My Genealogical DNA Test Experience Part 7 – Mitochondrial DNA Results

I had been so focused on my Family Finder results that I’d nearly forgotten the MTDNA test, but with the same lack of fanfare as the FF, I received a couple of quiet emails.  One told me the results were in, the other that I had matches. I logged in to see what I could learn about my way distant past.

First of all, my test was the MT DNA Full Sequence test.  I gather that the test has become more accurate as the years pass, and those who tested five years ago received a basic designation whereas those who did the new advanced expensive version get a a category involving several letters and numbers.

I received my haplogroup which was a meaningless number to me.  H2a2a1c.  It sounds like a serial number of an electrical appliance.  I must admit, somewhere in the back of my mind I felt as if I was being assigned my serial number.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling.  There was a sense of belonging.  I didn’t know what it meant but it had cost a fair bit of money to find out and it was my mother’s mother’s mother’s type so it was important.  That 12-13 year old girl who travelled alone to Australia in 1868 was the same type (see this former blog post) .  She and I had that in common.  Her mystery mother, the one who was unable to raise her for whatever reason (death or incapacity), was also this type.  That mystery mother had a great grandmother, whose story can’t even be guessed at, who also shared this haplogroup with me.  It’s a nice thought.  Not useful in any immediate sense, but nice.

Having gotten this far, I went looking for usefulness. So I viewed my matches, looking for the English women surnamed Rice or Price who would be my Fanny/Annie Rice/Price’s sisters.  Of course, there were none there.  I know now how unreasonable that expectation was.  But it would have been nice!

Back then, in June/July, I had six matches.  Now I have twelve.  That seems pretty good really.  I don’t know what other people have.  I have 8 at genetic distance of 2, and 4 at genetic distance of 3.  I’m guessing the higher the genetic distance, the further from me it is.  I gather that with mitochondrial DNA, different haplogroups have different mutation rates and no one has yet worked out my haplogroup.  Which is interesting, because it is very close to a subclade with a story.

I gather that way back in the day, maybe the 1980s, genetic scientists first learned how to read chromosomes.  Back when it was new, they decided to completely analyze the DNA of a typical English woman, such as you saw everywhere in England, and call her type the standard ordinary normal type.  Rather than write out the whole genome sequence each time, it was easier to start with the whole thing written out and just record the difference.   A bit like phone numbers.  If you have already memorized 62788343 (random number hopefully not real), it’s easier to get a phone for your child which is the same number but the last three is a 4.  No work involved in remembering it at all.

So they did something quite similar, they mapped out a genome sequence and called it the reference sequence because it was a sequence and it was their reference.  Thus – the Cambridge Reference Sequence since they were Cambridge University.  It was a nice plan with just a few little drawbacks – first, there was contamination from other DNA.  Second, contrary to expectations, there proved to be more variations than expected in mtdna.   Their woman wasn’t so ordinary and representative after all.  There was no way they could have known, but she was a somewhat rare type of subclade  (a subclade being a subcategory of a haplogroup).

This meant that just about every genome they compared against hers was going to be quite different – each difference, referred to as a mutation, had to be written out.

After a few years they realised what happened and fixed the early problems, resulting in the Revised Cambridge Reference Sequence, called rCRS.

Later still, they figured out what an early mtdna sequence might be and used that instead.  Finally, a majority of sequences tested had less mutations than common features.  This new sequence was called the Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence and seems to be working well.  The others are now being phased out.  This is my layman’s explanation.

On the Family Tree DNA website in the MtDNA section is a page for Results.  The results can be viewed as rCRS or as RSRS.   It defaults to RSRS and mine shows me where my own MtDNA varies in each part – HVR1, HVR2 and Coding Region differences.  For RSRS I have tons of differences, plus a list of extra mutations.

rCRS now – that’s different altogether.  I have one difference in HVR1, one in HVR2, and three in the Coding Region. I’m very nearly rCRS.  In fact, I think rCRS is H2a2a1 but is just a different letter after that.  I’m a ‘c’ at the end, rCRS might be ‘a’ or ‘b’.  Someone out there would know.

It’s another irrelevancy really, but I do wonder if that first woman mapped might be a distant relative of mine.

Having got this far and looked around, I had a closer look at my matches and their stated earliest known ancestresses.  Most of them had gotten back earlier than me – mostly between 1620 and 1750.  Who knows, perhaps if I could get my Fanny/Annie Rice/Price a little further back, they might be my relation.  But there was a common thread there – most of them, in fact nine of them – were in North Carolina or Virginia.  Further to this, after emailing a few of the matches we managed to get at least three of them back to a place with the strange name of Pasquotank in North Carolina (surnames Sealey, Goode and Owens).  The three women had no known connection but they had a closer genetic distance to each other than I had to them.  Two other women got back to Virginia (Barnett and Husbands) but it was at least fifty years later than the Pasquotank women.

I started a file on them and am tracing their family trees in the hopes of a breakthrough.  You have to do something.  But there is a good chance our connection really is back at the time of the Roman conquest of Britain so I won’t hold my breath.  I’ll just wait till all those archaeological remains are DNA tested and one comes up as a perfect match.

In the meantime – back to the Family Finder results.


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