Spitting My Past’s Past

March 3rd, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »


Surely within a few years (at least in generational terms), people will have easy, understandable access to their genetic information. Through a generous, question-asking/answering gift from #1 son, our family is suddenly immersed in an early version of it.

His Christmas present to his parents and two brothers was a saliva-based analysis of humans we are and our DNA. 23andMe reports what I suspected — I’m a fairly homogenized Northern and Western European type. I seem to have roots many thousands of years ago in what is now Arabia and even Northern Africa, but from way back, my folk populated the British Isles and Scandinavia, no big surprise for someone who grew up blond and pale.

At this nascent point in the science of DNA and related research, the what does all this mean remains sketchy to us relatively low-scientific resource types. The report site shows me as paternal haplogroup R1b1b2a1a1 and on the maternal side J1c3b. Huh?

The many screens of info suggest folk in the probably pretty small customer database who are like 3rd, 4th or so cousins genetically. Other screens and new notices regularly suggest proclivity toward various health conditions, traits and diseases. Again, with my genetics, there’s nothing startling, with slightly decreased or elevated tendencies to this or that. Of the long list, there is literally nothing alarming or even worthy of asking a doc about.

More curious making would be where my ancestor started, traveled and settled. Others are way ahead of me here. There are websites with voluminous related reports and people who have traced migration routes over tens of thousands of years, mostly based on analysis of bones all over Asia and Europe. Amusingly to me is that my paternal line stated a bit late but then mated with everyone in their way, leaving the haplogroup dominating Spain, the Basque region, France, Wales, Ireland, Britain, Denmark and Iceland.  That blew my idea that it was the Norsemen that started the bastardized lineage of what became Britain; instead, it may have been the R1b1b2 and so forth breeders who first became the Norsemen.

Clicking around on the haplogroups, I discovered that Wikipedia has numerous pages on various ones, including mine. These tend to be replete with links to academic studies, with all the data you can eat.

It also led to something I should have run across before, Doggerland. It was a real-world Atlantis in the sense that it was heavily inhabited 10,000 or so years ago and disappeared slowly at first from rising, post ice-age seas, then suddenly in a huge tsunami 8,000 years ago, give or take.

doggerThe accompanying image is part of one from a site with links to its tale. According to genetic traces still being dredged up, my ancestors heavily populated this land bridge between what became Europe and Britain. Many being washed away by 75-feet of tidal wave didn’t stop the stock.

Last year, I stumbled on a DNA-based series on PBS, the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. one Faces of America. As a non-TV watcher, I had read of it but of course missed it. I watched it online and as mildly sensationalized as it is (picking a few celebrities and tracing their genes way back), I was intrigued. Particularly moving too was when they presented Yo-Yo Ma with a copy of centuries of hand-recorded genealogy they discovered in China.

As it turns out, #1 son works for the Broad Institute in Cambridge that did key research for that series. I’m already hoping that folk there can tell him how to compare segments and get the most of the info on us.

As fascinating as I’ve found this stuff now that our family results arrived, I doubt it will consume me or us. Instead, I project to a future where such information becomes widely available and in much more manageable forms. Surely, we’re likely to start getting such testing as part of routine medical profiles. While docs may want to know what problems to watch for and eventually what to treat us preventively with genetic medicine in development or yet only imagined, we typical self-centered humans might rather know where our great-great-great-greats started, visited and stopped.

My father’s mother liked genealogy and had her husband’s side traced. There are some notable folk, but it’s really terribly British and on this continent from early colonial days (excepting the Spanish in Florida and so forth). In fact, that became very obvious to our sons when their Boston schools would have international nights, with pot lucks. The families were told to bring national dishes. That’s fine enough for the many with Latino, Russian, Vietnamese and other backgrounds. What’s a WASP to do and bring, pot roast or bread pudding? The kids wanted to do the right thing, but as a cook-everything guy, I ended up bring something I knew many would enjoy, like the un-English arroz con pollo.

My personal background seems not so much a melting pot as a lump of cheddar.

Friday Update: National Geographic had a Doggerland show, which doesn’t seem to rerun. However, it is available on YouTube.


2 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    The International Night story recalls to me the frustration of a Yankee co-worker who was asked to try out a diversity programme for schoolkids. It asked “Do you know the name of the first person from your family? If yes, what was it?” Answer: William Bradford. Do you know the name of the ship that brought your family here?
    Yes: the Mayflower. Maybe he would have brought baked beans and brown bread to the meal.

  2. Ed DeHart says:

    Hello cousin. I just received my 23and Me results. You and I share both haplogroups. I thought I should say hello.

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