African American Lives: Austin edition pt 3

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s series African American Lives journeys deep into the African-American experience to reveal the triumphs and tragedies within the family histories of participants. Watch clips from the series at pbs.org. In conjunction with this series, KLRU’s Michael Emery will be blogging about his own genealogical experiences. Here is part three of his journey.

Yesterday I put my DNA in the mail! I have no idea how long the results will take. The actual collection procedure is about as strenuous as flossing one’s teeth. There are no obvious bodily liquids involved with the sampling. The mail-in package is sanitary and secure. And the expectation is mounting, yes!

Research genetic genealogy and you’ll find that there are two popular tests, and the biology of it tests my understanding to the limit. One of these evaluates genetic markers from the father of the father of the father et cetera. This Y-chromosome isn’t passed on by females, which means that women can’t be tested for it. And the other test looks at chromosomes that describe a subject’s maternal lineage, the mother of the mother of the mother et cetera. Family trees can spread very wide, but these tests trace back only one paternal line and one maternal line. This might appear to be a drawback, but the results are nonetheless very dependable and can create a reliable scientific outcome, unlike my mind’s understanding of it all. I will simply trust what the experts say about this.

The science says that the results point back to unique haplogroups for the subjects of these tests. What’s a “haplogroup”? Wikipedia says that it pertains to deep ancestral origins dating back thousands of years. What’s more, these haplogroups are associated with geographical population distributions: they can point to the regions from which one’s earliest foremother and forefather come.

So, with great expectation I look forward to seeing if two of my family lines point back to Africa–or what? Slowly but surely, I’m also looking forward to watching more of this show, African American Lives 2.

– Michael Emery

At KLRU, Michael Emery directs Texas Monthly Talks, is a camera operator for Austin City Limits and other productions, and produced Juneteenth Jamboree. He is a former bicycle commuter, currently a car commuter, and aspires to be a bicycle commuter again.