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Genes-R-US: DNA casts out all doubt

Genes-R-US: DNA casts out all doubt

Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 5:00 pm
By: By Nancy Miller Latimer

I do not watch many television shows. If I am going to sit down for that long, it will typically be in front of a computer screen to write. However, I really do look forward to watching two programs, “Who Do You Think You Are” airing on Friday nights, and the newer “Finding Your Roots,” airing on Sunday nights. The latter program pairs genealogy with DNA analysis.
Last week on “Finding Your Roots,” Harvard-educated Geoffrey Canada, an African-American, was able to trace his surname line (Canada) all the way back to the original Cannady plantation, located in Franklin County, Va. DNA-based haplogroups were critical in clarifying Geoff’s racial ancestry.
A paternal haplogroup confirms one’s direct male ancestral roots using a chunk of DNA on the Y-chromosome that passes virtually unchanged from father to son. A maternal haplogroup confirms one’s direct female ancestral roots using a chunk of DNA in the mitochondrial DNA that passes virtually unchanged from mother to daughter. These haplogroups go back thousands of years.
Geoff’s paternal haplogroup verified that his father’s father’s father’s … father’s ancestral line was of Caucasian origin, specifically western European. His mother’s mother’s mother’s … mother’s ancestral line was verified to be African.  
It is well-documented fact that many plantation owners and slave masters were intimately involved with the “multiplication of their slave numbers” using their African female slaves. Geoff’s DNA results are consistent with this history.
The owner of the original Cannady plantation has two direct descendants that are still living. They were contacted about donating DNA samples which would allow Geoff to discover whether he was a direct descendant of the plantation owner or not.
I was deeply saddened that the two Cannady descendants were unwilling to give Geoff a sample and, thus, the gift of a greater self-identity. But who can understand the mind of fear?  It has a logic and life of its own. History is what it is. We can’t change it. And we are not responsible for the sins of our ancestors unless we perpetuate them.
The marriage of traditional genealogy with DNA testing has made it possible to untangle family-tree “truth” in a powerful way — especially for African-Americans or adopted individuals with no knowledge of their heritage. Several of my “DNA-identified” cousins from 23andme are adopted. Absent knowledge of (or DNA samples from) their birth parents they hope to connect with blood cousins to infer their heritage.  
My birth parents have blessed me with DNA samples (plus relationship). I have been able to “pay it forward” to a number of my 23andme cousins, who like me were adopted as infants, by helping them discover more about “who they are” using my birth parents’ DNA. The analytic power of my birth parent’s DNA samples comes from the lack of national diversity in their respective family trees.
My birth mother has nothing but Irish ancestors for as far back as I have been able to document. My birth father’s mother’s clan comes from a founder population of pure French Acadian. Even though my birth father’s dad is still somewhat a mystery-the Arcadian founder population signal is extremely strong in my birth father.
One cousin, “Naomi”, wrote to me after I confirmed her paternal heritage: “Just want to say thanks so much for sharing this ‘gift’ with me. It is very much appreciated as I have no information on my paternal side and it now seems confirmed through you that my birthfather was also Acadian.  
“I have not located my birthparents — far from it. I was born in Montreal and sold to my parents for $10,000 in January 1946. Quebec does not allow access to birth records for adoptees — regardless, all documents from that era of Black Market Babies were falsified. so it wouldn’t help if they did open mine.”
“Rick,” also adopted, with absolutely no knowledge of his birth family, turned out to be my cousin through both my maternal and paternal sides — a double cousin. His maternal haplogroup is typical of Ashkenazi Jews — something “Rick” is not yet ready to embrace. (Many people are not aware of the Jewish history in Scotland and Ireland.)  
I encourage you, my readers, to get a DNA sample from your parents while they are still alive — especially if you are a woman. It could help you unpack an amazing story, if not now, then later. But then again, you will have to put aside the fear of discovering who you really are.
Between now and next week, consider this math riddle. If Jack is a cousin of Humpty Dumpty, and Humpty Dumpty is a cousin of Jill, then what is the probability that Jack and Jill are themselves cousins? (Ignore half- and double-cousins.) We are heading to Jack and Jill territory next week.
Editor’s note: Nancy@ has worked in scientific research and development for 27 years. She blogs at

Published in The Messenger 4.4.12