All Articles Tagged "ancestry"
From Black Voices
The project that first sequenced a human genome in 2000 took 15 years and cost about $3 billion.
Now it takes six to eight weeks and costs as little as $100. Takers include actress Vanessa Williams, who has a long interest in tracing her family history.
“I’ve got blue eyes, my brother also has light eyes, and everyone says, ‘Well, what are you? You’re mixed with something. What is it?’” Williams told The Huffington Post. “My parents are black … but I was a bit defensive, because I don’t know, all of my relatives look like me. And we know as much as we can.”
Two years ago, Williams found herself choking back tears as she traced her family history during the second season of NBC’s now-defunct series, ”Who Do You Think You Are?”
Read more at BlackVoices.com.
No African American would be surprised to learn that he or she has white ancestors given the history of slave raping in this country. But most of us don’t get the chance to connect the dots and really learn who those ancestors were—or even their white descendants who are living today—but that’s what’s going on with a DNA project that has traced First Lady Michelle Obama’s relatives back to it’s interracial start in Northern Georgia.
The New York Times ran a story this weekend that uncovers Michelle Obama’s ancestry in a way that’s both unique and quite common for black people today. Here are the details in part:
The discovery of this unexpected family tie between the nation’s most prominent black woman and a white, silver-haired grandmother from the Atlanta suburbs underscores the entangled histories and racial intermingling that continue to bind countless American families more than 140 years after the Civil War.
The link was established through more than two years of research into Mrs. Obama’s roots, which included DNA tests of white and black relatives. Like many African-Americans, Mrs. Obama was aware that she had white ancestry, but knew little more.
Now, for the first time, the white forebears who have remained hidden in the first lady’s family tree can be identified. And her blood ties are not only to the dead. She has an entire constellation of white distant cousins who live in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas and beyond, who in turn are only now learning of their kinship to her….
The bloodlines of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Tribble extend back to a 200-acre farm that was not far from here. One of their common ancestors was Henry Wells Shields, Mrs. Tribble’s great-great-grandfather. He was a farmer and a family man who grew cotton, Indian corn and sweet potatoes. He owned Mrs. Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, who was about 8 years old when she arrived on his farm sometime around 1852.
The DNA tests and research indicate that one of his sons, Charles Marion Shields, is the likely father of Melvinia’s son Dolphus, who was born around 1860. Dolphus T. Shields [shown above] was the first lady’s maternal great-great-grandfather. His identity and that of his mother, Melvinia, were first reported in an article in The New York Times in 2009, which also indicated that he must have had a white father.
Melvinia was a teenager, perhaps around 15, when she gave birth to her biracial son. Charles was about 20.
In Clayton County, Ga., where the Shields family lived, only about a third of the heads of household owned human property, and masters typically labored alongside their slaves. Charles was a man of modest means — he would ultimately become a teacher — whose parents were only a generation or so removed from illiteracy.
Melvinia was not a privileged house slave like Sally. She was illiterate and no stranger to laboring in the fields.
What’s most interesting is the take one of the First Lady’s relatives has on this news. Citing the fact that Melvina bore several more biracial children, Aliene Shields, a descendant who lives in South Carolina, told the NYT:
“To me, it’s an obvious love story that was hard for the South to accept back then.”
That’s one sugar-coated way to look at it.
Michelle Obama and her mother and brother have declined to comment on the news, much like Melvina who is said to have never discussed what happened between her and Charles and the nature of their relationship. Some of the First Lady’s white ancestors, on the other hand, are struggling with the reality that their ancestor very likely raped Melvina, and possibly other women. They’re also hopeful for a chance to meet the FLOTUS one day, despite their touch connection. Joan Tribble,whose ancestors owned the first lady’s great-great-great-grandmother, told the Times:
“I can’t really change anything, but I can be open-minded to people and accept them and hope they’ll accept me.”
Check out a slideshow of Michelle Obama’s relatives and ancestors here.
What do you think about this connection?
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We all know slavery has considerably limited African Americans’ ability to trace their roots so whenever someone is able to uncover details of their ancestry as far back as Wanda Sykes has, it’s pretty exciting.
As part of a new PBS series, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard professor, along with historian Ira Berlin, a professor at the University of Maryland, were able to trace Wanda’s roots back to her paternal ninth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Banks. Elizabeth was an indentured servant who, on June 20, 1683, was given 39 lashes on her bare back and an extension of her servitude as punishment for “fornication & Bastardy with a negroe slave,” according to a York County, VA, court document.
“This is an extraordinary case and the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present,”professor Berlin told the New York Times.
Mary Banks, Elizabeth’s biracial child, was born around 1683 and inherited her mother’s free status, although she was also indentured. She appeared to have four children and the family continued to grow as the Banks’ descendants married other free people of color. Several generations of Sykes’ have remained in the Virginia area since Elizabeth arrived, most likely from Scotland, and professor Berlin says her story changes the images we typically have of the lives of the first Africans in the New World from popular depictions of plantation life to real communities. According to Paul Heinegg, a respected genealogist and historian, more than 1,000 mixed-race children were born to white women in colonial Virginia and Maryland, but their existence has been erased from oral and written history, since they lack marriage records, wills, and property.
Regardless, professor Gates says, “The bottom line is that Wanda Sykes has the longest continuously documented family tree of any African-American we have ever researched.”
Wanda’s pretty excited about that too, although she said discoveries that some of her ancestors owned slaves and that she couldn’t trace some of her other familial roots back as far were disappointing.
“I’m just grateful I do have a history,” she said. “It’s bittersweet. I was not able to trace the other three grandparents, and that’s huge.
“It shows that we’re still paying for the history of this country, basically. It’s just incredible to go back and see that you did not matter.”
Wanda’s family segment will appear on the new PBS series in May, but the show will debut this coming Sunday. Other figures whose roots will be uncovered include Barbara Walters, Harry Connick Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Margaret Cho, Kevin Bacon, Georgia Representative John Lewis, Branford Marsalis, Robert Downey Jr. and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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Vanessa Williams, the actress, singer and former Miss America will appear on NBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ The show explores the ancestors of celebrities. During her journey, Williams found that her great, great grandfather, David Carl, a civil war hero, risked being lynched, captured and enslaved to fight in the Civil War.
You can read some of Vanessa’s discoveries in her interview with Black Voices.
Williams’ show will air tonight at 8 p.m EST.
Have you done any genealogical research? Did you find anything inspiring or embarrassing?