ancestry | St. Louis Public Radio

ancestry

An illustration of African Americans questioning their origins.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

It took nearly 30 minutes for Eric Depradine to extract a saliva sample from his dying grandmother.

Depradine, 35, of Kansas City, wanted to have his grandmother’s DNA tested to confirm his suspicions that her ancestors came from Madagascar. He’d read author Michael Twitty describe in "The Cooking Gene" how African Americans who lived in eastern North Carolina — like Depradine’s paternal grandmother — very likely descended from Malagasy people, an ethnic group in Madagascar.

An illustration of African Americans questioning their origins.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The 2020 census is still two years away, but there is plenty of buzz about what the federal survey will ask, including questions about citizenship and country of origin.

For the first time, people will be able to write in their origins in a blank box on the census instead of just checking a race.

The survey, which happens every ten years, is designed to count the population so federal funds can be allocated across the country. But the new questions about where people come from can generate confusion or suspicion — especially from African-Americans, who may not know where their ancestors originated, or immigrants who believe their responses might be used against them in the future.