What my DNA test told me

Newbury Branch meeting Wednesday 12th June 2019

Speaker: Tony Hadland

Tony Hadland first took a DNA test to discover whether or not a family story of Spanish ancestry was true. The results placed him in haplogroup M, together with a map showing this group to be prevalent in India and the Far East, but absent in Europe. This confirmed what he had suspected: in Victorian times it was apparently not unusual for dark skin of Indian inheritance to be passed off as Spanish, southern European heritage being apparently more socially acceptable than Asian. (His wife’s DNA test did incidentally, reveal a strong possiblity of hitherto unsuspected Spanish ancestry.)

         Later, he was able to confirm this first DNA finding with the fortuitous discovery of some family letters.

         Further research put him in touch with a previously unknown second cousin, and thereby uncovered an entirely separate story: his great-aunt had given up an illegitimate baby for adoption, and the story concealed. On meeting this new cousin he recognised an immediate family resemblance, and the family link was confirmed by a further DNA test.

         Results in a Y-DNA test placed him in group G, further refined (by increasing the number of markers) to G2a 2b 2a 1a 1a, linking his male family line with the Balkan population of 11,500 years ago, and probably part of the spread of farming from the Fertile Crescent into north western Europe. In particular he appeared to share Y-DNA with Ötzi the Iceman, the natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BC, discovered in 1991.

         Y-DNA testing traces the paternal line (so is not available to females, who have no Y chromosome), and generally correlates with surnames. By combining DNA testing with traditional surrname research it can be possible to find close (paternal line) relatives. In pursuit of this, Tony Hadland found his surname closely linked with that of Maynard, and further traditional FH research found Maynards prevalent in the Oxfordshire villages from which he knew his more immediate ag-lab Hadland ancestors came.

         DNA results are only as good as the databases with which they are correlated, and at present these are heavily weighted by wealthy, white American males. This tends to skew results, showing many more matches in the USA than are truly proportional.

         In buying a DNA test it is wise to first to obtain accurate information about what it can and cannot tell you. Claims have been made in the past, promising specific ethnic identification, which is not scientifically valid. Prices vary from $160 to $359 for Y-DNA, according to the number of markers requested. Mitochondrial DNA (maternal line) comes cheaper at around $69. For more exotic types of tests you can pay up to $350. A Living DNA test will match all three types (Y, mitochondrial and autosomal) for £79.

         Matches can be refined by using (and paying for) more markers. However, one should bear in mind that the proportion of shared DNA diminishes the further you go back. 15 generations represent 32,768 ancestors (in theory, at least, but this number would of course be reduced by cousin-marriage) but the amount of DNA which a modern person shares with a 15th-generation ancestor is infinitesimal.

         In 2004 the Wellcome Trust launched a project entitled People of the British Isles, in which blood samples were taken from 4,500 volunteers whose families had remained settled in one area for three generations. DNA data was combined with physiological data. The aim of the project was to benefit medical research in, for example, facial reconstruction.

         The project has discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that genetic clusters are patterned geographically. The Orkneys, for example, and Wales, were found to have their own genetic consistencies. The nickname of “Little England” for Pembrokeshire turned out to have some basis in genetic fact. More suprising, perhaps, was the discovery that Devon and Cornwall are genetically quite different from each other.

         For anyone interested in learning more, the website www.isogg.org is strongly recommended.

Additional information