Friday, August 29, 2008

The genetics journey begins

Well, the cheeks have been swabbed, vigorously, and the swabs have been mailed. My dad, my brother, and I all took our DNA tests and submitted them to for testing. I'm very excited. We each took a different test (well, my dad and I took the same one, but they'll be tracing different lines), so I should be getting results that trace my paternal Gorry line, my maternal line, and my father's maternal line - those lines are impossible to name as it follows the female so each generation has a new name...

I'm very curious about the results, which I probably won't be getting for another four weeks at the earliest (even when I'm hitting brick walls, genealogy still teaches me things, like patience!). My sample should come back showing the T haplogroup, which is what my NatGeo DNA results told me, but I'd like to see if there's any more info on T than there was 4 years ago. I don't know anything about tracing the y-chromosome, so I have no idea what to expect result-wise for the Gorry line, so that'll be something new to learn when I get those results back, and then there's my father's maternal line. Like I said in another post, 40-60 percent of people of European descent belong to the H haplogroup according to their mtDNA, so that's the result I'm expecting to find there. And I don't think my father quite understands why we did this or what we'll learn from it, so I'm excited to share those results with him once they come in - hopefully there'll be a map and some info more specific to the haplogroup we fall into, which will clear some things up.

So thanks to my dad and my brother for helping out, especially my brother, who gave me his DNA even though I couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't be used at some point in the future to frame him for a crime he never committed. Thanks, family! :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Genographic Project

I've actually taken a genealogical DNA test before, in June 2005, as part of National Geographic's The Genographic Project. They were studying isolated, indigenous populations but asked for as many participants as possible to send in their DNA to create a map of the human journey. I thought it sounded so interesting - how could I not be a part of it?

The results of the test put you into a haplogroup - depending on what mutations they find in your DNA, they can group you with others with that same mutation back to a common ancestor/group of people. The tree starts with a common ancestor in Africa, and from their branches out, and those branches branch out, and again, and it's on those various branches that your DNA will place you. The National Geographic website explains it much better than I do, so if you want to know more, I highly recommend visiting the site:

Anyway, I learned that I had four mutations that put me in haplogroup T. 40-60 percent of Western Europeans belong to haplogroup H, and as someone who seems to constantly strive to be different, I was happy to find I didn't fall into that group. T, though the second most popular Western European haplogroup, is only found in 20 percent of the population. Anyway, T is considered one of the main genetic signatures of the Neolithic expansion, which is basically when, around 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers became farmers. A lot of Ts can be found in the Ukraine/Russia/Georgia region, which I found interesting, because I was following an Irish line. Obviously, 10,000 years ago there were no Irish people. They all had to come from somewhere. But it was interesting to learn that where many of my branch ended up beside Ireland.

The next geneological frontier: DNA

Yep, I'm jumping on the bandwagon. With all the increase in interest in genealogy, it was only a matter of time before DNA entered the picture. Not only can it, in some cases, pinpoint your relation to someone in Australia (or fill-in-the-blank random spot here) in terms of how many generations back you could have a common ancestor, but it can rule out people you think you might be related to, and for those of us who are constantly trying to see the bigger picture, who are always in pursuit of information to fill in the never ending gaps in our trees and our trees in history, DNA can paint you a somewhat interesting picture (using broad strokes, for sure, but the pictures still there) of your ancient ancestors' journey over the years - out of Africa, through the Fertile Crescent, and to wherever your ancestors might have traveled beyond that.

I've been keen to hop on board this train for awhile, but the limitations for me in my genealogical pursuit are always the same: lack of information and lack of money. In this case, it was the money issue. DNA tests are expensive! (That's why it's good to make sure you know who the father of your children is. That, and it's makes it easier to trace his side of their family tree for them!)

Anyway,, which now has a DNA section up to explain your results to you, put you in touch with people with similar DNA backgrounds, and provide a place to chat and share information, is having a sale on DNA testing - 50 percent off until September 30. It's still not inexpensive, but it's half as expensive as it normally is, which is perfect for me, as why in the world would I be content to buy just one DNA kit?

Here's the deal - y-chromosome DNA traces the paternal line: son to father to father to father to father and so on. Mitochondrial, or MtDNA testing traces the maternal line: son/daughter to mother to mother to mother and so on. As you can see, males can get both tests done. Females are stuck with just the MtDNA option, in which case you have to recruit a brother or father to trace your paternal lineage.

So, wanting to get as much information as possible (there's a reason that everything I do - genealogy, reading, being a journalist - revolves around gathering information...I'm just going to pretend that you didn't just say, "Yeah, it's because she's crazy!"), I ordered one y-chromosome and 2 MtDNA tests. I will be taking one of the MtDNA tests - all that's involved is swabbing the inside of your cheek (pretty hard, though, I might add) and mailing it back to the lab, after which it takes a few weeks to get results. As far back as I can go maternally (seven generations, about the year 1800) I am Irish.

I am asking either my brother or my father to get me my paternal DNA results with the y-chromosome test. That line is also Irish. Then, I'm asking my father to take an MtDNA test, which would follow my paternal grandmother's line, which goes seven or eight generations back that I know of, and is a German line. When I get my next paycheck, I'm considering ordering another y-chromosome test and asking one of my maternal uncles or cousins to take it, which would follow my English Raynor line.

I ordered the tests yesterday and they were shipped today. I already feel impatient, because I know these things can take forever (not to get to me, but to be tested in the lab) and I just want to know already, but it's fun getting that genealogical itch again and knowing that to some extent, even if it's in a couple of weeks, I'm going to get to scratch it. In a field that I know (and dread) has to ultimately end on all branches with an impassable dead end, DNA genealogy gives us a tool to go beyond those dead ends - you won't get names, you won't get pictures, you won't get occupations, but something is better than nothing.