For most people the sense of being part of a tribe is lost to us. We try to fill the void by joining affinity groups or living vicariously through a sports team. One of your tribes, the tribe of your paternal ancestors, is as close as your own DNA. Your y-DNA can give you micro details. A 67-marker test can connect you to cousins within the last 300 years. The results, your haplotype, can act like a genetic fingerprint to help identify your family. Unless a marker has changed (a natural mutation), all the men will have the same haplotype. Over time, normal mutations occur. A father and a son can have a genetic marker that no longer matches. These mismatches are beneficial in identifying and grouping parallel family lines. With enough records, you can sort folks. Everyone with this marker goes in this family and everyone with that marker goes over there, etc. All of these family lines roll up to a larger clan. Your DNA can give you macro details. With as little as a 12-marker test, you can learn distant origins going back over 10,000 years. I like to work with at least a 37-marker test to learn more about a person’s tribe. In a y-DNA test, not all of the 100+ markers are created equal. Some of the markers mutate quickly, perhaps every 3 to 4 generations. Other markers mutate quite slowly and may not have changed in over 15,000 years. The markers that rarely change make up your Tribal Markers.
Imagine your immigrant ancestors for a moment. Perhaps they landed in Massachusetts. As they prospered and their families grew, some of each new generation left the nest to seek their fortune and some stayed behind. They may have gone to Nova Scotia or New York or Chicago or the gold fields of California. Throughout all that migration there is one process that is consistent, some family members settled and stayed and some keep moving. Start putting pushpins on a map and you’ll see the footprints your family has left across the country.
Today you might move for a better paying job. 5,000 years ago, you might have moved because they ran out of rabbit at the local watering hole. Whatever the reason, settling and moving has been in our DNA for thousands of years.
Your tribe, the ones with the matching Tribal DNA, was no exception to this stay or go imperative. With each generation, there will be a percentage of folks that stay in their home village or very close by. Their descendants are still in those villages. Each generation will spawn those with wanderlust and a percentage of their descendant will settle in a new village. For every descendant that settled, they left a genetic footprint.
You can use your Tribal Markers to find out where your tribe stayed. Put some pushpins on the map and trace your ancestors as they sailed around the Mediterranean or followed the Danube to its source. Here’s my challenge to you, begin with yourself and trace from where you are today, back through the generations to Africa. I do it almost every day.
© Mike Maglio 2012
Mike Maglio is the author of Deep into DNA, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which focuses on the use of DNA in genealogical research. Mike can be found blogging at OriginHunters.