Monday, 7 December 2015

DNA Soup - the difference between ethnicity and nationality

I've just been sitting here, enjoying a little lull in my job hunting chaos. Taking time for me. Anyway, I just realised I've not shared much about our DNA results. In fact I haven't shared anything.

Some of you will not be interested at all, so read no further - I wont mind.

The study of genetics is a science. The DNA testing companies have programs and databases and data-sets and scientists and are making this knowledge available to genealogists and family historians around the globe. They are bringing this science and it's discoveries to us, ordinary folk, in an effort to help us understand or learn where we came from. It also should enable us to make contact and potentially meet relatives we never considered we had before. 3rd cousins, 4th, 5th, 6th and beyond where the connection to a common ancestor goes back many generations. It doesn't matter how simplified the DNA testing people make their results, it is quite baffling. I'm a big picture person and I like to understand the whole thing. But I don't, and it frustrates me.

I'm a bit of a detective, but there are some things I can't unravel and solve and I sometimes I wonder why I didn't study genetics when I was young - maybe that would have helped now. BUT, the whole process of trying to unravel connections and find common ground, and understand our results is making my brain keep working - and that has to be a good thing, Right ?

Anyways, I know my family tree. Hours and hours, and years and years of research by both my Dad and myself has led to us having a pretty comprehensive tree, back to the 1600's on some branches. In more recent years I have collaborated with cousins I have "met" online - and now mostly in person - as well. So here is what I know:

  1. Both of my parents were born in New Zealand
  2. Three of my grandparents were born in New Zealand, one was born in England
  3. Four of my great grandparents were born in New Zealand, three were born in England, one in Ireland
  4. Two of my great great grandparents were born in New Zealand, eleven were born in England, three in Ireland
  5. At least 30 of my 32 great great great grandparents were born in England, Ireland or Wales.
So ethnicity-wise what would you expect ?

I'm not going to be identified ethnically as a New Zealander. I know THAT. We are all immigrants - all of us with European heritage are populating remote former colonies because our ancestors were travelers. Emigrating by choice or by force from their homelands. Some of us may have acquired other more local ethnicity markers post migration. But not me. I KNOW that.

So knowing that I am a New Zealander by nationality because my forebears chose to sail to the opposite end of the planet for a new, better life is one thing. Were they travelers before that too ? Where did they come from before they settled in England (or Wales or Ireland). I can trace one line back to the France/Belgium border. They probably emigrated to England with other Huguenot families as they were silk weavers in Spitalfields for some generations after their arrival in London. I have one other branch which is just a big brick wall right now - where did they come from ?

Some of these places maybe ?

...not quite what I expected either, I can tell you ! We each get our DNA from our parents, 50% from each, but in a unique mixture. Each sibling will have a different mix to the other.  

I figure my brother must have quite a different match. Where did all those Great Britain markers which I can see in my tree for generations go for example ?

Ethnicity aside, Ancestry and other providers also "find" for you among their other tested account holders, potential matches who share the same markers as you. They did ! And they keep adding to the list frequently as more people are tested. They correctly matched me with my daughter, my parents and one 4th cousin who I already had been in contact with for almost 15 years. They do match you as well with positive/negatives - people who match by chance, rather than by descent. So it is tricky to establish who is who.

However, I have been able to identify and contact other 3rd, 4th and beyond cousins who I had no idea about before. Of course I knew they would be "somewhere" because I knew that my direct ancestors were not the only ones in their families to have had children, grandchildren and  great grandchildren. I just had no idea how to start trying to find them. 

If you suppose that one great great grandcouple had say 5 children, and they in turn each had 5 children and so on, that would mean the starting couple could have 25 grandchildren and 125 great grandchildren and 625 great great grandchildren. (Did I work that out right ?) Anyways, 600 or so 4th cousins !! in just one branch of the tree ? That's a lot of people out there around the world sharing parts of my DNA.

I've also been able to determine that I have more matches with my Dad's side of the family than with my Mum's. All the more reason to get my brother spitting in a vial.

My cousin in the States told me about where you can upload your raw data from the initial testing provider and find matches in a much bigger pool. I've uploaded ours now and found her (my cousin in the States) as well as some others who I think are the same as people I matched with on Ancestry, and a 4th cousin in New Zealand who had tested with a different provider. They have an amazing number of tools to study the matches and I am still trying to understand them all and how they might help solve the puzzle.

I was relieved though to confirm through one of their tools that my parents are not related - except legally by marriage.

That's it for now. More next time, when I have unraveled some more. But if you are a keen genealogist, or you are just interested in where you came from, get like Nike and Just Do It.

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