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Who do you think you are?

FEELING EMPOWERED: Angie Le Mar got her DNA ancestry results

HAVE YOU ever watched the BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are? and been left wondering who your ancestors were?

Have you ever pondered how you too could discover and research your family tree?

These questions often intrigue people of African descent, both young and old, despite some of the perceived challenges because of the transatlantic slave trade.

Despite the endless obstacles encountered by African descendents using European records, there remains a hungry fascination with their heritage — perceived, invented, or assumed.

According to African American author Alex Haley, who wrote the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family – a groundbreaking text that kickstarted the consciousness of post-enslaved grandchildren to think about their own past: "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness."

In celebration of Black History Month, Janelle Oswald interviews comedian Angie Le Mar, brand ambassador for Osarge News, who has successfully researched her DNA and discovered that her maternal bloodline dates back more than 100,000 years.

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Name: Angela Leonie Martin
Birthplace: Lewishham, London
Known ethnicity: African Caribbean
Known country of origin pre DNA: Both parents from Jamaica. Paternal grandparents both born in Jamaica. Maternal grandfather born in Haiti and maternal grandmother born in Jamaica. 

Country of origin post DNA: Sub-Saharan Africa (awaiting more detailed DNA data)
Haplogroup: L1 originated 140,000 years ago.

Before taking your DNA test, who did you think you were?
Before I took my DNA testing with Osargenews.com, I knew my family were from Jamaica through my parents and childhood experiences. From researching my Jamaican ancestry and learning about the slave trade I knew that countless enslaved people were brought to Jamaica from the Gold Coast [now Ghana] so I had often wondered if I was Ghanaian or West African at the very least.

When I visited Ghana in 2009 I felt a special connection, but I haven't been to any other country in Africa, so I couldn't really say whether or not it was a special connection to Ghana or just returning home to the Motherland as a whole. However, I felt special and I had a deep spiritual and emotional connection when I visited Elmina Castle feeling the spirits of our ancestors at large.

How did you get to know about your family history?
I have a few family members that have researched our family tree, but up until then I could only track stories that went back to my parents’ grandparents. This has always been very frustrating leaving me with an inner void.

Were there any particular ethnic groups that you were hoping to have within your DNA and why?
I was not hoping to be anything greater than African. I always knew that my ancestors were from Africa, I just wanted to know where from. While I love Jamaica and I’m proud of my heritage, I knew it didn't begin there. Sadly, we are a race of people who have had our history destroyed and rewritten and the only memory cannot be that we were enslaved. 

What did your test reveal?
Well, so far my DNA has shown that I am 98 per cent Sub-Saharan and two per cent European, which comes from both of my parents. My next set of results, called the DNA GPS, will take me to the exact village where my people were originally from. I also discovered through my DNA testing that my mother’s bloodline – the X chromosome comes from a mighty line of women who go back more than 100,000 years old. My maternal bloodline originates from Haplogroups L, which originated in eastern Africa 140,000 years ago and has since spread to western and central Africa.

How has this changed your life? What do the DNA results mean to you?
The most important thing is I know, whereas before I could only guess. I don't have a pile of thick leather cased books which dates back to 1800 to share my story, so I feel extremely empowered. It makes you want to research and look into your history with great confidence.

What will you now do with this new information?
I will indeed continue my ancestral search; this new-found information gives me a great start. I remember looking around the area/village I had been given from my DNA results and looked into women from that village, and I surprisingly discovered that they all adorn red locks and remembered the time when I too, dyed my locks red, which left me wondering whether there was something in my DNA that made do it. I am planning a trip back to my ancestral village once I received my final results. It's something I have to do. I believe it’s everybody’s divine birthright to know where they come from. Self- knowledge and self-identity creates self awareness and self acceptance to the highest level thus allowing a person, like myself, to lift their head up knowing who they are.

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Dr Michael L Baird famed for being the first DNA testing expert in the United States to testify in a US court, including the OJ Simpson case, explains DNA testing and how African descendents can benefit from it.

What is DNA?
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is the genetic material that is passed from parent to child. DNA contains the instructions to make components essential for life. Each person’s DNA is unique and is a living history of their ancestors and is the starting point for a person’s journey of discovery, unearthing where their ancestors originated.

What is DNA testing?
DNA testing describes methods available to examine a person’s DNA. A DNA test could examine genes and help a physician determine the cause of an illness. A DNA test can also be used to establish a biological relationship like parent and child or to identify the source of a biological sample associated with a crime. A DNA test can also allow one to look back in time to learn more about their ancestors.

How are scientists able to find the ancestral roots of individuals who do the test?
The type of testing used to unlock a person’s ancestral origin relies on Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs). These genetic markers are passed on from generation to generation and help establish an ancestral and genealogic lineage.

Each marker is a SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) simply a spelling difference in the DNA. Using databases that have been developed by examining thousands of people from all ethnicities, calculations can be performed to provide information about one’s ancestry.

What is the African GPS Tracking System?
GPS or Global Population Structure allows one to establish coordinates (latitude and longitude) that relate to the location of your ancestors.

How does the information found in DNA support the findings that civilization and humanity started in Africa?
DNA testing has confirmed that civilization started in Africa. The oldest forms of maternal and paternal DNA are derived from Africa. Many populations today have a small amount of African genetic markers due to the origin of civilization in Africa.

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