“You have your mother’s eyes,” or “Like father like son,” are phrases we commonly compliment or tease family with, yet we take for granted that we know those details—not everyone does.
In February of this year in an interview with Essence magazine, Michaela Pereira said, “Like many adopted kids I wondered about my birth parents. I was especially curious about my father. So much of who I am on the outside—my skin color, eye color, and hair—is because of him. My identity is inextricably tied to a man I do not know.”
Several years ago Michaela had an emotional first meeting of her birth sister on her biological mother’s side, and since then the two have forged a strong relationship. Sadly, their mother lost a long battle with cancer before she and Michaela could be reunited.
When Michaela reached out to us, she let us know that she had been unsuccessful in learning about her birth father. But she was intensely curious about her ancestry on his side and wanted to know if there was a way to learn about her paternal ancestors without having the benefit of information provided by him. She felt that the focus for her should not be on locating a person but instead exploring the roots of her birth father’s family.
Because the focus was no longer on identifying information, we turned to Plan B: take an AncestryDNA test. The AncestryDNA test results have two parts: defining your ethnic roots and connecting you with cousin matches. When her results came in a few weeks later, they confirmed what she suspected: she is African and European, but was surprised to learn that there were trace amounts of DNA from all over the world. While the AncestryDNA test does not call out Caribbean roots specifically, the traits are there: Jamaicans typically have African, Native American (which includes the original inhabitants of Jamaica, the Taino), and European roots, which Michaela has. She is largely Nigerian and Irish. Her trace regions of Italy/Greece, Europe West, and Iberian Peninsula suggest she has Mediterranean roots as well.
The surprise came when we reviewed her cousin matches, which compares your DNA with the 500,000 other people who have taken the test, and based on the amount of DNA you share, gives a relationship range. Michaela had several 2nd and 3rd cousin matches, which is very close! Because one of these suggested cousins had linked their DNA results to their public family tree, we could look at the deceased members of their family to see where they lived and died. Carefully reviewing cousin matches is important, because the results don’t show if they are cousins from your mother’s or father’s side of the family.
Amazingly, the public family tree was full of people from Jamaica, with pictures of them to boot! Because of the sensitive nature of Michaela’s adoption, she respectfully decided to not contact them.
However the birth and death places in the matching cousin tree helped her learn specific locations in Jamaica that she would never have known otherwise: St. James Parish, Jamaica.
The name of that little parish in Jamaica became the catalyst for Michaela discovering for the first time the culture and legacy she yearned to connect with for so long.
During her trip to a Rastafarian village, her guide said, “Hold on to a brother.”
There is something powerful in having a tangible, physical connection to not just the places of your heritage, but the people who you share that heritage with.
WATCH MICHAELA EXPLORE HER ROOTS
MORE EPISODES ON CNN
They travel the world to chase the story, but this time the story is their own. Join the journalists of CNN as they explore their … roots. More behind the scene stories:
- Anderson Cooper
- Chris Cuomo
- Jake Tapper
- Don Lemon
- Erin Burnett
- Christine Romans
- Fareed Zakaria
- John Berman