The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/26/estes-big-y-dna-results/

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/building-a-mutation-history-tree

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyHY4R6DwE&feature=youtu.be

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:
http://gleesondna.blogspot.com/2015/08/genetic-distance-genetic-families.html

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.” http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/y-dna-surname-projects-some-fresh-ideas

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/ydna-maps-scandinavian-family-trees-from-medieval-times-and-the-viking-age

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/05/haplogroup-a4-unpeeled-european-jewish-asian-and-native-american/

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/11/new-haplogroup-c-native-american-subgroups/

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/25/native-american-haplogroup-c-update-progress/

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA

segmentology

Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned.

Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/12/segmentology-org-by-jim-bartlett/

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/07/autosomal-dna-testing-101-what-now/

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/11/autosomal-dna-testing-101-tips-and-tricks-for-contact-success/

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/02/how-phasing-works-and-determining-ibd-versus-ibs-matches/

Just One Cousin
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/11/just-one-cousin/

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/17/demystifying-autosomal-dna-matching/

A Study Using Small Segment Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/21/a-study-utilizing-small-segment-matching/

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/10/finally-a-how-to-class-for-working-with-autosomal-dna-results/

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/14/parent-child-non-matching-autosomal-dna-segments/

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/19/a-match-list-does-not-an-ancestor-make/

4 Generation Inheritance Study
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/23/4-generation-inheritance-study/

Phasing Yourself
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/27/phasing-yourself/

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/25/autosomal-dna-matching-confidence-spectrum/

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/14/lazarus-putting-humpty-dumpty-back-together-again/

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.
https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/10/henry-bolton-c1759-1846-kidnapped-revolutionary-war-veteran-52-ancestors-45/

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/ancestrydna-has-now-thoroughly-lost-its-mind/

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/kenny-kenny-kenny/

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/dear-kenny-any-suggestions-for-our-new-ancestor-discoveries/

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/15/rip-sorenson-a-crushing-loss/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/02/getting-the-most-out-of-ancestrydna/

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/03/ancestry-gave-me-a-new-dna-ancestor-and-its-wrong/

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/07/testing-ancestrys-amazing-new-ancestor-dna-claim/

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/09/dissecting-ancestrydna-circles-and-new-ancestors/

Squaring the Circle
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/29/squaring-the-circle/

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/04/05/still-waiting-for-the-holy-grail/

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/14/a-dozen-ancestors-that-arent-aka-bad-nads/

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/12/the-logic-and-birth-of-a-bad-nad-new-ancestor-discovery/

Circling the Shews
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/24/circling-the-shews/

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/24/naughty-bad-nads-sneak-home-under-cover-of-darkness/

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/28/ancestry-shared-matches-combined-with-new-ancestor-discoveries/

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/24/ancestry-shakey-leaf-disappearing-matches-now-you-see-them-now-you-dont/

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/06/ancestrys-new-amount-of-shared-dna-what-does-it-really-mean/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/13/confusion-family-tree-maker-family-tree-dna-and-ancestry-com/

DNA: good news, bad news
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/01/11/dna-good-news-bad-news/

Check out the Alternatives
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/09/check-out-the-alternatives/

GeneAwards 2015
http://www.tamurajones.net/GeneAwards2015.xhtml

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153873250057922/

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153830929022922/
and…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153828722587922/

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/i-hate-23andme/

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/21/23andme-to-get-a-makeover-after-agreement-with-fda/

23andMe Metamorphosis
http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com/post/131724191762/the-23andme-metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-changes-at-23andme/

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/05/the-23andme-transition-first-step-november-11th/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/24/why-autosomal-response-rate-really-does-matter/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

Now…and not now
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/06/now-and-not-now/

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/

Opting Out
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/26/opting-out/

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/07/ancestry-terms-of-use-updated/

AncestryDNA Doings
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/05/ancestrydna-doings/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/30/23andme-ancestry-and-selling-your-dna-information/

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/07/am-i-weird-or-what/

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:
https://owston.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/an-analysis-of-fourth-cousins-and-other-near-distant-relatives/

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/15/big-easy-dna-not-so-easy/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards
http://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/01/10/announcing-genetic-genealogy-standards/

The standards themselves:
http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Genetic-Genealogy-Standards.pdf

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/r1b-and-the-people-of-europe-an-ancient-dna-update

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one. http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/15/yamnaya-light-skinned-brown-eyed-ancestors/

Kennewick Man is Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/18/kennewick-man-is-native-american/

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/02/botocudo-ancient-remains-from-brazil/

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/22/some-native-americans-had-oceanic-ancestors/

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/11/homo-naledi-a-new-species-discovered/

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/20/mass-pre-contact-native-grave-in-california-yields-disappointing-results/

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!

Education

2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/26/dna-lectures-youtube-channel/

Allen County Public Library Online Resources
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/03/allen-county-public-library-online-resources/

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/08/dna-data-organization-tools-and-whos-on-first/

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/03/genetic-genealogy-educational-resource-list/

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnW2NAfPIA2KUipZ_PlUlw

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7HQSiSkiy7ujlkgQER1FYw

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA
http://www.dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=online-classes

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/18/2015-family-tree-dna-11th-international-conference-the-best-yet/

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA?utm_campaign=website&utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year

Charlemagne (742/748-814), Holy Roman Emperor, 52 Ancestors #103

Charlemagne statue

“Charlemagne Agostino Cornacchini Vatican 2” by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Above, a 1725 statue representing Charlemagne housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Wow, do I ever have a lot of cousins.  According to Graham Coop, everyone in Europe today is descended from Charlemagne.  Which either means I’m special and so is everyone else, or we’re all just normal.  National Geographic wrote an article about the results of the Coop study in more easily readable verbiage, here.  The Coop team also wrote a nontechnical FAQ, here.

In 2002, Steven Olson wrote this verbiage in the Atlantic magazine about the work of statistician Joseph Chang:

The most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past—only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang’s model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.

Now, granted, Charlemagne was indeed prolific, siring 18 known children.  I guess I’m just lucky in that I descend from two known children, one who was the King of Italy and one who was the King of France.  I must tell you, all this king stuff sounds very surreal to me.

Charlemagne chart crop

Now, the bad news.  In spite of all of these children, it appears that none of Charlemagne’s male lines survived more than a dozen or so generations.  In generation 8, only two descendants produced a male child, so that severely limited the possibilities for his Y DNA to reproduce – and it didn’t.  It apparently died out in 1122 with the death of the last male in an illegitimate line through Charlemagne’s son, Pepin of Italy.  This means that today, we don’t know what Charlemagne’s Y DNA looked like.  That’s very disappointing.

By the same token, Charlemagne could not pass on his own mtDNA.  To find that information, we’d have to find a female sibling or someone from his mother’s line who descends from a matrilineal female through all females to the current generation.  We don’t have that either.

And as for autosomal DNA…well, we have two problems.  The first is that Charlemagne is so far back in my or anyone else’s lineage – between 40 and 49 generations roughly – that we would carry very little if any of his DNA today…and there is no way to assure that we don’t have other common lines too.  In fact, at that distant point, it far more likely that we do share other common lines that we don’t, especially given what Graham Coop’s paper indicates.

So, Charlemagne’s autosomal DNA hasn’t been identified either.  Short of digging him up, I’m doubting we’ll know much more.  Actually, poor Charlemagne has been dug up, several times in fact, and parts of him given away as religious relics.  In 1988 scientists tried to reassemble him, and their report was delivered 26 years later, without DNA unfortunately, but confirming as best they can that the remains they have, shown in the photo below, are indeed Charlemagne.  I must say, it’s a very odd feeling to look at the bones of my ancestor, reassembled during the study.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bones or even one bone of any of my ancestors before now.  I’m not exactly sure what I think of this.

Charlemagne bones

I’m striking out here genetically, although I’m hopeful for the future since his bones are already exhumed.  To begin with, DNA could tell us if all of those bones are really from the same person.  If they are, or most of them are from the same person, it’s more likely to be Charlemagne.  We could potentially tell when and where this skeletal person lived from isotope testing as well, which could help us confirm or eliminate the possibility that these skeletal remains are Charlemagne.  Y and mitochondrial DNA would tell us a lot about his ancestors, and therefore, ours too.  I hope this avenue is being pursued.

Let’s see what we can discover about Charlemagne outside of genetic genealogy.

Charlemagne’s Birth and Ascent to Power

Charlemagne was born on April 2, in either 742, 747 or 748 and died on January 28, 814.  No, those aren’t typos, they are genuinely three digit years.  It’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact that I have ancestors that I can identify that were born 1270 years ago.

Charlemagne’s father was Pepin the Short and his mother, Bertrada of Laon.  He was of the Carolingian dynasty and was, of course, Catholic. In fact, Charlemagne was DEVOUTLY Catholic, which plays a big part in the decisions he made in his lifetime.  Either that, or he used his religious fervor as an excuse for his invasions of other non-Christian domains.  It’s much easier to track the history of what he did rather than to discern his motivations.

The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD.

Charlemagne Carolingian chart

This Carolingian family tree, above, dates from the Chronicon Universale of Ekkehard of Aura from the 12th century, but reflects earlier generations.  The Carolingian empire came to a close not long after after Charlemagne’s rule, about 888.

The name “Carolingian” was in Medieval Latin, karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German karling or kerling, meaning “descendant of Charles.”

Charlemagne’s birth year remains uncertain.  The most likely year of Charlemagne’s birth is reconstructed from several sources. The date of 742, calculated from Einhard’s date of death of January 814 at age 72, predates the marriage of his parents in 744.  Einhard was a Frankish scholar and servant of Charlemagne (and his son) who also served as Charlemagne’s biographer – thankfully.

The year given in the Annales Petaviani, a year by year history of the Carolingina empire, 747, would be more likely, except that it contradicts Einhard and a few other sources in making Charlemagne seventy years old at his death. The month and day of April 2 is established by a calendar from Lorsch Abbey.

In 747, that day fell on Easter, a coincidence that likely would have been remarked upon by chroniclers but was not. If Easter was being used as the beginning of the calendar year, then April 2, 747 could have been, by modern reckoning, April 2, 748 (not on Easter). The date favored by the preponderance of evidence is April 2, 742, based on Charlemagne’s being a septuagenarian at the time of his death. This date would appear to suggest that Charlemagne was born illegitimately, which is not mentioned by Einhard.

Einhard said the following:

It would be folly, I think, to write a word concerning Charles’ birth and infancy, or even his boyhood, for nothing has ever been written on the subject, and there is no one alive now who can give information on it. Accordingly, I determined to pass that by as unknown, and to proceed at once to treat of his character, his deeds, and such other facts of his life as are worth telling and setting forth, and shall first give an account of his deeds at home and abroad, then of his character and pursuits, and lastly of his administration and death, omitting nothing worth knowing or necessary to know.

We also don’t know where Charlemagne was born, but Aachen in today’s Germany has been suggested.

Charlemagne became king in 768 following the death of his father. He was initially co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman’s sudden death in 771 under unexplained circumstances, left Charlemagne as the undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Charlemagne continued his father’s policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy, and leading an incursion into Muslim Spain. He also campaigned against the Saxons to his east, Christianizing them upon penalty of death, leading to events such as the Massacre of Verden in which 4500 captive Saxons were slaughtered.  Charlemagne was not always a kind man – but history remembers him as an exceedingly effective ruler.

Charlemagne and Pipin the Hunchback

Above, Charlemagne on the left and his son, Pepin the Hunchback, who revolted against his father.  Pepin the Hunchback was subsequently censured and exiled to a monastery instead of put to death after his father commuted his death sentence.

We don’t know how much this drawing actually looks like Charlemagne since it is a 10th century copy of a lost original from about 830.

In this next drawing, Charlemagne instructs his son, Louis the Pious.

Charlemagne and Louis the Pious

Charlemagne was also known as both Charles the Great (Carolus Magnus) or Charles the First.  He became the King of the Franks beginning in 768 with the death of his father and King of Italy beginning in 774.  He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (Imperator Augustus) in the now demolished Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (shown sketched below between 1483-1506) on Christmas Day in the year 800 and he ruled in that position until his death.

Charlemagne Old St. Peters

This fresco below shows a cutaway view of the Old St. Peter’s from the 4th century, so it looked much like it would have to Charlemagne.  This basilica is built over the location believed to be the burial site of St. Peter.

Charlemagne St Peters cutaway

Today, a new St. Peter’s Basilica stands on this site, the dome visible from the Ponte Umberto I on the Tiber River, below.

"Vatican City at Large" by Sébastien Bertrand from Paris, France - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

“Vatican City at Large” by Sébastien Bertrand from Paris, France – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

Although he already ruled both Italy and France, becoming the Holy Roman Emperor bestowed upon him divine grace and a Godly legitimacy sanctioned by the Pope.

This painting from 1516-1517 by Raphael by depicts Charlemagne’s coronation.

"Raphael Charlemagne" by Raphael - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“Raphael Charlemagne” by Raphael – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Charlemagne’s Rule

Charlemagne map 800

Called the “Father of Europe” (pater Europae), Charlemagne united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire and laid the foundations for both modern France and Germany. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Church. Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire.

Charlemagne didn’t seem to stay home much.  In fact, this military and political history reads like a soap opera, with intrigue, betrayals, a brother who died in unexplained circumstances, but apparently of natural causes, invasions, rebellions and saving an injured Pope.  His life was assuredly interesting and it’s nothing short of amazing that he managed to live past 70 and did not die on the battlefield.

Charlemagne was engaged in almost constant warfare throughout his reign, often at the head of his elite scara bodyguard squadrons, with his legendary sword Joyeuse in hand.

Charlemagne sword

“Épée de charlemagne” by Chatsam – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Joyeuse is stunningly beautiful and is on display in the Louvre today.

"Epée Joyeuse" by Siren-Com - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Epée Joyeuse” by Siren-Com – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

It just kills me that I have been in this building with this sword but didn’t know at that time that Charlemagne was my ancestor.

The 11th century “Song of Roland” describes the sword:

[Charlemagne] was wearing his fine white coat of mail and his helmet with gold-studded stones; by his side hung Joyeuse, and never was there a sword to match it; its colour changed thirty times a day.

Some seven hundred years later, Bulfinch’s Mythology described Charlemagne using Joyeuse to behead the Saracen commander Corsuble as well as to knight his comrade Ogier the Dane.

The town of Joyeuse, in Ardèche, is supposedly named after the sword.  Joyeuse was allegedly lost in a battle and retrieved by one of the knights of Charlemagne; to thank him, Charlemagne granted him an appanage (estate) named Joyeuse.

Today, Joyeuse is used as the French coronation sword.

Charlemagne’s Additions to His Empire

Charlemagne spent his entire life increasing the size and power of his empire, some of which was done under the banner of expanding Christianity to the Muslim world and to the pagan Saxons as well.

The map below shows the land that Charlemagne added to the Frankish Kingdom.

"Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en" by Sémhur - Own work, from Image:Frankish empire.jpg, itself from File:Growth of Frankish Power, 481-814.jpg, from the Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd (Shepherd, William. Historical Atlas. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911.). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en” by Sémhur – Own work, from Image:Frankish empire.jpg, itself from File:Growth of Frankish Power, 481-814.jpg, from the Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd (Shepherd, William. Historical Atlas. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911.). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s reign of Aquitaine began in 768 with the death of his father, although it was initially a joint reign with his brother, Carloman, with whom he had, at best, lukewarm relations fostered by his mother.

It didn’t take long after Charlemagne’s father death for trouble to brew.

In 769, a small uprising in the Basque region was subdued, but that region was unstable for years, a constant thorn in Charlemagne’s side.  Finally, in 781, Charlemagne proclaimed his son, Louis the Pious, then a young child, the first Frankish king of the area, assuring loyalty and displacing those whose loyalty he had reason to doubt.

In 770 Charlemagne married the daughter, Desiderada, of a Lombard King as a political move to form an alliance with her father and in doing so, surround  brother Carloman with Charlemagne’s allies.  However, by the end of 771, Carloman was dead and Charlemagne no longer needed the marriage with Desiderada, so he repudiated her and set her aside to marry 13 year old Hildegard.

In rejecting Desiderada, Charlemagne incurred the wrath of her father, the Italian King Desiderius.  Carloman’s widow and children took refuge in King Desiderius’ court at Pavia for protection.

This drawing is of the Carolingian cavalry from that timeframe.

"Karolingische-reiterei-st-gallen-stiftsbibliothek 1-330x400". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“Karolingische-reiterei-st-gallen-stiftsbibliothek 1-330×400”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Sometimes Charlemagne’s military campaigns overlapped each other.  In the Saxon Wars, spanning thirty years and eighteen battles, Charlemagne eventually conquered and subdued Saxonia.  The conquering part wasn’t terribly difficult, most of the time, but the subdueing part proved nearly impossible.  Charlemagne proceeded to convert the conquered to Christianity, beginning in 773 with his campaign against the Engrians where he cut down the Saxon pagan pillar of Irminsul.  However, trouble in Italy caused that campaign to be cut short.

In 773, Charlemagne and his uncle crossed the Alps, chasing the Lombards back to Pavia which he then besieged.

Charlemagne met the Lombards at the pass in Susa Valley, shown below.

Charlemagne Susa Valley

“Susatal” by Fotogian from it. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

By 774, the siege of Pavia was over and Charlemagne had himself declared King of the Franks and Lombards and crowned with the traditional “Iron Crown of the Lombards.”

"Iron Crown" by James Steakley - photographed in the Theodelinda Chapel of the cathedral of Monza. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Iron Crown” by James Steakley – photographed in the Theodelinda Chapel of the cathedral of Monza. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

This crown is called “The Iron Crown” because of the narrow band of iron within the crown said to have been beaten out of the nail used at the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

In 776, Charlemagne was back in Saxony, having subdued the Saxons and causing their leader, Widukind, to seek refuge in Denmark.  Many Saxons were baptized as Christians.

Although the Lombards surrendered, all was not quiet on that front.  In 776, Charlemagne rushed back from Saxony to squelch a rebellion in Lombardy.

In 778, Charlemagne turned back southwards and tried to overpower the Muslim Saracen rulers of Barcelona and nearby areas.  He marched to face them, meeting them at Saragossa.  He received homage from them, but their cities did not fall.

Charlemagne was facing the toughest battle of his career where the Muslims had the upper hand and forced him to retreat. He decided to go home, since he could not trust the Basques, whom he had subdued by conquering Pamplona. He turned to leave Iberia, but as he was passing through the Pass of Roncesvalles (shown below) one of the most famous events of his long reign occurred.

Charlemagne Roncesvalles

The Basques fell on his rearguard and baggage train, utterly destroying it. The Battle of Roncevaux Pass, though less a battle than a mere skirmish, left many famous dead, including the seneschal Eggihard, the count of the palace Anselm, and the warden of the Breton March, Roland, inspiring the subsequent creation of the Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland).

Charlemagne battle tapestry

This tapestry portraying the Battle of Roncevaux Pass was woven between 1475 and 1500.

In 779, while Charlemagne was focused elsewhere, Saxony again revolted and he again invaded and reconquered.  I’m sure by now he wondered how many times he had to do this.  He divided the land into missionary districts and personally assisted with the baptisms of masses at Lippe.

From 780-782, Saxony was quiet.  Charlemagne was back in Italy during this time.

In 782, Charlemagne returned to Saxony and was not pleased that the majority of the population was still pagan.  He implemented draconian laws prescribing death to Saxon pagans who refused to convert to Christianity.  This spurred the return of their leader, Widukind, and was followed by three years of bloody battles precipitated by the Massacre of Verden wherein Charlemagne executed 4500 trapped Saxon soldiers.  Three long years later, Widukind, defeated, accepted baptism.  At this time, the Frisians were also brought to heel.

In 787, Charlemagne focused on bringing southern Italy into the fold.  He besieged Salerno where Arechis who reigned independently submitted to vassalage.  However, upon his death in 792, Arechis’ son proclaimed independence and Charlemagne never personally returned, and was never able to bring this region fully under his control.

In 788, Charlemagne was back in Gascony trying to once again reign in a rebellion.  He had appointed his son “King” in that region and replaced Gascon individuals in power with his Frankish officers.

In 788, the pagan Asian Avars (Einhard called them Huns) had settled in Hungary and invaded Fruili and Bavaria.  Charlemagne was busy elsewhere until 790, but at the time he marched down the Danube and ravaged Avar territory.  A Lombard army did the same to Pannonia.

In 789, Charlemagne seeing an opportunity, marched into the Slavic Obotrite territory north of the Elbe, encountered little resistance, and subdued the Obotrites, sending in missionaries to convert them.  They became loyal allies, fighting alongside Charlemagne in 795 when the Saxons broke the peace.

In 792, the Saxons rebelled again in Westphalia, breaking several years of peace and distracted Charlemagne from the Avars, occupying him instead with those relentless Saxons.

However, Charlemagne’s troops continued to assault the Avars’ ring-shaped strongholds.  The great Ring of the Avars, their capital fortress, was taken twice. The booty was sent to Charlemagne at his capital, Aachen, and redistributed to all his followers and even to foreign rulers, including King Offa of Mercia. Soon the Avars had lost the will to fight and traveled to Aachen to subject themselves to Charlemagne as vassals and Christians. Charlemagne accepted their surrender and sent one native chief, baptized as Abraham, back to Avaria with the ancient title of khagan, meaning someone who rules an empire. Abraham kept his people in line, but in 800, the Bulgarians under Khan Krum also attacked the remains of Avar state.

Charlemagne Ring of Avars

From time to time, rebellions would flare up in the conquered Saxon territory.  In 793 a rebellion erupted in Eastplania and Bordalbingia, but that uprising was over by 794.  In 796, an Engrian rebellion followed.

In 794, Charlemagne set his eye upon Bavaria and was shortly thereafter dividing the land into Frankish counties, as he had done with Saxony.

From 791 to 806, Charlemagne was focused on taking the County of Toulouse for a power base and asserting his authority over the Pyrenees, making those counties vassals.

In 797, Barcelona, the greatest city of the region, previously held by the Moors, fell to Charlemagne, but was retaken in 799.  However, Louis of Aquitaine marched the entire army of his kingdom over the Pyrenees and besieged it for two years, wintering there from 800 to 801, when it capitulated.  Today, the Moorish influence can be seen in Barcelona in the architecture of the buildings.

Barcelona building

The Medieval influence can be felt in any portion of the old city and in the plazas.

barcelona plaza

I absolutely loved Barcelona when I visited in 2011, having no idea that I had ancestral history here.

Barcelona 2011

Charlemagne viewed his battle with the Muslim Moors as the battle of and for Christianity.  He wanted to convert the Muslims to Christianity.

In 799, Charlemagne conquered the Balaeric Islands, often attacked by Saracen (Moorish and Muladi) pirates.

In either 797 or 801, Charlemagne send a delegation to Baghdad where the caliph of Baghdad presented Charlemagne with an Asian elephant and a clock.  The elephant, Abul-Abbas, was transported to Charlemagne’s headquarters in Aachen where his life was chronicled.  He died in 810, possibly a war elephant, although others report that the elephant was more than 40 years old, had rheumatism, developed pneumonia while on campaign with Charlemagne, and died suddenly.  I don’t think any of my other ancestors had a pet elephant.

In 799, Pope Leo III had been mistreated by the Romans, who tried to put out his eyes and tear out his tongue.  Pope Leo escaped and fled to Charlemagne at Paderborn, asking Charlemagne to intervene in Rome and restore him. Charlemagne, advised by scholar Alcuin of York, agreed to travel to Rome, doing so in November 800 and holding a council on December 1.  On December 23, Leo swore an oath of innocence relative to the charges brought against him, and his accusers were exiled.  Two days later, at Mass, on Christmas Day, December 25th, when Charlemagne knelt at the altar to pray, the Pope crowned him Imperator Romanorum, “Emperor of the Romans,” in Saint Peter’s Basilica.  It is unclear whether Charlemagne knew this was going to happen or if the coronation was unexpected, a point debated by historians for hundreds of years.

Charlemagne coronation

Miniature of Charlemagne crowned emperor by Pope Leo III, from Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis, vol. 1; France, second quarter of 14th century.

In 803, Charlemagne sent a Bavarian army into Pannonia ending the Avar confederation.

In 804, one last rebellion occurred in Saxony, but by this time, 30 years after being conquered, most of the original inhabitants were dead and the rest had never known anything but Charlemagne’s rule and warfare.  They were tired of fighting in their homeland.

Einhard tells us:

The war that had lasted so many years was at length ended by their acceding to the terms offered by the King; which were renunciation of their national religious customs and the worship of devils, acceptance of the sacraments of the Christian faith and religion, and union with the Franks to form one people.

In 808, an attack arrived from an unexpected source, the pagan Danes, “a race almost unknown to his ancestors, but destined to be only too well known to his sons,” as Charles Oman described them.  Wikukind, whose wife was Danish, and his allies had taken refuge among the Danes.  The king of the Danes, Godfred, built the vast Danevirke (shown below) across the isthmus of Schleswig. This defense was at its beginning a 30 km (19 mi) long defensive earthenwork rampart. The Danevirke protected Danish land and gave Godfred the opportunity to harass Frisia and Flanders with pirate raids.

Charlemagne danevirke

Godfred invaded Frisia, joked of visiting Aachen, but was murdered before he could do any more, either by a Frankish assassin or by one of his own men. Godfred was succeeded by his nephew Hemming, who concluded the Treaty of Heiligen with Charlemagne in late 811.

Europe at the end of Charlemagne’s rein looked a lot different than it did at the beginning.  The balance of power had shifted dramatically.

"Europe in 814, Charlemagne, Krum, Nicephorus I" by Stolichanin - Europe_plain_rivers.pngThe map is made according to:"World Atlas", part 3: Europe in Middle Ages, Larrouse, Paris, 2002, O. RenieAtlas "History of Bulgaria", Sofia, 1988, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, V. Kamburova"World Atlas", N. Ostrovski, Rome, 1992, p.55Атлас "История на средните векове", Sofia, 1982, G. Gavrilov"History in maps", Johannes Herder, Berlin, 1999, p. 20"European Historical Globus", R. Rusev, 2006, p.117. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Europe in 814, Charlemagne, Krum, Nicephorus I” by Stolichanin – Europe_plain_rivers.pngThe map is made according to:”World Atlas”, part 3: Europe in Middle Ages, Larrouse, Paris, 2002, O. RenieAtlas “History of Bulgaria”, Sofia, 1988, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, V. Kamburova”World Atlas”, N. Ostrovski, Rome, 1992, p.55Атлас “История на средните векове”, Sofia, 1982, G. Gavrilov”History in maps”, Johannes Herder, Berlin, 1999, p. 20″European Historical Globus”, R. Rusev, 2006, p.117. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Education

Charlemagne was determined to have his children educated, including his daughters, as he himself was not. Below, we see Charlemagne’s monogram from the subscription of a royal diploma.  Signum Karolvs Karoli gloriosissimi regis.

Charlemagne signum

For an uneducated man, he made amazing changes, including the standardization of the monetary system and instituting principles of accounting practice.

Charlemagne’s children were taught all the arts, and his daughters were learned in the “ways of being a woman.” whatever that meant at the time. His sons participated in archery, horsemanship, and other outdoor activities.  This renaissance of education was referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance because it ushered in a new cultural era in which scholarship, literature and art thrived.

Charlemagne was brought into contact with the culture and learning of other countries (especially Moorish Spain, Anglo-Saxon England, and Lombard Italy) as a result of his vast conquests.  He greatly increased the provision of monastic schools and scriptoria (centres for book-copying) in Francia.

Most of the presently surviving works of classical Latin were copied and preserved by Carolingian scholars. Indeed, the earliest manuscripts available for many ancient texts are Carolingian. It is almost certain that a text which survived to the Carolingian age survives still, thanks to Charlemagne.

Charlemagne took a serious interest in scholarship, promoting the liberal arts at the court, ordering that his children and grandchildren be well-educated.  In a time when even leaders who promoted education did not take time to learn, Charlemagne studied.  Under the tutelage of Peter of Pisa, Charlemagne learned grammar; with Alcuin, he studied rhetoric, dialectic (logic), and astronomy (he was particularly interested in the movements of the stars); and Einhard assisted him in his studies of arithmetic.

Charlemagne’s great scholarly failure, as Einhard relates, was his inability to write: when in his old age he began attempts to learn – practicing the formation of letters in his bed during his free time on books and wax tablets he hid under his pillow – “his effort came too late in life and achieved little success.”  Charlemagne’s ability to read – which Einhard is silent about, and which no contemporary source supports – has also been called into question.

It appears that the man who was personally responsible for the salvation of so much literature was, himself, illiterate.  Charlemagne was however very foresighted and progressive.  What an amazing legacy.

Children and Heirs

Charlemagne had eighteen children over the course of his life with eight of his ten known wives or concubines.  Nonetheless, he only had four legitimate grandsons, the four sons of his fourth son, Louis. In addition, he had a grandson (Bernard of Italy, the only son of his third son, Pippin of Italy), who was born illegitimate, but included in the line of inheritance. So, despite eighteen children, the claimants to his inheritance were few.

Charlemagne’s personal life is somewhat colorful for a devout Catholic, although maybe the cultural aspect of the church at that time was different.  Then again, being the protector of the Pope may have gained Charlemagne special favors or caused some behaviors to be overlooked.Charlemagne children

As I look at the dates, I have to wonder if these women and children all lived in one place and knew each other.  Did the wife and concubine glare at each other when they met in the hallway, or were they more like compatriot sisters?  Did they live in different locations?  Did they consider themselves sucky to be Charlemagne’s partner, or did they wish things were different and that he was monogamous, as they had surely be raised in the Catholic church to expect of a husband.

I found the many references to Charlemagne’s concubines confusing, given his Catholicism and marriages at the same time, so I turned to the Catholic encyclopedia for clarification:

The Council of Toledo, held in 400, in its seventeenth canon legislates as follows for laymen (for ecclesiastical regulations on this head with regard to clerics see Celibacy): after pronouncing sentence of excommunication against any who in addition to a wife keep a concubine, it says: “But if a man has no wife, but a concubine instead of a wife, let him not be refused communion; only let him be content to be united with one woman, whether wife or concubine” (Can. “Is qui”, dist. xxxiv; Mansi, III, col. 1001). The refractory are to be excommunicated until such time as they shall obey and do penance.

It would appear, based on that edict, that Charlemagne’s concubines and extra-curricular activities were overlooked by the church, although many of his children were very active within the church as abbots and abbesses.  Charlemagne recognized and provided in some way for all of his children, legitimate or otherwise.

Charlemagne’s sons fought many wars on behalf of their father when they came of age.

Charles was mostly preoccupied with the Bretons, whose border he shared and who insurrected on at least two occasions and were easily put down, but he was also sent against the Saxons on multiple occasions. In 805 and 806, he was sent into the Böhmerwald (modern Bohemia) to deal with the Slavs living there (Bohemian tribes, ancestors of the modern Czechs). He subjected them to Frankish authority and devastated the valley of the Elbe, forcing a tribute on them.

Pippin had to hold the Avar and Beneventan borders but also fought the Slavs to his north. He was uniquely poised to fight the Byzantine Empire when finally that conflict arose after Charlemagne’s imperial coronation and a Venetian rebellion.

Finally, Louis was in charge of the Spanish March and also went to southern Italy to fight the duke of Benevento on at least one occasion. He took Barcelona in a great siege in 797.

Charlemagne’s attitude toward his daughters has been the subject of much discussion. He kept them at home with him and refused to allow them to contract sacramental marriages – possibly to prevent the creation of cadet branches of the family to challenge the main line, as had been the case with Tassilo of Bavaria – yet he tolerated their extramarital relationships, even rewarding their common-law husbands, and treasured the illegitimate grandchildren they produced for him.  At least one of them, Bertha, had a recognized relationship, if not a marriage, with Angilbert, a member of Charlemagne’s court circle.

Charlemagne also refused to believe stories of their wild behavior. He’s certainly not the first father to do that!

After Charlemagne’s death the surviving daughters were banished from the court by their brother, Louis, to take up residence in the convents they had been bequeathed by their father.  That’s what happens when you are a bit rowdy and your brother who is known as Louis the Pious becomes king.

Charlemagne’s Death

In 806, Charlemagne first made provision for the traditional division of the empire on his death. For Charles the Younger he designated Austrasia and Neustria, Saxony, Burgundy, and Thuringia. To Pippin he gave Italy, Bavaria, and Swabia. Louis received Aquitaine, the Spanish March, and Provence. There was no mention of the imperial title however, which has led to the suggestion that, at that particular time, Charlemagne regarded the title as an honorary achievement which held no hereditary significance.

This division might have worked, but it was never to be tested. Pippin died in 810 and Charles in 811. Charlemagne then reconsidered the matter, and in 813, called Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, his only surviving legitimate son, to his court. There Charlemagne crowned his son with his own hands as co-emperor, granting him a half-share of the empire with the rest to follow up on Charlemagne’s death.  Louis the Pious then returned to Aquitaine.  The only part of the Empire which Louis was not promised was Italy, which Charlemagne specifically bestowed upon Pippin’s illegitimate son Bernard.

Charlemagne then spent the autumn hunting before returning to Aachen on November 1st.  In January, he fell ill with pleurisy.  In a deep depression (mostly because many of his plans were not yet realized), he took to his bed on January 21st.  With all Charlemagne did achieve, I can’t imagine what he yet wanted that was severe enough to induce a depression of that magnitude.  Historians attribute his depression to his plans not being realized, but I have to wonder if the deaths of his three sons and two daughters in two years (810-811) didn’t contribute to his depression.  Another daughter had died in 808.  That’s a lot of death in a short time.

Einhard tells us:

He died January twenty-eighth, the seventh day from the time that he took to his bed, at nine o’clock in the morning, after partaking of the Holy Communion, in the seventy-second year of his age and the forty-seventh of his reign.

Charlemagne was buried the same day as his death, in Aachen Cathedral, although the cold weather and the nature of his illness made such a hurried burial unnecessary.  This causes me to wonder why he was buried so quickly.

Charlemagne Aachen Cathedral

Above, the Aachen Cathedral today.

Charlemagne is buried in the Palatine Chapel.  He commissioned its construction in 792 and it was consecrated in 805 by Pope Leo III in honor of the Virgin Mary.

"Aachener Dom Pfalzkapelle vom Münsterplatz 2014" by CaS2000 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aachener Dom Pfalzkapelle vom Münsterplatz 2014” by CaS2000 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s floor plan, below, includes a sixteen-sided ambulatory with a gallery overhead encircling the central octagonal dome.

Charlemagne Aachen floor plan

The plan and decoration owe much to the sixth-century Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Indeed, Charlemagne visited Ravenna three times, the first in 787. In that year he wrote to Pope Hadrian I and requested “mosaic, marbles, and other materials from floors and walls” in Rome and Ravenna, for his palace.

"Aix dom int vue cote" by Velvet - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aix dom int vue cote” by Velvet – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Interior view of the chapel.  Charlemagne was buried someplace here, although the exact location evades detection.  Theories abound and I have to believe that Charlemagne enjoys every minute of this mystery that his bones visit upon his descendants – which remember, includes all or most of Europe today.

"Königsthron Aachener Dom" by ​German Wikipedia user Holger Weinandt. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Königsthron Aachener Dom” by ​German Wikipedia user Holger Weinandt. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s throne, above, resides in the chapel as well.

Charlemagne shroud Aachen

This piece of fabric is part of Charlemagne’s death shroud, manufactured in Constantinople (present day Istanbul), and represents a quadriga, a cart or chariot that was drawn by 4 horses abreast.  Typically Gods were depicted in this manner.

A later story, told by Otho of Lomello, Count of the Palace at Aachen in the time of Otto III, about the year 1000, would claim that he and Emperor Otto had discovered Charlemagne’s tomb.  They claimed that Charlemagne was seated upon a throne, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre, his flesh almost entirely incorrupt.

In 1165, Frederick I re-opened the tomb again and placed the emperor in a sarcophagus beneath the floor of the cathedral.

Charlemagne sarcophagus

Sarcophagus, above and below.

"Karl Martell" by J. Patrick Fischer - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

“Karl Martell” by J. Patrick Fischer – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

In 1215 Frederick II re-interred him in a casket made of gold and silver.

Charlemagne casket

Charlemagne’s death greatly affected many of his subjects, particularly those of the literary clique who had surrounded him at Aachen.  An anonymous monk of Bobbio lamented:

From the lands where the sun rises to western shores, people are crying and wailing … the Franks, the Romans, all Christians, are stung with mourning and great worry … the young and old, glorious nobles, all lament the loss of their Caesar … the world laments the death of Charles … O Christ, you who govern the heavenly host, grant a peaceful place to Charles in your kingdom. Alas for miserable me.

Charlemagne was succeeded by his surviving son, Louis, who had been crowned the previous year.  Charlemagne’s empire lasted only another generation in its entirety; its division, according to custom, between Louis’s own sons after their father’s death laid the foundation for the modern states of Germany and France.

Below, the mask reliquary of Charlemagne.  If this is a death mask of the man, he was in wonderful shape for 72 years of age and the battles he had been through.

"Aachen Domschatz Bueste1" by Beckstet - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aachen Domschatz Bueste1” by Beckstet – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Reliquary’s were and remain very popular in the Catholic Church.  Below, Charlemagne’s arm reliquary.

"Charlemagne arm at Cathedral Treasury Aachen Germany" by Prof-Declercq - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

“Charlemagne arm at Cathedral Treasury Aachen Germany” by Prof-Declercq – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s throne remains today in the Achen Cathedral as well.

Charlemagne throne

“AachenerDomKarlsthron 1661a” by Bojin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Below, the interior of Charlemagne’s chapel in the Aachen Cathedral.

"Aachen-cathedral-inside". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aachen-cathedral-inside”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

What Was Charlemagne Like?

We’re exceedingly lucky that Einhard was Charlemagne’s biographer.  Otherwise we would know very little about him.

Charlemagne spoke French and German in addition to Latin and understood some Greek but spoke it very poorly.  He mandated that sermons be preached in either “Romance” (French) or “Theotiscan” (German) and not in Latin so that the common person could understand the lessons being imparted.

How Did He Look?

Charlemagne’s personal appearance is known from a description by Einhard in his biography of Charlemagne titled “Vita Karoli Magni.” Einhard describes in his twenty-second chapter:

He was heavily built, sturdy, and of considerable stature, although not exceptionally so, since his height was seven times the length of his own foot. He had a round head, large and lively eyes, a slightly larger nose than usual, white but still attractive hair, a bright and cheerful expression, a short and fat neck, and he enjoyed good health, except for the fevers that affected him in the last few years of his life. Toward the end, he dragged one leg. Even then, he stubbornly did what he wanted and refused to listen to doctors, indeed he detested them, because they wanted to persuade him to stop eating roast meat, as was his wont, and to be content with boiled meat.

The physical portrait provided by Einhard is confirmed by contemporary depictions of the emperor, such as coins and his 8-inch (20 cm) bronze statue kept in the Louvre.

"Charlemagne denier Mayence 812 814" by PHGCOM - Own work by uploader, photographed at Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Charlemagne denier Mayence 812 814” by PHGCOM – Own work by uploader, photographed at Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

It’s uncertain whether this bronze statue from the Louvre depicts Charlemagne or his grandson, Charles the Bald, who reportedly favored his grandfather, Charlemagne.

Charlemagne at Louvre

Photographs credited © RMN, Musée du Louvre / [etc.] are the property of the RMN. Non-commercial re-use is authorized, provided the source and author are acknowledged. Photo by Jean-Giles Berizzi

In 1861, Charlemagne’s tomb was opened by scientists who reconstructed his skeleton and estimated it to be measured 1.95 metres (6 ft 5 in).  A later estimate of his height from a X-ray and CT scan of his tibia performed in 2010 is 1.84 metres (6 ft 0 in). This puts him in the 99th percentile of tall people of his period, given that average male height of his time was 1.69 metres (5 ft 7 in). The width of the bone suggested he was gracile but not robust in body build.

Charlemagne wore the traditional costume of the Frankish people, described by Einhard thus:

He used to wear the national, that is to say, the Frank, dress—next his skin a linen shirt and linen breeches, and above these a tunic fringed with silk; while hose fastened by bands covered his lower limbs, and shoes his feet, and he protected his shoulders and chest in winter by a close-fitting coat of otter or marten skins.

He wore a blue cloak and always carried a sword with him. The typical sword was of a golden or silver hilt. He wore fancy jeweled swords to banquets or ambassadorial receptions.  To Charlemagne, a sword was his ever-present and indispensable weapon, just in case, and sometimes a fine piece of jewelry too.

Charlemagne robes

Nevertheless:

He despised foreign costumes, however handsome, and never allowed himself to be robed in them, except twice in Rome, when he donned the Roman tunic, chlamys, and shoes; the first time at the request of Pope Hadrian, the second to gratify Leo, Hadrian’s successor.

He could rise to the occasion when necessary. On great feast days, he wore embroidery and jewels on his clothing and shoes. He had a golden buckle for his cloak on such occasions and would appear with his great diadem, but he despised such apparel, according to Einhard, and usually dressed like the common people.

The Beautification of the Blessed Charles Augustus

Charlemagne was accorded sainthood inside the Holy Roman Empire after the twelfth century. His canonization by Antipope Paschal III, to gain the favor of Frederick Barbarossa in 1165, was never recognized by the Holy See, which annulled all of Paschal’s ordinances at the Third Lateran Council in 1179. Charlemagne’s name does not appear among the 28 saints named Charles who are listed in the Roman Martyrology. However, his beatification has been acknowledged as cultus confirmed and is celebrated on 28 January.  Even in death, Charlemagne was contentious and deeply involved in the politics of religion.

Ummmm…so how does one act appropriately if one is twice descended from a King who was also a Saint???  Do I need to learn how to curtsey or do that Queen wave maybe?  No one prepared me for this when I was learning proper manners.  I had no idea how proper “proper” was!

Afterlife

Charlemagne, being a model knight as one of the Nine Worthies, enjoyed an important afterlife in European culture.

The Nine Worthies are nine historical, scriptural and legendary personages who personify the ideals of chivalry as were established in the Middle Ages.

The Nine Worthies include three good pagans: Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, three good Jews: Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus, and three good Christians: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.

Gateway Ancestors

If you’d like to see if you too are descended from Charlemagne through known gateway ancestors, please click here for a list.  But beware, you just might have to learn how to behave “properly.”  If you figure out exactly what that means, let me know.

Irene Charitas (c1665-c1694) and Her Aching Mother’s Soul, 52 Ancestors #100

For a very long time, and on most online trees, Irene Charitas is listed as the wife of Johann Michael Mueller who was born about 1655 in Zollikoffen, Switzerland and who died in 1695 in Steinwenden, Germany.  Her last name is listed as Charitas, but it isn’t.  Charitas is Irene’s middle name.

At this time in history, in Germany and the Germanic speaking Protestant regions of Europe, females were given two names, a first “saints” name and a second name by which they were typically called.  Irene is quite unusual for a Saint’s name and Charitas is very unusual for a middle name.  So unusual in fact that I’ve only seen it one other time, ever.

Charitas is a Latin word meaning charity and “for the love of God.”  Charitas, or charity, is one of the 7 virtues.

Steinwenden 5

We don’t know where Irene was born, but what we do know is that we first find her as Johann Michael Mueller’s wife in Steinwenden, Germany, shown above and below, when she gives birth to the first child recorded to this couple in the church records in 1685.  Could this couple have lived there, or had children elsewhere, previously?  Of course.  Could they have had other children that were baptized in a different church?  Yes.  Michael was born in 1655, so if Irene was his age, they could have married by about 1673-1675 and had another 5 children or so before they appear in the Steinwenden records.  But did they?  We’ll never know for sure, but there is no evidence today to suggest such.

Steinwenden 6

Unfortunately, the only part of the original Steinwenden church that survives today is the bell tower.

Steinwenden 4

Sometime in the early 1680s, the Mueller family arrived in Steinwenden from the Zollikoffen area near Bern, Switzerland. It’s likely that Irene’s family was among the same immigrant group – but we just don’t know and to the best of my knowledge, no research has been done on that topic.  Furthermore, the Johann Michael Mueller family could have made an intermittent stop along the way that we are unaware of.  In other words, Michael could have married Irene Charitas anyplace between Zollikoffen and Steinwenden.

I’m not quite sure how Charitas became her last name on the internet.  Perhaps it’s an assumption based on the fact that her middle name is an unfamiliar name and someone assumed it was her last name.  In any event, it’s been that way for years now and I’m hopeful that records from the actual church can help reduce or eliminate this misinformation.  I’m currently in the process of having the church records retranslated by a professional German genealogist, just to be sure.

When our cousin, the Reverend Richard Miller visited the church in Steinwenden in 1996, the church historians and a German genealogist prepared a summary of the church records involving Johann Michael Mueller, shown below.

In all of the birth records of children born to Michael, Irene Charitas was his wife, and Charitas was not her birth name.  If the child born in 1685 was their first, then Irene Charitas was likely born about 1665, give or take a couple years in either direction.

Steinwenden 7

Recently, Richard sent me the original record of Johann Michael Mueller’s birth from the Steinwenden church.  It’s the second to last entry, below.

Miller 1792 birth steinwenden

Needless to say, I can’t read this, on two fronts, the language and the script, which is why I’m having this and the other records retranslated.

The next we hear of Irene is a church record for a confirmation of Irene Charitas Schlosser, a daughter of Conrad Schlosser, of Steinwinden.  Often, children were named after their godparents with the idea that the Godparents were relatives and they were the appointed relatives responsible for the religious education of the child – and whether spoken or unspoken, it was also expected that if the parents died, the Godparents would raise the children – or at least the one(s) named for them.  Unfortunately, in the age of marginal medical care, no antibiotics and an era where every pregnancy was high risk, that happened all too often.  So, it appears that Conrad Schlosser’s daughter was named for Michael Mueller’s wife, Irene Charitas.

It’s likely that Irene was in some way related to Conrad.  She could have been his sister or aunt or a favorite cousin.  Or, Conrad could have been related to Johann Michael Mueller.  One way or another Conrad trusted Irene enough to name his daughter after her, making Irene Charitas Mueller the first in line to raise her namesake should something happen to Conrad and his wife.  Additional research on the Schlosser family church records is in order.

Steinwenden 1

The first record on this transcriptions says that Jacob Ringeisen of Schweitz was “serving for his cousin” Michael Muller.

In other words, even though the daughter was named for Irene, Michael’s wife, Irene wasn’t present, possibly due to pregnancy herself, and apparently neither was Michael.  However, Michael’s cousin in essence represented Michael and the couple’s commitment at the baptism.

Of course, now this makes me ask just how Michael and Jacob were cousins, and was it through marriage via Irene Charitas?  It looks like we may have yet another family connection hint.  So often in these old church records there is so much more buried in the details that is missed if all you get is a translation of the actual “event.”

In genealogy, always, always, more questions.

Irene Charitas’ life was short.  She probably died before she was 30.  There are no more known records of her, at least not directly.

What we do know is that the last child in these church records is born to Irene and Michael in 1692.  This is the only one of the six children she bore that lived.  This is an incredibly sad story that seems to stretch beyond just “bad luck.”   

Child Birth Death Age at Death
Johann Nicholas Muller June 5, 1685 June 6, 1685 1 day
Johann Abraham Muller July 9, 1688 1696 Less than 6 months
Samuel Muller April 30, 1687 April 30, 1687 Shortly after birth
Catherine Barbara Muller June 7, 1688 June 21, 1691 3 years, 2 weeks
Eva Catherine Muller April 24, 1691 June 29, 1691 2 months
Johann Michael Muller October 5, 1692 1771 78 years

Looking at these children’s deaths, I find the month of June, 1691 particularly heartbreaking.  Clearly, something contagious was occurring and both of Irene’s children died, 8 days apart.  I wonder if the church records reflect a rash of deaths within the village.  Just 11 months later, she would bear her 6th child.  I bet those months between June of 1691 and May of 1692 were living Hell for Irene, between the sorrow and grief of losing her children and the uncertainly of the one she was carrying.

Fortunately for me, Johann Michael Mueller, the second, born in 1692, named after his father, did live, as he is my ancestor.

Johann Michael Mueller Sr. died in Steinwenden in 1695, just three years later. For some reason, from 1692 to 1695, there were no more children born to Johann Michael Mueller and Irene Charitas – nor to Johann Michael Mueller and anyone else.

Why is this important?  Because another rumor that has been rampant over the years is that Johann Michael Mueller was married to Anna Loysa Regina and that she was the mother of Johann Michael Mueller.  At least I was able to figure out where this information originated.

On September 29, 1695, Anna Loysa Regina married Jacob Stutzman in Steinwenden, although I have not seen the original record myself.  She is noted at that time as being the widow of Michael Mueller.

For Anna Loysa Regina to be the window of Michael Mueller, that means that Irene Charitas died sometime after giving birth to Michael Jr. on October 5, 1692 and sometime before Michael Sr.’s death on January 31, 1695, just 2 years and 3 months later, allowing Michael Sr. enough time to remarry after Irene’s death and before his own.  Remarriage often didn’t take much time actually, given that most people already knew each other through church and it was simply a matter of taking stock of the available spouses and making a choice from the willing and most compatible selection.  No, it was not about love but one would hope it was at least about like and that love evolved.  Regardless, marriage was a practical matter of survival as men and women needed each other’s assistance in the daily activities of living and raising children.  Michael would have had a small child who needed a mother.

Michael and Anna Loysa Regina must not have been married long, because there are no children recorded to she and Michael, but she did go on to have children with Jacob Stutzman, one as late as 1706.  Jacob Stutzman Jr. born in 1706, and Johann Michael Mueller Jr., born in 1692, step-brothers of a sort, would in 1727 immigrate to America together.

If all of these records have been accurately translated, Irene Charitas probably died about 1694, possibly in childbirth.  In the natural order of things, March or April 1694 would be about 18 months after Michael was born, representing the typical spacing between children.  Why no record of her death exists in the church records is a mystery.  Perhaps we need to look again, and maybe in the surrounding church records as well.

Cemetery plots in Germany, as is customary in Europe, are reused.  In some cases, they continue within the family, with generation upon generation (pardon the pun) being buried in the same location.  In other cases, the grave is considered “abandoned” if no one pays upkeep, and the site is reused at the discretion of the church.  Gravesites that aren’t abandoned are still reused, but generally by the family and perhaps not as quickly as abandoned graves.  While this is very foreign to those of us in the US, if Europeans did not employ some “recycling” burial strategy, the entire continent would be blanketed with cemeteries and there would no room for the living.

Being someone who wonders about everything, I asked at a Dutch church during a European visit in 2014 about what happened if there were still bones in the grave when they set about burying the next person.  I’m glad I asked, because I then discovered that those little buildings in or near cemeteries weren’t what I thought.  I assumed they were the gardener’s or sextant’s shed, containing things like shovels, lawnmowers, etc.  Well, I was wrong.  Those little buildings are ossuaries containing the bones of the former inhabitants of graves.  The photo below is the ossuary in Wolsum, the Netherlands.

Ossuary Wolsum

This is truly the final resting place until the bones turn to dust, generally stacked something like cordwood with similar types of bones stacked with like bones on shelves.  Yes, seriously.  Once moved from the grave to the ossuary, the bones are not kept together as a “person.”  This photo is an ossuary in Hallstatt, Austria.

Ossuary Austria

From a DNA perspective, these ossuaries, found in almost all cemeteries, are just torture to me, because I can just see the DNA of my ancestral lines in that ossuary, all mixed in with the DNA of the other families…which are probably mine as well, given that these people married their neighbors in the community for generations.  There they are, my ancestors and their DNA, right in front of me, but entirely anonymous and completely unidentifiable.  If we knew who they were, we could obtain the Y and mtDNA lineage of every family in the village, including mine!

The bones in the ossuaries are just waiting to finish turning to dust – a process that takes longer than they are allowed to rest in the ground.  So a grave in Europe is not a place of perpetual rest, it’s a temporary resting point but not the last stop on the journey.  I just can’t help but think what a wonderful scientific study it would be to analyze the bones in an ossuary and compare the results to the DNA of the current village inhabitants, and those descendants who moved away.  And yes, you know I’d be in the front of the line, volunteering.  You could reconstruct an entire village in the 1700s or maybe 1800s from their DNA – maybe even further back.  You could tell who settled there, where they were from originally… you could learn so much.  But back to reality….

Not only do we not know where Irena Charitas and her infant children were buried, their dust assuredly shares that location today with several subsequent generations of Germans, most likely not her descendants because her only known descendant immigrated to America in 1727 with his Stutzman step-brother.  Irene Charitas’ son Johann Michael Mueller, Jr. never knew his mother or father, never remembered seeing his mother’s face, beaming down at him, so joyous that he was alive.  He had no memory of her loving touch.  He was raised by his step-mother and her subsequent husband, Jacob Stutzman, after both of Michael’s parents died by the time he was three.

There was no happy ending for Irene Charitas.  In fact – it seems that her entire adult lifetime was filled with serial grief, except for those few brief months when she and baby Michael both lived.  Irene Charitas’ grief was caused by the births and deaths of 5 children in 5 years, followed by her own death not long after her 6th child was born and survived.  Then, the terrible irony.  When a child finally lives, she herself succumbs.

I can only imagine the excitement Irene felt about her first pregnancy, followed by the shattering death of the baby.  Surely, she would have told herself that it wouldn’t happen again.  It was a first birth, probably difficult.  The second one would be easier.  Just a few months later, she became pregnant again and full of hope, only to have her dreams shattered again with the death of that child.  And then again…and again and again, year after year after year.  Just five years after that first baby died, she was pregnant for her sixth child.  I wonder if she started out in dread when she discovered she was pregnant again, never allowing herself to be excited, to plan, to hope for that baby to live.  I could understand how she might feel that way after 5 dead babies in 5 years.  I know how frightened I was when I was pregnant for my third child after my second child died.

And then the baby lived but she died.  Oh, the horrible irony.  Poor Irene.  In death, leaving behind her one child that lived.  She must have fought the grim reaper with every ounce of her being until the very end.  But it wasn’t enough.  It just wasn’t enough.

I hope that Irene Charitas was able to see, from afar, her son, Johann Michael Mueller Jr. growing up strong, being raised by his step-mother and step-father in a pious pietist home and that it helped sooth her aching mother’s soul.

Mass Pre-Contact Native Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results

In 2012 during excavation for a shopping mall near San Francisco, a mass grave containing 7 men was unearthed.  The manner in which they were buried led archaeologists to believe that they had been murdered, and quickly buried, not ceremonially buried as tribal members would be.  They were found among more than 200 other burials.

The victims ages ranged from about 18 to about 40 and scientists concentrated on analyzing the wounds, cause of death and DNA of these men.  In part, they wanted to see if they were related to each other and if they originated in this area or came from elsewhere.  In other words, were they unsuccessful invaders as suggested by the circumstances of their burials?

This article tells more about the excavations and includes some photos.

Analysis suggests the men lived about 1200 years ago, clearly before European contact.  Analysis of the men’s teeth provided information about their history.  These men had spent their lives together, but their isotope signatures were clearly different than the individuals in the balance of the burials.  Indeed, they look to have been invaders.

An academic paper titled “Isotopic and genetic analysis of a mass grave in central California: Implications for precontact hunter-gatherer warfare” was published a few weeks ago in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  The article itself is behind a paywall available here.  The abstract is provided below:

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

Analysis of a mass burial of seven males at CA-ALA-554, a prehistoric site in the Amador Valley, CA, was undertaken to determine if the individuals were “locals” or “non-locals,” and how they were genetically related to one another.

METHODS:

The study includes osteological, genetic (mtDNA), and stable (C, N, O, S) and radiogenic (Sr) isotope analyses of bone and tooth (first and third molars) samples.

RESULTS:

Isotopes in first molars, third molars, and bone show they spent the majority of their lives living together. They are not locals to the Amador Valley, but were recently living to the east in the San Joaquin Valley, suggesting intergroup warfare as the cause of death. The men were not maternally related, but represent at least four different matrilines. The men also changed residence as a group between age 16 and adult years.

CONCLUSIONS:

Isotope data suggest intergroup warfare accounts for the mass burial. Genetic data suggest the raiding party included sets of unrelated men, perhaps from different households. Generalizing from this case and others like it, we hypothesize that competition over territory was a major factor behind ancient warfare in Central California. We present a testable model of demographic expansion, wherein villages in high-population-density areas frequently fissioned, with groups of individuals moving to lower-population-density areas to establish new villages. This model is consistent with previous models of linguistic expansion. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26331533

Genetic Information

I was extremely disappointed with the genetic information.  Working with the local Ohlone community, the scientists did attempt to extract DNA from the 7 individuals in the mass grave, with 6 extractions being successful.

They only analyzed the HVR1 region of the mitochondrial DNA.

Eerkens 2015 table

In the paper, the authors indicate that nuclear DNA which would include the Y chromosome as well as autosomal DNA was too degraded to recover.  While disappointing, there is nothing they can do about that.

However, only analyzing the mitochondrial DNA, which they clearly were able to amplify, at the HVR1 level is an incredible lost opportunity.  They obtained enough resolution in 6 of the individuals to obtain general haplogroup assignments.  However, the HVR2 and coding regions would have provided the defining information about extended haplogroups and individual mutations, including, perhaps, haplogroups rarely or never seen previously in the Americas.

Furthermore, given the information above, we can’t tell if the D1 individuals are related to each other matrilineally or not.  The B2 individuals are clearly not related in a recent timeframe nor are the A2, B2 and D1 people related to each other on their matrilineal line.  What a shame more information wasn’t obtained.

While I’m grateful that DNA testing was undertaken, I’m saddened by the partial results, especially in this day of full genomic sequencing for ancient DNA specimens.  I’m perplexed as to why they would not have obtained as much information as was possible, given the significant effort expended in recovering any ancient DNA specimen.

Some Native Americans Had Oceanic Ancestors

This week has seen a flurry of new scientific and news articles.  What has been causing such a stir?  It appears that Australian or more accurately, Australo-Melanese DNA has been found in South America’s Native American population. In addition, it has also been found in Aleutian Islanders off the coast of Alaska.  In case you aren’t aware, that’s about 8,500 miles as the crow flies.  That’s one tired crow.  As the person paddles or walks along the shoreline, it’s even further, probably about 12,000 miles.

Aleutians to Brazil

Whatever the story, it was quite a journey and it certainly wasn’t all over flat land.

This isn’t the first inkling we’ve had.  Just a couple weeks ago, it was revealed that the Botocudo remains from Brazil were Polynesian and not admixed with either Native, European or African.  This admixture was first discovered via mitochondrial DNA, but full genome sequencing confirmed their ancestry and added the twist that they were not admixed – an extremely unexpected finding.  This is admittedly a bit confusing, because it implies that there were new Polynesian arrivals in the 1600s or 1700s.

Unlikely as it seems, it obviously happened, so we set that aside as relatively contemporary.

The findings in the papers just released are anything but contemporary.

The First Article

The first article in Science, “Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans” by Raghaven et al published this week provides the following summary (bolding is mine):

How and when the Americas were populated remains contentious. Using ancient and modern genome-wide data, we find that the ancestors of all present-day Native Americans, including Athabascans and Amerindians, entered the Americas as a single migration wave from Siberia no earlier than 23 thousand years ago (KYA), and after no more than 8,000-year isolation period in Beringia. Following their arrival to the Americas, ancestral Native Americans diversified into two basal genetic branches around 13 KYA, one that is now dispersed across North and South America and the other is restricted to North America. Subsequent gene flow resulted in some Native Americans sharing ancestry with present-day East Asians (including Siberians) and, more distantly, Australo-Melanesians. Putative ‘Paleoamerican’ relict populations, including the historical Mexican Pericúes and South American Fuego-Patagonians, are not directly related to modern Australo-Melanesians as suggested by the Paleoamerican Model.

This article in EurekAlert and a second one here discuss the Science paper.

Raghaven 2015

Migration map from the Raghaven paper.

The paper included the gene flow and population migration map, above, along with dates.

The scientists sequenced the DNA of 31 living individuals from the Americas, Siberia and Oceana as follows:

Siberian:

  • Altai – 2
  • Buryat – 2
  • Ket – 2
  • Kiryak – 2
  • Sakha – 2
  • Siberian Yupik – 2

North American Native:

  • Tsimshian (number not stated, but by subtraction, it’s 1)

Southern North American, Central and South American Native:

  • Pima – 1
  • Huichol -1
  • Aymara – 1
  • Yakpa – 1

Oceana:

  • Papuan – 14

The researchers also state that they utilized 17 specimens from relict groups such as the Pericues from Mexico and Fuego-Patagonians from the southernmost tip of South America.  They also sequenced two pre-Columbian mummies from the Sierra Tarahumara in northern Mexico.  In total, 23 ancient samples from the Americas were utilized.

They then compared these results with a reference panel of 3053 individuals from 169 populations which included the ancient Saqqaq Greenland individual at 400 years of age as well as the Anzick child from Montana from about 12,500 years ago and the Mal’ta child from Siberia at 24,000 years of age.

Not surprisingly, all of the contemporary samples with the exception of the Tsimshian genome showed recent western Eurasian admixture.

As expected, the results confirm that the Yupik and Koryak are the closest Eurasian population to the Americas.  They indicate that there is a “clean split” between the Native American population and the Koryak about 20,000 years ago.

They found that “Athabascans and Anzick-1, but not the Greenlandis Inuit and Saqqaq belong to the same initial migration wave that gave rise to present-day Amerindians from southern North America and Central and South America, and that this migration likely followed a coastal route, given our current understanding of the glacial geological and paleoenvironmental parameters of the Late Pleistocene.”

Evidence of gene flow between the two groups was also found, meaning between the Athabascans and the Inuit.  Additionally, they found evidence of post-split gene flow between Siberians and Native Americans which seems to have stopped about 12,000 years ago, which meshes with the time that the Beringia land bridge was flooded by rising seas, cutting off land access between the two land masses.

They state that the results support all Native migration from Siberia, contradicting claims of an early migration from Europe.

The researchers then studied the Karitiana people of South America and determined that the two groups, Athabascans and Karitiana diverged about 13,000 years ago, probably not in current day Alaska, but in lower North America.  This makes sense, because the Clovis Anzick child, found in Montana, most closely matches people in South America.

By the Clovis period of about 12,500 years ago, the Native American population had already split into two branches, the northern and southern, with the northern including Athabascan and other groups such as the Chippewa, Cree and Ojibwa.  The Southern group included people from southern North America and Central and South America.

Interestingly, while admixture with the Inuit was found with the Athabascan, Inuit admixture was not found among the Cree, Ojibwa and Chippewa.  The researchers suggest that this may be why the southern branch, such as the Karitiana are genetically closer to the northern Amerindians located further east than to northwest coast Amerindians and Athabascans.

Finally, we get to the Australian part.  The researchers when trying to sort through the “who is closer to whom” puzzle found unexpected results.  They found that some Native American populations including Aleutian Islanders, Surui (Brazil) and Athabascans are closer to Australo-Melanesians compared to other Native Americans, such as Ojibwa, Cree and Algonquian and South American Purepecha (Mexico), Arhuaco (Colombia) and Wayuu (Colombia, Venezuela).  In fact, the Surui are one of the closest populations to East Asians and Australo-Melanese, the latter including Papuans, non-Papuan Melanesians, Solomon Islanders and hunter-gatherers such as Aeta. The researchers acknowledge these are weak trends, but they are nonetheless consistently present.

Dr. David Reich, from Harvard, a co-author of another paper, also published this past week, says that 2% of the DNA of Amazonians is from Oceana.  If that is consistent, it speaks to a founder population in isolation, such that the 2% just keeps getting passed around in the isolated population, never being diluted by outside DNA.  I would suggest that is not a weak signal.

The researchers suggest that the variance in the strength of this Oceanic signal suggests that the introduction of the Australo-Melanese occurred after the initial peopling of the Americas.  The ancient samples cluster with the Native American groups and do not show the Oceanic markers and show no evidence of gene flow from Oceana.

The researchers also included cranial morphology analysis, which I am omitting since cranial morphology seems to have led researchers astray in the past, specifically in the case of Kennewick man.

One of the reasons cranial morphology is such a hotly debated topic is because of the very high degree of cranial variance found in early skeletal remains.  One of the theories evolving from the cranial differences involving the populating of the Americans has been that the Australo-Melanese were part of a separate and earlier migration that gave rise to the earliest Americans who were then later replaced by the Asian ancestors of current day Native Americans.  If this were the case, then the now-extinct Fuego-Patagonains samples from the location furthest south on the South American land mass should have included DNA from Oceana, but it didn’t.

The Second Article

A second article published this week, titled “’Ghost population’ hints at long lost migration to the Americas” by Ellen Callaway discusses similar findings, presented in a draft letter to Nature titled “Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas” by Skoglund et al.  This second group discovers the same artifact Australo-Melanesian DNA in Native American populations but suggests that it may be from the original migration and settlement event or that there may have been two distinct founding populations that settled at the same time or that there were two founding events.

EurekAlert discusses the article as well.

It’s good to have confirmation and agreement between the two labs who happened across these results independently that the Australo-Melanesian DNA is present in some Native populations today.

Their interpretations and theories about how this Oceanic DNA arrived in some of the Native populations vary a bit, but if you read the details, it’s really not quite as different as it first appears from the headlines.  Neither group claims to know for sure, and both discuss possibilities.

Questions remain.  For example, if the founding group was small, why, then, don’t all of the Native people and populations have at least some Oceanic markers?  The Anzick Child from 12,500 years ago does not.  He is most closely related to the tribes in South America, where the Oceanic markers appear with the highest frequencies.

In the Harvard study, the scientists fully genome sequenced 63 individuals without discernable evidence of European or African ancestors in 21 Native American populations, restricting their study to individuals from Central and South America that have the strongest evidence of being entirely derived from a homogenous First American ancestral population.

Their results show that the two Amazonian groups, Surui and Karitians are closest to the “Australasian populations, the Onge from the Andaman Island in the Bay of Bengal (a so-called ‘Negrito’ group), New Guineans, Papuans and indigenous Australians.”  Within those groups, the Australasian populations are the only outliers – meaning no Africans, Europeans or East Asian DNA found in the Native American people.

When repeating these tests, utilizing blood instead of saliva, a third group was shown to also carry these Oceanic markers – the Xavante, a population from the Brazilian plateau that speaks a language of the Ge group that is different from the Tupi language group spoke by the Karitians and Surui.

Skoglund 2015-2

The closest populations that these Native people matched in Oceana, shown above on the map from the draft Skoglund letter, were, in order, New Guineans, Papuans and Andamanese.  The researchers further state that populations from west of the Andes or north of the Panama isthmus show no significant evidence of an affinity to the Onge from the Andaman Islands with the exception of the Cabecar (Costa Rica).

That’s a very surprising finding, given that one would expect more admixture on the west, which is the side of the continent where the migration occurred.

The researchers then compared the results with other individuals, such as Mal’ta child who is known to have contributed DNA to the Native people today, and found no correlation with Oceanic DNA.  Therefore, they surmised that the Oceanic admixture cannot be explained by a previously known admixture event.

They propose that a mystery population they have labeled as “Population Y” (after Ypykuera which means ancestor in the Tupi language family) contributed the Australasian lineage to the First Americans and that is was already mixed into the lineage by the time it arrived in Brazil.

According to their work, Population Y may itself have been admixed, and the 2% of Oceanic DNA found in the Brazilian Natives may be an artifact of between 2 and 85% of the DNA of the Surui, Karitiana and Xavante that may have come from Population Y.  They mention that this result is striking in that the majority of the craniums that are more Oceanic in Nature than Asiatic, as would be expected from people who migrated from Siberia, are found in Brazil.

They conclude that the variance in the presence or absence of DNA in Native people and remains, and the differing percentages argue for more than one migration event and that “the genetic ancestry of Native Americans from Central and South America cannot be due to a single pulse of migration south of the Late Pleistocene ice sheets from a homogenous source population, and instead must reflect at least two streams of migration or alternatively a long drawn out period of gene flow from a structured Beringian or Northeast Asian source.”

Perhaps even more interesting is the following statement:

“The arrival of population Y ancestry in the Americas must in any scenario have been ancient: while Population Y shows a distant genetic affinity to Andamanese, Australian and New Guinean populations, it is not particularly closely related to any of them, suggesting that the source of population Y in Eurasia no longer exists.”

They further state they find no admixture indication that would suggest that Population Y arrived in the last few thousand years.

So, it appears that perhaps the Neanderthals and Denisovans were not the only people who were our ancestors, but no longer exist as a separate people, only as an admixed part of us today.  We are their legacy.

The Take Away

When I did the Anzick extractions, we had hints that something of this sort might have been occurring.  For example, I found surprising instances of haplogroup M, which is neither European, African nor Native American, so far as we know today.  This may have been a foreshadowing of this Oceanic admixture.  It may also be a mitochondrial artifact.  Time will tell.  Perhaps haplogroup M will turn out to be Native by virtue of being Oceanic and admixed thousands of years ago.  There is still a great deal to learn.  Regardless of how these haplogroups and Oceanic DNA arrived in Brazil in South America and in the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska, one thing is for sure, it did.

We know that the Oceanic DNA found in the Brazilian people studied for these articles is not contemporary and is ancient.  This means that it is not related to the Oceanic DNA found in the Botocudo people, who, by the way, also sport mitochondrial haplogroups that are within the range of Native people, meaning haplogroup B, but have not been found in other Native people.  Specifically, haplogroups B4a1a1 and B4a1a1a.  Additionally, there are other B4a1a, B4a1b and B4a1b1 results found in the Anzick extract which could also be Oceanic.  You can see all of the potential and confirmed Native American mitochondrial DNA results in my article “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” that I update regularly.

We don’t know how or when the Botocudo arrived, but the when has been narrowed to the 1600s or 1700s.  We don’t know how or when the Oceanic DNA in the Brazilian people arrived either, but the when was ancient.  This means that Oceanic DNA has arrived in South America at least twice and is found among the Native peoples both times.

We know that some Native groups have some Oceanic admixture, and others seem to have none, in particular the Northern split group that became the Cree, Ojibwa, Algonquian, and Chippewa.

We know that the Brazilian Native groups are most closely related to Oceanic groups, but that the first paper also found Oceanic admixture in the Aleutian Islands.  The second paper focused on the Central and South American tribes.

We know that the eastern American tribes, specifically the Algonquian tribes are closely related to the South Americans, but they don’t share the Oceanic DNA and neither do the mid-continent tribes like the Cree, Ojibwa and Chippewa.  The only Paleolithic skeleton that has been sequenced, Anzick, from 12,500 years ago in Montana also does not carry the Oceanic signature.

In my opinion, the disparity between who does and does not carry the Oceanic signature suggests that the source of the Oceanic DNA in the Native population could not have been a member of the first party to exit out of Beringia and settle in what is now the Americas.  Given that this had to be a small party, all of the individuals would have been thoroughly admixed with each other’s ancestral DNA within just a couple of generations.  It would have been impossible for one ancestor’s DNA to only be found in some people.  To me, this argues for one of two scenarios.

First, a second immigration wave that joined the first wave but did not admix with some groups that might have already split off from the original group such as the Anzick/Montana group.

Second, multiple Oceanic immigration events.  We still have to consider the possibility that there were multiple events that introduced Oceanic DNA into the Native population.  In other words, perhaps the Aleutian Islands Oceanic DNA is not from the same migration event as the Brazilian DNA which we know is not from the same event as the Botocudo.  I would very much like to see the Oceanic DNA appear in a migration path of people, not just in one place and then the other.  We need to connect the dots.

What this new information does is to rule out the possibility that there truly was only one wave of migration – one group of people who settled the Americas at one time.  More likely, at least until the land bridge submerged, is that there were multiple small groups that exited Beringia over the 8,000 or so years it was inhabitable.  Maybe one of those groups included people from Oceana.  Someplace, sometime, as unlikely as it seems, it happened.

The amazing thing is that it’s more than 10,000 miles from Australia to the Aleutian Islands, directly across the Pacific.  Early adventurers would have likely followed a coastal route to be sustainable, which would have been significantly longer.  The fact that they survived and sent their DNA on a long adventure from Australia to Alaska to South America – and it’s still present today is absolutely amazing.

Australia to Aleutians

We know we still have a lot to learn and this is the tip of a very exciting iceberg.  As more contemporary and ancient Native people have their full genomes sequenced, we’ll learn more answers.  The answer is in the DNA.  We just have to sequence enough of it and learn how to understand the message being delivered.

Botocudo Ancient Remains from Brazil

One thing you can always count on in the infant science of population genetics…  whatever you think you know, for sure, for a fact…well….you don’t.  So don’t say too much, too strongly or you’ll wind up having to decide if you’d like catsup with your crow!  Well, not literally, of course.  It’s an exciting adventure that we’re on together and it just keeps getting better and better.  And the times…they are a changin’.

We have some very interesting news to report.  Fortunately, or unfortunately – the news weaves a new, but extremely interesting, mystery.

Ancient Mitochondrial DNA

Back in 2013, a paper, Identification of Polynesian mtdNA haplogroups in remains of Botocudo Amerindians from Brazil, was published that identified both Native American and Polynesian haplogroups in a group of 14 skeletal remains of Botocudo Indians from Brazil whose remains arrived at a Museum in August of 1890 and who, the scientists felt, died in the second half of the 19th century.

Twelve of their mitochondrial haplogroups were the traditional Native haplogroup of C1.

However, two of the skulls carried Polynesian haplogroups, downstream of haplogroup B, specifically B4a1a1a and B4a1a1, that compare to contemporary individuals from Polynesian, Solomon Island and Fijian populations.  These haplotypes had not been found in Native people or previous remains.

Those haplogroups include what is known as the Polynesian motif and are found in Indonesian populations and also in Madagascar, according to the paper, but the time to the most common recent ancestor for that motif was calculated at 9,300 years plus or minus 2000 years.  This suggests that the motif arose after the Asian people who would become the Native Americans had already entered North and South America through Beringia, assuming there were no later migration waves.

The paper discusses several possible scenarios as to how a Polynesian haplotype found its way to central Brazil among a now extinct Native people. Of course, the two options are either pre-Columbian (pre-1500) contact or post-Columbian contact which would infer from the 1500s to current and suggests that the founders who carried the Polynesian motif were perhaps either slaves or sailors.

In the first half of the 1800s, the Botocudo Indians had been pacified and worked side by side with African slaves on plantations.

Beyond that, without full genome sequencing there was no more that could be determined from the remains at that time.  We know they carried a Polynesian motif, were found among Native American remains and at some point in history, intermingled with the Native people because of where they were found.  Initial contact could have been 9,000 years ago or 200.  There was no way to tell.  They did have some exact HVR1 and HVR2 matches, so they could have been “current,” but I’ve also seen HVR1 and HVR2 matches that reach back to a common ancestor thousands of years ago…so an HVR1/HVR2 match is nothing you can take to the bank, certainly not in this case.

Full Genome Sequencing and Y DNA

This week, one on my subscribers, Kalani, mentioned that Felix Immanuel had uploaded another two kits to GedMatch of ancient remains.  Those two kits are indeed two of the Botocudo remains – the two with the Polynesian mitochondrial motif which have now been fully sequenced.  A corresponding paper has been published as well, “Two ancient genomes reveal Polynesian ancestry among the indigenous Botocudos of Brazil” by Malaspinas et al with supplemental information here.

There are two revelations which are absolutely fascinating in this paper and citizen scientist’s subsequent work.

First, their Y haplogroups are C-P3092 and C-Z31878, both equivalent to C-B477 which identifies former haplogroup C1b2.  The Y haplogroups aren’t identified in the paper, but Felix identified them in the raw data files that are available (for those of you who are gluttons for punishment) at the google drive links in Felix’s article Two Ancient DNA from indigenous Botocudos of Brazil.

I’ve never seen haplogroup C1b2 as Native American, but I wanted to be sure I hadn’t missed a bus, so I contacted Ray Banks who is one of the administrators for the main haplogroup C project at Family Tree DNA and also is the coordinator for the haplogroup C portion of the ISOGG tree.

ISOGG y tree

You can see the position of C1b2, C-B477 in yellow on the ISOGG (2015) tree relative to the position of C-P39 in blue, the Native American SNP shown several branches below, both as branches of haplogroup C.

Ray maintains a much more descriptive tree of haplogroup C1 at this link and of C2 at this link.

Ray Banks C1 tree

The branch above is the Polynesian (B477) branch and below, the Native American (P39) branch of haplogroup C.

Ray Banks C2 treeIn addition to confirming the haplogroup that Felix identified, when Ray downloaded the BAM files and analyzed the contents, he found that both samples were also positive for M38 and M208, which moves them downstream two branches from C1b2 (B477).

Furthermore, one of the samples had a mutation at Z32295 which Ray has included as a new branch of the C tree, shown below.

Ray Banks Z32295

Ray indicated that the second sample had a “no read” at Z32295, so we don’t know if he carried this mutation.  Ray mentions that both men are negative for many of the B459 equivalents, which would move them down one more branch.  He also mentioned that about half of the Y DNA sites are missing, meaning they had no calls in the sequence read.  This is common in ancient DNA results.  It would be very interesting to have a Big Y or equivalent test on contemporary individuals with this haplogroup from the Pacific Island region.

Ray notes that all Pacific Islanders may be downstream of Z33295.

Not Admixed

The second interesting aspect of the genomic sequencing is that the remains did not show any evidence of admixture with European, Native American nor African individuals.  More than 97% of their genome fits exactly with the Polynesian motifs.  In other words, they appear to be first generation Polynesians.  They carry Polynesian mitochondrial, Y and autosomal (nuclear) DNA, exclusively.

Botocudo not admixed

In total, 25 Botocudo remains have been analyzed and of those, two have Polynesian ancestry and those two, BOT15 and BOT17, have exclusively Polynesian ancestry as indicated in the graphic above from the paper.

When did they live?  Accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating with marine correction gives us dates of 1479-1708 AD and 1730-1804 for specimen BOT15 and 1496-1842 for BOT17.

The paper goes on to discuss four possible scenarios for how this situation occurred and the pros and cons of each.

The Polynesian Peru Slave Trade

This occurred between 1862-1864 and can be ruled out because the dates for the skulls predate this trade period, significantly.

The Madagascar-Brazil Slave Trade

The researchers state that Madagascar is known to have been peopled by Southeast Asians and not by Polynesians.  Another factor excluding this option is that it’s known that the Malagasy ancestors admixed with African populations prior to the slave trade.  No such ancestry was detected in the samples, so these individuals were not brought as a result of the Madagascar-Brazil slave trade – contrary to what has been erroneously inferred and concluded.

Voyaging on European Ships as Crew, Passengers or StowAways

Trade on Euroamerican ships in the Pacific only began after 1760 AD and by 1760, Bot15 and Bot17 were already deceased with a probability of .92 and .81, respectively, making this scenario unlikely, but not entirely impossible.

Polynesian Voyaging

Polynesian ancestors originated from East Asia and migrated eastwards, interacting with New Guineans before colonizing the Pacific.  These people did colonize the Pacific, as unlikely as it seems, traveling thousands of miles, reaching New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island between 1200 and 1300 AD.  Clearly they did not reach Brazil in this timeframe, at least not as related to these skeletal remains, but that does not preclude a later voyage.

Of the four options, the first two appear to be firmly eliminated which leaves only the second two options.

One of the puzzling aspects of this analysis it the “pure” Polynesian genome, eliminating admixture which precludes earlier arrival.

The second puzzling aspect is how the individuals, and there were at least two, came to find themselves in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and why we have not found this type of DNA on the more likely western coastal areas of South America.

Minas Gerais Brazil

Regardless of how they arrived, they did, and now we know at least a little more of their story.

GedMatch

At GedMatch, it’s interesting to view the results of the one-to-one matching.

Both kits have several matches.  At 5cM and 500 SNPs, kit F999963 has 86 matches.  Of those, the mitochondrial haplogroup distribution is overwhelmingly haplogroup B, specifically B4a1a1 with a couple of interesting haplogroup Ms.

F999963 mito

Y haplogroups are primarily C2, C3 and O.   C3 and O are found exclusively in Asia – meaning they are not Native.

F999963 Y

Kit F999963 matches a couple of people at over 30cM with a generation match estimate just under 5 generations.  Clearly, this isn’t possible given that this person had died by about 1760, according to the paper, which is 255 years or about 8.5-10 generations ago, but it says something about the staying power of DNA segments and probably about endogamy and a very limited gene pool as well.  All matches over 15cM are shown below.

F999963 largest

Kit F999964 matches 97 people, many who are different people that kit F999963 matched.  So these ancient Polynesian people,  F999963 and F999964 don’t appear to be immediate relatives.

F999964 mito

Again, a lot of haplogroup B mitochondrial DNA, but less haplogroup C Y DNA and no haplogroup O individuals.

F999964 Y

Kit F999964 doesn’t match anyone quite as closely as kit F999963 did in terms of total cM, but the largest segment is 12cM, so the generational estimate is still at 4.6,  All matches over 15cM are shown below.

F999964 largest

Who are these individuals that these ancient kits are matching?  Many of these individuals know each other because they are of Hawaiian or Polynesian heritage and have already been working together.  Several of the Hawaiian folks are upwards of 80%, one at 94% and one believed to be 100% Hawaiian.  Some of these matches are to Maori, a Polynesian people from New Zealand, with one believed to be 100% Maori in addition to several admixed Maori.  So obviously, these ancient remains are matching contemporary people with Polynesian ancestry.

The Unasked Question

Sooner or later, we as a community are going to have to face the question of exactly what is Native or aboriginal.  In this case, because we do have the definitive autosomal full genome testing that eliminates admixture, these two individuals are clearly NOT Native.  Without full genomic testing, we would have never known.

But what if they had arrived 200 years earlier, around 1500 AD, one way or another, possibly on an early European ship, and had intermixed with the Native people for 10 generations?  What if they carried a Polynesian mitochondrial (or Y) DNA motif, but they were nearly entirely Native, or so much Native that the Polynesian could no longer be found autosomally?  Are they Native?  Is their mitochondrial or Y DNA now also considered to be Native?  Or is it still Polynesian?  Is it Polynesian if it’s found in the Cook Islands or on Hawaii and Native if found in South America?  How would we differentiate?

What if they arrived, not in 1500 AD, but about the year 500 AD, or 1000 BCE or 2000 BCE or 3000 BCE – after the Native people from Asia arrived but unquestionably before European contact?  Does that make a difference in how we classify their DNA?

We don’t have to answer this yet today, but something tells me that we will, sooner or later…and we might want to start pondering the question.

Acknowledgements: 

I want to thank all of the people involved whose individual work makes this type of comparative analysis possible.  After all, the power of genetic genealogy, contemporary or ancient, is in collaboration.  Without sharing, we have nothing. We learn nothing.  We make no progress.

In addition to the various scientists and papers already noted, special thanks to Felix Immanual for preparing and uploading the ancient files.  This is no small task and the files often take a month of prep each.  Thanks to Kalani for bringing this to my attention.  Thanks to Ray Banks for his untiring work with haplogroup C and for maintaining his haplogroup webpage with specifics about where the various subgroups are found.  Thanks to ISOGG’s volunteers for the haplotree.  Thanks to GedMatch for providing this wonderful platform and tools.  Thanks to everyone who uploads their DNA, and that of their relatives and works on specific types of projects – like Hawaiian and Maori.  Thanks to my haplogroup C-P39 co-administrators, Dr. David Pike and Marie Rundquist, for their contributions to this discussion and for working together on the Native American Haplogroup C-P39 Project.  It’s important to have other people who are passionate about the same subjects to bounce things off of and to work with.  This is the perfect example of the power of collaboration!

Kennewick Man is Native American

Finally, an answer, after almost 20 years and very nearly losing the opportunity of ever knowing.

Today, in Nature, a team of scientists released information about the full genomic sequencing of Kennewick Man who was discovered in 1996 in Washington state.  Previous DNA sequencing attempts had failed, and 8000 year old Kennewick Man was then embroiled in years of legal battles.  Ironically, the only reason DNA testing was allowed is because, based on cranial morphology it was determined that he was likely more closely associated with Asian people or the Auni than the Native American population, and therefore NAGPRA did not apply.  However, subsequent DNA testing has removed all question about Kennewick Man’s history.  He truly is the Ancient One.

Kennewick man is Native American.  His Y haplogroup is Q-M3 and his mitochondrial DNA is X2a.  This autosomal DNA was analyzed as well, and compared to some current tribes, where available.

From the paper:

We find that Kennewick Man is closer to modern Native Americans than to any other population worldwide. Among the Native American groups for whom genome-wide data are available for comparison, several seem to be descended from a population closely related to that of Kennewick Man, including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Colville), one of the five tribes claiming Kennewick Man. We revisit the cranial analyses and find that, as opposed to genomic-wide comparisons, it is not possible on that basis to affiliate Kennewick Man to specific contemporary groups. We therefore conclude based on genetic comparisons that Kennewick Man shows continuity with Native North Americans over at least the last eight millennia.

Interestingly enough, the Colville Tribe, located near where Kennewick Man was found, decided to participate in the testing by submitting DNA for comparison.

Kennewick Colville

The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man by Rasmussen, et al, Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14625

Also from the paper:

Our results are in agreement with a basal divergence of Northern and Central/Southern Native American lineages as suggested from the analysis of the Anzick-1 genome12. However, the genetic affinities of Kennewick Man reveal additional complexity in the population history of the Northern lineage. The finding that Kennewick is more closely related to Southern than many Northern Native Americans (Extended Data Fig. 4) suggests the presence of an additional Northern lineage that diverged from the common ancestral population of Anzick-1 and Southern Native Americans (Fig. 3). This branch would include both Colville and other tribes of the Pacific Northwest such as the Stswecem’c, who also appear symmetric to Kennewick with Southern Native Americans (Extended Data Fig. 4). We also find evidence for additional gene flow into the Pacific Northwest related to Asian populations (Extended Data Fig. 5), which is likely to post-date Kennewick Man. We note that this gene flow could originate from within the Americas, for example in association with the migration of paleo-Eskimos or Inuit ancestors within the past 5 thousand years25, or the gene flow could be post colonial19.

The authors go on to say that Kennewick Man is significiantly different than Anzick Child, which matches closely with many Meso and South American samples.  Kennewick on the other hand, is closely related to the Chippewa and Anzick was not.

This divergence may suggest a population substructure and migration path within the Americas, although I would think significantly more testing of Native people would be in order before a migration path would be able to be determined or even suggested. It is very interesting that Anzick from Montana, 12,500 years ago, would match Meso American samples so closely.  I would have expected Kennewick to perhaps match Meso Americans more closely because I would have expected the migration pathway to be down the coastline.  Perhaps that migration had already happened by the time Kennewick man came onto the scene some 8000 years ago.

You can read the entire paper at this link.