To help me solve this mystery, geneticist Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project, and the project's scientific manager, Jason Blue-Smith, took a closer look at my maternal genetic sequence. With confirmation from other geneticists, they determined that I show no evidence of Native American DNA on my mother's side. I am a haplotype B4, a subgroup of haplogroup B, which gives me a predominant Polynesian genetic signature. That's not to say that I am a distant cousin of everyone from Polynesia. But, based on my signature, I share a common ancestor with a lot of the founding people from that part of the world. It's anyone's guess how that connection took place. Perhaps one of my distant ancestors shared a relationship with someone from the Pacific Islands or Polynesia. Maybe my origins go back to the African-Indonesian mix of the Malagasy people of Madagascar. Or, perhaps, a darker encounter took place during the shameful period of slavery that is part of my history.
And why isn't my Polynesian origin apparent in my face? My phenotype, the physical characteristics that identify me as African-American, is derived from more recent genetic influences—perhaps six or so generations ago—along both parental lines. If Vahine, Piero, Valérie, Wilfred, and Lisa have ethnically identifiable African DNA, it is more diluted and much farther back than my own. The same can be said about me and the Polynesian infusion that shows so prominently in some of them. "The story of DNA is more than skin deep," says Jason Blue-Smith. "We can't simply look at someone's skin color and say they come from Angola or Ireland. That's an important story for us to tell."
It will take a lot more digging on my part to discover my genetic story. But it's fascinating to think that all of us outside of Africa come from a small band of ancient ancestors who left there tens of thousands of years ago. "That means that, in the end, every human being I look at is my cousin," says Piero. "So what are we doing going mad in the world and carrying on like maniacs?" Perhaps the Genographic Project will inadvertently change the way we see each other, with the bond of blood and the call of "one world, one people" bringing us all into the family circle.