By: Sherman McRae

African World Heritage Day celebrates the unique heritage sites of Africa and the significant contributions of African culture to the world. Learn about the importance of preserving this rich legacy and how African American genealogy and DNA testing contribute to reclaiming ancestral heritage.

African World Heritage Day is celebrated on May 5th every year to recognize and appreciate the rich cultural and historical heritage of Africa. This day was first proposed in 2015 by the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF), an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Africa’s unique heritage sites.

African Cultural Influence

Preserving African cultural heritage is crucial for multiple reasons, one of which is the need to honor Africa’s significant contributions to the world. Throughout history, African culture has exerted a profound influence on various aspects, including art, music, religion, and philosophy, leaving a lasting impact on a global scale.

From the awe-inspiring pyramids of Egypt to the mesmerizing rhythms of Fela Kuti’s music, Africa has bestowed countless cultural treasures that deserve both recognition and preservation. By celebrating and safeguarding African cultural heritage, we not only deepen our understanding of our shared human history but also foster a more inclusive and diverse world.

African Heritage in Today’s World

African World Heritage Day plays a pivotal role in encouraging Africans to take ownership of their heritage and actively engage in its preservation. This objective gains particular significance due to the alarming number of heritage sites in Africa currently facing the imminent risk of permanent loss, often due to factors such as climate change, conflict, and rapid development. To prevent the irreplaceable loss of these invaluable sites, it becomes essential for Africans and people of the diaspora to assume proactive responsibility and play an active role in safeguarding their heritage. By doing so, we can ensure the continued existence and protection of these irreplaceable cultural landmarks, safeguarding a vital part of our collective human legacy.

The Gullah People

As an African American with Gullah heritage, I have a personal understanding of the significance of comprehending and safeguarding our cultural heritage. The Gullah people, an African American ethnic group, reside in the Lowcountry region of the southeastern United States, primarily along the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia. They are the descendants of West and Central Africans who were forcibly brought to the United States during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The Gullah People reside in the Lowcountry region

The Gullah community possesses a distinct culture and language that embody a fusion of African and European influences. They have diligently preserved numerous cultural traditions, such as basket weaving, storytelling, music, and dance. Additionally, the Gullah language, known as Geechee, is a creole language that combines elements of English and various African languages. It continues to be spoken by many Gullah individuals today, serving as a testament to their rich cultural heritage.

A Gullah woman weaving a basket out of sweetgrass. By Mattstone911 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
A Gullah woman weaving a basket out of sweetgrass. By Mattstone911 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Throughout their history, the Gullah people have confronted numerous challenges, including the horrors of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. However, despite these adversities, they have made significant contributions to American culture and history. Their unique cultural heritage is celebrated and actively preserved to this day, serving as a source of pride and resilience for the Gullah community and inspiring others to appreciate and respect the diverse tapestry of African American history and heritage.

Gullah Traditions

I recall hearing a story from my father, who remembered as a boy when he and his sister were passed over the casket when their father died. These accounts fascinated me and sparked my curiosity to delve deeper into the significance behind this practice.

Photo from:
Photo from: "Shaking off the spirit: Passing baby over coffin a Gullah tradition that endures" at

It was later revealed to me that the purpose behind this ritual was to safeguard the children from the lingering attachment of the departed spirit, ensuring that they would not be visited incessantly. This age-old tradition continues to be observed by the Ibani people, who reside in the Bonny and Opobo areas of Rivers State, Nigeria.

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the historical context of the Port at Bonny, which served as a pivotal hub for the transportation of enslaved Africans to the Americas. The connection between these cultural practices and the profound impact of human migration adds another layer of depth to the rich tapestry of African history and heritage.

Connecting African Heritage to Genealogical Roots

Furthermore, African American genealogy and DNA testing play a vital role in preserving African heritage. These practices enable individuals to trace their ancestry back to the African continent, unraveling the intricate threads that connect them to their roots. It provides an opportunity to understand the history, culture, and traditions of one’s ancestors, fostering a sense of belonging and identity.

This pursuit is especially significant for African Americans, who have endured displacement and severance from their African origins due to the transatlantic slave trade. By embracing genealogy and DNA testing, African Americans can bridge the gap and reclaim their ancestral heritage, reestablishing a profound connection to their roots and contributing to the preservation and celebration of African culture on a global scale.

African DNA Data

In honor of African World Heritage Day, I have included various data sets and links to African-centered genetic studies that we have analyzed and integrated into our tree for matching. These resources offer valuable insights into African ancestry and contribute to a broader understanding and appreciation of African heritage.

By incorporating these genetic studies, we aim to foster connections and provide individuals with a deeper understanding of their African roots and ancestral lineage.

Analyzing African Y-DNA with Discover

To obtain a more precise prediction of your connection to most of these samples, customers will require a Big Y-700 test. This comprehensive test provides a deeper analysis of the Y-chromosome DNA, allowing for more accurate matching and predictions.

However, even individuals with a Y-DNA haplogroup can utilize the Discover™ platform to explore their connections with modern-day testers, ancient samples, and academic datasets that have been uploaded for matching. This platform offers a valuable resource for exploring and understanding the genetic ties that link individuals to various ancestral lineages and populations.

Once in the Discover Project, testers can input one of the haplogroups from the datasets below to explore and see how they connect with other individuals who share the same haplogroup. This platform provides a valuable opportunity to uncover and understand the genetic relationships and connections between individuals with similar ancestral lineages.

By identifying SNP matches with academic and ancient samples, it becomes possible to gain a better understanding of the potential region in Africa where your origins may lie. Additionally, depending on the estimated time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) with a particular sample, it may be possible to confirm the tribe of your direct paternal ancestor.

This combination of genetic analysis and matching allows for a deeper exploration and discovery of one’s African ancestry and tribal connections.

Angolan Y-DNA

A new study incorporates hundreds of Angolan samples, offering valuable insights into their genetic makeup and tribal affiliations. The study investigated the genetic history of southern Africa by looking at the DNA of people living in the Namib Desert region of Angola. The researchers found that certain groups of people, called matriclans, played a significant role in shaping the genetic diversity of southern Africa, providing insights into the maternal ancestry of the region.

Many of these samples have been incorporated into our Y-DNA Tree of Humankind for matching purposes.

Tribes included in the study:

The Y-DNA haplogroups from the study:

Kulubnarti Y-DNA

Another study was centered on the Kulubnarti Nubians from the present-day Sudan.

The study investigated the social classes of people who lived in an ancient city called Kulubnarti in Nubia during the Christian period. The researchers found that even though the people in the city were divided into different social classes, there was no significant genetic difference between them.

The Y-DNA Haplogroups from the study:

African-American Y-DNA

We have recently uploaded a study focused on an African American Burial ground located in Catoctin Furnace, Maryland. This research sheds light on the historical significance of this site and provides valuable insights into the ancestry of the individuals interred there.

Notably, the Y-DNA haplogroups of the buried individuals offer additional information regarding their genetic heritage. This comprehensive examination enhances our understanding of the African American experience in this region, highlighting the diverse origins and ancestral lineages of those laid to rest in Catoctin Furnace.

The Y-DNA haplogroups from the study:

Y-DNA from the Swahili Coast

This dataset is from a recently published groundbreaking study on the rich cultural heritage and historical significance of the Swahili Coast of Africa.

The study analyzed the DNA of ancient skeletons from the Swahili coast and found that the medieval peoples there had a mixture of African and Asian genetic ancestry, indicating historical interactions between the two continents. The findings shed light on the complex history of the region and the cultural exchange that occurred between different groups of people.

The Y-DNA haplogroups from the study:

African World Heritage Day is a time to celebrate and recognize the unique cultural heritage of Africa and its impact on the world. From ancient civilizations to modern-day traditions, Africa has a rich and diverse cultural heritage that spans thousands of years. By celebrating African World Heritage Day, we can all play a role in preserving the rich history and traditions of Africa and ensuring that they continue to be passed down to future generations.

Sherman McRae - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

About the Author

Sherman McRae

Group Projects Liason at FamilyTreeDNA

Sherman is a highly experienced Genealogist specializing in African American Genetic Genealogy and Research, with a primary focus on the Carolinas. He serves as a Co-Admin for the E-M2 and A-YDNA Haplogroup projects, contributing to the advancement of genetic knowledge within these communities. Sherman is deeply committed to bridging the genetic divide and uncovering new haplogroups in undertested populations, particularly among Africans and the diaspora.

Currently, Sherman works as a vital member of Family Tree DNA’s Groups Department, where he acts as a liaison between researchers and the company. His role involves facilitating communication and collaboration, ensuring the successful implementation of DNA testing for research purposes. Additionally, Sherman has been invited to deliver presentations at national and local events, sharing his expertise on utilizing DNA testing in genealogical research.

Sherman’s dedication extends beyond his work in the Groups Department. He actively contributes to the Research & Development Department at Family Tree DNA, participating in various projects, including the recently launched Discover project, which aims to uncover new insights and connections through genetic analysis.

Born in Thomasville, NC, Sherman McRae is proud of his roots. He attended North Carolina Central University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 2006. Sherman is also a distinguished member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Prior to joining Family Tree DNA in March 2018, Sherman worked in the field of Education, further enhancing his skills in research and analysis.
As an expert in African American Genetic Genealogy, Sherman continues to make significant contributions to the field, while fostering understanding and discovery within the genetic community.