DNA, genetics, whatever you want to call it, is a really complicated scientific field. About a year ago I was genetically tested by 23andMe. The wonderful thing about getting this done is that it’s easy and it tells you a lot more information about where your family came from than you will ever be able to find through the old-fashioned paper trail of records and documents.
By now most people following this blog will know that I am very conservative about naming people who are living. This is as it should be because only the individuals themselves can give approval for the things I write about them, and given that they are living and breathing on this earth, they can write their own stories. But when it comes to my ancestors who have died, I feel like it is my duty, as a family historian and genealogist, to keep their memories alive. Personally I want to be remembered after my physical form has ceased to exist. Not only that, but I want things about me to be passed on to further generations. Whether they be through my children, my cousins, my siblings, or even strangers. The only way I can do this is by sharing things about myself. So this Matrilineal Monday will be about myself, and the line of females who have gone before me.
If you just want to see the results and don’t want to know how DNA and all that stuff works scroll down until you see a sub-heading called “Results”!
The way that genetic testing works when you’re a girl is that you can only find out your maternal haplogroup which makes up your mitochondrial DNA. Huh? What is she talking about? I hear you. And because I am not scientifically inclined I’m going to let 23andMe explain this to you.
“Small structures called mitochondria reside in every cell in your body. Within each of these structures is a tiny circular genome. We call the DNA of this genome “mitochondrial DNA” or “mtDNA” for short.”
“Unlike the rest of your genome, mtDNA is only passed on from mother to child; mtDNA inheritance is “maternal,” tracking your ancestry through your mother, your mother’s mother, your mother’s mother’s mother, and so on.” (23andMe)
So, when we talk about maternal haplogroup, we are only talking about what we have inherited directly from the earliest known woman in our ancestry. We have other ancestors of course, such as your father’s mother, and your mother’s father’s mother. But your mitochondrial DNA does not have this information.
Males who have their DNA tested on 23andMe and other DNA testing companies are able to find out both their paternal haplogroup and maternal haplogroup because they carry the Y chromosome and the mitochondria. The Y chromosome is the paternal opposite of the mitochondria, or in other words, it was passed on from father to son as far back as scientists have discovered. If you are a female you can get this information from a brother, your father, your father’s brothers or male cousins born to your father’s brothers.
If you are lucky and your extended family are really interested in finding out their DNA and helping you out you can find out some of the other lines of DNA that you carry. For example the son of your mother’s brother will have the Y chromosome DNA information for your mother’s father, or your grandfather. He will also have the mitochondria information for your mother’s mother, but you will already have this information from your own DNA test. Girls aren’t useless! You can find out your paternal grandmother’s mitochondria DNA by getting your father’s sister or father’s sister’s daughter’s test results. This can be very confusing! If you’re interested in learning more about it I advise you to watch some of the video 23andMe have on Youtube. Or googling the key scientific terms I have listed here.
I want to note, however, that our DNA does not only come from the mitochondria and Y chromosome. You inherit DNA from both of your parents, and they were made up of DNA from their parents and so on. You are made up of a rich mix of DNA, some dormant, some active, that make up who you are.
I could go on and on explaining DNA and how it works but honestly, I’m not a scientist and the results are far more interesting than the logistics, so here we go.
Ancestry Composition – Standard View
What you see below is a chart of my ancestry composition, or in other words, what percentage of my DNA comes from the 31 populations in the world. The results for this analysis is from DNA I received from all my ancestors on both my paternal and maternal sides. The results show where my ancestors lived 500 years ago, before mass human migration through ocean-crossing ships and airplanes.
As you can see from the chart above, I am made up of 56.8% Italian, with the rest being scattered across non-specified European, middle eastern and a tiny part East Asian & Native American. The results can be changed by toggling with the composition. I can make my results more conservative or more speculative. What does this mean? The information given to me is based on the results of others who have had their DNA tested. The more people who have their DNA tested, the more accurate our results will become. This is the only real way scientists can learn about what DNA cells mean. Comparison.
What you see below is the chromosome view of my results: It shows what parts of my chromosomes I have inherited from my ancestors and where they came from. If you look at my 16th chromosome you can see that orange dot that shows my East Asian inheritance. Some of the lines are white, or have spaces. This means that they cannot be accurately determined. When I change my results to speculative, they are filled with more blue, showing that there is a greater likelihood of my ancestors coming from Southern Europe, in particular, Italy. Which sounds about right!
Ok so that’s my basic ancestry composition! Now let’s take a look at what I inherited from my mitochondrial DNA. Remember: This DNA is inherited from my mother, her mother before her, and her mother and so on. From my ancestral research, I know that if DNA testing had been around when my great-great grandmother Maria Fraumeni was alive, she would have the exact same results as I do. As would her daughter, my great-grandmother Margherita Musarella. And would my grandmother and my mother.
I learned that our haplogroup was H8. You can see the locations of haplogroup H8 circa 500 years ago, before the era of intercontinental travel.
- Haplogroup: H8, a subgroup of H
- Age: greater than 30,000 years
- Region: Near East, Central Asia
- Example Populations: Kazakhs, Arabs
- Highlight: Unlike most other branches of H, haplogroup H8 is virtually unknown in Europe.
“Haplogroup H, the parent of H8, originated in the Near East and then expanded throughout Europe after the peak of the Ice Age. But H8 was a relatively ancient offshoot of H that arose about 30,000 years ago, before the Ice Age’s peak, and moved east into central Asia. Today it is most common in that part of the world.” (23andMe)
History of Haplogroup H
“Haplogroup H is the most common in Europe, reaching peak concentrations along the Atlantic coast. Although its origins are unclear, the haplogroup rose to prominence during the Ice Age, when Europe was blanketed by glaciers and its population squeezed into a handful of ice-free refuges in Iberia, Italy, the Balkans and the Caucasus.
Several branches of haplogroup H arose during that time, and after the glaciers receded most of those branches played a prominent role in the repopulation of the continent. With the subsequent spread of agriculture and the rise of organized military campaigns, the haplogroup achieved an even wider distribution. It is now found throughout Europe and at lower levels in Asia, reaching as far south as Arabia and eastward to the western fringes of Siberia.”
“H6 and H8 are among the oldest subgroups of haplogroup H, tracing back to present-day Turkey and Syria about 30,000 years ago. Subsequent migration carried the two branches eastward to the Altay Mountains of Central Asia, where both – especially H6 – are common among speakers of Altaic languages such as Kazakh, Altay and Mongolian.”
Another awesome thing that you can find out is what percentage Neanderthal you are.
23andMe also has an awesome health feature but at the moment they cannot give these results due to FDA regulations. In the future they may resume this service. I was one of the lucky ones who got my DNA tested before they stopped the health results. I won’t publish them all because there are hundreds. But to give you an idea, it tells you what diseases you may be predisposed to, the likelihood of my getting breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. It also predicts, based on your DNA, what colour eyes you have and even your blood type! Check some of mine out below:
If you have a look it says that I would likely be lactose intolerant which is not the case. But that does not mean I don’t carry the gene. So perhaps one of my descendants will be lactose intolerant. As always, with all health concerns, just because a website tells you that you are not likely to get cancer, doesn’t mean that this is the case. They base the results on comparisons to others with similar DNA to yours. There are other factors to health, such as how you eat and exercise and where you live, and a million other things. This is probably why the FDA has concerns about 23andMe’s health results.
In any case the ancestry results are the most fascinating to me. I wish I could convince my relatives to contribute a sample of their DNA so that I might learn things about my other ancestors, but it’s a personal choice and totally okay if they are unwilling. I would absolutely recommend genealogists to get tested and see their results. While you will probably never be able to trace your family back that far (unless you are descended from royalty) it’s a great thing to learn without having to trawl through records! This post has sounded rather like a 23andMe advertisement, so a quick shout out to other DNA testing services: Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and National Geographic. There are others out there too. Google around.
P.S. If you’re scientifically inclined and I made a huge mistake in some of my explanations please, please correct me! I won’t be offended. I just want to educate and encourage others 🙂