Saturday, January 28, 2017

DNA: What should I do with it?

DNA is all the rage in genealogical research these days. The expense of DNA testing has dropped significantly while the accuracy has increased substantially. As more and more people offer their samples untilfor testing, the databases increase, thus presumably increasing the accuracy even more. Combine the voluntary samples that we family tree searchers submit with the not-so-voluntary sample submitted by law enforcement agencies worldwide and you have a very large database of information.

Information, however, does not become actionable (as a retired CIA officer I know called it) that information is assigned some value. Today, I will show you what information my DNA results have given me and what I do with it to make it actionable, if anything.

I grew up pretty much knowing my roots were in Great Britain and Ireland. Though my search has clarified many false understandings - whether of my own misunderstanding or from misinformation given by my ancestors - my general search has been and continues to be in that part of Europe. 

When I received my first DNA results a few years ago, results which continue to be updated, albeit with minor changes, as the DNA database increases, I was fairly surprised to read the information. 
  • Before I continue, let me tell you I am a retired federal investigator, not a DNA scientist. I have not spent a lot of time studying the whys-and-wherefores of genetic science, through I did take many related science courses in college.
Here is what what AncestryDNA says about my genetic past, by percentage, high to low.

Great Britain (34%)

  • Primarily in: England, Scotland, Wales
  • Also in: Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy

The history of Great Britain is often told in terms of the invasions with different groups of invaders displacing the native population. The Romans, Anglo-Saxon, Vikings and Normans have all left their mark on Great Britain both politically and culturally. However, the story of Great Britain is far more complex than the traditional view of invaders displacing existing populations. In fact modern studies of British people tend to suggest the earliest populations continued to exist and adapt and absorb the new arrivals.

Europe West (33%)
  • Primarily in: Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
  • Also in: England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic
The Europe West region is a broad expanse stretching from Amsterdam's sea-level metropolis to the majestic peaks of the Alps. Geographically dominated by France in the west and Germany in the east, it includes several nations with distinct cultural identities. From the boisterous beer gardens of Munich to the sun-soaked vineyards of Bordeaux and the alpine dairy farms of Switzerland, it is a region of charming cultural diversity.

Ireland (28%)

  • Primarily in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland
  • Also in: France, England

Ireland is located in the eastern part of the North Atlantic Ocean, directly west of Great Britain. A variety of internal and external influences have shaped Ireland as we know it today. Ireland’s modern cultural remains deeply rooted in the Celtic culture that spread across much of Central Europe and into the British Isles. Along with Wales, Scotland, and a handful of other isolated communities within the British Isles, Ireland remains one of the last holdouts of the ancient Celtic languages that were once spoken throughout much of Western Europe. And though closely tied to Great Britain, both geographically and historically, the Irish have fiercely maintained their unique character through the centuries.

The first thing that surprised me was that Ireland was not combined with Great Britain. The more I thought about it, however, it made sense. Millions of our ancestors, mine included, hail from Ireland, not England. Considering the expanse of the British Empire and the political nature of Great Britain over history, not separating them out would have skewed the numbers to an almost-meaningless degree.

But still, that leaves 5% of my DNA from what Ancestry's DNA calls "trace" areas: Africa (2%); Eastern Europe (2%); and Asia (1%). Though these percentages are low enough individually to be considered scientific chance, taken together, the 5% raises questions in my mind, especially considering the diversity of the findings:
  1. Why do I seem to have a greater "tie-in" to Africa than any other geographical area, including one very close to my primary area? As far as I know, I am 100% Caucasian.
  2. How can I have as much African DNA as Eastern European?
  3. If not by chance, which ancestors of mine began the journey from the African Continent to the European Continent? When? And why?
These are  two of the many questions I look to resolve. Perhaps the answer is related to mathematical chaotic behavior. Perhaps merely scientific chance. And because the nomadic nature of humans over time is more or less documented, perhaps some of my very-distant ancestors, those that I have not even begun to think exist, came from Eastern Europe or Northern Africa.

Who knows? The search is the reason for the journey!

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