For those of you with an understanding of science that can fit into a pine nut shell, you are like me. But, thanks to people who possess brain cells that I can only dream of, we now know that all modern humans started in the same exact spot in Africa. Approximately 50,000-60,000 years ago (according to one source), a small group of humans left their home town and started a journey that would take them to virtually every part of the known world except for Wolf Point, Montana. We know this because we (meaning people who understand things) can identify “markers” in our DNA to construct a map of all the different journeys across the globe. Whichever path your ancestors took is called your “Haplogroup.”
Thanks to the folks at The National Geographic, we can be part of their Genographic Project. Pay about $100, get a kit. Swab the inside of your cheek, send the kit back. Voila. Your DNA will reveal which Haplogroup you belong to, and you will get a map of your ancestors’ journey. I’m Haplogroup H, which includes most Europeans.
After I got my DNA results, I registered with a company called Family Tree. I entered my contact information into a database, just in case someone from 30,000 years ago was trying to get in touch with me (“Wow, Ethel, I haven’t heard from you since we trekked across the Urals!”).
Yesterday, I saw an email that got me pretty darn excited. The subject line was “Family Tree DNA HVR1 Match!” I have no idea what this means, but, after having spent many years in online dating, I am excited about anything that has the word “match” in it. The email started with communication I understand about as well as I do the Ket language of Central Siberia (“When comparing the Hyper Variable Region 1…) but then the magic words appeared: “a match has been found between you and another person (or persons) in the Family Tree DNA database.” There was that word “match” again. That was followed by a lot more that I didn’t understand, along with a caveat that “Matches could go beyond the genealogical time frame.” Did this mean that primates would be included in my match list? I’m not sure if it would help to know that I am a relative of someone who lives in a cage at the Cleveland Zoo.
More warnings followed, but I didn’t care. I clicked on the link to find my “genetic cousins.” Because I am an author, I was hoping against hope that Oprah would be one of those (“Dear Cuz, You’ll never guess who this is!”). What I found was a list of 8451 people, actual people with actual email addresses who are my genetic family. I clicked on the “Top 1000.” No Oprah. Nobody Famous. The two people with the most interesting names were Timo Jaakko Tapani Lehtimaki and Nancy Deer With Horns.
Then I clicked another link to plot my ancestral origins. This included 165 countries, most of which were Eastern Europe or Middle East (predictable because my parents were both born in Eastern Europe) But there were also a fair number from Sweden and Scotland and even two from Iceland and one from the Faroe Islands (which I had to locate on a map).
So, where am I with all this, you may ask. Well, for me, it’s yet one more indication that, in spite of the Redskins vs the Cowboys feud (which took over when the Hatfields and the McCoys finally settled down), we really are one family on this planet. It’s tough to argue against it when you know that your DNA means the entire world is populated with your genetic cousins, most of whom you aren’t obligated to lend money to. And if my caller ID ever shows “Jaakko Tapani Lehtimaki” or “Deer With Horns,” I’ll know exactly what to say when I answer: