African cousins brought to America: shedding light on family history

african kings

By Alan Boyle
MSNBC
Cosmic Log

Thanks to 21st-century genetic testing, William Holland is finally able to show some of his African cousins what happened to his slave ancestors back in the 18th century. The climax of Holland’s quest came last weekend, when about 60 African-Americans and Africans gathered at Franklin County Recreational Park in Virginia for a teach-in about his family’s ocean-spanning, three-century saga.

The 42-year-old Holland, who lives in Atlanta, left his job at Coca-Cola and turned his focus to the family quest nine years ago. The quest is particularly difficult for African-Americans like Holland because their ancestors came over in chains with their African identity erased. Holland eventually figured out that his great-great-great-great-grandfather was brought over from Africa around 1772 and sold to a Virginia plantation owner. He even discovered that his great-grandfather, Creed Holland, was forced to serve in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

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But traditional genealogical research couldn’t give Holland any further clues as to his African origins. Exactly where did his ancestors come from? Did he have any present-day cousins back in the old country? That’s where genetic tests could point the way.

Holland had his DNA analyzed for markers that just might match up with African kin who had taken similar tests. Records held by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation suggested that he might be related to the king of a region in Cameroon’s Northwest Province, named Fon Angwafo III. When Holland visited Cameroon and laid out his records for the king and his counselors to inspect, he was welcomed as a long-lost relative. In fact, during a follow-up visit with other family members, Holland was ceremonially named Ndefru, after Fon Angwafo’s father.

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