News4Jax’s Jenese Harris reconnects with lost lineage through DNA technology

Since 2003, African Ancestry has reconnected 1 million people back to their country of origin

When someone asks "where your family is from", most African Americans cannot give an answer any more specific than "Africa". New DNA technology has made it possible for African Americans to identify the country and tribe that they come from, connecting back to a lost culture and identity.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For many African Americans, we only know the massive continent of Africa is where we come from. The ability to identify our home country was lost during the Middle Passage slave trade.

Fast-forward hundreds of years, African Americans can now find out where their maternal ancestors came from before slavery through DNA testing by African Ancestry.

“The community created African Ancestry. It was created out of a need, out of a desire, but really is a strong need to want to know where in Africa we come from,” said Gina Paige, CEO and co-founder of African Ancestry.

Since 2003, the company has reconnected 1 million people back to their African country of origin through DNA.

“We sequence the DNA to examine the individual genetic profile,” said Dr. Rick Kittles, co-founder and scientific director of African Ancestry. “I look at the profile in the context of our African lineage database.”

“During the Middle Passage, we were disconnected from absolutely everything that let us identify who we are. We lost our names, we lost our languages, our families were sold and torn apart,” Paige said. “And if you don’t have that fundamental knowledge of your name, your language that you speak, who your ancestors are, then there is a psychological void in how you view yourself.”

I’ve always known about my genetics from Southwest Asia, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and South Africa, but that only made up 25% of who I am. What about the other 75%?

Jenese Harris' grandmother is pictured on the left in this photo, holding Jenese's mother. (Jenese Harris)

After swabbing my jaw and waiting for the results, I have the answer: I share a maternal genetic ancestry with Fulani people living in Nigeria.

“I’m excited about your results, Jenese, because I also share maternal genetic ancestry with Fulani people in Nigeria,” Paige said. “It means that they have inherited from their mother and her mother and her mother and her mother all the way back 500 to 2,000 years ago the same portion of DNA that you and your mother and her mother and her mother have.”

The match was 100%, so my DNA matches identically to someone in Nigeria from the Fulani tribe right now.

It’s a connection that would’ve never been possible without genetic technology, and it’s a question that millions of other African Americans will continue to ask: Where do I come from?

If you would like to learn more about tracing your history, visit

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