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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Who Am I?

My surname was a puzzle to me from an early age until I discovered there were several families of the same name in two separate villages in Wiltshire. But why? When I started to investigate my family history I found the family had been in the same village for 300 years. A possible connection in another village was found, about ten miles away, less as the crow flies, which if proved would take us back another 100 years. Family historians are never satisfied.

Television programmes by archaeologists or scientists, like Sir David Attenborough, have told us that we all are descended from early man in Africa, who presumably made his way into Europe perhaps 100,000 years ago. His skin and eye colour occurred lighter over time. It has been said that the only flaw in the disguise of Lawrence of Arabia was the colour of his eyes. More recently Attenborough has argued that homo erectus first evolved from apes standing erect in water to harvest fish and mussels, etc. Fossil remains of catfish have shown signs of butchery from stone tools. The addition of Omega 3 from the fish may have aided brain evolution. He cited two marine biologists who posited this theory, suggesting that the apes lived in trees near the waterside. If I become unsure of my footing I find that sometimes I involuntarily move my toes, as if I am clutching onto the branch of a tree, perhaps a throwback to early ancestry! Recently on Radio 4 on the BBC’s the Life Scientific Jim Al-Khalili with a Dutch Behavioural Biologist, Frans de Waal, said that we share 99% of our DNA with the chimpanzee, who have most of our attributes, except perhaps speech.

In 1953 Jim Watson and Francis Crick working in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge published their work on DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid). They showed that from four bases there are long chains twisted into a double helix, which we regularly hear about on radio or TV. This research has led to advances in genetics, medical work, criminal investigations and family history. So becoming “stuck” with conventional family history I started saying to my immediate family that I needed to investigate my DNA. When they chorused “why?”, I replied that I would like to know which of the apes hanging from the branch I am descended from. Eventually our son called my bluff by giving me a kit from a well known multinational company as a birthday present. The kit contained a plastic test tube into which I had to introduce my saliva, close the tube and shake it, to mix in a chemical stabiliser and then send it by post in the packaging supplied. It was sent to Ireland, but I believe the parent co. is in the USA. Eventually we received the results, after a delay by our misquoting our post code.

When the results (An Ethnicity Estimate) arrived I was surprised. I am 99% European, with 32% from Scandinavia and 22% from Ireland, with 19% belonging to Great Britain. Western Europe produced 11% and the Iberian Peninsula only 5%, which was a surprise as with my surname I had expected more Latin connections, and we had found the name in Italy, Portugal and France. Italy and Greece showed 4%, with Finland and Northwest Russia 3%, which was the same as Eastern Europe. Western Asia and the Middle East were both less than 1% and the African countries were all zero. So presumably this is why my eyes are blue/grey, not brown and the survey must have been long after the migration from Africa and there were no apes to be found!

If I paid a subscription to the company which provided the DNA I could be sent details of others with the same DNA and name, but have not done so, as moving house recently has been time-consuming.

We understand that no one in England had a surname before 1066, although some used personal names and some nicknames. The Normans introduced surnames with their aristocracy, but ordinary people still used personal or occupational names. By the early 14th century most people had surnames which were still changing and evolving. The Black Death in the mid 14th century wiped out some names. It has been said that we are all descended from Richard III, but I have not found him on my family tree so far!

Recently on TV the attractive Professor Alice Roberts told us that many of us are descended from Neanderthals, themselves descended from apes. She said her DNA showed 2% Neanderthal, so her test was more detailed and searching than mine.

On February 14th Bridport History Society will learn about “Mining in Cornwall after the First World War” from Prof. Roger Burt in the United Church Main Hall, East Street at 2.30 pm. All welcome, non-members entrance £2.50.

Cecil Amor,  Hon. President Bridport History Society.

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