Genetic Ancestry by Betty Jean Craige


 A couple of years ago a friend persuaded me to discovery my genetic ancestry. So I ordered a kit from 23andMe, spit in a vial, and sent the vial back to the company through the US Mail. In six weeks I learned that I was 68.6 percent northwestern European and 24.6 percent Ashkenazi Jewish, which did not surprise me. What did surprise me was my ancestry timeline. In the 1700s most of my genes came from Scandinavia, the Iberian peninsula, and Oceania. My British and Ashkenazi Jewish genes predominated only after 1860.

I started thinking about all the intercultural lovemaking that went into creating "me" over the 200,000 years of humanity's past and all the secrets some of those lovers had to keep when their societies viewed each other as enemies.

This pondering of genetic ancestry led me to write Dam Witherston, the third in my Witherston Murder Mystery series. What if, I asked myself, everybody disclosed his or her genetic ancestry routinely? What would we find out about our relationships to each other?

I set my Witherston stories in a town I called Witherston in the beautiful north Georgia mountains, where Cherokees lived for a thousand years before white settlers stole their gold and their land and sent them on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Witherston got its name from the family of Hearty Withers, born in 1798, who made his fortune in the 1828 Georgia Gold Rush and the 1832 Georgia Land Lottery and whose descendants—four generations of them—never had to work for a living. The Cherokees lurk in their past.

Each mystery—Downstream (2014), Fairfield's Auction (2016), and most recently Dam Witherston (2017)—connects the past to the present in Witherston's inhabitants. In Dam Witherston blackmail and murder in the present result from interracial rape and pregnancy in the past, in 1977 and in 1828, when intercourse between Cherokees and whites was considered an abomination in the racist South. How do we learn of these crimes? By DNA ancestry tests.

At the end of the novel the Witherstonians involved in the story all spit into a vial, send the vial to the company Who R U, and find out how they may be related to each other. Here is a sample of the Who R U report:

Arroyo, Paco: 89% Iberian; 6% African; 2% Broadly Southern European; 2% British and Irish; 1% Undetermined (2.6% Neanderthal)
Bozeman, Gregory: 66% Native American; 23% British and Irish; 5% Ashkenazi; 2% Iberian; 4% Undetermined (1.2% Neanderthal)
Henderson, Amadahy: 49% Native American; 23% British and Irish; 18% Iberian; 6% French and German; 3% Italian; 1% Undetermined (1.1% Neanderthal)
Hicks, John: (55% Native American; 12% British and Irish; 15% French and German; 14% Iberian; 4% Undetermined (1% Neanderthal)
Jerden, Annie: 39% British and Irish; 38% Broadly Northern European; 7% French and German; 8% Ashkenazi; 5% Scandinavian; 3% Undetermined (2.7% Neanderthal)
Lodge, Beau: 43% African; 31% Scandinavian; 10% British and Irish; 7% French and German; 4% Native American; 1% Ashkenazi; 4% Undetermined (2.4% Neanderthal)
Pace, Atohi: 72% Native American; 17% British and Irish; 7% Iberian; 3% Broadly Northern European; 1% Undetermined (1% Neanderthal)
Rather, Rhonda: 29% British and Irish; 28% Broadly Northern European; 18% French and German; 9% Native American; 7% Ashkenazi; 5% Finnish; 4% Undetermined (2.7% Neanderthal)
Rather, Richard: 32% French and German; 24% Broadly Northern European; 14% Ashkenazi; 12% Native American; 9% British and Irish; 6% Iberian, 3% Undetermined (2.9% Neanderthal)
Schlaughter, Eric: 41% French and German; 25% Native American; 16% British and Irish; 11% Broadly Northern European; 4% Ashkenazi; 3% Undetermined (1% Neanderthal)
Sorensen, Sally: 41% British and Irish; 31% Scandinavian; 12% French and German; 8% Ashkenazi; 5% Finnish; 3% Undetermined (2.7% Neanderthal)
Soto, Daniel: 44% Iberian; 26% Broadly Southern European; 17% Native American; 3% Undetermined (1.6% Neanderthal)
Zamora, Hernando: 85% Iberian; 7% African; 6% French and German; 2% Undetermined (3.3% Neanderthal)

What fun I had creating all these characters and imagining who their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great great great great great grandparents, and on back a thousand generations, might have been.

If everybody in the world discovered his or her DNA ancestry and discovered his or her relationships with nations they battled in war, would peace break out?




Dr. Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has lived in Athens, Georgia, since 1973. Betty Jean is a teacher, scholar, translator, humorist, and writer. After retiring in 2011, she published a column about animal behavior in the local paper titled "Cosmo Talks" and began writing fiction. Her Witherston Murder Mystery series, set in north Georgia, includes Downstream, Fairfield's Auction, and Dam Witherston.

Dr. Betty Jean Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art.  She is a scholar, a translator, a teacher, and a novelist. http://www.bettyjeancraige.com/

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