It started out as a little thing. I had heard of National Geographic’s Genographic Project through an acquaintance. The project focused (and continues to focus, there’s now a 2.0 version) on deep ancestry from an anthropological perspective and how people began to populate the earth. It traces DNA migration patterns using genetic mutations to follow our ancient ancestors’ path. For my part, they only needed me to gently swab my cheek and in exchange I would learn about my mother’s family’s migration path from Africa across Asia and Europe. Mitochondrial Eve + me? I was in!
When the kit arrived the suggestion to “gently swab” went out the door and became “enthusiastically remove your inner cheek.” Hey, I wasn’t about to risk the chance that National Geographic wouldn’t have enough material to work with, and so I spit half of my inner face into a nice accommodating tube, only pausing a moment to admire the grossness of it all. Then I sealed the tube, stuffed it into a padded mailer and sent my oral bio-hazard whizzing through our mail system A few weeks later an email arrived saying something cheerful like, “Hello, K23719! (they don’t have your name on file and well, this isn’t my number, but you get the idea) Please push the magic link below for cool pictures and info about the migration of your mtDNA.” I pushed knowing I’d finally see beyond the “… and then they left Roanoke and headed to Atlanta where they eventually cursed Sherman,” and I wasn’t disappointed. I learned my mother’s line belonged to Haplogroup U4.
Here’s a brief snippet from Wikipedia:
Haplogroup U4 has its origin in the Upper Palaeolithic, dating to approximately 25,000 years ago and has been implicated in the expansion of modern humans into Europe occurring before the Last Glacial Maximum U4 is an ancient mitochondrial haplogroup and is relatively rare in modern populations. U4 is found in Europe with highest concentrations in Scandinavia and the Baltic states and is also associated with the remnants of ancient European hunting-gatherers preserved in the indigenous populations of Siberia.U4 is found in Nganasans the indigenous inhabitants of the Taimyr Peninsula, in the Mansi (16.3%) an endangered people, and in the Ket people (28.9%) of the Yenisey River. U4 is also preserved in the Kalash people a unique tribe among the Indo-Aryan peoples of Pakistan (current population size 3,700) where it attains its highest frequency of 34%.
Now, where I don’t quite get all of the science behind this, I do get enough of it that I find the information absolutely fascinating. And every few weeks when another U4 person uploads their results, Family Tree DNA sends me an email notifying me that there’s another one of my clan members romping about. I mentally fist bump them.
Sometime after I received my National Geographic results, I regained my interest in our family tree and began playing around with it. I cleaned up (deleted the whole thing and started fresh) what I had and managed to add some new, better researched, branches into my Family Tree Maker application. At the same time, I started poking Find A Grave, where I got lost for a bit then re-emerged with even more great family information. The best find from Find A Grave was my 2nd cousin Carol. We had a shared “that’s MY great-grandfather” moment followed by “who are you?” Carol is amazing and while I don’t know her, I love her to death. She talked me into doing two new things. One was having my DNA tested through Ancestry.com, the other was taking those results and uploading them into GEDmatch. She said both would match me up with other relatives (and they have).
Quick aside – in contacting these strangers (aka cousins) I’ve found through these sites, I’ve learned one thing. As a whole, Mom’s relatives are extremely unhelpful and border on rude, whereas Dad’s relatives “people” are crazy helpful and know way more than I could ever hope to know about our tree and about DNA in general. I mention this only because it would irk Mom to know this and that irkiness would be amusing. Hey, it’s hard when you grow up on the right side of the tracks and have to hear the lowly peasant stock are kinder people. Mom, I’m just sayin’… There’s a particular pain-filled story with one of Mom’s people, but that’s for another time. Suffice it to say I managed to not repeatedly beat my head against my desk which amounted to a huge, applause-worthy accomplishment on my part. Did I mention it was a very huge accomplishment? One of my immediate relatives who also talked to this person had a similar experience – in fact, we’re all lucky that several of us didn’t have self-inflicted concussions.
That leads me to the results. The first thing I’ll show you are my Ancestry results. I like them because they’re simple and well, kind of pretty. They’re also straight-forward. I like those qualities: simple, kind of pretty and straight-forward, which is like “simple” but well it’s “straight forward” – you know what I’m saying. The results are what I expected. I’m very British, somewhat Irish and a mix of many other things which includes my U4-iness.
Next up are several of the different ways I parsed up my DNA through GEDmatch. Depending on which one you look at, I’m apparently a variety of Europeans, Baltic and what have you (an unidentified and rare group of misfits)) which we all could guess. But, if you poke around even more you’ll see I have Jewish ancestry (apparently from Germany), I’m part Pygmy (Jay, I’m looking forward to those jokes – no, really – for the record, that is not where my short legs came from), Amerindian (which, if I read that right is not necessarily American Indian, but possibly their pre-ice bridge walking cousins – who knows?), Oceanic, and Iranian. Such a weird mix. I’ve told Jay I want a Pygmy figure wearing a yarmulke to represent my people.
Here’s the thing, though. The more I am on GEDmatch, the less I understand and while I find these charts fascinating, I don’t know what they really mean. Where they say “North_Atlantic” did my people spring forth from the ocean? Are we talking Atlantis? On one, the results say I’m part pygmy, but in another it shows no pygmy. Did my inner pygmy scamper off for that test?
And well sure, I can click on the links the PhD student who put these together provided, but their splatter charts make zero sense to me. It looks like someone took a chip brush, dipped it in paint and then fanned it across my screen while saying, “see, you get it now, right?” The 4 pt. font doesn’t help either, for the record..
I read a comparison of the different DNA test information today. It looked at Ancestry, GEDmatch and 23andme and it basically seemed to say “Ancestry is for stupid people while these others are for those who are technical.” This may be the first time I’ve felt extremely untechnical (stupid) as I look at chromosome strings and try to figure out how one of my mother’s cousins has no shared “X” DNA with me, but comes up as a match.
Kudos to my Dad’s “people” who have tried to help with, “ok Beth, here’s an excel spreadsheet. The strings tell you the family lines and the…” What? My brain just cannot wrap around it. I feel I may be doomed to Ancestry and the pretty, yet simple pictures. Hey, I’m 75% British! Am I Welsh? Scottish? Who knows?
I suppose “pretty” is good too, right?