Several months ago I spit in a test tube and sent the my saliva off to have over 700,000 of my DNA markers analyzed to find out what my genetic heritage is.
Six weeks later I got an analysis that showed me to be about 42% West European, 36 % Irish (this component includes northern Scotland as well), 10% British and a 10% smattering of other several other ethnic extractions ranging from Scandinavia to Spain to the Middle East.
At first I was not surprised by this – maybe a little disappointed not to see some African genes in there. I have been able to trace most of my relatives on both my parents’ sides back several generations and they all seem to cluster in Britain or Scotland as far as 1600.
On further reflection, I started to wonder why I had such a strong component (42%) of Western European genes. According to this analysis, my DNA distribution is almost the same as people who currently live in Western Europe, and not as compatible with natives of Britain or Ireland. Maybe it was because many of my UK relatives originated way back in Western Europe. Certainly migration has happened over the centuries. But still, Western European DNA markers making up the major contribution of my genetic material seemed a bit strange.
Ancestry has identified me as a distant relative of over 100 people scattered over North America that I have never met. For some of them who have their family tree posted online, I can see the common relative – usually a third great grandparent on either my Dad’s or Mother’s side of the family. David and Agnes Geddes seemed to produce lots of kids and scatter their genes widely as did Robert Riddell, my mom’s great great grandfather.
Someone contacted me by email last week, a woman I don’t know who shares enough to DNA markers with me to indicate we are probably fourth cousins. None of the names in her tree were familiar to me except Dixon, the family name of my third great grandmother on my mom’s side. After a couple of email chats we determined that her third grandmother and mine were sisters. So our common contribution of genetic material must have come from our common fourth great grandfather, born in 1786 in Northumberland, England or his wife, my fourth great grandmother, Martha Moore.
It astounds me – and would likely amaze these ancestors.to think that a determinable part of me is a remnant from this couple who lived 200 years ago. And that some of my genes will be detectable in fourth degree offspring in 2300. This is how I imagine life after death.
Then, Ancestry told me that there is a strong possibility that I am related to Sarah Jane Busenbark since I share many genetic markers with several people in her family. Where on earth did this come from? Well, Busenbark is a modification of Busenberg, a German name – fits with my Western European genetic make-up. And I have one great grandfather whose identity remains a mystery. I could have received an eighth of my genetic material, or even more from this unknown donor to my gene pool.
So I started to look into Sarah Jane Busenbark a bit more. It turns out she was born in Romulus New York in 1825 – upstate New York – about 25 km from Manchester NY where, in 1823, Joseph Smith found the “plates” that started the Mormon religion.At age 18, Sarah Jane married Newton Hall and in the mid 1850’s they moved west, presumably part of incredible migration of Latter Day Saints who drew handcarts across the country to Utah. They ended up in Salt Lake City region. Sarah’s husband became an associate of Brigham Young in the establishing Mormon Church and they had nine children.
Immediately, I started reflecting on the story of the Mormon Church as told in the hilariously irreverent Broadway show – Book of Mormon. Although I had never heard of Sarah Jane Busenbark, I certainly knew, from the score of Book of Mormon, about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. I am very much amused and almost a little excited to think that one of my probable relatives, perhaps a great great grandmother or great great aunt was part of this story.
This whole connection may not be altogether accurate but Ancestry says there is a very strong probably that I have a genetic connection to Sarah Jane Busenbark. And I choose to believe that because it fills in the only gap in my great-grandparent line, explains my strong Western European genetic make up and, dang it, Mormon’s just believe.