A fun story of genetic testing

I'm so often negative about genetic testing--especially the kind available over the Internet--that I have wanted to give you readers a more positive outlook. So, here's a piece from the Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, Louisiana. I've included almost all of the article here--without permission--because I so appreciate Jan Risher's style. Her atricle is titled, Long Story Short: DNA gives grandmother's tales a little more weight. Here's the story:

. . . Lydia Myrene Henderson Risher Turman was a seamstress extraordinaire. She was also my grandmother. These days, she would be lauded as a shabby chic innovator, but when I was a kid, it was more like an old lady with grand ideas going through junk. But, she couldn't help it. She simply loved transforming cast-off items into something she considered beautiful.

. . . my grandmother's means of reconstructing was not limited to bits and bags of fabric. By the time I was 12 or 13, I realized the wisdom in sorting through each and every story my grandmother told. Though her tales were based on some kernel of truth, discerning fact from fiction proved challenging. When I was in the ninth grade and studied James Thurber, I realized she had a keen appreciation for hyperbole and euphemism.

Case in point. One of her favorite topics was the glory and glamour of our family's ancestors. Her sources were consistently cloudy, but she was convinced - and did her best to convince the rest of us - that Clint Eastwood was our cousin. You may call him Dirty Harry, but since I was 10, my entire family has simply referred to Clint as Cuz.

My grandmother also focused much time and energy on extolling our relation to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. As I child, I simply accepted the story about Tsar Nicholas, but eventually began to wonder, "How could we be related to a Russian tsar who was forcefully abdicated from his position in 1917? Our direct ancestors had been toiling in the red dirt of Central Mississippi for more than 100 years by then."

But, not all of our relatives, according to my grandmother, were noble and gentry. She had loads of stories about our connection to Jesse James. Strangely enough, I later read that at least one of Jesse's pallbearers shared my great-grandmother's name.

Being the cynic I was by age 16, I considered this mere coincidence.

Recent background:

About a year ago, I convinced my dad to participate with me in DNA genetic testing for genealogical research purposes. We both were looking for specific answers to questions about our family tree. I thought the DNA results would settle them once and for all.

Turns out, DNA is rather complicated. When I finally got our results, it wasn't a single piece of paper that explained everything. No, it's more like a wild scavenger hunt to connect the dots. Over the last eight months or so, I've spent many hours trying to understand and decipher the numbers and markers of our genetic codes.

Recently, I was able to run a haplogroup predictor - something I had never heard of before I started this endeavor. Basically, a haplogroup is used in genetic genealogy to determine the clans of your ancestors, although the definition can be much more complex.

I've focused most of my research on my father's genetic family tree and have learned many tidbits, but the haplogroup news proved big.

We're almost certain that my father's mother was a member of Haplogroup T. That in itself doesn't mean much to me, but according to genebase.com, there are a few basic facts that stand out about Haplogroup T and my family's connection to it.

The woman who founded Haplogroup T lived approximately 60,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Descendents of the Haplogroup T line moved north and west into Eastern Europe approximately 10,000 years ago.

Descendents of Haplogroup T are associated with individuals from Northern Europe and Russia with highest frequency. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and American outlaw Jesse James were descendents of the Haplogroup T lineage.

There are more than 200 haplogroups. Given the odds of two of the three of my grandmother's beloved relatives belonging to Haplogroup T, at this point, I wish Vegas was taking wagers on Clint Eastwood's haplogroup.

My grandmother passed away just over a year ago. As much as my family and I have laughed over our haplogroup news this week, I've caught myself wishing that my grandmother was around to enjoy a good, "I told you so."

Thanks, Jan, for an informed and upbeat interpretation of the potential results of genetic testing.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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