Genealogy

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Genealogy is the study and tracing of family pedigrees. This involves collecting the names of relatives, both living and deceased, and establishing the relationships between them based on primary, secondary and/or circumstantial evidence or documentation, thus building up a cohesive family tree. Genealogy is sometimes also referred to as family history, although these terms may be used distinctly: the former being the basic study of who is related to whom; the latter involving more "fleshing out" of the life and family histories of the individuals involved. One way to find the family lineage is with the use of the genealogical method. It is a well-established ethnographic technique. The early ethnographers developed symbols that covered the issue of kinship, descent, and marriage. Studying one's genealogy is important in terms of social organization, especially where people live and work with their kin everyday. It plays a very important role in understanding the current social relations and reconstructing the history. Marriage is also looked at because it is important in creating alliances amongst tribes, clans and villages.

Data sharing among genealogical researchers has grown to be a major use of the Internet. Most genealogy software programs can output information about persons and their relationships in GEDCOM format, so it can be shared with other genealogists by e-mail and internet forums or converted into a family web site using online genealogical tools such as GED2HTML, PhpGedView, and Phpmyfamily. Many genealogical software applications also facilitate the sharing of information on CD-ROMs and DVDs made on personal computers.

Genetic Analysis

With the discovery that a person's DNA contains information that has been passed down relatively unchanged from our earliest ancestors, analysis of DNA is just beginning to be used for genealogical research. There are two DNA types of particular interest. One is the mitochondrial DNA which we all possess and which is passed down with only minor mutations through the female line. The other is the Y-chromosome, present only in males, which is passed down with only minor mutations through the male line.

A genealogical DNA test allows for two individuals to determine with 99.9% certainty that they are related within a certain time frame, or with 100% certainty that they are not related within a certain time frame. Individual genetic test results are being collected in various databases to match people descended from a relatively recent common ancestor. These tests are limited to either the direct male or the direct female line.

On a much longer time scale, genetic methods are being used to trace human migratory patterns and to determine biogeographical and ethnic origin. The results can be used to place people within ancient ancestral groups. In a related development, non-genetic mathematical models of ancestry have been devised to determine the approximate year when the most recent common ancestor of all living humans existed.

Haplotype is a person's individual footprint of all tested genetic markers. Even the difference of a single genetic marker delineates a distinct haplotype. Haplogroups are defined by genetic mutations or "markers" found in Y chromosome and mtDNA testing. These markers link the members of a haplogroup back to the marker's first appearance in the group's most recent common ancestor. Haplogroups often have a geographic relation. Mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA
is the genetic material found in the mitochondria. It is passed from females to their offspring without recombining, and thus is an important tool for geneticists. X and Y Chromosomes which determine sex. Females have two X chromosomes while males have one X and one Y. When chromosomes pair, the mismatched Y determines male gender. Because of the mismatch, part of the Y chromosome does not recombine with the X during reproduction. The nonrecombining part of the Y chromosome contains a sequence of DNA passed intact from males to their sons through the generations, giving population geneticists a useful tool for studying human history. Random mutations in the DNA sequence which act as genetic milestones or genetic markers. Once markers have been identified they can be traced back in time to their origin—the most recent common ancestor of everyone who carries the marker.

Human Diversity

There is no such thing as race, thanks to the genetics revolution. The Human Genome Project (HGP) has determined unequivocally that there is the same amount of genetic variation among individuals within a so called racial group as there is between individuals in different racial groups. What that means is that there is no real genetic difference between blacks and whites or between whites and Asians or between any of the so called races.

Wonder why it's been so hush-hush? I mean, you would think this would be big news. Certainly on the order of Galileo stating that the Earth goes around the Sun and not vice versa. But you haven't heard it on CNN or read it in your local newspaper. It's more or less kept within the high brow community as if the common every day man in the street just couldn't take it. So you can read about it in the Atlantic Monthly or New York Times, but not your home town newspaper. And some professors on ivory tower college campuses are scrambling to prove it isn't so, just like there some who argue that Darwin was a fruitcake and evolution a stunt he pulled to grab the limelight.

But if we are all one race, which race are we? One answer is the cute one that we are the "human race". But buckle your seat belts folks, because the genetic answer is that we are all really black. And white people are pale adaptations of black people that evolved during the
past 140,000 years.

From whence does this white skin come? Weren't we all taught that it was the black people who evolved black skin and it happened so they would be protected from getting skin cancer?

Forget it. Scientists have thrown the whole notion out. Here's how evolution works. If you don't live long enough to reproduce, your genes are lost to the gene pool forever. There being no high school back when Humans came into being, females started reproducing around the age of 13. Skin cancer develops later in life when the female has already reproduced and her genes have entered the world gene pool. Bye, bye skin cancer theory.

What scientists now believe is that everyone started out with dark skin in the first place because it is protective against absorbing too much Vitamin D, which is toxic. Too much vitamin D causes calcium to be pulled from the intestines and bones and deposited in soft tissues all over the body, damaging the kidneys, heart and blood vessels. Dark skin screens out UV radiation and your body, which uses UV to produce Vitamin D, produces less of it - a real evolutionary advantage at the lower latitudes where we began.

So where did the 10,000+ shades of paler brown, beige, pink, white and what Crayola crayons used to call "flesh" come from? Archaeological data places the origin of genetically modern humans in sub-Saharan Africa approximately 140,000 years ago. Humans then began migrating out of Africa in successive waves, starting approximately 100,000 years or 5000 generations ago. Now that scientists have mapped the human genome, they are homing in on when each wave began their outward bound journey and where they migrated to. So far they have confirmed that everyone on the entire planet, even the 1.3 billion Chinese, have a common ancestor back in Africa.

For example, the first wave appears to have been a migration to the Middle East and then eastward and northward from there. Some geneticists studying the human genome map believe that in a later north moving wave, which occurred about 60,000 years ago, a mere 50 people inbred together across successive generations to create all the people who now occupy Europe (excluding recent immigrants, of course).

But wait a minute, I have blond hair, blue eyes and my hair isn't nappy and I don't have thick lips. So how can my great, great, etc grandpappy be a black African? It's all from lines of genetic
inheritance splitting apart and then coming together again. Lines of genetic inheritance, or lineages, split apart when there is a mutation that is evolutionarily advantageous, meaning the mutation makes it more likely for someone to reproduce greater numbers of offspring that survive. Someone with a non advantageous mutation has offspring that are less likely to survive.

So as humans migrated out of Africa, why did dark skinned people start losing the genetics Powerball Lottery to their paler kin? Lower UV levels in the sunlight of the more northern latitudes meant a dark skinned individual's body could not produce enough Vitamin D. Insufficient Vitamin D would then result in a child developing rickets. A child with rickets would not likely reproduce either because it would die before it could or because its pelvis would be so deformed it could not pass a child through the birth canal. Its genes would be lost forever. So lighter skin, and more absorption of Vitamin D at higher latitudes would be an adaptive genetic advantage.
Interestingly, in high latitudes where some people still retain dark skin, such as with the Inuit in the Arctic, the people obtain significant amounts of Vitamin D from eating fish and sea mammal
blubber.

Seal blubber aside, what about all the other features that make us look so different? Mutations that endure are often advantageous to specific climates. For example, the tall thin body of the Masai warrior dissipates heat while the short squat body of the Inuit retains it. Long northern European noses moisten and warm the air before it reaches lungs, while in Africa short noses remain because the air is already moist and warm. The Asian's eyelid folds protect their eyes against dry sandy desert winds and wind driven snow. In the far north, light sensitive blue eyes allow people to see better when it is dark much of the year. The tightly coiled hair of the African keeps the hair off his neck so he remains cooler. All these diverse physical features promote the promulgation of different lines of inheritance, or ethnic lineages.

Countering this splitting apart of ethnic lineages is the melding through interbreeding between different ethnic lineages. If you walk the Silk Road from Persia to China, across the southern flank of Asia, you will see a continuum of physical feature change. You will not be able to tell where the European look ends and the Asian begins.

Many mechanisms for melding ethnic lineages have been at play. The rape part of the plunder and pillage drill by invaders, traders passing through with silver to buy bedtime favors, marriages for political convenience to form alliances between not so friendly tribes, and the boy and girl from neighboring tribes sneaking out for a little tryst under the stars, have all contributed to the
recombining of diverse ethnic lineages.

So what we have instead of the meaningless terms Caucasian, Negro, Asian, etc, is a large multiplicity of ethnic lineages, all of whom descended from a only a single black race. So don't forget, next time you fill in the U.S. Census you should write in the word Black next
to the question about your race, regardless of your shade of pale.

 

 

 

 

Page last updated: Sunday, January 29, 2006 18:16:34 -0500