“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”
Native American Writer
Recently, I completed a mitochondrial DNA test (mtDNA) to determine my motherline ancestry. What does this mean, exactly? To put it simply, my mtDNA connects me directly to my mother, her mother, her mother’s mother, her grandmother’s mother, and every direct mother linkage before that, going back in time for thousands of years! It can only be passed on from mother to daughter, so it uniquely connects a woman to her direct maternal ancestors, and therefore provides a window into the actual origins of our mothers and their mothers. My mtDNA test determined that my motherline belongs to a group identified on the human family tree as Haplogroup T2 (and more specifically, T2c1d1).
I already knew that my mother was British (born in Malta), and that my grandmother and her mother were Maltese, but I did not know where my direct maternal ancestors originated prior to my great grandmother, nor where they travelled through time in the world! Haplogroup T2 was a new branch that developed on the family tree during the Ice Age (between 26,000 and 19,000 years ago). Each of us who’s mtDNA is from Haplogroup T2 share that same female ancestor. It is currently believed that its most likely place of origin was in the Near East. The T2 group has been identified as playing a significant role in the Neolithic expansions from Anatolia and into Europe, and that they were amongst those farmers who gradually spread out into Europe bringing with them revolutionary concepts of agricultural practice. As this group evolved and traveled over time, additional strands of this particular branch developed…..in my case, first as T2c (found mostly in the Near East and Mediterranean Europe), then as T2c1 (found in Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, Italy, Sardinia, Spain and Central Europe), then as T2c1d (found in Italy, Sardinia and Spain), and finally as T2c1d1 (which I can only assume must be found in Malta – though my results didn’t specify that).
Having learned all this, what makes this information significant?
First….it reveals that, no matter where we “think” we came from, our ancestors most likely traveled many paths through many cultural environments we may not have been aware of, which ultimately resulted in where we are today. This means our family/ancestral stories are much greater than we might imagine! It also means we are far more connected to our world and the entire human family than we might have appreciated. For example, I am an American. While I was aware that I had British and Maltese roots, I was unaware that my maternal ancestors may have shared a history in many parts of the world that today, my American culture is fearful of, mistrusts, and has been at war with. It is possible that many Americans have similar types of connections in their past, and if they were more fully aware of it, they might pause to reflect for a moment on just how connected they are to others. We are a country of immigrants, we were founded as a country by immigrants, and every single one of us who lives here (with the exception of Native Americans) has a family member that was once an immigrant to this country. It is possible, in fact most likely, that we Americans have blood relatives throughout the world that we are unaware of, and may, in fact, have gone to war against. The human family is, indeed, a family – our family, and we should wonder why it is that we are in such conflict with those other parts of ourselves.
Second….revealing a woman’s motherline to her, suddenly releases the invisibility of a long history of women who helped shaped the world and created its inhabitants! So much of our “known” history has been defined by men – women, children and property have been connected through the men identified as their “legitimate” owner/sponsor. Even on a basic level, women inherit their identity through a male (taking the last name of their father, and often taking the last name of a husband). But, viewing a woman’s motherline allows her to see her female ancestors in their own right, as unique individuals with their own identities (though still untold stories) who connected with others in different locations in the world at different periods within human history. Their existence is not defined by whether they were considered “legitimate” or not, whether they emerged as a result of love or violence, whether they had been forced into marriage for money or tradition or whether they deeply loved their mate, whether they lived a peaceful existence or were victimized as a spoil of war. Their stories are silent, but their existence is no longer invisible. They exist, because their descendants exist. The motherline lives within a woman’s DNA, and whatever the maternal ancestor’s long journey through human history caused them to experience, enjoy, or overcome, they succeeded in carrying that aspect of creation through the ages and into the present day, through their daughters, resulting in the women who currently live today in our present time.
I have always had an interest in human cultures around the world, and, in fact, many years ago earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Sociology. I also earned a Master’s Degree in Peace and Justice Studies (which looked at cultural relationships, issues of equity, and structural violence). Suddenly, the things I studied about the different periods in human history and culture now take on new meaning for me as I consider my motherline. I am now much more personally connected to world history and the variety of world cultures, knowing that my specific motherline had an intimate role within those times and places.
Additionally, having grown up with parents from two cultures (who, in their childhoods, were often relocating with their families) and having myself relocated frequently in childhood and adulthood, I have never really felt connected to any place or group. There has been no place that has completely felt like “home”, in the way that it might feel to those who have strong roots to a place and culture. Imagining the long connection of women in my motherline, their journeys and cultures going back thousands of years, provides me with the roots I had been missing. I feel connected to them is a way that is difficult to describe.
There is still so much that we do not know about our stories and our history and why we develop into the people we develop into, but a good place to start to understand ourselves and our world a little better, is to explore what information is hidden within us in our DNA. We exist in this particular period in time because of the love of thousands who preceded us. Just knowing this fact should make every one of us understand the specialness of our existence, and the importance of ensuring that everything we do in life be focused in some positive way towards ensuring that we leave the world far better than we found it for those who will follow when we are long gone.