We are all immigrants

I’ve been meaning to post for a while about the DNA test I took late last year. This tweet from James Melville prompted me to do it.

Ever since I read Alistair Moffat’s book Scotland’s DNA in 2011, I’ve wanted to have my own DNA analysed to find out where my DNA comes from. So I did.

The whole hysteria about Brexit and immigration was one of the things that prompted me to order a DNA kit last year.

The whole anti-immigration rhetoric vexed me. I grew up on an island in the North Sea. We are all immigrants here, if you go back far enough. Some families have just been on this rock for longer than others. But we all came from elsewhere.

That’s why I liked James Melville’s image. The Angles, the Jutes, the Saxons all invaded the British Isles and settled. They brought with them language and culture and they integrated.

Look at the English language! Look how rich it is. Look how many different ways we can say the same thing. Look at the variety. Look at how divergent, disparate and peculiar it is because of the divergence of the peoples who settled on these isles and made it their home.

My results

Map of Europe showing areas of Great Britain and Ireland highlighted as well as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and areas of Finland and West Russia.

According to Living DNA, the company who analysed my sample, my autosomal DNA (that is, my family DNA) should show me my genetic history going back approximately 10 generations—around 300 years.

Living DNA compares everyone’s sample against thousands of other samples from around the world. This way they build a map of common DNA markers found in those regions.

The map above shows where my DNA has predominantly come from during the last three centuries:

  • Great Britain and Ireland — 77.7%
    • Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland — 19.3%
    • Central England — 16.8%
    • Cumbria — 14.7%
    • South England — 10.1%
    • Northumbria — 4.7%
    • South Central England — 4.4%
    • Northwest England — 3.4%
    • Devon — 2.5%
    • North Yorkshire — 1.7%
  • Scandinavia — 22.3%

Interestingly, when I drill down into the ‘cautious’ category where Living DNA have grouped genetically similar populations together that they are most certain of, the Scandinavian portion of my DNA shifts a little east towards northeast Sweden, Finland and western Russia.

That explains my height (6′ 4″) and lifelong desire to learn Russian, then!

Funnily enough, when I was growing up, my dad and I always used to joke that we were Vikings whose ancestors had come over from Sweden. It turns out, there’s a strong possibility that is what happened.

Where it gets really interesting, and a little mysterious is when I dig into my mum and dad’s isolated DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Mum and my Y chromosome (Y-DNA) from Dad.

Motherline

Seemingly the mtDNA allows you to trace your maternal line until around 200,000 years ago when there appears to have been a common mtDNA signature.

This is the map coverage from my mtDNA:

Mum’s DNA covers most of mainland Europe (in order): Slovenia, Ukraine, Hungary, Greece, Austria, Basque, Romania, Switzerland, France, Iceland, Germany, Bulgaria, Spain, Macedonia, Slovakia, Sardinia, Poland, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Palestine, Finland, Cyprus, Iraq, Morocco, Druze, Caucasus.

What a fabulous variety! What an incredible heritage! And none of it from Great Britain.

Mum’s maternal haplogroup (the genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor) can be traced through Africa (group L3) through the Middle East (group N) into Turkey and the Balkans (group R) to Germany and the Low Countries (J).

Fatherline

My fatherline is the Y-DNA passed down from father to son, which seemingly allows you to trace your heritage back up your paternal line until around 180,000 years ago.

This is the map coverage from my Y-DNA:

Dad’s ancestors appear to have had less active passports. His coverage includes (in order) Netherlands, England, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Scotland, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, France and Poland.

Dad’s paternal haplogroup (the genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor) can be traced through Africa (group A0-T) through the Middle East (group F) and Iran (group K) to Uzbekistan and Khazakstan (group P) to Russia (group R) and then via a couple of routes into England (group R1b).

Conclusion

While I don’t fully understand it all yet, the results have fascinated and delighted me. But it hasn’t surprised me in the slightest.

It shows just how varied my heritage is and confirms what I started saying: we are all immigrants to this peculiar island nation that is Great Britain.

It even corroborates with a few stories passed down through the generations that some of our ancestors were French and Romanian. It accounts for just how dark haired some members of my immediate family are—they have that Mediterranean and almost Slavic look about them.

I think this level of DNA mapping should be mandatory for every voter in the UK. Everyone should get their DNA analysed and then asked to vote again about whether we should be part of the European community or not. Because, like it or not, for most of us on this archipelago that’s where our DNA was shaped.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 48 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Scrum master at Vision Ltd, Dundee. Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and former warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Enneagram type FOUR and introvert, I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, write, draw and laugh… a lot.

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