Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What is your genetic identity?

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak has an interesting post on the 24/7 Family History Circle blog titled "Honoring Our Ancestors: Haley Family of Roots Fame Joins the DNA Game" about the Y-DNA tests that Chris Haley (nephew of Roots author Alex Haley) took at the recent FGS Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The article describes the results of Chris Haley's Y-DNA test and what options are available for finding relationships to other men from his patrilineal line. The results indicated that the patrilineal line haplogroup is R1b - which is common in Western Europe.

But what is a person's true genetic identity? To me, it is ALL of the genetic material that goes into creating a person. In each person, the biological ancestors are 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, and so on. Each person is descended from many ancestors (1,024 in the 10th generation) and each contributes to the genetic makeup of a person.

Are researchers concentrating too much on just the patrilineal line, especially for persons with Native American, African American and other "racial" ancestry? Of course, the reason they have concentrated on the patrilineal line is that it is the only one that currently provides real evidence of haplogroup and relationships to others with the same Y-DNA "signature."

Shouldn't we be trying to determine the whole genetic and cultural ancestry of ourselves? To me, that means trying to find the Y-DNA signature of each of my 8 great-great-grandfathers, if possible. And finding the mitochondrial DNA signature of my 8 great-great-grandmothers, if possible.

I'm attempting to identify living male descendants with a patrilineal line to each of my great-great-grandfathers. Likewise, I'm trying to find living female descendants with a matrilineal line to each of my great-great-grandmothers. If I can do that, then I may be able to determine my "genetic identity" to supplement my "cultural identity."

In my case, my great-great-grandparents were born between 1817 and 1844, and died between 1867 and 1931. And their children (the candidates for further research) were born later and usually died later. Fortunately, I know quite a bit about these 16 individuals - when and where they were born, lived and died, and what their cultural heritage was. There are usually records for people with deaths in the above time frame. Unfortunately, some states have restricted access to vital records in the 20th century, and that may hamper the search for living descendants. Traditional genealogy research can find many of these persons in vital records, city directories, cemeteries, obituaries, etc.

It is evident from Chris Haley's known ancestry that he has a significant African ancestry. I believe that he should be concentrating on finding out about each of the branches in his family tree rather than stopping with finding relationships with others who have the same patrilineal line. Of course, he should do the latter, because it extends his knowledge in that ancestral line.

I'm not criticizing Chris Haley and others trying to find their genetic heritage - I'm just suggesting that each of us could do a lot more in this area as DNA analysis techniques improve. The possibilities need to be discussed, described and pursued. Hopefully, the price will come down too!

I hope that each of us pursue the opportunities we have to discover our genetic heritage. We may find interesting and useful, and perhaps mysterious and intriguing, information and connections.

1 comment:

TheGeneticGenealogist said...


As I've said before, I think this is a great way to use genetic genealogy to learn about more than just one or two lines. I'm trying to do it myself. From my research, it appears that a few of the lines are going to require some intensive paper research before I can identify candidates for testing. Have you experienced the same problem?