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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - February/March 2003
DNA


What times we live in!  Loping down the road in the clear, cold night with the stars so bright overhead and the nighttime air traffic brilliantly sparkling overhead, I think about the fact that no king or millionaire or anyone, just - as time as measured a blink of an eye ago - ever saw such a sight!

    One of the most amazing results of our modern scientist's research is the study of DNA.  Recently, I read The Seven Daughters of Eve by Dr. Bryan Sykes, a professor of genetics at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University.

    I was familiar with Dr. Sykes as I had read about his work with the Ice Man and Cheddar Man and even the Romanoff family of Russia.  He was able to find direct descendants of the Ice Man and Cheddar Man and even the Romanoff's.

   As a pretty good hobby genealogist, DNA is fascinating to me.  Dr. Sykes' book opened new worlds and was so interesting to this non-scientist that I literally could not put it down until I had read the last word.

   I learned from The Seven Daughters of Eve that our mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA for short) is special because it is only passed on to the next generation through the egg.  This means that everyone has inherited their mtDNA from their mother.  She inherited it from her mother who inherited it from her mother, who inherited it from hers - and so forth on back through all of time.  Dr. Sykes says that mtDNA produces a direct link to our maternal ancestors.  We all inherit other genes from many other ancestors, but only mtDNA traces a direct maternal line.

   About the only sure thing in genealogy is that none of us is missing even one of our millions of ancestors. 

   I read of a college professor who asked his class, "Who in this class has ancestors in the eighth century?"  Not one student raised a hand.

   We may not know about them, but you can know for sure that you had ancestors in the eighth century and the seventh and the sixth and right back down through all of the years that man has been on earth. 

   How could Dr. Sykes find descendants of the Ice Man?  How could he find living people directly descended from Cheddar Man?

   In his book, he tells about his research into a remarkable gene, which passes undiluted from generation to generation through the maternal line.  After plotting thousands of DNA sequences from all over the world, Dr. Sykes found that they clustered around a handful of distinct groups.  Among Europeans and North American Caucasians, there are in fact, only seven.

   This conclusion was absolutely staggering.  Almost all people of native European descent, wherever they may now live, can trace their ancestry back to one of seven women, hence The Seven Daughters of Eve.  He named them Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine and Jasmine.

   With a painless swipe of a little brush on the inner part of my own cheek, I have learned that I come from Helena - who saw the last of the Ice Age and who lived 20,000 years ago.  Any cousins who are reading this and who share my mother's family you are Helena too!

   Dr. Sykes tells the story of how he took a sample from a Caribbean woman whose family had been sold into slavery centuries before and whose DNA was traced back to Kenya!  He details the story of the Ice Man, Cheddar Man and the Romanoff's too.  Along the way, you'll learn about the DNA of hamsters!

   If you are interested in genealogy or humankind or just love an absolutely fascinating story, you'll enjoy The Seven Sisters of Eve.  You may visit www.oxfordancestors.com on the Internet and you may find the book at any good book store.

Beth Gay


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