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    How 'African' Is The Average Black American?

    The African American population in the United States is a diverse group of people.

    Many can trace their ancestry back to the time of American slavery which has brought the question, how much African ancestry does the average African American have?

    Thanks to a surge in the popularity of DNA testing, many people are gaining insights into their ethnicity and heritage.

    A simple swab of the cheek or a saliva sample can deliver answers in the form of estimated percentages of what makes up your unique heritage.

    Keep reading to learn more about black ancestry in the United States.

    What The Research Says

    A study by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, revealed some interesting information about African American ancestry as it relates to popular DNA testing kits.

    Gates wanted to know what percentage of black Americans could trace their ancestry back to Africa, and what he found was quite interesting.

    Not only could the majority of African American testers trace their ancestry back to sub-Saharan Africa, but around 35% also showed they descended from a white male ancestor. 

    Two major DNA testing companies, Ancestry and 23andMe, provided specific results for the study:

    • Ancestry: 65% of test results showed a link to sub-Saharan ancestry, and 29% with a link to European ancestry
    • 23andMe: 75% of DNA test results showed a link to sub-Saharan ancestry, with 22% for European ancestry

    From these results, we can learn a lot about the ancestry of African Americans and what factors have influenced their heritage.

    The horrors of slavery in the United States included rape and forced relationships on the part of the slave owner to his female slaves.

    This resulted in many children born to black slave women.

    When understanding the patterns we see in DNA test results from African Americans, it is crucial to consider how historical events have influenced those results.

    North Vs South

    The study also shows an increase in African ancestry resulting from Southern states over that of the northern ones.

    In fact, we can learn a lot based on location: 

    • Where slaves were brought to first in the United States may greatly impact their percentage of European ancestry
    • African Americans in the southern states tend to have lower percentages of European ancestry 
    • In more diverse cities and northern states, we can see a higher percentage of European ancestry 

    This is likely due to the fact that slave ships most often first docked in the south, in Charleston, South Carolina.

    When DNA results are studied more closely, it is possible to see that the amount of African heritage someone has can depend greatly on the location of their ancestors’ entry to the United States.

    For example, most African ancestry appearing in test results comes from people who were taken from the Gullah islands and brought to South Carolina and Georgia as slaves.

    Due to their large numbers and the relatively low numbers of white people in comparison, this group of people maintained more of their African heritage, culture, appearance, and even accents.

    By contrast, if your ancestors were located in the Louisiana area, you are more likely to have a higher percentage of European ancestry.

    This is due to the fact that Louisiana was colonized by French and Spanish settlers.

    The different ethnic groups here mixed more diversely than they did on southern plantations.

    Results In Major Cities

    Major cities, including those on the west coast, show higher numbers of European ancestry.

    Again, it is crucial to put things within a historical context to understand the data derived from the DNA. DNA results tell us:

    • Industrialization in the north brought white and black people in closer proximity to one another
    • The migration west had a similar effect as industrialization 

    As migrants moved across the United States toward the west coast, populations became more mixed and less isolated.

    Unlike the slave plantations in the south which were remote and rural, big cities brought African Americans and whites in closer proximity to one another.

    As a result, we can see higher percentages of European ethnicities in people whose ancestors lived and worked in major cities. 

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    DNA testing is a quick and painless way to gain important information about your heritage and ethnicity. 

    If you want to take a DNA test to learn more about your ancestors, an at-home kit is a great way to start. 

    You will get information about your ancestors and how they migrated, as well as percentages of your ethnicity.

    From there you can start building a family tree, connecting with living family members, and enriching your understanding of your unique heritage.