My PhD research looks at genetic ancestry testing and genealogical practices in different post-slavery societies, and how these phenomena are influencing our notions of personal identity and human kinship and difference.
As a mini-experiment, I have roped five friends into taking DNA ancestry tests with me. We are from different national and cultural backgrounds, aged between 25-35 years old, and we are all awaiting our autosomal test results. I have asked each person to describe their expectations and hopes regarding their genetic test results, with the aim of highlighting the ways in which our national and cultural backgrounds – as well as our physical appearances – prime our ideas about what our likely or desired ancestral origins might be.
Evlondo, born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana
What are your expectations regarding your genetic ancestry test result?
As a descendant of slaves, I expect that most of my ancestors lived in West Africa. In addition, I’ve been told that my grandfather is half Cherokee Nation, which would mean that I have a small percentage of Native American ancestry.
However, as I’ve only been able to trace my father’s father’s lineage, it would be hard for me to posit an intelligent guess. Whatever the results are, they will be revelatory and informative.
What would be your ideal genetic ancestry test result?
The best possible result is the test itself. I don’t have much insight into where the vast majority of my ancestors may have originated or settled. So gaining even the vaguest sense of my origins, while maybe seeing through a glass darkly, fills me with a sense of excitement that has been dormant for a while.
I confess to being fascinated by my own reaction to this exercise. While I’ve been long comfortable dealing with and discussing the cultural and socioeconomic issues surrounding race/ethnicity, I’d thought myself past questioning my own origins. This reawakened desire to know surprises and delights me, but it also brings into stark relief (and deepened empathy) the desire of many people to shape possibilities from their past.
Will anything I learn fundamentally change who I am? Is any part of who my ancestors were determinative? I say yes, but for a multitude of reasons that are, thankfully, less salient today.
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