I feel I owe American airport security a bit of an apology. You see, I’m a liar. I didn’t know it at the time…but I was. Every time I fly to and from the States it’s hell. I get pulled out the queue, grilled relentlessly by airport security and then sent on my way. Why? Because American airport security think I’m Arab. I fit ‘the profile’. I admit at first I had sense of humour failures where I’d state calmly but firmly that I didn’t have a drop of Arab blood and it really shouldn’t matter if I did. Before 9/11 being ‘profiled’ as an African American by the police was bad enough. Trust me, after 9/11, being ‘profiled’ by airport security due to appearing Arab is hardcore and worse. I have, over time, gotten over it. I just suck it up, smile politely, and then ask them to check out my father’s decades of military service.
So what was the lie? Well, it turns out that I do indeed have Arab blood in these veins. Who knew!?! Well, I guess my DNA certainly did. And here’s how I found out about this and a whole lot more.
After much umming and awing over the matter, I decided to take a comprehensive DNA test courtesy of Genebase http://www.genebase.com . The fist test results arrived today. This first part of the many DNA tests I’ve booked looked at my paternal Y chromosome DNA (this is the DNA passed down from fathers to sons since our species began). This first part of the DNA test specifically looked at my ancient DNA markers…looking back between 4,000 to 50,000 years ago.
A tiny bit about Y Chromosomes
So what did these test results tell me?
4,000 years ago the ancient ancestors of my 4 x great grand-father, Jacob Sheffey, left Ethiopia for Egypt. But more on that migration in a bit. The Y chromosome test had strong results for populations who settled in Burkina Faso and Mali. This was great information to discover, but not exactly a surprise. A cousin who also did a DNA test had these markers in his DNA results. So I was already expecting the same.
What was surprising was my initial DNA results returned matches for China, India, Greece, the Middle East and Sephardic Jews (I refer to the older definition covering the ancient Jews of North African and West Asian ancestry as opposed to the more modern definition of Jews who lived on the Iberian peninsula and were forced to leave due to the Spanish Inquisition).
What really struck me, and continues to fascinate me, is visualizing the movement of his ancestors’ migration (the male ones at this point) over a staggering swathe of time. 36,000 years is a concept that takes a wee while for me to get my head around. We’re talking a period of time which witnessed cataclysmic climate changes, environmental changes, mass extinction events, population growth, the rise and fall of civilisations, the birth of spoken language and cuneiform, the creation of tools, art…the genesis of everything the descendants of these ancient human beings take for granted every day.
Some funny things called Haplogroups & Sub-claves
So I’ve discovered that the ancient part of my Y chromosome belongs to a group called Y-DNA Haplogroup E. It doesn’t stop there. There are dozens of sub-classifications for this Y DNA group called sub-claves. This is a gross oversimplification but think of Haplogroups as a species, say a cat for instance (only because I’m sitting here looking at my cat). This would separate cats from lions, tigers, pumas, etc. A sub-clave would be like a specific breed of cat, say Persian, Mau Mau, Burmese, Siamese, etc for instance. I’ll be taking a specific DNA test this month which will tell me what precise sub-clave my paternal male ancestors belong to.
Is knowing which sub-clave I belong to important? Probably not. I just want to know which precise ancient population my father’s male ancestors belonged to. As one of the 4 oldest Haplogroups, my Haplogroup E group has a staggering number of offshoots. All of the really oldest variants are African. Even my sub-clave E1b1a has an impressive number of sub groups. The video below covers the E Haplogroup.
The video is incredibly scientific. I struggled in some parts. But don’t let this put you off. I’m glad I stuck it out as I think it has some incredible information.
From Genebase http://www.genebase.com/learning/article/2
The trip my Y chromosome has taken…
So, 4,000 years ago, Jacob Sheffey’s male ancestors took one of 2 major migration routes across Africa. If his ancestors migrated through North Africa (from Egypt to Libya, Algeria, Morocco etc), his ancestors would have been part of the great Berber migration along the northern coast of Africa. The Berbers moved from Egypt along the northern African coast reaching Morocco. They continued their migration turning southwards, along the upper and mid western African coastline.
The second route would have been the great Bantu migration from East Africa (Ethiopia) across the Sahara to the western African coast (Burkina Faso and Mali in this case). The sub-clave test I’ll be taking this month will shed light on which one of these two migration routes his ancient ancestors took.
So where does the Greek, Chinese, Sephardic Jewish and Indian DNA markers come from? Most likely while Jacob’s ancient ancestors were in Egypt. 4000 years ago there were ancient, well-established trade routes between Eastern Africa, Egypt, the Indian sub-continent and China. If his ancestors were traders, it’s not unfathomable that his African ancestors would have taken wives and husbands from these populations. As the video above outlines, the DNA group to which Jacob belongs eventually migrated and settled into these regions as well as North Africa and West Africa. Later still, they migrated throughout southern and Eastern Europe.
I settled upon Genebase as a DNA testing option for a few reasons. One of the reasons is its extensive DNA database. Once tested, DNA is matched against other DNA samples in its database and it finds genetic matches – matches that are close as well as distant. Through this first part of the test, I’ve been put in touch with people who share a genetic match with me in the US, Egypt, China, Saudi Arabia and Greece.
The degrees of relation vary wildly and depend on the number of genes shared. For instance, there is a Mr Green in the USA with whom I share an ancestor as recently as 6 generations ago based on DNA results. He and I only differ in 1 gene in our Y Chromosomes. On the other side of the coin is Mr al Abrahim in Egypt. The test indicates we last shared a common ancestor around 66 generations ago…that’s approximately 1,650 years. Or Mr Suarez in Brazil…he and I last shared a common ancestor 85 generations ago… approximately 2,125 years in the past.
Among the 143 Y Chromosone DNA matches so far, there were American surnames which came as no surprise: Bagby, Green , Carpenter, Hill and Richardson. In short, the first round of results has already underscored what the family research has brought to light about extended Sheffey family relations.
I now know which African tribes share my Y DNA!
What I wasn’t expecting – and came as a hugely pleasant surprise – was my Y Chromosome DNA matching to various modern day peoples and tribes. I wasn’t expecting such information and didn’t realize it was even possible to drill DNA results down to this level. To say this information is kind of priceless is like saying that China and India are kind of populated. It takes a lot to blow my mind. This information did it…in the best of all possible ways.
Focusing on Africa, in genetic terms, below is a list of tribes which share a large part of my African Y- Chromosome DNA (from highest match [more than 90% shared] to lowest match [more than 45% shared]:
Tribe – Country
Kassena – Burkina Faso, Africa
Bissa – Burkina Faso, Africa
Bisa – Zambia, Africa
Galoa – Gabon, Africa
Fwe – Zambia, Africa
Ateke – Gabon, Africa
Kunda – Zambia, Africa
Umbundu – Angola, Africa
Luyana – Zambia, Africa
Makina – Gabon, Africa
Kota – Gabon, Africa
Bantu speakers – Angola, Africa
Ndumu – Gabon, Africa
South Samo – Burkina Faso, Africa
Benga – Gabon, Africa
Tonga – Zambia, Africa
Marka – Burkina Faso, Africa
Akele – Gabon, Africa
Tsogo – Gabon, Africa
The upshot is now the next time I get grilled by American airport security, I can embrace my Arab-ness and kindly tell them that yes, at least 4,000 years ago I did indeed have Arab and North African ancestors…before smiling patiently and turning the conversation to my father’s decades of military service. Even better, thanks to genealogy and a dry sense of humour, I can chat to them about Sheffey family congressman, Revolutionary War heroes, War of 1812 heroes, Civil War heroes and the like as I’m stepping out of my shoes, lifting my shirt up (in front of everyone else in the line) and answering a barrage of questions with a quiet but palpable indignation.
And I will have quite the in-flight reading list as I read up on a number of the African tribes listed above.