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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finding Your Roots! Season Finale!

Decoding the Past Through DNA 

Photo from the Finding Your Roots Website

It’s the final episode of Season 2 Finding Your Roots Series. Now folks can call me between the hours of 8pm and 9pm on Tuesday nights and I'll answer the phone. 

This episode focuses on DNA testing, Governor Deval Patrick, Actress Jessica Alba and Dr. Gates. I find it interesting that the final episode aired about a week after “re-vamp” their DNA testing which has put all its users, at least the African Americans, in a teasy; however, not this user.  Basically what Ancestry did was improved its DNA algorithm to determine our matches. I’m glad they did. Because first of all, I had 50 pages (2,663 DNA cousins) of matches and now I had 19 pages.  This was too many cousins and a greater possibility of many false positive relatives. Second, my mom was described as a close relative; while her aunt was listed as my 1st-2nd cousin. Now, my mom is described as my parent but her aunt is still described as my 1st-2nd cousin, not perfect but better.  My matches are now described as “extremely high,” “very high,” to “moderately confident.” I’m thrilled because I feel that I might can knock down a few "break-walls" and find some ancestors.

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts
Governor Patrick is a Chicago native whose father was a Black Nationalist who left the family when Deval was 4 years old.  The Governor was raised by his mother who later sent her son to Massachusetts where the state made a major impact on her son who would one day become the state’s first African American Governor.  Well the Governor’s DNA is just as interesting. We see a document related to the Governor Patrick’s ancestor, Emily Wintersmith.  Emily received land from her former slave owner, Dr. Harvey Slaughter, “for little to no money.”  Dr. Gates and his team felt that Deval’s ancestor might be blood related to Dr. Slaughter.  So genetic genealogist CeCe Moore compared DNA from Deval to descendants of Dr. Slaughter to see if they were genetically related and they were.  It was concluded that Emily’s child was fathered by Dr. Slaughter.  We also find out that both the Governor’s M-DNA and Y-DNA were traced back to Europe which meant his original paternal and maternal ancestors came from Europe, not Africa. The Governor’s DNA includes 38.9% European and 58.9% sub-Saharan African.  I couldn’t help but smile when the Governor look at his family tree he said “It makes you feel small and big at this same time.”

Actress Jessica Alba
Jessica says that she identifies more with her father side of the family, the Mexican American side and not her mother’s European side. However, her DNA is more than just Mexican American, in fact, her DNA analysis included: 33.5% British, 5.1% French German, 3.9% Scandinavian, 17.3% Ilberian and 1.4% Italian. Jessica said that her paternal side which is her Mexican side, experience racial prejudice living in America.  For example, her paternal grandmother’s family was half dark and half light so those who were light complexion went to the white schools and those who were dark complexion went to the Mexican schools. This is ironic because her father was also tested and it was discovered that his family was descended from Native Americans. So apparently, Jessica’s ancestors were not immigrants or outsiders as they were treated but natives and had been living in North America for centuries.

Dr. Skip Gates           
CeCe Moore told Dr. Gates one particular surname kept coming up amongst his DNA matches and that surname was trace to a man named Wilmore Mayle who was possibly Dr. Gates ancestor.  We’re introduce to Alexandra Finley who is a direct descendant of Wilmore and through DNA testing, Alexandra and Dr. Gates are confirmed as cousins. Alexandra provided Dr. Gates with one of those remarkable discoveries. It was a Virginia record dated in 1826 where Wilmore freed a female slave named Nancy and in the record Wilmore states that Nancy is his wife. This was 141 years before the Loving v. Virginia landmark decision that invalidated prohibition of interracial marriages.  How did Wilmore survive this great proclamation? Well, Wilmore whose baptismal record confirmed that he was white, straddled the “color-line.”  Alexandra found some records where Wilmore was listed as black and other records where he’s described as white but she also found records where he was listed as a mulatto. It appears that Wilmore was willing to do whatever he could to remain married to Nancy. The Tammy Terrell and Marvin Gayle song comes to my mind when I think about their love: “Aint No Mountain High Enough to Keep Me from You.” In fact the couple with their six children move to the mountains of West Virginia which was where Dr. Gates trace his ancestors to Chestnut Ridge, West Virginia and to a community of mulattoes. Dr. Gates found the Mayle cemetery and a mulatto community who found safety amongst themselves where they inter-marry. Their descendants return to the community every year to celebrate what they call “Heritage Day.”  It was never confirmed that Dr. Gates was a direct descendant of Wilmore Mayle but we do know that he was related to Wilmore.   

I have met a lot of DNA relatives through Ancestry DNA, 23andme and FTDNA. But finding that common ancestor hasn’t been easy, almost impossible. I wish I had for each of my lines an older relative who I could get tested. Sadly, I don’t but I can work with what I got.  For instance, the largest percentage of my African roots come from Cameroon/Congo with 22%,  however, I also have 18% DNA from the  Ivory Coast/Ghana.

My Ancestry DNA Results

My 23andme DNA Results

Another fascination about DNA research is that DNA can fill in the missing pieces. For example, if all of my DNA matches had family trees that were open to the public and each tree covered at least 5 to 6 generations, then perhaps I could have a “breakthrough.” But until then, I will keep banging on that "brick-wall." Because my 23andme test results tells me that my Native American DNA is located on chromosomes 3 and 17 and if I could find a match located on the exact segments of these two chromosomes; then it’s possible that we could be descendants of the same ancestor who may be full or part Native American. Or if I found a match whose four grandparents were Native Americans, then I would know which tribe or area my Native American ancestor originated from.

The episodes in this season has been entertaining and educational. I congratulate Dr. Gates and his staff  with so much thought provoking information.  Dr. Gates said that it wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists group people into 3 great races: Negroids, Mongoloids and Caucasions. Some would say that DNA science has blurred those classifications; I say that man has blurred those classifications. But like it was said in this episode, DNA does show that there is no PURITY OF BLOOD!

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