Monday, July 29, 2013

75% Eastern European DNA? Sounds about right to me

I am 99.9% European. I would have guessed that, even if I had never spit into tiny vials for autosomal DNA analysis. Test results from 23andMe confirmed it, though, and took me a step further with its website's Ancestry Composition feature, presenting several different scenarios of what that 99.9% signifies.

Ancestry Composition basically enables you to consider your own DNA heritage in relation to the world's geographic/ethnic populations, which 23andMe has assigned to 22 different groupings. The data "includes DNA you received from all of your ancestors, on both sides of your family. The results reflect where your ancestors lived 500 years ago, before ocean-crossing ships and airplanes came on the scene," the website says.

The primary element is a table that tallies up the percentages of the various world populations reflected in your DNA. A resolution option allows you to see those percentages in three different breakdowns. Here are mine:

Global resolution: 99.9% European + 0.1%miscellaneous = 100% Barbara
Regional resolution: that 99.9% more specifically signifies 75.5% Eastern European, 4.2% Northern European, 0.2% Ashkenazi, 0.2% Southern European, and 19.8% nonspecific European
Subregional resolution: the 0.2% Southern European is more exactly described as representing the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan peninsulas and Sardinia

How does 23andMe define these categories? Eastern Europe encompasses Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and Hungary, and is "bordered on the east by the Ural Mountains." Northern Europe extends "as far west as Ireland, as far north as Norway, as far east as Finland, and as far south as France."

It is unclear to me where Lithuania and Belarus fit into the mix. As one of the Baltic countries, I'm guessing Lithuania falls into the Northern European classification. But what about Belarus? It is bordered by both Slavic countries (Poland, Ukraine, and Russia) and Baltic (Lithuania and Latvia). The population samples cited with these classifications do not include Belarus.

The regional resolution resonates with me. The 75.5% Eastern European DNA makes sense, in terms of my paper-trail genealogical research. Since the 1790s at least, my ancestors are documented as Polish Roman Catholics. I'm comfortable basically attributing the 24% of Northern and nonspecific European DNA to my maternal grandmother's H27 mtDNA, my paternal grandmother's mother's T2b mtDNA, and my paternal grandfather's mystery-man father's unknown but very likely Lithuanian roots. If this doesn't seem completely logical or mathematically accurate, I'm okay with that.

The 0.2% Southern European DNA holds little interest for me. If a stray Sardinian ever shows up in one of my family's marriage records, I will rethink this.

The best-fitting estimate

Another approach to examining the population percentages is via three different estimates: conservative, standard, or speculative.

Personally, I don't feel a need to spend much time mulling the conservative option, which labels 56.5% of my DNA as Eastern European and 42% as nonspecific European with a smattering of other populations contributing 1.5%. All four of my grandparents came from the same small geographic area, an arc that sweeps across western Belarus up into southern Lithuania. I have done reasonably extensive genealogical research on their ancestors—or at least 7/8 of them, my paternal grandfather's paternal line being that one brick wall. And judging from that line's Y-DNA test results, even that great-grandfather fits comfortably into the ethnic populations of the Grodno-Lida-Vilnius region (probably closest to Vilnius).

The standard estimate mirrors the regional resolution detailed above.

The speculative estimate considers my DNA as 87.1% Eastern and Northern European; 1.3% British and Irish (ah, could that account for my love of Celtic music?), 1.2% French and German: 6.1% nonspecific Northern European; and 4.2% a mix of Southern European, Ashkenazi, and general nonspecific European. It is intriguing, and it seems possible, but I have no records to document such fine distinctions, so I'll stick with the standard estimate.

The graphic here displays my standard estimate/regional resolution autosomal DNA analysis, indicating my ancestry is at least 75% Eastern European. It also highlights one aspect of the 23andMe website that I particularly like: it has a visually appealing, colorful, user-friendly design that is accessible even to a nonscientist like me.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My grandparents' haplogroups: N1c1 & R1a1 Y-DNA; T2b & H27 mtDNA

There is a lot to be said about all the DNA tests my family members and I have taken over the past three years. I am certain of this from all the probing questions and insightful answers that other people post daily on the DNA-Newbie list. They are analyzing shared cMs, mulling relationship ranges, discussing STRs and SNPs …

Mutations and matches and markers, oh my!

I'm clueless.

Not entirely clueless. I kinda sorta get the really basic basics here, just like I kinda sorta get the precession of the equinoxes, and I am committed to learning as much as my boggled little right brain can hold because DNA completely fascinates me. I want to understand as much as I possibly can about what these tests reveal about my family's past.

I also want to share some of our FamilyTreeDNA findings, and expand upon my prior post's quick list identifying my two grandfathers' Y-DNA haplogroups and my two grandmothers' mtDNA haplogroups. It may seem like I'm overthinking things, but I've been a bit hung up on how to do this. Obviously, I'm ill-equipped to offer a presentation that is even remotely scientific. (I prefer not to make a complete fool of myself on The Internet, Where Everything You Post Remains Online Forever.)

If you want to know more about how, when, and where any of our particular haplogroups fit into tens of thousands of years of human migration, you would do well do simply Google them, for starters; there are many resources online.

I'm keeping it simple: an overview of the tests, a few screen shots, a couple of observations, a couple of disclaimers, and some relevant names, dates, and places from my family tree. All of the villages and parishes referred to are in the Lida region of western Belarus. Szczuczyn is about 30 miles east of Grodno; Radun is about 60 miles farther east, and about 45 miles south of Vilnius, Lithuania. Unlike the men, the women take on new surnames in each generation as the result of marriage. I mention those names in my eternal hope of connecting with long-lost relatives through this blog.

Paternal ancestry

Grandfather Julian Prokopowicz — Y-DNA haplogroup N1c1 (also known as N-M231)

I know nothing about my paternal great-grandfather, Kazimierz Prokopowicz. After 17 years of research, I have not found even one single record documenting his life. No surprise, then, that I have been so interested in gleaning what information I can from the Y-DNA he passed down to his male descendants. Thanks to my paternal uncle's willingness to be tested, I have learned at least that my paternal Prokopowicz men belong to haplogroup N1c1, which is widely found in northern Europe among the western Siberian Yakuts and Nenets, the Finnic and Baltic peoples, the Saami, and some Russians.

The surnames I see among my uncle's 230 Y-DNA matches are overwhelmingly Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Finnish, and Latvian. The closest matches report geographic roots in Lithuania, sweeping southward from Vilnius into the Lida region of Belarus. Some bear surnames that I recognize from the parish records of Radun (where my grandfather was born) and Nacza and Ejszyszki (where several Prokopowicz families are documented from the late 1700s on).

These matches are not recent; the likelihood of sharing a common male ancestor within the last 4 generations is about 61 percent; within the last 8 generations, about 85 percent; and within 12 generations, about 94 percent. Estimating 4 generations per century, those percentages suggest a likelihood of connection sometime in the 1700s.

At 24 generations, or 600 years, the probability of connection jumps to 99.66 percent. Does this mean that my paternal Prokopowicz ancestor was living somewhere in the Wilno/Vilnius region circa 1400? Could it mean that he was part of a tribe or group that migrated there in that time frame? Could it mean something else entirely? I don't know. I would dearly love to test some male Prokopowiczes with roots in the village of Poleckiszki or okolica Mongieliszki, two locations (both on the Lithuania-Belarus border) where I've found numerous Prokopowicz records. Or Turgeliai, Lithuania (in Polish, Turgiele), another Prokopowicz village area that I have not researched at all.

Because the text box accompanying the white push-pin icon representing my uncle would have covered most of Lithuania and Latvia on the map of his matches, I removed it. Imagine it in the northwest corner of Belarus.

Grandmother Anna Blaszko — mtDNA haplogroup T2b

While Y-DNA can suggest relationships within a few hundred years, mitochondrial DNA is more an indication of "deep ancestry" and human migration over thousands of years. It lends itself to "Daughters of Eve" analysis more than to hopes of discovering a cousin (though the latter is possible too). The main insight I have gained from my family's two mtDNA tests is that my grandmothers were descended from two different tribes of women. (If you had known my grandmothers, that would actually come as no surprise.)

Since it was administered in April 2013, the FTDNA mtHVR2toMega test (HVR1, HVR2, Coding Region) has yielded 228 matches for my paternal grandmother's T2b mitochondrial DNA. There are 45 matches at zero steps removed, 67 at 1 step (a prominent African American genealogist and university professor among them), 70 at 2 steps, and 46 at 3 steps removed. Frankly, I don't know what "steps" mean (some sort of mutations, maybe).

At any rate, among the 27 closest matches who identified their maternal line's country of origin, 6 claim Germany, 4 Ireland, 3 each Finland and England, 2 Switzerland, and 1 each Austria, Estonia, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US. The screen shot (at right) of the closest matches shows my grandmother's maternal line with a white marker and her few exact matches in red. She appears alone in western Belarus, but that may be the result of fewer people with roots there having done the mtDNA test.

For the record, in my father's mother's family, these are my direct ancestors:
grandmother — Anna Blaszko, born 1895 in Skladance, Radun parish
great-grandmother — Teresa Bowszys, born 1866 in Skladance, Radun parish
great-great-grandmother — Anna Tumielewicz, born circa 1835 in Narkuny, Żyrmuny parish
great-great-great-grandmother — Katarzyna Komięcz, born circa 1806, probably in Gudele, Żyrmuny parish

Maternal ancestry

Grandfather Aleksandr Prokopowicz — Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1 (also known as R-SRY10831.2)

I'm very fortunate and thankful that my cousin agreed to have his Y-DNA tested. He is the only living direct male descendant of my maternal grandfather. Lacking my cousin's willingness, I would have had to seek out a male descendant of one of my great-grandfather Kazimierz's brothers—not an impossible alternative, and one that I hope to pursue in the future, but it seems optimal to test as close to home as possible.

Compared to my other grandparents' same-sex haplogroup tests, this Y-DNA test has a staggering number of results—931. However, only 5 of them match at more than the 12-marker level, and even those are remote. As I interpret the results, any relationship between this Prokopowicz line and its 931 matches is probably no more recent than the year 1400.

My cousin's test results perhaps serve as an example of the fact that R1a1 is a very large, very common Y-DNA haplogroup, which spread from Eurasia to central Europe and Scandinavia thousands of years ago. The countries with the highest frequency of representation in my cousin's matches are Norway, the central European and southern Slavic countries, and Pakistan.

The screen shot shows the countries of origin claimed by men whose Y-DNA test results most closely match my cousin's. A white push-pin icon, barely visible amid the red and orange icons that cover the map of Europe, represents him, and our Prokopowicz line.

I can't elaborate any further here without stepping into scientific territory where I really don't belong. A graphic labeled "R1a1 Clades (by SNP markers)" on the FTDNA R1a1 and Subclades Y-DNA Project-Background page very clearly illustrates the migration time line of the SNP tree (basically, changes in the DNA sequence at specific locations). To see where the Prokopowiczes fit it, trace the green Central and Eastern Europe/Western Asia Z280 section to the far right column tagged Balts that ends in Z661. If I understand my cousin's SNP test results correctly, the Prokopowiczes represent some subsequent mutation there, yet to be identified.

In my mother's father's family, these are my direct male ancestors:
grandfather — Aleksandr Prokopowicz, born 1878 in Kozarezy, Iszczolna parish
great-grandfather — Kazimierz Prokopowicz, born 1845 in Kozarezy, Iszczolna parish
great-great-grandfather — Stefan Prokopowicz, born 1811 in Kozarezy, Iszczolna parish
great-great-great-grandfather — Ludwik Prokopowicz, born circa 1765, probably in Iszczolna parish
great-great-great-great-grandfather — Stefan Prokopowicz, born circa 1730, probably in Iszczolna parish

My research documenting the descendants of my great-great-great-great-grandfather Stefan Prokopowicz is fairly extensive. Each generation was blessed with sons. It would be wonderful to make contact with any current bearers of the Prokopowicz Y-DNA.

Grandmother Stefania Ruscik — mtDNA haplogroup H27

H27 is a very small (very, very small!), fairly recently identified group. My FTDNA mtHVR2toMega test has yielded just 54 results since 2010. Only one match is zero steps removed, hinting vaguely at a possible common maternal ancestor within the time frame of verifiable, paper-trail research. That tester knows little of her maternal ancestry except that her grandmother was from Poland.

The other 53 matches, 1-3 steps removed, comprise a cluster in eastern England, 3 in Finland, and 1-2 each in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey. Looking at continental Europe (excluding Scandinavia), my grandmother's line is actually the farthest east. How the heck did it end up there?!?

These are my direct maternal ancestors:

grandmother — Stefania Ruscik, born 1882 in Gierniki, Szczuczyn parish
great-grandmother — Emilia Nowogrodzki, born 1853 in Kozly, Wasiliszki parish
great-great-grandmother — Krystyna Sobol, born 1821 in Gierniki, Szczuczyn parish
great-great-great-grandmother — Anna Staniejko, born 1799 in Janczuki, Szczuczyn parish
great-great-great-great-grandmother — Theresia Waszczynska, born 1756 in Janczuki, Szczuczyn parish
great-great-great-great-great-grandmother —Anna ?, born probably circa 1730, probably in Szczuczyn parish (or possibly elsewhere)

As the map below illustrates, my maternal H27 mtDNA has only one exact match, somewhere in Poland.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Exactly how Polish is my DNA?

My grandparents, and their parents before them, and their parents before them, all lived in Wilno. In their time, Wilno was one of the western provinces of the Russian Empire; earlier, Wilno was the eastern stronghold of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. For hundreds of years, at least, the Wilno region was a melting pot of ethnicities—Polish, Lithuanian, Jewish, Ruthenian, Tatar, German, Scot, and Italian (not to mention possible Swedish infusion from the devastating Great Northern Wars).

When my grandparents emigrated from Wilno before World War I, they settled in a sizable Polish community in Worcester, Massachusetts. They were members of its Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of Częstochowa. My mother and her siblings were educated at the parish's St. Mary's School, whose bilingual curriculum steeped them in Polish literature, history, and music. Although the intensive half-day of Polish studies had been phased out by the 1950s, when I received my diploma from St. Mary's High School in the mid-1960s, I was graduated from New England's only coeducational Polish Catholic high school.

My family spoke Polish at home. We ate Polish food—my father's homemade kiełbasa, my mother's gołąbki. Daddy listened to Johnny Libera's polka program on the radio every weekend, and Mom prayed I would marry "a nice Polish boy." (Note: her prayers were not answered. Szkoda!)

It never occurred to me that I was anything less than 100 percent Polish. In 1996, I began researching and documenting my Polish ancestry. In 2002, I stepped off the paper trail to do my first mitochondrial DNA test; Oxford Ancestors identified me as mtDNA H, the most common European maternal haplogroup. Unfazed by the fact that H encompassed about 40 percent of the continent's female descendants, I ordered a "Polish DNA Inside" T-shirt from Café Press.

Lost in a maze of haplogroups

But I began reading books and more books about DNA. I lacked the scientific background to understand much, but the topic intrigued me. My mother had passed mtDNA H along to me, but what did my other ancestral lines contribute to my genetic makeup? What did I receive from my father and my grandfathers, whose Y-DNA I, as a woman, could not inherit? How did my paternal grandmother fit into the scheme of things? What did I share with my cousins? What did I hand down to my children?

Testing had grown increasingly sophisticated in the years since my Oxford Ancestors test. As a woman, I could hope for more detail about my mtDNA heritage through newer, more refined tests. As a woman, I could not be tested to learn my father's Y-DNA haplogroup. I could, however, gain some insight into my ancestry beyond direct male and direct female lines by means of autosomal testing—and perhaps discover some new cousins in the process.

After doing considerable research on genetic testing services, I decided to try Family Tree DNA. (Since then, I have also used 23andMe. I am equally satisfied with both companies, which are recognized leaders in the field.) What I particularly liked about Family Tree DNA was its plethora of projects—geographic, ethnic, haplogroup, surname—that seemed designed to facilitate exploring how and where any tester's ancestry might fit into the big picture of human evolution and migration.

Who to test, and why

I had a goal: to identify the Y-DNA haplogroups of my two grandfathers, and the mtDNA haplogroups of both of my grandmothers (of course, I already knew my maternal grandmother's). The Y-DNA results loomed especially large. Both my father and my mother were born into Prokopowicz families, as I mentioned in one of my early blog posts. My paternal grandfather, Julian Prokopowicz (1895-1951), hailed from Radun parish in the eastern Lida region. My maternal grandfather, Aleksandr Prokopowicz (1878-1939), was from Iszczolna parish, a scant 30 miles to the west. Did Julian and Aleksandr share a common male ancestor at some point in the distant past? No amount of paper-trail research could ascertain that. Only Y-DNA testing could answer the question.

My father and three of his four younger brothers had already died. Only his youngest brother, my one surviving uncle, could provide a genetic sample of my grandfather Julian's Y-DNA as well as my paternal grandmother Anna's mtDNA. (Men inherit their mother's mtDNA but do not pass it along to their children.) I was very apprehensive about asking my uncle to do the testing; he is a very private person. To my grateful delight and relief, he graciously agreed.

I should note that, had my uncle not been willing and available, other testing options were possible in my extended family: five male cousins (my paternal uncles' sons) and one aunt (my father's one surviving sister). One male cousin and one aunt could have provided the haplogroup information I sought, but testing one person instead of two seemed optimal (read: simpler and cheaper).

My mother's family also posed a challenge. Of my mom's three brothers, only one had fathered a son—my cousin and genealogy mentor, who died in 2000, survived by two daughters and one son. That son, my first cousin once removed, was the only living male Prokopowicz descendant of my grandfather Aleksandr, the only possible source of a Y-DNA sample. Without hesitation, and happy to further the family research his father had launched back in the 1980s, he too agreed to testing.

Even though I already knew my maternal grandmother Stefania was haplogroup H, I expected that more current mtDNA testing might augment the information I received in 2002.

With all four grandparents represented, I ordered our kits from Family Tree DNA in March 2010.

The Prokopowicz Question, answered at last

Four months later, the Prokopowicz question was unequivocally answered: Julian Prokopowicz and Aleksandr Prokopowicz did not share a common male ancestor. They did not even share a haplogroup. They were descended from two distinct tribes that migrated to Wilno from different parts of Eurasia sometime during the past few hundreds or thousands of years.

The same proved true of my two grandmothers, who descended from different "daughters of Eve," as human genetics professor Brian Sykes termed the mitochondrial DNA haplogroups in his groundbreaking 2001 book.

Over the past three years, additional tests on our family's DNA samples have added more specificity to the initial findings. For Y-DNA, we advanced from 12 to 67 markers and added on SNP tests. For mtDNA, as new tests became available, we progressed to FTDNA's mtDNAPlus and mtHVR2toMega. To explore our other ancestral lines, we used Family Finder autosomal tests; I have used 23andMe for that same purpose.

My grandparents' haplogroups

What were my grandparents' same-sex haplogroups? Here is what my family's DNA tests revealed:

Paternal grandfather Julian Prokopowicz (via my uncle's test) — N1c1, also described as N-M231 Y-DNA
Paternal grandmother Anna Blaszko (via my uncle's test) — T2b mtDNA
Maternal grandfather Aleksandr Prokopowicz (via my cousin's test) — R1a1, also described as R-SRY10831.2 Y-DNA
Maternal grandmother Stefania Ruscik (via my test) — H27 mtDNA

It's my hope to find appropriate long-lost cousins who might be tested for my grandparents' other ancestral lines: a female descendant of Julian's mother, Anna Bogdan; a male descendant of Anna's father, Adam Blaszko; a female descendant of Aleksandr's mother, Paulina Zubrzycki; and a male descendant of Stefania's father, Antoni Ruscik. I am curious about whether testing those family lines would reveal even more diversity in my heritage.

I need a new T-shirt!

That would be in line with the haplogroups observed to date in the Family Tree DNA Belarus-Lida Region project that I founded a couple years ago. Y-DNA haplogroups represented there are E1b1b1, I1, J2, N1c1, R1a1a, and R1b1a2. Mitochondrial haplogroups are H, H23, H27, I, J1c1, K, N1b1e, R0a, T2, T2b, T2e, U, U7, and W6-C16192T. The project members' range of haplogroups—to some extent, at least—reflects the ethnic mix that characterized Wilno for so many centuries.

It has been eye-opening to me to consider that I am, in effect, a one-person melting pot—a genetic synthesis of at least a few of the disparate human tribes that found their way to Wilno over hundreds or thousands of years. DNA testing answered my first, rather simple question: yes, I am descended from two unrelated Prokopowicz families. But it has raised some other questions and issues, not the least of which is this: I need a new T-shirt, one that correctly proclaims "More than Polish DNA Inside."