HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) – For as long as I can remember I longed to know about my ancestry. I have always known about my American ancestors, but never had a clue as to my African ancestry.
For so long that information was beyond reach, but now, thanks to modern technology, I can travel centuries into the past and discover who I really am.
There's an old saying, you can't know where you are going unless you know where you have been. For millions of African Americans, where we are truly from remains a mystery.
I have been able to trace my family history back only so far. On my father's side I was able to find out who my great, great grandparents were. On my mother's side we were able to go a little further back to my East Indian ancestry, which I have to admit surprised us all. Even with information, we always hit a wall, but now we have science on our side.
"Our mission is to transform the way we view Africa and we do that by reconnecting African Americans with their roots," explained Hdgina Paige with Africanancestry.com.
They are able to do that through DNA testing with a database that goes back anywhere from 500 to 10,000 years. It places ancestry before the transatlantic slave trade.
"Our database has over 25,000 samples in it that come from 30 different countries primarily West and Central Africa, because these were the populations that contributed mostly in the slave trade," said Paige.
Africanancestry.com is the only test that allows you to trace your maternal or paternal ancestry back to a specific African country or sometimes to a specific African group.
The test uses mitochondrial DNA, the chromosomes that men and women inherit from our mother. It provides a record of maternal descent, meaning you have the same mitochondrial DNA as your mother, your mother's mother and so on, for hundreds of generations.
The Y chromosome contains DNA men get only from their fathers.
As a result of the tests, over 85 percent of the people tested are provided identical matches. 95 percent are provided closely related matches.
I took the maternal test to trace my lineage. I was actually nervous as I followed the simple instruction to collect my DNA. I took a couple of swaps from inside each cheek, placed the swabs in the provided envelope, carefully sealed it and sent it to be analyzed.
For me, getting this information would be the realization of a dream and the culmination of years of research started way before me.
For thousands of African Americans who have taken this test, the results have been equally gratifying and sometimes surprising.
Alabama A&M President Dr. Andrew Hugine took the test and his lineage was traced back to Nigeria and the Uraba people.
"I thought maybe Ghana. I'd taken a trip there and many people looked a lot like I did," said Dr. Hugine. "I kind of blended right in, so I thought perhaps it would be Ghana. I had no idea it would be Nigeria."
None the less, Dr. Hugine was thrilled with the new information and said after sharing the details with his children and researching Nigeria, a family trip will be in order.
Terrance Vickerstaff administered the test to his 90-year-old grandfather and revealed the results at their family reunion. His family is from Guinea Bissau and said the results were transformative.
For others anxiously awaiting their result like me, it's hard to comprehend that a part of a puzzle missing for hundreds of years will soon be complete.
Six weeks after sending my samples in I received the little package that held the key to my family's past. I discovered on my mother's side came from Camaroon in coastal West Africa. My father's ancestors are the Yoruba people from Nigeria in West Africa.
Now I am looking forward to learning more about ancestry. That includes a lot more research and family trips to both areas.
In the seven years African ancestry has been conducting DNA tests, only four of the more than 20,000 samples have been inconclusive.