Connecting Charlestonians Through Genomics: National Geographic Explorer

(May, 2020.New York) - As a human, there is an inherent need to know about our genetic ancestry. Unfortunately, for many Americans, it is nearly impossible because their family roots were torn apart during the centuries of slavery. During that time, family, heritage, and belonging was stolen heritage from their lives. Curiosity of potential connection and the questioning “what if” led to several Charlestonians and 36 discovered remains being reunited with their African heritage after 200 years.


As the son of Nigerian immigrants, Adeyemi Oduwole grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, yet has a close connection to his family in the west African nation of Nigeria. He asked important questions when he heard about a discovery in Charleston that led to the Gullah Society’s Anson Street Burials Project. During construction excavation, dozens of bodies had been discovered from unmarked graves from two centuries ago, and 36 were known to be of African descent. Oduwole’s biggest question was if any of the remains discovered were relatives of current citizens of Charleston, or perhaps, even of his own ancestry. Unable to fund research on his own a young college student, Oduwole applied for a National Geographic Society Early Career Grant to expand efforts of the Burial Project.


Oduwole’s research is awarded through a series of prestigious National Geographic grants and he was able to begin analyzing the genomic diversity and ancestry of 80 Charlestonians for the Burials Project. This groundbreaking research was exciting and rewarding for him because he could help fill the gap that exists for so many Charlestonian’s family histories. Early results showed their genetic history linked to West and Central Africa, Caribbean, and South Carolina; and some of the 80 Charlestonians were in fact related to those from so long ago. The end of the Burial Project reinterned the remains, giving them names from their native lands and celebrating their lives.


Of note, further intertwining research like this has connected hundreds of individuals across the South with their ancestral roots and heritage. During continued studies at the College of Charleston Oduwole was awarded the Outstanding Student of the Year during his senior year. He is now attending graduate school in New York City with plans to attend medical school and looks forward to including this research in his medical career. Follow Oduwole’s research and upcoming career on


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