Although I have heard about DNA genealogy reports before, until my brother Paul Cartwright shared the report he received after an analysis of his genome, I have not taken the time to look at one.
When I did examine Paul’s “genetic map” report, I was intrigued to discover some things that I did not anticipate. First, let me explain what the report looks like. There is a map of the world and there is a set of percentages, each of which has an aggregate range.
Paul’s map has several areas of the world circled. For example, the range of Irish genetic heritage from the different sides of the family is 22 %to 54% (see image below), which — when averaged works out to 38%
One set of circles are what I think most of us would expect: The Republic of Ireland (38%), and the countries of the United Kingdom or “Great Britain” (21%) with the rest of the countries of West Europe (20%).
But I haven’t heard any stories that suggest family origins in the following countries: Scandinavia (5%); Iberian Peninsula (6%); Finland/Russia (2%) and Italy/Greece (2%). (Paul tells me that there is some evidence of Basque heritage. Given that the Basque language is unlike any other Indo-European language, that is interesting to note.)When all of these contributions are counted together, the total percentage of European genetic in Paul’s genome is 94%
I found it to be no great surprise that there is not much of a genetic contribution from North Africa and Central Asia (less than 1% each).
But there are other areas of the genetic map that are not as intuitive. The West Asia (Caucasus) makes up approximately 4% of Paul’s DNA. Does this tell us anything about the family stories about Native American heritage?
From what I understand, most Native Americans also register a high genetic background from West Asia. Or so Christine Kenneally reports in her book The Invisible History of the Human Race. “Geneticists have found that Native Americans have only five kinds of mtDNA, and the first four are common in Northeastern Asia. With this evidence and other genetic studies, it has become well-established that the small ancestral population of Native Americans can trace their genome back to Asia.” (249)
If so, then this might be an indicator that there is some truth to the stories. Regardless, Millie could not have been a “half-breed” as I have heard it said. Otherwise, the percentage of West Asia (Caucasus) DNA for Paul would be two or three times what it is. So some of the stories that have been passed down about our genetic heritage appear not to be true.
On the other hand, this past week, this past week I noticed that Esther Sharon [apparently a distant relative from the Starr family tree] wrote a message to the ancestry.com family tree for Jess and Millie in response to a marriage certificate that Karen Starr Snyder Smith had posted for Hisakiah Starr and his wife Susan Doyel. Ms. Sharon indicated that she believes that Cizaiah Forrester was related to a woman who is known to have been a member of the Chickahominy tribe. I believe she said that her name was Nancy Many Trees. I have to wonder if “Forrester” is a name that this family adopted as they tried to pass from identifying as Native American to being seen as a “white” American. If this person was our ancestor, then the percentages might be a bit closer to being accurate.
Paul tells me that one of the things that happens when you receive an Ancestry.com genetic genealogy report is that you receive additional information about persons with whom you share a high percentage of DNA. Paul has already been contacted by someone who was hoping to find additional information to genealogical questions that he has been asking. Paul did not know the answers, but he has corresponded with the person even so.
Journalist Christine Kenneally interviewed scientist Wendy Roth about why it is that many people feel compelled to trace their family history back. It is one thing to be an “avid genealogist,” Roth observes, but given the level of commitment required to follow the genetic trail of family origins she wonders what it is that drives people who are interested in “genetic genealogy.” In interview after interview, she discovered that the people she interviewed cannot really give a satisfying answer to her qestion. She concludes: “It’s like it is such an urge or basic primal interest that they have a really hard time putting it into words. . . .” (Invisible History, 26). Kenneally goes on to speculate about the “psychology of family history before she concludes with the simple observation that “the family is a powerful engine of inheritance.” Indeed!