Mapping my YDNA flow in Africa

I’ve spent the past week and a bit looking more closely at the YDNA I inherited from my father’s male line. It’s like returning to the original genealogical records you use in your research. You come back to them with more knowledge, a more seasoned eye and a better understanding of what you are looking at…and can usually pick up something new.

So, as I learn more about genetic inheritance and develop more finessed  genetic genealogy working practices, I keep returning to my Genebase YDNA and mtDNA results. What I have learn along the way has enabled me to make better sense of my test results. It has also enabled me to make better informed, educated, theories (yes, that is a rather nice way of saying I’m guessing…even if it is an educated guess). And, of course, I’m deeply appreciative of the patience instruction and advice I’ve been given by my genetic genealogy mates.

I’ve made no secret of my love for the Genebase testing service. It was the right DNA tool choice for what I wanted to accomplish. It has been worth every bit of the 4-figure sum I have spent sequencing  and analysing 90% of my YDNA and mtDNA sequence.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This isn’t a DNA testing service for everyone. There are no quick and easy pie charts that provide ethnic breakdown percentages. You have to work these out for yourself. Sometimes, with this service, you have to work hard in order to interpret the results this service provides. It’s part of what I really like about the service. When you’re forced to work with data of any kind, you have to understand what the data is, how it’s compiled, what it relates to…and ultimately what it means.

The image below gives you an idea of some of the information provided.

Rapanui

Image 1. Click for larger image

I’ll break the information contained in the image above:

This is a small fraction of the data returned by Genebase for my YDNA. The image shows results for a sliver of my YDA: Y-STR markers DYS19a, DYS389i, DYS389ii, DYS390, DYS391, DYS393. By themselves, Y-chromosomal DNA (Y-DNA) short tandem repeat (STR) markers from a Y-DNA test do not have any particular meaning. The value of testing YDNA STR markers comes from creating a YDNA signature (haplotype) with them and comparing that YDNA signature to others in a database. They are useful for genetic genealogy because your YDNA signature distinguishes your paternal lineage from others.

Like any other similar DNA testing service, Genebase compares markers to specific global populations. It groups these results by generational difference (the number of generations you’re likely to be distant from a genetic match). That’s a very over-simplified explanation.  Hopefully, you get the picture.

In the image above, you can see the populations associated with the YDNA STR markers I’ve cited. The report lists matches from a Generational Distance (GD) of 1 to 5.

For transparency, I’m providing a longer abridged list of matches. Trust me, there is a long, long list for these particular markers spread of 6 degrees of genetic distance. That’s a whole lot of cousin action going on:

A partial list of African genetic tribal matches with a GD of 1 and 2.

Image 2. A partial list of African genetic tribal matches with a Genetic Distance of 1, 2 and 3. Click for a larger image.

So back to Image 1 and what it represents:

I’ll get the most obvious one out of the way first – the Rappanui of Easter Island. No, I am not a direct descendant of these people. They are my genetic cousins. Some unknown male ancestor carried my father’s paternal YDNA from Africa (most probably eastern Africa) to Eastern Island. No one knows where the Easter Islander’s ancestors arrived from within the Pacific Region.  That is still hotly debated. However, scientists estimate that humans arrived in Eastern Island around 400CE (Pioneers of Eastern Island http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/pioneers-of-easter-island.html). Basically, these YDNA markers  that I carry left Africa en route to Easter Island an inconceivably long time ago.

easter island-3

“The middle of nowhere” pretty much sums up Easter Island’s location in the Pacific, marked by the “A” on this map. This beats my paternal grandmother’s mtDNA, which travelled from East Africa to the Aborigines of the Central Australian Desert.

What is pretty cool is the additional information that puts this result into context – something too few DNA testing services do. Genebase lets me know that there were 30 Rappanui tested. I match 2 of those 30 people at a GD of 1. These are my closet matches among the Rappanui. Scoot down to a GD of 2 and the number of Rappanui that share a genetic match with me for these Y-DNA markers jumps to 11 people from the 30 people tested.

Added to this information are research papers, scientific papers that cover the sample pool of DNA testers per region/county, etc. Sometimes, there is additional profile information about the the DNA tester – like which part of a country they resided in at the time they took the test.

For instance, here’s a study that came as part of my Rappanui results: 
Ghiani ME1, Moral P, Mitchell RJ, Hernández M, García-Moro C, Vona G. 2006.
Y-chromosome-Specific STR haplotype data on the Rapanui population (Easter Island)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17506287 

Here’s a study on the Omani Arab population:
Alshamali F, Pereira L, Budowle B, Poloni ES, Currat M. 2009. Local population structure in Arabian Peninsula revealed by Y-STR diversity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19339785?ordinalpos=4&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

I’d provide a link to one of the African tribes in my match list. There isn’t one.Not in the match results for these markers at any rate.

So…back to Africa.

You can see the African tribes that share the same YDNA markers with me. Like the Rappanui, the greater the GD, the more people I match. When you begin to understand the large scale movements of people across the globe over eons of time, you begin to build a picture of how your YDNA or mtDNA has also travelled around the globe.

Looking at my GD1 results for this set of markers, the information about my African results are the same as my Rappnui results. I have more dataset matches with every increase in Generation Distance. At a GD of 1, I only have a handful of matches. A GD of 2 trebled the number of matching tribes and ethnicities.

Not all of these matches will be direct ancestors. Most, like the Rappanui, will be genetic cousins. Others will be direct ancestors. Given the number of times the Akele, the Puni and the Omani appear in a number of my YDNA markers, my team and I are very confident that I’m directly descended from all 3.

The next step was to build a map to indicate how my YDNA spread through Africa. Again, I’ve only been looking at the African part of my YDNA in this exercise. It’s the part of my identity I know the least about. So it make sense. I have an excellent understanding on the European parts of my YDA. My Near Asian, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Southern Asian and Chinese results simply defy understanding. They are anybody’s guess at this point. From a personal as well as time and productivity standpoint, it makes sense to focus on the African parts of my YDNA at this point.

A working hypothesis on how my YDNA travelled through Africa

afr_asia_pol2

Let’s start with the blue region on the right hand side of the map. This is the origins of, well, me, in terms of my YDA. It all begins in the Horn of Africa. Like every other human being. At some point in the dim past, my YDNA left Africa and arrived in Yemen and Oman. Now you’d think that it would be found in the Arab populations in both places. Nope. Not a bit of it. In modern day Yemen, it’s only found in the Yemini Jewish population (so far). It’s found within the Arab population of Oman.

At a further point in time, that YDNA returned to Africa. The team is presuming it returned to the eastern part of Africa before heading north to Egypt and then across northern Africa (the pink region on the map). This journey is represented by the arrow marked “1”.

We think my YDNA travelled southeast – shown by arrow 2 – around the time as the same YDNA began making its journey northwards  (arrow 1). This southern journey seems to have stopped in Zambia. At the moment, I have no DNA matches with any of the data sets associated with countries to the south of Zambia on Genebase. Again, this is at the moment of writing this post.

My markers are indicating that something pretty interesting happened after the journeys shown by arrows 1 and 2. My YDNA flowed from northern Africa southwards into the African interior, terminating in Gabon and Zambia (the green and yellow arrows marked by ‘3’). The tribes I match indicate the route this journey took. These tribal cousins can be found in modern day Guinea-Bissau, Burkina-Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The 4th arrow shows a small journey from Gabon to Angola, home to more genetic cousins (at a GD of 3).

This seems to be as far south as my YDA has travelled within Africa. As science tests and studies the DNA from more African tribes, perhaps a fuller picture will emerge.

For now?  I’m getting a pretty good grounding of the overall picture of my African DNA…and the tribes and cultures it connects me to on that continent.

This is the value of this genetic testing service for me, personally.  I know how much of my DNA sequences have been tested. I have  crucial additional and contextual information about the data sets this service uses and population pool information. I know how many of these testers I match – and the degree of genetic difference between our matches – for all of the markers in the 90% of my genome that I’ve had tested. In some instances, I have general information about their geo-locations.  For what I aim to do, this is all invaluable information. And worth every penny.

The more commercial DNA testing services I’ve used don’t provide this level of information. I have no idea how much of my genome any of the big 3 testers have sequenced. Nor do I know the size of the dataset pools they have used to provide information about indigenous people tested (this is what gives you your ethnicity percentages). Nor do I have any idea how many people I match within those different indigenous data set pools to contextualize the percentages they give.

To be 100% fair, the big 3 commercial DNA testing companies are very upfront about what they do and do not provide when it comes to this level of information. I also don’t mind because I didn’t test with these services to receive this level of information. I used them to do deep work on my family tree via DNA matches on these services. I also use these testing services to meet and work with newly discovered cousins. So they have more than fulfilled their purpose. They too have been worth every penny…just for a very different reason.

It’s worth remembering that DNA testing services are tools. No one tool can do everything. Some are more suitable for certain jobs than others. I’m just grateful that each of them – each in its own way –  has given me more than my money’s worth.

 

The online etiquette of meeting newly discovered relations from different ethnic groups

So you take a DNA test. And you discover that you have fairly close relations of a different race/culture. What on earth do you do? Ok, what I actually mean is what do you do if you’re American. Emily Post and The Lady didn’t see this one coming. They offer no pearls of wisdom.

You can always start with a friendly ‘Hello’.

There are no etiquette guides to steer one through making contact with newly found family members when they’re of a different ethic group or culture from your own. Especially for Americans. So I let that stalwart of British virtues guide my hand – good old fashioned common sense.

Meeting Sheffey and Roane relations from the white side of the family tree has been a most excellent adventure. And affirming. All those quirks and foibles I thought were inherently my family’s is, actually, fairly common among the Sheffey clan: free thinking & outspokenness (sometimes to our detriment), the fighters of good fights, an entrepreneurial drive and a bent towards being socially minded…and a seemingly mystical  reverence for the Sheffey name. All of these qualities are shared on the European descended and African descended sides of the family. Both sides of the family have embraced one another. It’s been a brilliant thing to see so many branches of the family meeting each other online and sharing laughs as well as family stories.

I haven’t met many Roanes from the European descended side of the family. Those that I have met online have freely shared what they know about their Roane ancestors. By that, I mean wills and tax lists which cite the names of the slaves that their ancestors owned. This has made my family research a thousand times easier. With each new document, I continue to  narrow down the potential candidates that could be my 4x Roane great-grandfather. The Roane family’s tastes for refinement, a certain élan, observance of proper conduct and again, a pride in the family name, also resonates strongly with me. If this is indeed part of my Roane family inheritance, it probably explains my ability to get on rather well in Britain.

I haven’t met many European descended Joseys online. The few I’ve met live in Scotland, the Josey’s homeland. Oh yes, and a Josey descendant in Australia. Meeting Josey family descendants and chatting to them online leads me to believe it is from them that I inherited a fascination for science. In their day, the Joseys held some of the highest medical and scientific offices in the British Empire, generation after generation. In the tine of the Scottish and English Stuart Kings and Queens, they were also savvy courtiers and politicians.

I think the key to establishing these successful cross-ethnic contacts successful was down to my initial approach. There’s no getting around it, when it comes to my American European-descended relations, the slavery issue is an awkward one. This is largely due to how America has chosen to address it, or rather how it has chosen not to address it (oh how I can hear Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter et al gnashing their teeth!). It’s tricky enough making contact with the descendants of people who owned peoples’ African descended ancestors. But when the owners of those enslaved ancestors were also their blood kinsmen and kinswomen, well, that just adds an extra special twist. Just let that idea rattle around inside your head.

It’s like that awkward moment on a date when both parties are thinking ‘are we going to kiss or not’.  I like to get the awkwardness out of the way early on rather than have it hang like some proverbial Sword of Damocles. The longer you leave it, the longer you ignore the elephant in the room, it just becomes this thing that it shouldn’t be. It kind of takes on a life force of its own, that thing that’s ignored. So what I say usually runs along the lines of:  ‘Look, the world was what it was in those times. That was then and this is now. I’m just saying hello and I hope to find out more about our family.” And that ‘our family’ is important. For me, it sets the context of everything. It frames the conversation. And it puts the recipient at his or her ease. They understand where I’m coming from.

One thing about online etiquette, I suggest always re-reading what you want to send someone (email, in-box messages on ancestry or whatever family tree service you use, DNA testing sites, etc) before you send it. Even read it out loud. I receive so many messages – too many, actually – that have an aggressive tone. The majority of the time this tone isn’t intended. Just remember that the person on the other end of the message doesn’t know you, hasn’t ever met you and can’t see or read your facial expression when they open that message or email. Politeness, respectfulness and friendliness go a long way. See – pure Roane right there!

One last bit of genealogy etiquette advice. So you’ve done a DNA test and you’ve emailed people you’re genetically matched to. And someone doesn’t respond to your email or message. Let it go. Their silence doesn’t mean they aren’t excited or intrigued to hear from you. There’s a reason that holds them back from responding. It’s that simple. Frustrating for you, no doubt, but we have to be respectful of other people’s privacy and reasons. Focus on the people who do respond.

In closing, what’s been truly amazing is corresponding with people I’m genetically linked to who live in a completely different part of the world. My Genebase mtDNA and Y-DNA results have linked me people literally all over the globe. I’m in touch with a Jewish cousin who lives in a small town in Hungary, an Egyptian cousin who lives just outside of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, a cousin who lives in the Dominican Republic and one more who lives in Belo Horizonte in Brazil. The last two are also descendants of enslaved Africans. Given the DNA data, it would appear that I share a common Tuareg male ancestor with the chap in Brazil and a common Berber female ancestor with the lady who lives in the Dominican Republic.

We’ll never know the names of the common ancestors we share. The common ancestors I share with each of these cousins were alive anywhere from 25 generations ago (the case with the cousins in Brazil and the Dominican Republic) to 50+ generations ago (the others I mentioned). If you take a generation as being 25 years, that’s a common ancestor who lived around 625 years ago. In the case of 30 generations of separation, that’s an ancestor who lived 1,250 years ago. I have one match on my father’s side who lives in Iran and we’re separated by around approximately 99 generations – 2,475 years ago. I’d love to hear from my Iranian cousin but respect that he hasn’t replied to my email. Given that he lives in Iran, there are probably all manner of reasons why he hasn’t.

So, when making an initial approach to a newly discovered relation…how you say something is as important as what you say.

The problem with sub-Saharan Africa and DNA analysis tools

This is the first post in a series that covers issues I’ve experienced with reporting of sub-Saharan African results in DNA analysis. This series of posts will have a particular emphasis on DNA testing for African Americans. Over the next series of posts, I’ll be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of DNA admixture analysis tools – with tips for things to look out for.

I recently had the opportunity to upload my Ancestry.com DNA results to Gedmatch.com. And what a revelatory experience Gedmatch.com has been. To be honest, this DNA analysis service is proving fascinaing. There is just so much to explore and comprehend. I have been doing a LOT of research in order to get my head around all of the information Gedmatch has provided.

My experience with Gedmatch has better enabled me to finely tune a quibble I’ve had with my Ancestry.com results. Don’t get me wrong, Ancestry’s DNA test has done exactly what I wanted it to – put me in touch with distant (and not so distant) relations from my various family lines. It’s allowed me to find my 4x great Sheffey grandfather. And it put me on the right track towards identifying my 4 x Roane great-grandfather.

My niggle with Ancestry’s results has to do with my admixtures and the countries it genetically tied me to. These results were always going to be general in nature. Ancestry.com states as much. The quibble I had has to do with Africa. And my recent experience with Gedmatch has allowed me to better understand the nature of my quibble.

DNA test results are based on data sets. These data sets are compiled by DNA test result databases. A database can only be as precise as the data that’s put into it. In this case, precision DNA results rely on large numbers of a population 1) having a DNA test and 2) those results being added to a data set which is imported into a database. For instance, a data set with 200,000 DNA results from the Baltic region of Eastern Europe will provide more precise insights than a data set of 50,000 individuals from the same region. It also depends on how each individual is classified and sub-classified (i.e. Bulgarian, Caucasian Bulgarian, Central Asian Bulgarian, Altaic Bulgarian, etc).

This brings me to my quibble about Africa. The way African DNA test results are classified, you would thing Africa was one large country populated by a homogenous people. This simply is not the case. The continental African population is arguably one of the most heterogenous populations. The admixture analysis tools and reports I’ve used on Ancestry.com and Gedmatch simply don’t reflect this diversity of African peoples.

For instance, I know that the central African pygmy populations have contributed roughly 2% to my genetic makeup. This comes from my mother’s mtDNA as well as through my paternal grandmother’s DNA as evidenced by my Genebase Y-DNA and mtDNA tests as well as my father’s mtDNA test.

Now where things get tricky is what’s classed as ‘Sub-Saharan Africa.

image of the map of African
Ancestry.com, along with a number of Gedmatch’s DNA analysis tools, takes the literal approach: all countries below the Sahara desert. Genebase, on the other hand, does not. Genebase, for instance, has categorized the territory from Western Sahara to Niger and south to Nigeria as Northwestern Africa. On its service you will also find North Central Africa, West Africa, Eastern Africa, Central Africa and so on and so forth. These sub-classifications of Sub-Saharan regions (and its peoples) allows for far more accurate interpretation for DNA analysis purposes. It’s also much more meaningful.

Based on this classification, my 18% African result is primarily spread across: Northwest (4%), Western (2%), Northern (5%), North Central (3%) and Eastern (4%) Africa. This is more meaningful that either a report that simply says 18% African or 12% sub-Saharan African, specifically.

For someone who is developing a travel-adventure series based on his DNA results, I’m a stickler for DNA reporting accuracy.

Gedcom & the MDLP DNA analysis tool

So first up is the MDLP DNA analysis tool which can be found on Gedmatch.

MDLP is a bio-geographical analysis project for the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania should have been my first clue. It was only after I saw the first set of results that I discovered that MDLP was designed for individuals with European and some Eurasian ancestry (mostly Finno-Uralic and Altaic). This tool is not recommended for inferring African-American, East-Asian etc. ancestry.

You’ll see why this tool wouldn’t be particularly useful to peoples of a largely African or East Asian ancestry:

MDLP World-22 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-World-22-results

Population  
Pygmy 2.63%
West-Asian 3.99%
North-European-Mesolithic 0.53%
Indo-Tibetan
Mesoamerican
Arctic-Amerind
South-America_Amerind 0.09%
Indian 1.86%
North-Siberean 0.31%
Atlantic_Mediterranean_Neolithic 13.71%
Samoedic
Indo-Iranian 1.61%
East-Siberean
North-East-European 12.89%
South-African 0.78%
North-Amerind 1.38%
Sub-Saharian 54.86%
East-South-Asian
Near_East 5.30%
Melanesian 0.08%
Paleo-Siberian
Austronesian

The sub-Saharan results were all out of proportion to what I already knew. Which made me go back to do some more research on this particular analysis. That’s when I found it was created to actually analyze European and Eurasian admixtures. Basically, this tool takes quite a literal and generous view of what’s meant by sub-Saharan.

However, where this tool has been interesting, for me, is in analyzing exactly what it was meant to – my European and Eurasian admixtures.

Variations of this test can be found below. Each has a different emphasis. I’m still researching what the emphasis of each actually is. There isn’t much information available. My DNA contact is off doing his research about this series of tools. The basic clue is in the name: “proportions”. However, I’m in the dark about what’s being proportionally measured – or why results for each geographical region can differ so staggeringly from one sub-test to another

If anyone out there actually understands what aspects of a person’s admixtures these analysis, feel free to post in the comment section below.

MDLP World Admixture Proportions

MDLP-World-Admixture

Population
Caucaus_Parsia 5.26%
Middle_East 5.45%
Indian 2.04%
South_and_West_European 17.20%
Melanesian 0.07%
Sub_Saharian 49.22%
North_and_East_European 11.00%
Arctic_Amerind 0.74%
East_Asian
Paleo_African 8.48%
Mesoamerican 0.56%
North_Asian

 

MDLP K=5 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=5-Admixture

Population
East-Eurasian 24.68%
West_Eurasian 4.08%
Caucasian 32.99%
South-Asian 12.02%
Paleo_Mediterranean 26.24%

 

MDLP K=6 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=6-Admixture

Population
South_Asian 11.92%
Caucasian 32.59%
North_West_Eurasian 4.29%
West_Eurasian 1.85%
Paleo_Mediterranean 26.01%
East_Euroasian 23.34%

 

MDLP K=7 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=7-Admixture

Population
Volga_Uralic 3.78%
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.80%
Altaic_Turkic 22.87%
South_Central_Asian 11.78%
Caucasian 32.27%
Paleo_Scandinavian 1.97%
West_Eurasian 1.54%

 

 MDLP K=8 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=8-Admixture

Population
Altaic_Turkic 22.81%
Paleo_Scandinavian 1.38%
South_Central_Asian 11.65%
East_European
West_European 10.73%
Caucasian 25.41%
Paleo_Mediterranean 24.75%
Volga_Finnic 3.27%

My question with the above results is: Where has the Eastern European from the other results gone? It disappears from this point onwards.

MDLP K=9 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=9-Admixture-Proportions

Population
Paleo_Balkanic 0.39%
Caucasian 25.06%
East_European
Volga_Finnic 3.32%
South_Central_Asian 11.62%
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.54%
Altaic_Turkic 22.72%
West_European 9.97%
Paleo_Scandinavian 1.38%

 

MDLP K=10 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=10-Admixture-Proportions

Population
Altaic_Turkic 22.62%
South_Central_Asian 11.56%
Paleo_North_European 1.28%
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.44%
Iberian 5.23%
Caucasian 23.00%
East_European
Paleo_Balkanic 0.40%
British 7.42%
Volga_Finnic 3.05%

 

MDLP K=11 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=11-Admixture-Proportions

Population
Paleo_Balkanic 0.39%
Celto_Germanic 7.37%
Caucasian 22.80%
Volga_Uralic 1.22%
Iberian 5.04%
Altaic_Turkic 22.56%
Paleo_North_European 1.27%
South_Central_Asian 11.47%
East_European
Uralic_Permic 2.55%
Mediterranean 25.34%

 

 MDLP K=12 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=12-Admixture-Proportions

Population
East_European
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.19%
Iberian 5.08%
Caucasian 22.52%
Uralic_Permic 2.63%
Balto_Finnic 1.21%
Paleo_Balkanic 0.37%
Celto_Germanic 7.23%
Paleo_North_European 0.25%
South_Central_Asian 11.48%
Volga_Uralic 1.27%
Altaic_Turkic 22.77%

So, while not particularly insightful for my African DNA associations, it has been very insightful for others. The Paleo Mediterranean results are largely in line with my Genebase results and incorporate my results associated with Sicily, Smyrna (Greece), and what we would think of as the Phoenicians (Malta, Cyprus and present day Lebanon).

The other Paleo findings are new. So I’m definitely looking to finding out more about them.

I remain absolutely fascinated by my Altaic and Caucasus results…a probable legacy from the ancient Silk Road trade route.

If you’re African American and your Ancestry.com or 23andme results are showing European and/or Eurasian results, this DNA analysis tool is worth investigating.

DNA Results Part 1: My Y DNA has been on quite a journey

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. And, um, rather a lot of it too. 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 first test results arrived today. This first part of the many DNA tests I’ve booked looked at my paternal Y 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 DNA

A little bit about Y Chromosones

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 DNA 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.

There’s a link below for a video that’s 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.

Learn about Y-DNA Haplogroup E
Learning Center | Paternal Ancestry (Y-DNA) | Y-DNA Haplogroups (SNPs)

From Genebase http://www.genebase.com/learning/article/2

The trip my Y chromosome has taken…

So, 4,000 years ago or so, 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 where 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 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 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 paternal Y- 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, millennia ago, I did indeed have ethnic Arab ancestors. And yes, there are unknown Muslim North African ancestors in the family tree…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 congressmen, 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.