Monday, May 18, 2015

African Autosomal DNA Matching: A Feeling I Can’t Describe

 

Autosomal DNA tests (like 23andMe, FamilyTree DNA, etc.) are allowing many people of African descent to gain insight about some of their African roots in a very profound manner – by connecting them to African distant cousins. I get chills when a new African match appears among my DNA relatives or that of my parents, my maternal aunt, and my maternal uncle, all of whom I have tested with 23andMe. I am not alone in my reaction. Many people are jumping for joy when they get a new African DNA match. They eagerly post about it in Facebook groups like DNA Tested African Descendants and others. I feel and understand their joy. It is indeed a feeling that’s indescribable!

To date, my family has at least four valid DNA matches to African cousins. I say “valid” because the African DNA cousins also match other known family members on the same spot on the same chromosome. These matches are likely to be “Identity by Descent” (IBD). According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), IBD is when a matching segment of DNA, shared by two or more people, has been inherited from a recent common ancestor without any intervening recombination.[1] To learn more about the threshold for matches from various DNA companies, see this link. There are other matches that I am not sure about, so I will leave them out of this post for now.

Three of my family’s four valid DNA matches to date have shared no greater than 8 cM but matching multiple family members. The other match, who is from Madagascar, shares 10 cM with my father, as shown below. According to geneticist Tim Janzen, many matches under 15 cMs will, in any case, share ancestry more than ten generations ago and will be mostly beyond the reach of genealogical records[2] For many African Americans, the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade here in America was at least 8 generations ago. I plausibly asserted that after nine generations back, I hit the time frames in my own 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. This is my best guess based on genealogical findings to date.

The 9th generation would be my 7th-great-grandparents. Everyone have a total of 512 7th-great-grandparents, and a majority of mine were undoubtedly Africans. Although nine or more generations back is beyond my genealogical scope thus far, these African DNA matches are definitive links to the Motherland. These African DNA matches are clear indications that family members were left behind when our enslaved African ancestors were: (1) captured and 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 South Carolina, Virginia, the Caribbean, and other places; and (5) birthed my American-born ancestors.

Like most descendants of enslaved Africans in America, I am an admixture of many African ethnic groups. I estimate that I had hundreds of ancestors who endured the horrific Middle Passage, and they came from areas throughout West Africa and West-Central Africa. A few may have even hailed from Mozambique and Madagascar, based on transatlantic slave trade statistics. All of them make up the 89.8% Sub-Saharan African ancestry that 23andMe proclaims is part of my ancestry composition. Therefore, I hope to add to my present list of four as more Africans take the autosomal DNA tests (23andMe, FamilyTree DNA, etc.). To increase discoveries like these, 23andMe had been offering free kits to people with four grandparents from one of the sub-Saharan African countries — Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo , Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Enrollment in this project is now closed. More info about that project can be read here.

My African DNA matches from 23andMe include the following:

CAMEROON


Family Link:                
Sex:
Posted Surnames:       
IBD Validity:

Amount:
Ethnic groups/tribes:

Paternal grandfather, Hulen Kennedy
Male
Fru, Nchoungong
Matches my father, his paternal 2nd cousin, & me on the same spot on chromosome 3
5.3 to 6.1 cM
Bamileke - his mother is from the Bambili tribe and his father is from the Nkwen tribe

GHANA


Family Link:
Sex:
Posted Surnames:       
IBD Validity:

Amount:
Ethnic groups/tribes:
Maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed
Female
Dodoo, Wunu, Bansah
Matches my mother, her sister & brother, their 1st cousin 3X removed, and me on the same spot on chromosome 2
5.1 to 5.9 cM
Ashanti and Ewe peoples

LESOTHO


Family Link:
Sex:
Posted Surnames:       
IBD Validity:

Amount:
Ethnic groups/tribes:
Maternal great-grandmother, Mary Danner Davis
Not Available
Not Available
Matches my mother, her brother, their two maternal 2nd cousins, and me on the same spot on chromosome 5
7.2 to 7.7 cM
Not shown (probably Basotho people)

MADAGASCAR


Family Link:
Sex:
Posted Surnames:       
IBD Validity:
Amount:
Ethnic groups/tribes:
Paternal grandfather, Hulen Kennedy
Male
Ramalanjaona, Rajoelinjaka
Matches my father and his paternal first cousin twice removed
10 cM
Malagasy people

I must say, a match to someone from Lesotho is a big surprise! I am still researching the possibilities of that valid match. Nonetheless, to underscore the importance of these matches, genetics expert Shannon Christmas, who is a 23andMe Ancestry Ambassador and co-administrator of The Hemings-Jefferson-Wayles-Eppes Autosomal DNA Project, conveys that autosomal DNA matches with native Africans are the best indicators of one's ancestral origins in Africa. He further asserts that these African DNA connections are the types of discoveries that people of African descent should embrace and encourage because they teach us far more than haplogroup predictions and autosomal biogeographical analysis. I have communicated with two of these African DNA cousins via social media and inbox messages, and I look forward to the day when I meet them in person. Undoubtedly, tears will fall from my eyes.

Note: I will update this post as I get more African DNA matches in the future.

17 comments:

  1. Great post, Melvin!
    You've got a third book in you!

    George

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  2. Great post, my son inlaw is Zambian he is very informative and intrested in learning more about it, I share my information.
    His name is Mukuka Kenedy Kasapo.

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  3. Great post as usual Melvin! I agree George, on another book.

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  4. Great post Melvin!

    As an African (100% Sub-Saharan African on AncestryDNA), I have re-connected with a few of my African American cousins. I have even met one of my cousins in person!

    The feeling for me as an African, is just as you described it - amazing and exhilarating! DNA testing is helping us to achieve the almost unimaginable, re-connecting after 8 to 10 generations apart!

    Thanks once again for this wonderful post!

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    Replies
    1. Adetunji, thank you for your participation in the autosomal DNA testing! The people who match you will indeed be blessed by your willingness to share and connect.

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    2. Very exciting news! It is further confirmation when you have triangulation, that's great Melvin! Thankfully, Adetunji Omole, myself, his daughter, my Uncle, my dad and brothers also have triangulation as well, so I know the feeling. However, I wouldn't discourage, over not getting triangulation either. If you have received an African match at all is confirmation in itself, and a reason to celebrate and embrace the region that the match derives from, especially since most of the admixture results are speculations given by DNA companies and not based on exact matches but only on genetic marker similarities. It was so long before I even received an African match at all. Evidence, that my family have been in America for more than eight generations, my matches are usually small centimorgan matches but still quite significant.

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  5. Excellent post, Melvin! My parents currently have 6 African matches on 23andme. For your reference, they are:

    Father (family from Mississippi):
    - Egypt 13.6cm
    - Morocco 8.6cm

    Mother (family from Mississippi):
    - Seychelles 6.0cm
    - Zimbabwe 6.8cm
    - Ghana 6.6cm
    - Sudan 7.3cm

    Thanks again for your post!

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  6. This is a great post on a great topic. I got my first DNA test in the early 90's from Oxford Ancestors and all they would tell me was that I was from Haplogroup L. I pushed and pushed and finally got them to narrow it down to L2. Then, African Ancestry came and moved me forward by assigning mtDNA of my parents to more specific groups.

    Now Melvin is pushing us to link to specific individuals. I diidn't think this would happen in my lifetime. Now, with Melvin's help, I found two living African cousins from Ghana and Nigeria. 23andme estimates tthat he common ancestor with the Nigerian cousin was born after 1775, so we're getting closer.

    Gparents Segment
    Country Length CentiMorgans
    ======== =================
    Ghana 6.1
    Nigeria 11.0 and 5.9

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    Replies
    1. Wow..to share a total of 16 cM across 2 segments with a Nigerian is MAJOR! Congratulations! I am learning from Shannon Christmas on the importance of valid African autosomal DNA matches to glean some insight into my African ancestries. To connect to an individual is amazing and exciting.

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  7. I didn't know this was happening. Amazing! and Wonderful! I can only hope one day I get an African match in my list.

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  8. Melvin,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/05/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-may-22-2015.html

    Have a great weekend!

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  9. As I dig further into explaining one of my African matches, I found that one branch of my mothers family (Pittman) has matches of 5cM and 6cM with this person, while my match is 7.2cM on GEDMATCH (only 6.1 on 23andme). Other branches of my family do not have matches over 3.5cM.

    In the past, I disregarded matches under 7cM, but in this case, I suspect that the relatively larger matches indicate a pattern even though they are small. They are not randomly distributed. The larger matches always appear in the Pittman line and they never appear in my other 7 greatgrandparent lines.

    It is incredible how technological advances have helped both on the medical side and with the information sharing that we do here on this blog.

    ReplyDelete

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