article by Nick Prevenas via uanews.arizona.edu
Ever since he can remember, Rick Kittles always wanted to know where he came from.
Born in Sylvania, Georgia, and raised near Long Island, New York, a great deal of his academic interest was sparked by the desire to trace his ancestral lineage as far back as it could go. This proved to be exceedingly difficult, for a number of reasons.
“There simply wasn’t a strong database in place or any kind of access to information on African genetics,” Kittles said. “Records were either inaccurate or nonexistent, so there were a number of hurdles in place for African-Americans to try to figure out their ancestry.”
An aptitude for biology, coupled with a deep exploration of Alex Haley’s novel, “Roots,” led Kittles on a path that eventually would help thousands of people like him clear these hurdles. He is the director of the Division of Population Genetics at the University of Arizona, which he joined in July 2014.
Developing and implementing a comprehensive African genealogy database seemed daunting at first, but during his graduate studies at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and, later, though his work at Howard University’s College of Medicine in the late 1990s, Kittles met the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and fellow geneticists who could help turn this dream into a reality.
“I was looking at my own DNA profile, analyzing my Y-chromosome lineage, and I noticed my Nigerian lineage didn’t track with the other Y-chromosome samples from West Africa,” Kittles said.