Archive for August, 2013

August 13th, 2013

We’re All Kings and Queens – According to Charlemagne!

I’m not sure if you know who Charlemagne is, I vaguely remember him being some French King I learned about in history class. That was a long time ago however, so I had to do a bit of research to rekindle my memories of why he was important enough to teach me about! Turns out he was the King of France, the King of Italy, and the first Holy Roman Emperor. It is particularly interesting that Charlemagne was known as the “Father of Europe”. Under his rule Western Europe became united for the first time since the age of the Roman Empire. Both the German and French monarchies considered themselves to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire, but more interestingly, you and I could be related to him as well!

Incredibly enough it was a statistician, not a well known genealogist who established this theory. Joseph Chang was said statistician, and he conducted his genealogical research from Yale University. Chang approaches genealogy as a mathematical problem, and it is not unreasonable to do so. Think about it. When we trace our ancestry we draw a line to each of our parents, and then from each of our parents a line to each of their parents and so on. That’s why it is called lineage by the way! If you trace your lineage back to forty or so generations, we get a generation of a trillion ancestors. That’s thousands of time more people than were in existence during the tine of Charlemagne!

This is quite a paradox, and the only way around it is to assume our relatives are not independent of each other. In other words, when you trace your ancestry back, you inevitably loop back to a common ancestor. This creates a type of genealogical chart that resembles a web-like tapestry rather than the typical fan or tree shaped chart. It incorporates much more than first-cousin genealogy, more like 21st century cousin! Joseph Chang published a paper back in 1999 that analysed the mathematical aspect of such a genealogical tapestry.

Chang’s Conclusion

After analyzing the mathematics behind his genealogical tapestry, Chang concluded that; if you study the ancestry of a living population, a common ancestor will eventually be found for all of them. It might sound like the “Adam and Eve” theory, where we all eventually trace back to two original progenitors of the human race, but it’s more than a theory. Chang proved mathematically that if you trace back through time, sooner or later some of our genealogical paths will cross and end at a single person. The further back in time you go, the more lines will cross, and you encounter more ancestors in common. Then something amazing happens. Chang discovered a particular point at which, in his words; “all individuals who have any descendants among the present-day individuals are actually ancestors of all present-day individuals.”

This is not theory remember, this is mathematical calculation applied to genealogy. Chang’s work got the attention of the Atlantic, a popular news magazine. A journalist by the name of Steven Olson studied Chang’s work, and to see if his “theory” rang true, applied it to a particular group of people living in Europe. He later wrote an article that revealed some very interesting things! Olson discovered, using Chang’s mathematics that; the group of living people in Europe, except for recent immigrants, was a person who lived relatively recently, at least in the last 600 years.

Chang’s work was later taken up by two geneticists, Graham Coop of the University of California at Davis and Peter Ralph of the University of Southern California, who decided to analyze the ancestry of Europe. Their results not only confirmed Chang’s mathematical approach but enriched it! They found that a significant number of people on opposite sides of the continent share a large number of DNA segments.

The number is so high, in fact, that it’s statistically impossible for them to have received them all from a single ancestor. Rather, they would have had to share many ancestors, and concluded, as Chang had, that “everyone who lived a thousand years ago who has any descendants today is an ancestor of every European.” That not only includes Charlemagne, but a number of regal and royal personalities from across Europe.

If you thought genealogy might be boring, hopefully this information has changed your mind. Why not begin tracing your family tree today, and see if you can connect to Charlemagne, Marie Antoinette, Admiral Nelson, or even Jack the Ripper! Download one of our Free Printable Family Tree Charts, and see where the trail leads you!

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August 6th, 2013

Was Your Native American Ancestor Captured by Vikings?

I recently came across this article published by National Geographic that I thought was important to share, especially with those of Native American Ancestry. The article discussed the possibility that “Five hundred years beforeColumbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged toEurope with Vikings.” Of course if a Native American woman was captured and taken away as a trophy, there is a good possibility that a child was born at some later date. This theory is not based on assumption or hypothesis, but on the results of an amazingly revealing DNA study.

The study analyzed Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) the type which passes only from mother to child, and discovered over eighty living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to a type generally found in Native Americans. Scientists figure that this particular signature was introduced to Icelandic bloodlines around the year 1000 AD. It is assumed that the first child of Viking-Native American heritage was probably born around that time.

There are historical accounts and archaeological evidence which prove that Vikings fromIceland landed in Greenland bust before 1000 AD, and then soon landed inCanada. The Vikings even established a settlement inNewfoundland, though it was deserted after about yen years. It would not be hard to believe that the Icelandic Vikings encountered Native American tribes, and due to their inherent warring nature, fought with them. Women were often carried off as part of the spoils of war to be used as slaves or concubines. It is really the only explanation for the DNA similarities that makes any sense.

One of the co-authors of the study Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and theUniversity ofIceland, stated that “all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them. Although it’s maybe interesting and surprising, it’s not all that incredible.” The alternative explanation is that the mutation is an independently existing condition that might also exist undiscovered in a small amount of Europeans. Helgason believes that the alternative explanations are “to me are less likely”. Helgason, along with the student that co-authored the study with him Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and some additional colleagues admit that this particular line of research is far from over.

Dating the DNA Mutation

I thought it very relevant that to confirm the relationship between the Native American and Icelandic DNA signature, the team of Icelanders used genealogical research. The result was even more fantastic, as they found that the Native American variation appeared in four specific lineages of Icelanders. They are all descended from four women who were born at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is most likely that those four lineages are directly descended from one woman with Native American DNA, born no later than the year 1700 AD.

Like many genealogies, the records for the four Icelandic lineages are incomplete, but both genetics and history suggest that Native American DNA arrived on Icelandic shores hundreds of years before them. Helgason was quick to point out that it is very unlikely that the DNA arrived in Icelandin the few centuries before the 1700’s, as Icelandwas very isolated from the rest of the world during that period. He also showed that further evidence demonstrated that although the Native American DNA signature in the Icelanders is the same, one of the lineages shows a mutation that would have taken many hundreds of years to form. This very unique signature indicates that, according to Helgason, the Native American DNA arrived inIceland at least “several hundred years” before 1700.

No Direct Link Found in Native American DNA Yet

Despite the evidence on the Icelandic side, the DNA signature has not been found in any living group of Native Americans, so it is hard to prove a direct link. However, there are many scattered versions related to the Icelandic mutation that are found in Native Americans, in fact, 95% of them. There are also some East Asians, the ancestors of whom are thought to be the first Americans, who carry a very similar genetic pattern. Strangely enough, that group does not include the Inuit Indians (Eskimos), even thoughGreenlandhas a large Inuit population.

It is possible that the Icelandic variation came from a group of Native Americans that died out after the arrival of Europeans. Disease brought fromEuropewiped out many Native American tribes; hundreds of thousands of Indians were killed by European diseases during the first two hundred years following contact. History doesn’t help much as there are no records indicating that the Vikings carried and Native American women back toEurope, but DNA doesn’t lie, and perhaps one day soon, history will be re-written!

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