I’ve Got Loyalty and Royalty (and Englishmen) Inside My DNA: 23andMe and the Who/What/When of American Slavery*

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I’ve always been curious about my ancestry and sought out information via relatives who did the work to construct my family tree on my Mother’s and Father’s side. Thankfully, I have two family trees that date back to the early 1800’s. Don’t ya love that cousin who went to the county courthouses down South (Chucky went all through Mississippi, God bless him!) and got the death certificates, newspaper articles and census reports to dig up ALL that remains? Such a precious, noble task. To have this history as the descendant of slaves in the South is quite rare. What a treasure trove of information they’ve given me – copies of death certificates, 1920 census reports, letters containing oral histories of stories told to them at reunions, faded photographs….

So, now, I’ve matched my precious boxes of family tree documents with my technologically-enabled 23 and Me genetic history results. It’s emotionally jarring to see the timeline in my family tree history roughly line up with the timeline in my 23 and Me output. The distant names and forgotten faces way back in those county census reports are matching up with the cold hard data showing up in the my DNA. (Note: the topic of DNA is raging in my brain with Kendrick Lamar’s tune DNA on his latest recording #DAMN, which inspired the title of the blog, for those who might not know :-).

With that said, let’s move onward… 23 and Me added a timeline feature that shows you the general dates of birth of the ancestry now, which lines up neatly with the history books – and I can hear the wails of my female ancestors in the reports. 1700’s to 1850’s – abductions in West Africa, slaves ships of Goree and through the Middle Passage, to sugar cane farms in Jamaica and cotton plantations in Mississippi…and British/Irish slave masters having their way with female slaves and producing children that begat generation after generation – leading all the way to me. Naw, I’m not “Injun” as we all black folks were told we were “part Injun” growing up. This is me:

African and European (70/30%)

 

West African (do they know there are tribes with names in West Africa At 23 and Me? Just sayin’)

 

 

And 22% Northwestern European (British Irish and broadly so)

 

The fascinating part of this is the timeline, a recent addition to the features on 23 and Me, which looks like the history of this country and the stories in my family tree:

A 100% West African grandparent born between 1810 and 1870.

 

A 100% British or Irish grandparent born between 1750 and 1840.

I take this all in, slowly…it sets my mind wandering and searching for a favorite book that so poignantly taught me the history that was NOT taught in my elementary school, but that I discovered later in life that states the facts of the system our ancestors survived:

“For two hundred years, black. Brown and yellow men and women were held in bondage in America. During these years “a social system as coercive as any yet known” was erected on the framework of the most “implacable race consciousness yet observed in virtually any society.”

      A curtain of cotton rang down on some four million human beings. It became a crime to teach these men and women to read and write; it became a crime to give them a Bible.

      Behind this cotton curtain four million human beings were systematically deprived of every right of personality. Vice, immorality and brutality were institutionalized. The sanctity of the family was violated; children were sold from mothers and fatherhood, in effect, was outlawed. The rape of a slave woman, a Mississippi court ruled, is an offense unknown to common or civil law. The “father of a slave”, a Kentucky court ruled, in “unknown to our law.”*

* Before the Mayflower, A History of Back America, Lerone Bennett, Jr.,

So I’m left to wonder: exactly which ONE  of my great – great – great –great female ancestors bore the children of an Englishman? Was it horrible? Was it gentle? Were she and her child cared for? My heart weeps for her. I see her name in my family trees but can’t tell which one she is (just yet.) I want to know her. I want to hug her. I want to tell her we’ve survived and we’re doing okay. And we thank her, ever so much.

Let me see what I can learn about her….

Image source: 23 and Me

  • * title of blog inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s DNA on album #DAMN
Gail Moody – Byrd is currently Center of Excellence Lead, Digital Governance, at SAP, where she advises 25 social media teams globally on strategy, structure and performance. She earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA in Economics from Spelman College. Gail was named AdAge Top Digital Marketer in 2013 and 2014 a FierceCMO Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing in 2014. The views expressed here are Gail’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer.

4 Comments

  1. Adam klyce on July 21, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you for writing that Gail! Powerful and poignant.

  2. Tom Raftery on July 21, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Hey Gail fascinating piece. Thanks for sharing.

    Were there Irish slave owners in the US? Most Irish emigrants in the 19th century were escaping hunger, poverty and famine. Not where I would have thought slave owners would have come from.

    Unless they were Ulster protestant landowners who decided to move to exploit opportunities in the New World.

    • Gail Moody on July 21, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Tom, The result defines NW European as “Northwestern Europeans are represented by people from as far west as Ireland, as far north as Norway, as far east as Finland, and as far south as France. These countries rim the North and Baltic Seas, and have been connected throughout much of history by those waters.” I hear Moody has Scottish roots, actually. Maybe something there? Thanks for asking.

  3. G. William James on July 21, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    This essay is powerful and insightful, Gail. Thank you for feeding me a full-course meal for thought. Too often we overlook the influences of the past that did not directly touch as the inspiration/catalyst for who and what we are today.

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