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Milwaukee woman uses DNA test to trace her roots back to her African lineage

<i>WTMJ</i><br/>Element Everest -Blanks is pictured here sharing her results to Sierra Leone.
Element Everest -Blanks is pictured here sharing her results to Sierra Leone.

By Shannon Sims

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    MILWAUKEE (WTMJ) — A Milwaukee woman took a DNA test to trace her roots back to her African lineage. The journey was more than her family expanding.

For many Black Americans, this is where their family ancestry begins… In the South somewhere, and some are only able to go back four generations.

On the airwaves, Element Everest-Blanks connects the community to the culture at HY-FIN radio. As a connector, she felt somewhat disconnected when it came to knowing her African roots.

“My family’s from Detroit, but we’re from Georgia, we’re from Mississippi, we’re from down south. I mean, we’ve all migrated up here. But beyond that, I just knew my mother was a strong Black woman,” said Everest-Blanks.

For Americans who are descendants of enslaved Africans, many have no idea of where their lineage begins before 1863. That’s when President Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation – abolishing slavery in the United States.

“I think there’s something scary about knowing who you are because then there’s a standard that you’re held to that you can’t say I didn’t know. There’s a requirement of manhood and womanhood that you have to now be held to. And in America, we don’t really have that anymore,” said Everest-Blanks.

Earlier this year Element went on a quest for the answer. She found African Ancestry, Inc., a DNA testing company that claimed it could find the missing link she needed to connect her southern roots back to Africa.

“It tells me my tribe. It tells me the country and even tells me the DNA markers that they use to connect me to a current Sierra Leonean woman.”

Fascinated by Element’s results, TMJ4’s Shannon Sims wanted to learn more. African Ancestry, Inc is based in Washington, DC, and was started by co-founders Dr. Rick Kittles, Ph.D., and Dr. Gina Paige.

The company’s website says they have a DNA database of 30,000 unique indigenous African genetic sequences.

“The fact that we have such a robust database of African lineage is a testament to my business partner. So, when he was doing the research around being able to really just find out where he was from, he was committed to building a database of the size that would enable it to be accurate, would enable it to be used efficiently and effectively,” said Dr. Gina Paige.

Over the past 20 years, African Ancestry, a Black-owned and operated company, has connected one million people with their African ancestral roots – even taking several trips to Sierra Leone, Ghana, and other West African countries.

Some of their customers are well-known celebrities such as Oprah Quincy Jones, Taraji P. Henson, Dr. Maya Angelou, Dr. Dorothy Height, and Congressman John Lewis to name a few.

Back in Milwaukee, Element’s family expanded too with some well-known “cousins!”

“Quest Love and Black Thought from the Roots, who have actually had in my car driving them to any event, and we had no idea we were family. “

Element says she discovered so much more than she expected to find.

“It is kind of frightening how comfortable I feel in this body now. Because I’m not trying to measure up to anybody else’s expectations other than my own. I have a culture requirement of womanhood and even manhood with my children, but that’s based on who I am. That’s not based on what I’ve been taught about who I am. And there’s a difference.”

Genetics 101: Dr. Paige shares how the DNA test works:

“So each of us has DNA that we’ve inherited from our mother. That didn’t change. It has not changed over several generations. Going back 2000 years, we have the exact same what’s called mitochondria DNA from our mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, it didn’t change. Which means if I can find someone else in the world today, with my same mitochondria DNA, we have to be related… We take a person’s mitochondria DNA, compare it to DNA from all over Africa, and look for a match, and then matching DNA tells us the person’s ancestry.”

Where do you find the test? Click the following link:

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