Monday, September 17, 2012

How Many Ancestors Were On Those Ships?



African Ancestry’s 2012 Family Reunion, September 15, 2012, Atlanta, Georgia

     I had the pleasure of attending African Ancestry’s 2012 Family Reunion at the Hammonds House Museum. We watched a video of African Ancestry’s recent road tour and enjoyed African dances and beats by the Giwayen Meta Drummers and Dancers who enthusiastically engaged the audience, as seen in the picture above.  Additionally, Atlanta city councilman Kwanza Hall, Ambassador Carlton Masters, KISS 104 radio personality Cynthia Young, Jovita Moore of WSB-TV Atlanta, and DJ Salah Ananse had their DNA results revealed to them.  They were happy to learn their results – Kwanza (Tuareg people of Mali), Cynthia (Balanta people of Guinea Bissau & the Mende people of Sierra Leone), Jovita (Fula people of Guinea Bissau). (I apologize for not remembering everyone’s results; I was too caught up in the moment.)

Jovita Moore learns her DNA results. Also pictured are Gina Paige and Dr. Rick Kittles, founders of African Ancestry, Inc.

     However, the main purpose of this blog post is to touch on the subject of African ancestry, one of my passionate topics, and not on the growing technology of DNA testing. I’ll leave the latter for the geneticists and DNA-technology enthusiasts.  After the reveal ceremony, Gina Paige asked the audience to raise their hands if they represented various African nations like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Angola, and etc. via their DNA results.  Some people in the audience noticed that I raised my hand at least 5 times. How can that be? 

     Well, thanks to my maternal 1st cousin, Charlotte Bandele, our mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) pattern matches the Fulbe (a.k.a. Fulani) people of northern Cameroon (by way of Nigeria). My father’s mtDNA pattern is a 100% match to the Tikar of Cameroon.  My mother’s direct paternal line (via my uncle’s Y-chromosome) matches the Mbundu of Angola.  My mother’s paternal grandmother’s mtDNA pattern (via her 1st cousin’s results) perfectly matches the Akan of Ghana. Interestingly, a number of my mother’s relatives bear striking resemblances to people in Ghana.  Another maternal lineage (via a 3rd cousin’s test) matches the Mandinka & Fula (a.k.a. Fulani) peoples of Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and a fifth maternal lineage (via a distant cousin’s test) matches the Yoruba & Fulani peoples of Nigeria. That’s why I raised my hand numerous times.

A Fulani girl living in Nigeria today (picture by Fulanitude)

     However, I started thinking. When this profound question was asked, “Where Are You From?”, I pondered the following question: How many of my enslaved African ancestors were on those slave ships?  I will never know an exact number, but I performed some calculations or “guesstimations” to satisfy my curiosity.  I plausibly asserted that after nine generations back, I hit the time frames in my family tree when many of my African ancestors were living in Africa; many in that 9th generation endured the horrific Middle Passage, while few in that 9th generation were probably among the first to be born on American soil to African parents.  The 9th generation would be my 7th-great-grandparents. For many African Americans, it could be from the 7th generation and upwards.  It will vary.

     Everyone has 512 7th-great-grandparents.  That’s a lot of people!  To add, I am 89% African, 10% European, and 1% Asian (interpreted as Native American), according to 23andme DNA company.  Therefore, based on these percentages, let’s say hypothetically that 456 of my 512 7th-great-grandparents were Africans (89%). 

     Albeit my DNA-based calculation and its undetermined level of accuracy, this still allows me to proclaim with confidence that I had hundreds of African ancestors who were: (1) marched to the Atlantic shores of Africa from their villages in the interior; (2) chained to the belly of slave ships; (3) survived the gruesome Middle Passage; (4) auctioned in slave markets in Charleston, So. Carolina, Virginia, and other places; and (5) birthed my American-born ancestors.  The number could have been around 200, 300, 456, or greater. Nevertheless, all of them encompass that 89% of my DNA, and they came from many ethnic groups (tribes) and regions of West and West-Central Africa.  Some might have come from Madagascar; a number of Africans from that southeastern African nation were transported to Virginia ports during the early part of the slave trade in America. Miraculously, DNA testing from African Ancestry provided specificity and scientific clues on six of my many lineages. More family lines will be tested in the future.  So when I am asked, “Where Are You From?”, in all likelihood I can credibly claim most, if not all, of the present-day nations of West Africa, from Senegal to Angola.

I am standing on the shore of Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, South Carolina.  This was where enslaved Africans were first disembarked to be quarantined before they were placed on the slave markets in Charleston.  Many of my ancestors from various African ethnic groups (tribes) and regions touched American soil for the first time here. Read more about Sullivan’s Island.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Grandparents Day 2012: Remembering My Grandmother

Willie Ealy Collier
(1904 – 1990)
Youngest daughter of Paul Ealy & Adeline Kennedy Ealy

Over two decades ago, God called you into His kingdom. I was devastated because I was losing the best grandmother a boy could have ever wished for. But after the river of tears, I realized that I wasn't losing you at all. You are always with me. How do I know? Because you are often in my dreams, and every time I wake up after seeing you in my dream, the day is already starting off great.

It brings me so much joy to remember....

...when you, me, and Granddaddy would go fishing on Mr. Swayze's pond in Yazoo County. That would be the only time when I couldn't wait to wake up at 5 AM in the morning. How I loved our fishing trips!

...the many talks you shared with me about your family and its history. I credit my love for genealogy to your stories about your parents and grandparents. And I still remember how you said that you being the youngest child of your parents' nine children, you were a spoiled brat.

...when we would go to Carthage, and as we were walking around the town's square, one of your former students would come up to you and greet you. You'd laugh and talk with them as if you were truly glad to see them after all of those years. Then, once they walk away, you'd look at me and say, "Baby, I don't remember her/him to save my life!" I am laughing now just remembering how you'd say it.

...when I was 12 years old and had just learned how to drive, you let me drive you and Granddaddy to the Ealy Family Reunion picnic 50 miles away in Scott County.  No learner's permit, no driver's license, nothing but Faith.  You had me to sit on a pillow so I would be high enough in front of the steering wheel, and you placed your life and your new Chevrolet Impala in my hands.  I don't know if you ever realized how grown I felt that day!

...your elegant strut as you walked in church because you knew you were sharp. And you were!

...when I was 13 and getting off the Amtrak train from spending two weeks in Chicago, you were right there at the station to make sure that I arrived back home safely. The train stopped but started to move again to a better spot so people could get off safely, and you thought the train was leaving. I heard your voice from inside the train, "Stop that train!! My grandbaby is on there!!" Oh yes, I remember how happy I was to hear your voice!

...how you'd buy me whatever I wanted. You made a 15-year-old teenager so happy when, without hesitation, you agreed to buy me that red Honda Elite motor scooter I desperately wanted. My friends teased me that you were the one who spoiled me. I guess they were right.

...how you and Granddaddy would encourage me, give me guidance, and always would let me know when I was doing wrong.

...how when Mom or Dad would cook something I didn't like, I'd jump on my bike or scooter, head to your house, and begged you to buy me a Big Mac from McDonald's. Every time I eat a Big Mac now, I remember those times.

...how much you loved and respected my Mom, your daughter-in-law; you'd think that she was your child rather than Dad.

...the many times when I went with you to your hometown church in Lena, Mississippi.  On one of those times, after church, while everyone was gathering outside, you saw this young girl and tried to hook me up with her.  Then minutes later, you learned that she was your first cousin's granddaughter!  LOL

...how you loved Tube Rose snuff, and I am still laughing about how you'd say that you'd die if I didn't run to the store to get you some snuff.

...how you showered us with so much love. So much so, that twenty-two years later, it seems that you haven't been gone from this earthly setting for over two decades.

When I need an uplift, all I need to do is sit back and remember the best grandmother in the world! I thank God for the memories.

I love you, Grandma. Somehow, I know you're reading this.

Your "Buster" (and you were the only person who could call me that without me getting mad. LOL)