Growing my roots:

Interlocked and Interwoven by common ancestry & DNA

Ancestry DNA: Thoughts on being an Ally

I am posting an undeliverable email to AncestryDNA’s customer service department about its decision to increase its matching threshold among participants to 8 centimorgans (cM). It seems that they are no longer accepting them. So, I decided to cross-publish it on my many “abandoned” blogs. This decision, I believe, will have a negative impact on those who research African-American genealogies and African-American family histories, as well as those who research genealogies and histories of other underrepresented populations in Ancestry’s database. I understand there are more pressing issues going on currently in the United States that African Americans are facing than what I have written about here. But our history is important to many of us too, and all the tools we need to access that history should be available to us.

As I said, this was an email with the intent of being delivered to AncestryDNA and will read as such.

I write while being fully aware that AncestryDNA will ignore this, as many of my concerns that I expressed to the company have after being a loyal customer for more than a decade.

 Recently, AncestryDNA made a statement saying it believes that black lives matter too, but, with its new policy of reinforcing the 8 cM match stipulation, its actions are proving that green lives matter more because it is the dollar amount needed to curate a large DNA matching lists that is driving this decision to reduce the size of customers’ match lists. Of course, the company says the matching will be more refined to support its decision. I am African American and more representative of the American “salad bowl” expression than most Americans (those mainly of New World white European descent) who have purchased this DNA product. I say that because most African Americans who have ancestors that can be traced back to enslavement have European and African DNA and some even have the much sought after Native American DNA. For people who are not of long-standing American western European Ancestry, our match lists are significantly smaller. Scientifically and historically the story that our (African American) DNA can tell you is what should be valued as historians, geneticists, general scientists, citizen scientists, storytellers, and allies of the Black Lives Matters movement, because of its rich complexity of how America is a salad bowl. But, at the end, middle, and beginning of the day AncestryDNA is a profiter, a business, and a pretender.

 I am well aware that African Americans are not unique when it comes to New World populations with a complex DNA makeup (though, overall, in the world as a whole, our DNA is more complex than most as far as having a multi-racial and multi-ethnic composition) or that we are the demographic who may have the fewest matches collectively in AncestryDNA’s database—it is close though. This plea to reconsider this mandatory 8 cM minimum is for those groups too. But I am American, and AncestryDNA is an American company. Furthermore, the company is not only perpetrating that it believes black lives matter too, but also insinuating that it is custodians and storytellers of, particularly, American family history and how Americans from all corners of the world can be traced back to somewhere else but “somehow” landed here as though that should be considered something significant.

Well, African Americans have begun to definitively trace our Ancestry beyond where the paper trail drops off. I am not saying that every African American needs DNA testing to get past this brick wall. I am saying DNA testing makes the journey easier regardless whether we can without it or not. And yes, those smaller segments may be false. There are genetic genealogists who are constantly reminding the community of that. Those who know me would never call me an optimist, when it comes to DNA matching for common ancestor purposes I am. I am of the thought—and I think science supports this—that it only makes sense that the further you and a DNA match are away from a common ancestor the less DNA you will share, but that does not mean that it is untraceable. You figure out if it is real the same way you figure out where exactly in your matches’ and your own family trees (or lines of descent) you each fit: through research. Small sharing segments have helped many African Americans connect definitively with continental African, pre-Antebellum African-American, European, and some Native American distant relatives. I say this through experience that involved research that I would not have done without a 6 cM match to me that varied between 6 cM and 22 cM to many known family members.

 I honestly do not believe I said anything above that AncestryDNA did not already know. Most people who work diligently in the genetic genealogy world see right to the real reason for this new implementation. Financially it is better for AncestryDNA to curate smaller matching lists, and this change has nothing to do with the reason on its website that suggests it is for an altruistic greater good of its customers. I suspect even those genealogists who welcome this change due to large matching lists or those who are quick to jump to the false-positive narrative would agree that is the main reason. I would like to suggest that the company try a different approach by choosing one of the following instead: (1) integrate a sliding scale by allowing customers to choose their own matching cut-off limit down to 6 cM; (2) have an opt-in to the 8 cM proposed threshold; or (3) some other choice all together that gives customers agency to choose whether they would like to research distant and possibly false (or not) matches. I will also use this soapbox that I have created for myself to suggest instead of taking features away from customers offer some truly new and innovative ones that speak directly to the company’s brand and encourage genetic research into African American DNA connections (or original 13 colony settlement DNA connections, or founding father DNA connections, or Enslaved Deep South Connections, etc.). I mean take an active part in this research where AncestryDNA can discover something along with its customers and actually contribute to this field. This is a positive change that shows the company supports the community that is keeping it in business, it supports research, and that ancestry really does matter to it.

 I am asking this as a long-standing customer of Ancestry’s (the company that sells the AncestryDNA kits) original product, as a 15-AncestryDNA kit purchaser, as a descendant of the African enslaved and European enslavers, as a Black Lives Matters sympathizer, as a genetic genealogist, as a family and general historian, as a storyteller, and as an American who wants to know about all the salad ingredients that made her.

July 27, 2020 Posted by | ancestrydna, DNA results, Reconnecting, The journey | | Leave a comment

Genealogy musings

I find it hard to write or talk about my parents. The funny thing is that I did not really know my father. My half siblings, no relation to him, knew him better.  After his death in 2001 I came to know him better, although I had not seen him since 1980. And my mom…well, she was a difficult person to show love to because she was a difficult person to show love. Even through all the anger, there has always been an overwhelming feeling of love for her.

James “Jerry” Vernon Louie was born December 24, 1947 in Lexington, Mississippi to Edna Mohead/Moorehead and John Louie. He was a Vietnam veteran. From my half siblings, on both sides, he liked to make people laugh. He also wrestled with his own depression. The latter played a part in his alcoholism. Still, I heard he was gentle and reflective.

Irene “Punch” Virginia Roberson was born March 8, 1931 in Greenville, Mississippi, although she was raised in Shelby. Her parents were Fannie Mae Pearl and Willie Roberson. She was superstitious, ambitious, and strong. She liked to laugh and spoke her mind. And she fiercely protected her children.

I honestly am not sure how important genealogy would have been to them. I get the feeling that my dad would find recent ancestors more interesting than those beyong three generations, and my mom would be more interested in romanticizing certain parts. I sense they would be more interested in the “now” and not the “then.” I respect that and understand where that comes from.

Our past, this includes our ancestors’ pasts, shapes what comes from our DNA tomorrow. No, I do not believe that we have no control over our destiny, but I do believe we are influenced by what came before us whether we realize it or not. I do not only do genealogy for my ancestors. I also do it for myself, my current relatives, and my descendants.

We came from someone, not something. We are going somewhere.

I am still trying to place the puzzle together. My main genealogy goals of 2014 are as follows.

1. Where does our Louie line lead/ Where was the first Louie who stepped into the New World from?

2. Who were Ben Moorehead’s (Mohead/Morehead) parents?

3. Who was Webb Roberson’s (Robinson) father?

4. Was great grandpa John Louie’s wife (my great grandma) Lenora Howard or Elnora Davis?

5. How do I fit into the Turner/Ivey/Sledge clan?

6. Do I belong in the Yancey/Bartlett/Thornton/Graves clan?

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Dad, Mom, Reconnecting, The journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Was Effie’s Delta blue?


Effie Wilson was my great grandmother. She was born in about 1875 and spent most of her life in the counties of Claiborne and Jefferson, MS, in the Delta.  In 1920, she had 10 living children. They were Nancy, Willie, Lillie, Rachel, RT, Ibby/Abby, and Esther (later in life she would go by Estelle). They were all fathered by Willie Shorter. Her other children, Mariah, Frankie, and Fannie (my grandmother) were all fathered by Howard Pearl. Effie’s mother  was Abby/Ibby Tilgman and Whylie Wilson, and her siblings were Wiley, Thomas, Robert, Whylie, Bettie,  Jane, Henry, Lucy, Ibbie, Ida, Ollie, and  Charley.

Effie, born a Wilson, became a Shorter, then a Pearl, a Shorter again, and a Smith (via Robert Smith). There may have been some other name changes along the way. Following Effie through the decades on the census was interesting. I always knew when I had found her because she was always with her kids. She had enough of them with her for me to know that I had the right person. In a few censuses, her mom was with her.

I have not heard any oral stories about Effie. In fact I did not know her name until I was 26. I have one picture of her, which I also saw when I was 26.  Effie, you have not been forgotten. I hope your life was filled with joy and laughter.

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Reconnecting, The journey, Wilson | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mr. Roberson

I traced my Roberson line to the counties of Scott and Bolivar in Mississippi. Webb Roberson was my great grandfather, and he was born in 1863 to Mary. I do not know Mary’s last name, but she was born in Georgia. Willie Roberson was my grandfather and Webb’s son.


September 22, 2013 Posted by | Reconnecting | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment