Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Search for a Great-Grandfather, Ancestral DNA, Haplogroups, and Mali

Seems like so much has happened in the genealogical world during my ten year break. One of the most fascinating areas to me, that is big in the genealogical community, is the use of DNA to search for ancestors. And so it was with excitement, anticipation, and nervousness that I decided to have both my paternal and maternal lines tested.

First I should probably do a brief explanation of what ancestral DNA is and is not.

1. Ancestral DNA can not provide you with your complete family or tell you who your ancestors were.
2. Ancestral DNA can
  • Determine if two people are related
  • Determine if two people descend from the same ancestor
  • Help in determining if you are related to others with the same surname
  • Prove or disprove your family tree research
  • Provide clues about your ethnic origin
Two types of DNA tests are available, mtDNA and YDNA. mtDNA is passed from a mother to her children, both male and female, without any mixing. So, mtDNA shows your mother's DNA, her mother's DNA and so forth back through the generations. Y Line Test tracks the Y Chromosome, which is only passed from father to son. YDNA tests can only be performed on a male descendant. Markers in both tests can be used to determine an individual's Haplogroup, which is a grouping of individuals with the same genetic characteristics.

There is also autosomal DNA, which as I understand it, is supposed to look at percentages of various groups that you descended from. If you need further information, check out Ancestral DNA 101,, or just google ancestral DNA.
Testing and Results
I went through and ordered the 33-marker test. At this time I decided not to do the mtDNA test on dad. Probably the only thing I've regretted in doing this is going through Ancestry. Not because Ancestry didn't do a good job with the testing but because their database is not the greatest. I chose them primarily because I was already a member of Ancestry, could link the results to the family trees I have there, and finally, price.

Although dad complained the entire time (don't know why you are doing this, all those people are dead), testing was easy. After receiving the kit from Ancestry, I took the 3 swabs that came with the kit, swabbed the inside of dad's checks, put the swabs back in envelope that was provided, dropped them in the mail, then anxiously awaited the results.

Haplogroup I1 - the Stonemasons
I received the results back much sooner than I expected and must admit I was surprised by the results. Dad's Haplogroup was I1 (formerly I1a) and the report stated that ancient ancestors primarily occupied what is now present day Norway, Sweden, Denmark and part of Finland. Not that I didn't believe miscegeny could have occurred, but if it did, unlike my other lines, there just didn't appear to be any identifiable physical traits of it. Of course that's purely conjecture as I never met my grandfather and am only going off the pictures I've seen of him.

Here is where the frustration with Ancestry's database comes in. Their database showed a really close match, within 3 generation of having a common ancestor in the last 70 years. I wrote this person not once but twice before realizing that the match hadn't checked in in over a year. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. I was so looking forward to possibly having more family members.

Sorenson Database and Mali
Thanks to a wonderful new genealogical networking site,, I've learned about other databases where I can take dad's results and manually enter them into their database.
So, last night, dad's results were entered into the Sorenson database. And the results are surprising given the Ancestry DNA report. My ancient ancestors more than likely came from present day Mali and our african surname is possibly Traore. Let's just say at the 85% match, ton's of names from Mali showed with the Traroe surname being the most common, etc. (23/25 markers).

What this Means to Me
I set about trying to determine who my great-grandfather (father of Harry Claudius Jones) was and that desire has not vanquished. Given the circumstances of my grandfather's birth, I suspect I may never find my great-grandfather. I won't give up on trying to find him but with regard to my Jones line, I finally feel like I'm starting to build a trunk to my tree even if I don't have names. It's the realization that I am no longer just part of a branch but something bigger than myself even I don't fully know what it is. It's being able to say, at least for now, my family came from Mali.

One of these days, when funds allow, I hope to retest through Family Tree DNA or another site that has a more extensive database than Ancestry, so that I hopefully can get in touch with possible relataives. In the meantime, I'll do further research on Mali and specifically the Traore family, and I also need to understand Haplogroup I1 more and its connection to that part of Africa.

Till Next Time!

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