First let me say that my experience exploring the source of my DNA with Ancestry.ca was very revealing, but more of that later.
The main role of DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) in our body cells is the long-term storage of information. Like a recipe book it holds the instructions for making all the proteins in our bodies, and this recipe book is unique to each individual.
Being so unique it can be used in legal settings to positively identify individuals, whether its a parental lawsuit, or a criminal case with traces of saliva, a speck of blood or a single hair, left at a murder scene.
Your DNA is also a record of your ancestors, but you aren’t a carbon copy of any one of them. You receive 50 per cent of your DNA from each of your parents, who received 50 per cent of theirs from each of their parents, and so on, and so on back in time through many generations.
DNA in populations also varies across regions in the world.
In Europe alone there are over 500 regions identified by Ancestry.ca which have unique DNA, against which your DNA is tested. In your DNA there may be contributions from one, two or more of these regions depending how much your ancestors moved around, partnered, and produced offspring.
This week I received the results of my DNA analysis by Ancestry.com...not something that I would ordinarily put myself through. However, as an only child with no remaining blood relatives it seemed like an important thing to do for my offspring while I’m still around, and to satisfy my own curiosity.
There is another reason that may seem a little weird, but I have been preoccupied recently with 16th and 17th century art from Belgium and the Netherlands. My study of European art is part of my “completing my education” in my retirement, having come from a strictly science and engineering backgrounds.
I was finding that the paintings of people from that region, and descriptions of life back then looked and sounded very familiar to me, and I half-seriously thought it might have something to do with my origins...you know, past lives and so on.
I had always assumed myself to be a of relatively pure Welsh blood mixed with a contribution from Somerset in England, where a grandfather of mine on my mothers side was brought up....but imagine my surprise when I read in the Ancestry.ca report I received this week that 30 per cent of my DNA was traced back to the region covered by Belgium, the Netherlands and Western Germany, undoubtedly on my father’s side. This also may explain the origins of my family name which I was vaguely aware had German roots.
What I find amazing is that all Ancestor.ca knew about me was my Oxford, N.S. address, and my sex and age ...and yet they very accurately attributed the other 70 per cent of my DNA as coming from Wales and Somerset. All this priceless information for $108 including tax and taking less than six weeks to process a thimble full of my saliva in their labs in Dublin!
They offered to link me to other DNA-related folk they had in their database for an extra modest fee, but I’m hesitant to take that step right now. I’m not sure I want to venture into that unknown without giving it some further thought. Having similar DNA is all very well but!
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at email@example.com.