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TGG Interview Series IX – Ana Oquendo Pabón

image The ninth and final edition of the TGG Interview Series is with Dr. Ana Oquendo Pabón.  Dr. Oquendo Pabón is DNA and Historical advisor to the Lost Colony DNA and Research Group, and is an Administrator or Co-Administrator to numerous DNA projects.  Her bio is can be seen here.

In the following interview, Dr. Oquendo Pabón discusses her introduction to the field of genetic genealogy, her own experiences with genetic testing, and her thoughts about the future of genetic genealogy.  It’s a terrific interview, so read on.

TGG: How long have you been actively involved in genetic genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?

Ana Oquendo Pabón: I have been involved in genetic genealogy since very early in 2003. My brother and I have been traditional genealogists for about 28 years. Due to the excellent records on the island and hard research, we had long known all of our 64 grandparents except for one and all except 4 or 5 couples of our 128 ancestors. I had been keeping track of the news online concerning the “new science” and unique way of tracing your ancestral roots. I think everyone had heard about the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings story by that time. I had also read about a particular genealogist named Bennett Greenspan’s own amazing quest to confirm his paternal DNA with an individual in Argentina and how he had started a genetic testing company to help others accomplish what he had done using yDNA. In 2003, I decided to give my brother a DNA kit as a combined birthday and anniversary present. We were among the first ten thousand genetic genealogy pioneers to take advantage of this new way of research. This spurred the idea of helping others in our field of expertise which was the genealogy of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Project (Proyecto ADN de Apellidos Puertorriqueños) was born.

TGG: Have you undergone genetic genealogy testing?

AP: I initially had the mtDNA HVR1 + HVR2 in 2003 as well as the biogeographic test. Since then, I have had the complete mtDNA and all autosomal markers available. My brother has had 67 markers and SNP testing. My son, daughter, grandson and I also have had testing through SMGF.

TGG: Were you surprised with the results?

AP: Yes and no. As an admixed individual of European (mainly Spaniard), Taino and African cultures, I expected to find a tri-cultural diversity in my personal DNA. Yet, where one test did find African heritage, another found none despite a known slave in the fifth generation and in others. The test did however find that I was 24% East Indian which could only mean my indigenous ancestry.  The indigenous fact was definitely not a surprise since my ancestors had been on the island since the colonization but the high percentage was. Without a doubt, DNA can broaden our perspectives as to our ancestral origins and where to look further but it must go hand in hand with the traditional genealogy.

The greatest personal satisfaction to me is that by emphasizing mtDNA which was not even considered relevant to genetic testing as paternal yDNA Surname Projects of that time, we were able to make it an important aspect of our own project from the outset in 2003. Through mtDNA testing, we were able to dispel, one member Native American result after another, any notion of the complete extinction of  the people who first greeted Columbus to the New World. After five years of intense recruiting, we have proven through our project that our Taino and indigenous ancestry is very much present in our people in a very large way. In fact, we have one of the highest frequencies of indigenous ancestry ~62% of Haplogroups A, C, B and D for such a small geographic area. We have also been able to determine the DNA of many of the first Colonos and Criollos, the first Spanish Colonists and their descendants who intermarried with Taíno or indigenous women and of other European colonists and immigrants from the 16th century forward.

TGG: Did the results help you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?

AP: Through my personal mtDNA or my brother’s yDNA, we have not. Neither of us has any exact high resolution matches. Since our mother was an orphan, and our father lost his father when he was three, our personal quest has been to determine the DNA signatures of our other lines through close relatives. In that way, we have been able to confirm our traditional genealogy and determine many of our other great great plus grandparents’  DNA.  In fact, of the 300 members in our Puerto Rican DNA Project, we are probably related to ~75 % either on the paternal or maternal side due to our island’s geographic isolation during large periods of history and the high level of consanguinity and endogamy.

To date, we have confirmed through both traditional genealogy and DNA, our maternal mtDNA: L1c1a, paternal yDNA: E1b1a*, maternal grandfather: J2, mother’s paternal grandmother: Haplogroup C, another maternal ggg grandmother: Haplogroup A, our 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th maternal great grandfathers: E1b1b1 (E3b1), R1b1b2 (R1b1c), J1, R1b1, T (K2), J2a2 and our paternal great grandfather’s R1b1. However, it takes time, knowledge of the history and connections bewteen families of the period, the genealogy of surnames of the period and not just your own and recruiting the correct individuals who themselves have well documented records.

TGG: You are also a DNA Project administrator.  What projects do you lead?

AP: I am Co  Administrator and Co Founder of the Puerto Rican DNA Project, Co Administrator of the Sepharad in Puerto Rico DNA Project, the Cape Coloured DNA Project and the Flores DNA Project. I am Administrator of the American Indian Q3 Project, Administrator and founder of the The African DNA Project, the Casa de España DNA Project and the Amerind Founder DNA Project. I also administer many yDNA Surname Projects.

TGG: You were recently named to the advisory board of the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research as the advisor for DNA and Historical Research.  Can you tell us a little more about the Center, including its goals and the progress that has been made so far?

AP: Due to a difference in focus and perspective, neither I nor any of the other previous board members are now associated with the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research.

We have formed the new Lost Colony DNA and Research Group and the Lost Colony DNA Project.  I assist on their board as DNA and Historical advisor especially as it pertains to Spanish records and Native American and African mtDNA. Our goal is to not only recruit individuals who may be posible descendants but to educate and help connect families in the Roanoke area by DNA testing. We also make available all sources and documents that will assist those with Lost Colony surnames or who belong to families of interest in their own research. This includes wills, deeds, land grants and any other type of document of that specific time period and forward. To that end, we have also begun making contacts with researchers in England to assist in finding relatives of Lost Colony families acroos the pond to have DNA tesing. This is a project which takes much dedication on the part of volunteers and which will be of considerable duration, requiring intense research and collaboration. We have an excellent group of genetic genealogists and researchers which includes Roberta Estes, Joe Chandler, Anne Poole, Jennifer Sheppard, Janet Crain, Rob Noles, Penny Ferguson, Nelda Percival and myself. We are fortunate to have researchers knowlegeable in archaelogical digs, the history of Roanoke Island and North Carolina in general, the Lumbee and other Native American tribes in the region.

The Lost Colony Site is at:
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~molcgdrg/rs/sur-coord.htm
and there is an excellent blog at:
http://the-lost-colony.blogspot.com/

TGG: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?

AP: As more and more individuals read through the hype and wean through the misinformation that is sometimes perpetuated in the press, there are increasing numbers of everyday people realizing the value of genetic genealogy to their own traditional genealogical research. However, what is blatantly overlooked by the press is that it is through the diligence and persistence of genetic genealogists that the field is advancing so quickly. Genetic genealogists are from all walks of life but its ranks are also full of PhDs, MDs, biologists, physicists, chemists, sociologists, priests, ministers, rabbis, psychologists and many other disciplines. In other words, we understand the intricacies of explaining a non parental event to someone. We can refer to those who can better explain questions pertinent to a particular discipline. Indisputably, we as genetic genealogists share a common bond and that is to learn and educate while we search for our own ancestral roots. It is time to give credit where it is due. Sensationalism of genetic genealogy may dissuade some individuals from testing but it is through volunteer societies such as the International Society of Genetic Genealogists that individuals will find unbiased facts and obtain education on every aspect of the field.  The best part is that they will receive the information from individuals just like themselves who were once interested in learning what genetic genealogy holds for them and once stood in their shoes not knowing where to turn for answers.

Genetic Genealogists’ own research into their own families has begun to bring invaluable genetic information to the attention of academics. Through the voluntary genetic genealogy testing in the private sector, has come the discovery of new SNPs helpful in reshaping the Y DNA Tree, has come the discovery of new mtDNA sequences and sub clades in mtDNA including the European, African and Native American groups. We, through voluntary testing are building and adding to the largest databases of genetic sequences available. With complete analysis through companies such as DeCode Me and 23 and Me, will come the knowledge and discovery of mutations which will eventually assist in the clues to finding cures to disease or the drugs to fight them. The continued and rising voluntary submission of complete mitochondrial genomes by genetic genealogists to Gen Bank is a boon and a readily accessible resource to population geneticists, medical geneticists, molecular biologists and other academics alike. The processing and analysis of those complete mtDNA genomes were obtained through just as or more stringent protocols as required in academia. Again, it is time to give credit where it is due: We are helping and are PARTNERS in this science. Politically, Genetic Genealogists are a viable, knowledgeable and formidable group who are the strongest advocates against the use of DNA for discrimination of any individual seeking health care or other insurance coverage because of their genetic ancestry.

Many of us, as parents and grandparents, are leaving our own genetic information for our children and grandchildren and to science for research and posterity
The time will come, sooner than later whereby every child will have their genetic makeup known at birth and the knowledge will be available to prevent any disease for which they may be at risk.

This will come through the help of genetic genealogists who one day, curious about their ancestors’ genetic make-up, who their parents were and where they migrated from in more recent and in earlier generations , decided to to take a Q-tip and swab the inside of their cheek to learn how their DNA all came together in one place and time to form you and me.

TGG:  Thank you, Ana, for a wonderful interview!

View every interview in this fascinating series:

And, in conclusion, I would like to extend my appreciation to everyone who participated in this series.  I learned a great deal about the early roots of genetic genealogy, some of the individuals who have been involved from the beginning and along the way, as well as some thoughts about the future of genetic testing.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

7 Comments

  1. I agree that “East Indian is not Native American” Richard. She out of all people should understand that. Some people are in denial about certain aspects of their ancestral roots. This is why we some of the research needs to be monitored in my opinion when it comes to statics. Unbelievable.

  2. Richard and David – on the old biogeographical tests from AncestryByDNA, there was an East-Asian category that had a difficult time deciphering between East-Asian and Native American. I think “East-Asian” is what Dr. Oquendo Pabón meant; I don’t think ANY testing company has an “East Indian” category.

  3. I think the idea of genetic genealogy is fascinating. I know my surname, Ferguson, is fairly branched out and it would be very interesting to see a type of geomap showing a trees movement across the world over a hundred generations.

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