Monday, April 30, 2012

My Cousin Otzi: A Story Written in DNA

   There has been a lot in the news lately about Cousin Otzi.   They talk about the fact that he had brown eyes, was lactose intolerant, was suffering from Lyme disease and that he was murdered.  What they don’t talk about was that he liked long walks along the glacier, a nice goat steak every once in a while and that he would give the pelt off his back for a friend.

   As soon as the world learned that they were going to test Otzi’s DNA the conjecture began.  Most folk assumed that Otzi would be part of haplogroup I (one of the earliest groups in Europe) or R1b (the largest genetic group in Western Europe).

   Europe is dominated by haplogroups I1, I2, R1a and R1b.  The rest of the landscape has a scattering of E, G, J and N.

   Otzi’s Y-DNA haplogroup was leaked late last year and confirmed two days ago as G2a2b (formerly G2a4).  My haplogroup is G2a3b.  This means that Otzi and I share a common G2a ancestor.

   G2a2b, G2a3b and G2a are subgroups of G.  Every time a new mutation within a haplogroup is identified a subgroup gets created or expanded.  Here is an example of a long R1b subgroup - R1b1a2a1a1b.

   While Otzi’s haplotype hasn’t been published yet, I did review a number of G2a2b records with the same L91+ mutation.  I ran an MRCA (most recent common ancestor) between my data and this group of Otzi-like folk and a conservative estimate makes our connection about 7,200 years ago.  I can picture our ancestor, and at least two of his sons, sitting around a fire somewhere along the Danube River.

   I look forward to getting to know Cousin Otzi better.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Y-DNA?

   I talk about using DNA for genealogy often.  My favorite is the Y-DNA test.  It has the largest number of benefits for the researcher.  I also get quite a few discouraging comments about Y-DNA.

   Recently I was told that Y-DNA marker mutation rates were too unstable.  The comment might give the impression that Y-DNA testing was unreliable or unusable.  This is far from the truth.  The marker mutation rates are exactly what makes Y-DNA so valuable.  Without the mutations, we would all be one big happy/unhappy haplogroup.

   Another comment I hear is that Y-DNA only tests your paternal line and that is just a small fraction of your genealogy.  This is true.  But...

   My genealogy is more than just my paternal line.  I’m sure many of us can’t help but to associate deeply with our paternal line, our surname.  That deep association makes getting the Y-DNA test so important.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped with my DNA.  I’ve also collected my father-in-law’s DNA.  I am planning to collect DNA from my mother’s male line and my mother-in-law’s male line, etc., etc.  It’s very possible to collect samples for hundreds of your surnames.  See the second half of my post on NPEs.

Here is a short list of reasons to get your Y-DNA tested:

   Cultural origins:  We focus a lot of our time on nationalities.  I’m Italian or I’m Irish.  Your nationality will only take you so many years into the past, depending on how old your nation is.  DNA testing (y-dna and mitochondrial) allows you to go further back in time to a cultural heritage – celtic, norse, phoenician or native American as examples.  Between my Y-DNA and my autosomal tests, I can tell you which Caucasus Mountain culture that I relate to.

   Traditional research validation:  You can have a great paper trail and have a bad genealogy.  There will be non-paternal events.  When you compare your Y-DNA test for your surname Brown and all the other matches, across a half dozen databases, come back with the surname Brown you will feel confident about your research.  If your matches come back with the surname Green, then you will have some work to do.

   Traditional research to find Y-DNA:  You will need to use traditional research to find all those cousins you need to get samples from.  You can also use your existing research to find the Y-DNA of your ancestors.  Typically every DNA database asks for the most distant paternal ancestor (Y-DNA) or maternal ancestor (mito).  If you search for your ancestors among these records you will then have the results of a test someone else has already completed.  I will be posting a mini-webinar on this subject to walk you through the process.

   Adoption research:  In the case of adoption, you are hoping to get that surprise surname.  In my research, I ran across a person by the name of Tom Doty.  In his profile, he stated that he had been adopted.  What made him stand out was that his DNA matched so closely with a very large Dodge surname study.  I contacted him and pointed him in the right direction.

   Discover living relatives:  Every match is a connection to a living cousin.  Odds are pretty good that one of you can help the other connect the dots on your common ancestry.

   Mapping your tribe:  As I mentioned earlier, it is the mutations in Y-DNA that give it the most value.  Using those mutations, you can trace your ancestors across time.  Using readily available tools, you can calculate that you and a group of individuals have a common ancestor 1000 years ago or 2000 years.  Map the ancestral locations of that group and look for patterns to emerge.  I gave a talk on this subject in March.

   All DNA tests have their pros and cons.  With a good understanding of the possibilities and the limitations, we can develop some new tricks that the DNA companies have never thought of.  If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that genealogists are very resourceful.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Migration Mapping: Eldred the Terrible

   Genetic genealogy has been very good at identifying distant origins and for making connections along paternal and maternal lines going back a half dozen centuries.  What seems to be missing is how we got from point A to point B.

'Eldridge' clan mapping

   At some distant place in time in every genealogy the surname becomes irrelevant.  The only way to go further back is to use DNA testing.  We have to rely on Clans and Tribes, genetically related groups of individuals, to get an understanding of our history.

   Pride in your historic nationality is wonderful and can tell you much about your family, but we are all descendants of nomads.  As nomads we belong to ancient cultures just as much as we belong to any one nationality.  To know what culture you are you need to know where your tribe was and when.

   When I had my DNA tested I learned that I was part of haplogroup G with origins in the Caucasus Mountains going back about 22,000 years.  I also learned that I had no close matches in the last few centuries.  That left me with very little to work with. So, I put on my analyst hat and developed a technique for plotting the migration path of my tribe at different periods in history.  I needed to answer how my people got from the Caucasus to a little village outside of Naples, Italy.

   I knew I had hit on something after my first mapping exercise.

'Maglio' clan mapping

   The individuals that I plotted lined up along the Rhine River and down the Apennines (with a few stragglers in Wales).  Successive maps, each going back further in time, showed a pattern along the Danube and around the Black Sea back to the Caucasus Mountains.  I now have my migration answers and a plausible correlation to the Etruscan metalworking culture.

   I have been using my technique to help my clients get a deeper understanding of their history and their culture.  For all of you with the surname Eldridge, Eldredge, Aldrich and variation, I have posted a sample report on my website - "The Genetic Genealogy of Eldridge"  

   I'd love to hear about other successes mapping genetic data across time.