Ancient DNA

Most of our genealogy efforts are focused on finding the names of family members to fill out our family tree. While many of us can find our great grandparents, some know the names of their 2X greats, and a hardworking few know their 5X great grandparents, there is always going to be a point when you just can’t go any further. While for the genealogist this might be a source of frustration and disappointment, this time period beyond genealogical time is actually an area of great interest for many non-genealogists. 

Since we are always looking for ways to involve our friends and family in our family history work, getting them thinking about any ancestor, even if it one who will never occupy a place on your chart, is movement in the right direction. 

Our DNA test results provide us with these kinds of connections to ancient humans, and even pre-humans, that just might have the ability to spark your relative’s interest in DNA testing to learn more about their history.  

The DNA test from the National Genographic project is a great example of this. They aren’t considered a genetic genealogy company because they don’t give you any cousin matches, but they do provide a fantastic deep ancestry product. However, because this test can’t really help move your genetic genealogy forward, you will want to encourage the relative interested in this kind of information to test with either 23andMe or Family Tree DNA, who both provide details about our ancient history, as well as clues to our ancestral past. 

23andMe reports how much Neanderthal DNA you have. Neanderthals were one of three kinds of ancient humans. It has been an ongoing goal of many scientists to determine how much, if any, interbreeding occurred between us (Homo Sapiens) and the Neanderthal. In 2010 the first Neanderthal DNA became available from ancient remains. That was compared to the human DNA, and it was found that humans actually do have DNA in common, enough to know that most humans have a direct line Neanderthal ancestor. Now, he might be your 2,000th great grandparent, but scientists are fairly certain he is there. 

At 23andMe they have identified 2,872 Neanderthal DNA markers and they tell you how many of those you have. They even report if any of those markers are associated with Neanderthal traits like back hair and height. It can be fun to compare those with family and friends, and hopefully then you can steer the conversation to more genealogical topics. 

Again, while knowing this information may not break down any genealogical brick walls, it just might break down the wall of resistance between you and a family member who has thus far been unwilling to participate in your family research efforts. So if other tactics have failed, try interesting your family member in their ancient genetic history, with the goal of also gaining some valuable genealogical knowledge. 

Originally published on September 2018 on 

Diahan SouthardComment