AncestryDNA’s Breakthrough for West African Ancestry

AncestryDNA announced last week that it has been able to identify six unique historic populations in West Africa. It’s a breakthrough they call a “finer-resolution genetic ethnicity estimate for individuals with West African ancestry.” They have even used this technology to start connecting the dots between those groups and millions of African-Americans whose ancestral paper trail was annihilated during the era of slavery.

AncestryDNA West Africa

For this latter development, the AncestryDNA team uses the “cluster genealogy” approach: the concept that people from the same location often migrated to the same areas. Of course, slavery forced apart families and other natural migration groups, both in Africa before the crossing and in the U.S. or other destinations. And the few records that remain of many of these folks and their enslaved descendants don’t include full names, place of origin or other data we rely on to make family connections. (Learn more about how to research African-American roots in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 159 with Dr. Deborah Abbott.)

It’s encouraging to read that AncestryDNA has had some success hooking up regional groups of African-Americans with specific areas of Africa. “Though this project is still in its infancy, the science team has made some progress,” AncestryDNA reports. “First, we looked at the birth locations of individuals in the trees of all African Americans. Then, we looked for locations where, relative to all African Americans, there appeared to be an over-representation of birth locations in trees of individuals with a particular West African ancestry.  For individuals with Senegalese genetic ethnicity, we found what seems to be an over-representation of birth locations in South Carolina and Georgia in the 1700’s and 1800’s.”

There’s more: check out AncestryDNA’s full blog post.

Genealogy Alert: 1921 Canadian Census Images Now Online

The much-anticipated (but little-publicized) 1921 Canadian census is now online and available for browsing at Ancestry.ca. They anticipate releasing an index later this year.

On June 29, I blogged in detail about the 1921 census. Check out that post for an image from the census, the questions it included and the significance of the 1921 census as it captured a new generation of immigrants to Canada.

When you click on the first link above, you’ll see that Ancestry.ca’s collection of Canadian census data goes back to 1851. Check out my post above to learn about online data back to 1825. It’s getting easier all the time to find your Canadian ancestors online!

Find Your Criminal Ancestors: UK collection from Findmypast.com

If you have British roots, you’ll want to check out the new collection available on Findmypast.com: a half million criminal records dating from 1770-1934!

This sounds like a pretty gripping collection, whether you’ve got British roots or not. It contains records like mug shots, court documents, appeals letters and registers from prison ships (which were used when mainland prisons were crowded). According to Findmypast.com, the records “provide a wide variety of color, detail and fascinating social history, chronicling the fate of criminals ranging from fraudsters, counterfeiters, thieves and murderers and their victims.” The 500,000 records you can search now are only a fifth of the full collection of 2.5 million that will be online soon.

The company calls this the largest collection of historical criminal records from England and Wales to be published online and is done in association with the National Archives (UK). Findmypast.com members can click here to access the criminal collection directly (make sure the box for “Institutes and Organizations” is checked).

Here’s a little more background on connections  between British convicts and the U.S. and Australia….

During colonial times, Britain often punished criminals by forcing them to emigrate. The most famous destination was Australia: the first British settlement on that continent in 1787 was actually a penal colony. Australia celebrates that fact about its heritage today: learn more about the “First Fleet’s” arrival here.

Up to about 50,000 British convicts were also forced to emigrate to the American colonies during the 1700s. These included prisoners of war from Ireland and Scotland. Read more about this in Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775 (Clarendon Paperbacks) by A. Roger Ekirch. Findmypast.com isn’t able to tell us yet how many records in the criminal collection relate to forced emigrations, but anyone with roots in the U.K. should check out this collection for sure.

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