What times we live
in! Loping down the road in the clear, cold night with the stars so
bright overhead and the nighttime air traffic brilliantly sparkling
overhead, I think about the fact that no king or millionaire or anyone,
just - as time as measured a blink of an eye ago - ever saw such a sight!
One of the
most amazing results of our modern scientist's research is the study of
DNA. Recently, I read The Seven Daughters of Eve by Dr. Bryan Sykes, a
professor of genetics at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford
I was familiar
with Dr. Sykes as I had read about his work with the Ice Man and Cheddar
Man and even the Romanoff family of Russia. He was able to find direct
descendants of the Ice Man and Cheddar Man and even the Romanoff's.
As a pretty
good hobby genealogist, DNA is fascinating to me. Dr. Sykes' book opened
new worlds and was so interesting to this non-scientist that I literally
could not put it down until I had read the last word.
I learned from
The Seven Daughters of Eve that our mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA for short) is
special because it is only passed on to the next generation through the
egg. This means that everyone has inherited their mtDNA from their
mother. She inherited it from her mother who inherited it from her
mother, who inherited it from hers - and so forth on back through all of
time. Dr. Sykes says that mtDNA produces a direct link to our maternal
ancestors. We all inherit other genes from many other ancestors, but only
mtDNA traces a direct maternal line.
About the only
sure thing in genealogy is that none of us is missing even one of our
millions of ancestors.
I read of a
college professor who asked his class, "Who in this class has ancestors in
the eighth century?" Not one student raised a hand.
We may not know
about them, but you can know for sure that you had ancestors in the eighth
century and the seventh and the sixth and right back down through all of
the years that man has been on earth.
How could Dr.
Sykes find descendants of the Ice Man? How could he find living people
directly descended from Cheddar Man?
In his book, he
tells about his research into a remarkable gene, which passes undiluted
from generation to generation through the maternal line. After plotting
thousands of DNA sequences from all over the world, Dr. Sykes found that
they clustered around a handful of distinct groups. Among Europeans and
North American Caucasians, there are in fact, only seven.
was absolutely staggering. Almost all people of native European descent,
wherever they may now live, can trace their ancestry back to one of seven
women, hence The Seven Daughters of Eve. He named them Ursula, Xenia,
Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine and Jasmine.
With a painless
swipe of a little brush on the inner part of my own cheek, I have learned
that I come from Helena - who saw the last of the Ice Age and who lived
20,000 years ago. Any cousins who are reading this and who share my
mother's family you are Helena too!
Dr. Sykes tells
the story of how he took a sample from a Caribbean woman whose family had
been sold into slavery centuries before and whose DNA was traced back to
Kenya! He details the story of the Ice Man, Cheddar Man and the
Romanoff's too. Along the way, you'll learn about the DNA of hamsters!
If you are
interested in genealogy or humankind or just love an absolutely
fascinating story, you'll enjoy The Seven Sisters of Eve. You may visit
www.oxfordancestors.com on the Internet and you may find the book at
any good book store.