The Genographic Project

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with my ancestry. Where I come from, who my ancestors were, what connections to other countries we have.

What I do know isn’t very interesting. My dad’s mom was from Dublin, but she was brought up by nuns and we know little of her family. Esther Mary O’Connor; what a perfect Irish name. Her mother’s maiden name was Taaffe, and aside from the street she was born on (I have a copy of her birth certificate), we know nothing else about that side of the family. There are rumours that her brothers were involved with the IRA (what fun!), but it’s all just speculation. My dad just never thought to ask the questions that come to me, and she died in the ’80s, when I was a baby.

My mom’s family is pretty boring – a family tree traces her dad’s family to the same village in which we live today, back in the 1700s. They were your average labourer types. Although their surname is Bullivant, an unusual surname of French origin. My mom’s mom was from Bath, and had the uninteresting surname of Jackson, which tells us literally nothing, and my great grandmother was a Buckler. Nothing much is known about my my dad’s dad’s family – the Guests – either. There are mutterings of German or Norwegian ancestry, but nothing concrete.

Now to look at me and my parents – we’re pretty different. Both parents are dark, tan easily, with hazel eyes and jet black hair. Me? I’m pale, I burn, I freckle, and my hair is mousy; brown in the winter, a dark blonde in the summer. (I did inherit the hazel eyes though.) My dad’s dark hair comes from the Irish side, and he would probably be as pale as me if he weren’t outside all the time. He’s very hairy, but his arms are incredibly freckly.

Now my mom – she looks Mediterranean. So does her brother, and her mom did too, to a degree. And I’ve always wondered what ancestry we have, where that darkness comes from.

So my mom and I decided to go halves on the Genographic Project. It costs £169.99, and is essentially a DNA test that measures markers in your DNA against those of other participants and indigenous populations, and plots your ancestors’ journey out of Africa. This isn’t just grandparent stuff we’re talking about, this is deep ancestry – from 100,000 years ago up to 1,000 years ago.

Now, because I’m a woman and possess two x chromosomes, I can only get my mitochondrial DNA tested – this is passed from mother to child, mother to child, mother to child. It will show the migratory path of my mom’s mom’s mom’s mom’s mom’s etc ancestors. But the Genographic Project also analyses other parts of my DNA, parts that I have inherited from all of my ancestors, not just those on a direct maternal or paternal line.

So in May, mom and I clubbed together to send off for a Geno 2.0 kit. You have to do two cheek swabs to collect some DNA, pop them in tubes which contain some type of fluid, and mail them back to Texas (I laughed that postage was not included! Thankfully, the price of a small padded envelope to the US is not expensive).

And so we waited! I received a series of emails which let me know which phase of testing my sample was in, and yesterday afternoon, whilst I was in a walk in centre before being diagnosed with bacterial tonsillitis/strep throat (hence why I am writing this at midday on a Friday), I checked my emails. I had received another email re-confirming that my sample was still in the final stage of analysis. I ignored this, until I got home – I was curious! I had logged into the website a few days in a row now, to see if I could beat the email. And at around 9pm last night, there they were – my results!

This is what I was greeted with…

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.10.28

This was the first thing I saw – and I was already surprised! I’m more Denisovan than Neanderthal! Now, from the little we know about the Denisovans, they were a separate sub-species of homo sapiens – like the Neanderthals. The discovery was only announced in 2010, and they are named after the cave in which the remains were found – in Siberia, near the border with China and Mongolia. As you can see, my DNA is almost a whole percentage point above the average for Europeans, which is fascinating. It’s more commonly found amongst Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians. Already, I was getting a sense of interconnectedness.

Now, for the mitochondrial DNA. This charts the route my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother etc took out of Africa.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.04.21

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 12.58.45

There is more information than is pictured; this is just to give you a flavour!

L is the branch that all women – and thus all of us – descend from. L3 is the branch I belong to, and this branch is the one that all maternal lines outside of Africa come from.

It then showed me the continuation of my ancestors’ journey, culminating in the revelation that my maternal haplogroup is T2.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.08.53Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.09.07Typically, this group doesn’t have a ton of research on it, as it seems quite widely dispersed. I did some googling, and it is mainly seen in the near East and Eastern Europe. The part about Iraq really amused me – when we were reading this, my dad decided to phone up my mom’s rather xenophobic brother and tell him he’s Iraqi. His response? ‘Load of bollocks!’ hahaha.

Other famous people who share the T2 haplogroup are Eddie Izzard (woohoo!), Charles I, George I, George III, George V, and a couple of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, and Bohemian Kings.

My googling did lead me to find this map, which shows where T2s are most likely to be found:

Taken from eupedia.com

Taken from eupedia.com

As you can see, those with which I share my haplogroup are mainly concentrated in Italy, Sardinia, Crete, the Netherlands, and, bizarrely, Iceland!

The website this map came from, eupedia.com, is a real mine of information about these haplogroups. Studies have shown that those from the T line are more resistant to type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, yet more prone to coronary artery disease and, in men, reduced sperm motility. Better not have any boys, then!

I have to admit I was a little disappointed in this result, as I knew that T2 wasn’t particularly precise – until I realised you could transfer your results over to the Genographic Project’s partner, Family Tree DNA. Upon doing this, I got my precise maternal haplogroup:

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.16.21

I assume that the Genographic Project doesn’t tell you this as they cater more for the lay person, and there is barely any information on this particular sub-branch. However, the good thing about genetics is that as more people take part, the information available becomes more precise and refined. Who knows what they’ll know about this group in 50 years’ time?

My maternal haplogroup is not the most common in Europe (that would be H – 40-50% of Europeans are that branch, whilst only 10% of Europeans are my branch), or even the most common branch of the T line (that would be T2b) – but mine is mainly found in the UK, Germany and surrounding northern European regions. So it looks like those Iraqis/Croatians/Italians got bored of the sun, and headed for more northern climes!

The final part of my results focuses on information taken from across the whole of my DNA – all of my ancestors. This is what I got:

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.47.52

This is interesting; we always thought that parts of my family were Mediterranean, and this proves it. You’re given two reference populations to help explain your results – these are populations that, whilst you may not descend from those regions, show a similar regional breakdown in their DNA.

My first reference population was, surprise surprise, British!

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.52.14

As you can see, I have more Mediterranean in me and less Northern European than the average Brit.

My second reference population was German!

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 13.52.22

I’m not sure why this wasn’t my first reference population as it’s quite clear that my DNA matches the average German’s more closely than the average Brit’s (I am unsure as to whether they are meant to be presented in order, however). Although this doesn’t necessarily mean I have German ancestry, it shows that my DNA most closely matches the regional DNA from the average German. As I said at the beginning, it’s long been suggested that the Guests are German, but I will never know this until I find out my paternal line. Thankfully, I have a father who is willing! Men can get both their mitochondrial DNA and their Y-DNA tested, to find out both direct paternal lineages.

We probably won’t get him a kit until nearer to Christmas, but if we do, look out for a post on that! Then I will just be missing my mom’s dad’s line. Alas, my uncle is too stubborn to do it. Never mind.

Overall, although the kit is expensive, it’s definitely worth it if you’re interested in ancestry. There is a fair amount of info on the Genographic website, and what isn’t there can be found online, in journals, and in popular science books. More information will become available on both the Genographic site and other sites as more people choose to participate and we build a more thorough understanding of how we’re all connected.

Nikki x

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