If my Y-DNA results (the DNA passed from father to son(s)) presented a few surprises, my Mitochondrial (mtDNA) test results gave me a unique jaw dropping experience (blog post DNA Results Part 1: My Y DNAhas been on quite a journey http://genealogyadventures.net/2013/02/05/dna-results-part-1-my-y-DNA-has-been-on-quite-a-journey/).
It is a rare experience. I’m a university lecturer and entertainment industry senior executive. I’ve seen, heard and/or done quite a bit in terms of life experiences…so it takes rather a lot to make my jaw drop in stunned surprise.
So what’s mtDNA? It’s the DNA that’s passed from mother to her sons and daughters.
Why was my mtDNA result such a surprise? I’ll get to that in a minute. I promise.
I was primarily interested in uncovering where my maternal African ancestors came from. My mtDNA type is referred to as L2. This DNA group emerged approx 70,000 to 100,000 years ago from the L1 Group, which originated from Eastern Africa.
Unlike my paternal African ancestors who have connections with present day Burkina Faso, Zambia, Chad and North Africa – my maternal African ancestors have connections with present day Mali, Mauritania, Northern Tunisia, Sengal and Mozambique.
The African tribes my mother’s DNA is linked to are the Kung, Mbuti, Biaka, Mandenka, Songhai, Tuareg, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulbe, Kanuri, Turkana, Kikuyu and Somali.
My father’s ancient ancestors took two routes across Africa from Egypt and eastern Africa to Africa’s west coast: across North Africa and through the Sahara. My mother’s ancient ancestors took one route from eastern to western Africa. This route was through the Sahara:
So far so good. The African test results have provided me with more tribes and cultures to research. And, if my proposed TV series gets the green light, I’ll have the opportunity to go in search of these lost tribal ancestors and bring their stories, experiences and histories to light. Although I’m still not certain what the best introduction would be. Something like ‘hey, we shared some common ancestors from 200 to thousands of years ago!’ Yeah, I know what my facial expression would be if a stranger came up to me and said it!
The DNA results kind of provided one maternal family legend. My mother’s family does indeed have First Nation (American Indian) blood. Her maternal line should have Cherokee blood, according to family legend. However, what’s present in the results is Apache, Navajo, Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Sioux.
The family’s French connection didn’t come as a surprise. However, it was interesting to note that the strongest connections stretched from Normandy along the coast to Aquitaine. I’d suspect that this comes via the Harling family in England, whose ancestors arrived in England from Normandy with William the Conqueror.
So what were the surprises?
My maternal DNA has a staggering amount of Semitic markers, some 20%. We’re talking every major and minor Semitic strain in existence: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Ethiopian, Yeminite, Indian (which was a learning curve. I never knew there was a Jewish population in India) and Asia.
Coming back to India for a brief moment, there are strong connections with the Bhil, Bharia and Sahariya populations. What’s striking about these tribes is their remoteness, isolation and adherence to their ancient culture and traditions. The appearance of their DNA markers in my mtDNA is intriguing and mysterious. The DNA trace from these groups is marginal, less than 1%, suggesting the genetic connection extends eons back in time.
Scandinavian, particularly Swedish. I’d never heard claims from my mother’s family that there was a Swedish connection within her maternal line. However, a cousin recently said that my mother did mention something about this in passing a few years ago. This too represents around 20% of my mtDNA.
Chinese. Again, this is present in significant amounts, particularly with the Han, Gelao (Ghuizo), Dai (Yunnan).
In terms of European DNA, there is a significant amount of markers from northern and central Portugal. For this to happen to this degree, it means there is more than one unknown Portuguese lady in my maternal line. Again, there is no family legends among my mother’s family of any Portuguese connections. Certainly none that would explain the amount of Portuguese DNA in her lineage. Sticking with the Iberian Peninsula, there are also connections with Cantabria and Andalusia in Spain.
There’s also an Italian connection which accounts for roughly 8% of my mtDNA. This DNA is specifically associated with Sicily, Basilicata and Sardinia. Again, there’s never been any mention of Italian blood within my mother’s family.
Central & Eastern European. Approximately half of my mtDNA’s Central and Eastern European connections has to do with the Jewish populations in this region. Croatia (Dubrovnik), Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia are also present. Even more surprising was the presence of Romany (Gypsy) markers. The Gypsy markers, while less than 1%, are specifically linked to Polish gypsies in western Poland (Zielona G´ora and Nowa S´ol).
Korean, minimal as it was, was another curve ball.
Lastly, there was also a significant presence of Russian markers in the mtDNA results. Almost all of them from Siberia.
Now the word that immediately springs to mind is Melungeon, which you can discover more about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melungeon It seems to apply to both my maternal and paternal DNA in terms of the American experience. In truth, as a person who shuns labels, it seems yet another descriptive label to describe what most of us are in one way or another – a mix.
My mtDNA has been one wild journey. Like my Y Chromosome, my DNA has travelled far and ancient familial tribes spread both far and wide.
It leaves me wondering if some of my stronger ‘likes’ has anything to do with my DNA. In terms of food, Italian, Indian, Jewish, Arab and Chinese are among my all-time favourites. I’ve travelled far and wide in the course of my two careers and some countries intuitively just made sense. I wouldn’t go as far as saying trips to Sweden, Russia, Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina felt like any sort of home coming. However, as colleagues would attest, after less than a day I felt an affinity. I just got how these societies worked and what made them ‘tick’.
The best way I could ever explain it would be like a residual ‘ghost’ in the DNA saying ‘welcome home’. Whether it was ordering food or chatting about something, business hosts in each country gave me a look of surprise and invariably say something like ‘how did you know that?’ or ‘ You’ve done your homework’. My response was always the same. I couldn’t explain how I knew what I knew or why I’d made certain choices – except to say that it either seemed to be the ‘right’ thing to do or the thing that made the most sense.
It’s like never being told not to use Parmesan on Italian fish dishes but somehow knowing that it’s something no Italian would ever do. Or when chutney is an appropriate condiment and when it isn’t Or how to use a North African tajine without reading about it. Or what cultures would find the shaking of hands in greeting repugnant and offensive and those that do not. No one ever told me and I’d never read about these things or discussed them. I just kind of knew. It’s a talent that I’ve always taken for granted. Now I’m wondering if it’s something more. It’s certainly raises some interesting anthropological research opportunities.
So these are the initial results of my mtDNA test. I can’t wait to find what the other mtDNA tests I’ve ordered will reveal.