About DNA, Historical Antecedents, and Such

dna_helixI don’t know if any of you have gotten caught up in the DNA craze, but it hit my family after watching Finding Your Roots on PBS last year. As a result, my husband decided to participate in the Genographic Project, which is through the  National Geographic Society.

He waited (im)patiently for many weeks for the results and was fascinated when he got them. I have to say he was mildly disappointed by the lack of any Native America and African American DNA, but it wasn’t surprising. I was amused that he has less Neanderthal DNA than the general population simply because Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 7.51.44 AM I’ve always teased him about his magnificent brow ridges. The rest of the results were both interesting and mysterious and led to much internet research and discussions about haplogroups and migrations and things like that.

So far I haven’t been tempted to participate. It’s not just the money ($200), but also that, as a woman, I won’t get any information about my father’s line (because I don’t have a Y chromosome). I do have a brother, so I could get that through him, and I’m thinking about that. But while I’ve been pondering this I’ve been digging around on the internet, exploring my family tree.

I come from Eastern European immigrants on my mother’s side, where the genealogical information disappears once you get to the old country, and, on my father’s side,  a mix of Italians and what I’ve always referred to as New England blue-bloods. The first of them arrived here in 1669–which is fun because it’s the historical period I’ve chosen to write about, albeit in a different country.


Most of the information I have is about my grandmother’s father’s line. In fact, there is a family tree that takes us all the way back to Charlemagne. I know nothing about my grandmother’s mother’s line and after a discussion with my brother about whether we are Welsh (we are not) I ended up googling the great-grandmother I didn’t know anything about. Voila! The internet gave forth a picture. I was stunned. I’d stumbled on a family tree put together by a family member (first cousin once-removed to be exact) that had a wealth of information and pictures I’d never seen before!

This led to more digging and even joining an ancestry site (MyHeritage which I like tremendously) and after spending many days at this, I discovered that I’m related to two of my favorite historical heroines, both of whom had their lives fictionalized in wonderfully researched and well-written books by Anya Seton.

291742The first is The Winthrop Woman. Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett is my 11x great-grandmother. I read the book when I was a teen-ager and loved it. Elizabeth was a strong-willed, independent-thinking, and courageous woman and is one of the founders of Greenwich, Connecticut. I’m delighted to be descended from her. The fact that I’m related through her third husband (Hallett) is even better, because he was her true love. :sigh:

n68470My second favorite heroine (who might actually be my first…it’s so hard to decide) is Katherine Swynford. She’s my 20x great-grandmother. I read Katherine  also as a teen and was carried away by the passionate love story between her and John of Gaunt, who was son of Edward III. She was sister-in-law to Chaucer (squee!) and great-great-great-great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth I–who has always been my favorite historical figure. This makes us distantly related cousins (super-dooper-squee!). Which means that when my DH asks “who made you queen?” I now have an answer for him.

It also makes me related to the Stuart dynasty, which means that I’m some sort of cousin of the real Charles II who appeared fictitiously in The Raven’s Revenge, and, as a character dwelling in my subconscious, is asking to appear in The Unsuitable Earl. I guess being family and all, I’m going to have to let him.

So who needs DNA? I’m having too much fun digging around on the internet.

3 thoughts on “About DNA, Historical Antecedents, and Such”

  1. Hello cousin! I guess I can call you that since The Winthrop Woman is my 9x great grandmother, albeit by Robert Feake. My ancestry goes back to Katherine (16th GGM) and the Plantagenets also, which thrilled me to bits, but it’s best to take these things with a grain of salt. I, too, want to have our families’ DNA tested, but it can be quite an expense. Thanks for the info the NG Genome Project is still doing it – much less expensive than Family Tree Maker and the others!
    On another note re your previous post, “Abdelazer” has been one of my favorites for almost 40 years – I used to listen to it over and over in the 1970s, along with other Henry Purcell pieces, and lots of medieval music.
    Don’t forget, through Katherine we’re “almost” related to Geoffrey Chaucer, too! He’s the one poet I’ve carried with me through the years since high school – love him in the original Middle English!

    1. Cousin! How nice of you to come by and comment. Apologies for my taking so long to respond. I also love the Chaucer connection, although I must confess I have never read him. I do look forward to it.

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