Like everyone else (or at least most everyone else), I hope that future advances in genetic testing will help us (and me) both to succeed in preventing diseases and to ameliorate or even cure illnesses when they do occur. At some point in the future, I would love to be able to take a genetic test and not only learn whether or not I am more susceptible (than average) to getting certain conditions but also to determine whether a certain drug or neutriceutical will work for me. Heck, I might even one day be able to use my genetic test to help me decide what foods to consume. However, while I believe all of these (and perhaps other) potential health benefits are important, I am more excited about genetic testing's potential in helping me garner knowledge about my family's past.
To quote an oft used cliche, I have "often wondered where my family came from." In this case, I am not referring to the last few generations of relatives, as I can trace their histories. Rather, I am much more interested in determining where my family started out, in say 300 B.C. or even prior to that period, and what path their history took from that point. I would be happy if I were able to look back a few centuries. For instance, my paternal grandfather's family were Protestants (probably Anabaptists) who immigrated from German to the U.S. in the 1700s. It would be nice to trace their ancestry further back. Did my ancestors migrate from place to place in Germany to escape persecution? Perhaps they moved from Switzerland or some other area of Europe in the 1500s or 1600s as a result of opportunities (the German population was decimated by the religious wars, especially the 30 Years War)? It might be possible to answer some of these queries via traditional techniques (ie. looking in baptismal records); however, most of these questions are currently unanswerable.
Both of my grandparents on my mother's side of the family were Lebanese. My grandmother was born shortly after her parents arrived in the U.S. and my grandfather immigrated to the U.S. when he was between 7 and 10 years old (he was not sure what his birth year was). Both of their families lived in the mountains/hills surrounding Beruit. They and their relatives differ from most of the other people living in Lebanon (or elsewhere in the Middle East) in that many of them possess blue eyes or very light brown eyes. Additionally, they exhibit other features which do not appear to be common to people living in the region. Perhaps some of my ancestors married Crusaders from Europe or the French (when they controlled the area) or some other visitor from Europe? At the same time, is it possible that my ancestors migrated to Lebanon within the last few centuries from some other part of Europe/Asia where features like blue eyes are more common? I would be interested in learning these answers. I am unlikely to solve these conundrums using traditional methods.
I might be able to answer all of these questions and more if genetic testing comes of age. I have read reports of research studies that used genetic tests to trace familial lineage to the first few centuries B.C. by analyzing the differences in gene sequences between individuals/families in different regions or via looking at changes in mitochondrial DNA. Currently, companies like 23andMe can provide some, basic information about genealogy. However, it will take a lot more work in this area to satisfy my desires. For instance, researchers, DNA testing companies, and others would have to create massive genomic databases consisting of DNA from people living (and dead) in most regions of the world. They would then have to isolate specific genes, gene signatures, etc. However, I feel that these groups will eventually overcome the hurdles necessary to trace personal ancestry back centuries or even millenia. When that day comes, I might be able to take a DNA test and the results will show that my paternal grandfather's family lived in area A in 500 B.C. and migrated to area B between 100-200 A.D. and then progressed to area C. sometime around 1500 A.D., etc. That will be a great day!
Photos/Clip Art courtesy of Microsoft Office