Last night, the final episode of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. featured Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier and Linda Chavez. Although the three guests share Spanish Colonial ancestors, Dr. Gates noted that it is interesting that these celebrities who have such similar family trees each have a different view of their own identities: self-identifying as mixed-European, Native American and Hispanic. I was pleased to see that Dr. Gates "turned to two of America's top genetic research firms, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe" to assist in exploring their multiracial ancestries.
|Exploring multiracial ancestries on "Finding Your Roots"|
In the DNA portion's introductory voiceover (starting at 44:50), Dr. Gates explains, "DNA Analysis can tell us many things about our families, from where our earliest ancestors originated tens of thousands of years ago, to their ethnic and geographical distributions over the last five hundred years." In the first part of this statement, he is referring to the deep ancestry revealed through our Y-chromosome DNA and mitochodrial DNA haplogroups and, in the latter, to our admixture results like 23andMe's Ancestry Painting and FTDNA's Population Finder. In this episode, Dr. Gate's team utilizes both to find and confirm evidence of the guests' ancestry.
|Linda Chavez' Population Finder chart from FTDNA|
For Linda, who considers herself a mix of European, there was a very interesting surprise. DNA admixture results support suggestions from early paper records and memories of symbolic traditions that Linda's family from New Mexico were likely part of the Crypto-Jewish community. Her Population Finder pie chart from Family Tree DNA reveals that she possesses 73.31% European, 5.82% Native American and 20.87% Middle Eastern ancestry. Dr. Gates explained to her, "According to our researchers - the geneticists - your Middle Eastern result is strongly suggestive of Semitic or Jewish ancestry." Linda was surprised at just how much Jewish ancestry she appears to have. Prior to this type of DNA testing, she would have never known how significant this part of her ancestry really is.
|New Mexico's Crypto-Jewish roots|
|Adrian beamed with pride when learning about his Native mtDNA|
Dr. Gates explained that "C1b2 is recognized as one of the four haplogroups found among Native Americans." I think he is referring to mtDNA haplogroups A, B, C and D, but this statement is a bit of an oversimplification, especially since sub-haplogroups of X have also been found exclusively in Native Americans. The 2008 academic article The Phylogeny of the Four Pan-American MtDNA Haplogroups states:
|Adrian looking at the frequency map of his C1b2 mtDNA|
Dr. Gates stated that Adrian's admixture percentage for Native American was not "especially large", however from working with many people who have oral traditions of Native American ancestry, I felt that his 8.44% Native American was relatively significant, as Dr. Gates said "the equivalent of one great grandparent". (A great grandparent would be expected to contribute an average of about 12.5% of your DNA.)
|Adrian's admixture results reveal 8.44% Native American|
The fact that his results revealed 91.56% European DNA appears to support Dr. Gates' contention that the majority of the ancestral mixing between Natives and Spaniards took place early in Colonial times and was short lived. However, we must not forget that Adrian's father, John Dunbar, is primarily of Northern European ancestry, so his mother most likely has significant Native American ancestry, probably about 17%. (The admixture test used is 23andMe's Ancestry Painting or Family Tree DNA's Population Finder which is included with their Family Finder product.)
Next, Michelle Rodriguez was "appalled" to discover that she is primarily European - 72.4%.
|Michelle learning that she is genetically primarily European|
Her admixture results also revealed what seemed to be a more welcome surprise - 21.3% African.
|Michelle's admixture result reveal substantial African ancestry|
She was very disappointed to learn that she only possesses 6.3% Native American exclaiming, "I wanted to be Native American!" From my experience, she joins many Americans in this often repeated desire. As Adrian expressed at the end of the episode, DNA testing can be a life-altering experience, sometimes leading one to reinterpret their self-identity. He said that it would definitely change how he sees himself and how he represents his ancestry to others in the future.
Sadly, this brings us to the end of Dr. Gates' miniseries. I have been disheartened that both of the genealogy series aired their last episode this weekend, so I was extremely pleased to hear Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems interview with Dr. Gates (33:00) where he discusses the fact that his team is already in pre-production for the next season of this series. Please hurry up, Dr. Gates, I can hardly wait!
Let's not forget that we all have the continuing opportunity to discover more about ourselves through genetic genealogy. I encourage you to start or continue this fascinating journey. Now that the show is over, I will have a chance to write more about my own DNA research. I hope you will keep reading.
I have been writing a review of the DNA testing used in each episode:
Week 1- Episode 1 & Episode 2 - Harry Connick Jr. & Branford Marsalis; Cory A. Booker & John Lewis
Week 2- Episode 3 - Barbara Walters & Geoffrey Canada
Week 3- Episode 4 - Kevin Bacon & Kyra Sedgwick
Week 4- Episode 5 - Rick Warren, Angela Buchdahl & Yasir Qadhi
Week 5- Episode 6 - Robert Downey, Jr. & Maggie Gyllenhaal
Week 6 - Episode 7 - Condoleezza Rice, Samuel L. Jackson & Ruth Simmons
Week 7 - Episode 8 - Martha Stewart, Margaret Cho & Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Week 8 - Episode 9 - Wanda Sykes, John Legend & Margarett Cooper