DNA strands

Part 1: How is your DNA test carried out?

There are several genetic laboratories in South Africa that will do a test on your Genealogical DNA for a fee which averages around R2600 (2020 increasing with inflation). There are laboratories based abroad which are accessible online, but they are more costly. This would be for y-DNA + mtDNA + autosomal DNA. You must specify what you want as processes and costs differ per package of results.

You will be sent a testing kit. Using the swab sent to you, it will be used by yourself to swab inside your cheeks and then put it in a sealed test tube provided, and send it back to the laboratory. In roughly 4 to 6 weeks you will receive your results. This will be in the form of an explanatory chart along with the y-DNA result, mtDNA result and autosomal DNA result if you are a male. If you are female it will be with the mtDNA result and autosomal DNA result. The first two results are what is known as your haplo group. The autosomal result will be in percentages as associated with your African, Asian, European and Eurasian regional or sub-regional percentages. By loading these, and any short random repeat results that you may also be given, into various international databases you may be linked with individuals around the world who have exact matches or near matches to your results.

Part 2: What can DNA tell us?

Knowing one’s DNA, and the DNA of our forebears, tells us something about our ancestors’ ancient past and our connectivity to that past. If we have used a range of other factors in exploring our community heritage, a DNA result can affirm a genealogical/ancestral linkage. Fine-tuned DNA analysis can even locate an area from which an ancestor originated. It can also link up family connections. But those finer details require more than simply testing for MtDNA Y-DNA or Autosomal DNA as per ancestry tests.

Haplogroup linkages are but a first step in DNA testing and most often people make far reaching ethnic and political claims based on these results. This should be avoided. One cannot place unscientific race nor specific ethnic overlays on DNA studies as most ethnic identities are relatively modern constructs. At best we can refer to modern groups as having DNA results associated with social groups existing today because of high incidences of the DNA in those communities.

No DNA result can tell a person what their identity is, nor ‘race,’ nor ethnicity. It simply points in the direction of ancient linkages rather than specifics. Where it is useful in South Africa and with Camissa African, San, Xhosa and Khoe communities, is that where there is doubt or people question one’s identity as an African, then DNA as an indicator, together with genealogy, community, one’s lived reality and historical experience, together, can strengthen a case.

DNA studies importantly expose the ties that bind us. Most large, peer-reviewed DNA studies show the people labelled as ‘Coloured’ to have the most diversity in DNA results in the world. In other words, it proves over 195 roots of origin, rather than one singular root. These studies confirm that Camissa, Khoe, San and many among the Xhosa, have a multi-ethnic and diverse social heritage rooted in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, and the Americas.

DNA testing

Part 3: There are three types of Genealogy-DNA tests

Men are able to do 3 types of DNA tests, but women can only do two as they do not carry Y-DNA. Women can however establish the family Y-DNA for their generation from a test done by their father, uncle or brother.

Y-DNA & mtDNA: Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes including the sex chromosomes which determine the male (XY) or female (XX) gender. The Y chromosome only exists in males, passed from father to son, generation after generation. In males, analysis of the genetic information in the Y chromosome can uncover paternal ancestry and this is defined by what is called a HAPLO-GROUP. Both males and females have mtDNA, but it is only passed on by female parents to offspring, both daughters and sons. Thus, mtDNA analysis determines maternal ancestry which is also defined by a HAPLO-GROUP. A HAPLO-GROUP is a group of individuals who share the same genetic variation and have the same paternal ancestor.

AUTOSOMAL-DNA: The other 22 pairs of chromosomes are made up of a mixture of DNA from both your mother and father. Considering that each of your mother and father’s DNA which contains a mixture of their parents’ DNA, and one’s great-grandparents and subsequent generations showing the DNA contributions of one’s ancestors over the last two-thousand years of generations.

Autosomal DNA will show what is called genetic admixture of various possible ancestries that we all carry. The people of South Africa, and specifically of the Cape, are known to have the most diverse genetic characteristics in the world. A proportion of one’s genome in the form of a percentage can be shown to originate from the global dispersal of humanity out of Africa or those that remained. The percentages can identify one’s ancestral roots of origin in different ancestral groups in Eurasia (North Europe, South Europe, Arabian Peninsula, Near East, North Africa), Asia (South Asia, East Asia, Native America), or Sub-Saharan Africa (West Africa, East Africa and Southern-Africa).


Part 4: What DNA testing tells us about diversity

Are there any people with only one DNA source?

Nobody has a single source of ancestral DNA at this moment in time. All DNA of the human race stems from a single ancestral root of just one surviving branch of modern human Homo Sapiens.

Once there were other groups of Homo Sapiens but none of these survived – only our group still survives, which originally were a very small group of a few thousand people who went on to be the founding ancestors of all humanity. There were also other Archaic Human species different to our species and for a while they lived alongside Homo Sapiens, until they died out. DNA testing has shown that foundation peoples in South Africa emerged in Northeast Africa and migrated to South Africa. Other first Homo Sapiens in South Africa and other Archaic Humans who lived in South Africa before those migrations have long died out and are not our species. Archaeology, paleontology and paleo-art studies, including dating tests on artefacts, and various types of remains, helps us understand this past by shedding light on social formations, their movements, migrations and cultures.

DNA testing

Part 5: Is there something called Bantu DNA and Khoisan DNA?

The simple answer is NO. There are scientific identifiers for DNA in the form of y-DNA, mt-DNA and autosomal DNA markers. All of these locate in regions of the world. In South Africa we have strong showings of L0d, L0d1, L0K which are markers originating in L0 from northeast Africa and can predominantly be found among the San, Khoe, baTwa, Mbengwa, Mbuti, Kalanga and with lesser frequency among Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho and other South African peoples. These haplogroup markers, usually with other African and Asian haplogroup markers, also appear with strong showings among persons classified as ‘Coloured’ – Camissa Africans.

Persons classified as ‘Coloured’ or Camissa Africans also have strong showings of L2 and L3 derivative markers strongly associated with West and Central Africa and predominant in Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Zulu, and other South African peoples but also in lesser frequencies among Khoe and San.

It is not scientific to overlay DNA results with existing ethnicities, but one can talk of association with such. The term ‘Bantu’ was created in the 19th century by German ethnologist Wilhelm Bleek, regarded as the father of race-classification, to identify a family of languages used by over 600 ethnic groups in Africa. In the early 20th century a German Zoologist, who dabbled in ethnography, Leonhard Schultz, coined the term ‘Khoisan’ for the San and Nama in Namibia whom he saw as part human and part beast (noble savage). He savagely carried out experiments on these people in concentration camps while the Germans carried out genocide on them. Schultz exported over 300 decapitated heads to Germany and intimated that is would be best, for those whom he labeled as the ‘Khoisan race,’ to be assisted to die out so that Germans could build a future on their graves. The terms ‘Bantu’ and ‘Khoisan’ are associated with pseudo-science and atrocity against indigenous peoples.


Part 6: Origins of Human Social Groups in Southern Africa

The oldest human social groups descended from the East African lineage in South Africa are the communities of San foundation people whose identities, as we know it, emerged some 15 000 years ago. Three East African migrations of the forebears of the San stand out in terms of DNA. Around 140 000 years ago the L0d mtDNA marker was present in Namibia and Botswana, and earlier at the Zambezi and Limpopo where it split and finally made its way to the Southwestern Cape as mtDNA L0d1around 30 000 years ago. Along the East Coast from East Africa and down into South Africa to the territory now known as Kwazulu-Natal the mtDNA L0k is found.

Later East African, West African and Central African migrations occurred, first of herder peoples connected up with the Tshua and Khwe San peoples around 400 BCE, and then of herder-agriculturalists from around 100 CE. These slow migratory drifts resulted in the birth of the Khoe foundation people and then the Kalanga foundation people. These carry the mtDNA of L0d and its variations, and mtDNA of L2 and L3 in its variations. These peoples, who emerged in the territories of today’s Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa on both sides of the Shashe-Limpopo Rivers, are, together with the San, the foundation peoples of all of Southern Africa’s indigenous Africans. Further migratory drifts between 100 CE and 1300 CE as well as differentiation and diversification through splits in ethnic formations, further genetically enhanced the diverse make-up of South Africa’s African population.

DNA testing laboratory

Part 7: These are some laboratories in South Africa that do Genealogical DNA testing


Part 8: Record your DNA results in the application in which you record your family tree

The value of doing this, if your tree is recorded in an online service like geni.com is that your details will link up globally with the details of others and you will be able to see the different y-DNA and mtDNA of some of your other forebears. This can be seen in the example Family Tree on display.


DNA testing


Marjorie Bingham Trotter’s DNA Test Results

Marjorie Mary Bingham is the daughter of Peter Vivian Bingham and Kathleen Mevona Fisher Bingham. The autosomal DNA profile of the Bingham family is a good example of the ethnic diversity of people who are classified as ‘Coloured’ – Camissa Africans.

Marjorie Mary Bingham
Marjorie Mary Bingham
Peter & Kathleen Bingham
Peter & Kathleen Bingham on their Wedding Day
Marjorie's extended family
Marjorie Bingham's Extended Family

The Camissa Museum has been granted permission to share Marjorie’s autosomal DNA results:

According to her autosomal DNA test - 43% of Marjorie’s ancestors are African. Namely Southern-African (Khoe, San, and others) and Sub-Saharan African (East and West African).

The high proportion of Southern-African autosomal DNA was expected, given the history of the region. The presence of Sub-Saharan African (which includes the southern Nguni Xhosa or Tswana) was also unsurprising, given their long history of interacting with the Khoe and San. The smaller West African contribution was curious but helped substantiate family stories that some ancestors came from St Helena Island, a British possession that historically hosted numerous Atlantic nationalities, including West Africans. There were also many West African enslaved people brought to the Cape in the mid-17th century and then again between 1780 to 1860 if we include the ‘Liberated Africans’ also known as ‘Prize Slaves’ who continued to be brought to the Cape by the Royal Navy until the 1860s. Another West African component was that the Royal Navy sailors at Simon's Town had many Kroo from West Africa among them, as well as Zanzibari Seedies and Lascars. All of these Africans were classified as ‘Coloured’ when the term was formally adopted by the Union of South Africa as a term of race classification. At the same time, African people, San, Cape Khoe, Nama, Korana, Hill Damara and Griqua were also assimilated as ‘Coloured’ and made up a quarter of the population classified ‘Coloured’ at that time.

The notion that peoples classified as ‘Coloured’ are a non-African minority is as false as all of the other Apartheid and colonial mythologies that have become entrenched in South African political thinking. Perhaps the greatest colonial legacy is the colonisation of the mind.

The next, 34% of Marj’s ancestors are European, mostly of English and Welsh heritage, with some Scandinavian in there too. Marjorie’s mother has Welsh in her paternal line. With a surname like Bingham, the British connection was assumed, now confirmed. The Scandinavian contribution (7%) is likely explained by the fact that British people carry a lot of Scandinavian genetic markers themselves, due to the long history of Viking incursion and settlement in Britain. But what she found more curiously, was that there was no mention of “Northern European” in her results, meaning there were no apparent Dutch or Afrikaner markers in the mix.

Lastly, 18% of Marj’s ancestry are Asian. The majority (10%) are of Indonesian extract and slightly less (7%) Indian. Given the direct connections between Indonesia and the Cape via the Dutch, this made sense.

While Cape Muslims more often identify with their Indonesian heritage, this result shows that those classified as ‘Coloured’ of all faiths bear traces of those distant islands as well. The smaller Indian presence may have to do with interactions with local Indians, but she thinks it goes back to St Helena, where numerous Indians spent time during the colonial era, and some of whose descendants migrated to Cape Town. It should however also be noted that there were around 17 200 first generation Indians from 19 localities along the Malabar and Coromandel coastlines, through to West Bengal and today’s Bangladesh, as well as from Sri Lanka among the enslaved population at the Cape. Around 13 500 enslaved came from a wide array of countries across Southeast Asia – Myanmar, Siam, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Indonesian Archipelago, Borneo, Brunei, Formosa (Taiwan), Southern China, Philippines, Japan, and Solomon Islands on the periphery. The largest number of enslaved at 48 000 were from West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and Madagascar. St Helena indentured labour migrants to the Cape of course have a similar ancestral profile as people in the Cape.

Marj Trotter’s autosomal DNA tests held some surprises for her but it also corroborated some family history and some of what previously were suppositions.

By understanding Cape social history, one is better able to look at all of the possibilities. Through further DNA testing (which unfortunately is still too expensive) one can, with the combination of genealogy, social history and genetic testing, dig even further to rule out or confirm one’s roots at a much more specific local level.

One should however employ some caution with interpreting results as most genetic laboratories are ill equipped in social history and family history studies to make too specific a claim, as some tend to do. Beware of what some scientists have labelled genetic astrology. Stick to the basic facts. No laboratory can for instance declare any genetic result as being that of specific ethnicities. At best they can use the geographic region and say that those DNA results are strongly associated with broad communities of people. The fact is that over long periods of time ethnicity changes – new ethnic groups arise and others disappear.

Much of race and ethnic terminology only arose from the 19th century along with European racist theories and caution should be practiced in overlaying scientific results with European prejudicial and racist language. For instance, the term Bantu is so broad and refers to a family of over 700 languages and many more ethnicities, covering such vast territories involving a huge range of genetic results. Many peoples regarded as “Bantu” have significant Southern African DNA which is largely associated with a range of Khoe and San peoples. It is inappropriate to use ethnic terms in a cavalier manner in genetics. Likewise, the German ethnologist Schultz’s term ‘Khoisan’, created by him during the genocide that he participated in against the Nama in Namibia, is an inaccurate term and today its usage is considered derogatory to the San in particular as it reduces them to being an appendage of the Khoe. A compromise term only used for common interest where necessary is Khoe - San, denoting two separate peoples.

 • Select each image to watch these women describe their DNA test experiences and results •
Autosomal DNA results Lesley-Ann Solomons
Lesley-Ann Solomons
Autosomal DNA results Carin Lewis
Carin Lewis


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