Our Hidden African Ancestry

Update: A post at the blog Your Genetic Genealogist just went up with a very similar story to mine. Check it out.

 

It was just a few thin green segments on my fourth and seventh chromosomes that sent me searching.

I wanted to know more about my family history. I pestered my mom with questions about her parents, her grandparents and great grandparents. I even went digging on my own into birth records, old newspapers clippings and state archives. Eventually, I wandered into records of our family history on the plains of Nebraska, Iowa and then the hills of West Virginia.

I wanted to know what those segments represented — or more accurately — who they represented.

I’m white.

My hair, or at least the hair I once had, is blond. (That’s me on the left with my brother when we were kids.) Our family’s heritage is solidly English, Irish and German. I named my son after a Gaelic folk hero.

But those thin green segments in my 23andMe Ancestry Painting meant that one of my grandmother’s great grandmothers, or one of her great grandfathers, was black.

It’s no secret, or it shouldn’t be, that a majority of African Americans have European ancestry – on average between 20 and 25 percent. It’s one of those vestiges of America’s history of slavery.

“For anyone still naïve enough to believe in the myth of racial purity, it is one more corroboration that the social categories of ‘white’ and ‘black’ are and always have been more porous than can be imagined,” wrote Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. in an article in The Root about Michelle Obama’s ancestry.

While much has been written about European ancestry among African Americans what’s less well known is how many Americans, like me, who consider themselves white also have African ancestry.

Researchers at 23andMe looked at the genetic ancestry of about 78,000 customers likely to consider themselves as entirely of European ancestry and found that somewhere between 3 percent and 4 percent of those people have “hidden” African ancestry.

The percent of African ancestry is relatively low with the majority of individuals having just 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent — which suggests that those people have an African ancestor who lived about six generations, or about 200 years, ago.

This is by no means meant to represent the percent of African ancestry among those who identify themselves as being of European descent across America. It is simply a snapshot of those in our database at this time. Our researchers have also excluded those with more than 5 percent African ancestry with the assumption that it’s more likely that their ancestry is known. That doesn’t mean it is known, just as it doesn’t mean that those of European descent with 5 percent or less African ancestry are unaware of it. In addition, our database includes customers who are actually European so the actual percentage of Americans of European descent in our database who have African ancestry may be higher.

But we believe this is the first detailed look of the African ancestry among those who consider themselves white. It begs many questions for possible future study. For instance, looking at the generational distribution implied by the percentages it appears most of the mixing occurred 200 years ago or more. Was intermixing between black and white more acceptable during that time in American history? Or was the relative isolation of people then such that the societal taboos against such mixing were more lax?

At the very least these findings suggest a more nuanced picture of race relations at that time.

For our family, the news has recast our own picture of who our ancestors were. My sisters and I have 1 percent African ancestry. My mother, a generation closer to the source, has more. For a family that thought we were a mix of Irish, German and French, it was a surprise.

But the surprise triggered our search to find out about our genealogical history.

Just as 23andMe’s findings offer a new narrative about American social history and race relations, our family’s discovery offered another look at where we came from. Somewhere in our family’s past we had a black ancestor who was “absorbed” into white society. That story was hidden until our DNA revealed it.

This ancestor would have lived during the era of slavery and at a time and in a place where the “Rule of Hypodescent” — more commonly known as the “one drop rule” — held that anyone with any African ancestry was considered “black.”

Beyond what this might say about American history, the finding also comes at a time when people appear to be much more comfortable with mixed ancestry. So what will this finding mean for other families now?

On a personal note, each generation in our family had a different reaction to the news of having an African ancestor. What’s also interesting is that our evidence of  African ancestry, which is very small, can’t be seen in the next generation — the generation of my children and my sisters’ children — who seemed most excited by the new finding and were most disappointed that they didn’t have it.

James Larry Vick, whom we’ve written about before in this blog, talked about his own similar discovery through 23andMe that he had African ancestors.

At first he thought it was a mistake, but he has since pieced together the link. He believes it was from his mother’s 2nd great grandmother, who had come from the Cumberland Gap area of Appalachia, home to a tri-racial population known as “Melungeons.” The Melungeons are of European, African and Native American ancestry.

“I do not think anyone in our family would have believed we could have an African segment and none would believe we could have Melungeon ancestry,” Vick said. “I doubt anyone in my family would know what Melungeon is.”

Our own family’s search of records hasn’t led to quite as detailed of a discovery, but it’s offered some tantalizing hints — a “free man of color” with the same surname as my mother’s great grandmother in the same small West Virginia town.

Using 23andMe’s Relative Finder tool I’ve hunted for people with the same surname and family history from that area and this may lead us to new clues. But the journey through this hidden family history has already taught us a lot not just about ourselves but about America’s own hidden history.






  • http://extremeancestry.com Karen Batchelor

    Great post! I’m African American with lots of “surprise” White ancestors all the way back to the Puritans. I confess I always viewed the surprise factor from the other side of the fence. How interesting to hear another perspective – and confirmation that ancestry is never quite what it seems to be. Thanks for sharing:-)

    • Deward Houck

      I too had a surprise when my mtDNA revealed L2a1c haplogroup. At over 2%, my BLack ancestry is about 5 generations back.
      My maternal, maternal great grandmother appeared Caucasian. She was born in British Guiana of Portuguese descent. Her maiden name was Fernandez, and family history has her ancestors coming from the Madeira Islands.
      Alas, I have not found any records in Guiana. So I am at a dead end, for now. The Madeira Islands have a long history of slavery of west Africans, so history is helping fill in the blanks, if only hazily.

      • Deward Houck

        The family name was Fernandes not Fernandez, my fat fingers.

        • Mitzi Hammond Perkins

          There were no ‘rules’ for spelling until the 19th century. If you go looking for relatives based upon the spelling of a name, you will miss a great many .

  • Nancy

    I find this so fascinating! How do you differentiate between “African” markers and those of western European descent who have Moorish ancestors (e.g., the “black Irish” who were rumored to be such secondary to the Moors presence)? Since the article explained this person’s children no longer have the markers, is it something that can only be tested within a specific band of generations?

  • me

    “more porous than can be imagined,”

    lol

  • Saundra Sweetwyne

    This is not uncommon in the African American Ancestry. I have relatives who passed for white because they thought it would better their lives. For generations there children thought of themselves as white until someone came knocking on their door to introduce themselves as family. What a surprise. I guess what bothers me most is that they didn’t want to beleive it, even though there was legal documentation supporting it. But good for you in your attitude regarding it. It’s been said we come come Africa.

    • Karen D

      Saundra I feel you, I’m an African American but my mother’s mother (my grandmother) was bi-racial and she married a black man (my grandfather). But my (great-grandmother) my grandmother’s mother, we were told was (Irish/White/Cherokee) she married a (Black) man and had 15 children, so all of her children were listed on US Census records as (M) Mulatto. Their children, my bi-racial great-aunts and great-uncles were all born in the late 1880′s and early 1900′s, so I never knew any of them as they were born in Louisiana and my mother lost touch with that family after she moved to California in the 1940′s. Also many of those missing family members children cannot be found because many of them “Crossed the Color Line” and “Passed for White” once the US government made some mixed race people identify themselves as Black after the 1920′s US Census.

      I am also very frustrated trying to find information about my (Irish/White) great-great-grandmother which we were told had “red hair and green eyes.” Her husband my great-great grandfather was (Cherokee Indian) man that had “high cheekbones.” That’s all we know about those ancestors, as we still cannot even figure out what their “first or surnames” are after all this time. The only thing I know is that 1860′s Census records state that my great-great-grandmother’s mother was born in Virginia, but it doesn’t mention her parents names. Unfortunately after all of this time, no one in the family can find pictures to prove this, so in honor of my beloved mother I’m trying to find evidence of who these ancestors are. Lastly, I can say is that I’m truly stuck between a “Rock and a Hard Place” trying to put the missing pieces of this family puzzle back together again.

  • Belinda

    I’m unsure of the definition of African American but the ancestors of people with small amounts of African ancestry could also have come from the Caribbean islands without ever reaching America. My brother-in-law has ancestry like this, as, although he is a 3rd generation Australian, he has 2% African and 0.5% Asian genome in his Ancestry Painting. This must have come from ancestors of his maternal gg grandfather who was born in Jamaica before emigrating to Australia in 1858. And in this case his daughter, who is my niece, has inherited about 1% of the African and a trace of Asian genome, so she’s thrilled.

    The possibility of finding traces of African ancestry was the reason why this branch of my family agreed to test at 23andMe, and they all think it was well worth it, to find something like this!

    • Albert Villasmil

      Dear Belinda the caribbean islands are in America. Or are you one of those who think that America is only rhe US?

  • Ponto

    Well, congratulations. I am not American so finding a Black African ancestor is not really important to me. I suppose I am White to tag myself, I just think myself as an Australian of Maltese ancestry.

    In Australia, Black Irish does not mean having Black African Ancestry or North African Moorish ancestry. It just means having brown eyes, black or very dark hair and a non florid complexion but being 100% Irish (from Eire).

    The problem with Europeans finding Black African segments at 23andMe is that the segments are less than reality due to 23andMe using the standard three groups as “racial” exemplars: Utah American Whites, Chinese/Japanese East Asians and Yoruba Nigerian Africans. A lot of minor admixing cannot be seen with those exemplars. I have a 100% European Ancestry Painting at 23andMe, but according to Admixture programs I have black African ancestry ranging between 1 to 3% depending on the Admixture runs, number of ancestors assumed and the ethnic groups used. Anyway because of that result (of Black African ancestry) I checked my genealogy well beyond five generations, and I found my Black African ancestor. The woman was a slave, and she is at least my 12th great grandmother, as I am descended from more than one line of her descendants.

    I think many of those Native Americans that people have been told are in their family were actually African Americans of light color who passed into the White community.

    • Linda

      I suspect that much interacial marriages and couplings were prevalent in the 1600s in which case it would not show up with 23andme. so what program did you use that did admixtures and found the relation 12 generations back?

    • Kate

      I used to think that too but according to a study on a fairly large sampling of white Americans they found that on average the sampling had 3.3% African and Asian (Native American) dna markers (?), 2.2% of it Asian, 0.9% African. That surprised me.
      I would like to be tested but the money is an issue (college student). I believe most of my ancestors came from England to Virginia in the 1600′s where we still are. It would be interesting to see.
      I also wonder if location would have something to do with it. For example, my fam. has lived in the south-side region of Virginia (basically southern VA east of the mountains) since we first came over where the Native Americans were the first to get hit with disease. If I have anything other Than European in me I would suspect I would have More African than Native American just because of that fact. Although tidewater Virginia might’ve been more strict about intermixing than other more secluded areas so maybe not. A lot of factors to consider.

  • Elizabeth

    My first 23andme result said 100% European, later it was changed to 99% European and less than half a percent of African, then later changed again to 99% European and less than half a percent of Asian and just over a half percent of African. I have no known African or Asian ancestry. It has been said that segments at the centomere (middle of the chromosome where the two pencil points meet) and the ends of the chromosomes are “cold spots” and could be very old. I actually have matches to my Asian segments but the people I am matching have Finnish (from Finland) ancestry. These must be very ancient segments that have survived over thousands of years. Many Finns and other Scandinavians have low amounts of Asian in their 23andme Ancestry Painting. In DODECAD/Dienekes and Eurogenes and Gedmatch DIY, I have a South Asian, Southeast Asian, Northeast Asian, Southwest Asian, West Asian, Southwest Asian and so on. Every category. It even shows a tiny amount Palaeo African (San Bushmen and pygmy). The “African” could be from any world population that has a tiny amount of African such as India (England had a trading post there since 1600), Indonesia (Dutch Spice Trade), Arabia, Spain, Jewish people, Australian-Irish children who were taken away from their aborigine parents and sent to the British Isles, and then there was the Ottoman Empire, Moors, Spain, and Italy (Roman Empire had many many Africans), Sicily. For hundreds of years the Dutch traded with the Portuguese and the Portuguese traded with the Spanish and the Spanish had ties to Ireland and so on.

    And as for Relative Finder, so far, my predicted 4th and 5th cousins don’t seem to match within 200 years. They seem to be NO closer than 400-500 years, if even that. Those 10 cM matches could be 1,000 years ago. The 5 cM matches could be 1,000 or more years ago. My Relative Finder has been changed and most of my former ‘predicted 4th cousins” are now listed as “3rd to distant cousin”.

    Gedmatch/Dodecad
    Population average% chr with highest% highest%
    East European 12.2% 22 26.6%
    West European 48.0% 11 64.9%
    Mediterranean 24.5% 17 35.2%
    Neo_African 0.3% 3 2.0%
    West Asian 8.4% 8 19.6%
    South Asian 1.5% 8 5.1%
    Northeast Asian 0.8% 16 5.1%
    Southeast Asian 0.7% 6 4.4%
    East African 0.2% 19 1.9%
    Southwest Asian 2.2% 21 10.8%
    Northwest African 0.8% 19 5.9%
    Palaeo African 0.3% 3 2.9%

    • Linda

      What is your point?

  • Ajili

    Finding out my results just a few weeks ago was a great thing, I knew I had African and Native American Ancestry but the surprise was finding 22% European Ancestry. Professor Doug McDonald from Illinois U. gave 21.5% and GedMatch 15.1. It is more then I would have thought. I am the Family Historian and this helps to understand
    alot.

  • http://23andme.com Candy

    ScottH

    I had the same response as you when I saw the african segment in my ancestry painting and also on my moms and brother and sister. I knew we had some native american but was surprised at first by the african dna. I am trying to find the african ancestry and like you have thought about what their lives must have been like.

    My ancestors with NA and african ancestry are also from the hills of (Barbour and Monongalia counties) West Virginia, I believe my ggg grandmother moved to Nebraska in the late 1800s with her married daughter and along with her younger children (my gg grandfather’s siblings).

    I wonder if we are related?

    • Beverly

      Candy,

      I just mailed my test in, so I haven’t gotten my results yet. My relatives are all from Barbour County, West Virginia also. I don’t recognize the surnames that Scott has posted.

  • ScottH

    Candy,
    Thanks for the comment. The surnames that I think are related to our African ancestry are Batten and or Vaughan and they go back to Virginia/West Virginia.

  • RebeccaK

    Hi everyone. I am terribly interested to know if any of you finding your hidden ancestry to be african american have tried to learn about or locate other branches from the ancestor you identified as african american?

  • Diane

    “”But those thin green segments in my 23andMe Ancestry Painting meant that one of my grandmother’s great grandmothers, or one of her great grandfathers, was black.””

    DOES THE CHROMOSOME NUMBER RELATE TO A SPECIFIC GENERATION?

    How did you know this was your grandmother’s great grandmother, or great grandfather?

  • Steve

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in these tiny amounts of African ancestry without other supporting evidence. One of the reasons I got into DNA testing was to try to verify oral traditions of Native American ancestry in my family, which is of European (mostly English & Irish) ancestry. I started with Ancestry by DNA’s DNA Print 2.0 and 2.5 about eight years ago. 2.0 showed me with 19% Native American (which seemed impossibly high given my phenotype and all the documentary and photo evidence) and no African. So, I retested when version 2.5 came out, and it showed 8% Nat Am, and added 6% African (both higher than I would have guessed from traditional genealogy). Later I tested with DecodeMe, which showed similar results to DNA Print 2.5, at least on the X chromosome, but with 8% Asian rather than Nat Am. Next, I tried 23andMe, which showed me with no Asian or Native American, and only 0.29% African – much less than the margin of error. Most recently, I have also tested with Family Tree DNA, Ethnoancestry, and DNA Tribes. These last three showed European (mostly British Isles) with no Asian or African at all.

    Clearly, as DNA testing has evolved over the last ten years or so, my non-European ancestry percentages have steadily declined. Using traditional genealogy, I would expect 100% European, and this is what I do get on the very latest tests. Had I stopped at the first, I might have believed that the 19% Native American result was confirmation of my family’s “Cherokee great-grandmother” tales, which I have concluded are myths, not just in my case, but also in the vast majority of cases among white Appalachian families. I know of people who really wanted to believe those stories, and so did stop with the DNA Print tests, and to this day think that they have have “proven” Native American ancestry.

    The latest fad for white American genealogists not satisfied with being Scotch-Irish, Quaker, or umpteenth great-grandchild of Charlemagne seems now to be to suddenly discover that they’re part black. Test results within the margin of error, with no other reason to suspect such ancestry, should not be sufficient proof of such ancestry, in my opinion. An important principle in Science is to repeat the experiment. If you’re relying on only one test from one company, especially if the results were not what you expected, you’re in danger of some real self-deception in terms of what you believe about your ancestry.

    Ancestry tests are getting better, but they all have margins of error, sometimes large ones, which amateur genetic genealogists would do well to keep in mind.

    • Kate

      good to know.

  • DAPS

    That is a good point to look for “supporting” evidence.

    1. My father: Dark complected, light brown eyes, dark brown curly hair.

    2. His mother was the same, except with dark brown eyes and dark brown, thick, board-straight hair.
    3. His father was of mostly English origin, light-complected with very light blue eyes and blond hair (but HIS mother was dark-complected with dark brown eyes and hair, and in pictures, she has strong Native American features – even though genealogy doesn’t indicate Native American ancestry).

    4. My brother is very dark complected, dark brown eyes, and dark brown, thick, wavy hair.

    5. Census records list my ggrandfather’s family as white, mulatto, and white on consecutive censuses in Tennessee. Also, between the mulatto census and the second white census, they go from having property of a good value to having no property listed. (Hmm) Names such as “Fatama” pop up in the census records (my gggrandmother and my g-aunt are two).

    6. My mother: Very light complected, blue-eyed and blond-haired.
    7. She remembered her grandfather as being dark-complected with dark brown eyes and hair, and her grandfather’s name was Fernando (I won’t list full name here, but it was English first name, Hispanic middle name, Hispanic surname for second middle name, then a German last name). In records of his family through the couple of generations back that we can find on his mother’s side, there are many names traditionally considered to be of Hispanic origin.

    8. I’m between medium and light complected (olive, sort of), brown haired and blue eyed.

    9. My family on both sides have passed down the phrase “Black Dutch” to describe their ancestry. My father speculated Indian as well, but nothing confirmed through genealogical research for that (just the picture of his grandmother).

    10. There are quite a number of my relatives on both sides of my family, including first cousins, who have the unusual combination of being light complected with dark brown eyes and blond hair.

    I have a 23andme test that I’ll be sending in soon, and I’m interested to see the results.

  • http://www.spaceship-earth.org Roger Hicks

    I’ve just discovered this thread and would like to add that it is such an important and sensitive issue, because of how deeply it concerns one’s sense of both personal and group identity, which stretches back in time to the relationship we have with our forebears.

    Unfortunately, some equate “racial purity”, which doesn’t exist, with “racial identify”, which does.

    The state aggravates the issue by seeking to trivialise, demonise and suppress its importance, because it wants us all to identify with itself as our nation, and thus see each other as members of the same tribe, when manifestly many of us don’t feel that we are.
    .

  • Raqzel

    23andMe is actually very conservative in its African estimates. Its not cropping up with any significance in European populations. Its quite low in the Spanish for example, where you might expect some. It is popping up in colonial descended Americans. If you have a touch of green in your ancestry painting, you have a relatively recent African ancestor.

    Personally I was thrilled to find that touch of green. Another link to American history. A new story to find. It was very exciting. And great to see that a significant portion of the folk on those ships escaped the ongoing sadness of racism, or their descendents did anyway. :)

  • jc

    I think an unexpected fractional result without any other support can be chalked up to testing imperfections.

    Such small percentages would go back a couple hundred years before most of our ancestors were Americans so you have to look at the opportunity to mix in a little African blood in Europe. The best opportunities were in Mediterranean trade ports like Naples and Sicily. Most americans self classified as hispanic white really didn’t come directly from Iberia and were exposed to a lot of racial mixing in the Caribbean.

    • Linda

      Not exactly. The slave trade was most prolific coming to North America in the 1700′s, with many coming in the 1600′s. So that means plenty of Africans in America 300-400 years ago.

      I was under the impression past 5 generations and the ethnic origins would be untraceable though.

  • http://www.epinions.com/user-kengland4/show_~View_Profile Kevin

    Not surprising. With the advancement of both genetic technologies, and information sharing on the Internet, it will only become easier and cheaper to discover truths about family history. The socially interesting part will be-as some mentioned-how welcome the “news” is. We are all related-not just at one common ancestor-but at many multiples. Researchers looking at computerized genealogical data are trying to crunch the data and look at this much larger picture. Fact is, everyone has 4 grandparents, and each of their generation’s parents lead to 8, 16, 32, 64, 128……1 BILLION something direct ancestors, in a heckuva family TREE, in short order (30 generations, or approximately 1000 years ago. English (Olde English, which was virtually pure German) was spoken, and the Magna Carta was about to usher in the seeds of Democracy. The formula is 2 to the power of “X,” with X being how many generations back. Since the beginning of this country, you would have approximately 128 direct ancestors. It would only take slightly more than 1 to have 1% ancestry of whatever they represented (and that is if they tied into your line 200+ years ago). We are definitely “livin’ in interesting times,” INDEED!

  • http://www.epinions.com/user-kengland4/show_~View_Profile Kevin

    (Continued…) World population is estimated to have been no more than 500 million 1000 years ago. What this means is there was a lot of overlapping and “exotic” family structures. And the further you go back, the more overlapping there had to have been.

  • Isaac Davis

    on the ancestry painting of 23andme i also have 1% African ancestry.But on the Native American Ancestry Finder that % is bumped up to 1.06%,my African appears on chromosomes 3,5 and 6.Very interesting.

  • James C. Johnson

    My results were just posted yesterday. 99% European and 1% African. I am not surprised by the 1% African. However, I am not sure how to interpret the results. I have discovered that one of my ancestors may have been a so-called Moor or Nanticoke from Delaware (see Delaware’s Forgotten Folk: The Story of the Moors & Nanticokes by C.A. Weslager). According to the information that I have read, the 1% would indicate an African ancestor of about 200 years ago. However, the “original Moor or Nanticoke” ancestor lived in the mid to late 1600s. These people are considered “mixed race” from English, Indian, and African. Many insist that these ancestors are Indians, however, no such % showed up in my results. Am I looking in the wrong place for the African ancestor?

  • candace bibby

    This explains a great deal! Our family has always said we have an African ancestor, but when 1% African and 99% No. European came up, I was dumbfounded. Have done extensive paper genealogy research with no results. The sentence that said that the African just integrated into the white population, this makes sense.

    While I do not have an explanation of my own, personal ancestor, I understand the theory and can accept that perhaps I shall never know which ancestor was African.

  • Rodger

    I did an autosomal STR test with dna tribes and found I am 100% White,Northwest European but the test is soo senstive it goes all the way back.For instance EVERY white person who takes the test shows up as having about .03% North India/Pakistan ancestry due to the common ancient indo-European origins of most Europeans and may Hindus.Plus it shows as .01% East African and African Great Lakes ancestty for All White people.It refers to the fact that all humans today cam from the Grear Rift vallley of East Africa in a bottle neck migration.So like I sai dthe test is soo sensitve even when it says you are fully European it showsw very very small traces,almost like particle traces of shared anceitn Indo-European ancestry with Hinuds and East African origins going back to the very beggining.For some of the Native Americans who took the test it shows small percentages of shared ancestry with populations of SIberia and even China,showing thier ancient Asiatic origins.

  • SF Dawn

    I’ve just finished Bryan Sykes’ new book, DNA USA, which includes a very small, volunteer study of ancestry painting in a diverse sample. Interestingly, he found small slices of African ancestry primarily in European Americans whose families came from the South. In his small New England sample, the European Americans were mostly 100% European in ancestry all except for one case with a slice of Asian (Native American) ancestry that was related to a documented (or semi-documented) ancestor. Sykes, who is British, also has a very small slice of African ancestry himself (though I think that 23andMe might say it was “noise”), and he does discuss his findings that small slices are not uncommon in European samples he’s studied. Sykes’ book helped explain one surprise for me: I am an African American/European American mixed race woman who was surprised to see that my admixtures didn’t fit the usual assumption that on average African-Americans have about 20-25% European ancestry. That would have put my European ancestry at about 60-65%, but it’s about 55% per 23andMe. Sykes suggests that African Americans whose families did not leave the South until relatively late tend to have less European ancestry than those whose families migrated north immediately following the Civil War. Not sure what this is based on, but it helped me to make sense of my findings, since my father’s family only left the South after WWII. Anyway, I found the book an interesting discussion of the promise and limitations of genetic testing.

    • rav

      This country is very mixed up. As an American I do not understand why race is still an issue. I’m by appearance considered African American. I do not mind I am very proud of who I am. However my father is from Thailand and my mother is of mixed race. So what do you call me? Idk. Maybe an American! In my house race doesn’t exist. Either you are a good person or not, this is the question that is mentioned. It frustrated me BC my husband is Cuban and our children are whatever you want to call them. But I don’t appreciate that due to others ignorance my kids need to be categorized . But as I tell them you are American.

      • anen

        Americans call that Blasian xD

      • pfletch

        Rav — I don’t think i have an Asian in my ancestry, however, my mother taught me, pre-1950, that i am an American, a woman, a Negro (as an African-American was called then), of Hispanic-French-German-Jewish ancestry, and Catholic — not necessarily in that order. The lesson has stood the test of time. My grandchildren have added other nationalities and the only time we discuss it is on Census Day when we have fun checking as many boxes as we can.

  • Idahosa

    This was very interesting but it shows that we really don’t know how much mixing of the races happened in the past. I read somewhere that 30% of European American have African Ancestry which is mind-boggling. Also, your kids have that African ancestry so they do have that gene in there, it it just almost untracable since it is probably 0.5%. Mixing happened a lot more in Latin America but this shows that it happened quite a bit in the USA too. I’m African American but I also have European ancestry AND Native American Ancestry. This country is more mixed than we think.

    • Kate

      Actually for my view it was the opposite. According to dna studies i’ve been looking up the U.S., at least for white americans, is much less mixed than I originally thought at an average of 0.9% African admixture and 2.2% Native American Admixture. I would’ve thought it to be more, especially for African. Although the other groups were more mixed so I guess as a whole we are pretty mixed as a nation.

  • Eric,NYC

    Not surprising,from what I have read, miscegination laws came into effect c.1659,in an attempt to stop miscegination in the American colonies….but people fled west and north,mingled English,French,Spanish,Native American,West African.Sexual attraction knows no race and the despicable “one drop” abomination has been a scurge of the American nation.Whatever the case, American racism is here to stay. I judge people not by race but by content.Always have.Sadly, humanity on the whole is in moral and social decline,regardless of race.

    • Herne Webber

      I disagree that American racism is here to stay. The light of knowledge, of genetic data, will dispel the smelly darkness of racism. How can people be biased against those to whom they know they are related? Of course, there is the cultural divide, which is in many ways more real than the ‘racial’ divide. It will take longer for cultures to merge than it will for our genes to commingle.

      Please take heart. Though our species seems to take forever to learn lessons, and as a species we are impatient people, knowing we will die before we see much of the changes we wish to see, nevertheless, the rise of the Blended population, both genetically AND culturally blended, should help our species by bringing to the fore the best aspects of the component peoples, while pointing out to the original cultures the worst aspects that our species should sweep off the aft deck.

  • Linda

    I was of the impression that in the 1500′s, and 1600′s there were more African European unions, before slavery and racism and social taboos against it became prevalent. So if that is the case those unions would not be traceable since it is past five generations? I am confused about this.

    Are there other tests offered that would show these connections more accurately?

    • Kate

      All Africans were originally brought here as slaves, so there is no “before slavery” in the America. As for taboo, anti black/white marriage laws were implemented in the 1660′s. I would suspect for there to be a law there would have been the taboo before the law. So they prolly were a lot more common but not very.

      • Margaret

        You are correct, there was no “before slavery” in America, but European indentured servants lived and worked alongside African slaves, and did have children with them. White female servants often paid the price of extending their own period of servitude with each child they bore, not necessarily because the father was black, but because indentured servants were forbidden to marry at all, and bearing any child violated the “bastardy” laws. The strength of these bonds is shown by the fact that some women were repeatedly bore children to the same black slave despite the fact that 7 or 14 years could be added to their servitude with each one. We tend to think that these things get worse as we go back in time, but there does seem to have been less of a taboo on mixed-race relationships in colonial times. Laws and societal attitudes in the South became increasingly repressive and punitive after the Revolutionary War up until the civil war. These laws were created by the white plantation owner class seeking to solidify their economic and political power, not by ordinary people. See the references below to Paul Heinegg’s and others’ work on this.

        • Lisa

          You are both wrong! Blacks have been in America long before the Spanish and British arrived~but that may be a bit much for some to swallow. Blacks arrived with the spanish during the late 1490s-early 1500s. Which is why names like Chavers & Cumbo are so prevalent in Virginia & the Carolinas among blacks today.

          In Virginia prior to 1720, Slavery was illegal under British law. Read about the black codes of Virginia as well as Virginia colony records. You will learn that the first blacks/moors came over arrived on board a Dutch frigate during the early 1600s, Sir Nicolaus Ferrar documents this in the Virginia Colony records. The Jamestown muster released in March 1619, counted 17 black females and 15 black males living on the Jamestown colony. Later that year in October of 1619, 20 or so Angolans arrived in Jamestown by way of the San Bautista slave ship that was intercepted in the gulf of mexico. When this group arrived no legal status or classification was given them at all. They all worked and were given the same rights as white Indentured servants; most served 3-7 year terms and were freed as well. (Check free negro registers for proof of this).

          Most white scholars (spreading misinformation) claim that John Punch’s sentence of permanent servitude in the 1640s was proof of when slavery began in Virginia. There is a MAJOR difference between a court sentence VS actual law. The law for permanent servitude commenced in 1720; and only affected those non-christian blacks that arrived after that point.

          I know this because I’ve traced several of my Virginia black ancestors back to 1600 colonial Virginia, and not one of them were “slaves”. Many of their descendants later served in the revolutionary war (read DAR’s “Forgotten Patriots”).

          Please take some time to research before making such blanket claims/statements about black history in colonial america. Again, It wasn’t until 1705 when the Virginia assembly came together to figure out what exactly to do with all the black & mulattos multiplying in the colonies. In 1720 they determined that ALL future non-christian blacks that arrived in Virginia would take on a permanent “bound” status; it didn’t affect the blacks & mulattos already here.

      • Betsy

        “All” Africans were certainly not brought here as slaves!! In fact, the original Black population consisted of male paid sailors or indentured servants who “co-mingled,” for the most part, with female indentured servants of Northern European descent. Secondly, miscegenation laws in the 1600s were only mildly comparable, in terms of content and enforcement, to those seen in later centuries as slavery became entrenched as an institution. Please check facts before responding.

  • LaurieLeigh

    DAPS, your family’s appearance and the Tennessee census racial changes are similar to mine, although my family was in Kentucky and Virginia. I believe we are Mellungeons, we have the common Mellungeon names (Collins, Halls, Johnsons, etc.) and are from areas where Mellungeons lived. I was told my grandmother was ‘Indian’, and that, mulatto and white pop up in censuses. I show up as 91% European, but everybody thinks I’m Swedish or Icelandic when they meet me.

    • Kate

      Were any of the Mellungeon Johnson’s living in the western part of North Carolina? My grandfathers family were Johnsons and have darker complexions than the rest of the family. I always wondered where that came from.

  • Bonnie Schrack

    Great discussion. For all of you who have small and unexpected African ancestry, I recommend a couple of things:

    1. Paul Heinegg’s great website, http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/. He explains how in earliest colonial times in America, there were not nearly as many or as rigid laws to prevent Africans and Europeans from marrying or becoming partners. It happened quite a lot between European indentured servants, many of them women, and Africans working alongside them, usually as slaves. He has extensively documented this, As it says,
    “Winner: The American Society of Genealogists’ Donald Lines Jacobus Award and The North Carolina Genealogical Society Award of Excellence in Publishing. Two books you can read on-line containing about 2,000 pages of family histories based on all colonial court order and minute books on microfilm at the state archives of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Delaware (over 1000 volumes), 1790-1810 census records, tax lists, wills, deeds, free Negro registers, marriage bonds, parish registers, Revolutionary War pension files, etc. There are also another 5,000 pages of abstracted colonial tax lists, Virginia personal property tax lists, census records, etc., under “Colonial Tax Lists…”

    2. The recent book by Joe Mozingo, The Fiddler on Pantico Run. http://www.amazon.com/Fiddler-Pantico-Run-African-Descendants/dp/1451627483/

    Joe Mozingo grew up white, but became curious about his unusual name. He learned that it’s one of the few African surnames to have survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He descends (not in a purely paternal line, but close enough to get the surname) from an African man who was an indentured servant in Jamestown, Virginia, who sued for and won his freedom after many years of service, and then married a European woman and settled down to raise a family. He has, of course, many descendants. Any of them that could, because of the immense suffering of people considered to have African ancestry in those times, assimilated into the larger “white” society by marrying light-skinned people and constantly moving West into new communities.

    Today most of the Mozingos are considered “white,” and some identify as African-American. Joe studied his ancestors’ stories in depth, and traveled to Africa to get to know his possible places of origin. A great read, and it may change the way this issue is seen.

    I have small traces of African showing up in some of the admixture tools at Gedmatch, and the percentages for my mother’s estimated genome, which was generated through Gedmatch’s phasing of my genome and my brother’s, are somewhat higher, around 3%. These are absent from my father’s side, and other friends. I hope they do indicate something other than noise.

    23andMe doesn’t show them. I think 23andMe’s estimates of African ancestry are quite conservative, apart from the recent glitch, which I’m sure will be fixed soon. If they showed me as having African ancestry, I would definitely believe it — I think they have already taken the noise into account.

    Note that my mother’s father’s family, who do appear to carry a little Ashkenazi ancestry (more than the African, and 23andMe does notice it), come from the mountains of Virginia, though not southern VA. Their community was settled mainly by German-speaking folk who migrated down the valley from southeastern Pennsylvania. A few of them owned enslaved Africans, including one of my 5th-great grandfathers, who had three or four. I hope to get more information on this, and if possible, trace descendants of those families, though it may be very difficult.

    I have two questions, especially for those of us perusing those chromosome paintings at Gedmatch, though this may not be the place to find answers:
    1. How small a piece of DNA should we expect to inherit from an ancestor of over 300 years ago? Many of these ancestors’ contributions will have dropped out of our DNA by now, but obviously some survive — how many centiMorgans would one expect their segments to be by now?
    2. In scientific material on genetics, “highly conserved regions” of DNA are discussed, that are not only pretty much identical across all humans, but also across many species. How would these show up in admixture tools, and where are they located? We need a map.

    Bonnie

    • Margaret

      Bonnie, thank you for bringing Paul Heinegg’s research into the discussion. The DNA findings of unexpected African ancestry are amazingly consistent with his genealogical and historical research, which shows that societal attitudes toward racial mixing were much more relaxed prior to the 19th century.

      Anyone who wants to learn more about the “free colored” families and communities that evolved from these unions should check out his website, http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/. It includes links to research specific names, regions, histories, and photographs for free. I would recommend purchasing his books if you can afford it. They can be downloaded as pdf files.

      Some of photographs are very enlightening as to people’s comments regarding their own and their ancestors’ appearance – check out this page: http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/19th.htm.
      I find this photo particularly fascinating in terms of the variation in appearance of the children of one couple: http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/19th_18.htm.

      Another fascinating site is http://renegadesouth.wordpress.com/. I quote, “As the blog’s title, Renegade South, suggests, I study southern dissenters of the nineteenth century. Several kinds of renegades pass through the pages of my books and articles: Civil War Unionists and outlaws, multiracial people, unruly women, and political and religious nonconformists.”

    • MariaK

      23andme confirmed long suspected Sub Saharan African ancestry in our family. The percentage is small (.03% on two different segments), but consistent with the time frame of our ancestor with African heritage. Upon the suggestion of another researcher to check Paul Heinegg’s work, I was able to connect our line to Susanna Bunch and Lazarus Summerlin, both mentioned in his work. An ethnicity test from ancestrydna did not pick up this African ancestry, but I’m sure that could change over time as their database improves.

      • MariaK

        Sorry, the percentage should be .3

    • susanc

      Bonnie Schrack thank you for your observation that “23andMe’s estimates of African ancestry are quite conservative”. I’m on a Demo acct. & was trying to decide whether or not to spend my $$ here. Your comments are sending me back to FamilyTreeDna.

      My dad had his done there and I found my 4th great grandfather in 1772 Virginia (free person of color). Also a perfect match with one of his brothers :) We still don’t know if his wife was black or white, and that’s the reason I would be testing.

      Not sure how it would work: if I know there are no black people on my mother’s side, and I know the % (12%) contributed by my 4th great grandpa, I’m not quite sure what kind of percentage I would get if his wife were black?

      Hope you understand what I’m trying to say. It sounds like I would be better off sticking with the same company.

  • http://23andme Dave S

    I have some distant hidden African ancestry eventhough I have always thought of myself as fully European in ancestry. According to 23andme I am .40% African in their analysis.

    I am particularly interested in one ancestor with the last name of Rhodes. In 1689 he petitioned a Middlesex County, Virginia court to “prove he was free born and a subject to the king”. The testimony indicated he was born in the Isle of Geurnsey and was therefore subject to the king. Could he have had to file this petition because he was African? Why else could he have needed to file?

    • Mary Jo Martin

      Dave -if your ancestor had been a “white” European indentured servant (which was very common in those days) that could explain the filing. I have several ancestors who started life in this country that way.

      • Lisa

        Mary Jo,

        Incorrect! White europeans were not required to prove whether they were “free-born” in the state of Virginia. Only persons of color were made to do that as there weren’t many documents for them to prove such claims. The only way to prove that in those days was by having a prominent “white” member of the community vouch that their “mother” was a free person. If a free born person of color was born free they were required to register themselves in the county in which they lived and work. They were also required to carry papers proving this status!

        Many whites either came here for opportunity, broke laws or both. In order to pay for their passage over they were made bound to certain sponsors for a specified term not to exceed 7 years; in many cases if they ran off or broke a law those terms were extended usually an additional year depending on the crime.

        For free blacks and/or indentured servants, there should be a court minute or order book reference in the county where they lived and worked.

  • Will

    Shouldn’t 23andme do (or analyze) population studies of the genetics of European countries, to confirm that this African ancestry you’re finding in Americans was not already “there” when the European colonists came to America? For example, I understand that 1-2% of the men in many European countries have E3b Y-Chromosome, which is associated with Africa (but probably reflects very ancient admixture.) How do we know that the autosomal sequences associated with Africa are not similarly ancient and pre-colonial? My own test showed .5% Sub-Saharan African, and that’s very exciting to me, but I’d like to confirm that it’s actually from recent admixture rather than from thousands of years ago.

    • susanc

      Will,
      Here is a really good article discussing what you want to know. .5% is well under the average of 2.3% for the 30% of Americans with black ancestors. So in your case you’re probably right regarding its origin.

      http://www.isteve.com/2002_how_white_are_blacks.htm

  • Chelbi

    I thought ALL DNA traced back to Africa??

    • ScottH

      When we talk about ancestry, sometimes we talk about deep ancestry and sometimes we talk about more recent ancestry. The ancestry we’re looking at here is more recent. In the case of Hidden African ancestry it is looking at the last five or six generations or back about 200 years. If you’d like to know more about human migration out of Africa check out the Human Prehistory section of our Genetics 101 page.

  • Liz W.

    Thank you for writing about this topic. I’m a “white” woman. A DNA test revealed that I am 4% AA. It was a surprise, but not totally unexpected – this is America. Since we like to categorize things, I wonder, can I now claim to be AA?

    • Elle C

      Hecka ya! Go on girl! Stand up and say it loud! “I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD!”

      • -A

        I am African American with 25 percent white ancestry and I don’t think most would accept me identifying as white. I don’t consider myself white either.

        • Herne Webber

          (Sorry, this is going to be long.)
          My perception is that these are multiple separate categories (never mind sub-categories) of American existence, those being Black, White, Native, or Asian **Cultures,** versus European, African, North or South American **genetic origins.** There is also now a firmly established rise of categories involving blending from groups of both cultures and genes (i.e., the category known as “Mexican”, among others).

          I have known people who were up to an eighth African genetically, but who perceived themselves as white culturally, mainly because they were perceived as white (phenotypically). In one case, this was because my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, milk-maid complected female friend was adopted. P.S., she was so pale because she had a rare form of near-total albinism that also involves being severely dyslexic as well as mildly hemophiliac – which I helped her figure out! She had a stillborn child who was clearly fairly dark, causing her to look into her adoption records, and found her father was a quarter African. My father told me he considered her black, even though she was whiter looking than he was, due to his subscription to the One Drop Rule. ~Irony!~ I have a trace of African, and it didn’t come from mom.

          As to the cultural component, this is so complex. One can feel very culturally black due to growing up in a majority black neighborhood, or having a large percentage of black friends, but not be genetically African at all. These basically Euro-Americans don’t call themselves black, but if they *are* white, then biased whites have a negative word to describe them (usually behind their backs, because bigots are also usually cowards) that starts with ‘w’ and doesn’t end in the soft ‘ah.’ The converse is also true; i.e., blacks who grow up around whites may well feel and be perceived as more culturally white, and then it is they who have negative words spoken of them among blacks. This is further complicated by actual genetic blending.

          A great deal of the “racial tension” in America comes from people of one group denigrating people from their own group who have “strayed too far” culturally. Look at the post-Exodus Jews, and how they treated mixed couples when they got back to Israel. Lingering to this day in Jewish culture, there is still something called “The Jewish Problem,” the problem perceived of by the most conservative of Jews concerning ‘assimilation.’ All humans do this, giving us the racist gems of Natives calling others “apples”, or Asians calling others “bananas.” But what I call the Great Blending is well under way now, as it was without caps before 500 years ago, allowing genes to flow between groups or to create new groups, and cultures to exchange bits around their edges.

          Anyway, as to the aforementioned ‘other’ modern American categories, there are “Multi-Generational Mixed,” or “Multi-Racial,” or whatever is closer to the combined truths of each person him or herself. Genealogically, I had a pretty good idea of who I was going to see genetically. I figured I was one of the ‘sliver folk,’ being just a sliver of Native American. But surprise, I also have Iberan, Sardinian, African, Middle-Eastern, and Oceanean about all of which I had no idea, probably from the hidden parts of my ancestry, which I will never know. But knowing those Ancestors were there allows me to honor them, and to feel a legitimation of my global feeling that the world’s humans are my Ancestors.

          On the other point: Yes, there were a lot of white master on black slave rapes resulting in kids back in the day, and not that it makes things any better or more palatable about slavery, but the majority of rapes happened in the genealogies of people who ended up mainly descended of former slaves. In the earliest timeframe of pre-American History,in the time frame that most of the African was peppered into the Euro-American genepool, it was from consensual relations between any two people of the servant class, meaning generally both white indentured and black property slaves. There were occasionally black indentured slaves, and Native property slaves as well, but owning whites as if they were property was not legally permitted. (Where indenture and property slavery lines are seems blurry to me.) By the time race-based slavery was the only accepted norm, and by then mainly in the South, most of the mixed people of the earlier times had already blended into the white genepool. If their descendants knew of their own perceived as ‘tainted’ ancestry, at that time they would have decided en-masse to hide it, and so they did. In many cases, they even became rabidly racist to cover for what they felt was their own short-coming. Racism just did terrible things to people, period. Knowing we are all family now I believe really helps. No, I am not ‘Black’ culturally, except by osmosis back in the day, nor am I enough African genetically to see it(?). I may be 97% white (according to 23andMe, but much less so on third party sites), but all 100% of my Ancestors are mine, and bind me to my human family.

    • Sonia

      @Liz – Did you suddenly discover that you were culturally African American when the 4% popped up? If not, I’d suggest that you are still whatever you were before the test, but that you know that you have recent African Ancestry. BTW – if you were interested, you might be able to figure out who that ancestor was.

      • Denise

        I have 2% Afraican Ancestry in me. How would I find out where it came from? Would it be like my Grand parent or would it go back farther?

        • ttandme

          Denise, If you could test your father or a brother that would help you identify your paternal line. In turn that would also help you see a split view of your ancestry and you could see if your African Ancestry came from your mother’s side or your father’s side of the family. (You look for African segments in the either of your parents Ancestry Composition as it’s shown in split view,) That amount of ancestry, 2 percent, is significant enough that this was likely in the last five generations. Once you figure out which side of the family you will have to do more sleuthing. In my case we figured out it was on my mother’s side. We went back through her ancestry creating a family tree. Because most of her ancestors were relatives who traced back directly to Europe it was easier to eliminate some of those branches. We were able to trace back to Virgina one branch of her family tree and we think we are close to figuring out the origin our our ancestry. Good luck with your search.

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  • Ranee

    I would like information regarding which type of DNA testing to do for Ancestor & Health potential risks. I have been told that my Great Great Grandfather Frakes was a US. Marshal in the territory of OK/TX. In his 2nd marriage he married the Famous Comanche Indian Chief Quannah Parkers daughter. (referred to as Mary Happy Eyes) On my visit to Enid OK. area I found no records of marriage. I was told at that time the interracial marriages were not legally recorded. My Sister has recently been diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. We are Caucasian. Dr. stated this type of cancer is most common in African decent. Many years ago during some dental work a Dr. noted she had only two roots on her tooth he stated that their is a very rare ancient African tribe with the same two root structure. I would like more information for Health & Ancestor research. Thank You Ranee

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  • Bugs

    My results aren’t ready yet – 23andme says it’s in the quality control stage. However, I won’t be surprised, shocked, or anything else if some African ancestry is discovered. My mother’s side of the family all lived in the south, from Virginia to Georgia, for the last 400 years. That’s plenty of time to add a bit of variety to the genome.

  • http://23andme Barbann

    Well, these comments are all very interesting, but I still think that skin color is the least important thing about any of us! When you consider that all of our DNA is only 3 % different from a Chimpanzee, how much difference can skin color really be? That being said, it gained importance because it is the most easily recognized difference in human beings, from a distance and close up. I think humans as a whole have evolved through family and tribal cultures to have a sense of us as opposed to them, maybe due to competition for food, resources and survival, leaving us all a sense of wanting to belong to subgroups. I don’t have my ancestry results yet, but I will embrace whatever is on it and look forward to any surprise I find. Though all my DNA close matches are coming from Finland, so I must have gotten a heavy dose of DNA from my mother’s mother who was born in Finland! It is so strong that I am thinking that all Finns must be really closely related to each other.

    • ResourceDragon

      You may be right about Finns being closely related to each other. As I understand it, Finnish DNA is quite distinctive from other European DNA. You might find it interesting to look up ‘origins of European DNA’ on Google.

  • Steve Bush

    I have recently begun sharing with selected individuals that I have 1% African ancestry. It is rather amusing to see their expressions as they try to spot African-looking features on my face (there aren’t any). In my case I think 23 andme basically got it right. I can trace the African back to Thomas Dutton of SC who was listed as M race (mulatto) in the 1860 census in Dade Co., GA. He and his family had been enumerated as white in the 1850 census. Before that they have so far proved to be untraceable. Thomas was clearly a free person of color before the civil war, but I do not know who his African ancestor was. However, I have shared info with about seven or eight persons on 23andme who have mostly African ancestry, as well as a smaller number of “European” Americans who have small amounts of African ancestry, like me. Louis Henry Gates got it right. Many Americans are largely a blend of European and African. I think it is great!

  • Mal

    Still waiting on my test results. I am predominantly Caucasian, Australian. My 4 grandparents were Caucasian looking, but on Mom’s side had been in Australia for generations. Negro genes would therefore be a surprise, however Australian Aboriginal heritage is possible.

    Have 23andme sampled enough Australoid DNA to make any sort of call here?

    • ResourceDragon

      Not really. The first full Aboriginal Australian genome was only sequenced a few months ago (early 2014). The genetic material was obtained from a man who gave a hair sample to a museum for scientific purposes back in the 1930s. While he gave consent at the time for the hair to be used for science, he gave consent at a time when the double helix hadn’t been discovered, let alone the human genome mapped and so it is questionable whether his consent counts as informed.
      As I understand it, most Aboriginal Australians who do not have any white ancestors are reluctant to have their DNA tested because they fear that their DNA may be used against them to “prove” inferiority or to make the sort of genocide Hitler went in for easier.
      This is frustrating for those with mixed ancestry, particularly those from the Stolen Generations. It also means that their results can show a slew of different signals, including Austronesian, east Asian, south Asian and African as well as that favourite, “unassigned”. Sorting out whether these are real signals or a desperate attempt to match a segment of DNA to something is difficult.

  • Elle C

    I think its kinda funny how Blacks have a higher European ancestry rate, yet Whites have just a teeny weeny African ancestry rate. So who were the White Europeans that the Black ancestors were mixing with and where did they go if they’re not related to the Whites that remained here? Did they all mostly go back to Europe? I don’t get! This is still pathetic “denial” at its best. No I guess I can agree its at least 1%-3% better at getting to the truth. “Oh no those are just the southern white folks, us northern white folks are still 100% European!” LMAO! God Bless America!

    • istealcookies

      LMAO that you don’t understand what you are saying with your classifications of what constitutes “black” and “white”. The “white” people (with African heritage) whose whereabouts you are questioning ARE the black people with a high incidence of European DNA. The DNA is what MAKES YOU BLACK OR WHITE. OR IN-BETWEEN.

      You are referring to them as “black” because their skin color is darker even with the Euro DNA. Surely you have seen a mixed-race baby? Even with 50% white DNA, typically the darker skin genes take over. The reason (as you say) whites have a “teeny” African ancestry rate is BECAUSE THEIR SKIN IS STILL LIGHT SO THEY CANNOT POSSIBLY HAVE A LOT OF AFRICAN DNA. The individuals who DO have more African DNA are the “black” people. I’d ask you to reevaluate what your definitions of “white” and “black” are to answer your own dumb question.

      • randommomster

        “Surely you have seen a mixed-race baby? Even with 50% white DNA, typically the darker skin genes take over.”

        Nonsense.

        Take our President, for example. Next to his white mother, he is indeed appreciably darker. But next to his African father, he is appreciably paler. To say that the “darker skin genes take over” is part and parcel of the so-called one-drop rule. Both sides contribute, and if you look, you can see that in President Obama, and not just in skin tone.

        • Val Pearson

          When I was in Anthropology, I learned that mixed-race babies could be “as dark as the darkest parent or as light as the lightest parent.” the best photo I’ve seen of this was one of Mariah Carey doing H.S. cheerleader routines with her brother-full siblings with drastically contrasting skin color. My grandchild is mixed, white mom and AA father-she is as light as her mom, with gorgeous dark, soft curly hair.
          Her father was dark. We love her very much! People who meet her all remark that she is beautiful! I am of Scandinavian heritage & think the concept of “racial purity” is ridiculous! And probably not desirable, since genetic diseases could be more prominent.

  • Elle C

    Why is it so important that the new found black ancestor in some white peoples ancestry be free or an indentured servant. WTF! is this about? So having a black ancestor that was a slave is not as acceptable as finding one that was free or indentured? OMG WTF is wrong with you people? Man I demand a retest you morons are messing up the bloodline!

    • ScottH

      Elle, Since your talking about my story I’ll respond. What was important was to find out something that completely changed our perception of our family history and my own ancestry, which I thought was exclusively European. It was all new to our family and it also changed what I thought about that time period in American history. There was no desire to learn whether that person was free or enslaved, but we do want to know who it was a learn a little bit more about that part of our family.

    • outtahere

      The reality is that census information lists the freedom status of anyone colored, and that information yeilds clues that are necessary to find the ancestor. If he were a slave, the last name would be the same as the master, and the person would be listed in the master’s household count and legal documents such as his will. If the person was free it’s possible that he changed his last name. Knowing the details of ownership is a necessary eviil to in discovering the reality of their life story.

    • Matthew Langley

      So though I’m not the author I recently discovered the same thing. I am very “white” and in DNA results I have about 1% african markers. I have looked at the segments in a chromosome browser and they do seem to be more than noise.

      The most likely explanation for me as well is that I do have a slave ancestor. Though it sounds odd I find this very interesting, it’s a very sad history but two things come to mind:

      1) This connects me more to that time in history and now for people on both sides since I mostly likely do in fact have a slave ancestor

      2) I would not exist if that person did not exist and those circumstances existed, this isn’t an argument for the situation but an realization and understand of a situation that already happened.

      For me it doesn’t matter at all if the person was enslaved or not, I really just want to know who they were and how that contributes to the story of my ancestry and ultimately me. So I think your assumption that it being important in white peoples ancestry to not find a black slave is an invalid one. The authors words and tone very much mirrors mine, it’s more surprise than anything… in a sad way it’s a positive thing, in that it connects us to a darker time in our history in ways we may never have thought of, to the people who were on the bad end of it.

      We all learn and most of us despise what happened, but to know that we have an ancestor who went through in, ancestors on both ends… well it’s very humbling.

    • Womyn2me

      Well, the next step after admitting that one of your ancestors was black and a slave is the realistic but upsetting thought that your ancestor who was black was more than likely female and raped by your white ancestor. I’ve known for many years before easy and inexpensive genetic testing that some of my ancestors were from Africa, although most of my family said the non european ancestry was Native american.

      as my grandmother used to say (and you must say it with a West Viginia twang to get the full effect): “Honey, some of your people would rather be related to Pocahontas than Kunta Kinte.”

  • The Truth

    “But we believe this is the first detailed look of the African ancestry among those who consider themselves white. It begs many questions for possible future study. For instance, looking at the generational distribution implied by the percentages it appears most of the mixing occurred 200 years ago or more. Was intermixing between black and white more acceptable during that time in American history? Or was the relative isolation of people then such that the societal taboos against such mixing were more lax?”

    The answer is because the white slaveholders raped a lot of women, and those mixed children wanted to marry white with the intent of Lactification. Lactification is a term for whitening the race, it means only reproducing with white blood until all of your family’s genealogy is white. It was most common in Martinique, a French colony in the 17-18th century (Franz Fanon).

    • Susan Solomon

      Some of the mixing of races happened very early in the history of importing Black labor into this country. At first it was not illegal for whites and black slaves (or ex-slaves) to marry, and at that time, legal status went with the mother. If the mother was White the children were free. A person who illustrates this is Wanda Sykes, the comedian, who was one of Skip Gates’ subjects on ‘Finding Your Roots.’ Gates told her that a greatgrandmother+++ was White and that she married a Black slave, and that all their children were legally free. This was a surprise to Wanda, who had always supposed she came from slavery as do most African-Americans. She then found out that not only were her progenitors free, but that they at times owned slaves.

      Also, many people have derived the idea from somewhere that they are part Native American, although, now, using the most up-to-date DNA companies, very few end up with any indication of that, while they do find they are part Black. Lots of Blacks also have believed they were part Native American, only to find they aren’t either, but are often part White. The exception to this is in Florida, where Native Americans and Blacks formed a political coalition in which they often also married. Seminoles did not complete their journey on the Trail of Tears with all the other Native American tribes, and with the support and encouragement of their Black spouses, turned around and went back to Florida, where they hid in the Everglades until the 1970′s.

  • Cons P

    So if I have 98.9% European and 1.1% Sub-Saharan African ancestry, what does that mean? If that Sub-Saharan segment comes from one person, was that 5 generations ago? Or 6? 7? Or even more? Would be grateful if someone helped me out with that. I never knew about any African people in my family tree, and I’d be proud to know more about my ancestors!

    • 23blog

      That would likely mean it was within five or six generations. Farther back and the signature would likely not be detectable.

  • Darlinda McGowan

    CF. James Davis is a retired professor of sociology at Illinois State University. He is the author of numerous books, including Who is Black? One Nation’s Definition(1991), from which this excerpt was taken.Reprinted with permission of Penn State University Press To be considered black in the United States not even half of one’s ancestry must be African black. But will one-fourth do, or one-eighth, or less? The nation’s answer to the question ‘Who is black?” has long been that a black is any person with anyknown African black ancestry. This definition reflects the long experience with slavery and later with Jim Crow segregation. In the South it became known as the “one-drop rule,” meaning that a single drop of “black blood” makes a person a black. It is also known as the “one black ancestor rule,” some courts have called it the “traceable amount rule,” and anthropologists call it the “hypo-descent rule,” meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group. This definition emerged from the American South to become the nation’s definition, generally accepted by whites and blacks. Blacks had no other choice. As we shall see, this American cultural definition of blacks is taken for granted as readily by judges, affirmative action officers, and black protesters as it is by Ku Klux Klansmen.Let us not he confused by terminology. At present the usual statement of the one-drop rule is in terms of “black blood” or black ancestry, while not so long ago it referred to “Negro blood” or ancestry. The term “black” rapidly replaced “Negro” in general usage in the United States as the black power movement peaked at the end of the 1960s, but the black and Negro populations are the same. The term “black” is used in this book for persons with any black African lineage, not just for unmixed members of populations from sub-Saharan Africa. The term “Negro,” which is used in certain historical contexts, means the same thing. Terms such as “African black,” “unmixed Negro,” and “all black” are used here to refer to unmixed blacks descended from African populations.We must also pay attention to the terms “mulatto” and “colored.” The term “mulatto” was originally used to mean the offspring of a “pure African Negro” and a “pure white.” Although the root meaning of mulatto, in Spanish, is “hybrid,” “mulatto” came to include the children of unions between whites and so-called “mixed Negroes.” For example, Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, with slave mothers and white fathers, were referred to as mulattoes. To whatever extent their mothers were part white, these men were more than half white. Douglass was evidently part Indian as well, and he looked it. Washington had reddish hair and gray eyes. At the time of the American Revolution, many of the founding fathers had some very light slaves, including some who appeared to be white. The term “colored” seemed for a time to refer only to mulattoes, especially lighter ones, but later it became a euphemism for darker Negroes, even including unmixed blacks. With widespread racial mixture, “Negro” came to mean any slave or descendant of a slave, no matter how much mixed. Eventually in the United States, the terms mulatto, colored, Negro, black, and African American all came to mean people with any known black African ancestry. Mulattoes are racially mixed, to whatever degree, while the terms black, Negro, African American, and colored include both mulattoes and unmixed blacks. As we shall see, these terms have quite different meanings in other countries.Whites in the United States need some help envisioning the American black experience with ancestral fractions. At the beginning of miscegenation between two populations presumed to be racially pure, quadroons appear in the second generation of continuing mixing with whites, and octoroons in the third. A quadroon is one-fourth African black and thus easily classed as black in the United States, yet three of this person’s four grandparents are white. An octoroon has seven white great-grandparents out of eight and usually looks white or almost so. Most parents of black American children in recent decades have themselves been racially mixed, but often the fractions get complicated because the earlier details of the mixing were obscured generations ago. Like so many white Americans, black people are forced to speculate about some of the fractions– one-eighth this, three-sixteenths that, and so on…. Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other group than American blacks, but apparently the rule is unique in that it is found only in the United States and not in any other nation in the world. In fact, definitions of who is black vary quite sharply from country to country, and for this reason people in other countries often express consternation about our definition. James Baldwin relates a revealing incident that occurred in 1956 at the Conference of Negro-African Writers and Artists held in Paris. The head of the delegation of writers and artists from the United States was John Davis. The French chairperson introduced Davis and then asked him why he considered himself Negro, since he certainly did not look like one. Baldwin wrote, “He is a Negro, of course, from the remarkable legal point of view which obtains in the United States, but more importantly, as he tried to make clear to his interlocutor, he was a Negro by choice and by depth of involvement–by experience, in fact.”The phenomenon known as “passing as white” is difficult to explain in other countries or to foreign students. Typical questions are: “Shouldn’t Americans say that a person who is passing as white is white, or nearly all white, and has previously been passing as black?” or “To be consistent, shouldn’t you say that someone who is one-eighth white is passing as black?” or “Why is there so much concern, since the so-called blacks who pass take so little negroid ancestry with them?” Those who ask such questions need to realize that “passing” is much more a social phenomenon than a biological one, reflecting the nation’s unique definition of what makes a person black. The concept of “passing” rests on the one-drop rule and on folk beliefs about race and miscegenation, not on biological or historical fact.The black experience with passing as white in the United States contrasts with the experience of other ethnic minorities that have features that are clearly non-caucasoid. The concept of passing applies only to blacks–consistent with the nation’s unique definition of the group. A person who is one-fourth or less American Indian or Korean or Filipino is not regarded as passing if he or she intermarries and joins fully the life of the dominant community, so the minority ancestry need not be hidden. It is often suggested that the key reason for this is that the physical differences between these other groups and whites are less pronounced than the physical differences between African blacks and whites, and therefore are less threatening to whites.However, keep in mind that the one-drop rule and anxiety about passing originated during slavery and later received powerful reinforcement under the Jim Crow system.For the physically visible groups other than blacks, miscegenation promotes assimilation, despite barriers of prejudice and discrimination during two or more generations of racial mixing. As noted above, when ancestry in one of these racial minority groups does not exceed one-fourth, a person is not defined solely as a member of that group. Masses of white European immigrants have climbed the class ladder not only through education but also with the help of close personal relationships in the dominant community, intermarriage, and ultimately full cultural and social assimilation. Young people tend to marry people they meet in the same informal social circles. For visibly non-caucasoid minorities other than blacks in the United States, this entire route to full assimilation is slow but possible.For all persons of any known black lineage, however, assimilation is blocked and is not promoted by miscegenation. Barriers to full opportunity and participation for blacks are still formidable, and a fractionally black person cannot escape these obstacles without passing as white and cutting off all ties to the black family and community. The pain of this separation, and condemnation by the black family and community, are major reasons why many or most of those who could pass as white choose not to. Loss of security within the minority community, and fear and distrust of the white world are also factors.It should now be apparent that the definition of a black person as one with any trace at all of black African ancestry is inextricably woven into the history of the United States. It incorporates beliefs once used to justify slavery and later used to buttress the castelike Jim Crow system of segregation. Developed in the South, the definition of “Negro” (now black) spread and became the nation’s social and legal definition. Because blacks are defined according to the one-drop rule, they are a socially constructed category in which there is wide variation in racial traits and therefore not a race group in the scientific sense. However, because that category has a definite status position in the society it has become a self-conscious social group with an ethnic identity.The one-drop rule has long been taken for granted throughout the United States by whites and blacks alike, and the federal courts have taken “judicial notice” of it as being a matter of common knowledge. State courts have generally upheld the one-drop rule, but some have limited the definition to one thirty-second or one-sixteenth or one-eighth black ancestry, or made other limited exceptions for persons with both Indian and black ancestry. Most Americans seem unaware that this definition of blacks is extremely unusual in other countries, perhaps even unique to the United States, and that Americans define no other minority group in a similar way. . . .We must first distinguish racial traits from cultural traits, since they are so often confused with each other. As defined in physical anthropology and biology,races are categories of human beings based on average differences in physical traits that are transmitted by the genes not by blood. Culture is a shared pattern of behavior and beliefs that are learned and transmitted through social communication. An ethnic group is a group with a sense of cultural identity, such as Czech or Jewish Americans, but it may also be a racially distinctive group. A group that is racially distinctive in society may be an ethnic group as well, but not necessarily. Although racially mixed, most blacks in the United States are physically distinguishable from whites, but they are also an ethnic group because of the distinctive culture they have developed within the general American framework.

    Color does not say much about what lies under the skin.”Not only is our concept of race arbitrary, bmoo aut it is based on a relatively insignificant difference between people. Skin pigment, eye shape, and hair type are all determined by genes. Indeed, as the human genome is mapped, geneticists might be able to reconstruct what mummies or other ancient people looked like. But the physical ”stereotypes” of race, writes Cavalli-Sforza, ”reflect superficial differences.” For example, light skin color is needed in northern climates for the sun’s ultra- violet light to penetrate into the body and transform vitamin D into a usable form. This mutation may well have arisen at different times, in different ancestral groups, on different points along the DNA. That’s true for cystic fibrosis, which occurs almost exclusively in people of European descent but is caused by several different mutations.In other words, ”white people” do not share a common genetic heritage; instead, they come from different lineages that migrated from Africa and Asia. Such mixing is true for every race. ”All living humans go back to one common ancestor in Africa,” explains Paabo. ”But if you look at any history subsequent to that,” then every group is a blend of shallower pedigrees. So, he says, ”I might be closer in my DNA to an African than to another European in the street.” Genetics, he concludes, ”should be the last nail in the coffin for racism.”That’s the utopian view. But there are still scientists who claim that inferior genes plague certain races. J. Phillipe Rushton, a professor of psychology at Canada’s University of Western Ontario, publishes books and articles claiming that ”Negroids” have, on average, smaller brains, lower intelligence, more ”aggressiveness,” and less ”sexual restraint” than ”Caucasoids” or ”Mongoloids.”Rushton’s views are on the extreme fringe, but even in mainstream genetics, largely discredited concepts of race persist. Scientific articles constantly speak of ”admixture” between races, which implies a pure and static standard for each race. ”Where did these standards come from?” asks Jackson. ”We’ve taken a 19th-century view of racial variation and plugged in 20th-century technology.” Indeed, the whole notion of racial standards—of a pure Caucasian or a pure Negro—is exactly what modern genetics undermines. But, says Jackson, ”the philosophy hasn’t caught up with th60yt? technology.”Over time, ”genetics will help beat down racist arguments,” says Eric Lander, a world-renowned geneticist at M.I.T. ”But they will need to be beaten down, because they will keep coming up.”

  • Darlinda McGowan

    The blood tests are getting better and better over the years with new technology, they’re not messing up your bloodline!! Your ancestors are rapist and here you are crying because you are alive with DNA other then European race in your bloodline, you selfish bastard! You can’t think about the women that was beaten, raped who brought you and those before you into this world. You will die with African blood, your children and any other children in the future too. I’m mixed and I thank God that I have the opportunity to prove to him that I am worthy to be with him in the new kingdom at the right hand of our Creator!! I thank God that I don’t have to be the one to cast judgement on people like you!!!

  • bookworm857158367

    23and me says I have 0.4 percent Sub Saharan African ancestry, which would go back about seven generations to the ancestors who lived in North Carolina. I can’t find any trace in the records of black ancestry, but one of them at least was probably from a family that owned slaves. Their kids later intermarried with Quakers who were probably abolitionists. I’d like to know that story. The Southern connection makes me think the DNA result is probably accurate.

    • KevinPhillipsBong

      0.4 percent is statistical noise. It’s well within the margin of error and means nothing.

      • MAY_22_4ever

        I disagree about this simply being “noise.” My 23 and me states .4% African like Bookworm with a small amount of Native American. I have a very clear Sub Saharan African marker found on my 10th Chromosome. However, my brother’s DNA shows 3% African (slightly above the average) and a small amount of Middle Eastern (we have Cherokee ancestry). Our ancestors lived where there was a strong concentration of Melungeons in East Tennessee.

        Bookworm, it would be great if you could get a male in the family tested (if you haven’t already done so) to compare. Also, if you are able to do it, get tested with another company as well. DNA Ethnicity interpretation is still a work in progress, but it’s come a long way.

    • MAY_22_4ever

      (Posted this again as a direct reply to Bookworm’s post). I disagree about the opinion of this simply being “noise.” My 23 and Me states .4% African just like you with a small amount of Native American. I have a very clear Sub Saharan African marker found on my 10th Chromosome. However, my brother’s DNA shows 3% African (slightly above the average) and a smaller amount of Middle Eastern (we have Cherokee ancestry). Our ancestors lived where there was a strong concentration of Melungeons in East Tennessee.

      Bookworm, it would be great if you could get a male in the family tested (if you haven’t already done so) to compare. Also, if you are able to do it, get tested with another company (to compare with 23 and Me) as well. DNA Ethnicity interpretation is still a work in progress, but it’s come a long way.

  • DeniseL

    Hi Scott:

    I happened upon your post and found it very interesting. I would like to encourage you to put things into historical perspective. More than likely you are a descendant of an African woman. It is more probable that the free man of color that you spoke of was your ancestor’s secrete relative and not your gggggrandfather. Tracing your haplogroup may give you clues. Keep in mind that in the early history of our nation, race mixing among white men and black women was very common but underground. African women hadn’t human or civil rights. The right to one’s own body, children, or family was not recognized. Therefore white plantation owners, workers, or any white man, could do as they pleased. This continued on into Jim Crow. Race mixing occurred to the point that it is almost impossible to now find an African American with 100% African DNA. What was extremely rare in the early history of our nation were black men who fathered children with white women. White women were sheltered and expected to save themselves for their husbands. While mixed race children of black women and white men were plentiful, any notion of sexual contact of a black man with a white woman was punishable by death. Many mixed race people chose to covertly blend into the white dominate society (passing) in order to escape the brutal realities of an inhumane racially based cast system. In many cases these people lived in fear of being exposed. Of course all of this is changed now.

    Best wishes with your genealogy studies.

    • Scott23H

      DeniseL,
      Thank you for those comments and the perspective you gave.

  • Edruezzi

    It goes to show that race is an illusion we’ve been killing ourselves with.

  • kitty

    What difference does it make ? We are all of one race, the human race, all descended from the first man and woman – Adam and Eve. Later, the family of Noah consisted of 8 people. That would mean that eventually no matter what areas of the earth their descendants traveled to and what their physical features were, whatever languages were spoken, they still carried the genes of their first parents from the beginning. Within the first couple were the genetic capabilities to produce all of the variety of humans we see today. The idea of making a big deal out of what someone looks like is nothing but over thinking and adding an imperfect human interpretation to what our Creator has already purposed – variety. Flowers all look different but are all beautiful, so are all human varieties. It is only the mistaken ideas that some had,- or some still have, that is prejudiced itself that is wrong. Instead, there should have been acceptance, respect and love, not even thinking of anyone’s physical appearance.

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