Lascaux cave art

Lascaux cave art

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Use of Genetic Testing in Ancestral Research

DNA testing and analysis can be a useful tool in the exploration of one's ancestry but one must be cautious in evaluating the results. Since last year I have spent a considerable amount of time researching my own ancestry although this has been primarily on my paternal side due to the barriers placed in the way of carrying out German ancestral research by the German government. Unlike England and most of the English speaking world the vast majority of birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial records in Germany have not been digitalised and there are no central records offices. A significant number of records were destroyed during the bombing of WWII. The only way one can effectively carry out research is by physically visiting the various churches and town halls. To employ someone to carry out research would cost thousands of pounds. In order to order birth, marriage and death certificates one must also prove a biological relationship due to the excessively strict privacy laws in Germany! I am convinced that this strategy is a deliberate one by the German government which actively works for the dissolution of the ethnically German population and puts every barrier in the way of people researching their ancestry. With hindsight it would have been helpful if my mother had not thrown away her Ahnentafel when she married my father in 1948! It would also have been helpful if I had taken the time to ask my mother about her grandparents whilst she was alive! As she passed on in 1989 it is now way too late to do this! Thus my German research is limited to my grandparents who bore the surnames Bock and Klingebiel, names very common in the Harz mountains.

By necessity my extensive research has been of my paternal ancestors and the vast majority of these are those of my paternal grandmother's line which I have found is deeply rooted in the North Meols area of Lancashire in northwest England. The same surnames keeps recurring and it is clear that most of my ancestors were in fact related to the people who they married! Indeed I have found that I am often descended from the same person through 2 or 3 of his or her children and sometimes through their sibling(s) as well. This phenomena is known as a 'Pedigree Collapse' which reduces the possible numbers of one's ancestors! So anyone who has North Meols ancestry is very likely to be related to me, even if distantly as it was a small gene pool located in a very rural and at one time remote area. My paternal grandfather's ancestry however is rooted in Wales and the neighbouring English counties of Shropshire and Somerset. I have not been able to go too far back with my Somerset and Shropshire ancestry and the very prevalence of similarly named individuals in Wales has limited my Welsh research to my Welsh great great grandparents. The North Meols ancestry is already well researched and much of it has been published. They appear to take their genealogy seriously in that part of the world!

A number of years ago I used the services of Oxford Ancestors who I believe were the first company to offer ancestral DNA testing. I first had my Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tested and then my Y Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA). The results showed a maternal haplotype of V and a paternal one of R1b. Recent research by Living DNA has confirmed these results and provided the subclades, namely V10b and R-L21. Ironically my paternal DNA is the most common in western Europe, the so-called 'Atlantic-Celtic' type that was introduced as the result of waves of Indo-European expansions whilst my maternal DNA is the rarest in Europe (Germany 4%, Austria 1%) apart from the very north of Scandinavia where its dominance reaches as much as 42% amongst the Sami whose males were very restricted in choice of partners, thus creating a 'founder' effect where one incoming female provided the majority of the female partners.

Living DNA also provided an autosomal analysis (auDNA) which is a fairly new form of testing where the remaining 22 pairs of chromosomes are tested in order to identify the countries or regions where one's ancestors originated. Living DNA unlike most other companies can trace this back to up to 10 generations (8 x great grandparents) as opposed to the usual 5 generations (great great great grandparents). It is not possible to identify which chromosomes one has inherited from either one's mother or father but conventional genealogical research can throw light upon this. However if one had two living parents who had their auDNA tested then in theory one could identify which auDNA one has inherited from each parent. When looking at auDNA it should be borne in mind that you do not necessarily inherit a straight 25 % of your DNA from each grandparent. It is technically possible not to inherit any at all! It is very much a lottery and the further back in time one goes the increasing likelihood is that you do not inherit any DNA from the majority of your ancestors! The only exception to this rule is your mtDNA and Y-DNA. Females however do not inherit Y-DNA and males cannot pass on their mtDNA to their offspring. However a female could ask for one of her paternal male ancestors to be tested such as a father, paternal grandfather or even a paternal uncle, full brother or paternal half brother. 

Unlike any other company Living DNA are able to identify which regions of England, Scotland or Wales one's ancestry is derived from as well as ancestry from Ireland. The autosomal analysis confirmed my Lancashire ancestry, the result being 22.9%, so close to 1/4. It also confirmed my Welsh ancestry at 15.8%, not too different from the 1/8 my conventional research indicated. This was broken down to 6.1% from North Wales and 9.7% from the South Wales border (which may include western English ancestry). However where it failed dismally is in the analysis of my German ancestry which showed absolutely none at all! This is clearly an error as 50% of my ancestry is from outside of Britain, having had a German mother. Apparently Living DNA along with many of other testing companies struggle to identify the difference between German and English DNA due to the close similarity and the fact that these companies have insufficient genetic algorithms on their databases from Germany but I was advised that this "may change in the future" as more populations become mapped. This is a very common experience for people who have combined English and German ancestry as my researches on the Internet have shown me. So whilst DNA testing can be very useful it does have its limitations but can certainly help to fill in any gaps in one's conventional research. It is thus more than likely that the remaining auDNA from outside of Wales, Lancashire, Somerset and Shropshire is actually the German DNA 'masquerading' as English. This surely should drum home the truth that the English and German people are essentially the same people! No more brothers' wars!

The auDNA revealed some recent Scandinavian ancestry (1.8% which again may be from North Meols as some of my ancestors were still using patronymic surnames well into the 18th century which may be an indication that they were recent immigrants from Scandinavia. The population of North Meols generally are of Norse descent because this part of Lancashire was heavily colonised by Norwegian and Danish Vikings so the 1.8% auDNA only refers to recent Scandinavian descent. Another surprise was the discovery that 1.7% of my auDNA is derived from the Russian republic of Chuvashia, a people of mixed Balto-Slavic and Finno-Ugric descent with some Turkic/Hunnic admixture. These are a very interesting European people who along with their closely related Mari neighbours have maintained heathen traditions and religion down to the present time. The Chuvash ancestry is clearly from my mother due to the fact that Russia is much closer to Germany than to England and the rare mtDNA V haplotype may very well have been inherited from a Chuvash maternal ancestor as their Mari neighbours have a higher than usual proportion of mtDNA V in their gene pool at 10%.

The use of ancestral DNA testing is certainly a very useful tool when used to clarify or validate conventional research and to fill in any 'gaps' in one's research but the results must be treated with caution especially if one is of mixed German, Dutch or English descent.


Steed said...

Good of you to share your story and thoughts. I am half-English and half-Dutch ancestrally, so I'd no doubt hit upon similar problems. However, I have in fact been able to trace all lines of my family tree in some depths - most lines going back to at least the 1700s if not further. I therefore feel no need to have a DNA test done, particularly given both the potential for inaccuracy you mention here, and also because suspicions have been had about the (((companies))) offering this service; what they do with our DNA and their motive in giving certain results. Personally I believe that they will gladly over-emphasize any relatively 'exotic' factor to hammer home the idea that no-one has a true ancestral homeland.

Wotans Krieger said...

That's very true Steed. I have had similar suspicions about DNA companies myself so any results must be measured carefully against conventional research which can tell us far more about our ancestors' lives than DNA testing ever can do. However regarding the Chuvash DNA it is quite clearly very different from western European DNA and stands out from the rest. A number of years ago my partner had a dream of a shining being who revealed in the dream that I had 'Eastern European' ancestry and strangely my brother also had a similar dream at about the same time so I am inclined to take it seriously.

runebinder said...

runebinder said...