Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dueling DNA

This is a dueling blog. Donna-Lane's version is at

I've been told, over the years, that my family heritage can be traced to U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, to British royalty, and includes American Indian genes. My brother once did an extensive genealogy study, contacting every known living relative and searching their memories and family archives to assemble our gene tree.

Today there are more sophisticated scientific tools for discovering who you are connected to ... and not just as Facebook friends.

On a bit of a lark, but with some genuine curiosity mixed in, Donna-Lane and I decided to try one of the new DNA analysis services. We ordered the kits online, had them delivered to Switzerland, did the swab the inside of your mouth thing, and shipped our saliva to Houston while we were visiting relatives in the States in March.

The results came through online this week.

No mention of American Indian, but according to Family Tree DNA I may have ancestors from Northern India or thereabouts in Central Asia. Less than 2% though.

The British royalty connection is a much stronger possibility -- 94% of my ancestry is European and fully 88% is tagged as British Isles. Hey, Queen Elisabeth II and I share a birthday. Why not a few chromosomes? (How about a little of the family treasury as well?)

There's a little of Southern Europe in me (6%, they say), around Italy and Greece; explains my passion for pizza and spiedies. And some Eastern Europe, probably Polish or Ukrainian, which was half the town where I grew up. Also a little Finnish and Ashkenazi Jewish.

In the "ancient origins" map, my ancestors were 45% farmer, 42% hunter-gatherer, and 12% Metal Age Invader (my favourite) from 3000 to 1000 BC - "people of the Black Sea region known as the Yamnaya ... changed culture and life on the European continent in a multitude of ways ... domesticated horses, wheeled vehicles, and metal tools."

The analysis also provides a list of personal "matches" - people in their database with whom you share chromosome markers called "centimorgans." Currently I have 1743 matches of varying tenuousness, mostly 2nd, 3rd, 4th and remote cousins. Many have email addresses if I want to contact them, presumably to share gossip about cousin Harriet or Uncle Lester.

The names range from Aasness to Zylla. There are 75 with Adams somewhere in their ancestral surnames, 44 with Bennett (my mother's maiden name). The most common, predictably, are Smith, Jones and Davis.

I also checked Donna-Lane's family surnames, Boudreau (5) and Sargent (12), just to make sure we aren't cousins and therefore should probably not have children together.

The results seem generic enough that they could just be marketing hokum, like horoscopes and fortune cookies. But there's a lot of detail to suggest the connections might be genuine.

I don't plan to reach out to any of my newfound relatives. Though at some point when I have the time I'll probably use my brother's research to fill in the online family tree; that may trigger more matches, either for me or for others in the database.

I know personally nearly all of my immediate family connections and, for the most part, they're pretty wonderful people. If the circle should expand, all the better.

So Cousin Lizzie, when are you planning to have us for dinner at Windsor Castle?

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