So, Where Do We Come From?

Session Date: 
May 31, 2019

People are interested in knowing their family origins. However, very few people know their family history, and even those who can access genealogical information, usually trace their family history to a few generations. In South Africa, tracing one’s ancestry is even more problematic due to poor family record keeping, the way surnames were given to people who were enslaved, cultural practices of how surnames are transmitted, among other issues. My research on the genetic prehistory of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa provided many opportunities for engagement with various audiences, including the general public, which led to requests from the public for genetic ancestry testing. Initially there were a few media requests, and then the demands necessitated engagement with my department and the National Health Laboratory Service to provide a service for genetic ancestry testing. The genetic heritage of living people in southern Africa is complex and carries information from the indigenous San and Khoe populations and migrants from other parts of Africa, sea-borne immigrants from Europe dated back to the latter part of the 1600s, slaves from Madagascar, Indonesia and other parts in Africa, indentured laborer’s from India and more recent migrants from around the globe. Genetic markers such as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA, and more recently whole genome data, have been used to reconstruct the genetic history of populations around the globe.

This presentation will highlight some of the interesting links between the historical and genetic narrative of populations in southern Africa, and address the question asked by many “So, where do we come from?”