Research Projects Overview

According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 1.2 million enslaved Africans were routed through Ghana and sent to various diasporic locations in the world between 1501 and 1900. With very few exceptions, DNA testing is the only way for Africans to identify descendants of those who were taken away in slavery. With the aid of autosomal genetic genealogy testing services, members of the Kassena ethnic group living in Paga, Ghana are engaging in historically significant processes of reunification with their diaspora relatives. Through genetic genealogy and web tools such as GEDmatch, they are identifying and communicating with people of African descent living throughout the world who are descendants of those who were taken away from their ancestral family homes up to 10 generations ago.

People engaged in this novel activity can help inform research on family group identity development and ethnic identity development, both of which are key processes within human development and family studies.

The Northern Ghana Family Reunification project is a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project developed in consultation with community residents in northern Ghana. The project starts in Paga, Ghana, a town located in the upper eastern area of Ghana. Within the Nania village of Paga is a the site of the former Pikworo Slave Camp. When slave raiders took people from Nania and the surrounding countries, raiders would hold their captives in chains at this camp until the raiders were ready to march selected captives southward to the slave market. The community narrative of Nania is that slave raiders came and took the strong, leaving the remaining family to plummet into poverty. They agreed to engage in genetic genealogy to try to find the descendants of those who were taken away in slavery. Using family-based phasing in which a parent-child pair among the residents of Paga and a parent-child pair among the African diaspora genetically match, we have identified several African diaspora relatives within the GEDmatch Genesis database. The picture on the left captures a moment in a family reunion based on this process. Shown in the picture on the left is Dr. Ameera Zakari, an African American who, on learning that she is related to a family living in Paga, spent a few days visiting with her ancestral family members there. In the process of identifying and contacting diaspora relatives of Paga residents, we are learning a lot about kinship, family expectations, transnational families, family stories, identity, restoration, and so much more.


Reconstruction of the Kassena genetic genealogy

Community Narratives

Narratives shared by community members in Ghana

Women in Nania, Paga, Ghana
Women in Nania, Paga, Ghana

Farm Life
Farm Life

Kugoriamo Family History
Kugoriamo Family History

Pikworo Slave Camp
The Historic Pikworo Slave Camp

Slave Raiders
In the year 1704, the institution of slavery hit the community of Nania and then extended to the town of Paga, the Upper East region of Ghana, the bordering country of Burkina Faso, and on to other sub-Saharan Africa countries.

Social Science

These articles explore the personal, social, and cultural factors that shape the generation, interpretation, understanding, and use of genetic and genomic information and associated technologies. This theme draws heavily from the NIH's Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research Program.

Featured articles

Evolving Ethnic Identity of African Americans With African Relatives
Evolving Ethnic Identity of African Americans With African Relatives

An Examination of Ethnic and Family Identity Development among African Americans Connecting with Genetic Relatives from Africa: Introduction
African Americans are increasingly using genetic genealogy to go beyond the vague estimates of ancestral ethnicities to identify genetic matches with people who are within two generations of migration from Africa or who still live on the African continent. This study used grounded theory methods to develop a grounded theory on family identity development and ethnic identity development among African Americans who engaged in social interactions with their African genetic relatives.

A Sense of Lack in African Ancestral History
Sense of Lack in African Ancestral History


Methods for identifying relatives

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