Is AncestryDNA a Good Test for African Americans?

16 January 2018
by Anna Swayne

Woman holding printout of AncestryDNA® test results.As part of my job at Ancestry® I teach people more about DNA and how to interpret their AncestryDNA® test results.

One question I get from customers and people at conferences is, “Is AncestryDNA a good test for African Americans?”

The short answer is, “Yes.” If you’re African American and considering DNA testing to learn more about your background, our test is a great option.

Here’s why.

Specificity Within Africa

AncestryDNA gives you lots of specificity on where in Africa your ancestors came from.

It breaks down the areas of Africa your ancestors most likely came from into 9 different regions:

Map of AncestryDNA’s nine African regions.
AncestryDNA’s 9 African regions.

The three most common regions I’ve noticed in the AncestryDNA test results of customers I interact with and who identify as African American are regions in Western Africa:

  • Cameroon/Congo
  • Nigeria
  • Ivory Coast/Ghana

This aligns with the text found in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade essay, “The Enslavement of Africans,” which relates that slave traders trafficking enslaved African people to North America abducted them mainly from West Africa.

Map of  Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade routes.
Transatlantic slave trade routes show that most North American slaves came from West Africa.

I have encountered individuals who have ethnicity estimates from all 9 regions of our current regions in Africa.

But most African American test takers I’ve noticed tend to have around 4 or 5 African regions in their AncestryDNA test results.

Answers to Other Lifelong Questions

AncestryDNA helps test takers learn more about their African ancestors.

But an AncestryDNA test also helps African Americans discover ancestral connections that extend beyond Africa.

I’ve seen various statistics related to what the average percentage of European ethnicity for African Americans is. From what I’ve seen, African Americans are on average roughly 20% European.

What is far less common is Native American ancestry.

Arapaho woman.
Arapaho woman. Photo from wikipedia.

While many family stories that have been shared with me by African American customers include Native American heritage, in most cases I’ve seen, the Native American stories are not supported by DNA and family.

But you never know. Tyra Banks, for example, took an AncestryDNA test and found a 6% Native American ethnicity estimate.

And even if you don’t find Native American heritage, chances are you will be surprised by what parts of the world show up in your results. Vanessa Williams took an AncestryDNA test and was surprised to discover she was 12% Finnish.

Bringing Your American Ancestors to Life

With AncestryDNA, your family story doesn’t stop with your family’s origins on other continents like Europe and Africa.

Your saliva can actually tell you where they likely first lived when they came to America – and what migration paths they may have taken once they got here.

You might know where your grandparents lived and maybe where their parents lived, but do you know where their ancestors lived?

Amazingly, your DNA could tell you.

For example, it could tell you if they were connected to the Virginia & Southern States African Americans, who began to migrate to the north in 1900.

Ancestry map showing DNA linked to the Great Migration.
Your DNA can tie you to specific groups like Virginia & Southern States African Americans.

And if you wanted to learn more about what your family was up to in the 1800s – and even before – Ancestry has billions of records you can search.

My colleague and long-time Ancestry customer Jason Atwater learned that his enslaved ancestor, Darby Duncan, was a New Orleans-trained cook on a plantation in Virginia.

Jason Atwater standing below Darby's Tavern sign.
Jason at his ancestor Darby’s restaurant.

Jason and his family visited the plantation, including the restaurant, Darby’s Tavern, named after his ancestor.

In an Nutshell

If you’re African American and curious to learn more about your family story, Ancestry provides you with a wealth of resources.

You’ll learn more about your ethnic mix, about what percentage of your DNA comes from what part of the world, broken down into 350+ regions.

And you may also get insights into where in America your ancestors lived many generations ago and what forces compelled them to move around the country.

What will you discover about your African American heritage? Take an AncestryDNA test to find out.