GA Live: S01 E02: Working with your DNA test results

In our second episode, co-hosts (and cousins!) Brian Sheffey and Donya Williams talk about:

* The difference between mtDNA, YDNA, and autosomal DNA;

* General ways you can work with the different types of DNA;

* What they learned about themselves through DNA testing;

* How DNA results and paper trail genealogy work together; and

* Some easy ways to start working on your 3rd and 4th cousin matches to figure out who your common ancestors were.

In the next show (Sunday, 8 April 2018 @ 4pm EST), Donya and Brian will discuss Freedmen’s Bureau work contacts…and the discoveries you can make using them. See you then!

Live Broadcast Link:…

Can we really make assumptions about African American DNA admixtures?

I caught up  with some of the geneticist team who were going to be a part of my first proposed television series the other day. Skype truly is a wondrous thing!  We chatted about my YDNA Haplogroup, E1b1a1a1f1a. There’s something about this haplogroup in particular that has confused me.

To recap for those of you who are new to genetics and genetic genealogy, a haplogroup is a term scientists use to describe individual branches, or closely related groups of branches, on the genetic family tree for human beings. In theory, all members of a YDNA haplogroup (passed from fathers to sons) can trace their ancestry back to a single individual until we reach a theoretical genetic ‘Adam’, the father of every male on the planet. Women have a genetic ‘Eve’, the point of origin for human mtDNA (passed from mothers to daughters).

So, we had a chat about good ole E1b1a1a1f1a. In order to have an informed discussion, I gave them access to my Genebase account. Genebase is the DNA testing company I used to test the full sequence of my YDA. It’s worth noting that other, more commercial, DNA testing companies test only various parts of YDNA and mtDNA.  I needed full sequencing done as a basis for my TV series.

Let’s take a quick look at the information they needed which formed the basis of our discussion. To be 100% transparent, we stripped out all non-African DNA from the results. I only wanted to look at the African part of my YDNA, which was the bit that was causing me all kinds of confusion.

My YDNA sequencing:

Image of a partial snapshot of my YDNA sequencing results.

This is a partial snapshot of my YDNA sequencing results from Genebase, with various genetic mutations marked. Click for larger image

At this point, Tim, one of the geneticists (and he also happens to be an anthropologist) said that he saw something interesting – something he hadn’t noticed before when we were planning the TV series. But he wanted to wait a bit until he mentioned what it was. He wanted to see if the other two people on the Skype session would notice the same thing.

Before we went there, we looked at the cultures and tribes I’m genetically linked to via my YDNA.  You can see this in the two images below:

African tribes my YDNA links me to based on my DYS19a, DYS389i DYS389ii DYS390X DYS391 DYS393 YDNA markers

African tribes my YDNA links me to based on my DYS19a, DYS389i DYS389ii DYS390X DYS391 DYS393 YDNA markers. You can also see some of the tribes and cultures I’m genetically linked to at genetic distance of 2. Click for larger image

Image showing my DYS385a, DYS385, DYS392, DYS393, DYS456, GATAH4 marker results.

Image showing my DYS385a, DYS385, DYS392, DYS393, DYS456, GATAH4 marker results. Click for larger image

You’ll notice a neat little phrase in the the images above. It’s Genetic Difference. “Genetic distance” is the number of mutation “steps” or mismatches between any two individuals.  “0” is a perfect match, “1” is a one-step mutation, etc.  The more mutations, the longer the probable time period since the most recent common ancestor.

So, based on the last two images above, I am closely matched with the Akele and the Punu in Gabon as well as the people of Oman. I’m also closely matched with Egyptians. The second image is unusual in that it (currently) connects me to Egyptians and no other culture or tribe.

Let’s look at where the Akele and Punu are found in modern Gabon:

Ethnographic map of modern Gabon. Bakele=Akele and Bapouno+Punu

Ethnographic map of modern Gabon. Bakele=Akele and Bapouno+Punu. Click for larger image

The Punu (also referred to as Bapunu and Bapounou, are a Bantu speaking group from Central Africa.  It’s one of the four major peoples of Gabon, inhabiting interior mountain and grassland areas in the southwest of the country, around the upper N’Gounié and Nyanga Rivers. Bapunu also live in parts of the Republic of the Congo. Punu traditions record a migration from the south sometime before the 19th century, as a result of wars somewhere between the Congo and Niari River.

The Kele people (also referred to as Akele, Bakele, Dikele, and Western Kele) are also an ethnic group in Gabon.

Realization #1

Now the 3 chaps I was chatting with took one look at my Haplogroup and responded along the lines of “ok. African Haplogroup. It get’s lots of traction in Central Africa, particularly in and around the Congo region.”

That’s when I asked them to look at the people I’m linked to (Akele, Punu, Omani and Egyptian).

This is the point when Charlie and Rob chimed in, almost in unison. “Whoa, wait a minute, E1b1a1a1f1a is really rare in Gabon. This doesn’t make any sense”. I laughed at this point and welcomed them to my world of confusion.

It turns out that E1b1a1a1f1a is rife with confusion (oh lucky me!). This Haplogroup is a fairly recent classification. As more human populations undergo DNA testing, the more we understand about YDNA, mtDNA and the haplogroups they have been assigned. Which is a good thing. It’s worth remembering that Genetic genealogy and commercial DNA testing are still in their relative infancy. Further research and testing means a more refined understanding of genetic inheritance. It means a more finessed understanding of us – human beings. What’s known and understood now will undergo refinement down the road. We’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding the human evolutionary history. There is so much more yet to be uncovered, much less understood. It’s worth remembering that too.

I say this to highlight the point that there is only a basic understanding of the E1b1a1a1f1a haplogroup. E1b1a1a1f1a is linked to western Central Africa. It is rarely found in the most western portions of West Africa. It is, however, prevalent in Nigeria and parts of Gabon (The Bantu expansion revisited a new analysis of Y chromosome variation in Central Western Africa. It’s also closely linked to eastern and southeastern Africa (Eritrea, Somalia, etc), where one group of geneticists believe it originated. There is another genetic school of thought that states that E1b1a1a1f1a’s origins are Levantine (basically, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt).

If the scientists can’t agree, what’s a poor genetic genealogy adventurer to do?

So this is where Tim chimed in. He’s the one who noticed something unusual in my YDNA sequence:  “Anyone else notice the DYS391P mutation?”


My partial YDNA sequence with the specific mutation the geneticists were discussing.

The other two men’s reactions were priceless. Charlie: “What, what?, back up a minute”.  Rob: “Yeah, we need to back up for a sec. How did that happen?”

At this point I laughed and just said “You tell me, you’re the scientists”.

Direct ancestors & genetic cousins


A map of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The blue areas are the ones I cite in this post. The pink areas are also in other parts of my YDNA sequencing at a genetic distance of 1. As you’ll see, Gabon is notable by its geographic distance from everywhere else I have a genetic link to at a genetic distance of 1…which raises the fundamental question: How did that happen? Click for a larger image.

Rob and Tim got into an interesting conversation about my haplogroup and the very specific mutation within it. Both made a good point. I’m genetically connected to a staggering number of African tribes. Rob and Tim pointed out that I will be a direct descendant of only a few. All of the others would be genetic cousins. At a mutational difference of 1, the Akele, the Punu, and the Omani are the best candidates for being my direct ancestors. The Egyptians are too. They are just an older direct ancestor pool. At the moment, we’re speculating that all of the other tribes and cultures with a genetic distance greater than 1 would be genetic cousins. In other worlds, I’m not a direct descendant of them. We share a common ancestry further back in time. That time frame could be a few generations (prior to my unknown ancestor’s enslavement and transportation to the United States) for some, to centuries for others…to millennia.

All 3 surmise that at some point within the last 1,500 years or so, an east African man, with Arab male ancestors, carried my YDNA, with a key mutation, into north Africa and northwest Africa. This tallies with the other cultures and tribes in my YDNA, namely the Berber and the Tuareg. At some point, one of his male descendants, a Berber-Tuareg man with this haplogroup and DNA, settled in what’s now present day Gabon.

That’s not surprising. Africa has truly ancient trade routes. And where there are trade routes, there are people. Where there are people, DNA gets exchanged and admixtures arise. The following scientific paper, suggested by Charlie, made for some insightful reading into this specific subject: Sacko, O. Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture: Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania (

To shed some light on this, you’ll find some images that show ancient African trade routes.

East Africa trade routes:

A map showing ancient trade routes from east Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and beyond.

A map showing ancient trade routes from east Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and beyond. Is this how these regions contributed to my YDNA? click for larger image.

Intra-African Trade routes: 

Map showing ancient trade routes within Africa.

Map showing ancient trade routes within Africa. We know my YDNA travelled from East Africa to Northwest Africa along the North African Mediterranean Coastline. Is the route shown at the top of the image the way it travelled across northern Africa? click for larger image

Once established among either the Akele or the Punu, this ancestor’s male descendants married and produced offspring who melted into the surrounding tribal landscape. At some point, one of his male descendants was enslaved and sent to America. That’s the theory my 3 colleagues presented in the end. Much more DNA testing needs to be done on African populations to better understand the evolution of present day African admixtures and history. Significantly more DNA testing needs to be done.  I offer this exchange:

So what’s common and what’s not when it comes to African  Admixtures?

Charlie: “Brian’s haplogroup and this mutation just aren’t commonly seen in Gabon.”

Tim: “How do we know that? Science has barely scratched the surface when it comes to African DNA. We just don’t know. I don’t. Maybe it is rare. Maybe it isn’t. We just aren’t in a position to say what is or isn’t common with African DNA. What I will say is that I find this very, very interesting. It’s something I want to spend some time looking into.”

Charlie offered an interesting and plausible insight. He suggested that perhaps the ancestor who was abducted and then sold into slavery was specifically chosen because it was known that his family wasn’t indigenous to Gabon. They may have been part of the Akele and Punu for only a few generations. If his family had a falling out with a rival family or clan, that’s all it would take. The Akele and the Punu were both heavily engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. So they had the means and the connections to abduct and then sell a perceived ‘other’. Considering what’s happening all around the globe right now, this scenario isn’t just conceivable, it is highly probable.

When it comes to African American ancestry, what’s ‘normal’

Rob asked an interesting question: “Do you guys think Brian’s sequencing is common or uncommon in African Americans?”

I beat them all to the punch with a simple question: “What’s considered ‘common’ when it comes to African American admixtures?”  I was asked to clarify the question, which I duly did. I pointed out these numbers from the last US Census:

1) 45,672,250 or 14.3%: Black Only or Black in combination with another race;

2) 42,158,238 or 13.2%: Black Only;

3) 42,316,387 or 13.3%: ‘Black Only’ or ‘Black in combination with another race’ (non-Hispanic); and

4) 39,528,225 or 12.4%: Black Only (non-Hispanic)

This doesn’t cover those who self-identify as black and Hispanic, etc – or those who don’t even know that they have an African descended ancestor.

It’s believed that 1 million Americans have taken DNA tests. I haven’t found any reliable statistics that show how many of these DNA test takers are African descended Americans. I suspect that the number of African Americans who have taken DNA tests is a very small percentage of that overall 1 million figure. Infinitesimally small. Statistically speaking, not large enough to make any qualified statements.

This happens to be a huge bugbear for me. There are shows that make assertions like: most African Americans don’t have Native American ancestry, or, if they do, that African Americans ‘usually’ have X amount. Or, that few African Americans are 100% African in their ancestry. Or, that any given African American will have Y% of European ancestry or SE Asian ancestry… the assertions go on and on. If this subject interests you, Tim recommended an excellent article: The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans (

Now, if 10 million African Americans were to take DNA tests, then we’d have a significant DNA data set to begin making generalized DNA-based statements. Today? We’re working in a dark room without any windows or light. Just a single candle. That’s just not enough illumination to make any kind of definitive statement. Sorry, but I am stickler for such things.

The same is true of African DNA. We just don’t know if the prevalence of any given genetic admixture is typical or atypical. We know more about how DNA travelled from eastern Africa to China than we do about how it travelled from eastern Africa to all other points in the African continent. The remoteness of some tribes is a barrier to large scale genetic testing. Then, there’s the climate: arid and acidic soil conditions – as well as extremely moist environmental conditions – which aren’t conducive to preserving human remains, much less fragile DNA. Such finds would enable science to study the ancient roots and migrations across Africa of the ancient peoples who gave rise to the modern day tribes we see today. Then there’s the question of where to look for ancient remains to test, and then compare to modern day tribes. Africa is a huge continent. Looking for this is like looking for a needle in one huge haystack. Science has some real barriers when it comes to the genetic testing of African populations.

I was pretty pleased when all 3 men agreed that there is a need to stop asserting what’s typical when it comes to the DNA of African descended people.

Tim asked my opinion about whether or not I believed that the vast majority of American slaves came from western Africa. I didn’t hold back. Given the number of slave ports on the western African coast, one could assume that a significant proportion of slaves sent to the United States probably did come from the western African coastal region. What that number would actually be is just a guess.

And me being me, I went one step further with one of my analogies: New York City is an enormous port. Every manner of products and goods are shipped from, or flown out of, New York City. It is one of America’s exporting hearts. Not every single product or goods shipped out of New York came from New York or was produced in New York. They come from all four corners of the United States. It would take close inspection of export documentation to determine what percentage of good shipped from New York City actually came from New York, or the surrounding Mid-Atlantic or New England states.  One could assume what percentage of these came from this region. Maybe you’d be right. Maybe not. Only research could reveal what’s correct and what isn’t.

The same holds true for African American genetic genealogy as well as African genetic studies. For the time being, I don’t think anyone really knows. This needs to be understood and accepted. We just don’t know. I appreciate that’s a hard thing to hear. I say this to myself each and every day to manage my own expectations.Enslaved African ancestors could have come from pretty much anywhere in the African continent.

For the time being, I take my genetic results as an indication. No more and no less. My YDNA test indicates that I’m a direct descendant of an African man with an interesting Arabian Peninsula-East African-North African-Akele-Punu admixture. How he got that admixture is anybody’s guess. When that admixture occurred is anybody’s guess. And as more African people have their DNA tested and studied, this picture will hopefully become more finessed. Hopefully, the missing puzzle pieces will fall into place.

My geneticist friends are troopers. Bless them, I’ve hit them with a barrage of questions. None of the questions I’ve asked are easy to answer. Thankfully, they find them really intriguing questions that have piqued their interest.  I ask questions because I want to know. *smiling* and I can’t begin to tell you how badly I want to know. Are the Yoruba my first or second cousins, genetically speaking? Are the Fulani my second cousins or third cousins twice removed? Are the Baka something like a 10th great grand uncle?

I want to tackle this basic and fundamental set of questions before I even begin to think about how I’m genetically linked to everyone else in my YDNA – Central Asian, Persian, Sephardic Jewish, SE Asian, Korean and European.

To do the kind of genetic genealogy adventure TV series that my heart of hearts wants to do – we definitely need to figure out this smorgasbord of YDNA.

There’s a practical reason for wanting to know. I share my finds with my wider family, who find all of this fascinating (to various degrees). When you tell your family members you’ve found a new cousin, the first question is usually a simple one: how are we related? In straightforward genealogy, you can show them a family tree and walk them through the connection so they can see it for themselves.

I’d love to be in a position to do this with the global tribes and cultures we’re linked to. That’s the one thing I can’t do at the moment. And yes, I want to know for me. *grinning* For once, I can make this all about me. I want to know. I want to know where these different global groups of people fall on my YDNA tree.


How to get YDNA haplogroup from AncestryDNA results Y-SNP Terminal Subclade Predictor image Y-SNP Terminal Subclade Predictor. This image shows a snippet of my results. It turns out the I have a newly designated Haplogroup – the origins of which are hotly contested by scientists and academics.

This post from the DNA Genealogy website steps you through the process of filtering the YDNA information buried deep within AncestryDNA’s autosomal DNA results.

It works!  I tried it for myself. And there it was – the same haplogroup two other DNA testing services had already provided.

I virus-checked the free software that needs to be downloaded and found it to be safe. It’s always worth remembering that we should always virus check software – especially free software.

There’s a few steps to go through. However, I recommend giving it a go.

I hope there will be a follow up for extracting mtDNA data from AncestryDNA autosomal DNA tests.

To extract your own YDNA results from an AncestryDNA austosomal DNA test, read the following article and follow the easy steps:

How to get YDNA haplogroup from AncestryDNA results

George Murdock’s map of the Ethnolinguistic groups of Africa

This post about ethnic diversity in Africa is a companion piece to my previous post.

The renowned American anthropologist, George Murdock (, published Africa: Its peoples and their culture history in 1959 (  Despite having little experience in Africa, Murdock used resources available at the time to create a comprehensive picture of how ethnic groups were distribution throughout Africa.

Ethnicity is fluid process. This makes the study of ethnicity difficult. Various factors come into play in defining, and re-defining, ethnicity. Personal, economic and cultural factors influences how members of ethnic groups define and redefine themselves. Marriages too can alter ethnic definitions.  In short, ethnicity is a human construct. It’s worth bearing this in mind when viewing ethnic-centric maps.

The map below, like the map in my previous post, is based on linguistic categorizations:

George Murdock's Ethnolinguistic groups of Africa map, 1996

Ethnolinguistic groups of Africa, 1996 publication by the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Principal source: Africa, its peoples and their cultural history, G.P. Murdock, 1959. Tribal or ethnic names may vary, depending on source. Only large ethnolinguistic areas of intrusiveness are shown. Ethnolinguistic boundaries are generalized. Sparsely populated or uninhabited areas are shown by the absence of color.

Part of my fascination with maps like this one, and the one in my previous post, is allowing me to see my genetic connections visually.

I’m fortunate. My Genebase DNA test answered the question about how my father’s paternal DNA travelled across the African continent – from the Horn of Africa, up through Egypt, and then across the north African Mediterranean coast until it reached Morocco and then dropped down to the Western Sahara region. I can trace how this DNA later travelled into parts of Western Africa and entered into a handful of Bantu speaking populations. And, from here, how it was carried further still into the Caribbean, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – places where I have living genetic cousins.

I can see how my mother’s maternal DNA travelled from the Horn of Africa right through the heart of central Africa, and then on to western and southern Africa. Like my father’s paternal DNA, my mother’s maternal DNA travelled from western and central Africa to the Caribbean and eastern Latin America.

Scientists are testing and sequencing more African tribal DNA. This is helping me build a picture of how my ancient African ancestors’  DNA travelled across Africa. It looks like my ancient African ancestors passed through some places quickly. These places act as small blips in my overall genetic makeup (which could also be a case that not enough people from that area just haven’t been tested yet). For instance, where my mother’s maternal DNA is concerned, I only have trace amounts of genetic links to modern Sudan.  In this scenario, Sudan looks like it was a quick pit-stop for her maternal genetic line.

Other places seem to have been long-term staging posts. Places where my parents’ ancestors settled for a considerable period of time before moving on. I have more genetic connections with modern African tribes in these places.  Staying with my mother’ s maternal DNA, I have a very significant genetic connection to the Arab population around Lake Chad and within Chad itself.  It’s only an educated guess, but this seems to indicate that her ancient ancestors remained in the Lake Chad area for generations. The Central African Republic and Nigeria also appear to have been other long-term staging posts for her maternal DNA. Cameroon looks like it was a quick pit-stop.

It’s relatively easy for me to see and understand how my Asian and European DNA moved from east to west in the Eurasian region. I have a whole family tree and documented family history that illustrates how this happened. Not so for my African ancestors. DNA is my sole resource for comprehending and understanding my African genetics. And, like other descendants of the African diaspora, I am reliant on genetics and anthropology to interpret my ancient African legacy – to catch a glimpse of the series of ancient peoples who carried that DNA from eastern Africa throughout the continent.

Who were the ancient African equivalents of my Euro-Asian Ostrogoth, Visigoth, Lombardian and Vandal ancestors? Who were the ancient African forbearers of the Fulani, the Taureg, the Berber, the Dinka, the Hausa and the Songhai?

Maps like the on above can’t answer that. However, this map pinpoints the modern descendants of these ancient tribes. Which, for the moment, provides some glimpses into that unrecorded ancient past…and the monumental journey of African DNA across that continent.

A fascinating color-coded map of Africa’s diversity


A screen grab of the interactive AfricaMap. click for larger image

Harvard University has created an interactive map which illustrates the ethnic diversity within the African continent. The map is based on data from a 2001 book edited by anthropologist Marc Leo Felix.

I have spent hours playing around with this map. The amount of data it contains is simply staggering.

This map highlights points that I have made over the years: understanding the dispersal of human DNA within Africa is complicated.

Each color on the map roughly corresponds to an ethnic group that constitutes the majority within a region, based on how people self-identify. Ethnicity is notoriously difficult to measure and demarcate — everyone sees their own ethnic identity a little differently . The results roughly correspond to a 1959 ethnography by anthropologist George Murdock, as well as a 2002 Harvard Institute study on ethnic diversity.

For me, one key issue remains.  The migration and dispersal of ancient humans within Africa is nowhere near as well understood or studied as the dispersal of ancient humans from Africa around the globe. Science knows more about how humans migrated from the eastern Horn of Africa to Ireland than it does about how humans migrated from East Africa to Africa’s western coast.

One of indications of this is inherent within the interactive map itself. The different African ethnicities are defined by language groups (i.e. Bantu speaking, Chadic speaking, Cushtic speaking, etc). It’s like saying the Normans of France, the Cornish, the Irish and the Scots are the same ethnic group because they are historically Celtic speaking people of northwestern Europe. Or that all Arabic speaking peoples are the same because they share the same language.

However, this map project is an impressive start. If, at the very least, you come away with a sense of just how diverse the different peoples of Africa are, thee map has succeeded in its main aim. It can also give the growing number of African Americans taking  DNA tests insights into the regions of Africa they are genetically connected to.

You can read more about this project, and access the interactive map, via the following article: Fisher, Max, 2015. A fascinating color-coded map of Africa’s diversity, Vox

You can read my previous posts about African genetics & African American genetic genealogy here:

The forgotten complexity & diversity of European genetic admixtures

In genealogy it’s always a good practice to re-visit the various records collected and compiled. The same holds true for re-visiting articles and studies. Chances are, you’ll stumble across something new. Or you gain a new perspective. I’ve been re-reading DNA related articles and studies that I’ve saved over the years.

Armed with a larger family tree that stretches back eons on two of its branches, I’ve been able to see the facts presented in these studies and articles in a fresh light.

Empire expansion and empire building were bloody, disruptive and traumatic forces. There’s no two ways about it. However, it seems that once the proverbial dust settled, the peoples that we would class as ancient Europeans , at least, seemed to get on with the business of living, trading and exchanging DNA with the new cultures they came into contact with. The cultural divisions erected only a few centuries ago just don’t seem to have been present further back in history. There were no silos of classification, not as we would recognize them today. Divisions were based pretty much on the perception of a people being ‘barbarians’ or ‘civilized’. Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, Pausinas, Herodotus and their contemporaries have much to say on the matter.

I’ve wondered how Han and Gelao Chinese as well as various Central Asian tribes came to make significant contributions to my autosomal, YDNA and mtDNA. The genealogy of two families in my tree partially answered it. The Scythians and the Huns. My Matthews and Roane ancestors were descendants of both of these cultures. I know this because I have a few of these ancestors’ names.

a map showing the Tribes and kingdoms of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th Century.

Tribes and kingdoms of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th Century. click for larger image

The Scythian culture and kingdom existed roughly between 300BCE to 600CE. The map below shows the extent of their territory. I note that around a dozen or so of my oldest known direct ancestors on the Matthews and the Roane lines were born in present day Croatia, Ukraine and Bulgaria – the western fringe of the Scythian territory.

Map of Scythian Empire in the 4th Century

Map of Scythian Empire in the 4th Century

Looking at the maps above, I can understand why there are Han, Gelao, Khazak, Dagan, Tuvan, Alatai, etc results present in my DNA.


The Scythians and the Huns both came to occupy this territory. I have found a handful of union between my Scythian ancestors and Huns. The descendants of these Scythian-Hun unions married the various Roman, Scandinavian and Franco-Germanic people. When my 54th great grandfather Gratian (Gratianus Funarius) “The Elder” , a Scythian, married Constantia Constantine, a Lombard – that union produced children with an admixture encompassing Mediterranean, Balkan, near Eastern and Asiatic DNA. Two generations down the line, their descendants had married into the various Frano-Germanic tribes…and the Vandals, a North African people, and Scandinavians. And their descendants intermarried.

It is from this rich and ancient line that every single European royal family is descended. And they aren’t alone. This exchange of DNA happened throughout Europe. I look at it like this: a Vandal princess wasn’t sent to marry an Ostrogtoth king on her own. She went with a retinue of courtiers, servants and soldiers. Marriages like this were social as well as political. Trade routes would be established which meant Ostrogoth and Vandal merchants would go back and forth supplying all manner of goods and servants. Mutual protection treaties were agreed, which meant Vandal and Ostrogoth soldiers would go back and forth as needed if one or the other of the two kingdoms were engaged in war. In other words, swathes of people moved from one place to another.

Picture this, if you will. You’re going about your lord and/or lady’s business. Scrubbing kitchen floors, preparing food for some feat that you’ll never see, polishing the silver, sweeping the floors – and of the myriad of tasks servants had to do to keep their rulers and their court happy, sated and comfortable. You like the look of that foreign stranger brought into your midst by some royal marriage or another. You can’t speak the same language, not yet at any rate. However, through various charades-worthy gesticulations, you manage to convey the essentials: “I like the look of you. Do you fancy meeting up after that lot upstairs has passed out? We can knick some wine, maybe some bread and cheese if we’re lucky…and have a laugh?” Transfer the setting to the local marketplace, a shop, the local temple – pretty much anywhere people came into contact with one other in ancient times. You get the idea.

Boiled down, significant numbers of people moved back and forth, marrying and exchanging admixtures along the way. These admixtures are part and parcel of the overall modern European genetic makeup – and the makeup of European-descended people scattered around the globe.

This brings me quite nicely to four articles that are definitely worth a read. They specifically cover the British Isles and Ireland. They touch on various aspects of this post quite nicely. I cite them specifically due to the remoteness of these islands in the Roman era and the two to three centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe. Despite their remoteness, these islands have a simply staggering genetic admixture legacy.

  1. 10 Surprising Ancestral Origins Revealed by DNA Testing  never judge a book by its cover.
  2. The Guardian’s Scottish people’s DNA study could ‘rewrite nation’s history’ a long-held belief that its ethnic make-up was largely Scots, Celtic, Viking and Irish…Scotland was in fact “one of the most diverse nations on earth”. There’s a pretty interesting reason why.
  3. Prospect Magazine’s Myths of British ancestry it turns out that the ancient ancestors of the (non-Cornish) British and the Irish looks like it was the Basques, not Celts. And that the Celts probably weren’t wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons. And that neither the Celts nor the Anglo-Saxons had much impact on the genetic stock of these islands.
  4. Blood of the Irish: What DNA Tells Us About the Ancestry of People in Ireland.’s pre-historic peopling, it turns out, is far more interesting and complicated than previously thought.

Atrocities and Assimilation: Crusader DNA in the Near East

Here’s another great post from the genetic genealogy blog Origin Hunters.

European crusaders in the early medieval era…The real question is not if they left DNA behind.  There is significant literature that details the atrocities; raping and pillaging was standard operating procedure for the Crusaders.  There are also numerous accounts of assimilation.

Map of potential spread of crusader DNA from the Holy Land

Map of potential spread of crusader DNA from the Holy Land

During the Crusaders’ 247-year occupation – and roughly eight generations – they married local women and raised families.  The real question is did Crusader DNA survive to modern time

This is an interesting read to say the least.

Atrocities and Assimilation: Crusader DNA in the Near East: