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Where Do I Come From: Donald Yates

Monday, July 29, 2013

Where Do I Come From

Real People's DNA Stories 

Sizemore Indians and British Jews

By Donald N. Yates

As soon as EURO DNA was released last month I quickly studied my new list of European nationalities where I have significant ancestral lines according to DNA Consultants' new autosomal population analysis. I had come to know and accept, of course, the usual suspects, compiled from the 24 populations available from ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes). But the new list represented 71 populations and far surpassed ENFSI or any other database in commercial use. It had, for instance, the first European comparisons for countries like Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and Iceland. So how would my familiar matches—Scotland, Ireland, England, Belgium and the rest—shake out in the new oracle?

Some of the top matches—above British Isles or Northern European ancestry—were Central European. Here were the top 20:

Rank European Population Matches
1 Slovakia – Saris (n=848)
2 Finland (n = 469)
3 Slovakia – Zemplin (n=558)
4 Netherlands  (n = 231)
5 Slovakia – Spis (n=296)
6 Romanian - Transylvanian - Szekler (n = 257)
7 Romanian - Transylvanian - Csango (n = 220)
8 Scotland/Dundee (n = 228)
9 Switzerland (n = 200)
10 England/Wales (n = 437)
11 Ireland (n = 300)
12 Italy (n =103)
13 Denmark  (n = 156)
14 Romanian (n=243)
15 Swedish (n = 311)
16 Serbian - Serbia / Vojvodina / Montenegro (n = 100)
17 Icelandic (n=151)
18 Estonia (n = 150)
19 Romanian - Transylvania/Banat (n = 219)
20 Norwegian (n=1000)

Slovakia? Romania? To be sure, I had always had a fascination with both countries. In my salad days I studied in Europe and traveled to Bratislava, where I fell in love at first sight with the chiseled blonde visage of a friend of my university classmate. And I had also been to Romania in the days of its Communist regime, when my long-haired travel companion and I were welcomed like long lost relatives or conquering pop heroes. 

Admittedly, the results of an autosomal ancestry test are cumulative and combinatory. While they do reflect all your ancestry, as no other test can, you are cautioned not to use the matches to try to pinpoint lines in your family genealogy. There is always a temptation to over-interpret. 

My European admixture results from AncestryByDNA had yielded a confirmatory result:  20% Southeast Europe. That struck me at the time as odd. Yet Hungarian was now one of my top metapopulation results, too. (Remember, Hungarian data did not figure into ENFSI because Hungary is not in the European Union.)

The Scottish (my grandmother was a McDonald) made sense, as did all the other matches from what I knew through years of paper genealogy research. But I was unaware of any strong Central European lines.

Sizemore Research:  Pitfalls of Genetic Genealogy
Then I recalled the Sizemores. My great-great-grandmother was a Sizemore, and they were multiply connected with my Coopers, my mother's maiden name. Could the Central European effect in my EURO result be from the Sizemores?

Much ink—or at least many keystrokes—has been expended on the Sizemore controversy. There are pitched battles on genealogy forums and edit wars in cyberspace. One armed camp has them down as Melungeons and admixed Cherokees with crypto-Jewish strains. Another holds it as an article of faith that the Sizemores were a lily-white old Virginia British family and the surname comes from something like Sigismund (think Goetterdaemmerung). Y chromosome DNA shows ambiguous conclusions:  you can visit the advertisement page sponsored by Family Tree DNA. 

Alan Lerwick, a Salt Lake City genealogist, upset the apple cart some years ago by linking America's Sizemores to Michael Sismore, buried in the Flemish cemetery of the Collegiate Church of St Katherine by the Tower in London in 1684. That was the same parish as my Coopers lived in. Then and now, it is the most Jewish section of London.

Sizemore is not a British surname before the sixteenth century. It was clear to me long ago that neither my Sizemores nor my Coopers were Mama Bear, Papa Bear families. Spurred by my EURO DNA test results, I dug into my subscription at Ancestry.com and learned that Michael Sismore was recorded as being born as Michael Seasmer in Ashwell, an important village in north Hertfordshire, November 1, 1620. His parents were Edward Seasmer and Betterissa (a form of Beatrice). New information! Alert the list moderators and surname project guardians!

Seasmer is undoubtedly the same as Zizmer, an old Central European Jewish surname adduced in multiple families in Israel, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Russia, Moldavia and the United States. Edward and Michael are favored first-names in the U.S. branches. The Hebrew letters, which can be viewed on numerous burials in Israel, are  (in reverse order, right to left) RMZZ. Cooper is a similar Jewish surname, common in Russia and Lithuania and Israel as well as the British Isles and the U.S. In fact, my father's surname, Yates, is a Hebrew anagram common in the same countries, meaning "Righteous Convert."

Hertfordshire was an important center for British Jewry, mentioned in the works of Hyamson, Jacobs and others (see map above). A good hypothesis to explain the transformation of Michael's name from Seasmer to Sismore and thence to Sizemore is this. His grandfather, a Zizmer, came to England in the time of Elizabeth, perhaps via the Low Lands, possibly as a soldier or cloth merchant. This could account for Michael Sizemore's burial in the Flemish cemetery of St Katharine's by the Tower, usually reserved for foreigners. It also explains the predilection in descendants for such names as Ephraim, Michael, Edward, William, John, Richard, James, George, Hiram, Isaac, Samuel, Solomon and Henry. And why girls were named Lillie, Lydia, Louisa, Naomi, Pharaba, Rebecca, Sarah and Vitula. The last name (also found in my wife's grandmother's name) was a Jewish amulet name. It meant "old woman" in Latin and was given to a child to augur a long life. 

Zismer took the form of Cismar, Cismarik, Zhesmer, Zizmor, Ziesmer, Zausmer, Cismaru and Tzismaro—all amply attested in the records of European Jewry, including Jewish Gen's Holocaust Database, with the records of over two million victims and survivors of the Nazi genocide of World War II. I am proud of my Jewish heritage through my great-grandmother and through my half-blood Cherokee Indian mother Bessie Cooper Yates. 

Thank you for indulging me in this genealogical excursion into a family mystery. Like the restaurateur, I would be to blame if I didn't eat in my own establishment. I can confidently say that DNA Consultants' new EURO DNA is a smorgasbord of genetic delights for those jaded by the old-fashioned sex-linked testing. I thank our R&D team, in particular Professor Wendell Paulson, our head statistics consultant, along with all those who helped vet its amazing power, and I encourage you to try it today!


Zoltan commented on 13-Sep-2013 03:48 PM

About Seizmore. If it really relates to Zizmer, Cismar etc. then it is a pure Hungarian surename: Csizm√°r, with the meaning of boot maker (Csizma=boot from the old turkish word of cizme)
Please note that the refferred areas of Slovakia and Transylvania are former Hungarian territories, so the connection is clear and matches with your DNA.

I do not know when you wrote the article but Hungary is in the EU since 2005.

I hope I could help.

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True Story of King Arthur

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What if the real King Arthur was not the Christian hero we immediately think of but a pagan or Jew? Not a comedic King Arthur like the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail whose possible worst peril was to battle knights who say “Ni.” Or T.H. White’s delightful and imaginary medieval England in “The Once and Future King,” where Arthur as a boy was turned into various creatures like a hawk by Merlin, so that he could learn to fly. That is clearly fantasy. So is Sean Connery as an older Arthur in The First Knight whose adversary is the philosophical Richard Gere as Lancelot.

But what if we could cut and paste some of the Arthurian legend and his tales in Avalon in a history book? This is not beyond possibility. There are historians who have either made the case for resurrecting King Arthur or who have not altogether discounted the possibility of a historical King Arthur. According to the distinguished historian, Geoffrey Ashe, in his book, The Discovery of King Arthur, he was “lucky enough to find a way through, and press on to a fruitful outcome”…giv[ing] Arthur a firmer status in history…mak[ing] him more interesting-more like his legend- than appeared probable a few years ago.”  And he says there are reasons to believe King Arthur may have had descendants. Perhaps King Arthur is in your family tree. Who knows?

Of course, we know the story. According to a recent BBC article, “King Arthur Tales ‘Penned in Oxford Chapel’,” the cleric, Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote of King Arthur, and Guinever at St. George’s chapel. However, since he was also the standard for history on British kings, might he have not based it on something he knew that was a fact? He is best known for his work History of the Kings of Britain.

And if there was a real King Arthur, who was he? Even among historians who think a King Arthur is plausible, they do not agree on who the candidate is.

Ashe contends that he was a British king, Riothamus, who was on the continent during the correct time period (469-470) and whose career follows closely to the life of the King Arthur we are familiar with. Indeed, he was the “only British King who led an army into Gaul,” and he “disappears after a fatal battle, without any recorded death” among other coincidences. He argues that Riothamus was a title as its original form would have meant “High King” (96-97).

But there are others with different ideas. Stephen Knight, in his review of the historiographer, N.J. Higham’s, book King Arthur: Myth Making and History says Higham remains unconvinced that we will ever know if there is a King Arthur, or that it is important, but calling him an “agnostic” is not entirely dismissive of a historical King Arthur. However, he is “dismissive of Riothamus” and thinks the next more likely candidate is the historical figure Ambrosius Aurelianus. Aurelianus, according to Princeton University’s webpage, “Ambrosius Aurelianus,” was a “war leader of the Romano-Britsh against the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century.” But Higham thinks the most likely candidate for King Arthur is Lucius Artorius Castos, a Roman military commander in the 2nd – 3rd century AD (L.A.Malcor in “The Heroic Age”). Unfortunately, Knight notes, although this is a well-researched book, he does not clarify the reasons for his choices.

As if there were not enough, what if one tosses in a bit of the Arabian Nights in the Arthurian legend? According to Donald Yates and Elizabeth Hirschman, in their upcoming book, The Earliest Jews and Muslims of England and Wales, Arthur might have Arabic and North- African roots:

The origin of the name Arthur has been endlessly debated. It is almost certainly not “Celtic,” neither from a P or Q dialect, and cannot be traced further back than post-Roman times. The center of gravity for its appearance is the sixth century. In 1998, archeological excavations at sixth-century Tintagel brought to light a find subsequently dubbed the Arthur Stone, mentioning the name Artognou, claimed to be cognate. Although the reading is questionable perhaps this inscription and milieu are on the right track.

Arthur’s name has become something of a grail quest for modern researchers. Other theories derive the name from Artorius (Roman or Messapic), Arnthur (Etruscan), Arcturus (the “bear star”) or *Arto-uiros in Brittonic (“bear man”).

Perhaps the Gordian knot of the difficulty can be cut if we consider that many of the names in early Welsh history have Arabic and North African roots.

And perhaps we can one day trace the ancestry of King Arthur for sure. Celtic? British? Cornish? English? North African? Roman? Sephardic Jewish? Pick one or more.

Photo:  King Arthur in an eighteenth-century illustration for a play by John Dryden shows him in antique Roman costume. Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum. 

North Africans in Early Britain [blog post]


jan Franz commented on 22-May-2013 07:56 PM

As a McArthur myself... I direct you to Clan Arthur's site. He is claimed as a Scot with quite a bit of interesting history!

Erica commented on 21-Jun-2013 11:30 AM

what is the sample type? Can I send it, or you have special collection sites??
Thank you,

Abigail Quart commented on 17-Sep-2013 09:00 AM

Arthur is Artur which means "strong child" in Sumerian cuneiform. Also, "womb."

If you want to go hunting, Galahad and Merlin are also generic designations from those good old days but Guinevere is Egyption, "Hentnefer" meaning "beautiful queen."

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Britain's First Jew Was a Woman

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And Her Name Was Pomponia Graecina

The following excerpt is taken from Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Donald N. Yates, The Early Jews and Muslims of England and Wales:  A Genetic and Genealogical History (forthcoming Summer 2013 from McFarland & Co. Publishers).

If Roman Britain had cities, and we know it did, there were Jews in them. In fact, we have a tantalizing record of what may be the first British Jew. Pomponia Graecina was the aristocratic wife of the conqueror of Britain, the commander Aulus Plautius, who defeated the sons of Cunobelinus (Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), seized the Celtic or Belgic capital of Camulodunum (Colchester) in Essex and secured the conquest of Britain for the emperor Claudius in 43 ce. Plautius became the first governor of the new colony. It is reasonable to think his wife lived with him during his governorship (43-47).

Ten years later, Pomponia Graecina was put on trial in Rome for a crime of character described as a “foreign superstition.” She was a member of the imperial Julio-Claudian family. The same charge was brought about the same time against Poppaea, the future wife of Nero. Poppaea was rumored to be privately a Jewish convert and to favor Jews.[i] Although many commentators and fiction writers believe Pomponia Graecina’s crime was the practice of Christianity, in the year 57 this would have been extremely unlikely. There were at that time very few Christians anywhere outside of Galilee. The apostles Peter and Paul were not yet dead. No Gospels had been set down in writing yet. In Rome Christians were a rarity far into the second century. They were so exotic even in the East that around 112 ce Pliny the Younger, then governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote the emperor Trajan for advice on how to identify and deal with them.[ii]

The Christian epigrapher Giovanni Battista de Rossi in 1879 associated Pomponia with family members buried in the catacombs of St. Callistus in the third century. She was gradually transformed into the apocryphal St. Lucina, even figuring in the historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis. But a gap of over a hundred and fifty years seriously weakens de Rossi’s theory. Sand identifies Pomponia Graecina as a Jewish convert, not a Christian.[iii]  She survived her husband by twenty years and died about 83 ce.

            Christianity struggled for several centuries to differentiate and distance itself from Judaism. Many of Britain’s Jews around 300 were undoubtedly “semi-converts—people who formed broad peripheries around the Jewish community, took part in its ceremonies, attended the synagogues, but did not keep all the commandments.”[iv] After the legalization of Christianity by Constantine in 313, some Jews and “semi-Jews” presented themselves publicly as Christian, while thinking of themselves and their ancestors as still wholly Jewish. Sometimes families were divided in their allegiances. Timothy of the New Testament had a Jewish grandmother, Lois, and Jewish mother, Eunice, but a Greek father. When Timothy converted to Christianity in his native Anatolia, the apostle Paul performed a ceremony of circumcision on him (Acts 16:1-3). Most of Christianity’s early converts came from Jews. Paul made a habit of preaching in synagogues.

As the Christianization of the Roman Empire accelerated during the fourth century, circumcision was forbidden to males who were not born Jews, the practice of converting one’s slaves to Judaism or of owning Christian slaves was proscribed, Jewish women who were not born Jewish were barred from ritual baths and Jewish men of all persuasions were outlawed from marrying Christian women.[v] Endogamy—marrying cousins and other close relations—became ingrained among Jews attempting to hold themselves apart from Christians. All these developments tended to make secret Jews out of people who defiantly regarded themselves as Jewish and honored the commandments of Judaism to varying degrees, often without benefit of a rabbi, community, synagogue or Torah. It was not until the eleventh century that the Hebrew language was introduced to Europe, and its dissemination was spotty. Moreover, that Hebrew was no product of an autochthonous linguistic development, but the artificial creation of Jewish scholars.[vi] In the rift, which covered most of the Middle Ages, the vast majority of European Jews were totally ignorant of Hebrew and were probably also not acquainted with rabbinical Judaism as it took shape in Judea and Western Asia.

Christianity’s final triumph put an end to all proselytizing by Jews “and perhaps also prompted the desire to erase it from Jewish history.”[vii] In the centuries that followed, especially after the rise of Islam, rabbis and other keepers of the collective memory were pained by the apostasy of the Jewish people on such a continuingly large scale. They sought to deny what was obvious, considering anyone who gave up their Jewishness “dead.” “Zionist historiography . . . [turned] its back on any meaningful discussion of the issue,” writes Sand. “Abandoning the Jewish religion was generally interpreted by modern sensibilities as betraying the ‘nation,’ and was best forgotten.”[viii]

Photo:  A Roman crypto-Jewish family. Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.

[i] Josephus, Ant. Iud. XX.viii.11, p. 423.

[ii] Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97.

[iii] Sand 171.

[iv] Ibid 171-72.

[v] Ibid 177.

[vi] “During the first millennium ce, Jewish believers in Europe knew no Hebrew or Aramaic” (ibid 208). It remained for the twentieth century to “revive” Hebrew as a living language.

[vii] Ibid 174.

[viii] Ibid 182.



Richard III's New Winter of Discontent

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shakespeare painted the last of the York rulers of England as a murderous maniac who was rightly dispatched to hell by Henry Tudor in 1485. But the story of Richard III's skeleton supposedly dug up last year in a parking lot may top that of the Bard for pulling the wool over our eyes. Or it may be the luckiest archeological find since King Tut . . . . 

The last of the York dynasty was buried in Greyfriars, Leicester, but Britons are now talking about re-interring the bones believed to be Richard's in Westminster Cathedral with England's other beloved monarchs. In 2012, a writer from Edinburgh, Philippa Langley, was walking over a particular spot in the municipal parking lot when she got goosebumps and "absolutely knew I was walking on his grave." Langley helped fund an archeological excavation and on February 4, 2013, the University of Leicester confirmed that a skeleton found in the excavation was, "beyond reasonable doubt," that of Richard III, based on a combination of evidence from radiocarbon dating, comparison with contemporary reports of his slight frame, and a comparison of his mitochondrial DNA with two matrilineal descendants of Richard III's eldest sister, Anne of York. 

Hunches and Hunchbacks

According to a BBC article, “Richard III: The Twisted Bones that Reveal a King,” the skeleton had a “striking curvature” that could only be that of the hunchback king. But according to a Daily Beast article, “Unraveling King Richard III’s Secrets,” Shakespeare wrote a century after the fact and had a pro-Tudor, anti-York political agenda. “Portraits made after his defeat that show Richard with a hump- or at least uneven shoulders- are suspect as Tudor propaganda.” There is no historical evidence of Richard III having a “striking curvature” of the spine. Or even “uneven shoulders.”  There is no evidence beyond Shakespeare of his deformity. In fact, there is historical evidence to the contrary. The article, “Richard’s Comeback,” quotes the historian, Thomas More, as saying Richard III was of “bodily shape comely enough, onely (sic) of low stature.” The Countess of Desmond reported that, at a royal ball, Richard was the ‘“handsomest man in the room . . . except for his brother, Edward, and was very well made." 

Despite historical evidence, most articles that discuss remaining doubts about the case like, “Doubts Remain that the Leicester body is Richard III,” miss this point and take it as a historical fact that Richard III had scoliosis as does the skeleton that has been found in the parking lot.

What of historical depictions of Richard III’s face? “No portraits made during his lifetime have survived  and some later copies show signs of having been altered to make him appear more sinister” (“ Richard III: The Twisted Bones”). Nevertheless, a 3D scan of the skull was taken, and a 3D face created and painted. Ashdown –Hill is quoted as telling the BBC in the article, “Richard III Facial Reconstruction Reveals Slain King More than 500 Years After His Death,”that it “largely matched” the “prominent features” in posthumous representations of the king. The artist, Janine Aitken said her part was “interpretive not scientific.” At least it is a pleasant face. But is it Richard III’s face?

Jumping to Forensic Conclusions

And the skeleton includes 10 battle wounds showing Richard III “met a violent death…”eight to the head and two to the body—which they believe were inflicted at or around the time of death. Since he died in a battle, did not other soldiers meet untimely wounds in such a manner?

Not a few scientists are waiting for peer-reviewed results. But there are none. Instead of waiting for a boring academic conference, the sponsors at the Richard III Society chose to release the results via a Hollywood style press conference. 

What kind of DNA analysis was used? Mitochondrial DNA. According to Bryony Jones in his CNN article, “Body Found under Parking Lot is King Richard III, Scientists Prove,” “the mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones was matched to Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York, and a second distant relative who wishes to remain anonymous.” Well, end of story and close that book. Right? Not so fast. Some scientists believe that the testing done was not sufficient. Why?

Mitochondrial DNA has limitations. It does reflect the deepest ancestry [see The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes], but is also prone to contamination [under such circumstances]( Pappas). Especially when we are discussing skeletons reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead interred improperly for centuries in damp soil. Timothy Bestor, Professor of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center, is quoted in the NY Academy of Sciences article, “Skeletal Remains of King Richard III Reportedly Discovered,” as saying that the possible quality of the [mitochondrial] DNA [under the given circumstances] was one of his key reasons for skepticism. “’After 500 years or more in a wet environment like England’s, “‘the microbes are going to degrade the DNA. It’s just food to them, ‘” says Dr. Bestor.  And Pappas quotes Maria Avila, a computational biologist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum as saying, “The DNA results presented today are too weak, as they stand, to support the claim that [the] DNA [sample] is actually from Richard III…more in depth DNA analysis summed to the archaeological and osteological [bone analysis] results would make a round story [She is requesting Autosomal DNA analysis akin to what was done with the hominin discovery of the Denisovans].”  And she wonders about contamination with the type of DNA testing that was done. Avila says that, “Before being convinced of ANY atDNA study, it should be explicit that all possible cautions were taken to avoid contamination” and … “ also warned that people could share mitochondrial DNA even if they share a family tree” ( Pappas). 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.”

And Bestor asserts there other reasons to be skeptical, even though “Richard Buckley, lead archeologist from the University of Leicester, asserts ‘“this is beyond reasonable doubt’” based on genetic and historical forensic evidence.” Bestor argues that beyond the high risk of sample contamination, there are three other “particularly complicating factors.”  Of course, it is often an overlooked fact that “the English aristocracy reproduced within a closed gene pool in order to preserve lineages. This inbreeding results in consanguinity” (“Skeletal Remains of King Richard III”).  Dr. Bestor is quoted as saying, “ You may have the same mitochondrial haplotype, but that does not guarantee a lineal descent from a given individual.” [ Mitochondrial DNA analysis is not the same as Y haplotype DNA analysis because it focuses on deeper ancestry whereas male haplotype DNA analysis is linked to more recent male lines ]. He also points out the possibility of adoption. [The possibility of an adoption or any type of non-paternity event increases as one delves back into the distant past of any family tree]:

Another confounding factor is that, in the 17-25 generations separating King Richard’s sister from her extant relatives, there is a fair chance that children of deceased parents’ may have been adopted by their parents’ siblings somewhere along the way. After all, medieval lives were short. Such adoptions may have been kept private and excluded from historical or genealogical records. 


Moreover, Bestor points out that the “genetic sequences and statistical data are yet to be released” but adds that the “historical evidence is quite compelling.” According to this article, forensic evidence of the bones (1455-1540)matches with the time that Richard III was to have died ( 1485). But didn’t many people die at this same time during the same battle with similar wounds?

Astonishing or Unbelievable? Watch the University of Leicester's Full Press Conference 


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Elizabeth Hirschman, Modern Pioneer

Friday, December 07, 2012
Check Out DNA Fingerprint Plus $300 

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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Right Pew, Wrong Church

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Do You Have the DNA of Roman-British-Thracian Soldiers in Your Male Line?
Probably Not.

A member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) wrote an article online five years ago. Now a substantial number of listers on the discussion board DNA-Genealogy-L believe their male lines may go back to a Balkan legionnaire in Roman Britain. This theory has been enshrined in popular belief, thanks to ISOGG members, who contribute most of the material on Y chromosome DNA to Wikipedia articles.

Read our review from an appendix on Jewish DNA hot spots in England and Wales in our book-in-progress, New Jerusalem:  The Story of Britain's Earliest Jews and Muslims.

Steven Bird in “Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin,” is, as the title makes clear, most interested in proving a Roman Balkan origin for the haplotype he investigates, now known as Elblbla, the most common type of the haplogroup Elblb (formerly denominated E3b) in Europe. The structure and subclades of this very ancient North African Caucasian lineage have only recently been resolved and overhauled, and the ink is not yet quite dry. But the data used by Bird with the sometimes confused or outdated nomenclature of older reports can still provide valuable clues for our purposes, although one must proceed with caution in making too many differentiations in the tangled branches of the E tree. We must bear in mind that the target haplotype E1b1b1a2 (also called E-V13) represents 85% of the parent haplogroup E1b1b (also denoted as the E-M78 clade) and keep simple E before us without being distracted.

            Bird’s study appeared in one of the first publications of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, an online journal of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), founded in 2005 by DNA project administrators of the commercial DNA testing company Family Tree DNA based in Houston, Texas, “who share the common vision of the promotion and education of genetic genealogy.” It is an ambitious work with a very small goal. It uses arguments not only from genetics and statistics but also archeology, geography, history, anthropology and linguistics, often involving such fine points as the epigraphy of a Spanish soldier’s diploma from the British Museum issued in 103 CE and the detailed movements of Thracian cohors II and VII in the Roman army. Where angels fear to thread. Bird’s theory about the origins of Elblb have been enshrined in popular belief. We do not wish to appear ungrateful but there are problems.

            Bird’s first mistake occurs in his review of the literature. He misreads Stephen Oppenheimer and represents the author of The Origins of the British as having British E “originating from the Balkan peninsula (26).” If we open Oppenheimer’s book to the page cited (207) we see a map illustrating “Near Eastern [British English for American English ‘Middle Eastern’] Neolithic male migrations via the Mediterranean of E3b [i.e. E1b1b] and J.” The vector standing for the migration of these types launches forth from the Peloponnese in Greece at the cropped lower right corner, obviously intending to suggest origins from that general direction, not “the Balkan peninsula.”  There is no mention of Balkan DNA in Oppenheimer except as part of the bigger picture. The archeological sites Bird adduces as evidence for E settlements in the Bronze Age are not necessarily associated “directly” or solely or chiefly with “proto-Thracian culture,” whatever that term may mean. Nova Zagora in Bulgaria is a Stone Age multi-site. Ezero Culture occupied most of Bulgaria and extended far north into the Danube region of Romania. Yunatsite, Dubene-Sarovka and the other “proto-Thracian culture” examples Bird mentions date to before the Thracians or even the Greeks. They cannot tell us anything about haplogroup E. If anything, all these sites vindicate Oppenheimer’s theory of the demic spread of Middle Eastern (read Anatolian) agriculture, which Bird calls “flawed fundamentally” (27). The center for the diffusion of E in the Balkans is not in Bulgaria or Thrace but northwestern Greece, Albania and Kosovo. The Balkan Peninsula does not have to be the only place from which Bird can manage to derive E and get it to Britain in time to become part of the historical record. It is also strong throughout Greece, Cyprus, the Greek parts of southern Italy, North Africa and even parts of Spain. In fact, its presence in many of those locations is acknowledged to be “due to a founder effect, i.e. the migration of a small group of settlers carrying mostly this lineage (but also a small amount of other North-East African lineages, notably E-M123 and T.” (See http://www.eupedia.com/europe/Haplogroup_E1b1b_Y-DNA.shtml.)

            Despite these failings relating to statement of thesis and validity of arguments, Bird’s work is based on useful data. Three population surveys with frequencies for E in Britain were available to him, the data sets of Capelli, Weale and Sykes. Notwithstanding the nomenclature confusion, only the Sykes data set has true shortcomings, as the Oxford Genetic Atlas Project at the time contained only forty E haplotypes, too small for a valid sample. There are problems comparing them, as Bird realizes, but trends and general conclusions are certainly possible. Before attempting to analyze the haplogroup E variation in Britain, though, we must address the matter of time depth.

            We have no quarrel with geneticists’ and genetic genealogists’ methods of gauging coalescence times. Thus, Bird reiterates that the “time to most recent common ancestor” or TMRCA of Cruciani and others led to the “important finding . . . that E-V13 [read 85% of E] and J-M12 [read J] had essentially identical population coalescence times (27).” E and J are companion types that expanded from their Middle Eastern homelands together in the same fashion and probably reinforced each other in multiple phases of gene flow. But who is to say in any specific case of a haplotype that it arrived in Britain 4,000 years ago (TMRCA) or at any subsequent time, including the time when our grandfathers lived. The TMRCA sets a haplotype’s time of origin but not its place of origin, except by inference. We hypothesize that from a host of other factors, chiefly present-day clusters, genetic distance between types and high concentration of haplotype diversity.  Using TMRCA, Bird argues that a specific form of E “could not have arrived in Britain during the Neolithic era (6.5-5.5 kya) if it had not yet expanded from the southern Balkans (27).” We prefer to believe that it came to the British Isles at several critical times, first in Neolithic times but later with the Phoenicians, Jews, Egyptians, Iberians and related peoples.    

            Bird cherry-picks the data to support his Roman Balkan or what might be called Diocletian thesis, but data are data; these are amenable not only to bearing out the general storyline we present but also to supporting, within the same historical context, the existence of certain hot spots for Jewish and Middle Eastern DNA in England and Wales.  We agree somewhat with Bird the Welsh cluster for E is “underestimated by an arbitrary division by Sykes into two geographic regions (‘Wales’ and ‘Northern England’) . . . [creating] an impression of a large number of ‘Eshu’ haplotypes located throughout Northern England, when in fact the Northern English cluster is linked to Welsh cluster geographically (29).” Only, we would see in that Northern English cluster the remains of the historical Welsh Old North (chapters 1 and 7). We would not necessarily see in the Wales-to-Nottingham cluster the fading footprints of “the Ordovices, the Deceangi, the Cornovii, the Brigantes and the Coritani tribes (30),” about whom little is known in any event, but a belt of pre-existing Mediterranean culture reinforced by Roman occupation and somewhat resistant to Anglo-Saxon and Viking intrusions. Another shrinking pocket of the old British culture is shown in the elevated frequencies for both E and J in Strathclyde and Cumbria, part of the Welsh Old North.

            Bird has an informative map of Britain illustrating E1b1b distribution according to the Kringing method (34). In this we can trace all the major pockets of Mediterranean and Jewish DNA. Leaving aside Scotland, and aside from the Midlands pocket already mentioned, our eye is drawn to North Wales (along with a clear wall of high incidence surrounding it as though beating back the forces of history on all sides), Dorset, London and East Anglia. It cannot be coincidence that these are the very regions where we have diagnosed the presence of Jews and picked up their trail through the chapters of our book.

            As a final note, a 2005 paper by Robert Tarín provides phylogenetic analyses of E1b1b haplotypes that cast serious doubt on Bird’s assertions and confirm our reading of the evidence. Tarín used 290 individual Y chromosome results to characterize “a separate cluster of mostly Iberian haplotypes which seem to represent a North African entry into Iberia distinct from the E3b [E1b1b] in Europe that may have arisen from Neolithic or other migratory events.” He wrote that “it is unknown whether this finding reflects relatively recent gene flow from the Islamic rule of Spain or an older influx possibly from the Phoenicians”—the same quandary about time frame and coalescence we see above. Utilizing the Y Chromosome Haplotype Reference Database (YHRD), Tarín found levels of the Iberian E haplotype as high as 61% in one Tunisian population (Zriba, near ancient Carthage), while Andalusian Arabs and Tunisian Berbers both showed frequencies of about 7%. We believe this Iberian haplotype is a small, but important Jewish lineage that expanded from Tunisia to the Iberian Peninsula with the Berbers who aided Arab armies in conquering Spain. Interestingly, it accompanied Spanish Jews to Mexico and other places in the diaspora following the events of 1492.  Its distribution in Britain should reveal an implantation originally under the Phoenicians reinforced by periodic migrations of North African and Spanish or French Jews throughout the medieval and early modern periods of British history.

Steven C. Bird, “Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin,” Journal of Genetic Genealogy 3.2 (2007) 26-46.

Robert L. Tarín, “An Iberian Sub-Cluster Is Revealed in a Phylogenetic Tree Analysis of the Y-chromosome E3b [E1b1b] Haplogroup,” published online Nov. 2005 and retrieved Jan. 2012 at http://garyfelix.tripod.com/E3bsubcluster.pdf.

Map shows location of Devon, one possible hotspot for British male haplogroup E. 


Paul commented on 28-Apr-2012 08:14 PM

This is fascinating. I wonder if I can count myself among these descendents. Though Bird may have been debunked, my Mother's autosomal analyses (as well as my own) included a very prominent representation from the Balkans, especially Croatia, Bosnia and
Macedonia. Her mother was French-Canadian, and we have paper-trailed those unmistakably French surnames in Quebec back to the early 1700's. However, her father was a descendent of Henry Cook I of Devon. Iberian representation we saw in the analyses were not
unexpected given the known history of the British Isles, but the Balkan representation sure was.

Brian Colquhoun commented on 01-Mar-2013 06:20 PM

I just assumed the V13 moved from Northern Africa to the Middle East (ancient Israel included) and thence to the Balkans (including Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia)and Greece. Certainly, a Roman connection in transport to Britain seems intuitive, but as more and more data becomes available, I'm sure the story will sort itself out.

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Gene Surfing and the French-Canadian Frontier

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gene surfing is a process in population expansion whereby certain variations become prominent and dominant in a short time, appearing to skip the slow, steady, uniform accumulation of variegation and diversification. According to a study of the population structure and genealogies of Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean in Quebec, this type of drastic change accompanied the immigrant wave front that spread over the area in the 17th century. "Deep Human Genealogies Reveal a Selective Advantage to Be on an Expanding Wave Front" in Science magazine describes the resulting demographics.

Since their origin, human populations have colonized the whole planet, but the demographic processes governing range expansions are mostly unknown. We analyzed the genealogy of more than one million individuals resulting from a range expansion in Quebec between 1686 and 1960 and reconstructed the spatial dynamics of the expansion. We find that a majority of the present Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean population can be traced back to ancestors having lived directly on or close to the wave front. Ancestors located on the front contributed significantly more to the current gene pool than those from the range core, likely due to a 20% larger effective fertility of women on the wave front. This fitness component is heritable on the wave front and not in the core, implying that this life-history trait evolves during range expansions.

So gene surfing in an expanding colonization phase can produce a genetic revolution whose effects will be felt for hundreds or thousands of years downstream in history.

We wonder if the same wave front demographics might explain some of the following population phenomena:

  • Large scale triumph of Norman male lineages following the conquest of England in 1066.
  • Selective expansion of Middle Eastern genes in Tennessee (including Cherokee families, Jewish male and female lines and Melungeons)
  • Relatedness among Jews and "Jewish diseases"
  • Diversity-within-uniformity of Polynesians
  • Population replacement of Old European (U, N) by Middle Eastern genes (T, J)  in Europe as a result of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution

Many students of history are puzzled why old populations have the allele frequencies and heterozygosity clines they have. Genetic drift is only part of the answer. Gene surfing and selection in deep history are the rest of it.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


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British Bones Push Back Date for "First Anatomically Modern Human" in Northwestern Europe

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Missing Link from Kent's Cavern in Devonshire

A prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was discovered in the cavern during a 1927 excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society, and named Kents Cavern 4. The specimen is on display at the Torquay Museum.

Although previous radiocarbon dating suggested the bone was about 35,000 years old, a new study in Nature redates it securely to 44.2-41.5 kyr. The article by Tom Higham et al., "The Earliest Evidence for Anatomically Modern Humans in Northwestern Europe," also claims that on the basis of dental comparisons it is "human" rather than "Neanderthal."

The Kent's Cavern fragment "therefore represents the oldest known anatomically modern human fossil in northwestern Europe, fills a key gap between the earliest dated Aurignacian remains and the earliest human skeletal remains, and demonstrates the wide and rapid dispersal of early modern humans across Europe more than 40 kyr ago."

A related article in the same issue of Nature is "Early Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe and Implications for Neanderthal Behavior," by Stefano Benazzi et al. It attempts to place the so-called Cavallo fossil from southern Italy in a timeframe of about 44,000 years ago, thus suggesting a "rapid dispersal of modern humans across the continent before the Aurignacian and the disappearance of Neanderthals."

Neither study considers that the evidence they are examining may be the result of hybridization between "humans" and "Neanderthals." Like most geneticists the authors have rigid categories and do not consider that our definitions of species and sub-species and transitions in technocomplexes and traits are in flux as new discoveries are made.

One man's Mede may be another man's Persian, and we note that the "fossil race" is not devoid of scientific jingoism pitting one country's news-making finds against another's. So far England seems to be winning.

However, the British still have to live down Piltdown Man, a fraud of biblical proportions that fooled the world for almost half a century until the 1950s. The Piltdown hoax is perhaps the most famous paleontological hoax ever. It has been prominent for two reasons: the attention paid to the issue of human evolution, and the length of time that elapsed from its discovery to its full exposure as a forgery combining the lower jawbone of an orangutan with the skull of a fully developed modern human.

The editors sum up the two new studies by writing, "The reanalysis of findings from two archaeological sites calls for a reassessment of when modern humans settled in Europe, and of Neanderthal cultural achievements." We wish that the paleontological community would think more out of the box and reassess how, when and where "humans" and "Neanderthals" interbred. 

Location of Kent's Caverns in Devon.


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Surprises in English and Irish DNA

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Over a year ago, there appeared one of the few studies of autosomal DNA in Ireland and Britain. If you have English/Welsh, Irish, northern Irish, Highlands Scottish, Lowlands Scottish or Swedish matches, you will want to read this post. Here is the original article and abstract.

Eur J Hum Genet. 2010 Nov;18(11):1248-54. Epub 2010 Jun 23.

Population structure and genome-wide patterns of variation in Ireland and Britain.


Located off the northwestern coast of the European mainland, Britain and Ireland were among the last regions of Europe to be colonized by modern humans after the last glacial maximum. Further, the geographical location of Britain, and in particular of Ireland, is such that the impact of historical migration has been minimal. Genetic diversity studies applying the Y chromosome and mitochondrial systems have indicated reduced diversity and an increased population structure across Britain and Ireland relative to the European mainland. Such characteristics would have implications for genetic mapping studies of complex disease. We set out to further our understanding of the genetic architecture of the region from the perspective of (i) population structure, (ii) linkage disequilibrium (LD), (iii) homozygosity and (iv) haplotype diversity (HD). Analysis was conducted on 3654 individuals from Ireland, Britain (with regional sampling in Scotland), Bulgaria, Portugal, Sweden and the Utah HapMap collection. Our results indicate a subtle but clear genetic structure across Britain and Ireland, although levels of structure were reduced in comparison with average cross-European structure. We observed slightly elevated levels of LD and homozygosity in the Irish population compared with neighbouring European populations. We also report on a cline of HD across Europe with greatest levels in southern populations and lowest levels in Ireland and Scotland. These results are consistent with our understanding of the population history of Europe and promote Ireland and Scotland as relatively homogenous resources for genetic mapping of rare variants.

Though the focus was on genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and linkage disequilibrium, or medical aspects of DNA, this study was groundbreaking in using supercomputing and has enormous implications for the history of the British Isles. It used data from over 3,000 individuals from seven populations:

1. Ireland/Dublin

2. Scotland/Aberdeen

3. Bulgaria

4. Portugal

5. Sweden

6. South/Southeast England

7. Utah

Data came from several sources:  the International Schizophrenia Consortium, Wellcome Trust Cast Control Consortium 1958 Birth Control Data set, Utah European ancestry population (CEU) and HapMap project.

The study aimed to describe, statistically, four measures of the Irish and English populations: 

1. Population structure

2. Linkage disequilibrium, with consequences for the study of common Irish and English genetic disorders

3. ROH, or runs of homozygosity, essentially a reflection of inbreeding and the remoteness of a population

4. Haplotype diversity (based on SNPs in atDNA)

The main conclusion was that Irish/English formed a separate and unique population since the Ice Age very different from either Bulgarian (SE Europe) or Portuguese (SW Europe), with great affinities to Sweden or Scandinavian populations (p. 1250). For instance, "the breakdown and patterning of LD [linkage disequilibrium] ... is virtually indistinguishable among the Irish, Scottish, southern English, Swedish..." (p. 1250).

"Diversity across Britain and Ireland is reduced in comparison with mainland European populations, with Scotland and Ireland having lower levels than southern England (p. 1251)."

The study postulates that Irish and English proneness to genetic disease came about as a result of population stasis or unchanging conditions. The agricultural revolution swept in a lot of additions to the gene pool in most of Europe, including Southeast England, but in areas like Ireland, Scotland and Sweden the same population stayed on the land with little increase, in fact with a negative effect during the Norse migrations of the 10th century and the Irish Potato Famine. The study mentions a "kinship effect" apparent in Irish and Scottish clan histories (p. 1254).

The surprising suggestion is that there will now be a groundswell of research into "Irish" and "Scottish" and "English" diseases comparable to Jewish diseases.

A related study is:

A. Auton, K. Bryc, A. Boyko, K. Lohmueller, J. Novembre, A. Reynolds, A. Indap, M. H. Wright, J. Degenhardt, R. Gutenkunst, K. S. King, M. R. Nelson and C. D. Bustamante, Global distribution of genomic diversity underscores rich complex history of continental human populations, Genome Research, February 2009. Abstract.


Stephanie Hayward commented on 27-May-2011 09:15 AM

I am reading the book "When Scotland was Jewish" and am also doing research on the mythical Milesians. Was wondering if this mythical Irish group had ever come up in your discussions. It is said they were descended from Jewish line and I started making
a connection by what is outlined in your book. By the way, the book is great! Stephanie

Teresa Panther-Yates commented on 08-Jun-2011 03:12 PM

How interesting! The Milesians are thought to be one of the mythical populations that started Ireland. They are thought to be Middle-Eastern and from Spain, but this population is not in the book and has not come up. Thank you for this adding this observation.
Teresa P. Yates

Brian Costello commented on 19-Jul-2012 11:39 PM

I can believe that Scots and English have some genetic relationship to the populations of Sweden and / or Norway. They look basically Germanic. However, the Irish are not a Germanic people at all and therefore must descend from a different gene pool, and
I don't think it is one from Spain either.

Peter O'Connor commented on 26-Jun-2013 12:41 PM

I support Bob Quinn's contention that the Irish and (West British) populations came via the sea - and from North Africa - via Spain.
The language, music, culture art and boat-design support this.

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Two New Autosomal DNA Population Studies: England, Ireland and Rural Europe

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two reports in the European Journal of Human Genetics underline how specific autosomal DNA can be in revealing the geographical structure among populations. One uses genome-wide data from the Illumina Human Hap300 project to predict the village of origin of a person's four grandparents given European origins. The other used genotyping from 3,367 individuals from seven different European, mostly British Isles populations to lay bare the detailed population structure and linkage disequilibrium patterns of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

Both studies have Colm O'Duschlaine of Trinity College, Dublin as their lead author and highlight how genotyping with autosomal DNA dominates genetics today (and DNA testing), eclipsing in many respects the older style of tests known as sex-linked haplotyping or lineage analysis, which focused on the male Y chromosome and female mitochondrial lines only.

Colm O'Duschlaine et al., "Genes Predict Village of Origin in Rural Europe," Eur. J of Hum. Genet. (2010) 18, 1269-1270. Abstract.

Colm O'Duschlaine et al., "Population Structure and Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation in Ireland and Britain," Eur. J of Hum. Genet. (2010) 18, 1248-1254. Abstract.


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