Commercial DNA tests that claim to tell people whether they are related to Richard III or descended from the Vikings are no more than "genetic astrology", scientists have warned.
Last year the website ancestry.com was valued at $1.6 billion (£1 billion) and at least 40 companies offer genetic ancestry tests around the world for prices between £30 and £300.
Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics at UCL said: “On a long trudge through history – two parents, four great-grandparents, and so on – very soon everyone runs out of ancestors and has to share them.
"As a result, almost every Briton is a descendant of Viking hordes, Roman legions, African migrants, Indian Brahmins, or anyone else they fancy.”
Doreen Carvajal went to Spain, to Andalusia, on the Trail of Inherited Memories
I still wonder how I ended up living in a former medieval bordello on the brink of a sandstone cliff on the southern frontier of Spain.
The other world worried about bills, real estate values, tourism, lost jobs, the immediate future. In contrast, I retreated into my quest, hoping to take new stock of my identity by reclaiming ancestral memories, history and DNA clues that I believe had been faithfully passed down for generations of my family, the Carvajals.
They had left Spain centuries ago, during the Inquisition. That much I knew. We were raised as Catholics in Costa Rica and California, but late in life I finally started collecting the nagging clues of a very clandestine identity: that we were descendants of secret Sephardic Jews — Christian converts known as converses, or Anusim (Hebrew for the forced ones) or even Marranos, which in Spanish means swine.
There are scientific studies exploring whether the history of our ancestors is somehow a part of us, inherited in unexpected ways through a vast chemical network in our cells that controls genes, switching them on and off. At the heart of the field, known as epigenetics, is the notion that genes have memory and that the lives of our grandparents — what they breathed, saw and ate — can directly affect us decades later.
Recent studies in Sweden explore the effects of famine and abundant harvests on the health of descendants four generations later. That is not exactly what I am looking for: I’m intrigued by the notion that generations pass on particular survival skills and an unconscious sense of identity that stands the test of centuries.
The French psychologist Anne Ancelin Schützenberger, now in her 90s, has spent decades studying what she calls the ancestor syndrome — that we are links in a chain of generations, unconsciously affected by their suffering or unfinished business until we acknowledge the past.
In the 1990s Dina Wardi, a psychotherapist in Jerusalem, worked with the children of Holocaust survivors and developed the theory that survivor parents often designated certain children as “memorial candles” who took on the mission of serving as a link to preserve the past and connect the future. The children of survivors who actively struggled against the Nazis, she found, had a compulsive ambition to achieve.
Reality is even stranger. Dr. Darold A. Treffert, a psychiatrist in Wisconsin, maintains a registry of about 300 “savants” who through a head injury or dementia acquire skills they never learned. Conceivably, he says, those skills, like music, mathematics, art and calendar calculating, were buried deep in their brains. He calls it genetic memory, or “factory-installed software,” a huge reservoir of dormant knowledge that can emerge when a damaged brain rewires itself to recover from injuries.
Now new information has emerged that adds weight to Jean-Marie Loret’s claim to have been Hitler’s son from a brief relationship with a French woman during the First World War.
Hitler on the left, Jean-Marie Loret on the right
Mr Loret, who was born in March, 1918, grew up knowing nothing about his father, apart from the fact that he was German.
It was only in the late 1950s, just before her death, that his mother, Charlotte Lobjoie, finally told him the story that was to haunt him for the rest of his life. At 16, she told him, she had a brief affair with Hitler while he was a young soldier fighting in northern France. Her extraordinary story has divided historians for years.
Jean-Marie grew up to fight the Germans in 1939 and later, during the Nazi occupation, joined the French Resistance.
The news of his father’s identity appalled him and for 20 years he tried to forget it.
He once said: ‘In order not to get depressed, I worked non-stop, never took a holiday, and had no hobbies. For twenty years I didn’t even go to the cinema.’
'He had the feelings of many illegitimate children – the desire to find a past, however heavy...'
Tolstoy once remarked that we die as we live and that we can’t expect to die a good death except through living a good life. A friend has just sent me the obituary of Svetlana Stalin, daughter of the dictator, who died peacefully at a nursing home in Wisconsin on November 22 2011. This obituary, from the Christmas issue of The Catholic, published by a small community of religious from the Orkney Islands, describes the turbulent and often sad life of this woman, whose mother was driven to suicide by her father when she was six and whose father later brutally rejected her when she married without his consent.
Married three times, giving birth to three children, two of whom she became permanently estranged from, she lived in Cambridge for some years. It was there, in 1982, “on a cold December day, the feast of St Lucy… the decision to enter the Catholic Church came to me very naturally”, as she writes in her memoirs.. This decision had been influenced by a long friendship/correspondence with an Italian Catholic priest and the support and kindness of a Catholic couple she had met in America.
Svetlana writes that after her conversion “Only now I understand the wonderful grace that the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist produce, no matter what day of the year, and even on a daily basis. Before, I was unwilling to forgive and repent, and I was never able to love my enemies. But I feel very different from before, since I attend Mass every day.
The obituary includes Svetlana’s recollection of the death of Stalin himself. It seems he suffered a stroke on the night of February 28 1953. She writes, “The death agony was terrible. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death. Then he suddenly lifted his left hand. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace…”
New York Times obituary here
But she could not forgive his cruelty to her. “He broke my life,” she said. “I want to explain to you. He broke my life.”
And he left a shadow from which she could never emerge. “Wherever I go,” she said, “here, or Switzerland, or India, or wherever. Australia. Some island. I will always be a political prisoner of my father’s name.”
Can a child enforce a claim against the estate of a sperm or egg donor?
Many families are grappling with similar questions as a family tree today is beginning to look more like a tangled forest. Genealogists have long defined familial relations along bloodlines or marriage. But as the composition of families changes, so too has the notion of who gets a branch on the family tree.
Tracing a family tree, though, is more than just an intellectual exercise. There are medical and legal implications, particularly when it comes to death and inheritance. Families, said Melinde Lutz Byrne, president of the American Society of Genealogists, are mostly concerned with who inherits property when a biological relative dies.
When Ms. Ashmore and her husband, Lee, learned a few years ago that they could not conceive a child, Ms. Williams stepped in and offered to become pregnant with a donor’s sperm on behalf of the couple, and give birth to the child. The baby, Mallory, was born in September 2007 and adopted by Ms. Ashmore and her husband.
Then the sisters began to ponder: where would the little girl sit on the family tree?
“For medical purposes I am her mother,” Ms. Williams said. “But I am also her aunt.”
Professor Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel prize-winning geneticist whose life's work has been to understand the role played by DNA, has become the new president of the Royal Society, a fellowship of the world's most eminent scientists.
A man of extraordinary accomplishments, only by chance did this Nobel prize-winning geneticist discover that his sister was really his mother.
the irony was not lost on him.
‘I’ve always been interested in my own genetic make-up because I was always the odd one out in my family. But even though I’m an expert my family managed to keep my genetic origins secret from me for over half a century,’ he says, smiling wryly. ‘The people I thought were my parents weren’t my parents at all.’
The revelation came when Sir Paul, now 61, applied to the US Department of Homeland Security for a green card which would allow him permanent residence in the US. At the time he had been living in America for three years and was president of New York’s Rockefeller University, so when his application was turned down he was surprised. He was told there was a problem with the short-form version of his birth certificate, which did not contain the names of his parents, so he applied for a fuller version.
‘When it arrived my secretary asked me if I’d made a mistake with my mother’s name. I said, “Of course not.” She handed it to me and for the next few seconds I was totally dumbstruck.
‘I saw that next to the word “mother” was my sister Miriam’s name, and next to “father” was just a dash. I didn’t believe it at first: I assumed it was a bureaucratic mix-up.’
He did not immediately grasp the implications until his wife, Anne, suggested that perhaps his parents were really his grandparents.
Recent DNA evidence of an Icelandic family seem to validate the theory that the First Americans reached Europe five centuries before Columbus voyages
Norse sagas suggest the Vikings discovered the Americas centuries before Columbus and the latest data seems to support the hypothesis that they may have brought American Indians back with them to northern Europe.
Research indicates that a woman from the North American continent probably arrived in Iceland some time around 1000AD leaving behind genes that are reflected in about 80 Icelanders today.
The genetic research, made public by Spain's Centre for Scientific Research, was due to be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
There's no telling what can happen when you delve into family history.
One man is passionate about doing what the government was unable to do - identifying MIAs from WWII.
Mass. researcher says he has ID'd 7 MIAs from WWII
A private researcher who has labored for years to identify the remains of U.S. service members declared missing in action during World War II says he has matched seven MIAs with the remains of unknowns and he expects to match as many as 19 more within a week.
Ted Darcy's list of five Marines and two sailors missing since the 1944 Battle of Saipan may not sound long. But his announcement Tuesday — the 66th anniversary of the battle's opening day — was remarkable, considering the military's average of confirming 72 such matches annually from all U.S. wars.
Darcy, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant from Fall River, Mass., has helped bring home three WWII MIAs since 1991 from burial sites in the Philippines, Hawaii and Newport, R.I. Now he is accelerating his work using computerized databases filled with information he painstakingly entered from two sets of government documents: those containing physical descriptions of MIAs and those containing autopsies of slain service members buried as unknowns.
He hands over his findings to the military, which then tries to verify his work.
It sounds simple, but the identifications are the fruit of 20 years' labor by Darcy, who says he's determined to bring home thousands of missing WWII fighters.
When the reclusive chess champion Bobby Fischer died in 2008, he left no will for his estate worth nearly $2 million.
But did he leave an unacknowledged child? Does the child have superior claims to his former wife, the IRS, and other relatives who are now pressing claims?
In the fourteenth century, the Black Death, the bubonic plague killed 30-60% of the population of Europe.
How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfast with their kinfolk and the same night supped with their ancestors in the next world! The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like goods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.
Nobody knew what caused it or what to do. It is unimaginable today the horror of so many dying so quickly. It must have seemed like the end of the world.
Now that new technology now allows the plague to be identified even in ancient human remains, we learn how medieval nuns sacrificed their own lives to provide medical care for the poor victims in Renaissance France.
There are now some three dozen copies that offer DNA testing, but as customers are finding out
In a search for their ancestors, more than 140 people with variations of the last name Kincaid have taken DNA tests and shared their results on the Internet.
They have found war heroes, sailors and survivors of the Irish potato famine.
They have also stumbled upon bastards, liars and two-timers.
In one case, two brothers were surprised to discover they had different fathers. They confronted their elderly mother, who denied the most obvious possibilities -- that she had been unfaithful to her husband, the man they had always known as Dad, or that one son was adopted.
"It has been traumatic for some to discover their true lineage through the DNA tests," said Don Kincaid, a 76-year-old Texan who oversees the Kincaid surname project and witnessed the brothers' ordeal.
One company warns on its consent form that genetic testing could reveal that "your father is not genetically your father."
I learned about Obituarieshelp.org from Melanie Waters who wrote to tell me about her website that turns out to be a wonderful resource for grieving people who must write an obituary or a eulogy or friends who want help to write a letter of condolence.
She says "ObituraiesHelp.org is a work in progress. I'll be adding to it weekly until ObituariesHelp.org becomes the one unified source online for Funerals, Obituaries, and Sympathy and Condolence resources."
For genealogists, obituaries are often the best way to learn about your ancestors and Melanie provides many links and resources.
A site to bookmark.
"DNA testing in family history is reaching critical mass" now that a new
website uses DNA testing to help family members trace their ancestry.
Ancestry.com, the largest family history website on the web, is partnering with Sorenson Genomics, a privately held DNA research team, to offer DNA results.
You swab a cheek, send in $200 and they will analyze the DNA and put the results into their massive databases,
Some may consider this as social networking for genes
HT to book of joe's Who's Your Daddy?, a post that caused me to wonder what havoc that might bring to some families.