African-Americans Utilize DNA Testing to Discover Family Origins

Recent advances in DNA testing, have given many African-Americans a great sense of hope as well as a sense of belonging. These tests have, in fact, allowed one to trace one’s ancestries back to the African continent! As descendants of slaves brought unwillingly to this country centuries ago, black Americans have long faced struggles in researching their ancestors, often relying on oral histories passed down from generation to generation. Now, thanks to DNA, the cellular acid that determines physical appearance and is inherited from one’s parents, many African-Americans have been able to definitively trace their roots to a particular time and place!

Ever since the PBS documentary, African American Lives, which featured Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones and Bishop T.D. Jakes amongst others, black Americans have found a legitimate way to trace their family histories. These DNA tests – currently available through a dozen or so commercial laboratories and non-profit groups – are reasonably inexpensive and growing increasingly popular. Geneticist Bruce Jackson of the University of Massachusetts told USA Today that the African-American DNA Roots Project he co-founded in 2001 has been inundated with African-Americans donating samples to aid historical research.

While each individual’s DNA is unique, there are some DNA patterns that remain relatively unaffected within families as well as within ethnic and geographical groups. Genetic genealogy tracks these types of DNA while a different test uses mitochondrial DNA which children of each gender are passed on from their mothers. Furthermore by tracing minute mutations in DNA, scientists can link a living person to a group in Africa that shares those same DNA patterns!

According to testing completed for the PBS documentary African American Lives, actress Whoopi Goldberg was related to the Pepel and Bayote people living on the West Coast of the African continent in the nations of Guinea and Bissau. This two-part documentary series ran in February of 2006 and tested nine African-American celebrities’ DNA.

While the results of DNA testing may not always tell an individual exactly what they want to hear in terms of their ancestry, having the option available to do so is a mighty powerful thing!

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