Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Genealogy, Royalty and Genghis Khan

This post is about one of those quirky little stories that caught my attention because it deals with a hobby that I take out of the drawer occasionally: genealogy.

I even briefly worked for a nationally known genealogical publisher, where I learned a little bit about researching family trees from professional genealogists. One of the best bits of advice I ever read in one of the company's publications came from German Church Books, in which the author advised anyone who disapproved of illegitimacy to give up genealogy, as most everyone has it in their family tree. I didn't need to go too far to discover that the first man who adopted my surname was an illegitimate child.

Many people get into genealogy with the idea of proving the family rumor of noble descent, or at least Mayflower descent. Others (you know who you are) just want to hang up a chart showing their path back to Adam and Eve. Some people, like me, just like looking over old documents and wondering about our ancestors' lives. Or solving puzzles.

These days, DNA evidence is able to be applied to genealogy. Apparently, it's no longer prohibitively expensive for folks to try and substantiate descent from historic figures when they lack documentation. Here's a recent interesting case:

MIAMI (AP) -- An accounting professor who thought he was a direct descendant of the fearsome Mongol warrior Genghis Khan has now been told: never mind.

Tom Robinson, 48, said Wednesday that a second DNA test, by Family Tree DNA in Houston, showed that he matched some genetic markers with Genghis Khan but that a direct line, as an earlier test had indicted, wasn't likely after all.

On his blog, Robinson goes into great detail about the findings. The best thing about it is that, as an honest accounting academic, he retained a healthy skepticism about his lineage even though the first testing firm was quite emphatic in their proclamation.

The results did come as a surprise and I inquired as to how the DNA of the Mongolians would have ended up in England. Professor Sykes speculated that the Vikings acquired slaves in Central Europe in an area that the Mongolians had conquered (see Jack Weatherford's excellent book for the range of land Genghis conquered) and that these slaves may have ended up in England. While we will never know, it is an interesting conjecture.

I was not expecting all of the press coverage and attention being paid to this story since it did not appear I was an exact match and it seemed from published research that there were apparently a lot of potential offspring from Genghis that shared this DNA.

Here's to the egoless pursuit of genealogy. Long may it reign, even if our ancestors didn't.

Linking to: Third World County, Gribbit's Word, Diane's Stuff, Stuck on Stupid, rashbre central, Cigar Intelligence Agency
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