African Ancestry Profile: Founder Gina Paige
While we all know we come from Africa, lately one of the benefits of technology and science means we can get to know more specifically just where in the world we are from and so connect to that place and its people. Obviously something that slavery has taken from many African Americans, is now being given back.
On the leading edge of providing African lineage matching is African Ancestry. Formed in 2003 by Dr. Rick Kittles, one of the country’s few Black geneticists, and entrepreneur Gina Paige. Having worked for Fortune 100 companies, Paige serves as President of African Ancestry that has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people by connecting their roots.
Being a successful business woman is clearly something in Paige’s DNA, “as she launched her first business at age 8, with a magazine purposed to raise money for family trips.” However, when I spoke with Paige it was clear that this company and work is also a labor of love.
TAC: How did you come up with the idea for this company?
GP: I was approached by my business partner because he had the research and wanted to commercialize. We knew it was a good opportunity.
TAC: Who is your audience?
GP: We target people of African descent, or really black people. And we target black people because they are the only people that can’t point to a country of origin. We wanted to answer that question of “where am I from?”
TAC: How Does African Ancestry link people to Africa?
GP: We can do this because we have the largest database of African lineages,. We have helped more than 500,000 people find their roots.
TAC: OK, so let’s get into the science a bit. How exactly does the testing happen?
GP: We do single lineage testing. We trace the ancestry one line at a time. We can trace maternally, which is mother to mother to mother; and we can trace paternally, which is father to father to father, on back.
We use mitochondrial DNA for maternal heritage. Every man and woman has it from the mother. So, I have the same as my mother and her mother and her mother, etc., it doesn’t change. Mothers pass it on to both daughters and sons. So both can use it to trace their mother’s line.
To trace a paternal lineage, we isolate and trace the y chromosome, which is passed on from fathers to sons only. So only men can trace their father’s line, which reveals the heritage of everyone on that line including females.
TAC: Why is this service important?
GP: I think we know so much about being American. We know the Pledge of Allegiance, we know the Presidents, we know the laws of the land, we know the justice system, how capitalism works, etc. Yet we know so little about being African. It’s important that Black people have a more balanced understanding of our identity, and ancestral tracing is a tool to better understand who you are as an African American.
TAC: What are you most proud of with this company?
Helping black people stand taller. Before our company existed there was no way to find out where you are from in Africa. And still, 13 years later we are the only way to find out. Other companies can’t tell you where you are in Africa. It’s not just for you but a whole lineage of people that came before you and will come after you.
We are in the business of identity. We aren’t in the business of DNA collection or research, we transform the way black people view themselves and view Africa. And to be able to do that despite a recession, competitive start-ups and general business challenges, we’re still here. That validates that we are supposed to be doing this.