Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Puerto Rican Look at : A Generational Exploration of African Ancestry


Recently, I bought a few AncestryDNA test during their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale. With those tests I was able to add 3 new members of my family to the site: my father, my mother, and my maternal grandmother. I still have one more test left and I'm hoping to test my maternal grandfather, but I'd have to travel to Puerto Rico to personally test him myself. After way a few weeks of waiting for their results to process, I finally received them. Wanting to extract the most information as possible from their results, I decided to do some research ahead of time to have a better idea and understanding of what I was looking at.

Thanks to FonteFelipe's blog on Tracing African Roots I was able to specifically read about "Puerto Rican Results". Amongst his other posts, there are many that are directly tied to Caribbean and Diaspora African DNA results. There is definitely a lot of information there and much to explore about population genetics and the various tribes and countries involved in the Transatlantic slave trade. Since one of my New Year goals this year to learn more about my African roots, FonteFelipe's blog amongst some of the books I have in mind to purchase will definitely help me reach that goal.

My Results

Here is a quick look at my own personal AncestryDNA results taken about 1-2 years ago:

AncestryDNA [Personal Photo]

As you can see, my regions in Africa range from: Mali, African Southeastern Bantu, Africa North, Cameroon/Congo, and Senegal. I was rather surprised when I saw that I had 12% Mali as it is a fairly high number and a big chunk of my African DNA.

Based off what I know about my family, I know that there is mixed ancestry amongst many of my lines in Puerto Rico across various towns, but I have yet been able to pinpoint any slave ancestors inside of the island itself throughout my years of research, and I have traced many lines to the early 1800s late-1700s which will be important later on when discussing African DNA inheritance. The 'People of Color' mixes in my research so far range from "trigueño", "mulato", "pardo", and the occasional "negro" for my ancestors from Salinas. My research shows that those ancestors from Salinas, the Gustave and Lautin lines, came to Puerto Rico respectively from Guadeloupe and Martinique. These lines do carry African genes as both of these 4th great grandparents were slaves themselves on those islands. I'm hoping that by getting my grandfather tested and having both my mother's and grandmother's DNA I'll be able to have a better grasp into the possible regions of Africa (most likely in the western region) that my Guadeloupean and Martinican ancestors' African DNA point back to. 

One important thing to point out is that I am not going to talk much about the "Africa North" segments of my ancestry. The main reason being because most of these genetic leftovers in my and my family's DNA probably point more towards a Southern Spanish influence. There is the possibility of a genetic geneflow from northern African countries down into the Western area of Africa but for now, knowing what we know about Moorish Spain and my ancestors' presence in Andalucía and the Canary Islands we'll stick to the former theory. 

Some Prior Research

In FonteFelipe's blog post about Puerto Rico, he goes into depth using various Puerto Rican AncestryDNA results and textual sources on the Transatlantic slave trade to begin breaking down and analyzing their various results. Using his blog as a jumping point, I was able to look at my family's results through a different lens and begin to better understand slave trading patterns of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Here are some main points I learned from his post and I hope I am not oversimplifying and/or overstating some of the points (if so, let me know!): 

  • It seems that on average, Senegal, N. Africa, and Mali were high and/or main ancestral contributions to the DNA gene pool for African DNA in Puerto Ricans. 
  • Senegal and Mali specifically create an "Upper Guinea" Founder effect in Puerto Rico, where the genes were entered into the families' genetic pool early on and kept passing down through the various generations. 
  • South-central Hunter-Gatherers can be from an ancient geneflow from the Pygmy/San people into the Bantu areas. 
  • These higher Senegal and SE Bantu results can be from the 1500-1600s, again causing a Founder Effect. 
  • "Mali" in the AncestryDNA categories is a hard category to fit into a box. From the colonial period, "Mali" DNA can be from Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leone. Some of the slaves from the region were known as "Bambara" and others as "Zape" (these mainly the Temne from Sierra Leone) and there was definitely a presence of these peoples throughout the slave trade in Puerto Rico. 
  • There are three main regions that FonteFelipe works with when looking at the African DNA break down in AncestryDNA, these are: 
    • A) Upper Guinea: Senegal, Mali 
    • B) Lower Guinea: Ghana/Ivory Coast, Benin/Togo, Nigeria
    • C) Central Africa: Cameroon/Congo, SE Bantu, Pygmy/San (South-Central Hunter-Gatherers) 
To have an idea of the regions and the various countries involved* in the Transatlantic slave trade, see below.
*When I say "involved", please take into consideration this does not mean that these countries willingly and purposefully took part. Remember that there are many elements at play such as: colonial powers, brute force, unequal trading, false beliefs, etc.

Having this knowledge in hand I went forward to look into my own family's African results. 

West African Countries/Regions [Wikipedia]

Generational Puerto Rican African DNA Results

In this snapshot of my family's African DNA there are four members shown: Myself, my father, my mother, and my maternal grandmother. I was born in the US and the rest of these members in Puerto Rico, however we are all "Puerto Rican" through Ancestry. I have talked extensively about my family in this blog but TL;DR - my family's results are quiet mixed: European (mainly an influence from Spain and potential countries such as France); Native (Taíno from Borinquen with a potential smidge of Carib/other), Jewish/North African (most likely a remainder of the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the Arab influence in southern Spain), and an west African mix most likely all introduced via slavery. Dividing these last results into the 3 categories mentioned above of "Upper Guinea", "Lower Guinea", and "Central Africa" this is how our results fair: 

African AncestryDNA [Personal Photo]

As you can see our African DNA is sprinkled into each of the three regions but mainly distributes itself into Upper Guinea first and then Lower Guinea, which goes along with what is mentioned in the blog. Interestingly enough I do not inherit any "Lower Guinea" DNA but my dad has only 2% Ghana/Ivory Coast while my mother and maternal grandmother have DNA from each of those regions.

Something important to mention is the odd disproportion of Mali DNA in my genes vs that of my parents. I inherited 12% while my parents only show 2% and 1% and my maternal grandmother herself at 2%. This makes me question my 12%, could there have been an error in that calculation? When you click on "Mali" for my ancestry my range is given as 4%-18%, could there have been an oversight there? I wonder how much of that "12% Mali" might be genetically attributed to other countries nearby. Nonetheless, the presence of the Senegal and Mali like mentioned in the blog might be a result of the Founder Effect of slaves brought onto the island early on. As I've mentioned in this blog and on this post, most of my family has been on the island since the early 1700s and some branches reach the 1600s, so whichever ancestors carry African DNA have yet to be identified as "esclavo" (slave) or even "negro libre" (free black - a term used for descendants of free black persons) in documents. More digging into the church records over time will hopefully begin to divide my ancestors further into more accurate categories. 

Mali Results [Personal Photo]

Looking at the other results, you can see where certain parts of my African DNA are inherited from. For example: it seems that my mother passed on segments of her Cameroon/Congo and SE Bantu genes to me. Something important to also consider is that lower numbers such as 1%, 2%, or 3% may be found in the "trace regions" of the DNA, which means that this might not mean direct ancestry from that country if not a mix already present in Africa before arriving to the New World.

Looking at the results, this makes it interesting to look at my parents' ancestry and their potential slave narratives in their family trees. For example, my father only has about 11% of African DNA on Ancestry (a bit higher than in 23andme). 7% of his 11% is found in the Upper Guinea region and 2% in Ghana/Ivory Coast. (The 1% of Pygmy/San again might be an ancient geneflow influence). Most of my father's families can be found in the mountains of Puerto Rican in areas such as Lares, Adjuntas, Utuado, and Yauco while his paternal branch mainly hovers around Toa Alta and Corozal. This Upper Guinea DNA was probably introduce early on and integrated fairly quickly into the branches of my paternal tree. Both sides of my paternal branches from my grandmother and grandfather carry African DNA so probably various groups from Senegal, Mali, and Ghana/Ivory Coast were introduced to various branches which ultimately gave my dad his 7%. It's also important to note that my father carries an African maternal haplogroup as well, which so far I have traced on paper to the early 1700s in Yauco, Puerto Rico to a woman named "Ana del Espíritu Santo".

Looking towards my mother's side I can make some guesses as to what my maternal grandfather might have contributed. It seems she definitely received some Ghana/Ivory Coast from him and some SE Bantu. No doubt there are probably influences from Senegal and Mali in her DNA from him as well. I'm itching to get him tested because he is my highest African DNA family member. My mother on AncestryDNA has about 35% African DNA and based off his 23andme results I wouldn't be surprised if his AncestryDNA results bring him into the 40% range!

Conclusions/Take Aways

With this type of research, it's very difficult to really come to conclusions! Ultimately, it's important to see how my African DNA is distributed amongst my parents and what that means for me as their child. Having read FonteFelipe's blog (which I definitely need to go back and read much more of!) there are interesting patterns that are important to take into consideration when thinking of my African DNA and the history behind it. There's a segment in his blog where FonteFelipe talks about Puerto Ricans whose results fall under "African>25%" and "African<35%" and how the "African<35%" seem to have a closer chronological input of African DNA in their genetic pool. This seems to hold true with my own family as my mother who is 36% and her father surely over 35% as well have a genetic African influence from Martinique and Guadeloupe that was introduced into the family in 1895 with the birth of my 2nd great grandfather, Julio Correa Gustavo (50% Puerto Rican, 25% Martinican, 25% Guadeloupean). Meanwhile, my father falls into the "African<25%" groups and his African input seems to be chronologically much older.

There is still much to learn about, research about, and inquire about in my family tree. I hope that as time continues, the African DNA on both 23andme and AncestryDNA become much clearer as it is an important piece for those of us who do not know where our African ancestors come from. Luckily, I think a better picture has begun to be painted in regards to my family's African ancestry with the help of genetic testing and with the help of texts such as books and blogs and primary sources such as the Civil Registry and Puerto Rican church records, thus allowing me to be able to put together a more cohesive picture and story of our past. Excited for what the future holds when it comes to African DNA! 

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