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The Measure of a Woman (or a Man)

My great-grandmother belongs to Haplogroup H, and I always feel a little bad for her.Not that I have anything against Haplgroup H’ers, but they got the short end of the stick.You see, currently all mtDNA sequences are compared to the Revised Cambridge Reference Sequence (rCRS), an mtDNA sequenced derived in the early 1980’s and recently updated.Since the source of most of the mtDNA for that sequence belonged to Haplogroup H, people who belong to Haplogroup H often have no deviations at all and their sequencing results tend to be a little boring.Imagine if your mtDNA testing company sends your results and they say: “You belong to Haplogroup H, and your deviations from the rCRS are as follows: 0.”You see, a little dull.

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The Qilakitsoq Mummies

A recent paper in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology examined mtDNA extracted from the hair and nails of eight Inuit mummies. These essentially freeze-dried mummies were discovered in 1972 in a natural tomb at Qilakitsoq in the Uummannaq Municipality of Greenland. Using C14 analysis, the mummies have been dated to approximately 1460.

The bodies were found in two separate positions about 1 meter apart. In Grave I, there were five bodies:

  1. I/1 = Male Infant #1 – about 6 months of age
  2. I/2 = Male Infant #2 – about 4 to 4.5 years of age
  3. I/3 = Female #1 – about 20-25 years of age
  4. I/4 = Female #2 – about 25-30 years of age
  5. I/5 = Female #3 – about 40-50 years of age

In Grave II, there were 3 bodies:

  1. I/6 = Female #4 – about 50 years of age
  2. I/7 = Female #5 – about 18-21 years of age
  3. I/8 = Female #6 – about 50 years of age

The researcher’s primary goals were to sequence the HVR1 region of each individual’s mtDNA, and then to compare the results to determine possible relatedness of the remains. All 8 individuals fell into Haplogroup A2, but belonged to three different maternal lineages which were mixed between the two grave sites:

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Genetic Genealogy in Brazil

The BBC has an article about genetic genealogy testing of nine celebrities in Brazil for a project called Afro-Brazilian Roots by the Brazilian Service of the BBC. These lucky individuals received Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal testing, and most were surprised with the large proportion of European genealogy revealed by the tests.

“Brazil has more people with black ancestry than any other nation outside Africa, and its mix of Indians, Africans and Europeans gave rise in the past to the claim that the country was a ‘racial democracy.’ ”

“No one is pure in Brazil. That’s why the country has the face of the future,” said Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., coordinator of a similar project in the U.S.”

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The Genographic Project Public Participation Mitochondrial DNA Database

The Genographic Project is probably the largest genetic genealogy project in the world. For $99, the project will sequence seqments of either your mtDNA or your Y chromosome for addition into their publicly available database. The goal of the project, with ten research centers around the world, is to “map humanity’s genetic journey through the ages,” and to “address anthropological questions on a global scale using genetics as a tool.” There has been a huge response to this project, and they just released their first research paper using the results they have collected to date:

“Family Tree DNA is proud to announce that the first paper resulting from data collected through the Genographic Project has been published today at the PLOS GENETICS.“The Genographic Project Public Participation Mitochondrial DNA Database” can be found at http://genetics.plosjournals.org and it will be uploaded to the Family Tree DNA public library as well.

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Genetic Genealogy and the Amish

I am a genetic genealogist because I thought it would be a fun and interesting thing to do.Some people, however, are genetic genealogists because it is a matter of life and death.

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The Amish/Mennonites and Genetic Disorders

The Amish migrated from Europe (Germany/Switzerland) to the United States in the 1700s.One such group, the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, began with 200 Swiss immigrants.Today, there are roughly 200,000 Old Order Amish.Because of the difficult lifestyle, the lack of evangelism, and the language barrier, there is essentially no conversion to the Amish religion.In addition, marriage outside the community is forbidden.As a result, the community has remained closed for over 10 generations and is still using the same 200 genomes of their founders!This is known as founder effect, which means that a population is started by just a small number of individuals and as a result that new population will be different (both genetically and phenotypically) from the parent population, potentially with low genetic variation.

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Genetic Genealogy Used to Identify Lost Soldiers

An article in yesterday’s Mount Vernon News highlighted the use of genetic genealogy to identify POW’s from the Korean War who had died in North Korean detention facilities.

The Korean War Project, sponsored by the Department of Defense, uses genetic tests, especially mtDNA (because mtDNA is so hardy), to match remains to living family members. This type of identification has been used for years now.

One of the volunteers for the Project, Carol Kiley, has found 21 matches in the three months she’s been tracking down families.Ms. Kiley says that her background in genealogy helps her locate the families of missing soliders.

The article discusses the case of Pvt. Robert Wayne McNeil who served in F Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.He was captured as a POW on April 25, 1951, and died thereafter.Remains have been discovered that might be McNeil’s, and Ms. Kiley is attempting to locate a sister, niece, or female cousin for mtDNA testing.

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Using DNA to Reunite the Clan Gregor

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James Stuart, known as King James VI in Scotland and King James the I in England and Ireland, issued an edict in 1603 that abolished the surname MacGregor and declared that everyone named MacGregor or Gregor must renounce the name or suffer death, all in response to the murder of the King’s Forester, who himself had hanged some MacGregors for poaching. A bounty of 1,000 merks (apparently a great deal of money) was placed on the heads of the clan leaders, with 100 merks for other members of the clan.

This the origin of Rob Roy, also known as Red MacGregor, or Robert Roy MacGregor. For the next 200 years The Clan Gregor endured this persecution. Men were killed while women and children were sold into slavery in the New World. Finally, in 1774, the Act of Proscription against the clan was repealed.

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Border Reivers DNA Research

A study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the Center for Life in Newcastle, England discovered that only 50% of males with the last name Robson can be traced back to a recent single ancestor.The research, commissioned to create a new exhibit called “The Robson Encyclopedia,” compared 12 markers from the Y-chromosomes of 100 male volunteer Robsons.

Apparently the Border Reiver clan of the Robsons in the Tyne Valley was notorious in the 1600’s and was made famous in a book called “The Steel Bonnets” by George MacDonald Fraser.According to one site:

“The term Border Reivers describes a number of English and Scottish families who fought a seemingly endless series of bloody confrontations from the 13th Century to the mid 17th Century. Sheep stealing and burning each other’s homes were part of everyday Border Reiver life – they were rugged, tough people who lived by their own laws.”

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The Biggest Family Reunion Ever Based on Genetic Genealogy?

Yesterday The Jewish Press announced the “Kohen and Levi Conference: A Gathering of the Tribe.”The conference, to be held on July 15-19, 2007, is hosted in Jerusalem by The Center for Kohanim.The Center was founded in 1985 to “promote identity and knowledge among Kohanim the world over, and increase their feelings of awareness and commitment to their heritage as Kohanim.”The conference has a main page, a press release, and a brochure (pdf).According to the press release:

Recent scientific research and DNA testing has proven that today’s descendents of the biblical Kohanim are genetically related. Molecular geneticists have discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a Y- chromosome DNA lineage signature shared by a majority of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Kohanim. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present-day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, genetically dated to have lived approximately 3,300 years ago, a time corresponding to the Exodus from Egypt.

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The Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy

In case my readers were not aware, the Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy is now available. This free, open-access peer-reviewed journal has been around in the Spring of 2005 and offers recent news and analysis in the field of genetic genealogy. The current issue has the following articles:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Retirement, By T. Whit Athey, editor
Discussion of recent developments in the field as well as nomenclature issues.

Stacking the Deck: Mutation Rate in the mtDNA Coding Region, By Ann Turner
According to the article, “Genetic genealogists, who are obtaining full-sequence mtDNA tests in increasing numbers, are in a position to provide a “biased sample” for the study of the mutation rate in the coding region.”

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