Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking About My African Roots

I'm one of those fortunate African-Americans who is able to trace her family roots on my father's side to just before the Civil War thanks to a combination of census data and detailed family Bible entries my great-grandmother Jane Davis left.

Thanks to my great grandmother Jane and 1910 census data I discovered that my great-great-grandmother was born in Kentucky. Thanks to the fact that many Kentucky courthouses escaped Civil War destruction, I'll have the ability to look through the property records for my great-great grandmother once I determine what Kentucky county she was born in.

That's right, I said property records. My great-great-grandmother was born in a slave state.

On my mother's side, I discovered that one of my ancestors arrived in chains at the Port of New Orleans in 1810.

I've always wondered what part of Africa my ancestors came from. Thanks to a company called African Ancestry, run by Dr. Rick Kittles, brothas and sistahs can find the answers to that question by using DNA testing.

Dr. Kittle's company has compiled a database of 9,000 African peoples to compare your sample with and can pinpoint with 85%-90% accuracy the African people that you come from. On a recent PBS broadcast of African American Lives, Oprah, Chris Tucker, Whoopi Goldberg, Dr. Mae Jemison and a few other African-American notables took those tests and got some very interesting results in some cases.

I have a possible clue where some of my ancestors may have come from: Benin.

Benin is a African nation of 8 million people on the Bight of Benin bordered by Nigeria to the east, Togo on the west, and Burkina Faso and Niger to its north.

When I was a freshman in college I was in a deep conversation with a Nigerian and another African student. They asked me if I was from Benin and I told them no, I was born on this side of the Atlantic. When I asked why they thought I was a continental African instead of an American, they told me that my facial features reminded them of people they knew from Benin. I've heard that comment more than a few times from other Africans residing in Houston such as my former hairdresser Sadat (who's from Nigeria) and a girl from Sierra Leone.

One of my dream trips is to go to Ghana, travel to Elmina Castle and look out the 'Door of No Return'. I want to complete the circle and imagine what my ancestor had to go through. Surviving the horror of capture, held in that castle and others like it along the African Atlantic coast until they were led in shackles through the Door of No Return onto a ship for the three month Middle Passage to the Americas. After surviving that harrowing voyage, being disembarked in a new land and stripped of all their history, their language, their name and their humanity.

It's a void that I and many other African-Americans feel today.

I'm definitely going to shell out the $349 and take that test one day. I'd consider it an investment. I have to know what part of the African continent my peeps came from and one day visit it if possible. I want to know if the observations of these various continental Africans living in Houston were correct.


Jackie said...

It would be interesting to know our African family place of origin. My mom and my cousin and I traced our family back through census records to find a slave listed on the property records. Unbelievable, but there it was in black and white, man's inhumanity to man. Ridiculous but true.

My nephew went to Africa and visited Senagal and peered through a "door of no return". He said it's a riveting experience.

Monica Roberts said...

I had Continental co-workers who took a trip to Ghana and visited Elmina Castle.

My coworkers told me that the experience was overwhelmingly powerful and emotional. Many people cried as they saw the shackles in various sizes down to ones made for children.

They walked through those dungeons and peered out of Elmina's Door of No Return (of which I have a picture of in this post)