
Bland
Blocker
Bonham
Borum
Bosket
Bottom(s)
Bowles
Brooks
Brunson
Bugg/Buggs
Briggs
Burris
Burton
Bush
Butler
Carley/Corley
Calhoun
Chappelle
Collier
Collins
Coleman
Cooke/Cook
Cummings
Dansby
Davis
Demery/Dimery
Deveaux
Devore/DeVore/Devoe
Dobey
Donaldson
Dorn
Dozier
Etheridge/Etheredge
Fair
Freeman
Garrett
Gaskins
Gibson
Gilchrist
Glover
Gomillion
Gray/Grey
Griffin
Hammond
Harlan/Harling
Harris
Harrison
Hightower/Hytower/Hightour
Higgins
Hill
Hobbs
Holloway
Holmes
Jackson
Jennings
Jeter
Jones
Kemp
Key
Laborde
Lagroon
Lake
Lanham
Little
Martin
Mat(t)hews/Mathis/Mathes/Mattis
Mays/Mayes
McCollum
McKie
Medlock
Merriweather
Miles
Moss
Oliphant
Ouzts
Palmore
Parker
Peterson
Phillips
Pinckney/Pinkney
Portee
Powell
Price
Quarles
Payne
Reed /Reid/ Ready
Richardson
Robinson
Ryan/Ryans
Sheppard
Scurry
Senior
Settles
Sharpton
Sheffey
Shibley/Shivers
Simkins/Simpkins
Smith
Stephens/Stevens
Sullivan
Swearingen/Swingarn
Talbert/Tolbert
Timmerman
Thurmond
Truesdale
Turner
Walker
Wallace
Ware
Washington
Watson
Weaver/Wever
West
White
Williams
Wise
Wrights
Yeldell
Young

It will be a weekend of fun, family, excursions, and yes, food!

For more information, please visit the reunion website:
http://callingallbranches.wix.com/ourrootsrundeep#!welcome/mainPage

Calling All Branches on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/849084695209183

There’s an early bird event registration discount, which ends on 1st May 2016. 

I hope to see you there!!

 

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Filed under ancestry, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, Matthews/Mathis family, South Carolina

How to Compare Unrelated People on AncestryDNA

This article from the DNA Genealogy blog absolutely rocks!!

I’ve tried this exercise out, taking it for a thorough spin…and it really does work.

The good peeps over at DNA Genealogy walk you through the process step by step. Please surf on over to http://www.geneticgenealogist.net/2016/04/how-to-compare-unrelated-people-on.html?m=1 to learn how to do it.

new2bancestor2bdiscoveries1

Sample AncestryDNA landing page screen grab

 

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Genetic Genealogy: Parental Phasing Explained

The wonderful DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy blog has been posting a series of excellent articles on the topic of genetic genealogy. The one I’m featuring here is on the topic of Parental Phasing using your DNA test results. While it requires plenty of concentration and more than a few steps..it’s an excellent way of working with your DNA test results.

Parental phasing works by comparing your DNA against your matches’ DNA, then comparing your matches’ DNA against your parents’ DNA, and telling you which, if either, or both, parents they match in addition to you.

Oh yes, and there’s one more tiny tidbit – they must match you and your parent(s) on the same segment(s).

denny-me-child

The image above is an example of a Matches Spreadsheet.  Matches are color coded to better see the match comparison relationships. If Denny (a DNA match) matches both me and my child, you will see a common segment on that chromosome for both me and my child in the spreadsheet. Rows where Denny matches my child are light orange and rows where Denny matches me are light blue, similar to the chromosome browser colors.

For the full article, please surf on over to:
https://dna-explained.com/2016/04/06/concepts-parental-phasing

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My 18th Century Virginia Ball family genealogy challenge

imaging showing Left to Right: Mary (Ball) Washington (My 1st cousin and George Washington's mother), Martha (Dandridge) Custis Washington (First Lady), Colonel Robert "King" Carter (acting Governor of Virginia), and Thomas Lee (Governor of Virginia)

A tiny fraction of some of my ancestors from the extended Ball family tree. Left to Right: Mary (Ball) Washington (My 1st cousin and George Washington’s mother), Martha (Dandridge) Custis Washington (First Lady & 3rd cousin), Colonel Robert “King” Carter (acting Governor of Virginia & 2nd cousin), and Thomas Lee (Governor of Virginia & 2nd cousin)

The time has come for me to grapple with my 18th Century Virginia Ball family ancestors. If that makes me sound more than little reluctant…it’s because I am. The genealogy for this family  online is a mess. A hot mess. It’s worse than the genealogy for my Roane family ancestors – and that’s saying something. I had to delete my first Roane family tree in its entirety and start from ground zero.

I have put this off for years. Literally. I’ve put it off because the very idea of tackling this family’s ancestral history and descendants is the stuff of genealogy nightmares.

It’s a good thing I love a challenge.

There are a few reasons why now is the right time for me to tackle this part of my family tree.

To begin, the Ball family is what I refer to as a ‘linking family’. Part of the Premier League of colonial Virginian families, the Balls were a part of the Who’s Who of 17th and 18th Century Virginia. Almost a century’s worth of labyrinthine marriages connects the Balls to families like Byrd, Carter, Chinn, Churchill, Custis, Edwards, Fox, Lewis, Lee, Mottram, Parke, Payne, Roane, Shackelford, Spencer, Stewart, Sa(u)nders, Washington, etc. Understanding how the Balls are related to each enables me to understand how I am connected to all of these families.

There’s a practical reason for the research. And it has nothing to do with famous or illustrious relations. On the one hand, this is my family and, like any genealogist, it’s about having an accurate family tree. On the other hand, these families were the largest slave holders in Virginia. More than a few of the men from these families sired children with their slaves. Which explains why I have so many DNA cousins, both black and white, who are connected to these families. For instance, I have a dozen or so African American Custis DNA matches on AncestryDNA, Gedmatch and FamilyTree DNA. That’s on top of the two dozen or so white DNA Custis cousin matches on the same DNA services.

The connection lies somewhere within this side of my family tree.

There are a few reasons why this will be a daunting task:

Common family names

I understand where people have gone wrong in researching this family – and how these mistakes have become ancestral ‘fact’. When you have around 8 William Balls, all born within a few years of each other, confusion and mistakes are bound to arise. And when all of these Williams have the rank of either Captain or Colonel – something that should make it easier to distinguish between them – this too doesn’t shed any light on which Colonel or Captain William Ball you’re looking at in the course of doing some family research. Middle names go some ways towards distinguishing one from the other. However, in many of the cases I’ve seen thus far, middle names aren’t known.

Ultimately, Last Wills and Testaments have been excellent source material for working out family group relationships. Other researchers might insist that so-and-so was a son or daughter of a Ball family ancestor I’m researching. If that name isn’t cited in a parent’s Will, I won’t include it in my family tree. It’s a hard and fast rule that is serving me well.

My caveat to this are DNA tests. I’ve worked with a handful of black and white DNA cousins from this side of the family. We’ve shared DNA test results and worked together to pinpoint the ancestors we share in common. We’ve developed a habit of making a note on the applicable ancestor’s online profile about DNA test verification.

Multiple marriages

Life spans were short for many back in the 17th and 18th Century. People married more than once. And women tended to have children with each man she married. So there is a slew of half siblings and half-relations generation after generation, each marrying into the same families within the same social strata. It’s endogamy on steroids.

This skews my estimated cousin ranges (whether someone is a third, fourth,or fifth cousin, etc) on DNA testing services.

Multiple marriages and maiden names

Multiple marriages can be an absolute nightmare when viewed through the genealogy lens. Especially when it comes to trying to determine the maiden name for a woman who has married two, three – and sometimes four – times. In too many family trees, a woman’s married name is used in lieu of her maiden name.

Take a name like Dorothea Spotswood Custis Parke Lee (I’m making this name up to illustrate a point). It looks harmless and straightforward enough. It isn’t. A seasoned genealogist has all sorts of questions when looking at a name like this.

  1. This could be her full name. She could be a Lee by birth, with her family throwing in paternal and maternal family surnames for her middle names. It was a common naming practice back in the day.
  2. She could be Dorothea Spotswood, with subsequent marriages to a Custis, then a Parke, and finally, to a Lee.
  3. She could be Dorothea Spotswood Custis, married to a Parke, and then to a Lee.
  4. She could also be Dorothea Spostwood Custis Parke, married to a Lee.

You get the idea. Correct maiden names matter. Because, and I can assure you on this, there will be women who had any of the names given in the 4 examples above. Only one of them will be correct in terms of an ancestor you’re researching.

It can really make you feel a bit like…

Not using a correct maiden name causes all manner of confusion that can take days, weeks or months to figure out.  In my worst case scenario, it took me a little over a year to finally prove that a woman listed as Frances Roane, seemingly married to a cousin, William Roane, wasn’t born Frances Roane. William Roane was her second marriage. Born Frances Upshur, she first married William’s cousin, Robert Roane. Hence the name ‘Frances Roane’ on her marriage certificate to William.

That year-long research was entirely avoidable…if only the trees she appeared on had used her correct maiden name. Maiden names aren’t easy to find. My golden rule of thumb is this: if I’m not 100% certain about a maiden name, I leave it blank. I’ll make a public note to cover the name used on a marriage certificate and continue to search for her family origins.

One clue is the age a women was when she married. In the 18th Century, it wasn’t uncommon for a 15 or 16 year old girl to marry. Nor was it uncommon for her to have first child at 16, 17 or 18. So if I see a marriage certificate with a woman in her 20’s (or older), I treat it as a second marriage until otherwise verified. In other words, I don’t use the surname listed on the marriage certificate until I am 100% certain that this was indeed a first marriage.

Family size

The Ball family, including all of its allied families, is enormous. I had this notion that the elite families of the time had small-ish families. Perhaps 4 or 5 children. Not this lot. With or without multiple marriages, I’ve seeing families with 9, 10 and, in some cases, 11 children. Most of the children survived until adulthood, married and, of course, had plenty of children of their own. And, of course, they married into the same pool of families. The word ‘labyrinthine’ is apt.

Just like other parts of my family tree where endogamy was prevalent, the extended Ball family is giving Ancestry.com heart palpitations. Ancestry’s family tree view doesn’t seem to cope very well with generation after generation of cousins marrying within an extensive extended family. Ancestry’s ‘relationship to me’ feature doesn’t cope very well either.

For instance, I can have an Ann Adams, a 1st cousin 9x removed, marrying a Robert Cheatham, who is also a 1st cousin 9x removed. Yet, Ann might be displayed as ‘wife of 1st cousin 9x removed. Or Robert might be displayed as ‘husband of 1st cousin 9x removed’. In any case, one or the other of them will lose their ‘cousin’ status and become  just a spouse of a cousin. Which, of course, has a knock on effect for my AncestryDNA matches. If Ancestry sees this person as just a spouse of a relation – and not as a relation of mine in his/her own right – that knocks out their entire ancestral line from DNA matching hint results. Frustrating isn’t the word. This is happening throughout my tree.

In the meantime, I have an action plan. I made the decision to ignore pubic family trees entirely. I also won’t be consulting Family Collection Records (this too are filled with mistakes). I will limit myself to original records only…basically creating a Ball family tree from scratch.

As part of this process, there will be a few trips to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), where I’ll be working with specialist family historians. This will primarily be to work on the more difficult branches of the Ball family, those with scant records or information.

The research will be worth the effort. An accurate family tree for the family in Virginia will better enable me to match descendants from the wider family to the correct branch on the family tree. Which, in turn, will enable me to better understand a bevvy of DNA matches.

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, virginia

Mapping my YDNA flow in Africa

I’ve spent the past week and a bit looking more closely at the YDNA I inherited from my father’s male line. It’s like returning to the original genealogical records you use in your research. You come back to them with more knowledge, a more seasoned eye and a better understanding of what you are looking at…and can usually pick up something new.

So, as I learn more about genetic inheritance and develop more finessed  genetic genealogy working practices, I keep returning to my Genebase YDNA and mtDNA results. What I have learn along the way has enabled me to make better sense of my test results. It has also enabled me to make better informed, educated, theories (yes, that is a rather nice way of saying I’m guessing…even if it is an educated guess). And, of course, I’m deeply appreciative of the patience instruction and advice I’ve been given by my genetic genealogy mates.

I’ve made no secret of my love for the Genebase testing service. It was the right DNA tool choice for what I wanted to accomplish. It has been worth every bit of the 4-figure sum I have spent sequencing  and analysing 90% of my YDNA and mtDNA sequence.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This isn’t a DNA testing service for everyone. There are no quick and easy pie charts that provide ethnic breakdown percentages. You have to work these out for yourself. Sometimes, with this service, you have to work hard in order to interpret the results this service provides. It’s part of what I really like about the service. When you’re forced to work with data of any kind, you have to understand what the data is, how it’s compiled, what it relates to…and ultimately what it means.

The image below gives you an idea of some of the information provided.

Rapanui

Image 1. Click for larger image

I’ll break the information contained in the image above:

This is a small fraction of the data returned by Genebase for my YDNA. The image shows results for a sliver of my YDA: Y-STR markers DYS19a, DYS389i, DYS389ii, DYS390, DYS391, DYS393. By themselves, Y-chromosomal DNA (Y-DNA) short tandem repeat (STR) markers from a Y-DNA test do not have any particular meaning. The value of testing YDNA STR markers comes from creating a YDNA signature (haplotype) with them and comparing that YDNA signature to others in a database. They are useful for genetic genealogy because your YDNA signature distinguishes your paternal lineage from others.

Like any other similar DNA testing service, Genebase compares markers to specific global populations. It groups these results by generational difference (the number of generations you’re likely to be distant from a genetic match). That’s a very over-simplified explanation.  Hopefully, you get the picture.

In the image above, you can see the populations associated with the YDNA STR markers I’ve cited. The report lists matches from a Generational Distance (GD) of 1 to 5.

For transparency, I’m providing a longer abridged list of matches. Trust me, there is a long, long list for these particular markers spread of 6 degrees of genetic distance. That’s a whole lot of cousin action going on:

A partial list of African genetic tribal matches with a GD of 1 and 2.

Image 2. A partial list of African genetic tribal matches with a Genetic Distance of 1, 2 and 3. Click for a larger image.

So back to Image 1 and what it represents:

I’ll get the most obvious one out of the way first – the Rappanui of Easter Island. No, I am not a direct descendant of these people. They are my genetic cousins. Some unknown male ancestor carried my father’s paternal YDNA from Africa (most probably eastern Africa) to Eastern Island. No one knows where the Easter Islander’s ancestors arrived from within the Pacific Region.  That is still hotly debated. However, scientists estimate that humans arrived in Eastern Island around 400CE (Pioneers of Eastern Island http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/pioneers-of-easter-island.html). Basically, these YDNA markers  that I carry left Africa en route to Easter Island an inconceivably long time ago.

easter island-3

“The middle of nowhere” pretty much sums up Easter Island’s location in the Pacific, marked by the “A” on this map. This beats my paternal grandmother’s mtDNA, which travelled from East Africa to the Aborigines of the Central Australian Desert.

What is pretty cool is the additional information that puts this result into context – something too few DNA testing services do. Genebase lets me know that there were 30 Rappanui tested. I match 2 of those 30 people at a GD of 1. These are my closet matches among the Rappanui. Scoot down to a GD of 2 and the number of Rappanui that share a genetic match with me for these Y-DNA markers jumps to 11 people from the 30 people tested.

Added to this information are research papers, scientific papers that cover the sample pool of DNA testers per region/county, etc. Sometimes, there is additional profile information about the the DNA tester – like which part of a country they resided in at the time they took the test.

For instance, here’s a study that came as part of my Rappanui results: 
Ghiani ME1, Moral P, Mitchell RJ, Hernández M, García-Moro C, Vona G. 2006.
Y-chromosome-Specific STR haplotype data on the Rapanui population (Easter Island)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17506287 

Here’s a study on the Omani Arab population:
Alshamali F, Pereira L, Budowle B, Poloni ES, Currat M. 2009. Local population structure in Arabian Peninsula revealed by Y-STR diversity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19339785?ordinalpos=4&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

I’d provide a link to one of the African tribes in my match list. There isn’t one.Not in the match results for these markers at any rate.

So…back to Africa.

You can see the African tribes that share the same YDNA markers with me. Like the Rappanui, the greater the GD, the more people I match. When you begin to understand the large scale movements of people across the globe over eons of time, you begin to build a picture of how your YDNA or mtDNA has also travelled around the globe.

Looking at my GD1 results for this set of markers, the information about my African results are the same as my Rappnui results. I have more dataset matches with every increase in Generation Distance. At a GD of 1, I only have a handful of matches. A GD of 2 trebled the number of matching tribes and ethnicities.

Not all of these matches will be direct ancestors. Most, like the Rappanui, will be genetic cousins. Others will be direct ancestors. Given the number of times the Akele, the Puni and the Omani appear in a number of my YDNA markers, my team and I are very confident that I’m directly descended from all 3.

The next step was to build a map to indicate how my YDNA spread through Africa. Again, I’ve only been looking at the African part of my YDNA in this exercise. It’s the part of my identity I know the least about. So it make sense. I have an excellent understanding on the European parts of my YDA. My Near Asian, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Southern Asian and Chinese results simply defy understanding. They are anybody’s guess at this point. From a personal as well as time and productivity standpoint, it makes sense to focus on the African parts of my YDNA at this point.

A working hypothesis on how my YDNA travelled through Africa

afr_asia_pol2

Let’s start with the blue region on the right hand side of the map. This is the origins of, well, me, in terms of my YDA. It all begins in the Horn of Africa. Like every other human being. At some point in the dim past, my YDNA left Africa and arrived in Yemen and Oman. Now you’d think that it would be found in the Arab populations in both places. Nope. Not a bit of it. In modern day Yemen, it’s only found in the Yemini Jewish population (so far). It’s found within the Arab population of Oman.

At a further point in time, that YDNA returned to Africa. The team is presuming it returned to the eastern part of Africa before heading north to Egypt and then across northern Africa (the pink region on the map). This journey is represented by the arrow marked “1”.

We think my YDNA travelled southeast – shown by arrow 2 – around the time as the same YDNA began making its journey northwards  (arrow 1). This southern journey seems to have stopped in Zambia. At the moment, I have no DNA matches with any of the data sets associated with countries to the south of Zambia on Genebase. Again, this is at the moment of writing this post.

My markers are indicating that something pretty interesting happened after the journeys shown by arrows 1 and 2. My YDNA flowed from northern Africa southwards into the African interior, terminating in Gabon and Zambia (the green and yellow arrows marked by ‘3’). The tribes I match indicate the route this journey took. These tribal cousins can be found in modern day Guinea-Bissau, Burkina-Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The 4th arrow shows a small journey from Gabon to Angola, home to more genetic cousins (at a GD of 3).

This seems to be as far south as my YDA has travelled within Africa. As science tests and studies the DNA from more African tribes, perhaps a fuller picture will emerge.

For now?  I’m getting a pretty good grounding of the overall picture of my African DNA…and the tribes and cultures it connects me to on that continent.

This is the value of this genetic testing service for me, personally.  I know how much of my DNA sequences have been tested. I have  crucial additional and contextual information about the data sets this service uses and population pool information. I know how many of these testers I match – and the degree of genetic difference between our matches – for all of the markers in the 90% of my genome that I’ve had tested. In some instances, I have general information about their geo-locations.  For what I aim to do, this is all invaluable information. And worth every penny.

The more commercial DNA testing services I’ve used don’t provide this level of information. I have no idea how much of my genome any of the big 3 testers have sequenced. Nor do I know the size of the dataset pools they have used to provide information about indigenous people tested (this is what gives you your ethnicity percentages). Nor do I have any idea how many people I match within those different indigenous data set pools to contextualize the percentages they give.

To be 100% fair, the big 3 commercial DNA testing companies are very upfront about what they do and do not provide when it comes to this level of information. I also don’t mind because I didn’t test with these services to receive this level of information. I used them to do deep work on my family tree via DNA matches on these services. I also use these testing services to meet and work with newly discovered cousins. So they have more than fulfilled their purpose. They too have been worth every penny…just for a very different reason.

It’s worth remembering that DNA testing services are tools. No one tool can do everything. Some are more suitable for certain jobs than others. I’m just grateful that each of them – each in its own way –  has given me more than my money’s worth.

 

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Race & Diversity

Me and the #MyColorfulGenealogy meme

Anyone with a nodding acquaintance with genealogy is probably aware of the meme sweeping social media: the #MyColorfulGeneaolgy family chart that looks like this:

facebook_1459507480653

It’s a pretty nifty way of displaying your ancestors’ places of birth.

I played around with this, using a template pretty similar to the one above. However, I wanted to go one step further. I know, what a surprise! However, almost all of my ancestors have been in the United States from more than the 5 generation template that has been widely circulated. I can also trace my ancestry back much further than 5 or 6 generations on some of my ancestral lines.

Last, but not least, while I wanted to do something fun…I also wanted a working document. Something that I could print and put on the wall to refer to, inspire and/or goad me.

So I came up with the chart below:

8 Generation colourful genealogy image

8 Generation colourful genealogy image for my direct ancestors. Male lines are on the left for each generation. Female lines are to the right. Click for larger image

My main addition to the standard meme is including county names. I’ve found it interesting – and helpful! – to see how my direct ancestors moved around within the state where they were born. It’s as meaningful to me as seeing how they moved from one state to another. The flip side is seeing just how long some of my ancestors stayed in the same place.

A few things leapt out at me when I finished.  Edgefield County in South Carolina, and Northampton County in North Carolina, are deeply rooted in my mum’s family. Her family lived in both counties for generations. They also had a habit of marrying cousins for a long stretch of time in the counties where they lived. This habit of marrying cousins, or marrying only within a specific community, is referred to as endogamy. There’s quite a bit of endogamy on my mum’s side of the family tree – on both the white and black sides of her family tree. It’s part and parcel of why I’m related to pretty much anyone with roots in either Northampton County or Edgefield County.

On my Dad’s side? Well, he’s pure Old Dominion. His ancestors were in Virginia pretty much from Day 1.  There is a fairly even split in the parts of Virginia associated with his parents. His father’s ancestors can be found in southwestern Virginia. His mother’s ancestors are linked more with north, central and the Tidewater regions of Virginia.

If you look at both sides of my family tree, there are three stark differences. 

  1. The first is the amount of grey on each side of my tree. The colour grey indicates information that’s unknown. On my mum’s side of the family, I am blessed with working with a multitude of cousins who are all active in piecing together the broken branches of our family tree. Information is readily exchanged/shared. I can’t begin to tell you the difference this information sharing means to family researchers. Well, I actually don’t have to tell you.  Just look at the image above. There is far less grey on my maternal line. The big exception to this is with my mum’s father. While I know bits and pieces about his father – via DNA testing – I don’t know his name. His entire lineage is a huge blank.

    I simply don’t have many genealogy-enthusiastic cousins on my dad’s side of the family. The number of cousins who have taken DNA tests on his side of the family are few and far in-between. It really does make all the difference. 

  2. The second thing to note is the difference between what’s known about my European-descended ancestry and what’s known about my African-descended ancestry.  The majority of those grey spaces are associated with unknown African-descended ancestors. Some were enslaved. Other’s were free. Both have their challenges when it comes to family research.

    All of those 8th generation ancestral places? Those are for my European ancestral lines.

  3. The third thing this image conveys is that men fare better than women in my tree. This is regardless of race. As soon as I hit the 1700’s, I start losing the trail for the European-descended women in my tree. Maiden names begin to disappear and the trail runs cold. Sure, there’s plenty of active speculation to read online. There are precious few facts. So these women remain ‘end of line’ ancestors – or brick walls.

Each on of those grey squares and rectangles represents a brick wall. I think the image above conveys just how effectively a genealogy brick wall blocks accessing to learning anything further about an ancestral line. It’s quite stark when you look at it like this.

And yes…those blocks of grey are like silent accusations. It’s like they’re saying “Come on Mr Smartypants, solve me already!”

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Can we really make assumptions about African American DNA admixtures?

I caught up  with some of the geneticist team who were going to be a part of my first proposed television series the other day. Skype truly is a wondrous thing!  We chatted about my YDNA Haplogroup, E1b1a1a1f1a. There’s something about this haplogroup in particular that has confused me.

To recap for those of you who are new to genetics and genetic genealogy, a haplogroup is a term scientists use to describe individual branches, or closely related groups of branches, on the genetic family tree for human beings. In theory, all members of a YDNA haplogroup (passed from fathers to sons) can trace their ancestry back to a single individual until we reach a theoretical genetic ‘Adam’, the father of every male on the planet. Women have a genetic ‘Eve’, the point of origin for human mtDNA (passed from mothers to daughters).

So, we had a chat about good ole E1b1a1a1f1a. In order to have an informed discussion, I gave them access to my Genebase account. Genebase is the DNA testing company I used to test the full sequence of my YDA. It’s worth noting that other, more commercial, DNA testing companies test only various parts of YDNA and mtDNA.  I needed full sequencing done as a basis for my TV series.

Let’s take a quick look at the information they needed which formed the basis of our discussion. To be 100% transparent, we stripped out all non-African DNA from the results. I only wanted to look at the African part of my YDNA, which was the bit that was causing me all kinds of confusion.

My YDNA sequencing:

Image of a partial snapshot of my YDNA sequencing results.

This is a partial snapshot of my YDNA sequencing results from Genebase, with various genetic mutations marked. Click for larger image

At this point, Tim, one of the geneticists (and he also happens to be an anthropologist) said that he saw something interesting – something he hadn’t noticed before when we were planning the TV series. But he wanted to wait a bit until he mentioned what it was. He wanted to see if the other two people on the Skype session would notice the same thing.

Before we went there, we looked at the cultures and tribes I’m genetically linked to via my YDNA.  You can see this in the two images below:

African tribes my YDNA links me to based on my DYS19a, DYS389i DYS389ii DYS390X DYS391 DYS393 YDNA markers

African tribes my YDNA links me to based on my DYS19a, DYS389i DYS389ii DYS390X DYS391 DYS393 YDNA markers. You can also see some of the tribes and cultures I’m genetically linked to at genetic distance of 2. Click for larger image

Image showing my DYS385a, DYS385, DYS392, DYS393, DYS456, GATAH4 marker results.

Image showing my DYS385a, DYS385, DYS392, DYS393, DYS456, GATAH4 marker results. Click for larger image

You’ll notice a neat little phrase in the the images above. It’s Genetic Difference. “Genetic distance” is the number of mutation “steps” or mismatches between any two individuals.  “0” is a perfect match, “1” is a one-step mutation, etc.  The more mutations, the longer the probable time period since the most recent common ancestor.

So, based on the last two images above, I am closely matched with the Akele and the Punu in Gabon as well as the people of Oman. I’m also closely matched with Egyptians. The second image is unusual in that it (currently) connects me to Egyptians and no other culture or tribe.

Let’s look at where the Akele and Punu are found in modern Gabon:

Ethnographic map of modern Gabon. Bakele=Akele and Bapouno+Punu

Ethnographic map of modern Gabon. Bakele=Akele and Bapouno+Punu. Click for larger image

The Punu (also referred to as Bapunu and Bapounou, are a Bantu speaking group from Central Africa.  It’s one of the four major peoples of Gabon, inhabiting interior mountain and grassland areas in the southwest of the country, around the upper N’Gounié and Nyanga Rivers. Bapunu also live in parts of the Republic of the Congo. Punu traditions record a migration from the south sometime before the 19th century, as a result of wars somewhere between the Congo and Niari River.

The Kele people (also referred to as Akele, Bakele, Dikele, and Western Kele) are also an ethnic group in Gabon.

Realization #1

Now the 3 chaps I was chatting with took one look at my Haplogroup and responded along the lines of “ok. African Haplogroup. It get’s lots of traction in Central Africa, particularly in and around the Congo region.”

That’s when I asked them to look at the people I’m linked to (Akele, Punu, Omani and Egyptian).

This is the point when Charlie and Rob chimed in, almost in unison. “Whoa, wait a minute, E1b1a1a1f1a is really rare in Gabon. This doesn’t make any sense”. I laughed at this point and welcomed them to my world of confusion.

It turns out that E1b1a1a1f1a is rife with confusion (oh lucky me!). This Haplogroup is a fairly recent classification. As more human populations undergo DNA testing, the more we understand about YDNA, mtDNA and the haplogroups they have been assigned. Which is a good thing. It’s worth remembering that Genetic genealogy and commercial DNA testing are still in their relative infancy. Further research and testing means a more refined understanding of genetic inheritance. It means a more finessed understanding of us – human beings. What’s known and understood now will undergo refinement down the road. We’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding the human evolutionary history. There is so much more yet to be uncovered, much less understood. It’s worth remembering that too.

I say this to highlight the point that there is only a basic understanding of the E1b1a1a1f1a haplogroup. E1b1a1a1f1a is linked to western Central Africa. It is rarely found in the most western portions of West Africa. It is, however, prevalent in Nigeria and parts of Gabon (The Bantu expansion revisited a new analysis of Y chromosome variation in Central Western Africa. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1365-294X.2011.05130.x). It’s also closely linked to eastern and southeastern Africa (Eritrea, Somalia, etc), where one group of geneticists believe it originated. There is another genetic school of thought that states that E1b1a1a1f1a’s origins are Levantine (basically, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt).

If the scientists can’t agree, what’s a poor genetic genealogy adventurer to do?

So this is where Tim chimed in. He’s the one who noticed something unusual in my YDNA sequence:  “Anyone else notice the DYS391P mutation?”

outline1

My partial YDNA sequence with the specific mutation the geneticists were discussing.

The other two men’s reactions were priceless. Charlie: “What, what?, back up a minute”.  Rob: “Yeah, we need to back up for a sec. How did that happen?”

At this point I laughed and just said “You tell me, you’re the scientists”.

Direct ancestors & genetic cousins

africa_asia.eps

A map of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The blue areas are the ones I cite in this post. The pink areas are also in other parts of my YDNA sequencing at a genetic distance of 1. As you’ll see, Gabon is notable by its geographic distance from everywhere else I have a genetic link to at a genetic distance of 1…which raises the fundamental question: How did that happen? Click for a larger image.

Rob and Tim got into an interesting conversation about my haplogroup and the very specific mutation within it. Both made a good point. I’m genetically connected to a staggering number of African tribes. Rob and Tim pointed out that I will be a direct descendant of only a few. All of the others would be genetic cousins. At a mutational difference of 1, the Akele, the Punu, and the Omani are the best candidates for being my direct ancestors. The Egyptians are too. They are just an older direct ancestor pool. At the moment, we’re speculating that all of the other tribes and cultures with a genetic distance greater than 1 would be genetic cousins. In other worlds, I’m not a direct descendant of them. We share a common ancestry further back in time. That time frame could be a few generations (prior to my unknown ancestor’s enslavement and transportation to the United States) for some, to centuries for others…to millennia.

All 3 surmise that at some point within the last 1,500 years or so, an east African man, with Arab male ancestors, carried my YDNA, with a key mutation, into north Africa and northwest Africa. This tallies with the other cultures and tribes in my YDNA, namely the Berber and the Tuareg. At some point, one of his male descendants, a Berber-Tuareg man with this haplogroup and DNA, settled in what’s now present day Gabon.

That’s not surprising. Africa has truly ancient trade routes. And where there are trade routes, there are people. Where there are people, DNA gets exchanged and admixtures arise. The following scientific paper, suggested by Charlie, made for some insightful reading into this specific subject: Sacko, O. Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture: Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania ( http://www.kyoto-seika.ac.jp/researchlab/wp/wp-content/uploads/kiyo/pdf-data/no39/oussouby_sacko.pdf)

To shed some light on this, you’ll find some images that show ancient African trade routes.

East Africa trade routes:

A map showing ancient trade routes from east Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and beyond.

A map showing ancient trade routes from east Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and beyond. Is this how these regions contributed to my YDNA? click for larger image.

Intra-African Trade routes: 

Map showing ancient trade routes within Africa.

Map showing ancient trade routes within Africa. We know my YDNA travelled from East Africa to Northwest Africa along the North African Mediterranean Coastline. Is the route shown at the top of the image the way it travelled across northern Africa? click for larger image

Once established among either the Akele or the Punu, this ancestor’s male descendants married and produced offspring who melted into the surrounding tribal landscape. At some point, one of his male descendants was enslaved and sent to America. That’s the theory my 3 colleagues presented in the end. Much more DNA testing needs to be done on African populations to better understand the evolution of present day African admixtures and history. Significantly more DNA testing needs to be done.  I offer this exchange:

So what’s common and what’s not when it comes to African  Admixtures?

Charlie: “Brian’s haplogroup and this mutation just aren’t commonly seen in Gabon.”

Tim: “How do we know that? Science has barely scratched the surface when it comes to African DNA. We just don’t know. I don’t. Maybe it is rare. Maybe it isn’t. We just aren’t in a position to say what is or isn’t common with African DNA. What I will say is that I find this very, very interesting. It’s something I want to spend some time looking into.”

Charlie offered an interesting and plausible insight. He suggested that perhaps the ancestor who was abducted and then sold into slavery was specifically chosen because it was known that his family wasn’t indigenous to Gabon. They may have been part of the Akele and Punu for only a few generations. If his family had a falling out with a rival family or clan, that’s all it would take. The Akele and the Punu were both heavily engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. So they had the means and the connections to abduct and then sell a perceived ‘other’. Considering what’s happening all around the globe right now, this scenario isn’t just conceivable, it is highly probable.

When it comes to African American ancestry, what’s ‘normal’

Rob asked an interesting question: “Do you guys think Brian’s sequencing is common or uncommon in African Americans?”

I beat them all to the punch with a simple question: “What’s considered ‘common’ when it comes to African American admixtures?”  I was asked to clarify the question, which I duly did. I pointed out these numbers from the last US Census:

1) 45,672,250 or 14.3%: Black Only or Black in combination with another race;

2) 42,158,238 or 13.2%: Black Only;

3) 42,316,387 or 13.3%: ‘Black Only’ or ‘Black in combination with another race’ (non-Hispanic); and

4) 39,528,225 or 12.4%: Black Only (non-Hispanic)

This doesn’t cover those who self-identify as black and Hispanic, etc – or those who don’t even know that they have an African descended ancestor.

It’s believed that 1 million Americans have taken DNA tests. I haven’t found any reliable statistics that show how many of these DNA test takers are African descended Americans. I suspect that the number of African Americans who have taken DNA tests is a very small percentage of that overall 1 million figure. Infinitesimally small. Statistically speaking, not large enough to make any qualified statements.

This happens to be a huge bugbear for me. There are shows that make assertions like: most African Americans don’t have Native American ancestry, or, if they do, that African Americans ‘usually’ have X amount. Or, that few African Americans are 100% African in their ancestry. Or, that any given African American will have Y% of European ancestry or SE Asian ancestry… the assertions go on and on. If this subject interests you, Tim recommended an excellent article: The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans (http://materiais.dbio.uevora.pt/MA/Artigos/Genetic_Structure_and_History_of_Africans_and_African_Americans.pdf)

Now, if 10 million African Americans were to take DNA tests, then we’d have a significant DNA data set to begin making generalized DNA-based statements. Today? We’re working in a dark room without any windows or light. Just a single candle. That’s just not enough illumination to make any kind of definitive statement. Sorry, but I am stickler for such things.

The same is true of African DNA. We just don’t know if the prevalence of any given genetic admixture is typical or atypical. We know more about how DNA travelled from eastern Africa to China than we do about how it travelled from eastern Africa to all other points in the African continent. The remoteness of some tribes is a barrier to large scale genetic testing. Then, there’s the climate: arid and acidic soil conditions – as well as extremely moist environmental conditions – which aren’t conducive to preserving human remains, much less fragile DNA. Such finds would enable science to study the ancient roots and migrations across Africa of the ancient peoples who gave rise to the modern day tribes we see today. Then there’s the question of where to look for ancient remains to test, and then compare to modern day tribes. Africa is a huge continent. Looking for this is like looking for a needle in one huge haystack. Science has some real barriers when it comes to the genetic testing of African populations.

I was pretty pleased when all 3 men agreed that there is a need to stop asserting what’s typical when it comes to the DNA of African descended people.

Tim asked my opinion about whether or not I believed that the vast majority of American slaves came from western Africa. I didn’t hold back. Given the number of slave ports on the western African coast, one could assume that a significant proportion of slaves sent to the United States probably did come from the western African coastal region. What that number would actually be is just a guess.

And me being me, I went one step further with one of my analogies: New York City is an enormous port. Every manner of products and goods are shipped from, or flown out of, New York City. It is one of America’s exporting hearts. Not every single product or goods shipped out of New York came from New York or was produced in New York. They come from all four corners of the United States. It would take close inspection of export documentation to determine what percentage of good shipped from New York City actually came from New York, or the surrounding Mid-Atlantic or New England states.  One could assume what percentage of these came from this region. Maybe you’d be right. Maybe not. Only research could reveal what’s correct and what isn’t.

The same holds true for African American genetic genealogy as well as African genetic studies. For the time being, I don’t think anyone really knows. This needs to be understood and accepted. We just don’t know. I appreciate that’s a hard thing to hear. I say this to myself each and every day to manage my own expectations.Enslaved African ancestors could have come from pretty much anywhere in the African continent.

For the time being, I take my genetic results as an indication. No more and no less. My YDNA test indicates that I’m a direct descendant of an African man with an interesting Arabian Peninsula-East African-North African-Akele-Punu admixture. How he got that admixture is anybody’s guess. When that admixture occurred is anybody’s guess. And as more African people have their DNA tested and studied, this picture will hopefully become more finessed. Hopefully, the missing puzzle pieces will fall into place.

My geneticist friends are troopers. Bless them, I’ve hit them with a barrage of questions. None of the questions I’ve asked are easy to answer. Thankfully, they find them really intriguing questions that have piqued their interest.  I ask questions because I want to know. *smiling* and I can’t begin to tell you how badly I want to know. Are the Yoruba my first or second cousins, genetically speaking? Are the Fulani my second cousins or third cousins twice removed? Are the Baka something like a 10th great grand uncle?

I want to tackle this basic and fundamental set of questions before I even begin to think about how I’m genetically linked to everyone else in my YDNA – Central Asian, Persian, Sephardic Jewish, SE Asian, Korean and European.

To do the kind of genetic genealogy adventure TV series that my heart of hearts wants to do – we definitely need to figure out this smorgasbord of YDNA.

There’s a practical reason for wanting to know. I share my finds with my wider family, who find all of this fascinating (to various degrees). When you tell your family members you’ve found a new cousin, the first question is usually a simple one: how are we related? In straightforward genealogy, you can show them a family tree and walk them through the connection so they can see it for themselves.

I’d love to be in a position to do this with the global tribes and cultures we’re linked to. That’s the one thing I can’t do at the moment. And yes, I want to know for me. *grinning* For once, I can make this all about me. I want to know. I want to know where these different global groups of people fall on my YDNA tree.

 

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Mapping my father’s mtDNA to African tribes

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a conceptual thinker. And few things aid my understanding of concepts better than visuals. Especially when I create visual materials. As I create things I begin to see inter-relationships in a tangible way. It’s the way my mind rolls, and I’ve learned to embrace it.

It’s like baking a cake. Ok, I get what a cake is. However, when I combine the different ingredients, and know their individual properties and how they interact with each another, I get how a cake is actually made. You don’t see the egg or the butter or the milk in the final product, but you know they’re there and how they contributed to the overall cake.

With this in mind, I’ve been making maps of the African tribes my father and I are descended from.

I’ve made 3 maps that cover:

  1. My Y-DNA (haplogroup subclade  E1b1a1a1f1a1) – the DNA that is passed down from fathers to sonsdna-reunion-y
  2. My mtDNA (haplogroup subclade L2a1c4a) – the DNA that is passed down from mothers to daughters. Mothers also pass this on to their sons. Sons, however, do not pass this on to their children.dna-reunion-m
  3. My father’s mtDNA (Haplogroup L3). I am so grateful that he took this test. He is the only living link I directly had to his mother’s mtDNA.dna-reunion-m

This project helped me to better understand:

  1. How each of these 3 sets of African DNA travelled within the African Continent; and
  2. Which tribes I’m directly descended from, and which tribes are genetic cousins.

The second point will have a role to play when the time comes to start pinpointing specific African ancestors who were captured and sent to the American colonies as slaves. In other words, it saves me from trying to look for a needle in a haystack. Instead, I can look for that needed in a specific part of the haystack.

Some interesting possibilities revealed

MY Y-DNA and the 2 mtDNA tests were done via Genebase and form the basis of this mapping project.

My Y-DNA and mtDNA tests connect me to a staggering number of African tribes. Thinking logically, I knew I couldn’t be a direct descendant of all of them. As I mentioned above, only a handful were going to be the tribes of my direct ancestors. All of the others would be like second or third cousins, etc.

It turns out that once I made a map, some interesting possibilities presented themselves. I’m going to do an individual post for each of the 3 maps. It makes it easier to convey the story each map is beginning to reveal.

My father’ maternal mtDNA mapping results

I’m going to start with my father’s maternal mtDNA, the mtDNA he inherited from his mother, Susan Julia Roane (remember, I didn’t inherit any of this mtDNA):

Susan Roane mtDNA outlined

Plotting the direct female mtDNA African lineage of my grandmother, Susan Roane. This map illustrates how her mtDNA was carried from east to west within Africa (Organe-brown arrow). The blue and green arrows show how this mtDNA was carried into southern Africa through her female DNA cousins. Click for larger image.

 

A few things to keep in mind before I delve into how I’ve interpreted this map:

  1. The number of African tribes that have been tested is relatively small compared to non-African populations; and
  2. For the tribes that have had their DNA tested and sequenced, the number of people tested can be quite small (like the 27 Somalians who were tested and whose results from part of Genebase’s research and indigenous peoples’ results).

So what does this map tell me?

Well, like every human being on the plant, the journey begins in the Horn of Africa. So no surprises there.

Susan Roane’s direct maternal ancestor’s DNA travelled into the heart of the African continent. I’ve illustrated this with the big orange-brown arrow. Her ancient female cousins (e.g. not her direct ancestral line), carried the same mtDNA into southern Africa – both along the east and west coasts.

Her direct, African female ancestors appear to have settled in and around the Greater Lake Chad region, including northern Cameroon. You can see this in the cluster of tribes formed by the Fali, Fulbe, Kanuri, Kotoko, Mafa and Masa.

I’m thinking that the Fulbe in Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal are genetic Fulbe cousin lines. Too much of her mtDNA is clustered in northwest Cameroon and southwestern Chad. It’s here that I think the woman who was the mother of Susan Roane’s American female line came from. My father shares only a small number of mtDNA markers with the Fulbe outside of this Lake Chad zone.  His strongest Fulbe mtDNA results specifically point to Lake Chad and its environs.

So what’s the story with the Fulbe?

I’m doing quite a bit of research on these tribes. However, an interesting picture has begun to emerge.

While they are rarely discussed, Africa had ancient kingdoms. The central African kingdom that encompassed my grandmother’s mtDNA was the Fulani Empire. You can see this empire in the picture below:

fulani-presence-in-west-africa

Fulani Empire in western  Africa

There’s quite a bit of Fulbe in my grandmother’s mtDNA. The Fulbe were part of the Fulani tribe. It turns out that the Fulani have quite the history.

The Fulani are an ancient tribe. By ‘ancient’ I mean the ancient Greeks (Herodotus, to be specific), Egyptians and Assyrians wrote about them. I’m finding it difficult to get a handle about the origins of the Fulani. There’s quite a bit of positive and negative propaganda about them. Depending on the author, there’s a vested interest in saying that the Fulani either came from this place, or that place or some other place. So I’m taking what I’ve read so far with a pinch of salt. I’m still searching for a respected, credible source with verifiable information.

Some sources say they came from India. Others claim they came from northern Africa. Yet others claim the Fulani came from eastern Africa. There is one point pretty much all the authors I’ve read so far agree on: the Fulani were not indigenous to the Lake Chad and western African region.  Anthropology has shown that this region had been previously settled by tribes with a far older history in the region.

There are claims that the Fulani introduced Islam to Africa. I don’t know if this is true or not. I do believe, however, they were early adopters of the Islamic faith. In turn, they made it the official religion of their empire. You can read a bit about the Fulani and Islam here: The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century,  http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century

The other tribes I’ve pinpointed in the Fulani-controlled area in map above were also largely Muslim. Like other Fulani-related tribes, they were active traders and I can easily imagine marriages between them. Which would explain their genetic markers in my paternal grandmother’s mtDNA.

The Fulani were also slavers. Large scale slavers – selling Africans into slavery within Africa and to Europeans. This is covered in the Wikipedia article below.

Some articles about the Fulani:

  1. Wikipedia (It’s Wikipedia – so by no means a definitive authority on the subject):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fula_people#Timeline_of_Fulani_history
  2. Who are the Fulani People & Their Origins:  https://tariganter.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/who-are-the-fulani-people-their-origins/

Back to the Fulbe

The Fulbe were also largely Muslim. They had the designation of being free men within the Fulani. I need to do a lot more reading about this to understand what that term actually meant. I’m wondering if the Fulani had a caste system with various designations between free men and slaves. I’m definitely curious. I’m curious because I’m willing to bet, based on the map I’ve created, that my paternal grandmother’s enslaved mtDNA ancestor was Fulbe. And, if she was Fulbe, she would have been a free woman within this society. In all likelihood she would have also been Muslim. So how did her story end as a slave in the American colonies (presumably colonial Virginia)?

Looking at my father’s mtDNA connections in America, 85% are at an 8th generation level. That means the common female ancestor he shares with them lived centuries ago. Generational computation is a tricky thing. Lifespans vary from century to century and from region to region. Nor do I have any idea what the average lifespan of an African slave in America was. It’s always worth remembering this.

This being said, at an 8th generation level, I’m going to take an educated guess that the female Fulbe ancestor he shares with this 85% would have arrived in America sometime between the 1680s and the 1710s.

Genealogy – you get some definitive and probable answers…and a bunch of new questions.

The answer that’s emerging from this map project is that one of the ancestors who made that voyage from Africa to the American colonies was a woman from the Fulbe people. While this doesn’t tell me her name, or exactly when she was abducted and sold, it narrows my search. For instance, I can narrow down the number of African ports from which Fulbes were shipped to America between 1680 and 1720. From there, I can gather a list of slave ships that left western African slave ports for Virginia. And from there, I can see if any have Fulbe women were listed.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Roane family

Facebook: A powerful & fun free genealogy tool

logo-facebook-genealogyLove it or loathe it, Facebook can be a powerful family history and genealogy research tool. Yes, that virtual space with images and video clips of animals doing impossibly cute things, sunsets, sunrises and sketchy social and political memes can be a treasure trove of ancestry information.

So where can all of this invaluable research information be found? Facebook groups. There are hundreds of family-specific and county-level specific genealogy groups. Most are closed and require the permission of a group administrator to join them. Which is a good thing. After all, not everyone wants their family genealogy publicly accessible by just anyone.

I belong to around 3 dozen very active family research groups. These groups have provided key information that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else online. Just like I have in-depth information about my direct lines of descent, cousins from other branches of the families I’m related to hold vital information about their own direct ancestors. This could be as simple as providing a maiden name for 7x great grandma Hannah. Even better, they have family stories, pictures and documents to share.

It’s pretty easy to find them, as the video below shows. This video covers how to find genealogy groups based on a location. You can easily adapt it to search for specific family genealogy groups. For instance, if you were looking for information about Holloway family ancestors, you would search for something along the lines of: “Holloway family genealogy”, “Holloway Family”, “Holloway family ancestry”, etc.

If there isn’t a group that covers one of the families in your tree, it’s pretty easy to create one. I plan to start one for SW Virginia counties, which will cover Wythe, Smyth, Pulaski and Augusta Counties in Virginia.

The video below walks you through how to set up your own closed/private family genealogy group.

Like anything, there’s an etiquette for joining these kinds of groups:

  • It’s polite to thank the group administrators for adding you. This can be your first post.  In this post, you can introduce yourself and provide a short explanation to the other group members of how you’re related to this family.
  • When referencing a specific ancestor, or ancestors, provide as much key information as you can: dates of birth & death, the county(ies) where your ancestor lived (and when they lived there), and the names of their parents.  This helps differentiate your ancestors from others within the larger family who have the same name.For instance, I have a multitude of Hannah Harlans in my tree. Seriously. I must have around 50 of them. If I want to know about Hannah Harlan (born in 1779 in Chester, PA and died in 1850 in Rich Square, North Carolina) – daughter of Aaron Harlan (1743-1790) and Elizabeth Bailey (1750 – 1805) of Chester, PA, and the wife of Josiah Mendenhall …I’d add this information to my group post. I’d also probably add the names of the children Hannah Harlan and Josiah Mendenhall had to just to be absolutely clear about the person I need more information about.
  • If someone posts a picture of a distant relation, always ask if you can use it – and be sure to cite he person who provided it.
  • Thank people for the information they share- especially if its a key that unlocks a brick wall in your own research (you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this).
  • Don’t be that person…the one who takes without giving. Or that other kind of person – the silent lurker.
  • Be respectful. There are ways to politely disagree or challenge something that someone has posted. If possible, use Facebook’s instant messaging function or email … and then share the corrected information with the group.

Hand on heart, I have to say that connecting with newly found cousins on Facebook has been a pretty cool experience. Like anything, there is a caveat. Be prepared to contribute. This can be as simple as answering questions (which is only fair if you’re asking questions) and sharing what you know.

Last but not least – it’s fun!

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