Tracing Her Roots: Kathryn Buford Finds Strength and Clarity

Tracing Her Roots: Kathryn Buford Finds Strength and Clarity

Kathryn Buford, 31
Atlanta, GA
Ph.D. Student, Writer, Consultant

When did you first become interested in learning about your African ancestry?
I first became interested in learning about my African ancestry after my grandmother passed. The experience brought our family closer. I think everyone was extra kind to me after the funeral because I was devastated and had done the ugly cry while I read her obituary.

It was beautiful to see family members that I hadn’t seen in so long sharing so much love and support with each other so effortlessly, like no time had passed. After her passing I started to take more pride in being a Buford. I wanted to know more about my family roots so I decided to take the test.

Did you have any idea about or knowledge of your African heritage before you started the DNA mapping process?
My father is very political and a history buff. He always made sure that my brother and I knew that, as African Americans, our roots were in Africa. I was never oblivious or in denial about having African heritage. However, I didn’t have any knowledge of where specifically my roots traced.

[RELATED: Black History Month: Black Enterprise Employees Trace Their Roots]

What were your thoughts after you contributed your DNA? Were you anxious about the results?
I was very anxious! When I got my results in the mail, I didn’t open them right away. I decided to reveal them a week later when I visited my family for Thanksgiving. When the time came, I was so nervous that I almost had to have someone else open the envelope for me. It was definitely a happy anxiousness.

Did you tell your family you were looking into your African ancestry? What was their reaction?
I didn’t tell my family I was looking into my ancestry because I wanted to surprise them. However, I did tell some close friends. When they learned I had taken the test they were proud of me. Many said things like, “Ok, so this is my cue to go to”

What did the results reveal about your ancestry?
I took the Matriclan test, which traces my maternal line. The test revealed that on my mother’s side of the family I share ancestry with the Kru in Liberia; Mende and Temne in Sierra Leone; and Fulani in Guinea-Bissau.

What were your thoughts when you got the results? What was your family’s reaction?
I was proud of myself for following through and taking the test. After the results set in I remember thinking, I have to tell someone where I’m from!

My family had mixed reactions. My stepdad is Ghanaian and very proud of his heritage. He does medical research, so he knew how the test worked to accurately trace mitochondrial DNA. Still, in his mind, I will always be his Fanti child, and my mother and I both share the Ghanaian paternal heritage the results did not report.

Because I took the maternal test, the results apply to everyone on my mother’s side of the family. My mother already had an affinity for Senegal. I think she was a little disappointed that her roots didn’t trace there. Taking the test made me want to trace my paternal roots as well.

[RELATED: How to Uncover Your Roots With a Genealogy Trip]

Did it change the way you feel or think about yourself or your family?
The experience definitely had an impact on how I see myself. I’ve been in many settings where people size each other up. They read you based on your appearance and how you carry yourself to determine how important you are and what competition you present. As a young black woman, sometimes people are quick to underestimate me. They automatically assume that I’m impressionable, easily intimidated or a difficult work partner. I used to really resent environments like that and let it get under my skin.

But when you know who you are, not just anything or anyone can knock you off your game. That’s what my grandmother’s passing represented to me and that’s what this test re-enforced. Now that I know more about my heritage, I have even more self-awareness. Knowing who I am and where my roots trace, I’m not easily distracted by other people’s projections.

Would you say this had been a worthwhile journey for you, overall? Why?
I would say it is the beginning of my journey and also a process. There’s a lot more I want to learn about my heritage. I certainly want to visit the continent, especially the countries where my roots trace.

I think of it as a process because whenever some new event happens in my life, I try to return to the feeling I had when I learned my results. Last year I moved to a new state for an incredible opportunity. During the transition I had to remind myself: Remember your grandmother. Remember who you are. Remember where you’re from.

Kathryn Buford traced her roots with the help of African Ancestry Inc.