Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Genealogy and DNA

The field of genealogy is reaching new heights. The quest to search and find your roots is reported by some magazines as the second most popular hobby in the United States, just behind gardening. Many people who follow the hobby will be the first to tell you that it is addictive. There is so much to discover and learn. Eventually most families will find events in their background that coincide with National History. However, for many the trail grows cold and can often be an undertaking to make the link from one generation to another. Many are turning to DNA testing in the hopes of unlocking their past.

I was leery of the idea when I first learned that DNA was being used for this purpose. I already have a pretty good handle on my origins, granted there are always branches to be researched as every generation introduces a new set of surnames and each of them had parents. Thus the addiction, the job is never done but it is a very enjoyable pastime.

Even with years of experience as a genealogist, I questioned if DNA would have anything significant to offer someone like myself, considering the number of years I had already been researching. Little did I realize that I would have the shock of my life ahead of me!

Eventually I took the plunge and found a reputable lab to proceed. The results were astonishing, revealing my deep maternal ancestry. The test revealed that my maternal ancestor was a genetic cousin to Oetzi the Iceman. Oetzi, his name representing the mountain range where he was found, was determined to be about 5000 years old. When he died, he was frozen in time providing a glimpse into the past. What is unique about Oetzi is that he was found in the same state in which he died, having never been buried. He was simply frozen in time. He is the oldest complete mummy to be preserved by ice.

With him were remains of his clothing as well as several of his tools. Of the items found, his copper axe was a surprise. Considering that his age was confirmed using carbon dating, this indicated to scientists that the copper age started much earlier than previously thought. He also had arsenic in his hair follicles, a direct by-product of smelting copper.

The DNA test utilized on Oetzi was a study of the genes that he inherited from his mother, known as Mitochondral DNA, abbreviated mtDNA. This is a series of genes that every human inherits from their mother but only the females pass it on to the next generation.

What the testing does NOT tell you is HOW you are related to your deep ancestor. Therefore, at some point in my distant past, it could have been 500 years ago or 3000 years ago, I had a female grandparent from Italy, who was a relative to Oetzi. Maternal DNA does not change but slight mutations are found and can be traced backwards. Considering that Oetzi is in the neighborhood of 5000 years old, no modern human has an exact DNA match to him as slight mutations have occurred over time.

I will not be devoting much to this site on genetic genealogy but considering family history is one of the most common requests received as a Historian, many may find the story interesting. It is amazing that Central NY has genetic cousins of this ancient and famous mummy. Katie Couric of NBC News is another genetic cousin of Oetzi’s.
National Geographic info on Oetzi

Don Hitchcock's Photo Archive of Oetzi