Our connections to the past can be surprising and our stories can complement each other's beliefs. The examples presented here show how one's ancestors may have travelled long distances and taken surprising paths. These examples illustrate well the importance of the ongoing study of our past through the use of genetic markers to help us better understand who we are, and how the human race migrated over time.
Like many Americans, Nick Donofrio, Senior Vice President, Technology and Manufacturing, knew his ancestors came from somewhere else. In his case, his grandparents came from Southern Italy to New York City. What he didn't know was that their forebears had settled in remote mountains in the Middle East 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.
"I never would have imagined the results," Nick says. "They're really kind of amazing."
Analysis of Nick's DNA found he belonged in the Haplogroup J2. This group originated in an area to the west of the Zagros Mountains in Iran. The area we now refer to as Mesopotamia, and it was the first culture in that part of the world to domesticate plants. Plant domestication, in turn, led to agriculture. Mesopotamians went from a society of hunter-gathers to farmers. Then they went on the road.
But how Nick's ancestors found their way from Mesopotamia to Italy remains unclear. "That's why we need to collect hundreds of thousands of these samples," says Nick. More samples will help fill in the gap between the origins of modern humankind and the beginnings of recorded history.
Born in Belgium
Peter Mous' DNA identifies him as a member of Haplogroup R1B, the most common group in Europe. In some places, notably one area of Ireland, it accounts for 98 percent of the males.
And his family history mirrors the DNA findings. While he was born in Belgium, and raised there and in France, the U.S. and the Netherlands, Peter's father's family is Dutch and can trace its history back to at least the 18th century. Less is known about the history of his mother's family, although it is believed to have come from a German town called Querbach.
Ancestral members of Haplogroup R1B were responsible for the famous Paleolithic cave paintings in Cheveaux, France. Peter's forebears were probably the first homo sapiens in Europe, arriving to an area already inhabited by Neanderthals, whom they likely out-competed for resources. When the last ice age arrived, they were cut off from both northern and eastern Europe and retreated.
Born in Cuba
Although he was born in Havana, Cuba, Irving Wladawsky-Berger is of Eastern European origin. That's not a surprise for him.
"Both my parents came from Eastern Europe to Cuba, my father in the 1920s, my mother in the 1930s," said Irving. "All the family that was left behind in Eastern Europe were killed during the Holocaust. I cannot trace my parents' family beyond their parents and brothers and sisters."
Irving belongs to Haplogroup J, a Semitic group that flowed out of the Middle East in two great migrations in the last 10,000 years. The first was the migration of farmers from the Fertile Crescent, in present-day Middle East , which brought agriculture to Europe. The second, which took place about 70 AD, came just after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. Irving's ancestors are believed to have been part of the second migration. About 50 percent of Eastern European Jews are members of Haplogroup J.
Although there were few surprises in the DNA results, they did have an effect on Irving. "The findings caused me to look into my heritage more, something I had not done in a long time," he said.