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Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” is a new series from Henry Louis Gates Jr., who previously brought us series such as Faces of America, African American Lives, and African American Lives 2.  The show, which airs on PBS stations on Sunday nights, premieres March 25th, 2012 with singer/actor Harry Connick, Jr.

Last week I participated in a conference call with members of the show, including Senior Story Editor and Producer Leslie Asako Gladsjo and Chief Genealogist Johni Cerny.  Also on the call, although only able to participate for a few minutes, was Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Here are some interesting tidbits about Finding Your Roots – and genealogy in general – that I learned from the conversation:

  • Gates believes that genetic genealogy is deconstructing the notion of race; never has FTDNA or 23andMe returned an African American’s testing results and reported 100% African, for example.  In other words, science is demonstrating that things are much more complicated than we would have guessed without the benefit of DNA.
  • All guests on Finding Your Roots used both 23andMe and FTDNA for DNA testing – all African Americans participating in the series also used African Ancestry.  While the guests receive all their results, we may not always see them.
  • Many are still wary of genetic genealogy; many potential guests even turned down the series largely because of the DNA testing involved.
  • Gladsjo and Cerny noted that DNA is just another tool for the genealogist; sometimes the guests’ DNA results were very interesting, and sometimes they were “pretty boring.”

I hope you’ll be tuning in tomorrow to see Finding Your Roots.  I have a feeling … Click to read more!

3

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Y-DNA Haplogroup Belonged to E1b1b1c1* (E-M34)

Researchers have recently discovered that Napoleon Bonaparte’s Y-DNA belongs to haplogroup E1b1b1c1* (M34+).

Dominique Vivant Denon was the director-general of French museums under Napoleon.  Denon made a reliquary (a container for relics) that included the beard of Henry IV, a tooth from Voltair, and a lock of Bonaparte’s hair. … Click to read more!

  1. B. Foulon, ed., Dominique-Vivant Denon: L’oeil de Napoléon, exh. cat., Paris: Musée du Louvre (Paris, 2000), 480.
  2. Lucotte, et al. (2011) Haplogroup of the Y Chromosome of Napoleon the First. J. Mol. Biol. Research, 1:12-19.
0

NFL Players Xavier Omon and Ogemdi Nwagbuo Confirmed as Half-Brothers

Direct-to-consumer DNA testing has led to the re-joining of yet another family.
Y-DNA and autosomal testing by Family Tree DNA has revealed that two NFL players , Xavier Omon (San Francisco 49ers)) and Ogemdi Nwagbuo (San Diego Chargers), are half-brothers.  ESPN has a long write-up of the story at “A brothers’ tale for Omon, Nwagbuo.”
Meeting for the First Time

The brothers had planned to meet face-to-face yesterday, September 1, 2011, as their teams met on the field.  Turns out Omon’s team, the 49ers, were victorious, meaning that if he’s anything like my brothers, he gave Nwagbuo a hard time about it!  The Mercury News has a story about the brothers’ first meeting at “Omon meets half-brother (a Charger) for first time,” and the SF Gate has a story at “49ers’ Xavier Omon meets half-brother.”

Family Tree DNA’s Press Release:

Houston, TX – August 31,2011 – Family … Click to read more!

18

Sequencing the Genome of Sitting Bull and Other Famous People

ScienceNews reports that researchers led by Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen are attempting to sequence the genome of legendary Native American “Sitting Bull” (see “Genome of a Chief”).

Earlier this year (2010), Eske Willersleve announced the successful sequencing of approximately 80% of the genome of “Inuk,” a man from Greenland who left behind a few small fragments of bone and four hairs frozen in permafrost when he died about 4,000 years ago (see “Long-Locked Genome of Ancient Man Sequenced”).  Using these ancient DNA sequencing techniques, Willersleve’s group is analyzing DNA from other samples.

One of these samples is a lock of hair from Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull (c. 1831 – Dec. 15, 1890) was a Hunkpapa Lokota Sioux born in South Dakota.  Sitting Bull played an important role in the June 25, 1876 Battle … Click to read more!

3

Columbia Professor Alondra Nelson Reviews The PBS Series “Faces of America”

Faces of America
In October 2008, I reviewed an article by Dr. Alondra Nelson in the journal Social Studies of Science entitled “Bio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry” (Social Studies of Science 2008 38: 759-783).  The article was about the complex interpretation of the results of genetic genealogy testing by African-Americans and black British.  Dr. Nelson is Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in NY.

On Friday, an article by Dr. Nelson appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Henry Louis Gates’s Extended Family,” which is an introduction and review of the current PBS documentary miniseries Faces of America. Regarding the genetic testing aspect of the show, Nelson writes:

If the findings of conventional genealogical research produce fireworks, the results of the DNA analysis generate shock and awe. “Know Thyself,” the final episode, which shares its title with the slogan of Knome Inc., focuses mostly on genetic genealogy. Whereas prior shows relied heavily on analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome (Y-DNA), yielding results that included at most about 2 percent of one’s complete genetic inheritance, in Faces techniques are used that probe deeper into more of the genome.

The technical aspects of genetic ancestry tracing are explained, but without sufficient social context, much the way a manual can tell you how to operate a car without explaining automobiles’ role in modern industry, the development of suburbia, or the emergence of youth culture. We can’t hold a documentary for a general audience responsible for not presenting a complex metanarrative on the philosophy of genetic science. But we can expect some acknowledgment and interpretation of technology’s limits.

It is likely that some genetic genealogists will instantly disagree with or discredit Nelson after reading this article, since … Click to read more!

11

Family Tree DNA Discovers Y-DNA Signature That Might Represent the Prophet Mohammed

DNA An article in the United Arab Emirate newspaper The National (wikipedia) does a terrific job of highlighting recent research from Family Tree DNA.  The story – “DNA could illuminate Islam’s lineage” – discusses research that has attempted to elucidate the Y-DNA signature of Mohammed.  Although Mohammed did not have a son, he had a daughter who married her paternal second cousin, thus passing to Mohammed’s grandchildren the same Y-DNA.  From the article:

“For almost 1,600 years, the title Sharif, Sayyed, or Habib has been bestowed on Muslims who have been able to trace their roots back to the Prophet Mohammed through intricate family trees, oral histories and genealogical records. But now an American DNA lab says it may have identified the DNA signature of descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and perhaps the prospect of a direct, more accurate means of confirming or identifying such a connection.”

The caveat, as the story briefly mentions by the phrase “if their oral tradition is accurate”, is that no one has an authenticated DNA sample directly from Mohammed.  If there were, this type of research would not be needed.  Instead, the conclusion that it might be Mohammed’s Y-DNA is based on testing individuals who … Click to read more!

1

Personal Genome Project Begins Releasing Information

image The Personal Genome Project (PGP) was established to analyze and publicly share the genomes and personal information of up to 100,000 volunteers in order to advance understanding of “genetic and environmental contributions to human traits and to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.”  In the first phase of the PGP, ten volunteers (the “First 10″ – see information about the First 10 here on my blog and at the PGP website) have had their DNA analyzed and have given their personal information.

Last month, George Church, the PGP’s principal investigator, reported that the project expected to publish data about the First 10 on its website in mid- to late October.  Church might have meant genotype (i.e. sequencing) information, since some information about phenotype, health … Click to read more!

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The Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee Rejects DNA Testing

iStock_000002679865XSmallSee the new article at Seed Magazine “Inheriting Confucius,” which discusses efforts to generate a family tree containing the 2 million+ descendants of Confucius.

Kong De-Yong, a 77th(!) generation descendant of Confucius, has been compiling the tree for the last 10 years.  Although the Committee is accepting submissions from women and other previously excluded groups, it is not accepting DNA contributions.  According to the article, this “hints at the limits of Chinese engagement with the age of genomics, and demonstrates how high cultural stakes can constrain science.”  Unfortunately, as the author of the article suggests, many people might be afraid of the results of such DNA testing: “Given the potential implications of genetic knowledge for … Click to read more!

4

TGG Interview Series V – Whit Athey

The name Whit Athey is undoubtedly very familiar to many genetic genealogists. Whit’s Haplogroup Predictor, used to predict an individual’s paternal haplogroup based on DNA test results, is one of the most valuable online (and FREE) tools for genetic genealogists.

Among Whit’s many contributions to the field, he is also the Editor (and frequent contributor) of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy. From his biosketch:

“Whit Athey is a retired physicist whose working career was primarily at the Food and Drug Administration where he was the chief of one of the medical device labs. He received his doctorate in physics and biochemistry at Tufts University, and undergraduate (engineering) and masters (math) degrees at Auburn University. For several years during the 1980s, he also taught one course each semester in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Maryland. Besides his interest in genetic genealogy, he is an amateur astronomer and has his own small observatory near his home in Brookeville, MD.”

In the following interview, we talk about Whit’s introduction to genetic genealogy, the creation of the JoGG, and Whit’s thoughts about the future of the field.

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

Whit Athey: I have always been interested in molecular biology, and my graduate work, … Click to read more!

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DNA Testing of New York’s New Governor David Paterson

As of Monday the 17th of March, David Paterson will be the Governor of New York State.  Lt. Gov. Paterson recently sat down with Susan Arbetter of WHMT’s NYNOW to discuss the results of his genetic genealogy test results.  Paterson is probably the first governor in the United States to have undergone genetic genealogy testing, and might be the highest government official to do so and then speak openly about it.  These videos are very enjoyable, and it’s interesting to learn more about the future Governor. In the first segment, Arbetter and Paterson discuss some of Paterson’s genealogy.  They also discuss Paterson’s Y-DNA, which is of European origin.  Arbetter writes on her blog: "On the Lt. Governor’s paternal … Click to read more!