On 1 October 2010, the “genetic genealogy” company African Ancestry revealed the deep origins of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Marcus Garvey. Both heroic African-American men can trace their paternal lineage to Europe, but their maternal lineage to specific tribes in Africa.
Since 2002, African Ancestry has provided DNA testing for both the Y-chromosome (male) and mitochondrial (female) lines. That year Dr. Rick Kittles and Gina Paige “created a vehicle to enable people of African descent to trace their ancestry back to their present-day African country of origin by analyzing their DNA.” Toward this end, African Ancestry has collected reference samples from over 200 ethnic groups in Africa to compile its proprietary African Lineage Database. Using nearly twelve thousand paternal samples and almost fourteen thousand maternal samples, this Database can compare both Y-DNA and mtDNA to identify African tribal origins along the direct paternal or direct maternal lines. For a brief review of the genealogical lines associated with the Y-DNA test, read this article.
By conducting Y-DNA and mtDNA tests on the sons of King and Garvey—Martin Luther King III and Dr. Julius Garvey—African Ancestry was able to trace the paternal ancestry of both men to Europe. This agrees with the documented King ancestry which has been traced on paper to Ireland.
The mitochondrial DNA test (mtDNA) traces the direct maternal line, that is the mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother, and so on. Mitochondrial DNA, however, is far less prone to mutations than the Y-chromosome. In terms of genetic genealogy, this means that mtDNA tests deal with more distant ancestry. Whereas close Y-DNA matches may indicate a most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of nine or ten generations back—well within the realm of documentary research for many families—close mtDNA matches may indicate an MRCA of twenty generations or more back.
For Martin Luther King III, his mtDNA test reflected the direct maternal line through his mother, Coretta Scott King. These results revealed that her ancestry along this line shared DNA with the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone. Dr. Julius Garvey’s mtDNA revealed that his maternal ancestry lies in present-day Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
To read the full press release regarding the test results from African Ancestry, click here.
Dr. King and Garvey are not the first heroes to undergo posthumous DNA testing for genealogical purposes. In 2009, Chris Haley, the nephew of Roots author Alex Haley, underwent DNA testing through the company Family Tree DNA. Not only did the DNA test prove his uncle’s follow-up book Queen to be accurate, Chris actually met a woman whose father was a distant cousin, living in Scotland! The entire meeting was conducted on video available on RootsTelevision.com.