NICODA.ORG | International Center of Diverse Artists

NICODA.ORG | International Center of Diverse Artists

How We Are Connected: The Secrets within Our DNA

The goal of the Genographic Project is to trace our deep ancestry. Deep ancestry is the record of human migration, of mutations found in our DNA, that give us a map of our ancestors' migration from Africa. According to Dr. Wells' research, we have learned through studying chromosomal DNA that we all have specific markers passed down through our fathers (Y-chromosome, men only) and mothers (mitochondria [mtDNA], women and men from mothers). These markers tell the story of our ancestral journeys.

These markers are caused by mutations in our DNA, and they get passed along unchanged from generation to generation, which is why we can rely on them to tell us about our deep ancestry and our migrations over the last 60,000 years. Does everyone have all the same markers? No, not unless their ancestors made the journey over time. Markers from people with purely African lineages are found in populations outside Africa, but the markers that arose after the migrations from Africa are not present.
The oldest markers we can trace take everyone back to Africa, to ancestral “Adam” and “Eve,” who lived between 150,000 and 60,000 years ago. As populations moved out of Africa or within Africa, mutations appeared as time progressed, and these, as stated before, show us where and by when our ancestors made it to specifics areas in the world. Certainly these changes are still occurring, but any new markers will be left to our descendants to discover far in the future. The most recent markers the Genographic Project uses arose between 15,000 (mtDNA) to 10,000 (Y-chromosome) years ago. To sum up these markers act like a map of where our ancestors came from and who they became along the way.


You might be wondering “What does this mean for me?” While learning your deep ancestry will not tell you anything about who your great-grandparents were, or what their lives were like, you will learn about something much deeper. You learn that we are all one family, for we all can be traced back to Africa. The story of our ancestors' migrations are the stories of humanity, of where we came from and how we became the myriad peoples of today. Participating in the Project can help you learn your true story, as it did for me.

Growing up, I thought I knew my family history, and for the most part I did. I was always interested in where I came from, who my grandparents' grandparents were, where they lived, what they did, who they married, etc. I wanted to know as much as possible about as many people as possible who all contributed to making me. From a young age I had learned as much as I could about my Mom's family, my family growing up. I knew we ultimately came from northern Europe. I am a happy blend of Swedish, German, and Irish ancestries on that side. As a kid and teen this knowledge played a big part in helping establish my identity, my concept of background and ethnicity. From what little I had talked about with my Dad, I knew for a long time that he traced his roots back to the colonial period, so I assumed I was most likely of English stock, with maybe some Scottish and more Irish thrown in.

That view lasted into my early 20s, when poking around more with Dad I also learned we had some blended heritage with several eastern Native American tribes. I thought this was awesome, but I had no idea what I was in store for. After graduating from college and discovering the Genographic Project, I decided to order a public participation kit and find out what my Y-chromosome could tell me of my deep ancestry. The test was very simple, all I needed to do was take two cheek swabs, put them in the vials provided, and send them off to be tested. It takes several weeks for your DNA to be sequenced and the deep ancestry analysis to be performed.

You can follow the process on the Genographic Project website, where each step is broken down for you, while also giving you an estimate on when the testing will be done. I eagerly kept track through the website, hoping to find my deep ancestry was something cooler than my presumed European heritage. I had thought it might even be Native American. When the day finally came that my results were ready I excitedly logged on to the website, typed in my unique id from my participation kit and waited for the page to load up. Upon seeing my results I was completely floored. My results were Your Y-chromosome results identify you as a member of haplogroup E1b1a (M2). It went on to say You are descended from an ancient African lineage.

My Y-chromosome ancestral journey

Today most Africans in sub-Saharan Africa share this lineage. My direct male deep ancestry was African? How could this be? Wasn't I simply European with a smattering of Native American? Apparently my lineage is not so simple, so cut and dry, and this opened up a whole new world to me. I learned from my results page that many African-Americans share this lineage with me, as well as a population in Great Britain. I also began to realize that our own family histories are often bigger than what has been passed down, that the eventual wall most of us hit in our research can hide bigger discoveries. I began to wonder what else I would discover from digging into my ancestry.