BPL's Southern History Department Hosting DNA Testing for African Americans Workshop on February 15


Paul Boncella, map conservator of the Birmingham Public Library.

Birmingham, Alabama- As map conservator at the Birmingham Public Library for over a decade, Paul Boncella has used his expertise to help educate citizens of Birmingham. 

On Wednesday, February 15, from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the Central Library downtown, Boncella will share tips for African Americans on how to overcome the challenges they face while research their family tree. The workshop, DNA Testing for African Ethnicities," will take place both virtually via Zoom as well as in-person in BPL's Research Library in the 4th Floor RLCC Room.

 Over the past few years during BPL’s celebration of Black History Month, he has researched parts of Birmingham's dark past, including how in the early 1900s city leaders used government laws to segregate black and white homeowners. In February 2020, Boncella shared tips on an African-American book volume BPL's Southern History Department has to help Blacks explore their family tree. 

In a recent interview, Boncella talked about the lecture with BPL’s PR Department. 

BPL: The difficulties of finding information on loved ones who were enslaved is an issue many Blacks face. Talk about some of the ways your workshop will address helping them in the search for ancestors.

Boncella: Slavery erased the names and dates of their distant ancestors and the knowledge of ancestral homelands. DNA testing can clarify connections to both ancestors and homelands, but not all DNA tests are useful for either of these purposes. Being able to distinguish the merits of specific tests will save them time and money.

BPL: What are some of the topics you will cover during this event? 

Boncella: The most exciting of them will be how one company has invested heavily in the creation of what surely is the richest database of African and African-American DNA, along with the basics of DNA testing for ethnicities and an examination of two companies that target people of African ancestry.

 BPL: How do you hope this program benefits attendees seeking to navigate the challenges that slavery causes when researching African-American ancestry?

Boncella: I want it to inspire hope in them. Too much has been said about the lack of a paper trail, which is inevitable for every lineage at some point in the past. It is time that we focus on something that can benefit anyone, harnessing the power of DNA for genealogical research. 

BPL: How did you identify the need for this topic as part of our Black History Month programming? 

Boncella: People often come to me with excitement about specialist African ethnicity tests, and I have made it my business to investigate them. I am so concerned by what I learned about some of these tests that I feel obligated to present an updated guide to such products every year.

BPL: What do you hope viewers of this lecture learn? 

Boncella: I want them to know how to make the fullest use possible of the increasingly sophisticated ethnicity products that are becoming available. Also, I want them to learn how their DNA testing choices can benefit both them and other members of their population. 

BPL: Anything else to add? 

Boncella: Everyone who can do so should take a DNA test for ancestry. Our DNA inheritance is far superior to that of the generations yet to come, and we owe it to them to build this vital bridge to the past. Indeed, making good testing choices today will put future members of our families and populations at an advantage when Artificial Intelligence fully merges genetics and genealogy.