How Do I Research My Fulani Roots?

Tracing Your Roots: Advice for picking up the paper trail when DNA tests pinpoint African heritage.

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As for finding out where your mother's middle name came from, know that the Fulani have a patriarchal society that greatly values family relationships and ancestry. On every level, names are very important, and the first event in any child's life is the infant-naming ceremony. The last name comes from the father's surname, but the child will have a first name chosen by the father and another chosen by the mother. These names most often come from current or ancient family members, so that middle name of Malthida could indeed go back much further than your mother may have thought!

Elders memorize the clan's history, lineages and wisdom and passed it on as oral history. If you can learn at least the names of the ancestor(s) who first left the area, you may still be able to hear more about your own family history directly by visiting with an elder Fulani. For more about these (and other) Fulani traditions, you may be interested in reading the articles at Jamtan Fulani. A blog dedicated to African ancestral genealogy, Roots Revealed, could also prove motivating to you.

The Igbo

The Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria actually have an oral tradition that they have always been in "Igboland." Archaeological evidence shows that similar pottery has been found in the area dating back as far as 4500 B.C., and the Igbo language seems to be directly linked to two of the earliest, Akkadian and Canaanite.

The Igbo are primarily agricultural and were not inclined to have overarching rulers (like chiefs) until British colonization in the mid-19th century. It is more likely to find the Igbo in village kinship groups in which children were often raised communally.

Similarly to the Fulbe, the Igbo have a patriarchal society, celebrate the naming of infants, and revere ancestors by reusing ancestral names. The leaders are the eldest from each lineage, and councils make the decisions. In naming children, some names come from the progenitor who was believed to have been reincarnated, and sometimes the names for first-born are derived from paternal grandparents.

They, too, practiced oral tradition, rather than having written records. Since colonization, the Igbo have predominantly become Christians (especially Roman Catholic) so it is possible that ancestors can be found in surviving church records from that era forward.

There have been quite a few books written about the Igbo history and culture which could deepen your understanding of your roots. Examples of these include: Elizabeth Isichei's A History of the Igbo People (London: Macmillan, 1976); Edmund Ilogu's Christianity and Ibo Culture (Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1974); and Catherine Acholonu's They Lived Before Adam: Prehistoric Origins of the Igbo, the Never-Been-Ruled (Owerri, Nigeria: Flyann Limited, 2009).

One way to learn about Nigerian family members is to post a query to a genealogical forum like this one at These can be viewed around the world, so not only might you get a reply from someone else doing similar research, but you may also receive a response from someone living in Nigeria who knows living members of the line or who has access to onsite resources.

The Virginians