Sunday, March 24, 2024

Exploring That Genetic Heritage


The other day, I was reading an article on using DNA for genealogy when a term the author used stopped me in my tracks. The term referred to a "genetic heir" being each of us who receives a portion of our ancestors' genetic makeup. That genetic inheritance could be quite tiny, but it is that same pattern, replicated with others of our distant cousins, which allows us to consider ourselves mutual "matches" through that heritage.

While on face value, yeah, I suppose that explains what we are doing when we use DNA to help build out our family tree—especially the parts where we have doubts or untold stories or other unexplained puzzles. It's just that calling it a genetic heritage sounds so much more poetic.

Now that I'm pushing back to the farthest reaches of autosomal testing—looking at my fifth great-grandparents, Elizabeth Lewis and Thomas Meriwether Gilmer—the expectation that I'd see any smattering of a genetic inheritance from them is rather slim. Actually, there's a small chance it could be as good as zero.

However, taking a look at my ThruLines reading for Thomas and Elizabeth, I currently show fifty nine DNA matches through Elizabeth and sixty two leading back to Thomas. Whether those are all correct is a different matter. I'm far from being done with the process of going over each DNA match to verify the connection—and some I've seen already do look tenuous. But for those who check out by paper trail as well as genetics, I still stand in awe of the thought: I've inherited something passed down to me from 1765.

Granted, what Thomas and Elizabeth received at their birth in 1765 had to come from somewhere. Some of their forebears became the lucky ones to have that genetic expression passed down through Thomas and Elizabeth. And what has made it to this current generation so obviously varies: I've seen Gilmer matches who share one single segment of DNA measuring twenty five centiMorgans, while other matches barely squeak by with ten—or less. That may not be much of a heritage, but the fact that any of it is there to measure at all still impresses me.

I'll continue pursuing this tedious task of inspecting each of these distant DNA cousins through the rest of the month. All the while, I'll be pondering the incredible: how that one tiny strand of DNA we share connects us back to a couple whose lives began during our country's colonial days. 

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