Personal DNA Research

Figure 1.--.

I had my Y chromosome tested by the Genographic Project in 2006. My sister had her mitochondrial DNA tested. The results answered some questions, but opened up others. The resulys got me interested in what DNA can tell us about how the Earth got peopled. Not just my specific ancestors, but everyone's. As we've seen with Jefferson, being of British ancestry doesn't mean you aren't also descended from all of the people who settled there.


As expected our mitochondrial DNA traces back to Scotland, but googling our specific mutations took me to a journal article that said that our relatives were found in the Outer Hebrides and in Iceland. It seems that when the Vikings sailed off to settle Iceland they stopped off at the British Isles to pick up wives.


I was interested in finding out what my Y chromosome had to say. I knew that my great grandfather was born in Finland to a Swedish-speaking mother, but that she was unmarried at the time and he never found out who his father was. Just as well, as he had vowed to kill him if he ever found out who he was! So it turns out to belong to a group called R1a1, which is the predominant group from Eastern Europe to northern South Asia, the areas where the eastern "Satem" branch branch of Indo-European languages are spoken). It's also found in 20-30 percent of Scandinavian men, perhaps due to the travels of the Germanic peoples? When found in the British Isles it's presumed to be from Viking ancestry, but when I checked a forensic DNA database I found that my closest match in England was to a man of Pakistani descent! Y chromosomes have a way of getting around.


Since our number of ancestors doubles with each generation that we go back, when we look at 40 generations ago (about a thousand years) we have over a trillion ancestors. That's more people than have ever lived, so obviously particular ancestors may fill a thousand slots, or a million, or even a billion. Go back another thousand years and there's another trillion-fold increase. This is the reason that geneticists say that we all have the same ancient ancestors, we just differ in the number of times that we're descended from specific ancient individuals. Y chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA can only tell us about the individuals filling two specific ancestral slots in any generation, so they don't really say that much about any person's whole ancestry. But they can be very informative in tracking groups of people across history.

Other Peoples

I've been having a lot of fun studying this stuff. I've read articles on the origins of the Polynesians (a mixture of Malay and Papuan), Japanese (Korean and Ainu), and Finns (60 percent Asian on the male side, 99 percent European on the female side). All very fascinating.


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Created: 5:42 PM 12/11/2007
Last updated: 5:42 PM 12/11/2007