Researching family history through the written record can only get you so far, and the results may contain hidden defects. In my family, we have long puzzled over the presence, on my father’s side, of persons with an unusually brown skin for a lineage rooted as far back as we can trace it in South-West Lancashire and Liverpool. Since I have this brown gene myself, I recently took a genetic test in the hope of pinpointing its origin.
I investigated the several genetic testing packages available, and settled upon one called “Ancestral Origins” which seemed the most scientific-sounding (don’t ask me to explain their methodology!) . I ordered their testing kit, followed its instructions for rolling swabs around in my mouth to collect cell samples, and duly returned the resultant material. A few weeks later I received their promised colour-coded map of the world showing my ancestral background, which they determined by comparing my genetic profile with databases of numerous populations throughout the world.
A yellow swathe across the British Isles, Scandinavia and Northern Europe generally showed my genes to be a “good match” for this region, as one would expect. But it was Mediterranean Southern Europe that was coloured green for the “best match”, with the strongest links being to South Italy, Greece and the Adriatic coast in the eastern Mediterranean. All the other continents were coloured red for “no match”, except for North America and Australia where Europeans took their genes by emigration.
So there, it seemed, we had our answer. My sister, whose colouring is similar to mine, said she always thought she was Southern European since she is so fond of an afternoon siesta. Perhaps some of our ancestors looked like this:
Vraka Corfu Greek Costume
That seemed to be that, until my mother decided to take the Ancestral Origins test on her own account. Her immediate family background is in Liverpool and on the Wirral, though preceding generations hail from several different parts of England. She is not even slightly brown, and we assumed that the Southern European side of things could not apply to her. We were, therefore, much surprised when her ancestral background map arrived with the best matches again being concentrated in Mediterranean South-Eastern Europe.
It is hard to know what to make of this. Perhaps these genes go back much further, possibly introduced by legionnaires from the Mediterranean, garrisoned here at the time of the Roman Empire? In any event, the exercise maybe serves to underline the folly of racial stereotyping: our deep genetic heritages are obviously much more mixed than we suspect.