DNA Tests And a Bit Of Ancestor History

THIS AND THAT

 

I usually post about home related topics and gardening, but this week I wanted to talk a little bit about my DNA test results, which I am really intrigued and excited about.  I just got back the results of my second test a couple of weeks ago and boy were they surprising this time!

First let me go back a couple of years to when my son decided to get tested with a company called 23andme. These people not only tested his DNA for ethnicity but at that point in time they were also testing for any possible genetic propensities to a huge number of illnesses.  After seeing the results of my son’s test and arguing back and forth about what he likely inherited from his dad and what he inherited from me, my curiosity was piqued and I just had to know.  The only way to find that out was for either my husband or I (or both) to get tested as well. Hubby immediately balked at the idea, as I knew he would. He stated in no uncertain terms that he thought DNA tests were dumb and a waste of money. Furthermore, he had no desire to know what his ethnicity was. I, on the other hand was itching to find out and I went ahead and ordered a test kit at that time and sent my sample off to their lab for processing. When I got the results back a few weeks later, I was not surprised by most of it but a little bit confused by the trace amounts of DNA that showed up from places that were completely foreign to me. (clicking on the photos will make them larger)test1

My father is a Christian Maronite from Lebanon so it was to be expected that the test showed an almost 36% of Middle Eastern and North African DNA. North Africa includes Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, all majoritarily arab countries so that part of the test made sense. It also showed roughly a 40%  European ancestry mostly from Southern Europe and that was further broken down specifically to the Iberian Peninsula and Italy with just a sprinkling in of Northern European. The Iberian portion wasn’t a revelation because my mother’s maiden name is Portugese and she is descended from two Portugese brothers who travelled to South America and settled in Ecuador in the 1600s. There are also several Spanish surnames in our family tree on my mother’s side. What really took me aback though, was the Italian bit. There had been persistent rumors in our family that we were “Italian” but nobody could really say for sure how that happened. There are no Italian surnames in our family that I know of. However, there was an old family rumor that there had been some shennanigans going on with one of my great-great-great grandmas who had an affair with an army general of Italian ancestry. I had always brushed it off as fantasy and had never believed it.  But if the story is true, then I guess we all carry the evidence of her indiscretion. Another non surprise was the 16.8% of Native American and Yakut DNA that showed up in the test. My mother is from Ecuador and despite her blonde hair, light skin and light eyes, this DNA was contributed by her and by her mother before her and so on. My mitochondrial DNA (A2p) was identified as being Native American, specifically Inca. So I can be certain that this came from my maternal grandmother.test 2

The small percentage of Yakut (a Siberian group of people)  isn’t surprising either because as the theory goes, America was first populated by people who crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia and travelled downward from there.

A Yakut Girl (Source: Pinterest)

A Yakut Girl (Source: Pinterest)

What I found very interesting was the trace amount of DNA from Oceania that 23andme identified. What?? How did THAT get in there?  After doing a bit of research I discovered that among people with Inca ancestry it is not uncommon to find Polynesian DNA as well. This is because Easter Island, or Rapanui as it is called in the language of it’s inhabitants, which is located off the Coast of Chile, was populated entirely by Polynesian peoples who crossed the Pacific Ocean eastward in canoes and settled there hundreds of years ago. Being expert navigators many of them continued on from there to mainland South America where they mixed with the Native American inhabitants of the continent, thus contributing Polynesian DNA to many of the Inca people. Who knew. The test also identified a small amount of Sub-Saharan African DNA, specifically pinpointed to West Africa but they didn’t specify which country. I discovered that the majority of people who have Iberian ancestry also carry trace amounts of African DNA because of the very close proximity of Morocco to Spain. During the period of Al Andalus, which was the Islamic period of Southern Spain and Portugal, many moors crossed over from western Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar and into Spain. The kingdom of Al Andalus flourished for over 700 years but this all changed when the northern rulers Ferdinand and Isabella aka as “The Catholic Kings” from Aragon and Castille conquered the Southern part of Spain and expelled both Jews and Muslims from what would be known from then on as strictly Christian lands. Many of them however converted to Christianity and stayed put, gradually mixing into the general Christian population. BTW this was the same Ferdinand and Isabella who funded Cristopher Columbus’s expedition in 1492.

Fast Forward a couple of years to 2016. I dicovered that DNA tests can be addictive. Seriously. I was browsing through Amazon one day looking for something else, when much to my delight I saw that they were advertising Ancestry dot com’s DNA test for only 89 dollars. I thought…what the heck,  I’ll order it and see if the results match up with my 23andme test. But this time some of the results were very surprising.

ancestrytest1

While the overall percentages were roughly the same i.e. 36% middle eastern, 43%  European, and 17% Native American, this test showed zero Polynesian ancestry (so much for my Easter Island explanation)  and only a 1% amount of sub-Saharan DNA specifically pinpointed to Mali in addition to the 2% North African.  That’s not unexpected because Mali shares a border with Algeria…again, an arab country.

ancestry test 3

It was Ancestry’s breakdown of my European DNA that confused me the most. They identified it as mostly Italian/Greek with only 3% Iberian. Greek?? Now, I am certain there are no Greeks in my family. Or are there? Well maybe. In the late 1800s there was a large influx of Greeks into Lebanon and there is also a large Greek Orthodox community who settled there hundreds of years ago. So it’s entirely possible that the Greek ancestry comes from my Lebanese side. But, how is it possible that there is such a large amount of Italian ancestry and so little Iberian?  Very odd indeed. Aside from my alleged cheating great great (great) grandma in the 1800s, I am unaware of a single Italian person in my family. Ancestry’s test detected no Scandinavian/Eastern Europe DNA but I know for a fact that my great grandmother Julia’s mom was from Denmark and her last name was Eskildsen. That’s where my mom’s blonde hair likely comes from as well as that bit of Ashkenazi that both tests detected.

ancestry test 4

Ancestry dot com also identified a 4% of DNA from the Caucasus region which they indicated could be from Syria, Turkey or Armenia. 23andme didn’t catch that, they just lumped it all together as Middle Eastern. It makes sense though, considering Lebanon’s proximity to Syria as well as the strong Turkish influence over the entire middle east during Ottoman rule which only recently ended in the early 20th century.

Since both tests yielded very similar results in the overall percentages of each ethnicity, but significant differences in the detailed breakdown, I am not quite sure which one I should believe. My son says he trusts the 23andme test more. For no particular reason. But I am inclined to believe the company who has the larger data base to draw from…which would be Ancestry dot com.  Or maybe I should just believe whichever parts I like best from both tests.

neanderthal

One of the more interesting things that the first of the two tests showed was my percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Apparently pretty much everyone with European ancestry carries at least some Neanderthal DNA handed down to us from the days when Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals interbred upon encountering one another in Europe. My Neanderthal DNA is less than 4% which is about average. I would really love for hubby to take this test because I am almost certain that his Neanderthal DNA has to be pretty close to 100%.  At least, that’s what his behavior seems to indicate at times. Hehe.