Black Americans turn to DNA to trace African roots

Thu Jul 9, 2009 2:22pm EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Matthew Bigg

ATLANTA (Reuters) - To get a sense of the pain many black Americans feel about their broken connection to Africa, just listen to the cries of joy when the divide was bridged by blacks who used DNA to trace their roots to a specific country:

"My life has been turned upside down," said Veronica Henry of Las Vegas, who quit her corporate job in information technology and set up website www.myafricandiaspora.com after she learned in 2007 that her mother's lineage came from the Mende people of Sierra Leone.

Said Stephanie Smith of Randallstown, Maryland, after tracing her roots back to Sierra Leone: "I finally feel some of the separation between myself as an African American and other Africans beginning to fall away."

Others said they were almost physically sick with anticipation as they opened the envelope containing their DNA test results that could reveal their ancestry.

Since DNA mapping made it possible to trace ancestry, tens of thousands of people around the world have taken tests. But the process is of particular interest to black Americans because it offers to reverse the terrible forced separation from their home.

To many Africans, Barack Obama's trip to Ghana starting Friday will represent a homecoming for the first African American president and he will be welcomed as a son of the world's poorest continent who has attained global power.

Obama's heritage includes Kenya and his father came to the United States as a foreign student, but the trip will also generate interest in the success of other blacks in retracing their roots.

One effect of the slave trade that flourished between the 1600s and the 1900s transporting around 10 million Africans to the Western hemisphere, including 4 million to the land that became the United States, was that black Americans almost never knew which part of Africa they came from.   Continued...