Cedar Street Times 12-18-2015
by Patricia Hamilton and Joyce Krieg
When most of us think about putting together a family tree, we assume our research will take us back a few hundred years at the most. After that—unless we happen to be descended from royalty—the written records are scarce or non-existent and the genealogical trail will peter out.
Or so we think.
Today, amazing strides in DNA research enable us to trace our family heritage far beyond Ellis Island, beyond the Mayflower, beyond even the Siberian land bridge, to the very dawn of civilization itself. From 2016 all the way back to 15,000 BCE—all in a few drops of saliva!
In this week’s “Keepers of Our Culture,” Patricia Hamilton shares the latest in her saga of self-discovery:
A Journey of 17,000 Years Back in Time
My cousin researched our Griswold family line from the present day back to 500 A.D. To augment and complete the work that many in my family have done on several family lines, I’ve commissioned two anthropologists—Drs. Alexis Bunten and Siamak Naficy—to unearth my hidden history from my ancient ancestral roots 17,000 years ago to today.
Names and exact dates are not available of course, but through their analysis of my maternal genome (DNA), scientific research into epochs of history, and informed conjecture, I will be able to construct a linear line describing where my ancestral families lived and what their lives were like, from ancient beginnings to the present. This exciting augmentation to my family’s history is the perfect building block to finishing my memoir.
The adventure begins this coming Sunday, when I fly to Paris, France, to embark on my first Heritage Cultural Tour.
From the Basque Country to Dordogne, France
My ancestral journey begins January 5, 2016, in magical Cantabria, a lush region of northern Spain, where jagged mountains meet the sea. The genetic mutation that distinguishes the women carrying my “V” genetic signature took place here about 17,000 years ago. This is where my line of female ancestors begins. You may remember “Vi,” the reconstruction of a Magdalenian woman dressed in furs to survive the harsh ice age climate, from a previous “Keepers of Our Culture” column. I carry her ancient genome, and it’s her footsteps I’ll be walking in.
Approximately 15% of the current population of Cantabria, Spain, shares my ancestral genes through an ancient Paleolithic past. I’ll be visiting archeological and natural history museums, similar to our PG Natural History Museum, with exhibits of ancestral tools and dioramas of living conditions. I’ll learn about ancient daily lives and their hardships and challenges. What will it feel like to greet the living relatives in person, to chat with them at a café, to mingle amidst them in shops, and to pass them by on the sidewalks? I can’t wait to find out!
Following the itinerary Alexis and Siamak have prepared for me, I’ll walk the sands of the beaches where my ancestors walked, set foot on the mountainous steps and valleys where they hunted, and lay my head down in the caves where they slept.
As I trace tribal migrations, I’ll make my way to Dordogne, France, known as “the capital of prehistoric Europe.” Here I will explore the caves where Vi might have lived and try my hand at “hunting and gathering.” I plan to spend a day touring the countryside and visiting one of the local chateaus.
I’ll finish my adventure following my ancestors’ footsteps January 15 on a regional tour. As I speak with local farmers and vintners, I will learn about their special relationship to this place, and along the way, gain a deeply personal appreciation of the land that was home to my ancestors.
Future Heritage Cultural Tours
This tour is one of several that will be personalized for me. When my family tree genealogy, which I have traced back through several generations, is combined with the genetic information, which these scientists have traced forward from ancient roots, I will have a linear accounting of details of family life about my most distant relatives through the centuries to myself: from northern Spain through France, to northern Europe, across to North America, from east to west coasts, to me, here today in Pacific Grove, California.
I will have a multi-leveled, composite portrait of my entire family beyond recorded human history: their genetic influences, their societies, how they lived, and the challenges they endured.
My complete Heritage Cultural Tour itinerary is posted on keepersofourculture.com. Sign up to Follow and receive stories during my journey.
Our Nature and Nurture Together
When I combine ancestral information with the stories I’ve written about my own life experiences, family traits and tendencies—so-called genetic predispositions—will emerge. A more interesting, informative, and colorful portrait of my own life will come into focus.
As we know now, it’s not “nature versus nurture,” but “nature and nurture” that determines who we are. Nature is defined as what’s in our genetic code (DNA), and nurture is defined as the traits, knowledge, and personality quirks we acquire during our particular life experiences.
David Brooks, in his book The Social Animal, defines five major influences that determine who we are: DNA, family, cultures we live in, education, and reflection. With my genetic analysis and my stories, I’ll have a comprehensive self-portrait, similar to those of Harold and Erica, the fictional couple Brooks describes.
To write our life stories about nurture—and ignore nature—leaves half a legacy.
Benefits to Our Families
Writing one’s memoirs has been proven to be the most important thing we can do for our families. Life stories increase self-esteem and optimism, help all of us gain new insights for self-understanding, and experience the power of being heard. And looking back at one’s life leads to good feelings about going ahead.
I’m extremely fortunate to include this element of DNA analysis to underscore and amplify these benefits. I’m grateful for the work of Alexis and Siamak, who are pioneers in DNA analysis, which so far has been dominated by study of DNA’s impact on health issues.
Spit Party in Pacific Grove
Want to find out more about DNA and family history? In the new year, Alexis and Siamak will be offering their services to the public, starting locally with a “Spit Party” in Pacific Grove to collect DNA samples. At this seminar, Drs. Bunten and Naficy will share the benefits of DNA analysis, explain how genetic data can best be interpreted using the scientific tools on hand, and share personal stories of revelations revealed through DNA discovery. You’ll send off your own sample of saliva for preliminary DNA analysis services and get your questions answered. To reserve a space, and to follow Patricia’s complete Cultural Heritage Tour, go to KeepersofOurCulture.com.
Patricia Hamilton is the owner of Park Place Publications, 591 Lighthouse Ave #10 here in Pacific Grove, offering creative and dependable writing and publishing services since 1982. For details, contact Patricia at firstname.lastname@example.org.