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Pearl Duncan

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Biography

Pearl Duncan is the first person in the world to use DNA to trace her ancestors' journey from one continent to two others. By taking a DNA test in 1999 and using the family nicknames that survived in her African American family, she traced her ancestors to a family named Opare, of the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa. She then traced the Opares to specific farmers in African villages in the 1660s and, using genealogy, traced them to Colonial Jamaica in the 1960s and Scotland in the 1720s. Duncan discovered she has a male Scottish ancestor and a numerous African ancestors, whose modern-day African descendants she has met and compared DNA with.

Duncan will detail her remarkable story in an upcoming nonfiction book about using DNA and genealogy to trace ancestors. In this book, she highlights the "little people" who find nobles and slaves in their family trees. Given her ten years of research, the Ghanaians recognized her and the Scots granted her a medieval coat authorized by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

An author and adventure sports travel writer, Duncan has written articles about Trans-Atlantic yacht races, travel, and other sports adventures as well as a book of short stories, Water Dancing, which received strong national reviews. She also contributed to A Rock Against the Wind: African American Poems and Letters of Love and Passion. Most recently, she has written about Wall Street and its history, as well as the Occupy Movement. Her articles have appeared in Sailing, Sail, Yacht/Racing, Cruising, Billboard, Record World, Essence, Black Enterprise, The Village Voice, The New York Soho Weekly News, Class, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Hartford Courant, Black World Today Online Magazine, and BET.com. Her search for her ancestors has been featured in The New York Times, The Palm Beach Post, and The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and on CBS-TV, BET-TV, and dozens of newspapers in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, England, Sweden, and Brazil.

Duncan taught literature at Rutgers University-Newark, the College of New Rochelle, The College for Human Services, and Jersey City State College and was educated at Bryn Mawr College where she studied Humanities and Social Sciences.

Topics

An American Link to a Castle in Downton Abbey

Genealogy is an exciting glimpse into history, and that’s no different for Duncan, who presents a riveting talk on African American genealogy and the Scottish connection. Records show that 300 years ago, her noble Scottish ancestors loaned money to the Campbell Clan nobles, who built and repaired Inveraray, the other impressive castle in popular Downton Abbey.

In 2005, Queen Elizabeth II and Scotland’s Court of the Lord Lyon granted a Scottish coat of arms to Duncan, based on records dated in the 1600s and 1700s from the British colony of Jamaica. She found ties to abolitionist and nobleman John Smellie fled Britain in 1715 when King George I slated his rebellious family for beheading. Shortly thereafter, a “lord,” one of her noble cousins, telephoned her to discuss their mutual noble ancestors. This led to a castle visit, and as it turns out, the possibility of owning another unclaimed castle! This would require finding certain lost marriage records, but Duncan is hard at work. She has already uncovered several birth and baptism records dating from 1726, and used DNA to confirm both Scottish and Maroon rebel African ancestors.

Attendees will not only learn about Duncan’s journey, but will also discover how they can find their own family ancestry in this fascinating program.

What Our DNA Says About Our Race, Heritage & Human Ancestry

DNA, Heritage, World Culture & the Migration of Humans

The Future of Medical DNA

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