"I am loving this ride" That's what Blair Underwood exclaimed while he was learning the story of his family history during the TV show Who Do You Think You Are?. That same sentiment pretty much sums up why so many people are delving into their own family trees and are actually finding it fun.
The professional genealogists on the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? talked about the difficulty of African-American genealogy because a "Wall" is reached once the African-American family traces its family tree back to the time of slavery. Since the US census is one of the foundations in building a family tree, many times the African-American genealogy trail stops in 1860 during the time of slavery. While the census of the free population lists every family member by name in the 1860 census, the slave population is only listed by their owner's name plus the slave's gender, age and race (black or mulatto). The slaves are not listed by name. Because of this, many African- Americans hit "the Wall" in 1860 when the paper trail stops.
DNA testing was able to help Blair Underwood go beyond the paper trail to find his roots in Africa. Through Ancestry.com DNA testing, they were able to find Blair Underwood's 10th cousin (or so) living in Africa today. A 10th cousin means they had a common ancestor about 250 years ago - assuming 25 years per generation - which would mean they had a common ancestor sometime around 1700 - 1750 during the time of the slave trade.
His 10th cousin, Eric Sonjowoh, is a college student in the African nation of Cameroon. In last night’s episode, Blair Underwood flies to the village of Babungo in Cameroon with his father. They are met by Eric and his father and all take part in the celebration and watch the tribal dances.
I wondered how it came to be that his cousin had submitted his DNA to the Ancestry DNA database, but Eric explained that "a guy" told him that many African-Americans are looking for their African roots, so many in Africa are contributing their DNA to help them. Because of this, there is the possibility that other African-Americans could find also find a distant cousin in Africa.
Dr. Kenneth Chahine, general manager of Ancestry DNA, walked Blair through his DNA analysis. DNA analysis determines ethnicity and found Blair is 26% European and 74% African which Dr. Chahine said is typical of African-Americans today.
Not only can the DNA test tell African-Americans the country in which their ancestors originated, but also the tribe. Blair's ancestors are associated with tribes found in the western part of Africa: 27% Bamoun, 22% Brong, 13% Yoruba and 12% Igbo.
What the TV show didn't mention is that the Ancestry.com DNA test performed on Blair Underwood has not yet been released. The new autosomal DNA test was announced at RootsTech in early February and will launch in late March or thereabouts. You can put your name on the contact list at Ancestry.com DNA, and they will notify you when the new DNA testing is released.
At the end of the episode while he is standing in the African town of Babungo, an obviously moved Blair Underwood said, "We have come full circle to reunite our family. When we started this odyssey, who I thought I was, is different than I know I am today."
Want to know more about your family? Start your FREE family tree online to enter what you already know about yourself and have Ancestry.com help you find your family story.