Wednesday, December 9, 2009

23andMe's Relative Finder Helps Us Find Interesting Things About Our Shared Ancestry

In our VICK and Allied Families DNA Project at 23andMe our DNA helps us learn about more than just our Vick ancestry. 23andMe offers us the opportunity to use a suite of tools to explore our connections to all our cousins that Relative Finder identifies in the 23andMe database (and that list is growing).

One of the tools is Ancestry Painting. Ancestry Painting shows us what percent of our DNA can be traced to three geographic origins: Europe, Asia, and Africa. For Americans, Asian may mean Native American, since Native Americans came to North America from Asia.

By looking at our Ancestry Paintings we learned my mother and my wife each have an African segment. My wife’s segment is on chromosome 6 while my mother’s segment is across the centromere on chromosome 12. The first screenshot above shows my wife’s African segment and the second one shows my mother’s African segment. At first I thought these segments were artifacts that perhaps only indicated the segments had not been found commonly in European populations.

Then 23andMe’s Relative Finder said my mother and my wife matched the same man. As the third screenshot shows, he had seven African stretches in his Ancestry Painting (about one percent African). Finding this match made me think my wife and my mother had a more recent common ancestor who probably had an African American ancestor. Since both my wife’s and my mother’s roots in America are deep, I thought there might be some shared ancestry from a slave. Unfortunately, I have not been able to talk to the man both my mother and wife match to find out what he knows about his ancestry.

In the early 1990’s I went with my mother to visit her mother’s cousin. My mother mentioned to him that I was collecting family history information on my father’s side, and the man said we had a very interesting family history on my mother’s side also. He could not read or write (although he ran a successful business), but from his sharp memory he told me what he knew about our ancestry. What he said about one line in particular stuck in my mind. It was his patrilineal line the GRAYs. He explained that the Grays were really Grahams and that my mother’s great grandfather, James T. Gray, changed the family surname when he relocated from Union Co., KY, to Hancock Co., KY (I have found records which verify his statement). In tracing the line he told me he had been able to learn that my mother’s second great grandfather Isaac Jasper Graham had married an Elizabeth Collins. He said she was from the Cumberland Gap, and he recalled Newman Ridge being mentioned in connection with her. That was as far back as he had been able to go with the line.

Last week, my mother, my daughter, and I all matched the same lady. This lady has about 35 African segments (about seven percent African ancestry) and about 21 “Asian” (likely American Indian) segments which is about two percent “Asian” ancestry (see the fourth screenshot).

I called our new match and she told me that her Collins line had intermarried with the Goins family, and that her grandfather said the Goins line was African American. Looking on sites with information about Melungeon ancestry, I see Collins, Graham, and Goins are all surnames found in Melungeon histories. I also learned that Newman Ridge is in Hancock Co., TN (not to be confused with Hancock Co., KY).

I do not think anyone in our families (on either side) would have believed we could have an African segment and no one would believe we could have Melungeon ancestry. I doubt anyone in our family would know what Melungeon is.

From talking to the woman I learned there are two possibilities for who our Elizabeth was. One of the Elizabeth’s would have been too young to be ours, so that leaves the second one. Thanks to 23andMe’s Relative Finder, with more research I should be able to document the source of my mother's African segment. We will have learned something new about our ancestry from our DNA.

Next, I have to figure out how my wife’s family ties in. Finding people who share a common ancestor with both my mother and my wife is very interesting. Knowing the common ancestry appears to be Melungeon ancestry will really generate some conversation at the next family reunion.

The 4th cousin of our match is awaiting her 23andMe results. I hope she matches at least one person in my family and the man my wife and mother match. It would be good to get another link. I suspect as the database grows at 23andMe, and especially if they provide project management tools, we will be able to answer many family history questions (and discover many new things about our shared ancestry).

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