Sunday, June 8, 2014

Got Roots in Madagascar?

UPDATE 12/3/2014: A new match with the surname Ramalanjaona recently appeared in my father's 23andMe DNAR. He shares 10 cM with my father with a predicted relationship of 5th cousins. On his profile, he indicated that he is Malagasy. He has confirmed that both of his parents are from Madagascar; they migrated to America in the 70s. This DNA match to a Malagasy is great evidence that my father had an ancestor from Madagascar! Mr. Ramalanjaona matches on one of the Southeast Asian segments on Dad's chromosome 12, thereby confirming that SE Asian ancestry is a great indicator of Malagasy ancestry.

I tell ya! DNA never ceases to amaze me! Both my mother and father’s X-DNA analyses have been rather revealing, indicating other ancestral ethnicities in my DNA. I wrote this blog post back in October 2013 about my mother’s X-chromosome. Could it be that I had ancestors from Southeast Africa (Mozambique/Madagascar) on my father’s side? 

Several years ago, I read a post on the AfriGeneas African-Native American Genealogy Forum board of someone seeking information on the “Matagascan/Malagascan/Matogascan Creek Indians” because family lore claimed that her great-great-grandmother was from this “Indian” tribe. Another poster commented, “My mother's father always described his mother as being a full blooded Malagaskan Indian woman with long black hair down her back.” I even found a slave narrative of a man who also claimed this heritage. James Brittain of Mississippi relayed the following in his slave narrative about his grandmother:

"My grandma came from Virginia . . . When my grandma died she was one hundred and ten years old. She said she was a Molly Gasca negro. That was the race she belonged to. She sure did look different from any the rest of us. Her hair it was fine as silk and hung down below her waist. The folks said Old Miss was jealous of her and Old Master. I don't know how that was." (Source)

Immediately, I began to associate the name “Malagascan” and “Molly Gasca” with Madagascar, an island located 250 miles off the southeastern African coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean. Being one of the largest islands in the world, Madagascar is roughly the size of Texas. The sounds of the names were almost phonetically identical. Shortly afterwards, I coincidentally conversed with another researcher at an event in Atlanta who told me that she has oral history of an ancestor being brought to America from Madagascar. To add, another poster in the AfriGeneas African-Native American Genealogy Forum soon wrote, “He (an elderly cousin) told the story of my ggg-grandfather who was from a royal family of Madagascar Africa that was taken as a slave out of Madagascar Africa on a slave ship.” A third poster also recounted oral history of her ancestor being brought to Virginia from Madagascar. A fourth researcher named Monifaa also communicated the following, “My mom's oldest brother has alleged to me that my ggg-grandmother was captured by slavers from the island of Madagascar and sold to cotton plantation owners in North Carolina.” Researcher Tracey Hughes discusses the discovery of her Madagascar ancestor in her blog post. It became evident that some African Americans had personal knowledge of Madagascar ancestry.

In Exchanging Our Country Mark, Michael Gomez wrote about the connection between "Madagascar Negroes" to Virginia; a small number of them were imported into Virginia during the early years of the transatlantic slave trade (p. 41). Gomez also describes how those particular Africans were "yellowish" in complexion and had hair like a "Madagascar's." Madagascar’s inhabitants are called the Malagasy people, and they speak a language by that name. Sources note that many of the Malagasy people possessed light skin and facial features very akin to people in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Many others possessed darker skin and curly hair. Geneticists have determined that all of the Malagasy people descend from ancestors from Africa, as well as from Asia, specifically Borneo (Source). Then, it made clear sense to me that as time passed in America, Africans from Madagascar were believed to be “Indians” or “Black Indians”.

My interest further peaked in learning how Africans from Madagascar were transported to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. I had thought that the African ancestors of African-Americans were primarily from West and West-Central Africa, an Atlantic coastal region stretching from Senegal to Angola. Do I too have roots from Madagascar? Based on transatlantic slave trade statistics, the chances seemed small but possible; less than 5 percent of enslaved Africans imported into North America were from Madagascar.

Historians discovered more specific numbers, albeit small in number. Enslaved Malagasy Africans first arrived into the West Indies, Massachusetts, and New York, beginning in the 1670’s. The trade was stopped in 1698 by action of Parliament but resumed in 1716. From 1719 to 1725, only more than 1,000 enslaved Malagasy Africans were disembarked into Virginia through the Rappahannock and York River ports. More specifically, the Madagascar human imports into Virginia included the following:

     May 18 1719; Vessel - Prince Eugene; 340 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
     May 17, 1720; Vessel - Mercury; 466 Africans; Port of Entry – Rappahannock River
     May 21, 1721; Vessel - Gascoigne; 133 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
     June 21, 1721; Vessel - Prince Eugene; 103 Africans: Port of Entry – York River
     June 26, 1721; Vessel - Snow Rebecca; 59 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
     June 27, 1727; Vessel - Henrietta; 130 Africans; Port of Entry – York River
        (Source: Virginia Slave-Trade Statistics 1698-1775 by Minchinton, King, and Waite)

Recently, 23andMe started providing their customers with more details about their ancestry composition. As I studied my father’s results, I realized that his ancestry composition was updated to include 0.8% East African. Initially, I didn’t think much of it since the percentage was low. However, I noticed two things of great significance: (1) Very few people with African ancestry had East African ancestry in their 23andMe ancestry composition, and (2) all of my father’s 0.8% East African ancestry fell on his X-chromosome; it comprises about a whopping third of his X-chromosome! See below. 23andMe describes East African ancestry as follows:

Since my father’s DNA indicates East African ancestry, in conjunction with Southeast Asian ancestry, I revisited the question: Do I too have roots from Madagascar?  It appears so, when I learned more about the dynamics of the transatlantic slave trade, and especially since most of my father’s enslaved ancestors in Mississippi were born in Virginia and North Carolina. After viewing my father’s results, Teresa Vega, a researcher of Madagascar genetic genealogy, explained, “The Southeast Asian component, along with East Africa and South Africa, practically confirms it. Plus, Madagascar slaves were imported into Virginia. So, the chances are pretty high.”

Since all of my father’s East African ancestry are on his X-chromosome, this ancestry comes from his birth mother, Gertrude Belton, who was born near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Males inherit their X-chromosome from their mothers. X-DNA matches and segments are great because the X-chromosome can only be passed down certain ancestral lines.  Therefore, ancestral lines where the connection would not be found can be eliminated. I utilized the X-chromosome inheritance charts located here to narrow it down in the 5th generation to only my father’s great-great-grandparents who may have contributed to his X-DNA and the maximum amount they may have contributed. Those ancestors were the following:

Frederick “Fred” Miller – born c. 1827 in Warren Co., Mississippi (parents born in VA) (25%)
Hannah Miller – born c. 1835 in Alabama (parents born in VA) (25%)
Beady Bass – born c. 1810 in Northampton Co., North Carolina (which borders Virginia) (25%)
Caroline Morris – born c. 1815 in Greensville Co., Virginia (12.5%) (haplogroup is L0a1b)
[Unknown Father] Morris – born in Virginia (12.5%)

Each ancestor whose box is colored may have contributed X-DNA segments
to the focus person (my father). 
(Source of chart)

One of them most probably had an ancestor(s) from Madagascar. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine the names of their parents. Nevertheless, DNA technology is definitely suggesting that my father and I may have Malagasy blood, and it came from one of their lineages. This makes me wonder if my late great-aunt Pearlie’s long, black hair was an East African trait rather than Native American.

SPECIAL NOTE: After further dialogue with DNA enthusiasts, it has been brought to my attention that the sample populations (Massai, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea) that 23andMe used to establish the East African segment might not be genetically tied to Madagascar, although 23andMe included Madagascar in their definition for East African. Therefore, the East African segment alone should NOT be used to try to prove Malagasy ancestry. However, if other components are present, such as Southeast Asian ancestry, strong Virginia and New England colonial roots, etc., then the possibility remains that Malagasy ancestry may exist. A maternal haplogroup that is prevalent among the Malagasy (R9, M23, M7c1c, M32c, B4a1a1, F3b) or a Malagasy paternal haplogroup (O1a, O2a*) will be a strong indicator of Malagasy ancestry. The African portion of Malagasy will be West African in 23andMe’s ancestry composition because that is how 23andMe classifies Bantu tribes. (Special thanks to T.L. Dixon)

Children of the Malagasy People
(Source; public domain)

I found this nice slideshow of images from Madagascar.


  1. great post as always, Melvin! i'm also chasing a possible connection to Madagascar, through information that my paternal grandmother shared with me before she passed.
    who knows...maybe you and i could have a connection? the ancestral line i'm following was located in Pontotoc County, Mississippi from the early 1840s (possibly late 1830s) until 1851, and was in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama and South Carolina before then.

    1. Thanks for including a link to your post. I added it within this blog post.

  2. Fabulous post, Melvin! I received my 23andme results with a surprise mt haplogroup of B4a1a1. I've ordered the FMS at FTDNA and am waiting to see if there are further refinements and possible matches. I've traced my maternal line back to my enslaved 4x great grandmother Florence Carraby in New Orleans, but haven't been able to go further to either her birth or arrival in New Orleans as yet.

    Tracey, your post and blog are fabulous as well. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Fabulous post, Melvin! I received my 23andme results with a surprise mt haplogroup of B4a1a1. I've ordered the FMS at FTDNA and am waiting to see if there are further refinements and possible matches. I've traced my maternal line back to my enslaved 4x great grandmother Florence Carraby in New Orleans, but haven't been able to go further to either her birth or arrival in New Orleans as yet.

    Tracey, your post and blog are fabulous as well. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi Melvin

    I am an African Caribbean (Jamaican origin) UK resident. I am aware of the presence of Africans from the Eastern shores of Africa in the Americas including Malagasies in Jamaica. I have read of their presence in African uprisings during
    slavery in Jamaica where they have reported to have played a prominent part. I am currently reading the Slaves who abolished slavery -Richard Hart and have read the story of the Jamaican People-Sherlock and Bennett both mention the presence of Malagasy Africans on the island.


  5. My grandfather told us the tale of his ancestor, a fiddle player, was put on a slave ship to play for the slaves to exercise and what kept on the boat and taken to American. Several years ago we ran into another family with the Countee surname,
    they also had heard the fiddle player story and we discovered had cousins in common, Odell and Marcus Countee. We conducted Paternal DNA testing with ancestry but did not find a common paternal ancestor. Our Amer. ancestor was born in Virginia in 1816, where Madagascar slaves were taken. Will the 23andme
    test show me more???

  6. This is wonderful! I have to get back to my research soon. It will mean a lot to my Mom Ella L Roberts (deceased 9/2004) born Columbus MS. Our family name is Jefferson in Artesia Ms. Still looking for connections to the source of our beginning in this USA. Thxs again!

  7. Hi Melvin. I screamed out loud when i read about Malagaskcan Indian. My grandmother always stated her grandmother was a "Mollyglascian" jet black lady with straight jet black hair. I've always dismissed her and we would laugh because the DNA test showed Cameroon Tikar as direct maternal line. No Indian here, although 23andme shows 3% Native. I've stumbled on Malagasy as a possibility but I dismissed it but now that I think of it, it is possible that my grandmother's grandmother's father line was Malagasy. My grandmother never waivered being Malagascian and I have 1.8% SouthEast Asian ancestry. All of this time, I thought she was crazy and I had made it up. To see other oral traditions of this name shows me that we may actually be Malagasy at this point, I am almost certain of it because of the Asian ancestry and oral tradition stating that we are indeed Madagascan. I just thought, as my grandmother did that it was an black indian tribe. No wonder, Native people did not know of this tribe that I inquired of over the years. I had given up on the possibility that we had a tribal name. It feels good to connect the dots. Although, I am not a directness maternal or paternal descendent to show the DNA proof, this blog has reassured me of the connection. Thank you so much. if you would like to discuss further I can reached at Thank you!

  8. Misaotra! (Thank you!)
    I am a Malagasy filmmaker living in Madagascar and working for a production company based in North Carolina. I am really interested in those stories of Malagasy migrations to the US during slavery for a potential movie project in the future.

    The uniqueness of the Malagasy identity (a perfect mix of SouthEast Asia and East Africa) is so little acknowledged, even by ourselves, the Malagasy people. I assume that the Malagasy slaves had more struggle to integrate themselves into the AfroAmerican communities back then as they felt physically different (smaller, lighter skin, straighter hair for some). So, thank you for sharing the results of your researches and please tell more stories about the oral testimonials from your grandmother, uncles...). I would be happy to share the little I know from my side

    1. I have the Malagasy connection too. I have done the autosomal dna tests with a few companies and always come up with both a good percentage of East African and Southeast Asian on every single test, even though most sources claim all Afro/African Americans descend from West Africa. My maternal lines are from Virginia, North/South Carolina and Jamaica, which all relate to the Madagascar slaves. Funny thing is one of my great aunts was named Molly Glaze(their surname and also my birth surname) as a sign of respect to their "Mollyglascian Indian" blood!


      This is cool. So you are Indonesian too.

  9. My story is so much like the others that are shared here! My mother and grandmother talked a lot about my deceased grandfather and the fact that he was Malagasy Indian. When looking at the pictures he certainly fit the description... Thin frame, dark complexion and bone straight hair. I have not done and genetic test to date but are planning to soon! I would love to be able to "connect the dots"! Thank you Melvin. And thanks to everyone that is posting!

  10. Interesting! Our family had our DNA traced back to Madagascar through African Ancestry DNA test.

  11. Wow very interesting. I am eurasian with Indonesian ancestry. I wonder if the Dutch slave masters traded indonesian slaves to madagascar, because they look so indonesian and the language is quite similar. And of course the south east asian dna.

    1. Queenie, I don't think the Dutch had anything to do with it. Scientists say that my people's Indonesian ancestors were seafarers and traders who may or may not have been shipwrecked. They mixed with Africans and other people along the way but Indonesian features remain predominant among inhabitants of the highlands.

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