Saturday, March 17, 2018

Finding Your Wakanda Africa with DNA Testing

Me as "The Great Black One" at Eastside High School, Paterson, NJ, circa 1990
The instantly iconic Marvel Comics film Black Panther (2018) sparked an epic socio-cultural movement by the masses to take pride in their African roots, to don haute tribal couture, and even hold voter registration drives at movie theaters. Featuring a mostly Black cast and a young African-American director, Ryan Coogler, the nascent epic triggered one of those Malcolm Gladwell tipping points—an uplifting of our collective self-image; a renewed conversation sparked between African-Americans and continental Africans about their connection, and a vibrant curiosity in people lusting to find their specific African roots. 

It harkened me back to my adolescence when I was known as "The Great Black One" and became the first student at my famous high school ("Lean On Me") to found an African-American club. My conscience allowed me to exude the same African pride I'm seeing today. Of course mT'Challa then was Kunte Kinte, the Mandinka warrior from the village of Juffra in present-day Gambia

I knew it would be nearly impossible to find a paper trail like that of Alex Haley's "factional"  Roots because the proof was invisible, scarce and scant...we didn't even have the internet. Yet I've always carried within me an innate desire to know more about the beauty, culture, identity, and power that was raped from us. Can I now find my pot of Kwandan vibranium,  or was it forever plundered like Akan gold?  

It wasn't until 2012 as genetic genealogist "King Genome" when I discovered I can use DNA testing to find the specific tribal origins of my enslaved African ancestors. In this blog I'm going to discuss how to identify your genetic African relatives; you'll "meet" four of my African cousins, and you'll learn about a fascinating African named Ari Van Guinea.


Wakanda, Africa, is not a real place. Academic Jelani Cobb wrote in his New Yorker magazine review: "Africa—or, rather, “Africa”—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth. No such nation as Wakanda exists on the map of the continent, but that is entirely  beside the point."     
For the majority of African descendants in the Americas our "Africa" might as well be in Wakanda because our actual ethnic origins felt like a sort of mythical—and stereotypical—place often shaped by what we saw on TV, absorbed in schools, read in books or ingrained in our psyche by a society still shackled by the psychological chains of chattel slavery. A desert. A disease. A famine. A  jungle. A place with primitive people who lived somewhere in the Motherland. 

I certainly didn't learn about real-life kingdoms like Manden Kurufaba (Mali Empire), or the fierce Dahomey Amazons of Benin, or the fact that Ethiopia has never been colonized by Europeans. Or that Africa has lush and luxe beauty. Black Panther director Coogler as co-writer was brilliant to draw on these factual gems to create a desirable place to claim like Wakanda.  

I was raised around African immigrant communities in the New York City area, and exposed to great Africana intellectuals (Drs. John Henrik Clarke, Said Samatar, Yosef Ben-Johchannan, Amiri Baraka, Clement A. Price) during my college years at Rutgers University. But in my home ghetto there was no common fellowshipping between Africans and African-Americans about our blood connection to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The concept seemed to be as foreign to them as their (and our) ancestral homeland was to us. 

The point is it took a heroic landmark film about a Black Marvel Comics superhero and an imaginary African utopia to get the masses interested in using DNA testing as a tool to learn about their true Africa. Let's start our Sankofa...   

Thursday, February 22, 2018

We Are the 23andMe World

On February 8, 2018, DTC personal genome service 23andMe announced a new Global Genetics Project23andMe's goal with the new Global Genetics Project is over the next two years to test over 5000 people whose recent ancestry is from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania covering over 61 qualifying countries.* It's FREE and totally worth sharing with all of your friends.

According to 23andMe, "This work will help 23andMe expand its reference data sets, improve the ability of our scientists to study groups who are currently underrepresented in genetic research and reveal new insights into patterns of human migration and genetic diversity." Read 23andMe's blog release here.

23andMe's Global Genetics Project takes off after the success of its 2016 African Genetics Project, which recruited people whose grandparents were born in certain West African countries connected to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. To this extent, 23andMe has been at the forefront of improving genetic diversity in genetics with such past initiatives as the Roots Into The Future Project and African American Sequencing Project.

Of course 23andMe's Global Genetics Project has rules (see Qualifications below), and one them is you must reside in the United States. Now some of you may wonder why 23andMe did not open the project to people who actually live in the qualifying countries,* but I suspect it is due to federal regulations, grant restrictions and avoidance of foreign government bureaucracy because health testing is involved.

In order to join the Global Genetics Project you must:
  • be at least 18 years of age
  • reside in the U.S. and have U.S. shipping address
  • be willing to have your entire genome sequenced for health research
  • have all four grandparents born in one of 61 qualifying countries* (listed below) 

KING GENOME'S TIP: If you've tested previously at 23andMe and you meet the qualifications then you can still join the Global Genetics Project for FREE (but you won't receive any health results). This is a great opportunity to retest on 23andMe's powerful new v5 chip (see my blog here).

*Qualifying Countries:

Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Congo (Republic of Congo)
Cote d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Sierra Leone
South Sudan
United Arab Emirates

ENROLL NOW IN THE Global Genetics Project.


Monday, January 1, 2018

23andMe Chip Versions Comparison (ancestry only)

Illumina Global Screening Array Chip
Back on August 8, 2017, DTC personal genome service 23andMe quietly announced that it was upgrading its genotyping chip for a fifth time to the Illumina Infinium Global Screening Array-24 v1.0 Bead Chip (GSA) — aka 23andMe version 5 or v5 — and promised new customers more improved ethnicity reports, especially those with non-European ancestry, and those with African ancestry would be the first to receive more specific African ancestry updates. I'm excited already.

23andMe's latest chip upgrade comes on heels of the US Food & Drug Administration relaxing its restrictions on health testing for DTC personal genome companies. However it's unclear if customers on 23andMe's prior chips versions will be upgraded — and it may cost you. 

23andMe also has been notoriously slow with past major upgrades — the transition to 23andMe's revamped site took more than 2 years — so I jumped at the chance to test a third time (actually 4th) to be on the new promising v5 chip. 

Since I've 23andMe results from the two prior chip versions (v3 and v4), I can compare all three to determine if v5 lives up to the hype. You can read about all the bells and whistles of the GSA chip at genetic genealogist Debbie Cruwys Kennett's excellent blog here. My comparative analysis will focus mostly on ancestry features for 23andMe's last three chip versions (v3, v4, v5).  

At close of this deep dive I will reveal my new 23andMe v5 Ancestry Composition results and tell you whether it's worth testing NOW to be on the v5 chip. And if you're a current customer on an older chip version, I'll tell you if you should take a chance waiting on a future fee-based upgrade.

King Genome's Wisdom: 
  • There are about 15 million known SNPs (aka Ancestry Informative Markers) for genetic ancestry but only 1-to-5 million are utilized by advanced genetic studies, and much less (~700,000) by vendors like DTC DNA testing companies (ie 23andMe). 
  • According to ISOGG Wiki Chip Versions, here are the different microarray chip versions utilized by 23andMe for genotyping since the debut of its DTC personal genome service:
    • v1: November 2007 
    • v2: September 2008, ~555K SNPs (Illumina)
    • v3: November 2010, >900K SNPs (Illumina OmniExpress)
    • v4: November 2013, ~570K SNPs (Illumina OmniExpress)
    • v5: August 2017, ~640K SNPs (Illumina Global Screening Array)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

23andMe Restores Ability To See Ancestry Reports of DNA Relatives

23andMe FINALLY restored our ability to see the chromosome paintings and ancestry report of the people we are sharing with in your DNA Relatives list. This was another quiet and soft roll-out or restoration by the DTC personal genome service, and only appears to affect some US customer accounts for now.

I've been campaigning a long time for 23andMe to restore this feature and raised the issue in several forums and blogs. Our ability to see our DNA relative's chromosome paintings was absconded when 23andMe decided to upgrade its interface and Web site (aka the New Experience) a couple of years ago. It was replaced with an "Ancestries in common" tool but without a chromosome painting. As a result the "Ancestries in common" tool wasn't very useful: the feature shows ALL of the ethnicity assignments shared between you and another person but you may not genetically share most of those ethnicity assignments through a common ancestor or ancestral couple. 

There are some caveats. If you're on chip version 3 (v3) or earlier, your DNA Relatives includes anyone you invited to share with you (whether related or not) but the new feature is missing. You will have to access it from  "Your Connections" option on your Tools drop-down menu. Or you can invite your relatives and friends using the Share & Compare tool.

For v4 and v5 customers, you can only see the ancestry compositions and chromosome paintings of the DNA relatives and friends who accepts your request to share ancestry or ancestry+health reports. Even if your DNA Relative is "Open Sharing" with you, a sharing request must be sent.

Now let me show you how to access your DNA relative's Ancestry Composition reports:

(1) On your Ancestry Composition reports page (v4, v5 customers), there is now new large module (located top, right), with the words "View a connection's results": 

(2) You can also access your connections (v3 customers) by selecting from the Tools menu at the top of your 23andMe page:

(3) Finally a list of Your Connections (or DNA Relatives) that you're sharing reports with will appear on a drop-down list (I removed the names below).  When you select a person and the View button (to the right), you will be able to see their Ancestry Composition percentages AND their chromosome paintings:
Once you choose the person -- here I picked "DM" --  you can it see it takes me right to DM's Ancestry Composition report: 

And DM's chromosome painting:

So if you're a 23andMe customer, you will be extremely happy at the return of our ability to see the ancestry reports and chromosome paintings of the people we're sharing with. We will able to better trace and see the ethnicity of the segments we share with those relatives, which I discuss at length in my Ethnicity Chromosome Mapping blog here

King Genome's Wisdom: Don't forget to "Request to share" (as shown below) with your DNA Relatives even if you are Open Sharing with them; the "Sharing" option is located at bottom of the page when you click on any of your DNA relatives. You can also invite Friends by going to the "Share & Compare" feature and inviting them by their 23andMe log-in e-mail. 

Happy Exploring!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Guide to Building Your Family Haplotree

I've been working on a pet project to supplement my genealogical research, and in this deep dive I'm going to share it with you as follows:

I. Intro to Family HaploTree Building
II. Constructing Your Family HaploTree
III. Proving Family Anecdote with HaploTree Building
IV.  Mitochondrial-DNA & Y-DNA Testing Options

As a genetic genealogist I'm keen to know if there are haplogroups in my pedigree that are rare, newly discovered or only found in specific populations and biogeographical regions. I'm also looking to use haplogroups for ancient ancestral research, to help me trace family surnames that have disappeared in the bowels of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as well as the migration paths of my immigrant forebears from their homelands to the Americas. 

Since learning about my own Maternal (or mitochondrial DNA) and Paternal (or Y-chromosome DNA) Haplogroups, I'm naturally inquisitive about the ones that I DIDN'T inherit from my parents and other direct pedigree relatives (grandparents, great-grandparents, 2nd-great-grandparents, 3rd-great-grandparents, etc).

Based on the unique inheritance patterns of human Mitochondrial DNA (Mt-DNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA), a child only inherits their mother's mt-DNA haplogroup through a direct matrilineal line (ie from his/her mother, her mother, her mother, etc), and if male his father's Y-DNA haplogroup through a direct patrilineal line (ie from his father, his father, his father, etc). 

This means a child (me) never inherits their father's maternal haplogroup nor from their mother's father. Going to the next generation [my 4 grandparents] this leaves four more haplogroups (3 mt-DNA and 1 Y-DNA) that I wouldn't inherit. And even more in the next generation [from my 8 great-grandparents]. 

Yet these are my direct forebears and even though I didn't inherit their haplogroups directly it means that by extension I biologically descend from an ancestor bearing the haplogroup. So it becomes genetically and genealogically relevant for me. [Be sure to read Section III  to learn about an intriguing haplogroup discovery in my family pedigree.]

Ultimately I want to identify, document and trace all of my other direct fore-parents' haplogroups back to their root populations to reveal what stories they tell. ... But how do I find out about these other haplogroups if my forebears are unavailable for DNA testing?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Genetic Genealogy Forums Online Etiquette Guide


Genetic genealogy forums online — Facebook groups; Anthrogenica; 23andMe community, etc — is the layperson's vast laboratory where we hash out our results, research, discoveries, journeys, family heirlooms, difficulties, disappointments and debates. It's a social place were we can obsess over DNA with lusty abandon. 

But sometimes a few bad apples spoil the whole experience. Some people's obtuse behavior in genetic genealogy forums online (GGFO) can be disruptive, offensive and lead to detriment and disaster. So in the interest of fostering better behavior, communication, cooperative collaboration, as well as a safe and objective environment to learn, teach and/or exchange knowledge, I came up with these 50 Golden GGFO etiquette rules (or suggestions), which is also available on the ISOGG Genetic Genealogy Mailing List: 

[King Genome's Tip: Download a copy (pdf) of Genetic Genealogy Standards and use together with this list.]

1. When you first join a GGFO, BEFORE YOU POST ANYTHING OR COMMENT you MUST take time to (a) read the forum's rules AND (b) review what others post, including topics and comments. If you're unsure of what to post then ask an administrator/moderator for assistance. If you don't agree with the rules of the forum then leave immediately. 

2. If you believe genetic genealogy is a fake science or you have no trust in DNA testing then please do us all a favor and remove yourself immediately. You should know that no matter what you believe, DNA is a real, evolving and advancing science and GGFO are designed to facilitate the progress.

3. Genetic genealogists and traditional genealogists should not wage a war with each other in a GGFO based on which method or field is better. Both are inextricably intertwined and should be used together — along with your collaborative efforts — for the best results.

4.  Absolutely NO political and religious badgering, soapboxing, hate-mongering, race baiting, trolling or any such capricious behavior. GGFO are unequivocally not the place for such discourse and banter. Go blow your steam off somewhere else.

5. Stop misusing socio-cultural ethnic labels and antiquated racial social constructs as genetic genealogy and population genetics terms for ethnicity. There is NO such thing as "African-American DNA" so avoid using the term. You should not be referring to African-Americans as Negroes except in a historic context. Also do not use Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid to make racial distinction between populations or ethnic groups. Yes, it is opprobrious. GGFO are not breeding grounds for racism, prejudice, bigotry miscegenation, superiority complexes, or ignorance. 

6. Never romanticize or minimize slavery, the Holocaust, Trail of Tears, or other horrific historic events because it's offensive. If you have a reasonable inquiry or discussion point around these events, be sure to carefully think about what you post before you hit that "Submit" button. 

7. If you're in a private, secret or closed GGFO, do NOT publicly share or post on social media other people's posts, photos, DNA results, comments or any personal information, etc, without that person's expressed permission  —  actually you shouldn't even ask. Private, secret or closed GGFO privacy settings are that way for a good reason. 

NEVER discuss living people's personal identifying information (ie name, address, city, birthday) within or outside of a GGFO. There are many crazy people and identity thieves lurking around, and we don't need you helping them out.

9. If someone reveals that he/she is an adoptee, foundling, foster child, donor, etc in a private, secret or closed GGFO, please refrain from revealing any of this information or "outing" the person publicly. Further if the this person posts information or photos about a non-biological relative, it's NOT up to you to discuss their relationship or adoption status, nor make any biological distinction between their relatives. It's tacky, spiteful and frankly none of your business.

10. If someone reveals that he/she is adopted or looking for a biological relative in a GGFO do not insert yourself into the situation by playing match-maker unless you're a qualified professional or search angel. Your heroic efforts may actually cause irreversible detriment to the situation.

11. If a GGFO member posts something about their new relatives/genetic matches, you must refrain from asking this GGFO member about contacting their new relative/genetic match, or to provide you with the relative/match's name, GEDmatch kit number, or any information that the GGFO member did not provide in the original post. Your overzealous behavior is meddlesome and could scare off people new to the world of genetic genealogy. 

12. Respect copyright, trademarks and ownership rights of images, content and resources when posting in a GGFO.  Give credit and recitation where necessary or as mandated by law for any content you post. You could get in a lot of legal trouble for infringing upon someone's ownership rights. 

13. Do not inundate GGFOs with a whole bunch of posts about yourself, your family, or your DNA results. Also don't make everyone else's topic about yourself, your family or your DNA results. Doing so makes you appear either rude, narcissistic or psychotic. The hard truth is people are usually tired of you, your family and your DNA results after you initially post about them. 
Also keep posts about your family, DNA results, photos, genetic relative matching information and related inquires confined to ONE topic. And while you're at it, do NOT highjack other people's threads by making totally irrelevant comments.

14. Do not join a GGFO with the expectation that its members or administrators will solve your mysteries, or act as a personal genetic genealogy servant for your every question. In general this behavior turns others off. No one is obligated to help you. 

15. Do NOT volunteer the services of those with genetic genealogy expertise nor refer people to them without first contacting them for availability via private or business e-mail. If you do refer someone please be sure their inquiry is clear, they provide any valid evidence to buttress their claims, and perhaps most importantly if the expert is available and charge fees. 

16. Do not attempt to chastise an administrator or moderator publicly. If you have any feedback or concerns about the GGFO or the way a GGFO is run, please send the administrator or moderator a private email or message. 

17. Make sure your questions and inquiries are well thought-out and expressed clearly. Do not write in a vague, nondescript or rhetorical manner. Think before you post dammit. 

18. Do NOT "shout-out"  members in a GGFO (ie tagging their name in a post)  especially administrators, moderators, possible relatives, genetic genealogists, scientific experts, etc. It comes across as demanding, pushy and rude. It's more proper to contact the person by private message or e-mail first. If you don't get a response then you must realize that some of these people are extremely busy. Just be prepared to get no response at all and to find your answers another way. 

19. If you post other people's DNA results in a GGFO, please REDACT the person's name, photo images, and GEDmatch kit number unless you have expressed permission to do otherwise by the owner of the results. You MUST respect people's privacy. 

20. If someone in a GGFO refers you to a valid study, blog or link, please take time to read the information before responding again, unless you've questions about the material. Otherwise you're really being unfair to everyone else, and people will soon be unwilling to help you. In genetic genealogy, reading and studying is fundamentally required. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty Releases

August 1, 2017, renowned, award-winning culinary historian & chef Michael Twitty's memoir, THE COOKING GENE (HarperCollins), released to the world. His work explores historic African and African-American culinary traditions, intertwining with it his own personal genetic ancestry story. 

I'm proud to report that Michael Twitty allowed me to interpret his family's DNA results and am thus featured in his amazing testimony (see sample below from Chapter 8, pg. 131-132):

THE COOKING GENE  has garnered Michael Twitty even more national attention, with great reviews by New York Times, Economist, Washington Post, etc. He has an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and has been featured frequently on TV shows (Bazaar Foods), news programs, as well as old plantations (including Colonial Williamsburg).

Please join me in supporting the enigmatic Michael Twitty by purchasing your copy of  THE COOKING GENE  today. And you get to read the rest of our conversation!!! ... Available on AmazonBarnes & NobleKindle, etc.