Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where are the Freedman DNA Testers?

I have just returned from the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree (one of the big 3 genealogy conferences), where I was honored to be a speaker. 

While there, I met a woman who is a Choctaw Freedman descendant and we had an interesting discussion about DNA autosomal tests. Autosomal tests are the tests that reflect ethnic percentages, because they look at the distribution of all 23 chromosomes, as well as the X chromsome (female inherited traits). 

(Note---our discussion was NOT a discussion about Indian blood. This was not a focus, nor was there discussion about trying to enroll in a tribe.)

Our focus was about family, family history, and finding lost relatives. We also discussed the many DNA study projects where genealogists who have done autosomal testing, and whether or not many or any descendants of Indian Territory Freedmen have been using DNA to solve genealogical questions.

In the genealogy community DNA is discussed online in many arenas and researchers are sharing their data and methods of interpretation with each other widely. Also family historians are getting research questions answered and news strategies of how to navigate the world of DNA and Genealogy in various groups online.

For those who are unaware, there are thousands of people who take autosomal tests, the most popular tests being AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA. These three tests reflect not only ethnic percentages in one's lineage, but also assist genealogists with locating relatives, close and distant. Many have been able to find cousins previously unknown who descend from a common grandparent, or great grandparent, or even great great grandparent.

The goal for many is to reconstruct families that were affected by slavery. With African Americans whose ancestors descend from Indian tribal Freedmen, there was also been much separation of families in the past, due to buying and selling of slaved people, efforts during the Civil War to keep the enslaved from escaping to Freedom such as Texas. Later there was the post Civil War migration, and there is also the 20th century period of the Great Migration. As a result, many people from Oklahoma and Indian Territory, have relatives scattered throughout the country and the family network was torn or scattered over the years.

As a genealogist with a strong interest in the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, I have seen that many families from Indian Territory often married to Freedmen from other tribes. So one may have an ancestor who was a Choctaw Freedman, but one parent was a Creek, or Cherokee, or Chickasaw Freedman. With time, the descending family took on identity of one of the parents, and within a few years, after migration to the north or  the far west, the identity and family connections faded.

But--autosomal DNA testing is now helping genealogists find those missing cousins, and many projects have emerged in the genealogy community to study various groups, and many are being conducted by the researchers themselves.

The young lady with whom I spoke is a Choctaw Freedman descendant, and has a strong interest in such a project. I shared her thoughts with another person, Nicka Smith--a Cherokee Freedman descendant (and direct descendant of Ike Rogers) who was also a presenter at the Jamboree. As a result, she actually made an inquiry with one of the autosomal companies, at the conference that welcomes DNA community projects.

The response from FamilyTree DNA was that projects of all kinds are welcome among those who have tested with their company. This is a notation from one of the companies:

I also want to point out that there are several DNA communities in social media where African American researchers are engaging, and finding new family members all the time. Others are getting help with their DNA results and are helping others in not only interpreting their data, but also in helping them with the next strategy to unlock more family history. The activity is dynamic, but I have noticed that it is rare to see descendants with ties to Oklahoma and/or Indian Territory, and even fewer with ties to the Indian tribal Freedmen.

Several questions have arisen for me:
1) How many descendants of Freedman from Oklahoma have taken autosomal DNA tests? (NOTE---the tests conducted by African Ancestry several  years ago was NOT an autosomal test.) The tests would be with  23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and AncestryDNA.

2) With which company have you tested?

3) Have you uploaded your data to Gedmatch?  (If one has already tested with those companies, then one can submit their raw data (a few computer clicks away) to a site called Gedmatch, that allows people to share their data with those who have tested from different companies to find missing cousins. This service is available for free.)

One of the features offered by the DNA autosomal tests that provide ethnic percentages of one's background. However, it should also be noted that these tests cannot be used for anyone seeking enrollment in a federally recognized tribe. The benefit is for the participant's personal interest in their own genetic makeup and history.

I took an autosomal test with 23andMe and received the following data from the test. (see image below.)

4) If there are some who have tested with those companies, would there be an interest in joining a DNA study to connect with other "lost cousins"?

How much are the tests?
For those who are new to autosomal testing, it should be pointed out that these tests are not cheap, but occasionally around holidays, the companies will offer a sale where the test kit can be purchased with a good discount. Some families have made the DNA testing effort a joint family effort with various members donating to the family's own DNA project.

Who should be tested?
If you are considering going into the DNA aspect of family history then you want to consider who should submit the DNA sample. 1) I recommend that you start with yourself, but if funds permit, then 2) Then test a parent or grandparent. That will allow you later to determine where a DNA match is coming from and on which side of the family a "new cousin" is located.

Join the Wider Community
Consider joining the larger community of researchers, genealogists and DNA participants. Not only are they taking the tests to learn more of their personal history but their interaction with others is a d dynamic experience.

I hope that more Freedmen Descendants will be a part of a fascinating community.


Shelby said...

Ms. Walton-Raji, my family descends from Choctaw/Chickasaw Freedmen and we have DNA tested with Ancestry. I would enjoy being a part of a project as you described.

Unknown said...

I want to see the Woodland Indian tribes take a DNA test. I've seen a handful, and there's a lot more African than Native.