Sunday, March 17, 2013

National Geographic and Me

Yesterday was a nice day in the neighborhood, with spring warmth in the air, buds just about to burst on every tree, and patches of dark grass poking up here and there. There's a flower or two already blooming as well. So it was kind of a shame that I had to spend several hours trying to log into my Genographic 2.0 results (sponsored by National Geographic, folks). Yes, my genealogy research has yielded some fruit.

I wrote a bad review of the Genographic 2.0 product on Friday, and yesterday I got an email that my results were ready. I don't know that there's any cause and effect there, since I'd already been told to expect my results any day. I only wish I'd waited until yesterday to write the review so I could have added that after four months and an unprecedented problem at the lab that required starting over again with my DNA, I had to face a website that just couldn't seem to accommodate a log-in request.

The "Who Am I?" section of my results included the statement, "We are all more than the sum of our parts . . ." I submit that National Geographic, with all its resources, experts, and technology, has been, in this case, somehow less than the sum of its parts, having issues with not only quality control but also customer service and web technology.

I don't care if I turn out to be descended from Zeus: it's hard to feel that it's been worth the trouble, and I don't know if I'll ever change my mind about that. I'm reminded of those psychology experiments I studied as an undergraduate, in which the subjects think the study is about one thing, while unbeknownst to them, the researchers are really after something else. You just think you're here as part of a social interaction experiment. What we're really studying is how much aggravation you'll take before getting up and walking out.

I would have preferred never feeling that I had to do this research to begin with, but when you have questions, it's best to look for answers.

Fortunately, I had the sense not to fight with the Genographic website all day long. I went for a walk and then treated myself to dinner out. When I got home, I struggled with the site for a few hours before getting in and putting the information together bit by bit, in between bouts of getting locked out. So far, there's nothing surprising. I'm in haplogroup H1m1 (same as my cousin), and my profile reads 43 percent Northern European, 36 percent Mediterranean, and 19 percent Southwest Asian. This closely matches the overall population profiles for Britain and Germany. There was no mention of Ireland in this, but they may be lumping Ireland in with Britain.

There's a lot to read on the website about the science of DNA, and I spent last night and today letting it sink in. I haven't studied genetics since high school biology, but it really is fascinating. One of the interesting facts I uncovered is that our family has Neanderthal ancestors (1.4 percent in my DNA), a not uncommon result. I have a slightly lower amount (1 percent) of Denisovan DNA. I don't know much yet about the latter, and apparently that aspect of the science is a bit tentative.

Of course, I know about the double-helix structure of DNA, the twin spirals. Some researchers take issue with attempts to relate the spiral to a labyrinth, but the forms are alike in their inexorable circular movement toward a center. Unlocking the history of my DNA has been a little like moving through a labyrinth. Ultimately, though, it's probably like that for everyone, because the branches and paths of family lines are often surprising. You don't always know what's around the bend with ancestry research.

Now that I have my DNA results, I'm looking forward to tracing more recent connections on the family tree. There are several avenues for doing this, so I'll probably end up trying more than one path. OK, now things are starting to look a bit more like a maze. Fortunately, I have a little experience with those, too.