General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

How many African-Americans can trace their roots and create a family tree which includes their ancestors in Africa?

Asked by mattbrowne (31600points) May 18th, 2009

In the series “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” the protagonist Kunta Kinte (captured by slave traders in 1767) wants to make sure that his descendants keep the memory of his parents who lived in the Gambia in West Africa. For generations, each of Kunta’s enslaved descendants passed down an oral history of Kunta’s experiences.

How realistic is this scenario? What about written accounts (created for example by slave owners)? Or is DNA analysis the only reliable option to find out where the ancestors of African-Americans lived?

From Wikipedia: Between 1650 and 1900, 10.24 million African slaves arrived in the Americas from the following regions in the following proportions:

* Senegambia (Senegal and The Gambia): 4.8%
* Upper Guinea (Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone): 4.1%
* Windward Coast (Liberia and Cote d’ Ivoire): 1.8%
* Gold Coast (Ghana and east of Cote d’ Ivoire): 10.4%
* Bight of Benin (Togo, Benin and Nigeria west of the Niger Delta): 20.2%
* Bight of Biafra (Nigeria east of the Niger Delta, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon): 14.6%
* West Central Africa (Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola): 39.4%
* Southeastern Africa (Mozambique and Madagascar): 4.7%

Another question is: how many African-Americans are interested in finding out more about their roots?

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22 Answers

hug_of_war's avatar

I’d be interested, but my roots are too mangled to ever really uncover. I’m kind of cool with that though, as much as it goes against european sensibility

Bluefreedom's avatar

Regarding Alex Haley’s “Roots: The Saga of an American Family”, this scenario might not as realistic as some might think since it appears some of the information is questionable. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say and the emphasis in italics at the end of the paragraph is mine:

Haley claimed to be a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte, and Haley’s work on the novel involved ten years of research, intercontinental travel and writing. He went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and which is still in existence, and listened to a tribal historian tell the story of Kinte’s capture. Haley also traced the records of the ship, The Lord Ligonier, which he said carried his ancestor to America. Genealogists have since disputed Haley’s research and conclusions and Haley made an out-of-court settlement with Harold Courlander, who had sued him for plagiarism.

Vinifera7's avatar

I have a problem with the “African-American” label. In my mind, it should only apply to people who were born in Africa but are now citizens of the United States.

There are countless Americans whose European ancestors more recently emigrated to the US than the African slaves were brought over, but do we call them European-Americans? No.

Do we call people of Korean ancestry living in America, Korean-Americans? No.

African-American is a nonsense label.

casheroo's avatar

My father’s family is very into geneology, and my ancestors owned slaves and wrote about it. I’ve read a lot about my family, but never into those parts. I’m sure there are names mentioned, who knows if there are any last names though (I’m sure they took my family’s last name, which is an extremely common name) I’d be fascinated to know my roots, if I were black.

Rickomg's avatar

What I don’t understand is… IF Equal Rights are the Ideal Scene. Then Drop the whole “African American” thing and quit pointing out the fact that your skin color is darker than the rest of we “plain ol’ Americans”. We do not call ourselves Anglo Americans or anyother such nonsense. How about we all just become Americans? Each time you state the “African American” thing all you are doing is promoting your own type of racisim. Saying that you are “African American” you are in fact declaring that you are individuated from the rest of us Americans. Think about it.

Rickomg's avatar

As far as geneology is concerned… My past is my past and I care not what was done in yester year by whatever ancestors I had… I am intensely more interested in What I am doing today and who I will become tommorrow. Who I have been is of no concearn to me. Who I will create myself to be tomorrow is of far greater importance!

GAMBIT's avatar

My family tree will split three ways African American, European and Native American. So I would have a job ahead of me if I really wanted to know all my roots.

I am very happy that I was able to spend time with my grandparents who told me about my heritage.

nayeight's avatar

I would love to find out where my ancestors were from, who I was related to, & how they lived. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could find that out, I do know that my great grandparents were from south carolina before they moved to the north. I’m not sure where the term African American came from but I know it has something to with black Americans remembering our heritage. When our ancestors were first brought to America as slaves they used the term African in their churches and to describe themselves. Slaves were not American until after the emancipation of slaves. So I guess to honor our ancestors, we call ourselves African American. It’s not racist, it’s just how we identify ourselves. I don’t really use it everyday, I usually just say that I’m black but I think if I had to choose between saying I’m black or African American, I would choose African American because my skin is brown, not black.

Facade's avatar

I’m not that interested in finding out where my “people” are from.

nayeight's avatar

@Facade Why? Are you just not interested in history in general or is there a personal reason?

Facade's avatar

@nayeight I’m not interested in history in general, anyone’s history. Never have been.

nayeight's avatar

@Facade Thats cool I guess. I love history.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Bluefreedom – My question was about how realistic the scenario is in general. Bad research in one case (that of the series’ author) does not mean tracing the roots is impossible. It might be difficult, sure.

@Vinifera7: We are talking about terms widely in use. It’s not about labels in my opinion.

A European American (Euro-American) is a person who resides in the United States and is either from Europe or is the descendant of European immigrants or founding colonists. The German (25.5%), Irish (18.1%) and English Americans (14.3%) alone are the three largest ethnic groups in the United States.

An Italian American is an American of Italian ancestry, and/or may also refer to someone possessing Italian/American dual citizenship. Italian Americans are the fourth largest European ethnic group in the United States.

German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry, with traditions and self-identity based on German language and culture. They form the largest self-reported ancestry group in the United States, outnumbering the Irish and English. They account for 50 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population.

Chinese Americans are Americans of Chinese descent. Chinese Americans constitute one group of Overseas Chinese and also a subgroup of East Asian Americans, which is further a subgroup of Asian Americans.

susanc's avatar

@Vinifera7: the terms European-American, Korean-American, and Other-countries-American are in wide use, though you may not have been exposed to conversations which include them.
The United States is an unusual nation because so many of us or their forebears got here from somewhere else – are non-native. The diversity we see around us is the result of immigrations that allowed the nation to grow and prosper. Our diversity makes us a complicated mosaic.
Just as a guess, identifying our ancestral backgrounds helps out the people we meet because we’re still so curious about each other.
Your objection to labeling could have been a plea for inclusion. Instead it’s about fearfulness that someone else’s background might give than an advantage – and maybe it
was designed to do so in the case of the particular immigrant group who arrived here against their will. Almost all immigrants suffer, but being captured and enslaved really is worse than arduous journeys and poverty entered into willingly. When the trauma of slavery is a vague and distant half-memory, the hoped-for “advantage” of re-establishing pride and parity will become a non-issue.
Wow, aren’t I the lecturer….

Strauss's avatar

@Rickomg Hold on there, buddy! My grandparents immigrated, one set from Ireland and the other set from Slovenia. My relatives do refer to themselves as ‘Irish-Americans” and “Slovenian-Americans”.

My wife, on the other hand, is dark skinned, the descendant of African slaves, native Americans, and german immigrants. Where I have 2 or 3 generations of family history available to me, she and other relatives have traced their family back to the 1700’s, although they are not sure which locality their ancestors were imported from.

mattbrowne's avatar

Does anyone know how many African-Americans have made the effort to find out? Engage in some serious genealogy? Are we talking about less than 10%? I’ve heard that after Roots aired in 1977 millions started some effort. How many succeeded? Even the Mormons got involved with their huge vault in the mountains. Obviously Mormon genealogy research is not just for practicing Mormons. What other sources are available?

Strauss's avatar


I think many descendants of slaves who have done the research have reached a brick wall at the slavery era. It seems that there are not many slaveholder records of pedigree, as there might be with livestock.

My wife was really heavily into genealogy for a long time, even taught a class or two at a community free school. One of her biggest sources of family information has been Family History Centers, operated by LDS (Mormons). These are free to all, and there is minimal proselytizing done. There are many resources on the web, LDS and other.

Rickomg's avatar

Why hold on Yetanotheruser? My comments still stand true. You are only individuating yourself from the group by saying that you are proud to be of this or that decent, like the rest of us are not good people or some how inferior to your particular heritage or back ground. Its that point where racism Starts. Small and insignificant though it may be. If you look at it and follow it through it is. Would you not look closer and feel a bit friendlier and be kinder to someone of your particular race or heritage than someone who isn’t? I’m not trying to attack you here in any way I’m just wanting people to think about it. Most of us were born here and raised here in America. That makes us Americans. United as one force, one nation. Why can’t that be enough? Yes Even calling ourselves Americans is a sort of racism against the rest of mankind who aren’t. But we only need one group to support. I vote for being an American nothing more nothing less.

Rickomg's avatar

BTW, Can any one tell me how to place the persons link in The text Like I see so many people do when answering someones Response.

nayeight's avatar

@Rickomg <—- Is that what you are trying to do? If so, you have to type @ and then the persons screenname exactly how you see it with no space between the @ and the name.

In reference to your answer to Yetanotheruser, I don’t think that us just being Americans is enough, that’s why we are Americans. In this country you can be what you want, believe what you want, and do what you want. We are all different and it’s important to understand and respect that, there’s nothing wrong with it. Racism starts when people don’t understand or respect the differences between other races. Sometimes people resist and begin to hate what they don’t understand. Does that mean we should all hide where we came from to make everyone else happy? No. Heritage is so important. It’s your history, your culture. Sometimes it influences the way you speak, write, cook, eat, walk, dress, sing, dance, express emotion, love, hate, etc. It’s what makes us…us! That is so important. And it’s what makes us all special and different. The only way to stop racism is through education, not hiding our heritage in the sand.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, heritage is important. Ultimately, we all have African ancestors. All of us 6.7 billion people.

susanc's avatar

Something cool about claiming a heritage is that then the interesting and rich things about that heritage are kept alive and made available to other… well, for example, Americans. I’d be sad if I’d never had a chance to eat a pizza or listen to New Orleans jazz….

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