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African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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me my own research

I love family history, and I have worked on my family tree for many years. I am a White female, age 42. A few years ago, I decided to have an ancestral DNA test done. I first heard of this test on 60 Minutes. In fact, as a child I always thought it would be cool to be able to see what ethnic background I had by sampling some of my blood to a lab (I had the right idea).

I was always fascinated by the stories in my mom's family that we have remote Mongolian blood in us. Several centuries ago, Mongol invaders swept through Russia and much of Europe and nearly conquered all of the continent. There are some in my family who have almond eyes, including myself. A history buff, even my great grandfather made this claim.

My mother's side has French, German and Polish roots and my dad's parents were Lithuanian immigrants from Eastern Europe. This talk of Mongolian blood fascinated me and perked my imagination. You mean that there was someone I was descended from who did not look "white" like me? Could this really be true?

To satisfy my curiosity, I sought out a geneology testing center online. I was happy to pay the $200+ dollars to see if the family was correct in their assumptions. I expected to have 0% Native American, 0% Sub-Saharan African, a small percentage of Asian and a mostly Caucasian amount in my test results.

My results: 92% Caucasian, 7% East Asian, 0% Native American and 1% Sub-Saharan African.

1% Sub-Saharan African?!

On everything else I got what I expected, but Sub-Saharan African! Wow! I was blown away! Was this really true? And if it was, where did this come from?

I just made a very strange observation the very day I opened up my DNA results. I had dinner with my mother just before I came home to find the envelope in my mailbox. It was almost spooky how I just remarked to her that I thought her nose looked African (a White person's version, I say) . She thought I was teasing her, but it was just an observation. It never never really occurred to me before to say that. Therefore, I believed that these DNA results had credibility since I casually said this remark to my mother. I never, ever expected to have one drop of Black blood in my family line.

Looking back at the old family photos, my great, great grandmother (my mother's mother's grandmother) had to have African blood. I have one sole photo of her as she posed with her husband and most of her children. She spent her whole life in France, and I later learned that France was a haven for former slaves. A sizable Black and mulatto population had lived there, many from the New World in French colonies such as modern day Haiti. In France, these slaves could be free. Many would become menial servants, but at least they were free.

My great, great grandmother appeared to have white skin, but upon studying her photo she had somewhat kinky hair, pulled back into a bun, and had the facial bone structure of an African. Some of her children appeared to have that same facial structure. Compared to the other photos of my well-off, lily white ancestors, these were darker people, at least ones who worked hard outdoors.

I always thought that because my family does not have a long history in this country -- no Southern roots whatsoever -- that we would not have any hidden or mysterious Black blood in us. I recieved criticism and disbelief from many in my mom's family. This couldn't be on our side! That test had to be a scam! Nobody wants to accept that this might very well by true.

Growing up in the Detroit suburbs, I grew up in a sheltered, segregated climate away from African Americans. Though I knew of them, I did not know any of them personally. Any prejudices I had were shaped by the views of some of my family members and by the society, at large. With the racial climate that existed, everyone was affected somehow.

I hopefully have grown in my views. How I feel now about these results is still endless fascination. Am I descended from a slave somewhere down the line? Where did these African ancestors come from? Who were they? What were they like?

Some people would think that 1% African is no big deal or that "we all have African in us". But to me it is a part of who I am. If I am only 1% African, then about 200 years ago, someone in my family was a person of color.

And that is just fine with me.

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Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
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