Celebs Who Traced Their DNA Roots
With advancements in modern technology, we can now have our DNA traced back hundreds of years with just a couple swabs of the cheek. As you know, the MN editorial staff is currently awaiting results of the DNA testing with Ancestry.com, so we decided to shout out these celebrities who went on a hunt to find out where their lineage lies. Here are 15 celebs who traced their DNA roots.
In 2006 talk show maven Oprah Winfrey became the biggest celebrity to have her DNA analyzed. Appearing on the PBS documentary African American Lives, Winfrey’s genetic make up revealed a predominance of sub-Saharan African DNA. The Chicago transplant’s ancestors are the Kpelle people, a West African group that reside in the highlands of what is now known as Liberia and Guinea. “When it happened to me, it was absolutely empowering to know the journey of my entire family,” she said of the experience of finding out where her roots lie.
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Actress/singer Sheryl Lee Ralph was born in Connecticut and raised in New York. Her mother is from Jamaica but the Tony-winning actress realized her family roots extend well past the Caribbean and stretch all the way to Africa. After having her DNA analyzed, Ralph, who was one of the original Dreamgirls, discovered her ancestors are from the Tikar tribe in Cameroon. “Discovering my African roots was – hands down – the most transformative event in my life,” Ralph has said of the experience. She recently traveled to Cameroon with her husband, Senator Vincent Hughes, as part of an ancestry re-connection program.
Actor Isaiah Washington had his DNA traced and in doing so, has found a new purpose in life. Back in 2005, he had his DNA analyzed and found out his ancestors hailed from the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone. Traveling back to his homeland, the former “Grey’s Anatomy” star has made it his mission in life to help his people by founding the Gondobay Mango Foundation (his African name) to help rebuild Sierra Leone “one village at a time.” Washington has become the first African-American to be granted dual citizenship In Sierra Leone based on DNA testing.
Michael K. Williams
Michael K. Williams got his start in the movie business after he was discovered by rapper/actor Tupac Shakur and was cast to play his little brother in the movie Bullet. Williams was born and raised in Brooklyn, his father is from down south and his mother hails from the Bahamas, but for years he was encouraged by his friend and fellow actor Isaiah Washington to find out where his family roots really lie. After having his DNA analyzed, the “Boardwalk Empire” star found out his ancestors are from the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone, just like Washington.
Comedian Wyatt Cenac has been making audiences laugh for nearly two decades and impersonated President Barack Obama when he was just a junior senator from Chicago. The funny man had his DNA analyzed and discovered his ancestors are from the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. Cenac most recently has appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” as a correspondent until his final appearance on the show in December 2012.
Jessica Williams was born and raised in California and got her start on Nickelodeon’s “Just For Laughs” in 2006. Since signing up as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” she has relocated to New York City. After having her DNA analyzed, the 24-year-old found out her roots travel much farther than that. Williams’ can trace her family lineage all the way back to the Bamileke tribe of Cameroon.
As co-frontman for the legendary hip-hop group The Roots, Questlove’s huge afro and extensive knowledge of music is well known. But after finding out his DNA ancestry, the Philly native was inspired to do some research of his own. Ancestors from both his mother’s and father’s side are from the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone. While the country’s political strife and history of violence is well chronicled, Questlove was determined to find out more about his homeland in Africa.
Black Thought grew up on the gritty streets of Philadelphia and found a home as rapper and co-frontman for the hip-hop group The Roots. Born Tarik Trotter, the Philly native found out he has even more in common with his fellow bandmate Questlove. After having his DNA analyzed, it was revealed Black Thought’s mother’s ancestors hail from the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone, just like Questlove. His family roots also extend to the Mandinka tribe of Senegal.
As one-fourth of the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip has always infused
Jazz, blues and funk with hip-hop. Repping Queens, NY and more specifically Linden Blvd., Q-Tip can now proudly claim another place to call home. DNA testing revealed Q-Tip’s ancestors on his mother’s side hail from the Jola tribe in Guinea-Bissau and his ancestry plays an important role in his musical career. The tribe was known for creating an instrument called the lute, the precursor to the banjo, which led to the creation of the blues.
Funny man Anthony Anderson knew he was destined to make people laugh before he found out entertaining was in his blood. Born and raised in Compton, CA, Anderson got his start in show business as a stand up comedian and then branched out into film and television. After having his DNA tested, results revealed Anderson’s ancestors hail from Bubi people of Bioko Island (now known as the Equatorial Guinea), and from the Tikar, Hausa, and Fulani people of Cameroon. “Since I was a kid, I said that this is my purpose in my life – to entertain, to have an effect on people’s lives with my work. And to now know that there’s direct lineage to the artists of Africa, my life and work has been validated.”
Vanessa Williams made history by becoming the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, but the “Ugly Betty” star has always been defensive about her light skin and blue eyes so a few years back she decided to have her family history and DNA traced. Appearing on NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” Williams found out her family hails from Tennessee and after having her DNA analyzed, the single mother of four was surprised to find out her genetic make up includes 13% Finnish and 11% southern European.
Singer India Arie has always been in touch with her afro-centric side, which has helped her stand out from other artists. Born in Denver, Colorado, she moved to Atlanta with her mother after her parents divorced at a young age. While she knew about her family’s roots here in the U.S., the “I Am Not My Hair” singer was eager to trace her lineage back even further to Africa. DNA tests revealed her ancestors hail from the Mende people of Sierra Leone, the Kru tribe of Liberia and the Fula people of Guinea-Bissau.
Blair Underwood’s quest to find out where his family is from first sent him down south. While appearing on NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” Underwood discovered his great, great, great, great grandfather owned one hundred acres of land in Virginia as well as two slaves. Deciding to do a bit more digging, the veteran actor had his DNA analyzed and discovered his people on his father’s side are from Cameroon. He and his dad made a pilgrimage back to their homeland and Underwood likened the experience to the end of the movie Roots: “People were singing and celebrating.”
Marc Lamont Hill
Marc Lamont Hill has long been a social justice activist and organizer. As one of the founding board members of My5th, a non-profit organization aimed at educating the disenfranchised youth about their legal rights and responsibilities, the CNN and MSNBC commentator was eager to trace his family roots. After having his DNA analyzed, Hill discovered that his mother’s ancestors hail from the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone and the Fulani tribe of Guinea-Bissau.
Whoopi Goldberg was born and raised in New York City but after having her DNA traced a few years back, the talk show co-host now has another place to call home. Her genetic make up consists of 92% sub-Saharan African descent. The Sarafina star’s ancestors are from the Papel and Bayote tribes, who mainly clustered in what is now modern-day Guinea-Bissau. Goldberg is interested in receiving her citizenship from the tiny African country.