Tracing Lineage With DNA

"We've always speculated. … I have dark skin so maybe I'm Italian. Maybe Hispanic. Now I know who I am and why," he said.

'I Was In for a Huge Surprise'

This got me thinking about my own ancestry. I knew that both my parents were born in India and immigrated to Great Britain in 1951 — but I've never met any of my grandparents or other relatives.

I decided to go through the process. I swished around some mouthwash, used swabs to take a saliva sample and then sent my DNA to Sorenson Genomics where research scientist Natalie Myres analyzed my samples and walked me back through my family history.

We looked at a picture of my parents on the computer screen.

"Currently this is as far as your family tree goes because this is all the information that you're aware of," Myres said. "So in order to augment your understanding of your history we analyzed your DNA."

She explained that I was a member of haplogroup "m" and a member of subhaplogroup "m3." The designations "m" and "m3" can be thought of as ancestors of mine along the maternal line.

"Now ancestor 'm' lived about 63,000 years ago," Myres said. "Somewhere between east Africa and the Persian Gulf."

Myres showed me a map that showed my "m" ancestor had descendants spread throughout Eurasia.

I also descended from a subhaplogroup named "m3a" — that ancestor lived about 17,000 years ago probably somewhere in west northern India.

"The other population — are the Brahmans of Utar Pradesh," she said. "Now the Brahmans as I'm sure you know are a priestly caste in the Hindu system, and also the highest cast in the Hindu social system as well."

I told her I liked what I was hearing.

"The other group that I haven't mentioned yet are the Rajputs of Rajistan, and they are also a major caste in India, which claim ancestry from ancient royal warrior dynasties," Myres said.

Now we are getting somewhere!

Although I share ancestry with all of these groups, we don't yet know whether I descended directly from one of them.

Although this royal surprise was uplifting, DNA can also cause some unwelcome shocks. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton recently learned that he descended from a white slave owner. But Sorenson Genomics is convinced that such information will only prove positive for society, making it difficult for people to support hateful ideas with notions of genetic purity, a phenomenon that doesn't truly exist.

"To realize that perhaps this hatred and this bias that has been grown up through environmental influences, there could be a realization that could change that," David said. "It will allow people to see that they're related. That there isn't a so-called pure race. That we all have common roots."

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