23andMe’s African Ancestry Project

The human story begins in Africa, but for many African Americans searching for their ancestral roots, finding where their family story begins on that great continent is nearly impossible, because the slave trade severed those connections.African Ancestry

23andMe is launching an initiative that we hope will change that.

Our African Ancestry Project is recruiting individuals with four grandparents from Sub-Saharan Africa  with the hope that their contribution to research will help others gain better insight into both their ancestry and health.

For a limited time 23andMe is offering free kits to people with four grandparents from one of several different sub-Saharan African countries. These countries — Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo , Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone — all were major waypoints in the
slave trade and have special significance for African Americans wanting to gain more insight into their ancestry.

Currently 23andMe is able to give broad ancestral information to people with African roots, and we will offer an update to our Ancestry Composition feature in the near future that gives much more  information for those with African ancestry. But this project promises to give even finer level detail on the geographic origins of that ancestry.

Africans, and people of African descent, are the most genetically diverse people in the world. Both the fossil record and genetic studies have given us great insight into human history and evolution and how the first populations emerged in Eastern Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.

And yet for all we know about human history in Africa, people of African ancestry are underrepresented in genetic research that could give them, and well as scientists in general, better insight into both their health and ancestry.

With the African Ancestry Project 23andMe hopes to improve diversity in research while giving individuals who participate, access to their own genetic data empowering them both with their own health and ancestry information. Please take a look to see if you, or someone you know, qualifies, and if you have questions or want more information email africa@23andme.com.

Eligibility And Restrictions

Please carefully review the eligibility requirements for this project. Eligible individuals must:

• Have four (4) grandparents from the same sub-Saharan African country. Countries of interest include Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo , Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone;

• Be at least 18 years of age;

• Have Internet access, be willing to take an online survey about ancestry and provide a saliva sample;

• Live in the United States in a state that allows 23andMe shipping.*

*Please note that we cannot ship or provide services to residents of the state of Maryland.
Only one free kit per family. Family members of existing 23andMe customers are welcome to enroll in the project, but are not eligible for a free kit.






  • Anthony

    wonder what 23andme is doing to try to get the word out and make more folks who are West African aware of the project. Today I’ve tried to spread the word on social media,even going as far as to tweet it to certain West African celebrities like the singer Akon and the pro wrestler WWE Superstar Kofi Kingston.

    • 23blog

      Thank you Anthony.

  • TheFusionChronicles

    “For many African Americans searching for their ancestral roots, finding where their family story begins on that great continent is nearly impossible, because the slave trade severed those connections.”

    I can appreciate what 23andme is doing however, the statement above is very contradictory to the offer listed. The guidelines above will ultimately exclude the majority of living descendents of African slaves. The last African slaves were brought to the U.S. in 1859 therefore descendents of African slaves in the U.S. today most likely will not have one grandparent from Africa; four grandparents would just be out of the question.

    I only have one Grandparent that I am sure of where he came from because he arrived here as a free immigrant in the early 1900′s from West Africa however, for my other three Grandparents, they were just one of many generations of American slaves. We know they were of African descendent but we do not know where they came from. This is the plight of most African-Americans that I know.

    This offer will benefit Africans and African immigrants more so than African-Americans who are descendents of slaves. It should be known that the experience for the two groups is very different.

    • 23blog

      Stephanie,
      Thanks for the note, but I think that you might be missing the intent of the project. The intent isn’t to give free access to DNA testing, but to gather reference populations so that we can improve research and what we report back to people of African American ancestry. You are correct that most African Americans would not qualify to be part of this initiative, but everyone of African descent will benefit from the research. Thanks again for the note.

      • TheFusionChronicles

        Thanks. I don’t think that was clearly expressed here with the reference to African-Americans, the slave trade and the United States but I will be sure to pass along the clarification in my networks where clarity is needed.

        Are you planning to open the offer outside of the U.S. to people actually in those regions and/or other areas with large African immigrant populations (the UK, the Caribbean, South America)?

        • 23blog

          Stephanie, I think right now we are not making those plans, but we may do that in the future. Thanks for your comments.

  • 1Alouette

    I could have helped you out (being a first generation Nigerian – born in U.S. currently living in Canada since childhood.) But you don’t ship to me. Most of us who are first generation would be able to get info about our great grand parents and have family currently alive and well in Nigerian. Oh well. This is a great project and a timely one.

    • 23blog

      Alouette, Thanks for the note. We would love the help but you are correct, right now we’re not shipping out of the US for this specific research project. The reasons are many, but mostly having to do with logistics. We may expand it in the future.

  • Anthony

    some doubts that 23andme’s African Ancestry Project will get a decent turnout. I’ve talked to probably over 50 West African residents on Facebook and only like 3 of them said they’d check it out, which doesn’t mean that they will check it out or that they will participate in it. Some others said flat out that they are not interested, and the rest just ignored it. I don’t think there will be a good turnout for the project. I hope I’m wrong.

  • thelittlehoneybadger

    Hi,

    When will the new Africa update come out?

  • bjb

    I grew up believing I was of French, Irish and Native American decent. That concept has been blown away due to genetic testing. It came back 2 percent Asian,36 African,62 Anglo. How do I go about finding the truth? I grew up in foster care and don’t have family to talk to about this. I would like to know. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Scott23H

      BJB,
      You can be pretty sure about your results. We are fairly conservative in making those ancestry assignments and there’s strong science behind how we do that.
      The percentages that you have are fairly common among people who identify as African American. To look deeper into that you might look more at the ancestry tools that we have on the site. The easiest to navigate would be the DNA Relatives tool. Those matches could help you learn more about your relatives. Look at how your matches cluster both by geography and surnames. You can also look at the Countries of Ancestry tool, which you find in the Ancestry Overview. In there you will be able to see the country each part of your genome may have come from. If you have other questions you should contact our Customer Care team here: https://customercare.23andme.com/anonymous_requests/new?reference=via_sidebar

  • Jason

    Are there any updates on the progress of this project? I’ve seen other services that offer a breakdown by country, but I’d prefer to use 23and.me.

    • Scott23H

      Hi Jason,
      Thanks for the interest. We got a good response and our data scientists are currently going through and doing quality testing. This takes a little time, but eventually this will allow 23andMe to return more fine detailed results for people with West African ancestry. It is very important for us that when we report ancestry information to customers that it is accurate, so we doing everything we can to test the data and results before updating customer Ancestry Composition results.

      • Jason

        This is great news. Thank you Scott for the quick reply.

  • 23blog

    Marie-Louise,
    Sorry to hear about your experience. We are working to improve how we predict African ancestry, which is difficult because of the lack of reference populations. And by the way we are not alone with this issue, but I believe 23andMe is much better than most companies in how we predict ancestry. We can do better however and late last year we started an African Ancestry project to collect more reference populations. We’re also working with researchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo who are also collecting reference samples. All of this data will improve our ability to report back data to individuals. As for your matches, because we do not have many customers in Africa itself it makes sense that your matches are mostly from elsewhere. But the fact that you have matches in South America, probably has a lot to do with the Slave trade and your own ancestry — you’d said that you have some Portuguese ancestry.

  • Nurd Gee

    I am not african american but something i am interested myself i score 25% african but not sure what regions or people its from

    • 23blog

      Nurd,
      The genetic diversity of Sub-Saharan Africa reflects both the deep history of humans in the region and the recent migrations that have carried the diversity of western Africa to both southern and eastern Africa. Your ancestry composition will tell you the region in Africa from which your ancestry comes, but does not get down to very fine detail. This is because there are not enough reference populations available to make those estimates. So we can tell you if your African ancestry comes from say West Africa, but we can’t yet identify the specific country or tribe.

  • 23blog

    Hi Kiterunner,
    Anyone doing genetic testing for African Americans faces the same issue — a lack of reliable reference population data. We are very conservative in making estimates. We want to be right. Although we break down African ancestry by region, we do not yet have the ability to predict tribal affiliation.

  • 23blog

    Point well taken Kiterunner and my apologies for the sloppiness of my answer.
    What I was trying to say is that although we do breakout Ancestry Composition by regions, we do not report out specific ethnic groups like Bantu or Yoruba, Mandenka. Part of the issue is that there are not yet reliable reference populations to be able to accurately make those estimates for individuals. That said we are working on that and expect to be able to get better and better at returning finer detail about African ancestry from customers.

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