RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Have you ever traced your family history? It is quite a journey.
For some, especially African-American families, it can be a difficult one, as I've learned firsthand. I turned to a local expert for help — and what I learned may help you discover more about your roots.
Forty years ago, Alex Haley's "Roots" captivated a nation on television. The mini-series gave viewers a glimpse into his nine-year journey of tracing his family history all the way back to Africa.
These days, it doesn't take years to do it. It only takes a few weeks, with DNA kits like the one I recently used - African Ancestry.
It claims to uncover the origin of one's maternal roots.
"We actually sequence the DNA to examine the individual genetic profile. Once that data is generated, it goes to me, where I look at that profile in the context of our African lineage database. So I look for matches and I look for where this lineage is more common and where it is more found at in Africa," said Dr. Rick Kittles, co-founder and Scientific Director of AfricanAncestry.com.
While waiting on the results, I spent some time on a few of my family tree branches.
Over the years, I have researched and learned more about my ancestors like Joseph the landowner, Elizabeth the homemaker, and even James the insurance salesman.
Their information was easy to find online.
Unlike others, like my great- grandmother, Delilah the teacher. Without any information on her family, it makes it harder to advance up the tree.
I turned to Joan Jackson for help. She is the past president of the Chesterfield Historical Society and has uncovered documents and stories on at least nine generations of her family.
"If you run into a roadblock with one person, go to somebody else because you might find information with the other person that might lead you back to the previous one," said Jackson.
Using this first tip, we researched Delilah's husband, William, and stumbled upon a 1930 census record. In that record, we found two mistakes. "Redditte" and "Delilah" are misspelled.
This discovery led to Mrs. Jackson's second tip - closely analyze names.
Sometimes, census information was given by neighbors and not necessarily the family, so some details could be incorrect.
Speaking of neighbors, check their information as well.
"If a family had eight or 10 children, a lot of times it was too many of them to feed, you might find them with another family," said Jackson.
Tax records and deeds are also good sources.
We found a deed and title belonging to my great-grandfather, which somehow led us back to my great-grandmother Delilah.
According to a ledger entry, she had a will, and where there is a will, there is a way to possibly get even more information on her and members of her family.
"There are so many pieces and you have to try to see where all the pieces fit," said Jackson.
Meanwhile, nine weeks after I mailed off my DNA samples, one of the most significant pieces of this puzzle arrived - the piece which shows where my maternal roots were planted long before the branches came into view.
The result? I share maternal genetic ancestry with Tikar, Hausa, and Fulani people in Cameroon today, a missing part that gives my tree more of a firm foundation in origin, history, and culture.
It also gives me a sense of even more pride, similar to what Alex Haley experienced years ago.
For him, the discovery of his roots was the end of his years-long research journey. For me, it's only the beginning.
Copyright 2017 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved