Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Investigating DNA

“DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.”
― Bill Gates, The Road Ahead

Husband and I, some weeks ago, submitted our saliva samples to one of the several outfits specialising in providing DNA testing for genealogical reasons. We chose autosomal testing, it's not as expensive as some other tests, and good enough, as an experiment.

It so happened that the chosen outfit, unknown to me at the time of ordering, turned out to be based in Houston, Texas. Our order was submitted just as that horrific hurricane started knocking hell out of Houston. I eventually received confirmation that our "kits" had been safely received and the company was out of the direct line of devastation. Some 4 or 5 weeks later our result "kits" of data arrived online.

What I really would like from my own results is to be able to break down a few "brick walls" in my family tree, caused by illegitimate births or iffy data. I'm now knee-deep in data! Most of it isn't truly relevant, or particularly helpful in the quest mentioned. Of course, information available is limited by the number, and spread, of people who apply for the testing. Computers can spew out only what has first been put in! The long list of possible "cousins", one of the services provided gives no matches, for me, closer than possible links, several times removed, from around 4 or 5 generations back - impossible to recognise, unless a recognised surname has survived, passed on to the website.

I'm still wading in the shallows. The simplest part of the trail to sort out, for a beginner, is general ethnicity. What I have discovered, so far, is my spread of ethnicity. This is culled from known DNA ethnicity definitions. Data from the company we used, cross checked by uploading my raw data to GEDmatch, indicates that I'm proven, according to Family Tree DNA test, to be 95% European which includes 84% British Isles, 7% Iberian, 4% Finland, along with 4% West-Middle East, and some bits and bobs, trace elements probably serving as what the experts call "noise". GEDmatch has my ethnicity sorted under slightly different headings, but comes out broadly similar, and breaks down the British Isles element to specify DNA elements that match known patterns originating in Orkney, Kent, Cornwall, among others. That, rather neatly, brings together the north, south-east and south-west of England, which is a very near match for my four grandparents' original family locations.

So far, I'm finding this DNA testing experiment is something akin to Sun sign astrology - there's a whisper of truth to be had, and a reasonable amount of entertainment value.

From my research in past years, at, I'd already discovered that my (known) direct ancestors, as far back as the 16th century, were all English, though from different areas of England. There are, though, 2 grandparents whose fathers remain unknown, due to birth out of wedlock; also another great-grandparent's place of birth remains unknown, but was likely to have been within the British Isles. The 2 completely unknowns were fairly unlikely to have been other than British - but I can't be certain of that.

Because DNA definitions stretch back 1 to 2 thousand years, British people would expect to factor in a good deal of of DNA "mongrelism". Bloodlines from Vikings (Scandinavia, inc. Finland), German strains (Saxon), Mediterranean strains (Roman armies culled from many lands), French, including arrivals from 1066 after the Norman/French took over and brought along boatloads of hangers-on. The Iberian 7% in my DNA is a little strange, but as "Iberian" can include, as well as Spain and Portugal, parts of France and North Africa, I guess it could well be my extra dose of "mongrelism"...or, perhaps one of my unknowns was a wandering Spanish sailor - or Spanish gypsy/Romani "gitano" ? I'll never know.

 Hat-tip HERE

My known ancestors were sons and daughters of the soil, agricultural labourers and domestic servants, with a few exceptions (a tailor way, way back; a parish clerk; a miller and a tradesman). My grandparents' offspring, though, found their metaphorical feet were able to take them well away from the soil. Still, I retain much respect for my agricultural worker kin in past eras.
"Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together." (Jonathan Swift)
Farm work might be considered by some to be a fairly cushy job: working outdoors, often unsupervised. It was, for certain, preferable to life in the coal mines, cotton mills or steelworks, back then. Farm work had its benefits and customs....about which, more tomorrow.


anyjazz said...

Good one. I have a feeling our DNA experiment holds more questions ahead than answers uncovered.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Thanks. I think so too - no brick walls will be knocked down, not without a miracle! What we can discern from this, to mingle with what we'd already discovered via, will add a touch of deeper history to the picture. :-)