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House of Sam
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What got me interested in genealogy and having my personal genome done? I fell in love with the sleuthing involved while watching the Finding Your Roots genealogy programs by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. See the list of genealogy shows to your left. The ability to reconstruct who someone's ancestors are and their history from the paper trail, and the ability to reconnect African-Americans with countries, a country or even a tribe in Africa through DNA was fascinating. What would I find out if I took the tests? What would it be like to know who my great, great, great, great grand parents were? And as Prof Gates says, "When the paper trail runs out, our DNA can take us even further."
So as fascinating as genealogy is, it's a lot of work. How does one even start? And the history written in your DNA is so much easier to get at. And it can take you all the way back, so to speak. So I decided to start there. (Yes, yes, I know this is a site about genealogy, but my interest in it had to evolve.)
I chose 23andMe because they are of the big three and offered the most features for $99. It took the full 8 weeks for me to get all of my results. 23andme provides 3 tests I will discuss later, family finder, an online community of forums, and since I ordered before Nov 2013, health results. Health results should be offered again once 23andME and the FDA resolve their differences.
There are three tests you can take. One test, autosomal DNA, reveals the secrets hidden in your 22 X chromosomes. See, biology class is finally coming in handy. This test is the source of the ancestry compositions you may have heard about -- you're x percentage Sub-saharan African, European and Native American.
The mitochondrial DNA test, shows your Mother's lineage since mitochrondrial DNA can only be inherited through your mother. The Y DNA test reveals your Father's lineage and can only be inherited by males who have the Y chromosome. For females to discover their paternal lineage, your father or a male related to him must be tested.
After reveiwing my ancestry composition, I was immediately engrossed in where my Mother's people came from (mitochondrial DNA results), where my Father's people came from (Y-DNA results) and where they and all of my grandparents for multiple generations had come from (autosomal DNA test, other 22 chromosomes).My Father's people are hunter gatherers and are from one of the oldest groups in Africa. Yet, only 2% of African-Americans belong to this group.
As of 2011, the newest country in Africa is South Sudan. It formed from Sudan. This fact became relevant to me because of the mitochondrial DNA test I took through 23andme. It indicated that my Mother's people left Nigeria for Sudan and Ethiopia 15,000 years ago. I keep getting told that's a long distance (maybe they took the mothership).
I'll spare you the DNA lingo like haplogroups for now, one each is identified for your mitochrondrial and Y DNA tests. Maybe in my book or you can read DNA USA.
At the time I took these tests, the third test of your autosomal DNA, the remaining 22 chromosomes, was in beta. Advances in it have enabled better identification of the populations which make up each of your ancestry compositions, e.g., your African is really Nigerian, Cameroon/Congo, Ivory Coast/Ghana, etc. Think of this as getting at all the DNA you've inherited from each generation of grandparents.
The other results of having your autosomal DNA tested is it being compared to everyone else the company has tested and identifying people with whom you share enough of the same DNA to be genetically related to one another.
Even though at first I thought I wasn't going to care, the idea of being related to hundreds of people I didn't even know existed, suddenly intrigued me. Could I actually determine how and through whom we were related?
In case you've never thought about it, I hadn't, your number of grandparents doubles every generation. You have two parents. They each have two parents, which means you have four grandparents. Eight great grandparents. Sixteen great, great grandparents. And it keeps going... And that's just the direct line to you. Think about each one having sisters and brothers and all of those people having children. That's a lot of relatives in a short amount of time.
Most of us know our first and second cousins, a few thirds, but what about your parent's first cousins? What about your grandparent's first cousins?
But of course, most of us are unlikely to be invited to have our genealogy done by Prof Gates and his league of experts. And genealogy conducted by a professional genealogist can be expensive.
These shows are enligthening, entertaining and inspiring, but they can also be intimidating. Most of us can't travel to a particular locale at the drop of a hat and gain access to the experts at each stop. But neither is this necessary to make significant discoveries. And doing this oneself must be overwhelming and nearly impossible? Well, not quite.
More and more of the "paper trail" is being digitized and made available online. Further, these digitized records are indexed which makes them searchable online. Most of my records and indeed most records found by those just getting started can be done in your pajamas, not searching through some dusty old records, with undecipherable text, that might turn to dust if you touch it (I keed, I keed). And the major genealogical and family history companies and organizations are committed to making finding our families even easier with each passing year.
My first goal became to find as many of my grandparents, the great, great, great, great, great, as far back as I could. I found later, it's a good idea to set clear research goals.
If you get tested, after connecting or reconnecting to your ethnic backgrounds, which should you focus on traditional genealogy research or genetic genealogy? It's up to you. They become complementary. The more you know about your family tree the more likely you are to discover how you are related to a genetic cousin. Verifying a genetic cousin connects you with someone who has missing pieces or the missing piece about your ancestry that you've been looking for.
So what is this site? First, it's a way of documenting some of my research journey for friends and family. Second, there are things that I learned that aren't available in a getting started book or a perspective I have to share that I could have used when I got started. And a lot of information isn't available in one place.
Stay tuned here and
follow me on my blog at Paper Trails and DNA Tests
(c) Sam Johnson 2014
Genealogical and Historical Societies
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The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross