Gina Paige, president and co-founder of African Ancestry Inc.,
a Washington, D.C.-based company that offers DNA tests, answers
some questions about the tests and how the information can be
does this research reveal about the connection between DNA and
race? Can one say that race is in someone's DNA?
It's not. Race is not a genetic construct. Race is a social construct.
I guess in many ways you could say these test help to underscore
the reality that race is not genetic.
For example, if you live your life as an African American person,
but then you have European ancestry, that doesn't mean you are
not African American.
Why are people interested in tracking their family's lineage
Well I think for African Americans there is a great interest
because it's information that we don't have any other way of obtaining,
as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We don't know where
we came from in Africa. We are the only group in the country that
can't point to a country of origin.
How can people use DNA kits to supplement documented lineage?
It bridges the gap. It's not going to pick up where someone's
traditional research leads off. What it does is bridge that gap
that still exists. It doesn't close the gap, it just bridges the
For someone who is interested in tracking their ancestry with
DNA kits, what is the best way to get started?
Well, they need to determine what ancestry they are interested
in finding out. Do they want to know their maternal ancestry?
Do they want to know their paternal ancestry? Maybe they want
to know their grandmother's paternal ancestry. The first step
is deciding which line you want to trace, just like traditional
And then the next step is to identify the appropriate family
member to take the test. And I say that because if you are a female
and you want to trace your paternal ancestry you can't do that
using your own DNA, you need a male relative from your father's
side to take that test. Or if you want trace your grandmother's
paternal line you don't have the DNA necessary. So you need a
different family member.
Then you order the test kit. You do the swabbing, return the
test kit to [the company] for DNA extraction and sequencing.
can one determine if a company is offering legitimate DNA test
The consumer has to do some research. For one, the consumer has
to be very clear about what it is he or she wants the results
to be. Are you looking for the percentage of different ancestries
you have? Or are you looking for whether or not your ancestors
are Native American or European or African? Or are you trying
to identify a specific country or countries in Africa that you
share ancestry with?
Then they need to ask questions of the companies:
Do you have a test that will help me determine this result?
The consumer needs to do research in terms of how well the company
explains the process, answers the questions, whether the consumer
feels there is enough confidentiality.
People should ask about what is done with the genetic material
once the results are determined.
What does it mean when markers on the submitted DNA match
DNA in a company's database?
That means with complete certainty you share common genetic ancestry
either maternally or paternally with that person.
The lineages in our database are from people who have self reported
that they and there families are indigenous to that area and also
to an ethnic group.
When you get your results, how is the information presented
and what does it reveal?
We present the results in the form of a letter; a printout of
the DNA sequence with markers; a brief explanation of how to read
the sequence. A map which highlights the country or countries
with which they share ancestry; a certificate of ancestry; an
African Ancestry guide to western and central Africa.
Why might someone's results be different than expected?
Generally speaking, the likelihood of them being different than
what the person expects is low because most people have no idea
what to expect.
However, when we trace paternal ancestry, paternal lineages,
we find European ancestry, not African ancestry, 30 percent of
the time. That can often be something that people don't expect.
do people react to unexpected results?
In the case where people are surprised because they are not aware
of any European males in that paternal line, it really ranges:
some people are really upset, some are disappointed, but most
people understand that there is a history of mixture in the African
The other reason people are disappointed is because when they
take this test they really are hoping to find African ancestry
-- that is what they really want to know about.
Will the information provided about genetic lineage be enriched
if family members also provide DNA samples?
It's just like your family tree. If you know who your four grandparents
are, that is going to give you a better perspective of your history
than if you know only one or two of them.
Many people who take our test do both the maternal and paternal
lines. We do have a growing number of people who trace four lineages,
for example tracing the ancestry of their four grandparents.
We have a handful of people who are really accomplished genealogists
who have traced eight to 12 lineages on their family tree.
If I go back to my analogy. If you know the grandparents on your
mother's side, but you don't know your grandparents on your father's
side, then you only know about half of your family. The more research
you do the more lines you learn about, you are descended from
all those people in the family tree. It's just more information.
Each individual result is as specific as it can be.
What else can one do with their results?
People do a lot of things. People travel. They use these results
to decide where to travel on the continent.
are going back to their countries of ancestry and are building
schools and rebuilding hospitals.
People are forming study groups here in their communities. People
are learning languages. People are adopting children from the
countries that they share ancestry with.
People are passing the information along throughout their families,
at family reunions, or at holiday celebrations. Using it for their
kids, so they can more fully participate in ancestry related discussion
in the classroom.
People are doing all kinds of things.
People are reconnecting with their culture as a result of finding
their ancestry. It's not just information that they store away
at the back of their head, but its information that motivates
them, or transforms them to do new things.
So then it is possible to use this information to connect
with people of a similar background?
Sure. We can't tell you that you are related with "Joe Smith."
But yeah, they are going into communities and meeting modern day
people in Sierra Leone, or meeting Yoruba people in Nigeria. Or
in the case of the United States finding Bamileke people from
Cameroon here in New York.