We did it every time we started our circle
introduced ourselves through our mother's line.
I am Dionne daughter of Jeanine, daughter of Winifred,
daughter of Sally...and there I would stop.
I had no connection past my great grandma,
"Big Grandma" is what I called her or so I'm told.
As I listened to the other women go back through
their mothers I felt a longing to know more.
Where did I come from?
Though my mom tried to help very few of the stories
of my family were written down let alone shared with her.
There were whispers that we had Native American blood
within us. I discovered this was a common story in many
African American household; a testament to the level of
shame and sadness the legacy of slavery has left with us.
We'd rather claim that heritage as if trading one painful
history for another was better. "Besides all of that was
grown folks business", she would tell me, "In my day kids
weren't allowed to listen to grown folks talk."
As the grown folks aged and past on coupled with the
sad history of this country, our stories...my stories were
I felt lost.
The question of identity has plagued many African
Americans. Like many before me, I longed to know
more than what little was safe to teach us in a few
paragraphs of a history book in school.
Among others, author Terry Pratchet is quoted as
saying “If you do not know where you come from,
then you don't know where you are, and if you don't
know where you are, then you don't know where you're
going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're
probably going wrong.”
What was my starting place and where the heck am
I going? This question burned within me.
Though the Internet proved useful in my initial search
(I found my great, great grandmother), I had reached
the great divide where no records of slaves were kept.
And still the longing to know consumed me. I wanted to
know what contribution to life in this country we made
beyond the shame and heartbreak of slavery.
I want to know what tribe my people came from.
Inspired by the show African American Lives
, I decided
to take a DNA test to find out where my mother's people
originated from and reclaim them surrounded by circle
I have to tell you I went back and forth on the decision
because the information effects all the women from my
mother's side; aunts and girl cousins, my daughter and
any girl children that come from her. Would knowing and
sharing this information do harm to them? Would it shatter
our long held family beliefs about our place in the world?
Or would it elevate us, make us wiser and connect our
family to something deeper? Either way i had to know.
The process was painless; several cotton swaps rubbed
in my mouth sealed in a capsule and returned to a lab.
Within a few weeks I had the results.
We gathered in circle, my then tribe and me, placing
pictures on the altar and sharing stories of our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers. With each retelling
we breathed life into them until the room seemed to me filled
with their presences.
The results were read. With 98% accuracy my mother's
line came from Ghana. My mother ancestors were welcomed back and celebrated.