I grew up knowing a little bit about my heritage, as my father was the family historian for his side of the family for many years. I can trace his side of the family back six generations- to my great great great grandfather Levi Kirkland. He was born in Flat Rock, South Carolina around 1846 (the census records are inconsistent). His obituary reported that he was "one of the best-known Negroes in [Kershaw] County and probably the wealthiest Negro in this section of the state." You see at the time of his death, he owned a cotton gin, several general stores, 63 lots, and a 3,000-acre farm (a good percentage of this is still in my family's possession- thanks to my grandfather). Quite an accumulation of property for a former slave!
My Parental Grandparents
Sadly, the knowledge about my paternal grandmother's lineage or of my maternal family is not as vast for various reasons. I have always wanted to learn more about my family and ancestry, but I became pretty content with what I did know. This all changed during a gender and ethnicity course in my master's program. We were to do a presentation on our culture of origin. Well, I'm the product of two parents from South Carolina. And as such, there was a limit to my knowledge of my culture of origin as my ancestors were slaves. I felt discouraged. I had classmates who knew information about their family in Spain, Poland, Brazil, etc. And because of the way slavery works (i.e. splitting families, demolishing traditions and customs), my best guess is that my family is linked to West Africa.
Around Christmas, I decided to look into the AncestryDna test. I'd been wanting to learn more about my cultural heritage, but I hadn't committed to the process. I added it to my 30 before 30 list in hopes it would ensure some follow through. I learned that unlike some other DNA tests, which only analyze the Y-chromosome (looks at your paternal lineage) or mitochondrial DNA (looks at your maternal lineage), AncestryDNA looks at a person’s entire genome. It looks at your genome at over 700,000 locations along both your paternal and maternal sides. So I made the commitment and received my results a few weeks ago.
Given the history I told you, I was not surprised to see European in my results. However, I did not expect this much! This makes me wonder even more about my paternal grandmother and my maternal lineage. In addition to these results, AncestryDna presented several DNA matches. They suggested a first cousin to me and it turned out to be my cousin Bronica! The breakdown of our results were different (she had only African and European results and the makeup was a tad different), but we were a match for 1st cousins?! The validity of this test rose substantially for me. I happened to be with a paternal aunt while I was checking out these DNA matches and she confirmed someone who had been suggested as a 2nd or 3rd cousin was actually my 3rd cousin. Exciting stuff!
I can't wait to learn more about the family that I already knew about and am thrilled to discover new family members. As the traveler that I am, I will be trekking to these countries, especially those in West Africa! I am so ready to learn about the land, people, traditions, customs that I have been deprived of. I have already been to Ireland, but it will be fascinating to go again with this new perspective. All and all, it will be interesting to rediscover myself throughout this journey. And while this has cost a little money (dna test and accessing records), I see this as an investment in myself. This is my history.
P.S. At the rate I am going, I'm probably going to end up as the historian in my family. LOL.