Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Greatest of My Grandmothers

When I first read the book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve" by Bryan Sykes, I knew I had to be tested.  I had to find out where I came from so, when I finally got hold of some extra cash I sent to Ancestry to have my mitrochondrial DNA tested. Mitochondria are present in eggs but absent in sperm; hence, everyone gets their mitochondria from their mother. Men and women both have it in their cells. But only women can pass it on to their children.

It takes awhile for the test to be completed, but it was finally done and   as I read the results, I have to tell you, I was totally unprepared for my emotional reaction as I was introduced to my first and greatest grandmother.  I literally burst into tears.  Yes, I am a very emotional person, but this was something that caught me off guard. This is the woman who was at my very beginnings. Thousands of years later, she is still a part of me. 

I discovered that my ancestry stems from a branch known as 'The Travelers' in  Haplogroup U. 
Haplogroup U descends from a woman in the Haplogroup R branch of the phylogenetic tree, who lived around 55,000 years ago. She literally is my first grandmother. It was her descendants who gave birth to several different subgroups who migrated to new areas and formed subgroups. Most likely originating in central Asia and spreading into Europe in a very early expansion. The presence of Haplogroup U in Europe pre-dates the expansion of agriculture in Europe and may even have been come in contact with Neanderthals living in Europe at the time.

The following is from my report as well as some research that I did:

From Ancestry 'You belong to the Travelers, Haplogroup U, which emerged around 60,000 years ago, not long after the first modern humans left Africa.  Because the Travelers are so old, they've had many descendants who migrated to new areas and formed subgroups." 

The maternal ancestor of this haplogroup was given the name Ursula. The following excerpt is from "The Seven Daughters of Eve".

Sykes begins his first narrative, "Ursula was born into a world very different from our own. Forty-five thousand years ago it was a lot colder than it is today, and would get colder still in the millennia to come leading up to the Great Ice Age. Ursula was born in a shallow cave cut into the cliffs at the foot of what is now Mount Parnassus, close to what was to become the ancient Greek classical site of Delphi." 

Ursula, whose name means She Bear, lived about 45,000 years ago in what is now northern Greece. She was among the first arrivals of a new, modern human to set foot in Europe. She was slender and graceful, in marked contrast to the thickset Neanderthals with whom she and her clan shared the land for another 20,000 years. Her kind brought with them a new and more sophisticated type of stone tool with which to hunt and butcher the abundant game, animals that soon appeared on the walls of limestone caves as the first expression of human art. They spread right across Europe, west across France and north as far as the British Isles.

As the climate deteriorated 25,000 years ago, the clan began its long migration south; eventually reaching Spain and founding what became a refuge for all humans during the coldest millennia of the last Ice Age. As the climate warmed, the scattered clan led the march back to the North to reclaim the once frozen lands. They reached the British Isles and left an indelible record in the limestone caves of Cheddar Gorge. In 1998, DNA was recovered from the famous skeleton known as Cheddar Man and our analysis showed that it belonged to the clan of Ursula. In a dramatic demonstration of genetic continuity, we found that a teacher at the local school, only a few hundred yards from the cave entrance, was clearly a member of the same clan.

The following, when Sykes speaks of Ursula's death, brings tears to my  eyes:

"Ursula had no idea, of course, that both her daughters would give rise, through their children and grandchildren, to a continuous maternal line stretching to the present day.  She had no idea she was to become the clan mother, the only woman of that time who could make that claim.  Every single member of her clan can trace a direct and  unbroken line back to Ursula."

"Today about 11 percent of modern Europeans are the direct maternal descendants of Ursula."

Ursula, per se, was not a real woman, but the clan mother was.  This great woman did live and die thousands of years ago.  And, because she lived, I live.


  1. This is so very cool. Now I'm curious...

  2. First i want to read the book and then take the test. How much did it cost if you not mind me asking? I hope the cost is not overwhelming. That is sooo cool!

  3. Clan of the She-Bear, Ursula! Wasn't there a novel, or series of novels called that, a few years ago? By Jean Auel or something like that? I'm excited for you, Mary -- I understand why you burst into tears.

  4. Interesting...

    I may have read that book, or of it.

    "I want to have a little house with sunshine on the floor,
    A chimney with a rosy hearth, and lilacs by the door;
    With windows looking East and West, And a crooked apple tree,
    And room beside the garden fence for hollyhocks to be!"

    ~Nancy Bird Turner

  5. I found this to be a very interesting post Mary.
    The same kind of search Akasa Wolfsong is consumed by these days.

    One I suspect I will venture into as long as the great powers that be grant me a couple of good years in which to accomplish this after I retire.

    Only a couple more year then I can retire.
    who hoo...

    You rock Mary
    hugs Sharon

  6. Oh My Beloved Mary...I can't believe it! :)

    I just read of Ursula as I am reading the same book right now. Her name popped out of the page and into my heart when I saw it. How unbelievable that she is your Clan Mother. I'm just giggling like crazy. How Cool!!!!

    I can't wait till they send me my test...I haven't heard anything yet. :( Maybe I should call and find out what the hold up is?
    I'm hoping to find out my Native Ancestry beginnings through it.

    It is just amazing what they can now do with our DNA...

    Congrats Dear Sister and I can only imagine how that felt for you. I am emotional too and would have cried at the news...wow.

    Blessings Beloved Sister!!!
    Love, Akasa

  7. That's SO exciting to read about your female ancestor. I want to do the same type of testing for myself one day. I'm sad I don't have any daughters to pass on my genes, but I'd still like to know more about "She who gave birth" to so many of the females in my family.

  8. What an interesting post Mary. I have not done my ancestory research...but someone else has...in fact there has been a book written on it called "The Story of Gabriel and Marie Maupin".....I hail from French ancestory and this has been researched back to the 1600's....not as far back as your's I'm afraid....I can just see Ursula in my mind's eye...out hunting for food with a young buck on her hip. (O:(O:

    Hugs sweet friend,