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Top DNA Stories of the Year

Thursday, January 02, 2014

DNA Rocks the News 

By TERESA PANTHER-YATES

This was definitely the year that was in DNA news. Here are, we propose, the top three stories.

First, last June came the U.S. Supreme Court decision that police officers can now legally take DNA from anyone they arrest. Yes, and they then then enter your DNA profile into a database where they can match it with existing samples (Dan Noswolitiz, “It’s Now Legal for the Police to Collect DNA,” Popular Science). Since we live in a rather scary world since 9/11, I thought that might be constructive, at first glance, until I realized that the key word is “arrest” not “charged.” What is the difference? People are falsely framed and arrested every day as well as arrested for minor offenses. Consequently, there are any number of ways this could be abused. Even if someone is declared innocent, guess what? They still have your DNA.

Do you want others to have your personal genomic data? That is a question you might want to ask of any DNA testing company you use. What do you do with my DNA? Do you keep it and put it in a database or share it with others? In the same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented, except for synthetic genes. This was in response to a lawsuit between “Myriad Genetics, a medical diagnostics company, and the Association for Molecular Pathology” (Young). Many saw this as a win for women with an elevated genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancers as well as researchers and scientists (Richard Wolf, “Justices Rule Human Genes Cannot Be Patented,” USA TODAY) Why? Myriad had a monopoly on the gene; as a result, no one else could produce or manufacture it, and the genetic test was inordinately expensive.

23 and Me vs. Nearly Everybody Else 
Not every woman has a bank account matching Angelina Jolie’s. Her decision to first take the genetic test and then have a preventive double mastectomy because of her high risk of breast cancer brought this case to the forefront. But the breast cancer issue also played into the biggest and most controversial story of the year concerning genetics testing for disease and the battle between the FDA and 23&me. The FDA told them to stop selling health and medical related information with their genetic tests. Some see this as the FDA stealing their right to their own personal genetic information. Since there is no genetic destiny for disease because of other lifestyle and epigenetic factors (Carl Zimmer, “Hope, Hype, and Genetic Breakthroughs” Wall Street Journal), others see this as part of a process to ensure that these tests are accurate and not misinterpreted. However, knowing you have a high genetic risk for a disease might mean you make better lifestyle choices. I think in the end it will not spell the end for direct-to-consumer genetic health services. Hopefully, the industry will not only be resurrected, but there will also be better guidelines for the field as well as the consumer spurring a wider market so consumers have more choices. I am looking for that silver lining in the New Year.

So that's three stories that spell continuing interest in DNA testing everywhere. Watch for headlines on personal genomics, medical tests and Denisovans/Neanderthals in the coming year.

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Too Big to Feel

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

We don't often write editorials in this space. Normally, you will see nothing but news in the DNA Consultants Blog. Some sparse marketing messages may appear whenever we have a new product or study. But the FDA's "stop and desist" letter last Friday to personal genomics giant 23&me has sent shock waves through the industry. Although we are not in the business of providing medical information to customers, only ancestral background analyses, we feel compelled to weigh in on the FDA's warning, which we think is overdue.

First, it is important to note that the FDA took action against 23&me because the company has been selling an unapproved diagnostic device and medical service. The FDA demanded 23&me "immediately discontinue marketing the Personal Genome Service" after years of protracted and unsuccessful requests for proof of safety and efficacy to back up the company's marketing claims.

A check of 23&me's website on November 26 showed little change in the promises it makes to consumers. Splashed across the welcome page in large letters was "Get to know you." The site boasted having "Reports on 240+ health conditions." In language that sure sounds medical to us, it speaks of carrier status, health risks and drug response. 

An appeal to parents suggests, "Find out if your children are at risk for inherited conditions, so you can plan for the health of your family." Under "drug response," the company advises that you can take "information on how you might respond to certain medications" from your $99 DNA test to your next doctor's visit.

The FDA found "some of the uses for which Personal Genomic Service is intended are particularly concerning." A false positive result for the BRCA gene, for instance, could cause a patient to remove breasts or ovaries to avoid getting cancer. A false negative could lead patients into an unfounded sense of security and make them ignore that an actual risk exists. An inaccurate result for warfarin drug response could lead a patient to self-manage their dosage or skip it altogether, leading to "illness, injury, or death."

Some pretty dire concerns.

DNA Consultants simply does not do DNA testing for medical information. If a customer calls and asks for such a service we explain that is something they should discuss with their healthcare provider. Neither our marketing nor fulfillment of tests contains any medical language.

We specialize in ancestry analysis exclusively and believe we do that better than anybody else.

Of course, the field of genetic screening has made enormous progress over the past ten years. We monitor many of those advances in our blog. But we do not believe the field is by any means "there" yet, certainly not ready to be packaged and hawked to consumers. We doubt it ever will be. Or at least we hope not.

Despite popular anthems of genetic determinism, your health is not all in your genes. But your ancestry certainly is. Find out what your ancestry is and you will be able to form an idea of what your ancestral medical history might look like, going beyond the two generations of family medical history covered by standard questionnaires at the doctor's office. But that part is entirely up to you and your healthcare providers.

No company is too big to fail. Even the largest are subject to oversight by the government as well as consumer pressure and the natural forces of the market. Nor is any company too big to feel. We hope 23&me will respond both to the FDA and the public with understanding and responsibility, not indifference and arrogance.

Related Posts

How Secure Is Your DNA

The Sins of Science

How Good is Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Screening:  Not Very, According to Study

Regulation Unlikely in Europe

Should the DNA Marketspace Be Regulated by the Government?






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Where Do I Come From: James Shoemaker

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Where Do I Come From: James Shoemaker

Real People's DNA Stories

Bible Studies, DNA Tests, Mother's Nursing-Home Confessions Lead to New Life

NOVEMBER 16, 2013 — Until he took an autosomal ancestry test, James T. Shoemaker had little concept of his heritage. He assumed he was just an average white European American like his Appalachian neighbors.

Although raised in a Pentecostal Church, Shoemaker always felt a strong pull toward Jewish culture. So last year he went to his doctor and asked for a DNA test. "I wanted to see if there were any Jewish lines in my ancestry," he said.

He ended up taking a DNA Fingerprint Plus, a complete analysis of one's genetic ancestry that includes ethnic markers and megapopulation admixture matches.

Fast forward from that first eye-opener and today the 53-year-old Waynesboro, Pa. resident is halfway through a conversion process to Judaism at B'nai Abraham, a Reform congregation in Hagerstown, Md., where he is being mentored by youngish Rabbi Ari Plost.

"I got all three ancestral markers for Jewish I, II and III," Shoemaker recalls, “so I went to see my mother, Jacqueline Rose, at the nursing home in Hagerstown, and she admitted, ‘Well, yeah, my parents, uh, they were both Jewish."

It was the first he had heard of it. “Mom never said a word about having Jewish ancestors. It turned my life around.”

The fact that he got a "double dose" of Jewish alleles in his marker results confirmed the truth of his mother's admission that both she and his father came from Jewish families.

Shoemaker next took a Premium Male DNA Ancestry Test to determine whether his father's Y chromosome line was perhaps Jewish. The results were delivered to him in mid-November.

His particular haplotype did indeed match several other Jewish men, including those with the surnames Brown, Hendrix, Shepard, Getz, Phillips, Lewetag and Sequeira. "The subject’s specific male haplotype (surname line) probably came from Southwest Germany or the Low Lands, to judge from the modal matches and patterns of distribution," according to the report.

As for the surname itself, the Surname History section (included in every Premium Male report, cost $325.00), had some valuable clues for Shoemaker's genealogy.

"Shoemaker is probably a translation of the Dutch or German equivalent Schuhmacher or Shumacher meaning "shoemaker." It is noted as a Jewish family name in Southwest Germany and the Saarland in France, including Lörrach in Baden (Lars Menk, A Dictionary of German Jewish Surnames, Bergenfield: Avotaynu, 2005, pp. 673-74). It could also come from Schuster, a more common Jewish German surname (p. 675)."

A Mason since 1990, and flirting at one time with Messianic Judaism, Shoemaker feels as though his earlier attempts to connect with his Jewish heritage were blind and unguided without the hard testimony of DNA. "All these things I've been interested in with my studies and religious life now fall into place," he said. "I'm finding out why."

What lies in the future? This Pesach, Shoemaker will have an official bar mitzvah, complete with ritual bath and reading from the Torah. He then plans to attend Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. "What I am really looking forward to," he says, "is making aliyah to the Land of Israel."

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Indians and Crypto-Jews

Sunday, October 06, 2013

It's been exactly 10 years since this paper was first presented to a conference of Jewish genealogists and DNA experts, so we are posting it in this space on its anniversary. "DNA Testing of Southeastern American Indian Families to Confirm Jewish Ethnicity," Paper Delivered by Donald Panther-Yates at the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies Conference, San Antonio, August 3, 2003

The project I will be speaking about today is the first of its kind I am aware of. It grew out of the Melungeon Surname DNA Project started by Beth Hirschman, who was inspired—or manic enough at the time—to spring for the funds. I want to begin by thanking both Beth and Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA for their amazing help and support. At one point in the project, when the results were beginning to roll in, I was pleased to see that both Bennett’s son Elliott and Abe Lavender matched mitochondrial DNA results of several of our participants. Beth was able to e-mail Bennett with the message, “Welcome to Melungeon-land!”

The project called for volunteers to take either a female descent or male descent genetic test if they could provide reasonable genealogical proof that they were descended either from an early Indian trader or a Native American woman who married or had children with one. The odds were all against us. In order to qualify, the descent of the trader or his wife could not cross from the male to the female line; it had to be either the outside male line, father to son, father to son, or the outside female line, mother-daughter, mother-daughter. We could not, for instance, test one individual who claimed, very eloquently and convincingly, to be descended from both Pocahontas and her sister-cousin Princess Cleopatra. I received a fair measure of hate mail from professors of Indigenous Studies. One volunteer, a Collins in Kentucky, wrote to me about Torah study in her local band of the Saponi, though she assured me they were all good Christians. I also got an interesting letter from the chief of a Tennessee band of the Cherokee who lamented the fact that the tribe members were going through their fourth round of DNA testing without proving much Indian blood. They had found so much Jewish types among them that one of them decided to adopt the name “Rolling Bagel.”

Some of the test subjects invariably got cold feet and bowed out. I am particularly sorry to have missed the linear descendant of James Adair (author of the first anthropological study of American Indians), the linear descendant of Abraham Mordecai (founder of the town of Montgomery, Alabama), and the linear descendant of Cherokee Chief John Looney (whose ancestors were the famous Luna family of Portugal, among them “the Woman Who Defied Kings”). On the positive side, though, we hit paydirt by locating people with the right credentials and level of cooperation for a number of important historical figures. These included Nancy Ward, the Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation, who has more than 12,000 known descendants alive today; Col. William Holland Thomas, the Welsh trader who founded the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina; Chief John Bowles, the leader of the Texas Band of Cherokees; and Elizabeth Tassell, said to be the first Cherokee to marry a white man, (Ludovic Grant, a Scottish trader). To these may be added an ancestor both Beth and I have in common—William Cooper, an explorer and trader who was the scout for Daniel Boone.

What I’m going to do is run through the numbers first, then talk about a few of the genetic types on both the female (mostly Indian) side and white (mostly male) side, then sum up with some observations about the early mixing of Indians and Jews in the Colonial period. You will see that admixture between Jews and Indians is a sort of Eastern parallel to the experiences you are probably more familiar with in the American Southwest. I’ve brought all my files with my on a laptop if anyone is interested in seeing specific data or is curious about pursuing a connection after the lecture.

First, the numbers. There were 9 persons, mostly females, who took the Native Match test, and 12 persons, necessarily males, who took the Y chromosome test. Only one test result came back Unknown. Many of the haplotypes were unique, meaning they matched no sample in either Bennett’s clientele at Family Tree DNA or the larger databases he cross-indexes to, including Michael Hammer’s. This shouldn’t surprise us because the DNA testing of Native Americans has been very limited, controversial, concentrated in any event on Navajos and other Western reservation tribes. Peter Jones of the Bäuu Institute in Boulder, Colorado, recently published an important paper criticizing the whole state of anthropological genetics and calling for an entirely new beginning. Of the five lineages the current state of scholarship classifies as Native American—haplogroups A, B, C, D and X—our project found 2 Cs and one B, no A, no D, and one X, the latter in an uncle of one of our participants. The majority of those hoping to authenticate their female Indian ancestry (5 out of 9) proved to be  H, the most common European haplogroup. One was J, the classic Jewish/Semitic haplogroup. As for the Y chromosome haplogroups, half (6 out of 12) were R1b (sometimes called the Atlantic Modal Haplogroup), 2 (17%) were E3b, one of two well-studied Jewish haplogroups, and one was J2, the second well-established type. There were also single entries in the categories of Viking (Locklear, a Lumbee Indian name), Native American (Sizemore), and as I mentioned, one sample that turned out to be a “big unknown.” 

So those are the results we are dealing with. Both Beth and I—I'm not sure about Bennett—were impressed with the fact that, though this was just a small sample, it produced the same proportion of what we might call male Jewish DNA, roughly 20 percent, vis à vis 80 percent male non-Jewish DNA, as is the proportion in most studies of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi populations. On the female side, the most startling result was a strong hint that there were females carrying Middle Eastern genes among the Cherokees even before so-called “white contact” in the eighteenth century. 

For our first break-out, let’s talk about the results for a woman whom I shall Jasmine, for she showed the J haplogroup in her female line. Jasmine was very forthcoming with documentation, names, dates and a lot of family history that would probably not have been shared and made available under other circumstances. She claimed strict matrilineal descent from Betsy Walker Hyde, a native girl born about 1718, who was captured in a military attack by the English and raised by Sen. Felix Walker. Her descendant, Catherine Hyde, was remembered as a “full blood Cherokee.” Catherine became the mistress of Col. Will Thomas and bore him several children. Jasmine put me in touch with the last, lone descendant of one of Col. Will’s other daughters, whom he fathered with another native woman, Demarius Angeline Thomas Sherril. The mtDNA there was haplogroup X, a rare Native American lineage which may have come from Europe or the Middle East, not Asia. There are many reasons to think Col. Thomas himself was a crypto-Jew. His mother was a Calvert, and the Holland surname is often associated with Jews from the Netherlands. Supporting the suspicion these people were crypto-Jewish culture are the names they gave their children: Demarius (Tamar), Darthelia, Joshua, Parmelia and (my favorite) Docie Beatrice.

 Let us go now to the man who turned out to bear Jewish male DNA. I was extremely pleased to get correspondence from the descendants of Col. John Bowles, the founder of the Texas Band of the Cherokee. Chief Bowles died leading a war party, shot in the back by a white man near Redlands, Texas, in 1839. We located two elderly brothers in Oklahoma who were great-great-great grandsons of the legendary chief. To everyone’s surprise Bowles DNA came back J2, with a two-step mutation matching a person identified as Ashkenazi from the Ukraine. How could this be? Bowles was similar to other Cherokee chiefs of his day in being a halfbreed. His father was a Scottish trader and his mother a full-blood Cherokee. When his father was killed and robbed by two North Carolinians in 1768, John was only twelve years old, but within two years the fair-complexioned, auburn haired boy had killed both his father’s slayers. After that, he became a Chickamauga warrior. He was called The Bowl (in Cherokee, Duwali). And he was not the only "white chief." Another during the same period was The Glass, whose name in the North Carolina settlements was originally Thomas Glass. Chief Black Fox, my ancestor was a Scotsman descended from Blacks and FoxesI believe all these families were Scottish crypto-Jews. They were heavily intermarried, generation after generation.

I ran a search for matches on Bowles DNA in the Y-STR Haplotype Reference Database. There were 17 matches in Europe—Albania, Berlin, Budapest, Bulgaria, Bydgoszcz in northern Poland, Cologne, Colombia (2), Freiburg, Latium, Pomerania, Stuttgart, Sweden, Tyrol, Umbria, Warsaw and Westphaia. A “one-off” mutation produced Freiburg and Lombardy. The picture that emerged was one that closely echoed the distribution pattern for the Gothic invasions that repeopled Italy, France and Spain. To the contrary, the predominant matches in our Melungeon surname study have led to the Iberian Peninsula and to places like Antioquia, Colombia, where Marranos and crypto-Jews emigrated. Here was a Jewish haplotype that, historically speaking, seemed to have traveled out of Scandinavia and the Baltic region, passed through Italy to Spain and Scotland and migrated on to the Americas, where it mingled with the Indians.

In another of our surnames, Rogers, one can also retrace the footsteps of the Goths.

How about Wales as an unlikely place to find Jews? Our project established the Jewish origins of another great pioneer family of the South who intermarried with Cherokees, the Blevinses.  Two of our Blevins test subjects were found to have E3b genes, which even Bennett admits are Ashkenazic. The name Blevins originates in Britain and by the seventeenth century was associated with the little port town of Formby. It may be derived from (a)b (Welsh for "son of") and Levin (meaning Levite). William Blevins, born in Rhode Island, was a Long Hunter who explored Kentucky and Tennessee with Elisha Wallen in 1734. His son had two Cherokee wives, sisters, and a multitude of Blevinses appear on the Cherokee rolls. All are my cousins, as my great-great-grandmother was Mahala Jane Blevins. The Blevins family has occasionally shown itself to be openly Jewish. Bertha Blevins, a declared Jewess, married Moses H. Cone, who was born in Jonesboro, Tennessee, in 1857. She endowed the Greensboro (N.C.) Health Care System upon her death in 1947.

Now it is time to look at the American Indian results. We were fortunate in being able to sample the DNA of two key female figures in Cherokee history. Elizabeth Tassell (we might as well call her a “princess” as long as the American Indian Movement or sticklers in the BIA are not listening), married Ludovic Grant, a Scottish trader about 1720. His name probably comes from French Grand, German Gross. The couple's  descendants are the oldest of the bloodlines studied in a definitive fashion by Emmett Starr, whose genealogies were the basis for government blood quantums and tribal membership. One of Elizabeth Grant's eleventh-generation descendants, with a long Dutch name, joined our study and her DNA proved to be haplogroup C. This was also the haplogroup of an Oklahoma descendant of Nancy Ward, the famous Beloved Woman. Both participants preserve their clan affiliation, which is Wolf Clan.

Does this tell us anything? I think it does.  One’s clan was passed from the mother to her children in a strict matrilineal fashion, just like mitochondrial DNA.

Another test subject, a San Francisco man, matched a woman of Hispanic descent with a crypto-Jewish surname. He carried B lineage and the family still preserved the fact they were Long Hair Clan.

Haplogroup C, notably, has a large “cline” in the southern Appalachians. The B haplogroup, concentrated in the Southwest, appears to fit the Pueblo Indians.

Let me mention a “Big Unknown,” before concluding. This was an 80-year-old gentleman in California by the Scottish-sounding name of McAbee who generously joined our study, with the help of his niece. Their family had a sturdy tradition of crypto-Jewish practices in Kentucky, including opening the door for the prophet Elijah on special days. Everybody at Family Tree DNA drew a blank over his DNA, which was finally classified as “Unknown.” It was described by all the rest of us as “eerie.” The family claimed they were descended from Judas Macabbaeus. Could it be true? As I learned, it is indeed a very rare haplotype. The closest matches in the Y-user database in Berlin were in Albania, Bulgaria/Romani, London and with a Bulgarian Turk. If surviving descendants of the Hasmonean Jews, the first convert population, lived anywhere it would likely be in those places.

The last DNA test results I would like to talk about were those of a verifiable crypto-Jewish family among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. This was a male paternal-line descendant of Louis LeFleur/LeFlore, a French Canadian trader who married Rebecca Cravat, said to be an “Indian princess.” He introduced the first cattle, hogs, keel boats, cotton and tobacco crops to the Choctaw. LeFlore thus occupies the same position of Culture Bearer as Nancy Ward holds among the Cherokee. His son Greenwood became the principal chief of the Choctaw, married a Jewish Cherokee woman named Elizabeth Coody and managed to stay in Mississippi after Indian removal. One branch of the family in modern times changed its name to Flores, which seems to be the original Portuguese form. Flores is a big Marrano surname. A run through the Y-STR database confirmed numerous Iberian and Latin American matches, with Asturias and Central East Spain being the strongest hits.

One of the really cool things about DNA analysis is finding a match and making contact with people you would never have dreamed you are related to. When we got the results for Gayle Wilson, an enrolled Cherokee in Oklahoma, and found out she carried the Nancy Ward gene, a young schoolteacher in California by the name of Juan Madrid wrote to us inquiring how he could have matched her. Madrid, of course, is a fairly common Marrano name. But he had no tradition of being Cherokee. His grandmother lived among the Comanches, and all the family would talk about is “some Indian blood somewhere,” without being specific. Juan definitely had the Cherokee Wolf Clan gene, and he is now pursuing tribal enrollment. I found out he already had an Indian name. Significantly, he is called Two Hearts.

It is time to draw some conclusions and end. Bennett has repeatedly assured both Beth and me that there is no such thing as “Jewish DNA.” Strictly speaking, it’s true. There are haplogroups into which the DNA of people known to be Jewish today fall. But even some Arabs and Muslims test positive for the Cohen gene. So how can we be so sure the Y chromosomal haplotypes we are studying are Jewish? The answer lies in a chain of circumstantial evidence. The overwhelming preponderance of surnames with Hebrew and Sephardic Jewish roots, combined with multigenerational cousin marriage and other historical factors, cannot be ignored. Genetics without a good genealogical chart is useless. Even the charts can sometimes be misleading unless one has access to death-bed confessions and whispered family traditions.

Only in the last two years did I find out my family was Jewish, or perhaps better said, crypto-Jewish. There is not a single surname in my family tree, which I have traced back more than 700 years in some lines, that defies the pattern. Despite all this, though, I always wanted to find something concrete and unequivocal, something of the vanished past I could touch with my hands and cling to in my thoughts. So this spring I made a pilgrimage to New Hope Cemetery on Sand Mountain in Tennessee where my great-great-great grandmother Mahala Jane Blevins Cooper is said to be buried.

New Hope is a beautiful, forgotten place. The dogwoods and redbuds were in flower; it was a Sunday morning. The Cooper-Blevins burial plot was on the edge of the cemetery with the oldest stones, rough unmarked header and footer rocks, unlike the rest of the graves. I took a picture of my great-uncle Harmon Cooper’s memorial. It had the Freemason or Templar cross and showed a hand pointing to the sky, with the words GONE HOME. I was thrilled, satisfied at last I had concrete proof, for I’d seen similar designs in the crypto-Jewish burials at Purrysburgh, South Carolina. I cleaned the graves … put down a tobacco offering in the Indian manner … said the Shema and Shecheyanu … and wished I had learned the Mourner’s Kaddish. I finally experienced what I think I had been looking for all along … a shock of recognition, a strong feeling that the ancestors were placated and pleased. If I have accomplished nothing else, I would like to leave you with this. We all have a moral imperative to uncover our families’ past. And they would have been proud of us.


Comments

Bill Hucks commented on 18-Jan-2014 01:37 PM

According to Wikipedia, Moses H. Cone married Bertha Lindau. How do you explain this discrepancy (that she was a Blevins)?


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Where Do I Come From: Shawn

Monday, July 22, 2013

Where Do I Come from:  Shawn

Real People's DNA Stories

Ethnicity Beyond European Migration

By Shawn

My journey into DNA testing began with my desire to expand on my known heritage, while clarifying debated Jewish ancestry.  What I have found in return is that my ancestral paper trail only uncovers a small portion of the blood that runs through my veins.  My DNA Consultants results, for the most part were quite surprising.  My European matches were fairly consistent with my country origins on paper and surrounding areas.  The major surprise, however, was that my number one European match was Romani/Gypsy and my number 10 match was Czech Republic.... 

Things became much more interesting with my World Population Matches.  My scores (in order) were Romani/Gypsy, Middle Eastern, African, Iberian, Central European, African-American, Jewish, Mediterranean European, European American and Eastern European.  I also came up with Native American admixture to top it off.  These results are causing me to believe that there may be a line or more of family lineages that I have yet to tap into. 

Looking back on things now, I have received comments from others concerning my phenotype such as "I'm not sure what you are,” "You don't look Irish" and "You must have some Black ancestry."  Some have even just assumed I was Hispanic or Caucasian.  Interestingly enough, almost all acknowledge that they see my Italian/Spanish phenotype, while a few also see slight Native American.   

While my results provided insight into how diverse my blood really is, they also put an end to an age-old family debate as to our Jewish ethnicity.  One of my relatives from a few generations past would passionately defend her position that our family line was indeed Jewish, while another family member would vigorously put forth his position that we were not Jewish.  He would try to prove our non-Jewishness any time he could.  I also had another family member along that same family line say that he almost did not get hired for a job because the hirer thought he was Jewish.  I always believed these accounts, especially since as young as I can remember I have found this side of my family (Italian and German) to phenotypically look Italian and/or Jewish.  

So where does all this leave me now?  My results show my blood is much more than simply Italian, French, Irish and German.  They confirm family testimony of Spanish/Portuguese/Iberian and Jewish ancestry.  Perhaps more interestingly, my results leave me re-assessing my ethnicity or multi-ethnic heritage, end years of family verbal passages or debates and leave me with intriguing new ancestries that are waiting to be discovered. 

Comments

Maria OConnor commented on 23-Jul-2013 12:42 AM

Shawn: Countries frontiers are artificial. For example, there are people of celtic heritage in northern Spain, northern Portugal, all over Ireland, all over England, all over Scotland, all over Wales, Southern Germany, northern France, Northern Italy, etc. All of them, even considering the come from different places have the same celtic DNA. So, if you have an ancestor from Spain or Portugal, could be of celtic origen, or mediterranean origen.
If a person has jewish sefardi dna, it could be originated from Southern Spain, Southern Portugal, North Africa, Middle East, etc.
Also, in South America there are great numbers of people of European ancestry, including non hispanic non portugue ancestry, like Irish, German, Italians, etc.
Is quite complicated, due to ancient and new migrations.


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Where Do I Come From: Monica Sanowar

Friday, July 12, 2013

Where Do I Come From

Real People's DNA Stories

A Red-Hot Tale from the Nation's Capital

By Monica R. Sanowar

  

I took my first test with Family Tree in 2006. This test showed my mtDNA as L3e2b2 and it went like this:

52% West African

39% European

9% EAST ASIAN

0% Native American

I could not believe the East Asian part, and I shrugged it off and thought—that has to be Native American.

So, fast forward—I took another test with Ancestry.com. This was autosomal and showed:

48% - West African

44% - European

8% - UNKNOWN

How can you be UNKNOWN?

Neither of these tests really breaks down what country your people may have originated from. So then I tried 23&me, their autosomal offering.

49% - West African

48.3% European - Central - Northern - Non-specific

and the leftovers were .7 EAST ASIAN & NATIVE (although the NA box did not turn red)

and 1.4% UNSPECIFIED

I knew from family history that NA was on both sides of my fence. I also was aware that I had four of the traits Melungeon people have. I have the ridge in the back of my head that you can lay your finger in; I have ridges on the teeth and I can make the clicking sound on the shovel teeth; I have the Asian eyefold, and the very high arches. Can't get my foot inside of a boot and if I do, I can't get it off.  I was amazed that I got my results in less than two weeks!

Finally, I tried DNA Consultants. Its test was the very first that didn't show "UNKNOWN" or non-specific. Everything was accounted for, although I did find a few shocks. No one told me about Sephardic Jews or the Portuguese. At last, a test verified my Native roots with valid matches to tribes or nations and confirmed Native American autosomal markers—from both parents, as I had been told.

I got into Native culture back in 1983 when I started to go to powwows. I finally felt at home. I enjoyed seeing people that looked like me, mixed. My great-great-great grandmother was listed on the FREE NEGRO LIST where it asked How Freed? And it was written BORN FREE. Then came a description— a light-skinned black, with long straight black hair and a small scar on her hand. Below is a picture of her daughter, Alethea Preston Pinn. Alethea's father was a white man named Allen Preston. Alethea had seven children with James E. Colvin, who was white, and all

of their children were put on Walter Plecker's list of "mongrels" not allowed to vote or go to school. That was 1943. Not that long ago.

So, I got a second cousin to take the test with 23&me who comes directly from

Sarah Pinn (the alleged light-skinned black woman). My cousin's haplogroup came in A2N - Native American.

I know that some things may show and some not, but DNA Consultants' test knocked the EAST ASIAN right off the page. I've learned a lot of different things with DNA testing, but DNA Consultants' is the best one I have seen and is well worth the money. 

I love it when these geneticists and genealogists out there decide what you do or do not have in your family tree, especially the Indian part of the tree.  As if this just could not have happened . . . .  I am proud of all of it.  I can just about hang up a flag from everywhere.   

I can't praise the DNA Fingerprint Plus enough and wish I'd known about it years ago. I really appreciate all of the knowledge and insight Dr. Yates has about genealogy and history that I was totally unaware of. I actually spoke to him on the phone at length and he truly made my day. I highly recommend DNA Consultants' service to people who are looking for the truth about their genealogy.

And speaking of spicy mixtures, check out my hot sauces at Sun Pony. They've got secret, all-natural ingredients just like the family!

Alethea Preston Pinn, my great-great-grandmother on my paternal side.

My mother, Mary Wood.

My great-aunt Lenora Wood.

 

Elizabeth Colvin, a granddaughter of Alethea Preston Pinn. "Contrary to the belief and convictions of many people, long hair really does exist in my family," says Monica Sanowar. "It isn't a made-up fantasy and this was long before hairweaves.  My cousin's hair was down to her calves." 

Guest blog author Monica Sanowar is the founder of Sun Pony Distributors Inc., makers of a line of all-natural, wholesome condiments and energy supplements found in stores up and down the East Coast. Her first hot sauce was Yellow Thunder and her Native name is Sundancer. SunPony's D.C. Redbone Hot Sauce is the official hot sauce of the Anacostia Indians, D.C.'s little known indigenous people, who were first recorded by Capt. John Smith in 1608.  Sanowar lives in Washington, D.C., not far from the Anacostia's village site, now a national historical landmark. Watch grassdancer Rusty Gillette in a video about D.C. Redbone. 
Comments

Phyllis Starnes commented on 12-Jul-2013 04:42 PM

Monica Sanowar,

I had the pleasure of analyzing your personal DNA profile and preparing your report.

I am pleased that our detailed report validated your known ancestry.

Thank you for sharing your experience with DNA Consultants.

Phyllis Starnes
Assistant Investigator
DNA Consultants


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Genetic Genealogy Like Astrology?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Maybe If It's First Generation Sex-Linked Testing, Not Autosomal 

Dust off the crystal ball. Scientists consider DNA ancestry services “genetic astrology,” according to a recent BBC article by Pallab Ghosh. In “Some DNA Ancestry Services Akin to ‘Genetic Astrology’,” Ghosh quotes Professor David Balding as maintaining that ‘“such histories are either so general as to be personally meaningless or they are just speculation from thin evidence.’” One article, “Don’t Believe the Guy Who Claims He’s Descended From Vikings,” quotes evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas, as saying “these tests have so little rigor that they are better thought of as genetic astrology.”  That may be right about some tests. But the key word is “some.”

Not all DNA ancestry tests or companies are created equal.  It is as much an oversimplification to suggest they are as it would be to claim that all lab tests are the same or all pharmaceutical drugs are the same. Do you get a shot for epilepsy when you have diabetes? Hardly. There are DNA tests and there are DNA tests. Customers are generally careful to get  the right medicine from a reputable doctor. A customer needs to be just as careful choosing a DNA test and a DNA ancestry company. Not all DNA ancestry companies, even some of the larger companies, have an ISO certified lab, for instance. This not only guarantees the reliability of results, it is also the highest standard in the genomics industry. A few have this laboratory benchmark, but it is, unfortunately, not required, in direct- to-the-consumer DNA testing. Would you want to entrust your genetic identity with anything less? The buyer needs to be aware that with non-certified labs there is a stronger possibility of contamination or lost or swapped samples. I know someone who was the unknown victim of a sample swapped. He thought he was someone else for two years.

Secondly, there are a variety of tests to choose from. There are sex-linked tests (Y chromosome, X chromosome- mitochondrial) and non-sex linked tests called autosomal. The sex-linked tests are haplotype tests based on genetic markers handed down by the male (Y chromosome, received only by other males) or female (mitochondrial). The industry started out with sex-linked testing, but its limitations dictated a move increasingly to autosomal or non-sex linked testing. There are weaknesses with sex-linked tests.

The mitochondrial genome is small compared with the nuclear genome according to the article “Mitochondrial Genome Analysis with Haplotyping” which means there cannot be that much variation with mitochondrial DNA analysis. For instance, some have expressed doubts that the recently found Leicester skeleton could be Richard III because of the mitochondrial DNA analysis that was done. Live Science writer, Stephanie Pappas, quoted Maria Avila, a computational biologist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the [British] Natural History Museum as saying “people could share mitochondrial DNA even if they don’t share a family tree” (Pappas).  

How is this possible? Mitochondrial DNA is ancient DNA and mutates slowly.  In the article, “Doubts Remain that the Leicester Body is Richard III,” a Mark Thomas at University College London is quoted as saying that “people can have matching mitochondrial DNA by chance and not be related.” So, it might not be Richard III after all. Male line haplotype testing has different limitations. “The Male Y- linked tests have very rapid mutation rates and are very fragile, so you can get a lot of errors with that type of testing,” according to Dr. Donald N.Yates of DNA Consultants.

According to a recent New Scientist article by Colin Baras, “The Father of All Men Is 340,000 Years Old,” the Y chromosome seems more ancient than previously thought. If so, it is also less stable than we thought. Brian Sykes, Professor of Genetics at Oxford University and the author of The Seven Daughters of Eve, makes a strong argument that the Y chromosome is weakening and in trouble in his book, Adam’s Curse. He says it is “doomed to a slow and humiliating decline” (279) because of its instability and rapid genetic mutation and is thus headed toward extinction. Before the 1990’s paternity testing was based on Y chromosome comparisons and limited to fathers and sons. Sometimes, an uncle would be mistaken as the father. Today, it relies on autosomal DNA comparisons, can be applied to females, and is 99.99% accurate.

But then there are non-sex-linked Autosomal DNA tests which are based on a different science altogether. Anyone can take this traditional type of Autosomal DNA test because it does not rely on X or Y chromosomes (women are unable to take the Male Y- linked test and must entice a male in her line, if one is available, to take this test). This test is not testing ancient DNA but  goes back only some four or five generations, so it does not have these limitations. And it provides a complete analysis of all ancestral lines. Not just one line at a time as in haplotype testing. This is next generation ancestry DNA testing and the wave of the future. Moreover, this type of testing is more stable and has more scientific validity as it uses the same science that is used in the legal court system, by the government, and on CSI comparing loci markers to population databases. And two research teams independently reached the same groundbreaking results that the DNA mutation rate is slower than previously thought:  James X Sun et al., in the article, "A Direct Characterization of Human Mutation Based on Microsatellites," in Nature Genetics 44/10 (October 2012):1161-65, and A. Kong et al., in the article "Rate of de novoMutations and the importance of Father's Age to Disease Risk," in Nature 488 (2012):471-75. All done by the magic of math and laws of large numbers.

What does this mean concerning autosomal DNA ancestry tests? They have even more scientific validity. This second-generation type of DNA ancestry testing is based on these same genetic markers, and that is confirmation that the alleles on your DNA that are examined using a statistical basis have been relatively unchanged for the past 20,000 years. That’s about twice the length of what we call world history, hence a meaningful enough time frame for valid inferences about population patterns and ancestry of individuals. These are markers that everyone has (and why anyone can take an autosomal ancestry test).  These genetic markers change at a much slower rate than the Y chromosome which seems to be highly changeable, depending on the father’s age (Kong 201). (The Y chromosome is a marker only males have. It is used for other types of tests: male, haplotype, sex-linked DNA tests. Only males can take these tests, and it only provides information about that one male line).

Of course, anything can be over-interpreted. DNA testing is not magic. Maybe you should put that crystal ball up after all.

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DNA Frontiersman: Jim Bentley

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Behind the Numbers:  Jim Bentley


Jim Bentley, DNA Frontiersman

 

(Part Three of a Series)

We interviewed  one of Chromosomal Labs Bode Technology’s senior staff members, Director of Sales and Marketing Jim Bentley, to get his perspective on industry changes over the past thirty-five-plus years.

 

 

Jim Bentley.

 

 

When did you first get interested in DNA?

JB: I’ll have to preface my answer with a few remarks on “the early days.” When I graduated from Arizona State University in the 1970s, DNA testing as we know it, was not really a field that was in existence. There was not a lot going on. The little work I did with chromosomes was using electron microscopy. I worked in the biochemistry department, however and performed hundreds of assays using poly-acrylamide gel electrophoresis, mainly for separation of proteins. This technique, although improved and streamlined remains in use today for DNA-STR separation. The field we’re in today where we can determine a person’s profile and compare it with others for forensics  for relationships, ancestry, missing persons, adoptions and the like, that technology hadn’t been developed yet. It wasn’t quite as easy as it is today.

Tell us more about the evolution of DNA testing.

 

JB: It basically began with blood groups and types. The first paternity test was done in a court case with Charlie Chaplin in the 1940s. He was excluded as the father, but the court said he could go ahead and pay child support anyway—probably, because he could afford it. Since that time, scientists started moving past groups and types into some other techniques. Human Leukocyte Testing (HLA), DQ-Alpha, and Restriction Enzyme STR testing (RFLP) are examples of the evolution of DNA testing.

The big breakthrough came when Dr. Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester discovered STR testing in England the late 1980s. He used STR profiling on the Colin Pitchfork case. Colin Pitchfork became the first criminal convicted on the basis of DNA evidence and as a result of a mass DNA screening operation. He was charged with raping and murdering two teenage girls. Since that time the forensic community has really refined the techniques to perform STR testing. They’ve made it simpler and more accurate. It’s really moved exponentially in the last twenty years. Today competent biologists and chemists can produce excellent results, every time.  Dr. Jeffreys has been knighted for his contributions.

So what got you involved?

JB:  I came out of college as a chemist, one interested in the medical field. I started out working in clinical chemistry and toxicology. The work we did with DNA was extremely limited and very costly. But I did stick with a career in clinical chemistry. Within four years after graduating from school I was managing a clinical laboratory in Houston, Texas called National Health Laboratories. It was a laboratory of about one hundred scientists and support staff. After mergers, acquisitions and such, that company remains as Lab Corp. (It performs more than 1 million tests on more than 370,000 specimens each day.)

What opportunities for professional growth did you have over the years?

JB: Through taking a lot of continuing education coursework, I became proficient and qualified as a general supervisor in clinical chemistry, toxicology, hematology, parasitology, microbiology, serology—everything except for tissue work like histology and cytology, which was done by certified medical experts in those specialties. My interests kept me in touch with the staff pathologists, however, as well as all the rest of the laboratory. Though my present-day field did not exist at the time I graduated, by staying current I was able to benefit from the changes and be part of an emerging valuable service provided not only to the medical community but also to the forensic one, and the general population at large.

 

What are some famous cases you’ve been involved with . . . that you can talk about?

 

JB:  Actually, that’s my problem. We’ve been involved in a number of high-profile cases, but we’re not allowed to talk about any of them. Most have been on the forensic side, serial killer trials in Arizona, also in California, some that made the news in Florida . . Texas . . .Georgia.

Were you involved in catching the Grim Sleeper?

JB:  Actually, that’s an ongoing case in Los Angeles we are familiar with, but we didn’t do the work on it, so we can talk about that one. The importance of the Grim Sleeper case has to do with familial testing and autosomal DNA. It was termed the Grim Sleeper case because there were a number of homicides that took place beginning in the mid-1980s, all with the same basic MO [modus operandi], and then the murderer went underground for fourteen years. The victims were typically prostitutes shot with a firearm. In 2010, a suspect, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder. He has not yet been convicted, nor the evidence against him tested in court.

How was DNA used to catch him?

 

JB: So here were a number of cold cases, but they were being tracked, and the law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles continued to monitor progress. The sole survivor of one of the Grim Sleeper’s attacks furnished a description of him as a black man in his 30s, along with other details. According to her story in the press, he lured her into an orange Ford Pinto, shot her in the chest with a pistol, took Polaroid’s and raped her, leaving her for dead. In 2008, the body count was thirteen, and a $500,000 reward was put out for “America’s Most Wanted.”

It became the first use in California, and one of the first three cases in the United States, of the use of familial DNA searching, that is, using the FBI’s CODIS database to match one family member’s profile with a suspect’s profile. The LA police were able to provide a close partial match to  Franklin’s crime scene profile with that of his son, whose CODIS markers were on file for a minor crime. They then set up a kind of mini-sting operation at a pizza parlor in Buena Park, where they knew the family liked to eat. Undercover detectives masqueraded as waiters and busboys. When the family left, they whisked away an unfinished pizza slice. The crust yielded DNA which police linked on a more solid basis to Lonnie Franklin. It was the first high-profile case in which a family member’s DNA had been used to catch a criminal. The ACLU and others had been critical of familial searching on grounds of privacy, and there is still a lot of debate over familiar searching because it might open up the search and include those who hadn’t committed any crime.

Did this help produce new commercial products like the “cousin finders”?

 

Only a few states are doing familial searching, and they are pretty guarded about it. It’s hard for me to make a connection. Certainly, these developments have been concentrated in the past three or four years, but the use of this technique is spreading.

Are people legitimately suspicious about DNA databases?

 

JB: Fears surface from time to time. There have been claims that keep popping up that someone’s going to take everything that’s in the database and use it to determine genetic deficiencies that could lead to medical issues down the road. Once it was speculated that if such  information was released, insurance companies would begin denying people coverage based on their profiles.

This is the mother of conspiracy theories, isn’t it?

 

JB:  It really is. For the most part—not for everyone—the vast majority of the markers we are using are in the “junk DNA” area. That is, they don’t by themselves “do” anything or give you genetic information on the face of things. There may be one or two markers that possibly could be construed as yielding some medical information—such as a trisomy at vWA or TPOX [a CODIS locus]. But by and large, you are not going to be able to do any medical diagnostics with the markers we run. Usually trisomies such as Down’s syndrome would be physically expressed and not hidden. It’s a little different with SNP panels [single nucleotide polymorphisms] such as those run by 23&me. With a high number of those, it’s entirely possible to predict medical predisposition. That’s what they base their business on.

Let’s talk some more about the CODIS database.

JB:  It’s important to realize that even law enforcement doesn’t provide much access to the CODIS [Combined DNA Identification System] databank. That’s something I have to give the FBI credit for. They have developed a system that is secure. It’s the DNA administrator at each facility who has undergone FBI training and uploads the data under very strict rules, and they are notified of any “hits” that involve them, but otherwise there is very little access, and the use of the database is very even across the country. There are not a large number of portals that can be used to access the CODIS database. There are several hundred law enforcement laboratories that are running profiles across the country, and the database is best thought about on three different levels:  LDIS, SDIS and NDIS, local, state and national versions. Between our labs in Phoenix and Virginia, we’ve tested over a million profiles for entry into CODIS. That’s about one-tenth of the entire number. I can tell you there is tight security. Hundreds of thousands of investigations have been aided by a DNA hit (we don’t like to say “match” so much, because statistically nothing is 100%) generating a lead.

How did you get bitten by the genealogy bug?

JB: I’ve always been fascinated with ancestry. I think it came about because my father took an interest in discovering our family’s roots and had to do so at the time by traveling to Salt Lake City, Utah, and poring over whatever records he could find there about our fathers, and great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers, and so forth. He had tintypes of some of the relatives. We had various pieces of the puzzle. My father pretty much consolidated everything back to William Bentley, who settled in Rhode Island in the early 1700s and had come from Bedfordshire, England. He put together a book for family use. He glorified a few of them and left a few out that weren’t ready for glorification. For the sensitivity of some of the relatives, he left a few details out, but it was a pretty solid piece of work. For me, it kind of fostered this interest in ancestry and its importance. Certainly, when I started at Chromosomal Labs • Bode Technology, we started looking at the various tools that could be used. Our history, to be sure, is passed down from generation to generation. Initially, we were using mitochondrial DNA, Y-SNP’s and Y-STRs and then autosomal STRs to determine how we’re connected to general and specific individuals back to the Revolutionary War days and how you are linked with the world population, what your roots were. I have a particular Y haplogroup of G2a, which is not one of the more common ones.

Hmm . . . you and Joseph Stalin.

JB:  [Laughs]. Is that what his haplogroup was? Uh-oh! He was one of the worst. Well, I got interested in G2a and hooked up with about 50 other Bentleys and we identified our founder  patriarch haplotype. I get emails from them on a regular basis. The other thing we tried to find out was what in the world were all these G2a’s doing in England. I don’t know. But one of the things I find in the literature most often was that the Sarmatians were horsemen that gave the Romans a pretty rough time. Eventually, they were decimated. The Romans took their remaining cavalry and pressed them into service for 12 to 13 years or longer. Some were dispatched to Hadrian’s Wall. Now do I know for a hundred percent certainty that’s where I came from? No, but its fun to regard that as a hypothetical personal history.

You have a Scythian gene, don’t you?

 

JB:  Yes, I do according to the analysis DNA Consultants did for my autosomal ancestry. The work Dr. Yates has done on the rare alleles supports a lot of the stuff the family has been putting together for years and years.  I was very pleased to get my Rare Genes from History report back showing I had the Scythian gene. That seems to go along with the Sarmatian theory about the Bentleys.

How do you see the industry changing over the next few years?

 

JB:  I can speak best about changes I am seeing in the field. They’re getting closer to having rapid DNA testing on a chip. This gives flexibility to those who want to use DNA as “point of use” testing. The FBI this past year came out at the Promega conference and said that within the next two years they would like to see wide adoption of “point of use” testing. The IntegenX prototype allows you to put your swab into a cartridge, insert it into the instrument on the fly and get your STR results in a few hours. Previously, Rapid DNA testing was not only time-consuming and lab-bound but it was very expensive. It cost several hundred dollars in reagents alone. As the technology improves to allow 2 hour testing in our lab or on a chip, reagent and personnel time continue to drop,  Now, the FBI would like to see point of use testing in every booking station in the country. At the last show, I also saw an instrument from Illumina that would run Y-STRs, mtDNA and autosomal DNA profiles simultaneously on one sample. Another change that is coming is we will see an expanded profile becoming the standard, perhaps something similar to the GlobalFiler kit from Life Technologies with its 24 loci. With the new technology you can increase the speed for amplifying the specimen by five times and achieve nine times the discriminating power or resolution.

Any final remarks?

 

JB: The DNA testing field is on the threshold of even greater accolades of appreciation both from the scientific community and the public. If DNA wasn’t even in anyone’s mind twenty years ago, soon it will be part of everyone’s daily lives.

 
























Sir Alec Jeffreys, inventor of DNA fingerprinting, and Jim Bentley at forensics meeting.




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Elizabeth Hirschman, Modern Pioneer

Friday, December 07, 2012
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Behind the Numbers:  Elizabeth Hirschman

  (Part Two of a Series)

We interviewed Rutgers marketing professor Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman, author of several books and articles incorporating DNA in her research, to hear her personal story in our continuing series about the people behind the scenes in the field of DNA testing.

 

Elizabeth Hirschman with MBA students at Rutgers in December 2009.


When did you first get interested in DNA?

ECH: I got interested in DNA testing around 2000 when I discovered I was Melungeon after reading Brent Kennedy's 1994 book. Brent suggested several different ancestries that possibly contributed to the Melungeon population and I wanted to find out which of these were correct and which ones I had. I already suspected Jewish ancestry because of the naming patterns in my family over the past 300 years, as well as some of their habits --e.g., not eating pork, getting married in a home instead of a church, cleaning house on Friday afternoon, no eggs with blood spots, washing all meat, etc. We also had some genetic anomalies -- shovel teeth (sinodonty), palatal tori and large rear cranial extensions, as well as polydactylism.

Tell us more.

 

ECH:  Over the course of the past decade I have been found to have Native American, Spanish, Ashkenazi Jewish, African, Mediterranean and Gypsy/Northwestern India ancestry. My Dad turned out to have substantial Gypsy and African ancestry. He and I share a large cranial rear extension that I believe likely comes from the African ancestry -- the photos I have seen of the !Kung Bushmen look just like our head shapes. My Mom has Native American and/or Sino-Siberian ancestry. She also possessed the Asian teeth and palatal tori found in this group.

You've written several books and articles with Donald Yates; how did that come about?

ECH:  We shared ancestry from the Coopers, a prominent pioneer family in Daniel Boone’s time. In 2000, I wrote him out of the blue when he was a professor in Georgia and introduced myself and asked if possibly the Coopers were Jewish. We began to correspond by email. I told him I was sure one of the reasons I was working so hard to figure out the Melungeon story was because I had to figure out who I am. “Up until last year,”  I remember telling him, “I thought I was Scotch-Irish, English , white and Presbyterian.” It was a big transition to Sephardic, brown and Jewish. It turned out that we were distant cousins and had numerous links in our Melungeon ancestry.

What was a typical publication?

ECH: One article was called “Suddenly Melungeon! Reconstructing Consumer Identity Across the Color Line.” This was published by Routledge in 2007 in a handbook on consumer culture theory edited by Russell Belk.  

 

How did the Jewish findings play out?

 

ECH:  On a personal level, both Don and I, as well as his wife Teresa, returned to Judaism, he and Teresa in Savannah and I in New Jersey. On a professional level, we started the Melungeon Surname DNA Project, which focused on Scottish clan and Melungeon surnames (i.e., male or Y chromosome lines), and later included Native American mitochondrial DNA.  Initially, many people in the genetic genealogy community were frustrated that the incoming Jewish DNA results were not originating in the Middle East, as they had strongly believed and hoped, but were showing a lot of Khazar, Central Asian, Eastern European and Western European/Spanish/French input.

Can you elaborate?

ECH:  Critics were not happy that DNA was proving a wider and more inclusive picture of the Jewish people. Where Don and I have performed a service, I believe, is by just following the DNA trail and accepting new findings (e.g., the Gypsy/Roma) when they come in, instead of clinging to an a priori theory/belief/wish, for instance, the claim of a Middle Eastern origin for the majority of Jews.

What tests have you ordered from DNA Consultants?

 

ECH: I ordered every test as they became available over the years, first the Y chromosome and mitochondrial or male-line and female-line tests and later the autosomal or DNA fingerprint tests that analyze your total ancestry.  I helped organize the first autosomal Melungeon study by contributing samples from my mother and brother and obtaining samples from well-known Melungeons like Brent Kennedy and his brother Richard. Increasingly, our testing took on the aspect of a family group study. For instance, I was able by comparing multiple results from relatives to reconstruct my father’s ancestry quite satisfactorily, even though he died many years ago. I took the Rare Genes from History for all available family members. There is a streak of the Thuya Gene and First Peoples Gene in all of us, as well as the Sinti Gene (which is Gypsy), while my brother Dick got our father’s Khoisan Gene, which is African. Incidentally, it has the same source as the !Kung people and head shape I mentioned before.

If you had H. G. Wells' time machine where would you go?

 

ECH: I would love to be able to visit my ancestors and see what they looked like, where they lived, how they lived and learn how they got to Appalachia from such disparate parts of the world. I wish I could talk with them. My project now is to visit all the places they are known to have come from and see what the architecture, climate, food, and people are like. That is about as close to "meeting" them as I will be able to get. So far, I’ve traveled to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Spain, Tunisia and Morocco on the trail of my Sephardic Jewish ancestors. I am trying to get to the Silk Road to see Central Asia, Turkey and Northwest India in the near future.

Professor Hirschman has published over 200 journal articles and academic papers in marketing, consumer behavior, sociology, psychology and semiotics. She is past President of the Association for Consumer Research and American Marketing Association-Academic Division. Professor Hirschman was named one of the Most Cited Researchers in Economics and Business by the Institute for Scientific Information in 2009; this recognition is given to the top .5% of scholars in a given field.  


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Behind the Numbers: Phyllis Starnes

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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Phyllis Starnes:  Designer Genes


We interviewed Phyllis E. Starnes, assistant investigator, to find out what fascinates her about the field of DNA testing. Her story is the first in a series titled "Behind the Numbers" about the workers behind the scenes in our industry, from lab technicians to statisticians.

 

Interviewer:  How did you first get interested in DNA?

PES:  I went to the Melungeon Union in Kingsport [Tennessee, in 2002]. Beth Hirschman had her “stalk,” a diagram of her Melungeon family tree with all the names in her genealogy, many of which were also my surnames. I heard Dr. Yates speak at that meeting. They had their lines all pinpointed, thanks to DNA studies.

Interviewer:  What was your next step after that?

PES:  I came home and did a lot of genealogy research on the computer.

Interviewer: And then?

PES:  The first year DNA Consultants opened for business, which was 10 years ago, I ordered a Y chromosome test for my husband Billy. Other companies were offering the same product, but DNA Consultants was the only one to give you a full analysis and customized explanation of things. Then I ordered my own mitochondrial DNA test.

Interviewer:  Any surprises?

PES:  Billy’s top matches for his male line, the Starnes surname line, were Macedonia and Albania. My mitochondrial mutations matched Native Americans. I became the first of the “Anomalous Cherokees” whose female lineages didn’t fit in the traditional scheme of “Indians out of Asia.” In fact, my Hypervariable Region 2 mutations matched only one other sample in the world, and that was Dr. Yates, who is Cherokee in his direct female line.

Interviewer:  What did your husband and the rest of your family think?

PES:  Some were excited, as I was, but most were just not interested. My kids thought the strong Native American matches were very interesting.

Interviewer:  What other family members did you test?

PES:  As soon as autosomal testing arrived, with the DNA Fingerprint Test, I did Billy and myself, of course, Julia, Kiely and Holli (our three daughters), our granddaughter Keely, my Dad’s sister and Mother’s sister, an uncle and his wife, a niece and a cousin.

Interviewer:  What did you find out?

PES:  Within the immediate family, it was obvious who got which ancestry and trait from whom, and how they all resonated. One of the big surprises was my father’s side, which proved to have quite a bit of Native American and Iberian. The “First Peoples” gene came from his side and passed on down through our girls. On my mother’s side, 11 out of 20 matches was India.

Interviewer:   India!?

PES:  Yes, it appears we were finally seeing the extensive Romani/Gypsy heritage in her family. People had always told me I was like a Gypsy, from my clothes and jewelry to my attitude and outlook. When Billy was in the Navy, I told him one day, ‘I’m tired of being a Gypsy.’ I said I wanted to settle down in one place.

Interviewer:  Did you settle down?

PES:  Yes, we’ve lived in a small town in East Tennessee for almost 40 years. We moved here in 1973.

Interviewer:  Any other surprises in your DNA?

PES:  If you were to chart our geographical matches, both in terms of autosomal DNA as well as the female and male lines, it would surround the Mediterranean. That’s where Familial Mediterranean Fever comes in.

Interviewer:  Who has FMF in your family?

PES:  Billy, myself, Julia, Holli and a cousin. I’m sure others have it but it has not been diagnosed and they may call it instead fibromyalgia. Brent Kennedy [author of a book on Melungeons and their genetics] is a cousin many times over.

Interviewer:  What do you enjoy about your job?

PES:  It’s like a holiday every day. With customers coming out of North Carolina or East Tennessee, I see a lot of the same matches and genealogy I have personally encountered in my own experience with DNA testing. I recognize a lot of genetic cousins.

Interviewer:  When did you first hear the word “Melungeon”?

PES:  I grew up in Southwest Virginia in the little town where the Stony Creek Church is located. The church minutes contain the first written instance of the word. The register is all of mine and Billy’s ancestors, and part of Beth’s [Elizabeth Hirschman, author of books on Melungeons].

Interviewer:  What do you see in the future of DNA testing?

PES:  I think we’ve only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg so far, even though it’s been 10 years. We’ll continue to have new knowledge, new products. I highly recommend our customized approach.

Interviewer:  Any parting shots?

PES:  I’ve worked in sales all my life—jewelry management and design, my own interior decorating shop, running my own hair salon—but I have found something to be truly excited about in DNA. Funny I couldn’t get this excited about selling diamonds! If you think about it, your genes are the ultimate design for living.



Donald Yates and Elizabeth Hirschman speaking at Fourth Melungeon Union, Kingsport, Tenn., in June 2002. Hirschman, a professor at Rutgers University, went on to publish Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America. Yates, a professor at Georgia Southern University at the time, founded a service for evaluating DNA reports that became DNA Consultants. The two authors have collaborated on a number of books and articles, including Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America. 












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