Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Miracles of DNA: Our Family Reunion in Ghana, Africa

This is my first blog post for 2017. I am very happy to make this blog post about our dream-like family reunion in Ghana on December 11 & 14, 2016. There will be other blog posts about our spectacular week in Ghana.


My cousins (R to L), Dr. Leroy Frazier, Andre Edwards, James Johnson, and I with our host William Obeng in the middle. My cousins and I all are descendants of Luke Edwards (Ogbar Ogumba) and Lucy Edwards of Panola County (Como), Mississippi.

During Memorial Day weekend of May 2016, my cousins and I discussed the possibility of traveling to Ghana at our Edwards homecoming celebration in northern Mississippi. One of my cousins, Dr. Leroy Frazier, my maternal grandfather’s great-nephew, was already set to travel to Ghana in December. By Labor Day weekend, I had not made the final decision if I was going to accompany them to Ghana or travel there in 2017. I had always wanted to visit Ghana, especially after receiving two DNA matches to Ghanaians, both on my mother’s father's side. One of the DNA matches is Kweku Folson of London. Both of his parents were Ghana immigrants to the UK. His family roots hailed from Winneba and Cape Coast, in the Central Region of south Ghana, and his family are of the Akan people. Kweku’s IBD (Identity by Descent) match to three cousins from the Reed/Edwards side of my mother's family on the same chromosome revealed our ancestral connection to the Gold Coast (Ghana). See this March 2016 blog post for more details concerning this significant DNA match to my Edwards lineage. 

On September 5, 2016, which was Labor Day, I checked my family's DNA accounts to see if any new DNA matches appeared. This is something that I do almost daily. Three months prior, I was able to generate a pseudo-DNA Lazarus kit in GEDmatch for my deceased maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed, using three of his children, including my mother, one of his baby brother's daughters, who is 95 years old, a great-nephew, and 10 Edwards cousins, who had also taken an autosomal DNA test and had uploaded their raw data files to GEDmatch. My grandfather was the grandson of Prince Edwards (a son of Luke & Lucy) of Panola County, Mississippi, his mother's father. While I was scrolling through the list of my grandfather's DNA matches in GEDmatch on that September day, I came across a foreign-looking name that appeared to be African. Her name was Nana Faba Idun. She was also a DNA match to my mother's brother. I immediately contacted LaKisha David, the person who manages Nana Faba's account, on Facebook. She responded within an hour!

To my joy, LaKisha informed me that Nana Faba was an elderly, 81-year-old Fante woman who resides in Elmina, Ghana, where she was born and raised, and the town where Elmina Castle, the slave dungeon, was located in the Central Region of south Ghana. This is the same region where Kweku Folson's family roots are from. She became my family's 3rd DNA match to Ghana! Also to my joy, LaKisha immediately connected me with four of Nana Faba's granddaughters, Rita Quaigrain Owusu, Rhoda Quaigrain, Efua Martin, and Ivy Gyaaba Martin, who were also on Facebook. They immediately embraced me and Cousin Leroy. Nana Faba's granddaughter, Rhoda, who resides in Canada, and LaKisha are best friends. In May 2016, both of them had traveled to Ghana, and while they were there, LaKisha collected saliva samples from Rhoda's mother and maternal grandmother, Nana Faba, for the AncestryDNA test. After receiving the results, LaKisha subsequently uploaded their raw data files to GEDmatch, an effort for TAKiR, the African Kinship Reunion project.

At this point, I then decided to make the trip to Ghana in December with my cousins to see our ancestral homeland. I had only three months to prepare. We arrived in Accra, Ghana on the night of Saturday, December 10, 2016. Two days before arriving, Cousin Leroy received the final confirmation that we were going to be able to meet Cousin Nana Faba Idun and her family. They happily agreed to the "family reunion." To say that I was excited is a gross understatement. The adjective "euphoric" doesn't properly describe how I was feeling! A family reunion with African cousins was something that was beyond my wildest dreams. Just several years ago, I never fathomed that something like this would even be possible! But DNA technology and the efforts of LaKisha and Rhoda, and her grandmother's willingness, made this possible.

One of Cousin Nana Faba's daughters, Faustina Quaigrain, resided in the suburban village of Kasoa, which is adjacent to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Therefore, the first part of this monumental family reunion was with Cousin Faustina, her husband, Chief Dr. Kennedy Quaigrain, and grandchildren and great grandchildren of Cousin Nana Faba there on Sunday, the day after we arrived in Accra. What a great way to start our visit to Ghana! 

We were warmly welcomed into their home in the Ghanaian traditional style. We conversed about the significance of this family reunion, which was reuniting them with African-American cousins whose ancestors were likely taken away from the Gold Coast, and our reconnecting with the blood descendants in Ghana. Cousin Chief Quaigrain discussed the importance of family connections and maintaining those family ties. We reiterated the effects of the transatlantic slave trade (The Middle Passage) on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. We expressed to the family how we are just four out of thousands of African-American cousins that they have. Chief Dr. Quaigrain also gave us a brief history lesson about the Fante people of the Central Region of Ghana. The Fante people are a subgroup of the Akan. He poignantly expressed, "Since you all made the great effort in traveling thousands of miles to Ghana to connect with us, we take great pleasure in opening our home and welcoming you all, our family, back home to Ghana." Hearing those words touched our hearts deeply. I felt my eyes watering.

With the daughters, son-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren
of Cousin Nana Faba Idun in Kasoa, Ghana

Chief Dr. Kennedy Quaigrain discussing the importance of family with us. (Photo by Andre Edwards)

The second part of this great family reunion occurred that Wednesday, December 14, in Cape Coast, Ghana. Our host, William Obeng, and his family planned a Homecoming Reception for us that night, which was attended by over 100 people from the Central Region and Accra. We had no idea that the Obeng Family would literally roll out the red carpet for us! Local dignitaries, their family and friends, as well as the Ghana media, were in attendance to welcome us "home." We were simply in awe. Not only that, since Cousin Nana Faba Idun resided nearby in Elmina, she was able to attend the reception, along with her daughters and grandchildren.

At the reception, we laid eyes on Cousin Nana Faba Idun for the very first time. For a minute, I just sat there and stared at her. I was in disbelief about what was occurring. I simply could not believe it! To garner DNA matches with African cousins is colossal within itself, but to meet that relative in person in Africa took it to a wonderfully greater level that I never imagined. I kept saying to myself, "Is this happening for real?" It was real.

As we sat at the table, talking and laughing with the family, our family, we felt a bond that was no longer hidden and broken. Even one of the camera men stated, "It seemed like you all have known each other for years." We knew that the ancestors were happy. It did not matter at all that we did not know exactly how we are related. This was one of the inhumane effects of American chattel slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Nonetheless, just the simple fact that we were blood family who had returned back "home" to Ghana was all that mattered. According to LaKisha, Cousin Nana Faba's brother, Joseph “Kawantwi” Arthur, remembered childhood stories from their elders about ancestors being taken away from the Gold Coast, never to return. On December 11, 2016, after over 200 years, they returned home through us. I thank God and the ancestors for this wonderful blessing!

My cousins and I with Cousin Nana Faba Idun, her daughters, and grandchildren in Cape Coast, Ghana

Cousin Nana Faba Idun of Elmina, Ghana and me

Cousin Leroy talking and laughing with Cousin Nana Faba and her granddaughter, Rita

People from Ghana at the Homecoming Reception in Cape Coast

Ghana TV News station 3 at the Homecoming Reception interviewing my cousins and me

19 comments:

  1. It is unbelievable. And wonderful. We would never have imagined this could happen a decade ago even. At least I wouldn't have.

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  2. Wow. This is such an amazing story! I know I was following as your trip progressed on Facebook, but it's so nice to share in your emotions through your words in this story. I look forward to hearing more as you are able to process your experiences. Wow. This is really happening!

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  3. So beautiful! BTW, I gave you all a shout out on the podcast while you were in Ghana! So well done! The ancestors are smiling upon you all!

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  4. This is truly a blessing. If we had waited another generation, we might not be able to find these connections. I hope we will see more older West Africans tested. For many people, this is the ultimate goal of geneaological research. I don't remember Alex Haley researching other lines. However, I don't think Melvin will stop here.

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  5. I am very emotional after reading this post. I can't even imagine the magnitude of the wave of feelings you went through during this homecoming. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. The ancestors are definitely smiling!

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  6. This is just wonderful, Melvin! I've truly enjoyed following your journey, and sharing in the emotion of it all!
    Take your time in processing it all, but I do look forward to reading your future posts!

    Renate

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  7. Melvin,

    I am just blown away at how you have taken this to a whole new level of connecting & closing the gap through DNA. Simply amazing!!

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  8. This is absolutely amazing. My sisters and I would love to do research and discover our roots. With every picture you posted on IG, I smiled a littler harder.

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  10. Your journey touch my heart Melvin, your words took me along with you. I felt your Joy and how overwhelming it was to connect with blood relatives while returning to native homeland. This is why you do what you do!!! Happy New Year!!!

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  11. Melvin, Great Reunion and great pictures. This brings back so many memoirs of my migration to Sierra Leone in the late 1980s. My migration to Sierra Leone was a life changing event for my daughter and I. I know that your visit also will be a life changer for you.

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing your African Family Reunion we us. I could feel your family's love and excitement. All praise to the Most High Creator YAH for this awesome connection of separated family members... HalleluYAH

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  13. Amazing. Owusu is the last name of my friend Johnathan who's test I manage. He is a match to your Lazarus kit. He is from Ghana. He lives and works in MD.

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  14. Hello cousin. First of all thank you so much for all the work you have done tracing our family history, and for sharing the family reunion. Your photos and message has touched my heart and sou. I am most grateful to you and I hope to one day make the journey to Ghana as well., May GOD continue to bless you. Happy New Year

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing. May we continue to connect our kinship to our elders and family in Ghana.

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  16. What a great thing for all involved. I've enjoyed reading your blog as well as your books. Now that I've found my bio family, I'm hoping to make the connection to all of my dna cousins.

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  17. Hi Melvin, I just saw you on the RootsTech 2017 and was very inspired by your journey to Ghana. I am so happy you found family members there! My ancestors are from Scotland and England, and I dream about going there myself someday. I am so glad that DNA testing can help you know where you are from and who you are related to. My parents lived in South Africa for a few years and I got to visit them there twice, and I met a few Ghanaians - what wonderful people! I hope you find more connections in the future.

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