Part I: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan

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This blog post is dedicated to my M23 Malagasy ancestors who survived the Middle Passage and made it to New York and New Jersey. This is Part I of a two part series and is focused on my family’s Malagasy ancestry. My next blog post will discuss how my ancestors arrived in New York based on the actions of unscrupulous NY merchants and pirates.

 

Map of Indian Ocean Countries
Map of Indian Ocean Countries

 

About Madagascar and DNA

Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies done that describe the origins of the Malagasy, the people of Madagascar. For example, in 2005, Hurles et al. discussed the dual origins of the Malasy people as being Southeast Asian and East African. His study was followed by one done in 2009 by Sergio Tofanelli et al.  In this article, they wrote:

“Our results confirm that admixture of Malagasy was due to the encounter of people surfing the extreme edges of two of the broadest historical waves of language expansion: the Austronesian and Bantu expansions. In fact, all Madagascan living groups show amixture of uni-parental lineages typical present in African and Southeast Asian populations with only a minor contribution of Y lineages with different origins. Two observations suggest  that the the Y lineages with “another origin” entered the island in recent times: 1) they are particularly frequent in the Tanosy area (Fort Dauphin), and around Antananarivo, where commercial networks and the slave trade had a focus; 2) they matched with haplogroups typical of present Indo-European (Europeans) and Arabic speaking (Somali) people.”

In addition, a 2012 study by Cox, et al. noted that most Malagasy people can trace their mtDNA back to 30 Indonesian women who made up the founding population of Madagascar. Given the fact that Southeast Asian Y-DNA was also found among the Malagasy, it is assumed that there were also some Indonesian men among this group of women. These women went on to have children with the Indonesian men present as well as men from Africa. Later migrations from Africa also included Southeast African Bantu mtDNA haplogroups from north of the Zambezi River. In 2013, Melanie Capredon et al. also discussed the Arab-Islamic contribution to the Malagasy gene pool as a result of Indian Ocean slave trade. 

 

Austronesian Expansion
Austronesian Expansion

 

Bantu Expansion
Bantu Expansion

 

Zambezi River
North of the Zambezi River is where SE Bantu mtDNA originates

In addition to the Indonesian and African genetic links found among the Malagasy, there are also linguistic and cultural links to these regions as well. 90% of Malagasy vocabulary come from Maanyan, a language spoken in the Baritone River region of southern Borneo. The other 10% comes from the vocabulary of the Bantu, Malay, South Sulawesian, Javanese, and Sanskrit. Tofanelli et al. also raised the possibility that Indonesians may have reached East Africa and were admixed before their arrival in Madagascar probably around 2,300 years ago This initial mainland contact could explain the occurrence of banana cultivation (Asian Musa spp. phytolits) in southern Cameroon and Uganda before 500 BCE; the introduction of Bos indicus, a cattle of Southeast Asian origin, into East Africa from Asia; and the excavation of chicken bones, originating in Southeast Asia, from Neolithic limestone cave site at Zanzibar. They write, “This Malagasy admixture could have had a history in East Africa before it crossed the Mozambique Channel, even though genetic signatures of these first mainland contacts are still missing (2009:21).”

Madagascar and the Slave Trade and After

Madagascar was part of both the global trade in slaves in both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The Indian Ocean slave trade existed before European colonization and even before the emergence of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. It saw Malagasy slaves taken to the Mascarene Islands, the Seychelles, Comoros Islands, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and India. The European-driven Indo-Atlantic slave trade began in the 16th century. The Portuguese, Dutch , French, British and Americans brought Malagasy slaves to the shores of South Africa, St. Helena’s Island, Brazil and other South American countries, the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados, and North America.  It should be noted that both slave trades were facilitated in part by different Malagasy ethnic groups who engaged in the selling of slaves to outsiders in exchange for arms and material goods. As a result of both slave trades— and later as free immigrants— Malagasy DNA spread around the globe.

On Finding Our Malagasy mtDNA

Over two years ago, my cousin Andrea and I decided to take the 23andme DNA test. We were desperate to find more information about our Thompson family history and felt that a DNA test would provide us with more clues. I knew beforehand that my mtDNA was European as my maternal 2nd great-grandmother was a first generation Irish-American. However, Andrea and I were excited to see what her mtDNA would be because she was a matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, while I was not. Well, imagine our surprise when her mtDNA came back M23, a haplogroup that is only found in Madagascar. We were shocked as this was totally unexpected. It seems that our Malagasy ancestors came to the New York City/New Jersey area between 1678-98 or 1716-21. The knowledge that our 2nd great-grandmother had matrilineal ancestry that traced back to Madagascar necessitated that we do further research. Several questions came to mind. Did our Malagasy ancestry still show up in our genes? When did our Malagasy ancestors arrive in the States, specifically NY/NJ? Why did slave traders go to Madagascar to procure slaves?

Our Malagasy Roots and DNA Admixture

We can trace our Malagasy ancestry back to our 5th great-grandmother, Jane Pickett, who was born a slave in NJ or NY around 1775. Her daughter was Tun, also a slave born around 1790 in Tappan, NY, according to a 1860 census record, though she may have also been born in NJ. Both Jane and Tun were born slaves and eventually worked as house servants in their later years. Tun had a daughter named Susan Pickett, our third great-grandmother, who was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Susan was born under The Gradual Emancipation Act and thus had to serve her master for 21 years. We don’t know who her father was, but Susan is listed as being “mulatto.” Once freed, Susan married our third great-grandfather, Cato Thompson. Susan and Cato had six children.

My M23 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green
Our M23 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green

Their children were Richard, Thomas, Jacob, Laura, Mary, and Catherine. My three maternal siblings, my aunt Helen, my first cousin, and I are the descendants of Laura’s son Richard. Andrea, her mother Mildred, uncle Robert, brother, and daughter are the descendants of Laura’s daughter Goldie. My cousin Yvonne and her grandson are the descendants of Laura’s son Stewart. My cousin Helen is a descendant of Laura’s sister Mary and my cousin Lillian is a descendant of Laura’s sister Catherine.

As of today, we have had 15 descendants of Susan Pickett DNA tested, of whom six have mtDNA M23. Having so many relatives DNA tested allows us to see how Malagasy ancestry is passed down generationally. According to 23andme, all of us have ethnic admixture, in varying amounts, from Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Those cousins who are matrilineal descendants of our shared M23 ancestors do show higher amounts in these admixture areas. While I don’t think any DNA test can tell you with 100% certainty what your admixture is, I do believe that they can provide clues about your ethnicity especially when combined with knowledge of local and family history.

Please note that I have previously blogged about my own admixture tests. In this blog post I will be mainly discussing my relatives’ admixture results.

Here are the 23andme Ancestry Composition results of my cousins Helen, Mildred, and Robert. You can clearly see the indicators of Malagasy ancestry.

Helen's Ancestry Composiiton
Helen’s Ancestry Composition

 

Mil ac2
Mildred’s Ancestry Composition

 

Robert's Ancestry Composition
Robert’s Ancestry Composition

As a comparison, here are the Ancestry Compositions for my aunt Helen and cousin Lillian. As you can see, their admixture is from the same areas, but in lesser amounts.

My aunt Helen's Ancestry Composition
My aunt Helen’s Ancestry Composition

 

Lillian's Ancestry Competition
Lillian’s Ancestry Composition

A look at the X chromosomes of Mildred, Robert, Lillian and Helen also show how our Southeast Asian ancestry (in yellow) has been passed down from our Malagasy ancestors. All four are the descendants of all three of  Susan Pickett’s daughters—Laura (Mildred and Robert), Mary (Helen), and Catherine (Lillian).

X Chromosomes for Mildred, Robert, Helen and Lillian
X Chromosomes for Mildred, Robert, Helen and Lillian

In addition to testing at 23andme, my cousins Mildred and Andrea, aunt Helen, and sister Elisa also had a DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done in 2013. Again, the Malagasy indicators tend to be Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Please note that Bantu, Pedi, and Nguni are all Bantu-speaking groups that were part of the Bantu expansion.

Here are their Native Populations Admixture Analysis from DNA Tribes:

 

Mildred's DNA Tribe SNP Analysis
Mildred’s DNA Tribe SNP Analysis

 

Andrea's DNA Tribes SNP Analysis
Andrea’s DNA Tribes SNP Analysis

 

My aunt Helen's DNA Tribes SNP Analysis
My aunt Helen’s DNA Tribes SNP Analysis

 

My sister Elisa's DNA Tribes Analysis
My sister Elisa’s DNA Tribes Analysis

In 2014, I had my DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done again after they instituted their regional clusters. Here are my results as a Malagasy non-matrilineal descendant:

My 2014 DNA Tribes SNP Analysis
My 2014 DNA Tribes SNP Analysis

 

On chromosome 20,  you can see how our Malagasy DNA, represented by our Southeast Asian admixture in yellow, has been inherited by the same ancestor.

On Chromosome 20, we share the same ancestor who had Malagasy DNA
On Chromosome 20, we share the same ancestor who had Malagasy DNA

 

A Word About Our Malagasy vs. Native American Ancestry

 
My family’s Malagasy (M23) ancestry is separate from our Native American ancestry. I make note of this because there have been claims made that haplogroup M was found in North America, and thus was Native American, based on a 2007 article that has since been debunked. I have written two prior blog posts on M23 and other M subclade haplogroups that mention how I disagree with this assessment and provide comments from well-known genetic genealogists and mtDNA experts about the M haplogroup. In the chromosomal view below, you can see how the Southeast Asian admixture (in yellow) is separate from our Native American admixture (in orange).
 
Mildred's AC Chromosome View
Mildred’s AC Chromosome View
Maria's AC Chromosome View
My sister Maria’s AC Chromosome View
Yvonne's AC Chromosome View
Yvonne’s AC Chromosome View
My brother Michael's AC Chromosome View
My brother Michael’s AC Chromosome View
 As it relates to my discussion of my family’s Malagasy ancestry in my next blog post, Esther J. Lee et al. note in their article “MtDNA Origins of an Enslaved Labor Force From the 18th century Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground in Colonial Albany, NY: Africans, Native Americans, and Malagasy?,” “individuals identified as haplogroup M7 and M resemble lineages found in Madagascar. Historical documents suggest several hundred people were imported from Madagascar through illegal trading to New York by the end of the 17th century. ” Though Lee had access to the now debunked 2007 article, she rightly acknowledges that the M7 haplogroup is found in East Asia, Southeast Asia and Madagascar. It is so important, as the Lee article shows, to look at local historical events to see how individuals with M haplogroups may have arrived in the Americas via the slave trade and who are NOT Native American.
 
 

 

I should also note that African-Americans, with the help of DNA tests, are now discovering their Malagasy ancestry. For example, my 98-year old cousin Helen has 5 DNA cousin matches with Malagasy ancestry from Madagascar, South Africa, and France on her 23andme  DNA Relatives List and many of my family members have DNA cousins with known Malagasy haplogroups. Likewise, my friend Melvin Collier has written an excellent blog post on finding and confirming his Malagasy ancestry via a Malagasy DNA cousin. As a result of these Malagasy ancestral discoveries, there is a now a Malagasy Roots Project at FTDNA that seeks to connect African-Americans with their Malagasy DNA cousins.

 

Using Gedmatch Admixture Calculators to Detect Malagasy Ancestry

I have been asked repeatedly how one can tell if they have Malagasy ancestry in the absence of a known Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA. One of the ways is to take an autosomal DNA test from any of the three major testing companies — 23andme  (highly recommended as you also get your haplogroups), AncestryDNA, or FTDNA Autosomal Family Finder— and then upload the results to Gedmatch, a free site, where you can run additional admixture calculators.

Based on my family’s known Malagasy ancestry, I feel confident enough to state that Malagasy indicators are Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. It is crucial to realize that it is a combination of all these admixtures that may indicate Malagasy ancestry. Just having Southeast Asian, South African,  East African ancestry or any one individual admixture is not enough to indicate Malagasy ancestry. I would also mention that one should research the local history/area where your ancestors resided. Slaves from Madagascar were known to have been imported into Boston, New York/NJ, and Virginia. However, there were many Malagasy slaves who may have arrived in the States via the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe, India, as well as a host of other countries. Many Malagasy also came to this country as free immigrants. In essence, you need to really do your research.

Some additional things to do would be to also have other relatives tested to confirm your Malagasy ancestry as well as to check your Gedmatch One-To-Many list to see if your DNA cousins have a Malagasy haplogroup.

If you you have Malagasy ancestry or have a Malagasy haplogroup, either mtDNA or Y-DNA, please consider taking a FTDNA FS mtDNA test or Y-37 DNA test and joining FTDNA’s Malagasy Roots Project.  

Below are some of Gedmatch admixture calculators that I use to detect indicators of Malagasy ancestry. I am going to use my mother Joyce as an example because you can easily see her Malagasy admixture indicators. Plus, I think it is really cool to use a Gedmatch Lazarus recreated genome based on her four children, sister, niece and a host of 2nd and 3rd cousins. For the record, I use the following Gedmatch admixture calculators: MDLP-World 22, MDLP-K23b, Dodecad v3, Dodecad World9, Dodecad Africa9 (to detect South African and East African ancestry), Eurogenes K13, Eurogenes K36, and HarappaWorld. Most of these calculators detect Southeast, Oceanian, Austronesian, South Asian, Melanesian/Polynesian, Papuan, Malayan, South African, and East African admixture.

 

Joyce's MDLP-World 22 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s MDLP-World 22 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's MDLP-K23b Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s MDLP-K23b Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Dodecad v3 Admixture Results
Joyce’s Dodecad v3 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Mom World9
Joyce’s Dodecad World9 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Dodecad Africa9 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s Dodecad Africa9 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Eurogenes K13 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s Eurogenes K13 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Eurogenes K36 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s Eurogenes K36 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's HarappaWolrd Adnxiture Calculator Results
Joyce’s HarappaWolrd Adnxiture Calculator Results

 

Malagasy MtDNA and Y-DNA Haplogroups

 
Map of Ethnic Groups in Madagascar
Map of Ethnic Groups in Madagascar
 
Disclaimer: Please note that the list below has some of the haplogroups found in Madagascar that come from several scientific studies (see references below). The nomenclature of these haplogroups may have changed since the articles were written. Also, if you have taken a 23andme test, their v4 chip may not give a definitive haplogroup assignment. For example, I am H1 on 23andme since I tested with their v3 chip, however, my siblings are just H since they tested with the v4 chip. Likewise, some folks who are B4a1a1b may show up as only B4a1a1 on 23andme. Note these haplogroups can be  found in other places as well. There are only two haplogroups that I know for sure that are found only in Madagascar and they are M23 and B4a1a1a haplogroup subclades. I am by no means an expert on mtDNA or Y-DNA, but I think this list is valuable to those seeking more answers on their Malagasy ancestry.
 
These haplogroups are mentioned in the journal article Genomic Landscape of Human Diversity Across Madagascar. The article can be found here:  http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/07/11/1704906114 .
 
 

mtDNA Haplogroups found in Madagascar 
Y-DNA Haplogroups found in Madagascar

 

References

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/07/11/1704906114

http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2009/06/17/molbev.msp120.short?rss=1

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/03/15/rspb.2012.0012 

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0080932 

http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v21/n12/full/ejhg201351a.html

http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v53/n2/full/jhg2008213a.html 

http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/10/605

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1199379/#!po=34.0909

http://massey.genomicus.com/publications/Razafindrazaka_2010_EurJHumGenet_v18_p575.pdf

http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v18/n5/fig_tab/ejhg2009222t1.html

 

 

 

 


12 thoughts on “Part I: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan

  1. It’s amazing to see from 23andme how consistent the less than 1% Oceania comes up which could’ve been interpreted as noise with EA (I get less 0.3% NA because of my EA & Oceania) but for that amount of EA shown above, I’m really curious how much more Oceania would come out if you had a family member that has at least 12% EA. I’m sure one day you will get a relative tested with that amount so we can have a better understanding of how Malagasy descendants’ admixture shows up.

  2. I was very captivated while reading your material. Your explanations and your graphics were excellent and extremely helpful to a visual learner like me. I am now motivated to take a second look at my own DNA results with a different mindset. Thanks for such good information.

  3. Excellent work!! Thanks for sharing! I will be reviewing Gedmatch admixture charts more closely now for those groupings you identified.

  4. I am a descendant of the Bantas, De Marets, Helling, Terhune, etc., Low Dutch. I appreciate your effort to detail the history. I too have spent years researching these people. I believe that my Bantas were Crypto-Jews, who fled Portugal and went to Holland before coming to America. I have written a series of books called, “Secret Genealogy,” where I discuss this. I have yet to take a DNA test but will, someday. I would be honored to find someone like Tun on my family tree. Good job!

  5. Fascinating. Interesting to hear about the Malagasy slaves in NY, NJ. I have one family line, described as free of mixed race in 1850s in NY, worked on farms in outer Queens. I will run the calculators as you did for your mother. I have some Asian/etc. but have always assumed it came in the “other way around” to my Native American! Perhaps not! 🙂

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