DNA and me

Have you ever had your DNA tested? That's become a rather popular project with many people, as the availability of such tests has become more widespread. Such organizations as 23 and Me, Ancestry.com, and the Genographic Project by National Geographic offer simple tests that can be obtained by mail and the saliva tests completed and mailed back to be analyzed. Typically, one receives the results within eight to ten weeks.

Recently, some of my family members had had tests done. One of my daughters had her test done through 23 and Me. One of my brothers-in-law and one of my husband's cousins each had tests analyzed by the Ancestry.com project. All of which piqued my curiosity so I decided to get my DNA tested, too.

Mostly for variety's sake, I decided to get mine done through National Geographic's Genographic Project. I got the test kit, did the cheek swabs and mailed them, and then waited impatiently for the full ten weeks to get my results. 

When the results finally came, they were actually pretty boring. If I had expected some shocking bombshell in my ancestry to be revealed, I was in for a big disappointment. In fact, most of my ancestry is European and the biggest chunk of it has its origin in England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The report produced by the Genographic Project goes into great detail to trace the lineage of that ancestry. For example, I have 1.1% of Neanderthal genes in my DNA. Of my older ancestry, what the project terms "deep ancestry" of up to 100,000 years ago, there are at least five branches. 

The oldest branch, some 67,000 years old, had its origin in East Africa. This branch is shared by all women alive today. It is the major maternal branch from which all mitochondrial DNA lineages outside of Africa arose.

A second branch, about 60,000 years old, originated either in East Africa or Asia. This line and a sister branch are the only two founding lineages to expand out of Africa.

The third branch goes back about 55,000 years and originated in West Asia. Descendants of this line dominate the European maternal landscape, making up 75 to 95 percent of the lineages there.

About 35,000 years ago, the fourth branch on my ancestral tree grew in West Asia. This line reaches its highest frequency in Arabia, comprising 25 percent of Bedouin and Yemeni lineages. I share this ancestral line with Francesco Petrarca, the father of Humanism, and Richard III, King of England. (Maybe that's why I've always had a certain empathy for Richard.)

The final branch is about 13,000 years old and its origin is Europe. During this time the last ice age made much of Europe uninhabitable and my ancestors sheltered in the southern part of the region. Today, members of this lineage have the highest frequencies in modern populations near the ancestral locations of these ice age homes.

All of which gets us down to the nitty gritty of my regional ancestry, which as I said at the beginning is mostly European:

  • Great Britain and Ireland - 48%
  • Western and Central Europe (Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, etc.) - 32%
  • Southern Europe (Mediterranean area, also includes northern Africa) - 17%
  • Finland and Siberia (also includes some Native American groups) - 3% 
There you have it - a snapshot of my ancient family tree. And what does all of this tell me? Mainly, that I am a part of all humanity and it is a part of me. As John Donne observed long ago, "No man (and he might have added "woman") is an island." All of our borders touch. 

We are all so inextricably intertwined that those who feel themselves superior to others because they think their blood is purer, more human, or somehow better are truly only showing their vast ignorance. But, of course, this observation is based on science and those who hold such beliefs don't accept science, do they?   


  1. "Mainly, that I am a part of all humanity and it is a part of me." Yes, and sometimes when we are working hard and being present and responsible we get pneumonia from exhaustion and allergies and if we are a woman, we get s#*t for it. As my last neighbor's son-in-law used to say, "What on earth is wrong with people?" Thank you for your comprehensive report!

    1. And, of course, if we are women who have pneumonia, we just keep going until we drop, because we know if we stop, we'll be called weak. What is wrong with people, indeed. Well, as my husband says every day, "People are stupid!" I guess it's in our DNA.


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