Friday, February 28, 2014

Technologies of Kinship: Genetic Genealogists and Origin Stories

Thank you to Carleton University's Department of Sociology and Anthropology for a very interesting lecture on Technologies of Kinship: Genetic Genealogists and Origin Stories by Dr Scout Calvert, UCLA Irvine.

A rapid fire lecture that covered the field of genealogy and the emergence of DNA as a genealogical tool and discussed origin in that context. I very much enjoyed the talk and did ask one question at the end. One that has always interested me and for which I have my own answer but was curious what discussion would ensue if I asked it. Unfortunately, I asked it a bit late as we had to depart whilst it was still being discussed but hopefully someone else might blog on the further discussion.

I queried whether DNA, as the "new kid on the block" or traditional paper trail genealogy would ultimately be the "decider" on family genealogy. My answer is that the archival documents will always be more important that the genetic genealogy of a family. It really comes down to what determines family - is it the genetic composition that passes from father and mother to child or is it the logical flow of events that precede and follow that event where they can be documented. You can not change wills that have named children or the baptismal registers that have named parents. In the long run, family is determined by these paper documents and not by the DNA that runs through our veins.

I think perhaps the most exciting part of genetic genealogy is the deep ancestry that you learn about yourself because you test your family line and if female then having a brother to do all the testing for you (of course who can resist also testing oneself just to see especially in the autosomal results where you match each other!). There spread out before you is the history of your genes as they traveled through time from thousands of years ago. Having tested my brother at National Geographic phase 1 and Geno 2.0, FT DNA and Britains DNA I have a collage of interesting charts and data to look at. All of these tests have complimented each other and provide unique as well as common pieces of information.

Knowing that my paternal line was within 2 miles of Andover, Hampshire, England from the mid 1400s to the mid 1900s on paper provides me with a paper trail which is also verified with the DNA results but going back before the earliest paper records for this family is the knowledge that this yDNA is an ancient pre-historic British Isles group so the paper trail both proves and is proved by the genetics. But the family stories of origin were what directed me to look for this family line where I did. Indeed the yDNA population study for the particular haplogroup places this group most commonly in southern Ireland which wouldn't have helped me at all. Especially in this case as the surname Blake is very common in the area of Ireland.

But ultimately those of us with British Isles ancestry came from somewhere else eight to ten thousand years ago and the mtDNA leads my family through my mother back to the shores of the Black Sea. The trek they took towards the British Isles can be followed north through the Scandinavian Penninsula and thence to Scotland. The yDNA pictorially at Gen2.0 tells me that my line is an Eastern European line P37 trekking into Poland but the work of Dr Ken Nordtvedt shows that a group of these hunter gathers made the trek across Doggerland into the British Isles and some (not mine it would appear) kept going all the way to present day Ireland. Because this group is a small one compared to its big brother R1b and even I1, the number of testers is small both at Gen 2.0 and at Britains DNA where only 11 people have tested in their very large database. But what about all those people inbetween, these testing companies do autosomal testing and have different mapping techniques to show you the admixture to be found in those genes. It is a fascinating tale; probably the best story time tale ever!

DNA is a new and exciting tool but we must not lose sight of the need to find the documents that pertain to our families and encourage the preservation of all those documents. We could get misled using only DNA results.

Although I find it interesting that Lineage Societies will now accept DNA results I am not surprised that they have taken their time moving to this acceptance. Direct line y-DNA or mtDNA descendant with triangulated proven ancestry for the lineage ancestor does seem to be a reasonable proof but there are still legions of descendants who may or may not show autosomal ancestry but still on paper be descendant. The blending of DNA testing with paper trail ancestry is a real bonus to genealogy but in the long run it will be, I rather think, the stories of origin passed down in a family and proven with paper documents that really determine one's "family."

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