Tracking your roots - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Tracking your roots

Howard Robertson has waited decades to learn where he came from. What he and many other African-Americans can't find in records...they can now find in DNA.

After submitting a cheek swab... A lab processed his DNA.

His results arrive by email.

At first they're hard to decipher.

The results stated, "50 percent chance in last 1300 hundred years...we share an ancestor... You two share an ancestor."

The results become more clear and are stunning.

They pinpoint his heritage to a very specific area of West Africa.

Most likely the countries of Gambia and Senegal...key ports at the height of the slave trade.

According to Robertson's results, "You get two matches in Gambia two matches... In Senegal... Four!... Four matches in Senegal rather."

What he learns is that a high percentage of people in those countries have very similar DNA to him... Even though his ancestors were likely taken from there hundreds of years ago.

The results state, "This has given some clarity and direction in terms of where in Africa."

Not only is Robertson able to pinpoint where his ancestry began... He also gets the names and email addresses of people who share nearly identical DNA to his.

According to the results, "Ok... So this guy... John Henry Anderson is the guy."

Robertson breaks into a smile learning the news.

One of those matches has a 90 percent chance of coming from a common ancestor.

"I think it's phenomenal," continues Robertson.

Robertson has traveled to Africa before... But never Senegal or Gambia... This breakthrough -- the first in his family in generations -- has his mind racing. He's now anxious to share the news with his family.

Robertson says, "We'd all be very in tune and interested in getting much more information about the region."

There are still unanswered questions... Robertson had wondered about Scottish, Irish, and Native American ancestry. The test showed no evidence of that.

The results state, "On your mother's line going directly back. On you father's line going directly back, the only evidence they see is Africa."

But what he has learned has him dreaming of a trip back to where it all possibly began. Senegal and Gambia.

"I'd really be interested in the prospect of going there, particularly since obviously my ancestry began there," says Robertson.

A breakthrough of a family secret lost generations ago... Uncovered with the help of modern technology.

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