Tracing African American Ancestry Through DNA

Memphis, TN – WKNO and the Pink Palace Family of Museums have embarked on a series exploring the use of genetics in various ways, from farming to climate change, to memory and medical interventions.

Today, we will explore how genetics can help people trace their ancestral roots.

Genealogists often trace their heritage using historical records, such as birth certificates, the US Census, and other forms of public information. For African Americans, this presents a unique challenge because they were not listed in census data until after the abolition of slavery. They were considered property, and sometimes found within land transactions. But, not always.

For African Americans, DNA testing can help break down barriers to find their ancestors.

Mildred Holt is an African American woman who works at WKNO. In collaboration with the African American Lives 2 series on Channel 10, she recently began the journey of tracing her family tree using DNA.

First, she had to provide a DNA sample, using the kit that African American DNA sent to the station. Mildred Holt explains how they got the sample.

It had two swabs in it, and all I had to do was go in and swab my cheek.

Bennett Greenspan of African American DNA says that they can trace DNA to specific regions.

Recently, Mildred was informed that the DNA swab was successful and now she has begun to get possible matches of low and high probability.

So far, there have been dozens of low probability matches and one high-resolution match.

This week, Mildred responded to Hayward, giving him the surnames that her grandmother in Clarksdale, Mississippi has passed to her. At some point in time, perhaps as many as 57 generations ago, Mildred and Hayward are related. Though, as far as she knows, none of her relations have ever lived in Florida.

Mildred's genealogical journey continues. To learn more about tracing DNA, tune into Channel 10 tonight at 8 for African American Lives 2