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AncestryDNA Does The Right Thing & Pulls Controversial Ad

Popular DNA testing company AncestryDNA recently took down one of its ads after an intense online backlash.

It showed a white man asking a black woman named Abigail to run away with him to “the North.”

Critics took offense with Ancestry.com’s supposed tone deafness to America’s convoluted black history.

The Controversy

Controversial Ad

The main source of controversy surrounds the ad’s theme.

It alleged that Abigail was in a romantic relationship with the white man, who even gives her a ring to suggest a marriage proposal. Some black commentators found the idea absurd.

They pointed out that interactions between white men and black women during that period were often violent.

The women were more likely to be physically attacked and raped than wooed in the streets.

The ad was, therefore interpreted as an attempt by Ancestry to whitewash America’s dark history concerning slavery.

Why Did AncestryDNA Post the Ad?

AncestoryDNA ad

Ancestry.com’s Canadian branch was the first to air the ad.

The backlash began after it started airing in the American market. AncestryDNA probably assumed it would be received in North America the same way it was received in Canada.

Although colonial Canada practiced slavery, it wasn’t on the same scale as the USA. The country also had more aboriginal slaves than black ones.

A logical reason for Canada’s failure to import large numbers of black slaves is that it didn’t have the kind of plantations that existed in America, especially in the south.

Later on, after the abolition of slavery, Canada became a haven for escaped slaves from the US. While black people still faced discrimination there, their lives were significantly better than in the south.

That’s probably why the white man in the ad tells Abigail to go with him to the North, across the border, to Canada.

The implication is that in Canada interracial marriages are legal, while in America they’re still frowned upon.

Canada also played a role in the underground railroad made famous by Harriet Tubman.

Most escaped slaves didn’t feel safe in Northern American states. Even though some of them had already abolished slavery, they still enforced segregation in one way or another.

Under some circumstances, escaped slaves could be arrested in the North and returned to their former masters in the South.

So it makes sense that some escaped black slaves wanted to travel to Canada so they could feel safe in their freedom.

The Ancestry.com ad wouldn’t resonate with black Canadians the same way it did with black Americans. The latter has a more tortured history with slavery than the former.

What Do The Ad’s Supporters Say?


Although Ancestry.com has already pulled the ad and apologized for its insensitivity, some think it shouldn’t have.

Although the majority of interactions between white men and black women did involve violence, there were some few genuine romantic relationships.

They also point out that white people played a crucial role in the underground network that helped escaped slaves. White owned homes were part of the network that gave them shelter while they were smuggled to the North.

Lastly, not every white person in slavery-era America owned slaves. Although most of them were common folk who didn’t have the means to afford slaves, some white people were genuinely opposed to slavery.

It is opposing the ad because Abigail was more likely to be a rape victim paints white people as monsters. It ignores the fact that some did genuinely fall in love with black people, and helped them escape to freedom.



By using TV and online ads, AncestryDNA is hoping to get more customers to buy their services.

They already have the biggest database of all DNA testing companies. Making it even bigger comes with a lot of benefits, both for the company as well as their customers.

In its quest to grow its database though, the company must understand cultural sensitivities, which can be especially prominent when it comes to ancestry DNA testing.

If they hope to attract minorities to their services, perhaps a better way to do it would be to increase the diversity of their database, a major challenge for many companies.

It’ll allow black Americans and other underrepresented races to track their ancestry and find family members.

In the meantime, if you are interested in getting a DNA test for ancestry, Ancestry.com is still one of the best choices. If you are doing in-depth genealogical research, you’ll find Family Tree DNA to be more helpful.

See our comparison of Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA to learn how they differ.

About the Author Charles McKnight

I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.

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