Monday, February 26, 2018

A Blog Interview with my African DNA Cousin

Maame Durowah Okai
(Used per permission)

I am elated and honored to feature one of my African DNA cousins, Maame Durowah Okai of Amsterdam, Netherlands, on my blog. If someone had told me five years ago that I will be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them. DNA technology has allowed many of us to learn something about our African ancestry and connect with African cousins.

Many geneticists recommend that one of the best ways to get a glimpse of our African roots utilizing DNA is through DNA matches to living Africans who have also taken one of the autosomal DNA tests – AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA. Many African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans are matching people from the Motherland, and these matches are celebrated. This is to be expected since we are the descendants of many Africans who were taken from an area of West Africa, stretching from present-day Senegal to Angola, as well as from present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. Check out Fonte Felipe’s insightful blog post, “How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry.”

Maame Durowah Okai’s family roots are from Ghana. Her father is Ashanti and her mother is from the Obo Kwahu people, who descends from the Ashanti Empire. Interestingly, historians believe that Harriet Tubman’s African maternal grandmother, Modesty, descends from the Ashanti people. Cousin Maame Durowah took the AncestryDNA test last year, which identified her as 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali.

Incredibly, she is a DNA match to both my father and me at 13 cM (centimorgans). According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), that amount of DNA is in the range of a fourth cousin or further. My chances of figuring out exactly how Cousin Maame Durowah is related on my father's side is astronomically slim. But that's OK. It doesn't matter. What matters greatly is that we carry an identical strand of DNA that originated from a common African ancestor, who was most probably from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana).

Cousin Maame Durowah is doing wonderful works in the Netherlands, and I am proud that she is my African cousin. To spotlight her, I asked her the following four questions about herself, her family, and her thoughts about DNA testing. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to e-mail me the answers to them.

Question 1. What are your current endeavors in Europe?

I was born in the 80s in the Netherlands on a Sunday morning. I was raised in Amsterdam South East by my Ghanaian parents, Nana Yaw Okai & Mercy Ayirebi. I had influences by my Dutch grandma, who is from the Netherlands, named Will Ottens. She lived downstairs and helped my mom out when she rang the bell and when nobody wanted to open the door (due to the Sunday morning). It was only my Dutch grandma that opened the door; this was in the 80's, and knowing the time in the Netherlands with the migrants. My grandma took the chance and helped my mom out and I become part of the family. She had an amazing influence in my life (learning about the Dutch culture up close - best of both worlds). This also gives me the chance to teach and educate people on diversity in the Netherlands; currently writing a project on that.

I am a social worker and a family coach. I have been active in social work and community development. I am the founder and project manager of the Brighter Day Foundation, an international social and community development organization. The Brighter Day Foundation develops creative, social, and community projects to raise awareness, impact, and speak out on social issues.

I am working as a family coach/counselor in a youth team (9-5 job). I don't see it as a 9-5 job. My purpose in being there is to break generational trends by helping people to think beyond the “system” and be self-reliant. My main statement when it comes to my work is, “No one can pay you for the job you do because we give more than we are paid for.’’

In 2018, I will be starting a tour called “The Kingdom Citizen: I Have Never Become Who I Am,” which is based on my book. The aim is to share my story on how I discovered purpose by highlighting different life stories. The teaching element at hand is to show how one can creatively discover purpose through the obstacles in life and maximize their potential by making their “stories” known. This will take place in five major cities in Europe. I am not all knowing, letting one know their Purpose that is in God's hands yet being a tool to discover is a calling. I accepted my calling as a pastor at the age of 30. Before that, I was actively involved in ministry from age 23, becoming serious in the Faith when I was 19. I was raised by a Christian mom; my Dad joined the faith in a later stage.

My faith in God is my foundation and my source of success in life I can proudly proclaim. I travel around as an international speaker, teaching and sharing about the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Kingdom-minded and focused on missions around the world, I mentor the broken and rejected and raise up leaders. I am a woman wearing a mantle of many colors; a signature that reveals myself via my various activities. I am a 'Kingdom' representative breaking the status quo!

(Used per permission)

Question 2.    Why did you take the DNA test and what are your thoughts about it?

On February 15, 2017, I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test just out of curiosity. I saw it several years ago when the African Ancestry DNA stories came out on the internet. My curiosity was about how God can create us with such an amazing DNA and link us to a specific country, yet all being connected some way. I knew I was full Ghanaian, but I was still curious what could come out of it. I had heard about Mali being a part of the history of the Ashanti Empire from my Dad but to know that there is a Mali percentage in my DNA was fascinating!

One thing is for sure, I am a Kingdom Child of God, and I know where I come from. Yet I was given a nation in the land of the living. While sitting on the bus on my way home from London, I received an email with my DNA results. “Well, well,” I exclaimed. This was an interesting combo! Being 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali was interesting! What made the story more interesting were the 15 people who were directly connected to my DNA, surprisingly.

Question 3.    Tell me something about your family roots in Ghana?

Mercy Ayirebi Kwahu (Obo Kwahu) is my mom’s name. She was born to Mr. Alfred Kofi Ayirebi & Mrs. Alice Abena Owarewah (daughter of Kwaku Nyame Danquah and Akosua Tiwah Donkor). My Dad is Nana Yaw Okai - Ashanti (Bonwire). My Dad’s lineage can be traced to Yaa Asantewaa. (Read more about Yaa Asantewaa here). I was told this as a young girl. Grandpa Afrani, we are still on the trace. Mrs. Yaa Durowah, who I was named after, is the daughter of Mrs. Efua Brempomaa & Nana Kwaku.

I was introduced to Ghana at age 10 and fell in love. I celebrated my 11th birthday in Ghana and the plan was for me to stay in Ghana and go to school. But my parents decided to keep me in the Netherlands. That one trip changed my life – my people, the food, the language. I became more interested about my background. We spoke Dutch, English and Twi at home, but learning my dialect became more of interest when I got to age 15. Forcing my parents to teach me the right way, I got myself into the culture, traditions, languages, food, my tribes…everything. I started going there every year, to even twice a year. The vision of the Brighter Day Foundation was born in Ghana. I lived in Ghana while doing my thesis but I had to come back to the Netherlands to finish school. I made up my mind 4 years ago to move to Ghana for a period of 5 years to build up a youth center, but my ways got an encounter, and I came back to the Netherlands to say yes to my calling.

I don’t have an English name. I was named after my Dad’s mother, Maame Durowah. I was born on Sunday - Akosua. In Ghana, they call me Ako or Akosua Durowah. Maame means lady or mother, so that is a general name before your name, which is Durowah (female) in my case. Durowah means medicine which comes from the word Oduro (male version). I was named after my Dad's mother out of love and respect. Okai is my paternal grandfather’s name. I do a lot of first and second generation analogy at work, but lately I am trying to do one of my own family genealogy, and every time I do it, I get to know more.

Maame Durowah Okai’s paternal ancestor, Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

Question 4.    How do you feel knowing that many people of African descent in America are your distant cousins?

It was really surprising when you sent me a private message saying that I was your DNA cousin in America. Even though it’s a small percentage, it is still a match. I have family members by marriage who are African-American, but knowing that, through the DNA test, many others are DNA matches is an eye opener. It opens another chapter of your life; you hear the voices of the unheard and share stories untold.

Maame Durowah Okai in Malta in 2017.

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Genealogy Mishap Case: Discovering the True Paternity with DNA

No matter what the oral history said, DNA can say something differently.
What may seem obvious may not be the truth.

Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner (1842-1921) of Panola County, Mississippi

Miscegenation during slavery is a situation that many of us African-American researchers are often confronted with in our family histories. My mother’s maternal grandmother’s mother, Louisa “Lue” Bobo Danner, was known to look like a white woman with long straight hair “that reached the floor,” according to family elders. Recently, I discovered that I had the wrong white father attached to her for nearly 20 years! According to her Civil War widow’s pension file, she was born on January 21, 1842 in Union County, South Carolina. Her enslaver, Dr. William J. Bobo, transported her, her mother Clarissa Bobo, and other family members to Mississippi in 1858.

A late family elder remembered her very well. Cousin Robert Danner was 16 years old when his grandmother died in 1921, and he spent a lot of time at her home. From my first interview with him in 1996, until his passing at age 103 in 2008, he shared many details about her. Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery would not have been possible without his priceless memories. He recalled that a man named Sandy Wilbourn visited his grandmother often. He claimed that Sandy was her white half-brother who acknowledged their family relationship, something that was exceedingly rare at that time. Cousin Robert had proclaimed confidently, “Grandma Lue’s father was a Wilbourn.” I uploaded some of the recordings of my oral history interviews with him in this 2013 blog post.

With that huge clue, I researched the censuses and other records, as well as communicated with Wilbourn descendants, and determined that Sandy Wilbourn was William Sanford Wilbourn (1853-1935). He died in Panola County when Cousin Robert was 28 years old. “Sandy” resided in the area where Grandma Lue lived. His father was Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. (1810-1878), so I concluded that Elijah Jr. was the man who had impregnated Clarissa with Grandma Lue and possibly her “mulatto” brother, Eli Bobo (1844-1918), too. Eli was a shorter name for Elijah, so that naming clue carried a lot of weight, in my opinion.

Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. had settled in Panola County, Mississippi also from Union County, South Carolina around 1840, about two years before Grandma Lue was born in South Carolina. I had theorized that he probably traveled back to South Carolina periodically to visit family, and during one of those trips, he made his way onto his former neighbor Dr. William Bobo’s plantation and impregnated Grandma Clarissa. That was my story, and I was sticking to it. Besides, Cousin Robert’s memory of many other people and events of our family history turned out to be accurate, so I had very little reason to question his recollection of Sandy Wilbourn being Grandma Lue’s half-brother.

Grandma Lue’s death certificate reported “Don’t Know” for her father’s name, so I was extremely grateful that he remembered this piece of history. This was very valuable oral history. I soon made an entry in my family tree, closed that chapter, and didn’t put much more thought to this Wilbourn impregnator. Then, DNA hit the scene nearly twenty years later. It told a different story.

In early 2015, a high DNA match appeared in 23andMe. I’ll call him “Cousin D.” He was sharing 100 cM over 4 segments with my mother (79 cM/3 segments with me), 75 cM over 4 segments with her brother, and 75 cM over 3 segments with her sister. These significant amounts indicate a fairly close relationship, possibly in the third cousin range. I also noticed that he was sharing 20 cM with my mother’s 2nd cousin, Cousin MAJ. To my surprise, Cousin D was 99.9% European. How could my family and I share this much DNA with a white person? This was my first thought.

Interestingly, Cousin D was also sharing DNA on the X chromosome with my aunt and uncle. (See chart below.) My mother, her siblings, and Cousin MAJ are great-grandchildren of Grandma Lue and her husband, Edward Danner. Cousin D soon contacted me, and I expressed to him that he appears to be closely connected to Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. of Panola County, Mississippi. Having African-American relatives piqued his interest. But there was one huge issue.

Because Cousin D was sharing X-DNA with my aunt and uncle, this meant that he’s related to us on his mother’s side. Males inherit one X chromosome from their mothers, while females inherit two X chromosomes, one from their mother and one from their father. His late mother was adopted, and he had no knowledge of her biological family. He then hired a professional genealogist to utilize autosomal DNA to build his mother’s biological family tree. This was indeed a challenging feat, but she had great success after administering autosomal DNA tests to numerous key people.

Cousin D’s genealogist determined that he and my mother are 5th cousins, and no one in his immediate family ever resided in Panola County, Mississippi. This was shocking. William Wilburn (1765-1822) of Union County, S.C., who was Elijah Jr’s uncle, was his 3rd-great-grandfather. However, we both felt that Cousin D shares too much DNA with my mother to be her 5th cousin, so something was not jiving. I didn't know what was aberrant, so I left it alone. I needed something compelling to make it a bigger research priority. Well, that “something” soon came.

Cousin D's maternal 2nd cousin, Cousin E, recently took the FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) test, and her raw data file was uploaded to She too shares a lot of DNA and X-DNA with my family, including another one of my mother’s 2nd cousins, Cousin ORN (Cousin MAJ’s 1st cousin). See chart below. This was significant because Cousin D and Cousin E share the same great-grandparents, William Ray and Mary Amanda Wilburn (1855-1935) of Union County, S.C. Mary Amanda’s parents were Joshua Wilburn (1805-1887) and Elizabeth Sparks.  

Cousins D and E’s sharing of X-DNA with my family was very revealing. While my family’s matching X chromosome segments with them came from Grandma Lue’s father, their matching X chromosome segments appear to have come from Mary Amanda. But there was a problem. None of Mary Amanda’s X-DNA ancestors matched the maternal ancestors of Elijah Wilbourn, Jr., who was her father’s first cousin. If Elijah Jr. was Grandma Lue’s father, the X-DNA he passed on to her came from his mother, Mary Roundtree. She was not related to Cousin D and Cousin E. Also, the X-DNA that Mary Amanda’s father passed on to her came from his mother, Susannah Gibbs (1781-1814). This was the second red flag.

Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. inherited all of his X chromosome from his mother, Mary Roundtree. She inherited that X-DNA from both of her parents.

50% of Mary Amanda Wilburn’s X-DNA came from her father’s mother, Susannah Gibbs.

Cousin D’s genealogist also observed that my family share DNA with other descendants of Joshua Wilburn – Cousins A, B, and C. See chart above. All of these autosomal DNA findings point to Grandma Lue’s father likely being either Joshua Wilburn or his twin brother, also named Elijah Wilburn (1805-1889), who were the sons of William Wilburn and Susannah Gibbs, and not Elijah Wilbourn, Jr. (son of Elijah Sr./Mary Roundtree) who migrated to Mississippi. Both of the twin brothers lived and died in South Carolina. Fortunately, there was additional evidence.

I performed the “People Who Match One of Both of 2 Kits” option in between Cousin E and Cousin MAJ since they share the largest amount of DNA at 111 cM over 5 segments. The purpose was to see who else shared DNA with both of them. As expected, my family appeared among their mutual matches. I also noticed a DNA match that was among my mother’s DNA matches in FTDNA who attached a family tree to his account. I am calling him “Cousin F.” Being able to view a family tree among shared DNA matches was essential to try to determine a common ancestor. Cousin F’s extensive family tree revealed that he indeed shares common ancestors with Cousins A, B, C, D, and E.  His 3rd-great-grandmother was Elizabeth Gibbs, a sister of Susannah Gibbs’ father, James Gibbs. Elizabeth and James’ parents were John Gibbs (1716-1770) and Susanne Phillipe (1720-1786).

In a process known as manual triangulating, I viewed Cousin F’s “One-to-Many Matches” in I then selected my family and Cousin E and viewed their matching chromosomes on the 2-D chromosome browser. Interestingly, Cousin F shares long overlapping chromosome segments with my family and Cousin E on chromosome 9. See figure below. I verified that they all match each other on chromosome 9. This indicates that everyone descend from a common ancestor.

Cousin F matches family members on overlapping chromosome segments on Chromosome 9

In 23andMe, this section of my mother’s chromosome 9 is identified as Northwestern European.

DNA is indicating that Grandma Lue had Gibbs ancestry. This served as additional DNA evidence that her father was likely Joshua Wilburn or his twin brother, Elijah (1805), sons of Susannah Gibbs. However, if Joshua and his twin brother Elijah (1805) were identical twins, they would share 100% identical DNA with each other. Full siblings and fraternal (non-identical) twins share around 50% of identical DNA. Therefore, Grandma Lue would share DNA with both Joshua and Elijah (1805) in the parent/child range (approx. 3,600 cM) if they were identical twins. If Joshua was the father, then Cousins A, B, C, D, and E are half 3rd cousins to my mother, her siblings, and Cousins MAJ and ORN. However, my speculation now is that they were identical twins, and Elijah Wilburn (1805) was her father. Then, Cousins A, B, C, D, and E are half 4th cousins genealogically but half 3rd cousins genetically. This revelation would have never been discovered had it not been for DNA technology.

This AncestryDNA match shares 34 cM / 1 segment with my mother. Elijah Wilburn (1805) is his 3rd-great-grandfather.

Acknowledgement: Special acknowledgement is given to Clarise Soper, CG for her great work in utilizing DNA to discover Cousin D's maternal ancestors. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Cousins Mack Danner and his sister, Henrietta Danner Bacon, two of the five children born to my great-grandmother’s brother, Alexander K. Danner (1865-1905), and his wife, Lou Anna Brunt Danner of Panola County, Mississippi

Many of us genealogy hobbyists and genealogists warn people about the "mulatto" notation in the censuses. It doesn't automatically mean that the person had a parent of a different race. Most times, the census-taker saw a person who wasn't racially "pure." Check out this case.

Uncle Jack, the oldest of my great-great-grandparents' 12 children, who was born in slavery c. 1846, was consistently reported as "mulatto" in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. The rest of his household were noted as "Black". Also, the rest of the 12 children were always reported as "Black" in the censuses.

Many of us probably have family cases where the oldest child (or not the oldest) was fathered by a white man, but the mother's husband raised that child as his child, too. Thus, that "mulatto" child took the stepfather's surname. Was this the case with Uncle Jack? Let's see. This is the evidence at hand:

(1) Oral history, that was told by family elders in the 1970s and recorded in the family reunion booklets, noted Uncle Jack as one of my great-great-grandparents' children.

(2) None of the family elders living within the past 15 years ever said anything about Uncle Jack not being the biological son of my great-great-grandfather.

(3) DNA: At least 5 great-great-grandchildren of Uncle Jack took an autosomal DNA test. All of them match my father, from 60 cM/6 segments to 149 cM/9 segments. Uncle Jack and my father's grandmother were siblings, therefore they are my father's second cousins twice removed (2C2R). According to ISOGG, the average amount of DNA for 2C2R is 53 cM, the same as 3rd cousins. So the average for half 2C2R would be 26.5 cM. Therefore, the DNA sharing amounts with these cousins don't suggest a half relationship with Uncle Jack.

(4) DNA: A "father-to-son" great-grandson of Uncle Jack's younger brother took the 23andMe test, which provides a paternal haplogroup that is passed down from father to son for many generations. His paternal haplogroup is E-M54 (African), which would be my great-great-grandfather's paternal haplogroup. Recently, a "father-to-son" great-great-grandson of Uncle Jack took the 23andMe test. His paternal haplogroup is also E-M54.

(5) DNA: My great-great-grandfather was taken away from Nash County, North Carolina and brought to Mississippi. It is clear that he left behind close kin in N.C. My father is sharing very good amounts of DNA (119 cM, highest amount) with people from Nash County. Those N.C. DNA cousins are also sharing DNA with Uncle Jack's descendants.

(6) DNA: Although my great-great-grandfather had at least 12 children with his wife, my great-great-grandmother, he also fathered children by other women during slavery. Descendants from those children have also taken an autosomal DNA test. Most of them are sharing DNA with Uncle Jack's descendants. There is even the phenomena of overlapping DNA segments (triangulation) with both groups, which indicates descendancy from a common ancestor. (Will show this in a future blog post.)

Conclusion: I haven't gotten a Y-DNA test done on the two male cousins mentioned in No. 4, and that would serve as the ultimate DNA proof. However, the evidence at hand very strongly indicates that Uncle Jack was simply much lighter-complexioned than the rest of his younger siblings and was my great-great-grandfather's biological son. (Note: European ancestry has been detected in my great-great-grandmother's lineage).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Adoptee's DNA Leads to Porter Ties

Meeting Cousin Rhonda for the first time in Silver Spring, Maryland

On May 4, 2015, my cousin Orien Reid Nix sent me an inquiry e-mail. An adoptee, Rhonda Roorda, contacted her because she is searching for her biological parents. Born in Rochester, NY, the award-winning author of In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption, and also a consultant for the NBC TV series “This Is Us,” had taken two autosomal DNA tests (FTDNA & AncestryDNA). Rhonda also uploaded her raw data file to Cousin Orien and Rhonda share 44 cM of identical DNA on chromosome 3, with an additional 21 cM on the X chromosome. That amount suggests the third cousin range. Cousin Orien asked me if it is possible if Rhonda is related via our Danner-Bobo line. As second cousins, my mother and Cousin Orien are both the great-granddaughters of Edward Danner Sr. (1832-1876) and Louisa Bobo Danner (1842-1921) of Panola County (Como), Mississippi. Utilizing the chromosome browser in GEDmatch, I soon realized three key things: 

(1) Rhonda also shares 17 cM with my mother’s brother on chromosome 15 and 18 cM on the X chromosome, which overlaps with the 21 cM she shares with Cousin Orien on the X.  

(2) Rhonda also shares 20 cM on the X with my mother in the same spot. These overlapping segments, where everyone is matching each other on the same chromosome spot, mean that they all inherited that identical DNA from a common ancestor.

(3) Rhonda is also sharing 9 to 19 cM of identical DNA with four other descendants of Edward and Louisa Danner.

Therefore, the answer to Cousin Orien’s question was a resounding YES. Rhonda is our cousin via Edward and/or Louisa Danner. But how? I also noticed that they all are sharing DNA with three people with the last name PORTER. For privacy purposes, I will call them Cousins A, B, and C. Those matches would prove to be very conducive to honing in on the family connection and some of Cousin Rhonda’s ancestry.

Months later, a new AncestryDNA match (Cousin D) appeared among my mother’s DNA matches. She shares 63 cM over 2 segments with my mother, and the “Shared Matches” include six other descendants of Edward & Louisa Danner who took the AncestryDNA test. Luckily, Cousin D attached a public family tree to her profile. I didn’t see any common ancestors, but she had PORTERs in her family tree. I soon discovered that she, as well as Cousins A, B, and C, all descend from a couple named Albert Porter and Fillis Whitlock Porter via two of their 12 children. Cousin Rhonda is also sharing significant DNA with Cousins A, B, C, and D, from 34 to 134 cM. Two other Porter descendants, Cousins E and F, were also sharing weighty amounts of DNA with us, particularly Rhonda. See chart below.

DNA Sharing Between Rhonda and Porter Descendants (Cousins A, B, C, D, E, and F)

This analysis revealed that Cousin Rhonda is a descendant of Albert & Fillis Porter, and one of them was closely-related to Edward or Louisa Danner. The major commonality between the two couples is location. Grandma Louisa “Lue” was enslaved by Dr. William Bobo, who transported her, her mother Clarissa Bobo, and her numerous siblings to Panola County, Mississippi in 1858 from Union County, South Carolina. On a trip back to South Carolina in 1859, Dr. Bobo purchased Grandpa Edward from the Thomas Danner Jr. estate of Union County and brought him back to Mississippi. According to his Civil War pension file, he had been born on the Danner farm, which is why he kept the Danner surname. He never saw his family back in South Carolina again. Edward and Louisa subsequently married in 1860.

Albert & Fillis Porter were found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, residing in Union County! Albert was born around 1838 in South Carolina, and Fillis was born around 1840, also in South Carolina. After 1880, they and their children later migrated into Spartanburg County, near Wellford, where their family tree grew by leaps and bounds. They became members of the Upper Shady Grove Baptist Church (aka New Shady Grove Baptist Church) near Wellford.

Cousin Rhonda and the Porters are not sharing DNA with family members related via Grandma Louisa, who was fathered by a white man named Elijah Wilbourn Jr., according to oral history (DNA-proven). Therefore, the connection strongly appears to be via Grandpa Edward. When the Danners sold Edward to Dr. Bobo, they also sold most of their 20+ slaves to raise funds for their pending move to Grant County, Arkansas. Thomas’ widow, Nancy Bates Danner, and their sons only kept a woman named Harriet Danner, possibly Edward’s sister, and her seven children and took them to Arkansas in 1859. Edward’s parents and siblings were sold to other slave-owners, but I haven’t been able to uncover the names and whereabouts of Edward’s displaced family members and who may have purchased them. This has been a longtime mystery.

However, these DNA findings with Cousin Rhonda and the Porters are leading me to believe that Albert may have been Edward's brother, due to the amount of DNA my family is sharing with them. So I started digging to try to prove or disprove it. Here’s what I found.

Research Finding #1

In the online Freedmen's Bureau records, now accessible at, I found an 1865 labor contract for Albert & Phillis (Fillis) Porter, being contracted for their labor in Union County, S.C. by M.S. Porter. These contracts “consist of agreements between freedmen laborers and planters stating terms of employment, such as pay, clothing, and medical care due the freedman; the part of the crop to be retained by him; and whether a plot for growing subsistence crops was to be provided.” (Source) M.S. Porter was likely the last slave-owner who entered Albert and Fillis into a labor contract shortly after enslaved people were emancipated.

1865 Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contract – M.S. Porter & Albert and Phillis (Read full contract here) 
"South Carolina, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872," images, FamilySearch ( : 21 May 2014), Union district, Roll 105, Labor contracts, series II, A-S, 1866

Research Finding #2

Per the censuses, M.S. Porter was Marion Sandford Porter. He was only 21 years old in 1860 and was reported as being a planter. I checked the 1860 slave schedule, and M.S. Porter (spelled Poter in the census) owned five slaves:

(1) 21-year-old black male
(2) 18-year-old mulatto female
(3) 10-year-old mulatto female
(4) 3-year-old mulatto male
(5) 1-year-old mulatto male

The 21-year-old black male fits the profile of Albert Porter. Perhaps, the 18-year-old mulatto female may be Fillis? She was noted as being “mulatto” in the later censuses.

Research Finding #3

Fillis died in 1921 in Spartanburg County. Luckily, her death certificate was found on Her father’s name was simply written as "Stark." Her mother’s name was reported as being Mary Whitlock. Since she is reported as being mulatto in the censuses, I wondered if her father may have been white, keeping in mind that the census-taker’s mulatto notation was likely based on appearance. But who was “Stark”? I immediately found my answer. It appears that he was a white man named Stark Whitlock, born in 1818. His father was Bennett Whitlock (1790-1859), whose 1859 estate record included a slave inventory. Among the enslaved were a woman named Phillis and her oldest son, Dennis. In my extensive research of Grandma Louisa’s family, I haven’t found any ties to the Whitlocks. Interestingly, Cousin Rhonda shares sizeable amounts of DNA with numerous white Whitlock descendants.

Research Finding #4

Marion Sandford Porter's father was Hancock Porter, who died in 1852 in Union County. Per the 1850 slave schedule, Hancock owned 12 slaves. His estate record revealed that he did not own an enslaved male named Albert. Therefore, young Marion appeared to have acquired Albert from somebody before 1860. Cousin C mentioned that the oral history in the Porter family relays that Albert had been sold to the Porter family and had been separated from own his family. Another descendant, Marvin Porter, also shared with me that their oral history also sadly claims that Albert was used to breed children during slavery. This history was written in a 1987 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the Porter family.

1987 Philadelphia Inquirer Article (Shared by Rhonda Roorda) 
McCabe, Barbara. “Bus Driver Discover Road to Relatives.” The Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia, PA] 9 July 1987: Page 30-M. Print. 

The Porter Family’s oral history is matching up with the documented history about Grandpa Edward Danner – the sad saga of enslaved families being permanently separated. I am theorizing, with a high level of certainty, that Albert and Edward were brothers who got sold and took different surnames. This was not uncommon. I have no doubt that future DNA testing (and/or more genealogical research) will help to solve this case. Stay tuned.

Cousin Rhonda was recently invited down to Spartanburg, South Carolina to meet some of the descendants of Albert & Fillis Porter, who have held a number of family reunions and who garner a great pride in their family history. The resemblances to Rhonda were quite noticeable. She shared, “It was a real blessing to be in Spartanburg this past weekend and have the opportunity to meet some of these amazing relatives. The fact that family members arranged a welcome gathering for me was quite humbling and beautiful. The elders were so happy that they could meet me, as I was them. It was a great trip.” Incredibly, her DNA match to my Danner family led to a wonderful discovery – the Danners and Porters are blood kinfolks. Our family histories added a special meaning to our biological connection. However, the best outcome will be when Cousin Rhonda uncovers the identity of one or both of her biological parents. That day will come.

Cousin Rhonda with relatives in Spartanburg, South Carolina 
(Shared by Rhonda Roorda)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pinpointing the Origin of Family's Igbo Ancestry with DNA

Source: Wikipedia, public domain

DNA-testing multiple family members always prove to be extremely beneficial. About two years ago, I tested my mother’s first cousin with 23andMe. Cousin Armintha’s father and my mother’s father were brothers, so they share the same paternal grandparents, Bill & Sarah Reed of Tate County, Mississippi. Last week, while checking my cousin’s account for new matches, I saw a new DNA relative with an African name. This is always exciting! He shares 0.12% (9.0 cM) [2,240 SNPs] on chromosome 5 with Cousin Armintha. Luckily, his profile indicates that he was born to Nigerian parents of Igbo descent. To safeguard privacy, I will refer to him as Igbo Cousin 1. His posted surnames are Egolum and Anyiwo.

When I viewed the “Relatives in Common” section, I was pleasantly surprised. Igbo Cousin 1 also shares 9.0 cM of DNA [2,290 SNPs] with my mother and her brother, Uncle John. See Figure 1 below. He also matches Cousin Bryan, whose great-great-grandfather, Jerry Edwards, is strongly believed to be a brother to their great-grandfather, Prince Edwards, their Grandma Sarah Reed’s father. In the “Shared DNA” column, YES is noted for both my mother and Uncle John. According to 23andMe, “Shared DNA” means that an individual and their two genetic relatives share a portion of the same DNA segment. Therefore, since Igbo Cousin 1 is matching Cousin Armintha on a single chromosome 5 segment, my mother and Uncle John are also matching him on that same segment. NO is indicated for Cousin Bryan, so he is sharing DNA with Igbo Cousin 1, either on another chromosome or on a different section of chromosome 5.

FIGURE 1: Relatives in Common with Igbo Cousin 1

I also noticed that Igbo Cousin 1 shares 0.36% (27 cM) of DNA with another Nigerian-American who had been in our relative databases for over a year. I will refer to him as Igbo Cousin 2.  YES is also noted for “Shared DNA,” which means that he, Cousin Armintha, Igbo Cousin 1, my mother, and Uncle John all share the same chromosome 5 segment. Wow! They are considered a triangulation group. In other words, they all descend from a common African ancestor. Of course, I immediately clicked YES to view the segments on the chromosome browser. I reorganized the comparison list to compare Igbo Cousin 2 with Igbo Cousin 1, Cousin Armintha, Mom, Uncle John, and Cousin Bryan. See Figure 2 below. I was thrilled with what I saw!

FIGURE 2: Comparing Igbo Cousin 2 with Everyone

FIGURE 3: Comparing Cousin Armintha with Both Igbo Cousins,
Uncle John, and Mom on Chromosome 5

Turns out, Igbo Cousin 1 and Igbo Cousin 2 share 27 cM on two segments – 11.8 cM on chromosome 5 and 14.8 cM on chromosome 8. This is in the range of 3rd cousins-once removed to 4th cousins. Not only that, I discovered that while Cousin Armintha, my mother, and Uncle John share the same chromosome 5 segment with both Igbo cousins, Cousin Bryan shares identical DNA with both Igbo cousins on chromosome 8. This is indicating that the kinship to our Igbo cousins may be thru one of our Edwards ancestors. Everyone likely descend from a common Igbo ancestor. How could I confirm this?

Eager for confirmation, I went to for clues. GEDmatch is a free, third-party DNA utility site that enables people to find the family connection between others who have uploaded their autosomal DNA raw data files from either 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or FTDNA. Think of GEDmatch as “DNA Central” – the central location where autosomal DNA test takers can compare their DNA to others, utilizing their vital chromosome browsers and other neat tools. My goal was to see if there are any known family members who match my mother, Uncle John, and Cousin Armintha on chromosome 5. If so, that will enable me to determine if this chromosome 5 segment truly came from their grandmother, Sarah.

So I performed the “People who match both kits….” function in GEDmatch with Uncle John and Cousin Armintha’s kit numbers first, since they share the longest identical segment (129 cM) on chromosome 5. See the gold bar in Figure 3 above. I then viewed their mutual matches on the 2-D chromosome browser. Lo and behold, their 3rd cousin-once removed, Verena, matches both of them and my mother on chromosome 5, in what genetic genealogists call "overlapping segments." She shares a 7.0-7.3 cM segment [900+ SNPs] with them on chromosome 5. See Figure 4 below. Cousin Verena took the AncestryDNA test and had uploaded her raw data file to GEDmatch. This was a great discovery! Why? Because Cousin Verena is related thru Grandma Sarah. Her great-great-grandfather, Peter Edwards, and Grandma Sarah’s father, Prince Edwards, were brothers. There are no other known connections to Cousin Verena, after analyzing her family tree.

FIGURE 4: Comparing Cousin Verena, a descendant of Peter Edwards,
with Cousin Armintha, Uncle John, and Mom on Chromosome 5 in GEDmatch

FIGURE 5: Cousin Verena inherited the same DNA on chromosome 5
in the boxed section above.

Wonderfully, this confirmed that their chromosome 5 segment came from the Edwards side, thru one of their MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor), which would be the parents of Peter and Prince Edwards. In other words, Uncle John and Cousin Armintha, as well as my mother, inherited chunks of the same identical DNA on chromosome 5 from their great-grandfather, Prince Edwards. Since our Igbo cousins share 8 to 9 cM of identical DNA with them on chromosome 5, and since they share 9.0 cM [1,078 SNPs] of identical DNA with Cousin Bryan on chromosome 8, our Igbo cousins are related to the Edwards side of my mother’s family.

“Ogba Ogumba” – an Igbo Name

As I revealed in previous blog posts, oral history and genealogical clues revealed that the parents of Jerry, Prince, Peter, and others were likely Luke Edwards (born c. 1790) and Lucy Edwards (born c. 1795 in Georgia), who may have been known as “Reedia.” The late Cousin Dr. Sidney Edwards Sr., a great-grandson of Jerry, interviewed family elders in Mississippi around 1970. They relayed to him that Luke told their grandparents that he was captured in Africa and brought to Virginia. I uncovered that he had been enslaved by William Edwards of Panola County, Mississippi. Not only that, Luke communicated to his family that his African name was “Ogba(r) Ogumba,” which he was forced to renounce. Recently, several Nigerians of Igbo descent claimed the name as theirs without hesitation. Read more about this here.

Our Igbo cousins are related to my Edwards family, either thru Ogba Ogumba or via Lucy. But as you may imagine, my bets are on Grandpa Ogba Ogumba! And I’m not a gambler. Maybe the future will reveal more definitive evidence. Interestingly, the parents of both Igbo cousins are originally from Anambra State, in southeast Nigeria, the heart of Igboland. But check this out! A tourist attraction in Anambra State are the Ogbunike Caves, which are a collection of caves that are situated in a valley blanketed by tropical rain forests behind the "Ogba Hills." Africans shrouded in those caves from slave-raiding convoys during the period of the transatlantic slave trade.

Transatlantic slave trade voyages data show that nearly 40% of all documented human imports into Virginia and Maryland, the largest concentration of enslaved Africans, were taken from the Bight of Biafra region, also known as the Bight of Bonny. This region encompassed the coasts of present-day Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and northern Gabon. A majority of these captives were described as Igbos, who were embarked from the major trading ports at Bonny and Calabar, in present-day southeastern Nigeria. According to Douglas Chambers, the state of Virginia itself received nearly 37,000 enslaved Africans from Calabar in the early 19th century, and 30,000 of them were Igbos [1]. Consequently, most African Americans, who are descendants of enslaved Africans brought to America, have at least one Igbo ancestor. For more information, read Fonte Felipe’s very informative article, The Igbo Connection for Virginia & Virginia-Descendants.

[1] Chambers, Douglas B. (March 1, 2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. University Press of Mississippi. p. 23.