Company could be first to establish marketplace for African-American consumers
When it comes to determining their lineage, more people are turning to African Ancestry, Inc. for answers.
African Ancestry (AfricanAncestry.com) was formed by Black scientist Dr. Rick Kittles and African-American entrepreneur Gina Paige, who pioneering DNA-based ancestry tracing for people of African descent across the world.
The Washington, D.C.-based enterprise helps people of African descent discover where they come from in Africa through a proprietary DNA matching analysis led by Kittles.
“I never imagined that my passion for African history and the movements of its people throughout the world would have one day manifested in a much-needed consumer product among African Americans,” said Kittles, whose years of research on genetic variation in African peoples led to the founding of African Ancestry.
Launched in 2003, the company is considered the first to establish a marketplace among African-American consumers.
When consumers engage African Ancestry, they can decide whether they want to determine maternal or paternal lineage. Consumers purchase a test kit to swab their cheeks for DNA and return it to the company. Kittles and his team analyze sequences of a consumers’ DNA to determine whether his or her lineage is African, European, Middle Eastern or Native American.
“What makes us unique is that when the ancestry is African, we are the only company that can place it in a present-day country in Africa and also an ethnic group or groups in the country,” Paige pointed out.
Customers receive a comprehensive results package that includes a letter, a print out of their DNA sequence, certificate of ancestry and a guide to explain the science.
Paige noted that the company has heightened DNA literacy in the community.
“We have had to overcome the lack of knowledge about DNA in the Black community, so really what we’ve done is we’ve increased the genetic literacy of the community. So now people understand that DNA is more than something that can put you in jail or get you out of jail,” she pointed out.
African Ancestry has tested more than 30,000 people over the last nine years.
“So when you spin that out among family members there are hundreds of thousands of people who have a connection to the continent that they never had before,” she said.
“This work has had a very personal impact on people, families and communities. It’s had an impact nationally and it’s even had an impact globally.”
Finding their connection to the continent has spurred some consumers to invest in the continent of Africa and has led to the development of foundations, Paige said.
African Ancestry has helped media powerhouses deliver groundbreaking genealogy programming. Starting with African American Lives 1 and 2 nearly a decade ago, AfricanAncestry.com has gone on to play a major role on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?; CNN’s “Black in America” series; “Faces of America” and most recently, “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“Finding Your Roots” is the latest series from renowned cultural critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., and is purposed to utilize genealogy and genetics to explore the fascinating dynamics of race, family and identity in today’s America. In collaboration with leading genealogists, world-class research and historical societies, Finding Your Roots combines to satisfy the basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from by focusing on 25 celebrity guests of all races in the 10-part series. AfricanAncestry.com picks up where the show’s paper trail ends by using DNA to geographically assess the African country for guests which have included Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Ruth Simmons, John Legend, Wanda Sykes, Branford Marsalis, Cory Booker, Geoffrey Canada and Rep. John Lewis.
The next show will air May 20 at 8 p.m. on PBS. For information about Finding Your Roots visit www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots.