Understanding African American European Ancestry

It has been a common assumption within the African American community that European male slave-owners had sex with African female slaves during the American slavery period. This period started around 1619 when Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia to help with tobacco crops; and ended officially with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 (History.com).

In one article, USA Today estimated that “About 30% of black Americans who take DNA tests prove to be descended from Europeans on their father’s side (USA Today 2/2/06, pg. 4A).

How can we confirm the above assumption? The answer is DNA. More specifically, DNA Haplogroups. Haplogroups can tell you where a line of your ancestors originated from thousands of years ago. There are two types of Haplogroups: Y-chromosome (Y-DNA) haplogroups and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. “Y-DNA is passed solely along the patrilineal line, from father to son, while mtDNA is passed down the matrilineal line, from mother to offspring of both sexes. Neither recombines, and thus Y-DNA and mtDNA change only by chance mutation at each generation with no intermixture between parents’ genetic material” (Wikipedia).

Since only males have Y-chromosomes, women can’t trace their ancient paternal ancestors. They have to have one of their male relatives do it. Conversely, even though mothers pass their mtDNA to both their male and female offspring, only females can pass their mother’s mtDNA to their own children. So males may have to have one of their female relatives trace their ancient maternal ancestors. Continue Reading!