For my birthday this year I decided to give myself a present that I have wanted for quite a long time: send my DNA to National Geographic’s Genographic Project to learn more about my deep ancestry. (Go on and click on that link if you want to know more than I ramble about the project.)
So I bought the kit online and waited no-so patiently for it to arrive. And when it did, I geekily delighted in it, taking each detail in. Cheek-swabbing commenced, and I tried desperately to be patient. I knew I had 6-8 weeks to wait, and for me personally, one of the best ways I could wait was to register a log in, which allowed me to receive email updates. So that a few weeks later, I received this first exciting progress report:
Look! Graphs and science and links to wonder! And then a week or so later….
More science and progress and excitement!
And then a few weeks later…
And even though it was pretty much 8 weeks to the day, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I could log in to view my results!
But before we get there, here’s me.
Well, with my boy. Dark-haired, light-eyed generally European-looking me. To the best of my knowledge I am English and German on my mom’s side and Italian and Polish on my dad’s. (Side note: Since I am female I am not able to get details about my paternal line, since that would be included on a Y chromosome, which makes me wish I was in touch with my dad for more than one reason.) So maybe I was a little too excited about uncovering something amazing and unexpected, like I am an aboriginal princess, or that I have African or Native American ancestry that would turn racial categories on their ear, that I guess I was a little disappointed when I first looked at this graphic. (It is basically a graphic you can share, which is not at all as detailed as the full report results.)
Can you hear the “wah-wah?” When I looked at the much more detailed map of the migration patterns of my maternal ancestors, I pretty much thought to myself, “Huh, Europeans just kinda stayed put after they left Africa. Way to innovate?” But then over the course of just one day I managed to really get into exploring all the information that was available to me, information would have been impossible to know not all that long ago. And then I started seeing how interesting it really is. Even if you just are a boring ol’ European.
After you explore the migration patterns of your ancestors, you can see what ethnic groups make up your DNA. My three groups are: Mediterranean, Northern European and Southwest Asian. (Oh, and NG makes note that not everyone’s percentages will add up to 100. Mine was 1% short, so I decided that the part of me who wanted to be special can take that 1% for aboriginal princess.) Each one was quite interesting to read about, but I was especially curious about the last group. Here’s how NG describes it:
This component of your ancestry is found at highest frequencies in India and neighboring populations, including Tajikistan and Iran in our reference dataset. It is also found at lower frequencies in Europe and North Africa. As with the Mediterranean component, it was likely spread during the Neolithic expansion, perhaps from the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent. Individuals with heavy European influence in their ancestry will show traces of this because all Europeans have mixed with people from Southwest Asia over tens of thousands of years.
I know that I wanted to be able to participate in this project and take away the sense that recent geographical and racial happenstance have little bearing on deep ancestry. The idea that me, and many other folks of European descent, are related to folks in India and Iran is exactly the kind of perspective I wanted to gain.
Also found in the “Who Am I?” section, you find the world populations you most closely match. Though the results are not surprising for me, the idea that science can “see” this is fascinating.
YOUR FIRST REFERENCE POPULATION: BRITISH (UNITED KINGDOM)
This reference population is based on samples collected from populations in the United Kingdom. The dominant 49% Northern European component likely reflects the earliest settlers in Europe, hunter-gatherers who arrived there more than 35,000 years ago. The 33% Mediterranean and 17% Southwest Asian percentages arrived later, with the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, over the past 10,000 years. As these early farmers moved into Europe, they spread their genetic patterns as well. Today, northern European populations retain their links to both the earliest Europeans and these later migrants from the Middle East.
YOUR SECOND REFERENCE POPULATION: TUSCAN (ITALY)
This reference population is based on samples collected from Italians native to Tuscany. The 54% Mediterranean and 17% Southwest Asian percentages reflect the strong influence of agriculturalists from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, who arrived in Italy more than 7,000 years ago. The 28% Northern European component likely comes from the pre-agricultural population of Europe—the earliest settlers, who arrived in Europe more than 35,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic period—and was perhaps increased during the conquest of northern Italy by the Germanic Lombards in the 6th-8th centuries. Today, the Northern European component predominates in northern European populations, while the Mediterranean component is more common in southern Europe.
Upon my fifth or so reading of this section, I was able to have a greater appreciation for the synthesis of sciences that went into it. Fascinating…
Oh, and if I still wanted to feel a little special, the “Your Map” section contained a few notable people:
NOTABLE PEOPLE (Haplogroup J)
Francesco Petrarca, the father of Humanism, and Richard III, King of England, were members of this lineage.
I’ll take ‘em!
There is truly so much information to absorb that I know that I will log on to look at my results over and over again, and share them with friends and family. I wanted to participate to know more about my ancestry and to help scientists learn more about human ancestry and migration, and I think I was able to do both.
(PS For those with a more rich scientific background, under the “expert options” section, you can download your sequenced genetic information.)