Sunday, May 6, 2012


I have been watching that show on PBS in which ones genealogy is traced and if no written records exist, then ones DNA is analyzed.
One week they analyzed Kevin Bacon's roots, probably because of that game Six degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon in which it could be proved that everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone to the sixth power who knows Kevin Bacon. Well if your ancestors come from England, there is a good chance you are his cousin. They found that he and his wife were 5th cousins.

Last week, they did the family tree of three African-Americans: Samuel Jackson, Condi Rice and Ruth Simmons, the first African-American president of an Ivy League Univ. Most African-Americans have considerable amounts of European blood no thanks to slave owners raping their women. But it is very hard to prove given that these children are not recognized and their biological fathers are rarely recorded. Through family histories, some of them can pinpoint their ancestors. In two of the three cases, the relative who was thought to have 'contributed' European genes turned out not to be the case. In Dr. Simmons case, they did identify her 'white' family. Since the written records were so spotty, they took their DNA.
Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child without any contribution from the father. There are now databases of the mitochondrial DNAs of about fifty African tribes who were most likely to become slaves. It is now possible for African-Americans to figure out where their mother to the umpteenth power came from. However when they did Dr. Simmons' DNA, they found out her 'mother' was not from Africa but a Native American, news to her. Jackson's DNA was from the same tribe that Kunte Kinte came from in Roots.

In a pilot project in Brooklyn, they took the DNA of African-American middle-schoolers and matched it to their database. They had a special revealing day in which they told the students where their roots were. The kids all seemed thrilled and vowed to visit that part of Africa when they could. Aside from giving people a sense of where they came from, could this have practical applications? For instance in Ghana, women who have breast cancer get TNBC 80% of the time, which is especially deadly. The high rate of TNBC among African-Americans is thought to have its roots in Ghana. Until this gene is identified, in the mean time, if women could find if they have Ghanian ancestry, perhaps they can be more alert.

So if one was to take the mitochondrial DNA of my darling granddaughter Maya, who is considered to be African-American because her father mostly is (with Native-American and unknown amounts of European blood thrown in), what would be found? No tribes in Africa! No sign of her Jewish or Celtic roots either. Most likely it would be that of some Prussian lady. And sweet little Tess would have the same despite their very different backgrounds.

Today has been a better day. I have finally recovered from drinking too much Friday between my 3 hour birthday lunch with my buddy and a night on the farm with my friends and wine and cosmoses, although both occasions were very fun. Yesterday I was tired and sulky fretting about poor decisions that I have little control over but end up picking up the pieces. Steve and I did go out for a long walk (running just seemed too much to do) hoping that the fresh air would help. Later we baby sat Ms. Maya with her spending the night with me. Fortunately unlike most toddlers, she is NOT a wiggleworm. I woke up with enough energy to do a long run and...after nagging myself non-stop about this, and a short bike ride (need to train for my week long ride). And bonus, Naomi has abandoned her modeling plans, at least through the scam route.

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