Several years ago, I began researching my ancestry using Ancestry.com and was hopeful I would be able to trace at least one family surname back to Europe or the area of the world in which my ancestors lived prior to coming to America.
For some surnames, it was easy to find a family connection to others who had conducted extensive ancestry research, and I was able to discover that my roots are most likely Irish and German.Other branches of the tree were more difficult, and roadblocks stalled my search, leaving me to wonder exactly who I descended from.
I recently stumbled across another ancestry research alternative while visiting the National Geographic Web site. National Geographic sponsors The Genographic Project, a global ancestry research project that tests the DNA of participants and categorizes the results according to the genetic markers found in your DNA.
Pay $100, and you will receive a DNA testing kit. Swab your cheeks with the contents, send the DNA back, and several weeks later, your DNA results will be securely posted on the National Geographic Web site along with a map that shows your deep ancestral lineage.
There are two types of tests. If women participate, mitochondrial DNA is tested. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to daughter with a DNA sequence that rarely changes. When a genetic mutation occurs in the sequence, it becomes a genetic marker that is passed on to females in the next generation. By comparing mutations found in individuals all over the world, scientists are able to trace the path of our ancestors.
The markers occurring near the end of the journey may be the most important because they indicate where your ancestors were prior to moving into Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, etc. Scientific research indicates that everyone in the world shares a common African ancestor, so Africa is the beginning of all our genetic journeys.
My test results show that my maternal lineage is most definitely European, which wasn’t really a surprise. The markers indicate that before my maternal ancestors were in Europe, they were in the Middle East and then moved to a part of the world on the border of Europe and Asia.
The markers I have were found most frequently in the Caucasus Mountains near Turkey, Iran and the Georgian region of Russia. Then my ancestors moved into Europe, where 40 percent of all Europeans today carry the same markers.
I am a member of the H haplogroup with subclaves H1a and H13. The H13 subclave indicates that at least one of my ancestors was probably from the Caucasus Mountain region, so I guess I am truly Caucasian. After learning that, I looked up the history of the word “caucasian,” which has been used in the past to refer to the white race. Apparently, the anthropologist who coined the term did so because he thought the people from the Caucasus region had nice skulls, but the term, as it has been used, doesn’t really specifically refer to the people from that area.
As more people contribute their DNA to the Genographic project, those in charge say it will evolve and provide a more distinct understanding of our genetic journey. Participants can use their own personal code to access the Web site and see if their ancestry results change when new data is collected.
After obtaining your results, you can submit them to other Web sites like Mitosearch.org and Familytreedna.com. There, I was able to find several very distant relatives who share the same distinct number markers.
I’m hoping my uncle will participate in the project and have his Y chromosome DNA tested, which will trace his paternal ancestry. Y chromosome test results can be used in surname projects to indicate whether or not you truly descend from a certain family.