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Saturday, May 3, 2014


What Story Does Your Name Tell?
 
 
Some years ago, I decided to get my father a really special present. I had some research completed on the Weston family tree. Dad was into that kind of thing, and, because we had pretty accurate records of a number of generations of our family – on both sides – going back a few hundred years (Due to military service, etc), I thought it would be something he might enjoy.

 

Sure enough, after several months, a great result came back. My family had a rich and varied history. Our ancestors were noteworthy on both sides. My father’s mother – Jayne Lister – was a Great, Great Granddaughter of Baron Joseph Lister, a British surgeon and pioneer of antiseptic surgery. (Listerine mouthwash is named after him) And the Weston family name runs back to before the Doomsday book – the great survey initiated by William the Conqueror – in 1066. It was quite interesting to discover we had a hereditary title at one time, a family crest, and were descendants of Henry De-la-Westuna of France.

 

Needless to say, my father was delighted with the findings, and especially with the documents and seals that came with the research. (Plus a copy of our family crest – a rather fine example of argent lion rampant on sable background, with motto – Honor without Fear).

 

I always wanted to look deeper. But the cost involved was phenomenal and further research would take a great deal of time.

 

Imagine my interest this past week then, when I discovered that scientists have developed a GPS tool that can tell you where your ancestors lived, not just hundreds, but thousands of years ago. The article – within Nature Communications – states that researchers have discovered an algorithm which accurately pinpoints your geographic origin using samples of your genetic data. The findings can be so precise, that the results can narrowing it down to the country, or, in some cases, even the area within a country. 
 

 

Knowing my family originated from France about a thousand years ago has often made me wonder how far back I could take it. Not in the biblical sense, but in an entirely familial setting. I’d love to know. Wouldn’t you with your family?

 

You see, using DNA to pinpoint where modern individuals originated has been somewhat limited up until now. Current biogeographically generated algorithms have a variance of up to 700 kilometers in Europe, and even worse, elsewhere.  

 

To develop a more precise test for genetic ancestry, a team led by Eran Elhaik from the University of Sheffield, UK, created the Geographical Population Structure algorithm. (Get it? GPS.)
It relies on genetic admixture, (the process that takes place when people from different populations marry and have children, creating new gene pools that represent a mixture of the founder pools). This happened more than you realize in history. Conquerors settled where they won their victories, started raising families, etc. Well, the resultant blend of traits can be used to gauge the distance from the original home. 

 

A quote by Elhaik stated, “What we have discovered is a way to find not where you were born, as you have that information on your passport, but where your DNA was formed up to 1,000 years ago by modeling these admixture processes.”

 

Elhaik’s team developed the admixture algorithm using genetic and geographical information from 54 participants recruited through the Genographic Project. And then they tested their GPS tool with 600 genetic samples composed of 98 global subpopulations. Using DNA sequences, GPS can accurately place individuals in their country of origin 83 percent of time. 

 

How good is that? Well when the data from 10 villages in Sardinia and 20 or so islands in Oceania was analyzed, the team was able to trace more than 25% of the Sardinians to their home village and most of the remaining participants within 50 kilometers of their village. For the subjects from Oceania, they were successful at pinpointing their island of origin 90% of the time.  

 

This is poignant news for me. Remember, I’ve discovered ancestors dating back a thousand years. Just imagine when we have the technology to travel back even further...

 

Now THAT will be a story worth telling

 

Information courtesy of Nature Communications. 

2 comments:

  1. That is awesome, and what a great gift! We had a family tree once, but who knows where it is. :(

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  2. Thank you Jamie.
    Obviously, because of my Grandmother, we were all aware of the relationship to my Great, Great, Great Grandfather, Joseph Lister...(Who my son is named after), but it was quite a shock to discover how far back the Weston side went.
    My father was particularly disgruntled to discover we lost the hereditary title about 350 years ago, after the abolishment of the Monarchy by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. For some reason, the family didn't earn it back after Charles II was crowned. (I'd love to know... hee hee) :)

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