Your Genealogy—Who Begat Whom?

It was Alex Haley’s 1977 book, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” and the TV mini-series also called “Roots,” that motivated many African Americans especially to go in search of what I call their own, “Who Begat Whom.” Haley’s search began in Henning, Tennessee where his grandmother told him stories about his family, down through the generations all the way to a man she called “the African.” She said he had lived across the ocean near what he called the “Kamby Bolongo” and had been out in the forest one day chopping wood to make a drum when he was set upon by four men, beaten, chained and dragged aboard a slave ship bound for Colonial America. According to one comment, what Haley did with his “who begat whom” search was much more than simply recapturing his own family foots. “As the first black American writer to trace his origins back to their roots, he has told the story of 25,000,000 Americans of African descent. He has rediscovered for an entire people a rich cultural heritage that slavery took away from them, along with their names and their identities. But Roots speaks, finally, not just to blacks, or to whites, but to all people and all races everywhere, for the story it tells is one of the most eloquent testimonials ever written to the indomitability of the human spirit.”

Genealogy, which means a “study of the direct descent from an ancestor,” is as old as mankind. Take a look at the 5th Chapter of Genesis which begins, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. Verse 3 begins with Adams who lived 130 years and “begat” a son and called his Seth. The generations of Adam then unfold over the next 32 verses down through Noah who “begat” Shem, Ham and Japheth.” If you turn to the New Testament, the book of Matthew begins with “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, you will see a similar series of “who begat whom” starting with Abraham and ending sixteen verses later with “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”

What do you know of your own ancestral lineage? Have you done your own search of “who begat whom?” Dr. Rick Kittles opened the doors to ancestral lineage even more when he traced the DNA of over 25,000 African DNA lineages. Kittles is the co-founder scientific director of African Ancestry, Inc. With one mouth swab Kittles has helped thousands of Africans Americans to “find their African roots.” The television show “Finding Your Roots” hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates gave us a front row seat in uncovering the ancestral lineage of prominent people such as Emmet Smith, Branford Marsalis, Condoleezza Rich, Samuel L. Jackson and John Legend. But Kittles’ company has also allowed “ordinary” people to trace their ancestry.

What Kittles’ research does is to use the DNA swab to compare it to the extensive African DNA database using the female, X, and the male Y chromosome. The mtDNA is the female DNA that is passed from mothers to their children. Males receive this DNA from their mothers but cannot pass it on to their own children. The male DNA, the Y chromosome DNA, is a history of the male to male lineage in the family. What Kittles’ research has found is that only certain aspects of the female or male DNA is located in certain parts of Africa which is how he helps to pinpoint the specific region of African ancestry. But this ancestry has, to the surprise of many, traced the so-called African lineage to Europe where at least 30 percent of the African American male DNA has taken him. What this “European DNA” tells us is that there was a whole lot of “things done in the dark” that only DNA has brought to the light.

But again, have you tried to trace your own family lineage? There are plenty of resources to get you started. (I recently tried to research my paternal ancestral line and to my shock found out that my great grandfather, who lived to be 96, was not only a twin, but that his father was white, who impregnated my great-grandmother and then he disappeared. So my great-grandfather never knew his own white father—again because of things “done in the dark. So my paternal family lineage would absolutely have a lot of white ancestors “somewhere down the line.” Your own oral family history is a good starting point for your own research. Ask parents and grandparents to tell you about their parents and grandparents. See if anyone in the family has already begun a family history search. Look inside family Bibles of older relatives especially where many family members have written down family history. Keep family obituaries because they also contain valuable family history. is also good resource. You can do a search for not a lot of money for a short period of time. Find out “who begat whom” in your own family.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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