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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree May 2019 > THE QUEST FOR ROOTS


Where we were born and live often affects our sense of identity, but DNA tests are transforming the genealogy landscape when it comes to working out who we are and where we came from. Dr Penny Walters explains how she embarked on a family history journey with her children, whose grandfather came from Jamaica, using traditional and modern techniques to help them find their place in the world
Penny and her six children

Is there a difference between the terms ‘heritage’, ‘ancestry’, ‘ethnicity,’ and ‘race’ when explaining where you are ‘from’?

‘Ethnicity is based on a group that normally has similar traits, such as a common language, heritage, and cultural similarities.Other variables that play a role in ethnicity include a geographical connection to a particular place, common foods and diets, and perhaps a common faith... Race is similar to ethnicity, but relates more to the appearance of a person, especially the colour of their skin… Nationality refers to the place where the person was born and/ or holds citizenship... Heritage generally refers to the ancestors of a person, and what they identified with...

Culture may involve one trait or characteristic… Identfity is whatever a person identifies with more, whether it be a particular country, ethnicity, religion...’

‘I’m Jamaican and my DNA results have come back as Ghanaian and Dutch, which I don’t understand’

Official forms ask for your current address; birth certificates and passports record where you were born. Where someone was born and lives has a special importance for identity.

So, are my first three children English, British, mixed race, black, white, Jamaican heritage, black British? All, or none? During enslavement, they would have been labelled ‘quadroon’ and during their childhood they were (incorrectly) called ‘half caste’. Black friends might call them ‘light-skinned’. Do these words matter? It is sometimes difficult to know ‘which box to tick’ on forms, and some terms can be fine, or very offensive, in different circumstances. My father-in-law said that the N word was the last thing his friend heard before he was attacked in the street in the UK in the late 1960s.

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About Family Tree

Discover the rich records of the golden era of family history, as we trace our ancestors from the Victorian age. Reflect on your roots and sense of identity. And make use of 25 fabulous free resources to learn more about your kin. From DNA sleuthing tips to document research skills, and family stories - find all this and more in Family Tree...