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DNA testing company Ancestry pulls ad after backlash for portrayal of early 1800s biracial couple

The ad showed an unlikely love story for the antebellum American South

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ancestry has pulled an add for its DNA testing service after facing backlash for its unlikely portrayal of a presumably fictional biracial couple in the antebellum American South.

What did the ad say?

In the ad, a black woman in early 1800s garb approaches a white man on the porch of a building. "Abigail, we can escape to the North," the man tells her, offering her a ring. "There's a place we can be together across the border. Will you leave with me?"

"Without you, the story stops here," the ad says, as it shows images associated with family history research, including a marriage license for an Abigail Williams and James Miller dated April 9, 1857, in Ontario, Canada. It is unclear if the scenario is based on the lives of that couple — or any other real people. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the commercial was intended for Ancestry's Canadian audience.

While DNA tests and family history research are popular, digging up the past can often be painful for black people. Many black Americans have a white ancestor from some point before the Civil War, but this was often the result of the rape of a slave. Additionally, the choice granted to the woman in the video was a degree of freedom not even open to many white women at the time.

And in the Northern states where slavery was illegal interracial marriage was still a taboo, even after the Civil War. In 1883's Pace v. Alabama decision, the Supreme Court decided that states had a constitutional right to ban interracial marriage. It took until 1967 for the Supreme Court to rule that interracial couples had a right to marry.

Historian Sylviane Diouf from Brown University told Time that the ad was "a nicely packaged recreation which is absolutely untrue," adding that its rosy portrayal of such a difficult topic and time period was "insulting."

Ancestry has responded

In a statement to Time, a representative for the company said:

Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history. This ad was intended to represent one of those stories. We very much appreciate the feedback we have received and apologize for any offense that the ad may have caused. We are in the process of pulling the ad from television and have removed it from YouTube.
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