5 Black Women On The Life-Changing Impact Of Taking At-Home Ancestry Tests

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Welcome to Demystified, Unbothered’s spirituality series for Black and brown folx. Through a lens of reclamation, Unbothered is helping its audience reconnect with ancestral practices while debunking myths and misconceptions. As stigma surrounding non-Christian spiritual practices fades and Black and brown folx reclaim spiritual tools for self-healing, we’re educating our readers while making spirituality accessible for the seasoned practitioner, the curious and uninitiated, and everyone in between. This month, Team Unbothered explored their roots by getting Ancestry DNA tests.
In the Black community, “to do a DNA test or not to do a DNA test?” is a question that comes with contentious debate. On one hand, considering slavery made it hard for Black Americans to trace their lineage for decades, having the ability to see where one comes from can feel like an overdue homecoming. The journey toward reconnecting with both living family and ancestors who have passed can be enlightening and fascinating, and it provides a sense of connection where there were once broken links. 
On the other hand, knowing what we know about the state of DNA testing and its risks — including there being little oversight or regulation of testing companies, and the very real possibility of your DNA getting stolen — spitting into a tube and sending it off for genetic testing can feel like asking for trouble. Beyond that, the results of a DNA test can be jarring. Are you really ready to know more about your family history — the good, the bad, and potentially ugly?
All things considered, as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic (because, yes, it’s still here), we’re in an age where people are craving kinship and community, and having more insight into your family tree can certainly help — for Black folx especially. That’s why, when Team Unbothered got the opportunity to do Ancestry DNA tests and work with Black genealogist Nicka Smith, we said, “Sign us TF up!” Perhaps you’ve also been considering doing a DNA test, or maybe you want more insight into what the process is like before you spend $200 and take the plunge. From finding long-lost siblings and enhancing our spiritual connection to our ancestors, to building upon the family trees we’d already been putting together, here’s what happened when five of us from Team Unbothered took the leap — for science and for the culture.

Alexis Jackson, Deputy Director, Social

I’ve been using Ancestry for a few years now, and it has been such an amazing journey. My dad was always the unofficial genealogist of our family, and he’d tell me many stories that I honestly found hard to believe. Surprisingly, my Ancestry experience was able to back up some of his claims, like our family having Irish descent. While I’ve learned a lot about our family history on Ancestry, my favorite thing is how it brought me closer to my family that is presently here with me. I was able to share elementary school photos of my aunts and uncles and never-before-seen photos of my grandparents that I found on Ancestry with my entire family. In 2021, my uncle died from COVID-19. On our last phone call, we spent hours pouring over family records on Ancestry like detectives trying to solve a case. Being a descendant of slaves in America, it feels really great to finally have some answers about my heritage and more resources to track my lineage than I ever thought possible.

Christa Eduafo, Social Content Strategist

When offered our team DNA tests, I volunteered despite having a pretty good idea what my results would be. I am the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants and the granddaughter of a current regional Queen Mother — an inherited position that confirms that at least on her side of my family, my bloodline is 100% Ghanaian. When my results came back as expected, I felt a sense of pride. I love being Ghanaian. It’s kind of a flex to be able to say that I’m Ghanaian through and through! As we went through our results during a Zoom call with genealogist Nicka Smith, however, I felt a little disappointed. Everyone seemed to be discovering new DNA matches and ancestors, but I had none. Records aren’t very well kept in Ghana. For example, my dad (and only living parent) was only able to tell me the name and death date of his maternal grandmother, the only grandparent he had gotten to meet. I expressed that I wished I had some matches during our call, and the genealogist said something that will really stick with me: though wouldn’t be able to trace back my ancestors, by testing my DNA, I’ve now opened the possibility for future potential matches to know more about where in Ghana their ancestors may have come from. I may not have learned any new information, but if I can give someone else that gift, it’s more than worth it!

Jessika Hardy, Associate Social Producer

As the descendant of slaves, there has always been a piece of me longing to know precisely where I come from. Being that there aren’t any more boys in my family and I’m the last member of my generation, losing my last name will close out a painful chapter in my family tree. Though I’ll be happy to eventually shed my last name since it was inherited through slavery, I’ve always feared losing the many faces and stories that came before me. Ancestry has given me the best gift because being able to trace back my family history was genuinely healing. I lost my grandfather years ago, and seeing his census from the 1940s opened up a whole new topic of conversation within my family. I look forward to continuing to dig deeper and uncover more mysteries from the past. 

Rissa Papillion, Video Producer

I have spent the last few days furiously navigating, talking to my father, adding to my family tree, and sharing photos with extended family. Growing up, my aunt’s stories always started with a name and how this specific person was related to me. Distant relation after distant relation was dropped, my eyelids getting heavier as I knew I neither had the will or memory to remember a Gobert from a Fontenot. My biggest takeaway was that the world of Southwest Louisiana was both simultaneously small as a geographical location but extravagantly large as a weaving and overlapping web of kin. When Unbothered had the chance to work with I was originally hesitant. Black America isn't a well documented, tidy place to reside and who hasn't heard the stories of unearthed family members that speak to the unknown pasts of generations of parents. But like your finances or health I figured it would be better to know than remain blissfully unaware. Basically, rolling stones be damned. Speaking with Nicka Swell-Smith was exciting to say the least. Not only a wealth of knowledge, she provided a starters guide to building a family tree through the website that has admittedly taken a large chunk of my focus. As I continue this journey through Southwest Louisiana and Middle Tennessee, I hope to learn more about my past and hopefully end up as another Aunty who relishes in telling a newer member about how Solange might have gone to school with their great uncle twice removed.

Stephanie Long, Deputy Director, Enterprise

I felt as if the universe had been listening to me when Alexis asked Team Unbothered if we wanted to participate in this. I’ve been thinking about getting a DNA test for the last few years, but was apprehensive because shipping away your DNA comes with its risks. But lately, I’ve been feeling particularly called to connect with my ancestors as part of my spiritual practice, and I felt like: “What better time to do this than right now when Ancestry is giving us the opportunity?” By the time we met with Nicka over Zoom, I had already logged into my account and been all UP in my family tree. Because I don’t have a relationship with my dad, I was limited as to how far into my tree I was able to track connections on that side of my family. Nicka’s suggestions — like utilizing social media to fill in any gaps and reaching out to the family members I am in contact with  — were super helpful. I just moved back to Florida and am staying at my family’s house for now, so I’ve serendipitously got access to tons of photo albums that I’m looking forward to rummaging through so I can play with the storymaker studio feature. A major plus of this experience: I think I may have found my paternal half-sister that I’ve been searching for since my teens. Since I don’t have a relationship with my dad, I’ve never met her, and I only have recollection of a single photo my dad showed me of her when I was in grade school. Will I reach out to her? I’m not sure of that yet, because truthfully, I’m scared! But I’m really excited and grateful that I was able to find her.

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