Some people’s family trees grow in neat, tidy branches. My ancestry is more like a twisted, rambling vine, or a set of tangled Christmas lights.
On the Bahamian side, my ancestors include Eleutheran Adventurers (English Puritans fleeing religious persecution in Bermuda, who settled on the Bahamian island now known as Eleuthera), British Loyalists who fled the U.S. and settled in Harbour Island and Abaco following the American Revolution, and at least one pirate.
Faced with a cholera outbreak, potato blight and political unrest, my Dad’s great-grandfather moved his family from Germany to Jamaica in 1834. My paternal grandmother’s heritage goes back to Curacao, Cuba and the Danish West Indies before bringing her to Jamaica where she met and married my grandfather.
Because of the relatively tiny communities in which many of my ancestors lived, I often find I’m related to the same person through different pathways. For example, I’ve discovered that three of my four maternal grandparents are direct descendants of Wyannie Malone, a Loyalist widow said to have settled Hope Town, Abaco in the late 1700s. Long story short, I’m the human equivalent of a Bahamian potcake.
One of the speakers at this year’s Island Roots Heritage Festival was Peter Roberts, administrator of the Bahamas DNA Project, a private, non-profit organization that connects people who share Bahamian ancestry and traces their origins in Africa, Europe, and North America.
DNA testing, Peter explained, can help determine whether others with your surname are related to you, and identify family connections that may not be traceable through other genealogical research methods. It can also scientifically verify traditional genealogical research, and locate relatives you never knew you had.
Peter also recounted some of the many success stories that have emerged from the Bahamas DNA Project. For example, DNA testing has shown that Bahamians with the surname Albury (i.e., my Mom) can trace their ancestry back to medieval European nobility. And though most assumed that the Bahamian Lowes (including my 2x great-grandmother, Jessie Lowe) were of British ancestry, testing shows that their roots are actually in Mexico, Portugal, Brazil and Tanzania, and their heritage can be traced back to pirates. Matthew Lowe, a well-known pirate in Bahamian history, was my 8x great-grandfather.
I’ve wanted to participate in the Bahamas DNA Project for a while, and after Peter’s presentation, I signed up on the spot. Submitting my DNA sample was easy. I just swabbed the inside of my cheek with a tiny brush (plus another one, for backup), sealed the brushes in the tiny vials provided in the test kit, and mailed off the samples.
I ordered two tests: mtDNA and Family Finder. The mtDNA test traces maternal DNA passed from mothers to their children, male or female. It traces your maternal line (i.e., your mother’s mother’s mother, etc.), and is best suited for revealing deep ancestry. (Men with paternal ancestry in the Bahamas can also order a y-DNA test, which traces your father’s father’s father’s line.)
Family Finder helps to locate more recent genealogical matches (i.e., within the last 10 generations or so.) It’s an autosomal DNA test that compares your DNA with that of others who’ve been tested, and identifies people who share parts of your DNA.
After about eight weeks, I received an email with a link to my results. Here’s just some of what I learned:
Genetically, I’m 86.6% Western European (specifically from the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland), 5.9% West African (from the Mandinka and/or Yoruba ethnic groups) and 7.4% Middle Eastern (Mozabite, Palestinian, Bedouin, Bedouin South, Druze, and/or Jewish ethnicities.)
I belong to Haplogroup T2, a subset of Haplogroup T. (A haplogroup is basically an ancestral clan, kind of like the Vikings or the Celts.) Haplogroup T is believed to have originated in Africa about 45,000 years ago. Over time, this group spread into northern Italy and eventually throughout Europe. About 10% of modern day Europeans, Palestinians, Turks and Syrians belong to Haplogroup T, which is found in particularly high concentrations around the Eastern Baltic Sea, Ireland and west of Britain.
Some better-known members of Haplogroup T (and therefore, people with whom I share maternal ancestry) include Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, American outlaw Jesse James, and Kings George the I, III and V of England.
As for more recent relatives, my DNA tests have revealed dozens of people world-wide with whom I share DNA — and therefore, at least one common ancestor. In some cases, the connections are quite far back in time and difficult to trace. But in many cases, the DNA test shows that the connection is fairly recent. I’ve been in touch with some of my newly discovered relatives and we’re comparing family trees and DNA results in an attempt to identify our common ancestors.
Though quite a few Bahamians of European descent have been tested since the Bahamas DNA Project began in 2004, the project is eager to have more Bahamians of African, Chinese, Greek, Lebanese and Native American ancestry participate. Depending on what tests you choose to have done, prices range from $49 to $199 plus postage, though if cost is a concern, you can request sponsorship.