DNA provides glimpse into the past

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, April 28, 2018

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I received an email last week saying the results of my DNA sample that I had sent to a genealogy service were available.

Perhaps fittingly, it arrived on my son’s birthday.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

The DNA test was a Christmas gift from my mother, who also sent away a sample for her own DNA report and has done quite a bit of genealogical research into her past. I had intended to send the sample away and get my results back by my birthday in early March, but, yeah, I missed that deadline. Instead, I spent part of my spring break spitting into a tube (quite a bit of spit, I might add).

I can’t really explain how the whole process works, but apparently they can match my DNA with known populations around the world to predict with pretty high confidence where I came from.

From the family genealogy that I was aware of, it seemed quite certain the countries of origin would include Scotland, England, Ireland and maybe Germany. So it was kind of anticlimactic when my ethnicity estimate showed 48 percent Great Britain, 29 percent Europe West (likely the German), 15 percent Ireland/Scotland/Wales along with what the report called “low confidence regions” that included less than 4 percent each of Scandinavia, Europe South, Europe East and Finland/Northwest Russia.

I was hoping the report might confirm something I’ve been told all my life (along with many people, it turns out) that some of my ancestors were Cherokee. The DNA, however, didn’t show any Native American.

I’ve suspected the German roots ever since I was determined to be a “perfect genetic match” to donate bone marrow for a man in Germany while I was in college. I’ve often wondered if we are distant cousins.

Speaking of distant cousins, the DNA report also listed possible second, third and fourth cousins based on my DNA sample. Of the more than 100 names, I only recognized the name of one of my known second cousins.

With DNA on my mind, I noticed this past Wednesday was DNA day. The big news that day was, fittingly, that DNA had been used to link a suspect to a string of unsolved murders in California in the late ’70s to mid-’80s. The case was featured in a book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” released earlier this year and written by the late Michelle McNamara. I had already decided that would be the next book on my reading list even before Wednesday’s news that the suspect – 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo – had been caught.

On Thursday, we learned that police had used a genealogy service to trace a DNA sample from a distant relative of DeAngelo to eventually match DeAngelo to DNA samples taken from the crime scenes.

I’m always amazed at how new technology can lead to finding the people responsible for crimes that happened decades ago. As the crime reporter at the Messenger, I’ve even seen that technology used to arrest a couple of Wise County residents in cold case murders over the years.

I’m no crime solver, but my new-found DNA results have re-sparked an interest in trying to track down a few more branches of my family tree. Who knows what I might find?

Brian Knox is the special projects manager for the Messenger.

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