Friday, September 09, 2005

(18-3) THE GENOGRAPHIC PROJECT and Members...

Vera Zimmerman, August 12, 2005

In the May 2005 issue of National Geographic a headline caught my eye - "The Ultimate Family Tree." It described a worldwide research project to map the history of human migration around the globe by analyzing DNA being undertaken by National Geographic along with IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation.

Dr. Spencer Wells and several leading scientists are collecting DNA samples from indigenous people all over the world. Another group is looking at archaeological DNA samples. We can participate by buying a Geographic Public Participation Kit and submitting our own DNA samples. Each kit has a confidential ID number which is used to access the results of our own personal DNA test online. Besides learning about your family's oldest ancestors, you will be contributing to the project. All proceeds from the sales of kits will go to support additional research.

As soon as we got home from this year's RV trek, I sent for a kit for me and one for my husband. They arrived in about a week and contained:
  • a swab kit with instructions on using the cheek scrapers to gather our samples, vials to hold the swabs for return and a self-addressed envelope to return the vials
  • a DVD with Project Overview by Dr. Spencer Wells, visual instructions on how to use the kit and a bonus feature program "The Journey of Man," a National Geographic Channel/PBS documentary.
  • a brochure on the project
  • a National Geographic map showing what is currently known about human migration routes
  • a 2-part consent card with your confidential Project ID number.
You sign the return portion of the form and indicate if the sample is from a male or a female. The part you keep has the number you will use to view your results in about 6 weeks on the web site at

You can also view more information on the project and on DNA research at that site.

The kits were easy and painless to use and the map and DVD are worth at least part of the price. Knowing you are contributing to the expansion of knowledge is priceless.

Samples from men are tested by looking at the Y chromosome passed from father to son and analyzing the genetic markers. So my husband's sample will tell us about the ancestors of the Zimmerman line. Samples from women analyze the mitochondrial DNA which comes from the mother. If you've read "The Seven Daughters of Eve" by Bryan Sykes, you already know something about this research. I can hardly wait to find out which daughter is my clan mother.
If you want to contribute your results to the global database you'll be asked a few phenotyping questions to place your DNA sample in cultural context. This optional process is totally anonymous. The importance of this project cannot be over-emphasized. Dr. Wells says "It is the moon landing of anthropology."

If you participate you might not fill in any more names on your pedigree chart but you will learn where your family fits on the ancient family tree of humankind. As Dr. Wells says "We are all effectively cousins separated by no more than 2000 generations."




Family reunions conjure up imagines of fried chicken, watermelon, potato salad, and lots of good desserts. Well, let's try coronation chicken, neeps and taddies, haggis, sticky toffee pudding, dancing at a Ceilidh and visiting the Crannog where your family was first known to settle in 1300's. Doug and Lona Burnett of Satellite Beach just returned from three weeks in Great Britain of which one week was spent near Banchory, Scotland attending their family reunion. One hundred and eleven family members from six countries gathered on August 3rd to renew friendships, identify new cousins and meet the Keeper of the Name, James C. A. Burnett of Leys.

On the day of arrival, the event started with a reception and dinner at the House of Crathes, the home of Mr. Burnett. The next day was spent touring Crathes Castle and it's magnificant gardens, the home of the Burnetts of Leys from the 1500's to 1951 when it was turned over to the Scottish National Trust. This was followed on Friday with a tour of other homes in the area which the Burnett Family was instrumental in building. These included Fasque House, now owned by the Gladstone family, Muchalls Castle now owned by the Hogan family , and finally Fettercairn Distillery. Along the way the Burnett family's impact on the area was discussed by Mr. Burnett, our tour guide for this day's outing.

On Saturday we were guests in his marquee at the annual Aboyne Highland Games. These in fact were very similar to the games here in the states with the exception that we tend to have more vendors where they have more entertainment for the children. That evening we had a personal tour of Crathes Castle and banquet preceded by talks from Charles Burnett, Ross Herald for Scotland, Gordon Casely, historian, and Eileen Bailey, Scottish Genealogist and General Editor of Mr. Burnett's latest book on the family, "The Holly and the Horn".

Sunday morning Mr. Burnett and Mrs. Bailey took family members on a tour of the Crannog where the Burnetts first lived in Scotland and provided a historical picture of what life was like there in the 1300's. As we stood there in the blustery August weather it was almost impossible to appreciate what our forefathers had endured to live, survive, and prosper in this area.


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