Monday, June 10, 2013

Slave v/s The Confederate - a Civil War in my Genes

Between 1861 and 1865, our country fought over whether slavery should be allowed or not.  The Union lined up on one side and the Confederacy lined up on the other and they commenced to killing each other over the disagreement.  The Union won the American Civil War and as a result, not only was slavery ended but the idea of 'human rights' or that all humans are created equal gained traction, which, I think, kept momentum behind America's path toward equal rights for all people that we still fight today, albeit, less bloody.

I'm glad that slavery was ended here and I hope that it eventually ends everywhere. The idea of slavery horrifies me.  The idea of dehumanizing a human based upon skin color - or any other trait- makes me uncomfortably sad.  I've been able to successfully relegate the reality of the Civil War to the 'history' compartment of my mind. History that I have no connection to.  That is, until genealogy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

DNA Test Results - Neanderthals and Mitochondrial Eve

The thing that interested me in genealogy to begin with was this desire to know who I am, what I'm made of and where I came from.  I started with this really general research into the origins of humans, which ended with 'humans migrated to various places across the earth at various times'.  Then I picked up about 700 years ago in Europe with my earliest known ancestors with genealogy.  Between the two - 700 years ago and a few hundred thousand years ago was this really big gap of ... "Eh, Who Knows?!"

So, one of the most compelling reasons I wanted to get my DNA tested was to find out what my mitochondrial Haplogroup is - and, in turn, to have some idea of how my ancient ancestors migrated across the earth's surface, and in turn, what their lifestyles were like.  Its one thing to know, in general, that some male and female somewhere got together to have babies, who had babies etc and that's how our species came to be - but something else entirely to know where my ancestors specifically, fit into the advent of agriculture or the use of iron or how they helped carry their culture from one place to another.

I got my dna analyzed via 23andme.com.  They do two forms of analysis that was applicable to this particular research into myself.  They will tell you how  much of your DNA is neanderthal as well as what your maternal haplogroup is.

Neanderthals were these humanoid folks that were really closely related (although  not ancestors) to modern humans.  We are Homo Sapien Sapiens, they were Homo Sapien Neanderthalensis (or Homo Neanderthalensis). We have tons of neanderthal fossils.  And by 'we', I mean scientists that know what to do with such things.  Not too terribly long ago - only a few years - it was discovered that modern humans have a touch of neanderthal DNA in them.

I will say that there seems to be quite a bit of dissention over how that DNA got into us humans.  Some say hey maybe only the males of one species were able to mate with the females of the other and only the female offspring survived.  Some say, if it happened, it was rare.  And some insist it never happened and instead, the Neanderthal DNA that we have in us is actually the DNA from a third, common ancestor.

At any rate, only this year, the first fossils thought to be a hybrid of neanderthal and modern human was found.  Cusp of science and whatnot and 23andme is able to analyze for it.  So the first cool thing I found out is that I have 2.8% Neanderthal DNA.  By whatever means neanderthal DNA made it into my DNA, I can now reasonably explain my eating habits and my son's bedroom.

But even cooler was to discover that my mitochondrial haplogroup is T2f1.  Ta da!  Exciting, right?  Those four characters tell me how my ancient ancestors migrated across the earth so that I, Carrie, wound up here, where I am.  You know exactly what those four characters mean.  Right?  Hah.  Neither do I.  I'm still piecing together my specific history - but in the mean time, here is some stuff about Mitochondrial Haplogroup where it intersects with ancient history.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Health and Genetics Meets Genealogy

dna double helix
DNA Double helix | Public Domain
I have to say that although it's fascinating to find civil war soldiers, knights and kings in my family tree, medical history is one of the huge pieces of information that I get from my research.  Regardless of having both parents living, most of their siblings still alive and most of their parents having lived into my teens, I have a tremendous lack of knowledge about my family health history.  As in... I never really had a family health history at all.  All of those family history forms you fill out at a doctor's office so that they know what you are at risk for... I just never had anything to put there.

My mom raised us but after about age 8, her family was relatively far flung. I wasn't raised around my father's side of the family but even once I established a relationship with my father, we stayed relatively disconnected from his family until I later reconnected with his siblings in adulthood.  Maybe that's why family health stuff isn't common knowledge in my immediate family.  It could also be a generation thing... genetics and hereditary diseases and disorders is a relatively new generation-wise, 'common knowledge' concept.  Even 10 years ago, DNA testing wasn't something the average person had access to, let alone for under $100.  It could also be a regional thing.  Health care in the south is vastly different than health care where I am now.  Whole person (holistic) care just isn't 'a thing' there.  Medical issues are tackled completely differently.  My family is Southern and their attitudes about health have definitely been shaped by Southern culture.  But, for whatever reason, here I am with no family health history to speak of.