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Genetic Journey: Maternal and Paternal Lines

One of the features that 23andMe offers is tracing ancestral haplogroups. Haplogroups are, essentially, “major branches on the family tree of Homo Sapiens”. They indicate, for the results I’ve been given, descendents of single individuals of one sex who first exhibited genetic traits. The data is presented by 23andMe as paternal lines and maternal lines.

Tracing back my father’s father’s father, on and on, the results weren’t very surprising. I fall into the haplogroup I1, a group that is prevalent in much of Europe, but concentrated in “Denmark and the southern parts of Sweden and Norway”. Jimmy Buffett, Leo Tolstoy and Warren Buffett are famous folk who also fall into this category.

I is found almost exclusively in Europe, where about 20% of men have Y-chromosomes belonging to the haplogroup. It began spreading about 30,000 to 45,000 years ago with some of the first Homo sapiens to inhabit Europe.

One of the places that was repopulated as the Ice Age waned no longer exists. During the Ice Age and for some time afterward, lower sea levels exposed much of the area that is now covered by the North Sea. Known as “Doggerland,” the region must have been occupied by men bearing haplogroup I, because today it is abundant in all of the countries surrounding the North Sea.

Tracing back mothers along my mother’s line provided a surprise for me. For that line I fall into group W3a, which originates in “about 35,000 years ago in the Near East and later spread east to present-day Pakistan and northern India”. All of the history I know of my mother’s family is European, and that’s not uncommon with people from the W3a group, but it was fascinating to me that I can trace, however distantly, my ancestry to the Near East.

W appears to have originated in the Near East about 35,000 years ago. The haplogroup reaches its highest levels among the Sindhi of southernmost Pakistan, where it can be found in 17% of the population. It is also relatively common in northwest India and among the Kurds and Mazandarani of northern Iran.

Although W is most common in the Near East and south-central Asia, it is also sprinkled at low levels around the rest of Eurasia. It is found at single-digit percentages in central Asia, along the Atlantic coast of Europe and in Finland, and slightly higher percentages in Eastern Europe.

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