Tuesday, 13 November 2012

My big fat DNA test

I may or may not have mentioned in the past that I am somewhat of a family history geek. For the past 5 years or so, at various intervals, I have been tracing the family tree of both myself and my husband. I haven't as yet gone too in depth but have discovered the various locations that our family came from, in some cases back to the 1700's and so far we are both rather English through and through. Well not quite, half of me is, the other half of me is Irish.

I have quite an interest in other aspects of genealogy - more than just looking at census returns and the like. I'm quite fascinated by blood group distribution (I am B+ ) and also DNA tests that can tell you more about your distant origins. With this in mind, I was quite excited when DNA Diagnostics Centre set about testing my maternal DNA through Ancestry DNA Testing.

There are two services under the Ancestry DNA Testing umbrella - the Paternal Lineage (Y-STR) Test and the one I was interested in, the Maternal Lineage (mtDNA) Test.   Unlike nuclear DNA, mtDNA is found in the mitochondria of the cells and mtDNA is passed from generation to generation from mothers only. Both sons and daughters inherit their mothers mtDNA but only daughters can pass it to their children.   The test tells you which haplogroup (a haplogroup is a population of people who share common markers in their DNA and is usually associated with a geographical and historical point of origin) you belong to on your maternal side. Along with the haplogroup you are provided with a description of applicable populations around the world where the same haplogroup can be found which can considered your "genetic cousins" and also the specific DNA markers that allowed the haplogroup to be determined.

The test itself was simple - all that was needed was a quick swab on the inside of the cheek. This is called a buccal swab - basically like a cotton wool bud that you rub inside your cheeks to gather loose cheek cells. These cells contain the DNA used in the genetic test.  You pop this in the envelope provided, stick it in the post and sit back and wait.  It takes about 4-6 weeks for the results to be returned to you.

I have to say when they arrived I was very excited to find out which haplogroup I belonged to.   However it turns out I am a bit of a commoner, newcomer and I haven't come very far which was a bit disappointing! In your pack you get details on your haplogroup designation, a personalised map depicting your ancestors' journey and where they initially settled in the ancient world, your mtDNA raw data listing the differences between your sequence and that of the revised Cambridge Reference Sequence and facts about your haplogroup.  I belong to Haplogroup H, specifically the H5 branch. Haplogroup H is the most frequently found group through Eurasia and the H lineage has been identified in nearly 40% of the European mitochondrial gene pool.  My specific branch, H5, originated about 10-20,000 years ago in Southwest Asia or the Middle East - not very long ago in the scheme of things when you consider modern humans arose in East Africa some 170,000 years B.C.E. 

Example certificate - as mine shows my full name & date of birth!

I liked that the raw data markers are included in the pack as there are many ways of comparing this data online with other people who have carried out mtDNA tests. I used the Mitosearch website to input my markers and see if there was anybody whose markers matched mine. There are lots of people signed up to websites like this and if you find a match, you can get in contact with them via the sites to compare family trees if you so wish!

I am now starting to read a very interesting book called The Seven Daughters of Eve and it transpires that, belonging to H5, I am from the clan of Helena - which is by far the largest and most successful of the seven native clans of Europe. The clan began 20,000 years ago with the birth of Helena somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne and the Vezere in south-central France. Apparently the clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe but has its highest frequency among the Basque people of northern Spain and southern France.

Image Credit: The Seven Daughters of Eve

Other interesting things I've found out is that mitochrondria are key regulators of cell survival and death and a recent report about a link between Alzheimer's and mtDNA genotypes shows evidence that subhaplogroup H5 is a risk factor for late onset AD. I find it really amazing that this DNA passed on through your maternal line for tens of thousands of years truly forms part of who you are today and I had never really thought about the fact that your health today could be so intrinsically linked to the past.

Finding out the haplogroup and migration route of my direct female line has added another dimension to my genealogical research and I'm really pleased to have a little more information, if not a little disappointed that I don't come from slightly rarer stock!  If you enjoy genealogy and want to know more about your roots then I think a mtDNA test is a fascinating insight into the past.  Mr M is keen to have his done now and I admit, I'd like to him to get it done too as I'd love to see which haplogroup he belongs to!

If you're interested in finding out more about DNA Ancestry Tests you can visit DDC's website by clicking here or phone 0845 408 2084 for more information. 


  1. Excellent post. I have toyed with the idea of having this done after my Uncle traced his/our Paternal Lineage. I never quite understood how the Maternal test worked though so thank you so much for explaining it in a way that doesn't 'twist my brain' :) Fascinating

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