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Roots that run deep ︎

Digital collage, 2016 – ongoing

Digital collages of my original DNA results from 23andme, which I knew were too vague from the start.


Where to begin with this.

I had a DNA test done (aka I filled up a whole tube of spit and mailed it off for some poor soul to peer into) and received my results from 23andme on November 2, 2016. In this project you’ll see what I look like as a pie chart according to several DNA tests- 23andme and a BUNCH of follow up testing I had done with other labs because I knew something was off with my original results.

The “non-African” sliver of me is the most detailed bit of my 23andme chart. The service listed exact ethnicities, nationalities and regions for every percentage point of my European ancestry. "British, Irish, Scandinavian, French, German, Italian, Iberian, Finish, %, %, %, %, %, %, %, %", etc. My African ancestry is simply labeled “West, Central, and Southern African”. The “Southeast Asian and Native American” portion of me isn’t specific either.

African Americans are a rich amalgamation of numerous African nations, tribes, and ethnicities. The 23andme results didn’t reflect that back to me.


The results: 23andme

My 23andme results, minus percentage breakdowns, and emails with a 23andme rep who let me know that I’m a “living analysis”.

Eventually I submitted my raw data from 23andme (for free!) to gedmatch.com, DNA LAND, and My Heritage for further analysis and had a huge breakthrough. The results gave me incredible insight into all of my ancestry, which you can see below. Each interpretation of my raw data is unique and paints a slightly different picture, which I find super intriguing.

I’ve always wondered about what’s gone into the pot that makes me up. I’ve thought about the violence, love (for better or worse), lust, and ultimately the beauty that concocted me and poured me out. I reviewed all of the stories I heard about ancestors who may or may not have existed: Blackfoot (Siksiká or Niitsitapi) native great greats, my mothers perhaps Geechee (“Gullah”) side of the family, members of my father’s side from New Orleans of West African and French descent. I knew that my family arrived to the United States in bondage and that not all of us made it here. That I came from a long line of women who have had to be entirely too strong willed in order to simply stay afloat. I knew that my intuition and my spirituality were inherited. And I knew that I had a very close relationship with my ancestors, who celebrate all of my victories with me, even the tiny ones.


Digital collage and a sneak peak of some newer, follow-up results from gedmatch.com, where I used a lab called EthioHelix, with a filter for folks of African and European descent.


Results from the other labs

1. gedmatch.com,
I used two labs on this database: EthioHelix and Eurogenes. 
(I used Eurogenes to cross reference my EthioHelix results).

EthioHelix results:

Gedmatch’s Ethiohelix test results do not go into detail for any of my “non- African” ancestry. The Western/ Eastern European portion is simply labeled “French”. The portion labeled “Omotic” is referring to a subfamily of Afro-Asiatic languages. Gedmatch has also matched me with family members (much like 23andme) and given me specific country, tribe, and language group approximations.
Eurogenes results:
Gedmatch’s Eurogenes test results do not go in detail in terms of ethnicity or tribe, but I like that they treated all of my DNA the same way - no specific region got more or less attention.


DNA LAND’s interpretation of my raw data was the most detailed out of all of the labs I tried out. My DNA matched with that of ethnic groups in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, the Gambia, Central African Republic, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, North Africa (specifically Libya and Egypt), the Mediterranean, Central Asia, South Asia, Central Indo-Europe, and the Americas. 

3. myheritage.com

My Heritage’s interpretation of my raw data was pretty similar to both DNA LAND and gedmatch/ Ethiohelix, but some countries and ethnicities that appear on other tests are left out. There is no doubt that this one is more helpful than 23andme, but only slightly less vague.

So what do all of these results mean? Well for one, I now have very detailed, concrete visuals that confirm that some of what I was told at family gatherings was correct, thanks to gedmatch.com, DNA LAND, and My Heritage. On the other hand, 23andme left me with the glaring reality that the details of the majority of my DNA have not been accounted for in their database.  They claim that they are constantly updating their DNA database and that my results are a “living analysis”, so there is hope that they will become more detailed as time passes. I think I might believe them. I signed on to their site the other day and found a new feature that let me know when my most recent ancestors from each place lived. That was pretty cool.

But at the end of the day, I want to be clear that receiving those results was the most exciting anticlimactic experience I’ve had.

The thing that matters the most to me is the carelessness reflected in my original 23andme results. I removed the labels and the colors that were on the original charts and decided to make some collages. I felt like if I couldn’t have proper details for all of me, I didn’t need them at all. I spent a lot of time reflecting on identity and what it means. The fact that my roots were being oversimplified and I knew it. The fact that I had no clue how to identify myself beyond the way I am labeled by strangers passing me on the street. The fact that my ancestors’ identities were stripped from them, purposefully and intentionally. The fact that I didn’t have an answer for questions about my heritage because of this. The fact that I am both the oppressed and the oppressor. We all are. How could people possibly perceive themselves as better than anyone else and actually believe it?

2019 UPDATE!!
23andme has finally given me a more detailed ancestry breakdown. Pretty cool. (Finally! It’s been 3 years since I started this project.) Will continue updating this project as more clarification comes in.