Founded in 2003 by Dr. Rick Kittles and Dr. Gina Paige, African Ancestry is a genetic testing company that specializes in helping African Americans connect with their roots. The company provides mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) analysis to provide customers with a specified country and tribe of origin.
This company aims to specifically help African Americans, for whom genealogy research is notoriously impossible, to trace their lineage back 500 to 2,000 years, before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade forcibly moved their family line to the Americas. It's relatively impossible to research your family tree in the time period before 1870. Where standard genealogy lets us down, genetic genealogy opens up more possibilities.
African Ancestry’s database includes over 30,000 indigenous African samples, from over 30 countries and hundreds of ethnic groups. The company has helped more than 750,000 people discover their lineage.
Rather than autosomal testing, which provides an estimate of your ancestry composition, or admixture, with percentages of different ethnicities you have inherited from your mother and father combined, based on genetic markers common to particular regions, this company does Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing.
The reason is simple: mtDNA and Y-DNA pass unchanged from generation to generation. We still have, in our bodies, a genetic sequence that our mother's maternal line has had for hundreds of years.
First, you need to purchase the DNA test and kit at AfricanAncestry.com. While there are a few packaged bundles to choose from, the company offers two basic choices:
MatriClan Test ($299)
PatriClan Test ($299)**
Men and women can take this test.
ONLY men can take this ancestry test. Women looking for paternal results can have a male family member take the test to learn about the origin of their father's ancestors.
Choose between the PatriClan test, MatriClan test, or a Family Celebration Package ($679) that includes both tests, six personalized certificates, and four t-shirts.
Once your African Ancestry DNA kit arrives in the mail (7–10 business days), you will need to collect your DNA sample. This company's kits use easy cotton swab samples to collect your cheek cells for testing. DNA test kits have specific setup instructions that need to be closely followed.
Next, you return your DNA sample via a pre-paid return mail and your results package will arrive in the mail in eight to ten weeks.
Results differ based on the test you choose:
Once your DNA sample has been sequenced, African Ancestry compares your genetic data to samples recorded in its large database.
For 85 percent of customers, this extensive database allows the African Ancestry team to match your distinctive genetic sequences to a specific ethnic group, and the present-day country where that group resides.
For the remaining 15 percent of customers who don't have an exact match, closely related lineages are provided, with greater than 95 percent confidence.
**Customers should note that a third of African Americans' paternal lineage tests lead back to Europe, rather than Africa. Dr. Kittles' own paternal test ended up in Germany. As he puts it, "That’s mainly because of the behavior of slaveholders during slavery." Tracing back your family line, once you hit a European father, the line will continue father to father to father, likely in Europe.
While the name of this company indicates its emphasis on African heritage, what does that mean for test-takers who are more ethnically diverse?
What if you, like Dr. Kittles himself, have a maternal or paternal family line that traces back to a continent besides Africa?
The company states, "If the results are from another continent, that information will be provided." However, of course, the extensive database of samples that can provide customers with a specific ethnic tribe, will not benefit you.
Whichever test you choose, you will only learn about the family line that you submitted DNA for, either maternal or paternal.
Keep reading for pros and cons of getting a DNA kit and test from African Ancestry.
If you want to trace your genealogy and learn where your family lived before the African diaspora, you should know that African Ancestry goes beyond the typical haplogroup results that a Y-DNA or mtDNA test usually provide. It tells in which present-day country in Africa your DNA originates and what tribe your family line came from.
Some DNA testing companies only offer results denoting large ethnicity regions, like West Africa. Unfortunately, for most African Americans, this isn't very specific. In a continent with thousands of ethnic groups, offering wide groups of African populations doesn't really provide much detail. If slavery is in your family history, you likely knew this, or inferred that your ancestors lived in West Africa. The vast majority of enslaved Africans brought to the United States were from West and Central West Africa.
Going beyond what autosomal DNA testing and even traditional sex chromosome tests for "deep" ancestry, African Ancestry results provide individuals with a country of origin, for current-day context, and an ethnic group, for cultural and historical context.
African Ancestry has the largest reference database of African DNA samples available on the market. Dr. Kittles has been growing the database for decades and has enlisted historians, anthropologists, and other geneticists to help build it.
In the database's early stages, reference samples came from existing scientific literature. Next, Kittles collaborated with African researchers, who sent volunteered samples from indigenous patients. Then came research trips. According to Kittles, the bulk of African American gene pools come from West and Central Africa, where he focused on conducting his on-site research. Only about 5 percent of enslaved Africans came from East Africa, mainly Mozambique and Madagascar.
This comprehensive database of African DNA samples includes:
African Ancestry offers two DNA tests, one maternal and one paternal. Here are the details regarding both of the company's genetic ancestry tests:
Both men and women can take this test to determine the following:
This test is for paternal ancestry and requires takers to have a Y chromosome. Only men can take this test. However, women can trace paternal lineage by enlisting male relatives from their father’s side to take the test to determine the following:
The timeframe of 500–2,000 years was specifically chosen to help African Americans learn about their history from before the transatlantic slave trade. (Though all haplogroups originated in Africa, people with European ancestry belong to haplogroups that left the region long before the time period quoted here.)
African Ancestry commits to keeping your genetic information safe and confidential. Each DNA sample submitted is managed through a barcode with no personal identification. African Ancestry’s lab destroys samples upon completion.
On the company's website, it states that no personal information is sold or shared with any third parties, including law enforcement. According to Dr. Kittles, this was one of the first decisions made when creating the company.
Instead of submitting a saliva sample that has to be spat into a tube, African Ancestry testing kits use a cheek swab. Many people find this type of at-home DNA test easier to actually take at home.
As this company is the ancestry testing specialist for African genetic origins, interested consumers should know that it offers to analyze your DNA data from a third-party Y-DNA or mtDNA test, if you have already taken one. Your original results must be Haplogroup L for the MatriClan Analysis, or Haplogroup A, Haplogroup B, or Haplogroup E for the PatriClan Analysis.
Uploading your DNA data, if you have it, will save you some money and time. When you provide the data yourself, testing services only cost $210 for each test, saving you $89. Additionally, you don't have to worry about ordering any more testing kits, and waiting for them to arrive, be sent back, and processed at the lab.
When your results are ready, this company sends a packet in the mail. This isn't the case with other ancestry DNA testing services. Big names like AncestryDNA and 23and Me only offer digital results. This company offers both hard copy and digital information. Results packets for either of AfricanAncestry's tests include the following:
African Ancestry offers a great assortment of products. While other companies only offer digital results, with this company you can transform your results into something tangible. Options include notecards, fans, headwraps, journals, clothing, and jewelry.
People who have taken an African Ancestry test can also book a family reunion trip through this company, to actually travel to their newfound (or newly confirmed) country of origin, to learn about their heritage in-person.
The company partners with tourism ministries as well as local programs to provide a culturally immersive, informative trip. In addition to Affirm financing for your DNA test, customers also have the option to finance their travel through Affirm.
Note: African Ancestry travel booking is not open to the public. Only people who have taken the test are eligible.
African Ancestry’s two tests are a bit costly. The maternal test kit and paternal test kit cost $299 each. Especially if you’re wanting both tests, you’ll have to offer up quite a bit of money for African Ancestry’s services.
However, if you want to pay in installments, customers can finance through Affirm at checkout.
When you buy a DNA test from this service, you should know that no autosomal testing services are offered. You only have the option to trace one family line with each test.
If you want to admixture results, with an ethnicity breakdown of what you have inherited from both parents combined, you need to use another testing company that offers autosomal test results.
It's hard to tell exactly how extensive your results will be with this company, because the site doesn't offer access to a sample report. Additionally, it would be nice to know the specifics of what the company will provide if your direct line doesn't lead to Africa. This would be especially useful because no refunds are offered for non-African results, and roughly 35 percent of African-American men's Y-chromosomes go back to Europe, according to Kittles.
The African Ancestry terms and conditions page states:
"Should the Customer fail to return a DNA sample within 90 days of receiving a MatriClanTM and/or PatriClanTM test kit, the Company will have no obligation to refund the Customer’s payment or perform an analysis of the DNA sample."
Customers should be warned that samples need to be returned in a timely fashion, especially when this ancestry DNA test is so expensive.
It takes eight to ten weeks after the submission of your test swabs to receive your African Ancestry results. The quoted timeframe for this company is a couple weeks longer than many other DNA test providers and may prove to be an inconvenience to customers who want quicker results. However, the additional few weeks are likely a result of the company's emphasis on sending customers physical results rather than only offering a digital result.
Where other ancestry tests, such as autosomal DNA tests like MyHeritage DNA and AncestryDNA offer to connect test takers with living relatives, this is not an offering of African Ancestry's testing service.
Additionally, where other testing companies like 23andMe also offer health screenings, this company sticks to its mission — focusing on African American Ancestry, rather than opening up to other types of DNA analysis.