This post is sponsored by Ancestry
When my mother-in-law gifted me with a DNA kit from Ancestry some years ago, I was intrigued but skeptical. My mother-in-law comes from a family that’s very into genealogy and can trace their family tree back to as far as 1690. I was born and raised in Trinidad and the stories of my heritage can be hard to trace past the 1910’s. I barely can find information before my parents’ parents. Literally, my father doesn’t know his maternal grandfather’s name! This happens in so many families around the world. Our family tree has several missing branches. It turns out I’m far from alone in that regard – for many African Americans and in the international diaspora, it can be difficult to trace our roots further back into history and across continents.
Needless to say; I sent in my AncestryDNA kit with questions and a healthy dose of uncertainty. I spit in this tube, and then what? What does it do, where does it go and what will I even learn from any of this? When I first got my results I was both surprised and confused because it didn’t even mention the Caribbean. But over time, my results have turned out to be pretty amazing. Read on and I’ll explain it all. And at the very end of this post, I’m giving away 10 AncestryDNA kits to those of you who are ready to make discoveries of your own!
As we celebrate Black History Month,let me explain a bit more and go back a bit further. Meet my family!
Most of us live in Trinidad and we are a very tight knit unit. In this photo you’ve got me and my husband, my brother Patrick and his wife Lisa, my brother Dominic and my nieces Dominique and Isabella, my sister Petal, my mom and dad, and my mom’s sisters Aunty Opal and Aunty Gemma. Missing are my newest niece Thalia, and my oldest brother Clint and his family (they live in England).
My immediate family is very tight-knit. My parents eloped and that brought us closer as a unit. We are particularly close to my mom’s side of the family. I’ll admit, I did grow up with a little envy at the kind of sprawling, multi-generational families who had involved grandparents and lots of cousins and family reunions with matching t-shirts. That wasn’t my reality, but we absolutely grew up with a lot of laughter, happiness and love.
My maternal grandparents had both passed by the time I was born. On my dad’s side, I know my paternal grandfather at least knew who I was – he had my name written in a book of his grandchildren’s names and knowing that is reassuring. My paternal grandmother was patient and kind to me whenever we visited and she passed when I was maybe 15 or 16.
In our house in Trinidad, we’ve got a wall of old family photos. Here it is!
This wall features photos of my parents and their parents, and quite a few relatives I had to be told about but never had the privilege to meet. Let me introduce you to them.
Here is my mom, with her parents.
My maternal grandmother and grandfather were Jules and Pearl Graham.
My grandfather chose that name. His birth certificate just says Jule. There is no last name and there is no father listed. He was born in British Guiana. His mother was Mary Robertson. Her mother, Aura Vangronigen, gave the details on the birth certificate and her name is also listed on it. I don’t have a name for my maternal great-grandfather, the trail ends there.
Pearl Graham was born Pearl Kellar. Granny Pearl had six or seven siblings, we know of Elfreda, Elliott, Winnie, Aggie and Iris. I knew Freda, Aggie and Iris of my grandmother’s siblings, but not my grandmother.
Their mother was Amelia Kellar. Their father was William Kellar. I hear he was from Tobago. I have never seen a photo of him. I don’t think my mom remembers meeting her grandfather.
This is my maternal great-grandmother, Amelia Kellar, nee Callender.
Her mother’s name was Miriam Payne. I am told that Miriam Payne, my maternal great-grandmother, was originally from Canada. She married a man who we believe was named David Callender, from Barbados. Miriam and David had 8 children, four boys and four girls. That’s all we know. It fades from there.
Now, on my dad’s side — these are my paternal grandparents pretty much as I remember them.
My father’s parents, Carlito and Camilla Grell. My dad is one of nine kids, five boys and four girls. I don’t think they have family photos of all of them together, not as far as I’ve ever seen.
This was my father’s maternal grandmother. Her name was Matilda Johnson. My father’s maternal grandfather was a man named Squires. My father says that he never met his maternal grandfather but heard he was a tall, handsome tailor.
His grandparents had quite a number of children. Here are some pictures of her and her children – my paternal grandmother is on the top left. They all had their own families, their own kids. My father knows very little about them.
On my paternal grandfather’s side, it is just as fragmented and fascinating.
This is my paternal great-grandmother, my father’s grandmother. Her name was Louise Scholz.
As far as I know, there are no group family photos of my father’s family, or of his father’s. But when I went home for Christmas, my father shared an incredible collection of photos of my grandfather and his siblings. My grandfather was Carlito Grell, son of Louise Scholz and we believe his father’s name was Ellis Grell. My grandfather had several siblings; some chose the last name Scholz, some took the last name Grell. Some left for the United States, some stayed in Trinidad. Here are the photos I recently discovered, via one of my dad’s sisters-in-law. Top left is my paternal great grandmother, and next to her with the saxophone is my paternal grandfather, Carlito. He was in a band!
I had never seen these before my dad shared them with me in December, and I’m still astounded. Who are these people? Where did they move to, what happened to them, who did they choose to become? How many cousins and branches of extended family do I have around the world and in how many places, exactly?
In years past, that would just have remained a mystery. I still have so many missing branches from my family tree. But something remarkable started happening when I sent in my AncestryDNA test. I started hearing from distant relations with provable DNA matches, trying to contact me to answer their own questions and fill in their own gaps from the past. It’s pretty amazing!
Like I mentioned, when I did my AncestryDNA test I was initially disappointed. It doesn’t mention Trinidad at all! But now I get it – this is DNA testing. They use autosomal testing technology; advanced DNA science and they predict your genetic ethnicity going back multiple generations. That’s all paired with what has become the world’s largest online family history resource, so you can find all kinds of incredible new connections. So instead of finding out about Trinidad and Guyana, I’m finding out my ethnicity from Benin and Togo and the southeastern Bantu region of Africa, as well as Ireland and Western Europe and Central Asia (total surprise there).
Here’s my AncestryDNA test results, in case you were curious!
Through these DNA results, I’ve learned more about my exact breakdown and that’s interesting and cool. What I didn’t expect is that through sending my saliva in a tube via the mail, I would find out more about my family tree. Through Ancestry, I have been emailed by confirmed DNA contacts on either side of my family! One relative looks to be a cousin on my dad’s side. The other relative has a background from Guyana, so that’s likely from my maternal grandfather. Amazing! This would never have happened otherwise. Seeing their info displayed in the context of a family tree with a DNA match confirming our degree of connectedness is really reassuring, in terms of moving forward to make contact.
I know there are those out there who have their fears and suspicions about DNA testing, but I was assured by the fact that the consumer and ONLY the consumer owns their Ancestry customer data. Submitting the test gives Ancestry a revocable license to test your DNA and that data is used for ethnicity estimates. Click right here to read more about that and all the terms and conditions – it’s always best to be informed so you know what you’re getting into, right?
Ancestry.com corporate genealogist Crista Cowan helped me gain some greater understanding and context of my AncestryDNA results.
“At a high level, Afrobella’s AncestryDNA Story shows she is 52% African, 35% European, and 13% Asian. With more than 150 possible regions, her results reveal more detailed information including that she is connected to eight of the nine African regions tested for by AncestryDNA. She also discovers that she is, more recently, connected to the African Caribbean genetic community. All of this information lines up beautifully with what she knows about her family history,” she explained. So helpful to get some perspective on what it all means.
“Now, she has an opportunity, through Ancestry, to continue to make discoveries about her specific ancestors using the rich information found in millions of user-created family trees, billions of historical records, and by connecting with her DNA Matches,” she added. Thanks to Crista Cowan for the analysis!
Some people do the AncestryDNA test because they want to understand more about their ethnicity. Some people do it because they want to know more about their biological family. There’s AncestryDNA but in addition to that, there are Ancestry’s Family History membership services which unlock access to billions of historical documents, like military registrations, marriage certificates, census lists and helpful information for anyone trying to research more about their own past. My AncestryDNA gave me some answers about my background, but to really fill out the missing info about all of these relatives of the past who migrated and married and changed names and had kids and got lost in the sands of time, I’ll have to do more research.
If you’re like me and you also have lots of lost branches from your family tree and many questions you’d like to answer, this could be interesting for you as well.
That’s my long, detailed (but hopefully interesting) story.
Enough about me. How about you? For anyone who is interested and ready to
learn more about your DNA, I’ve got a special giveaway of 10 AncestryDNA kits! How do you enter, how do you win? Tell me just a little about why you’re interested in learning more about your DNA or family history in the comments section. 10 lucky winners will be chosen by February 19, with winners announced on February 23. Note: Winners must reside in the United States of America and be at least 18 years of age.
This post is sponsored by Ancestry but these opinions and ALL of this detailed family history is all mine!
** edited 2/20 — WOW. Your comments are so in depth and inspiring and beautiful. This contest is now officially closed but I wanted to thank you ALL for entering! Winners were posted here on