My first foray into genetic genealogy took place in 2003 when I ordered the mtDNAPlus (which sequences both HVR1 and HVR2) from Family Tree DNA.
Like so many other genealogists, I had been unable to trace my maternal line as far as I would have hoped. My most distant ancestor, Sarah L. Bodden, was born in 1846 in the Cayman Islands and had died in 1914 in Honduras. No one knew anything about Sarahâ€™s parents or her life, and given the location and the difficulty of research I felt that this line had little prospect of development. It was a perfect opportunity to employ genetics.
Inside (almost) every one of my 50 trillion cells (thatâ€™s 50,000,000,000,000!!!) there is a tiny circle of DNA that has been given to me, most likely unchanged, in a direct line from Sarah through 125 years, 5 generations, and across 1750 miles. By sequencing a small part of the DNA I could identify from which branch of the â€œmaternal family treeâ€ Sarah descended. Based on the information I had managed to put together, I predicted that Sarah was a descendant of English immigrants who settled the Cayman Islands and would thus possess mtDNA belonging to a European lineage.
When the results came back, I was astonished to learn that Sarahâ€™s mtDNA belonged to Haplogroup A, one of the five haplogroups found among Native Americans (the others being B, C, D, and X). This meant that Sarah and her mother, two individuals I knew nothing about, were descendants of Native Americans, most likely from Central America (to date I have not found an exact match to my mtDNA). At some point in history a male in the Bodden family had married a woman with Native American ancestry. I now had a connection with this distant ancestor that I couldnâ€™t have made just a few years ago. Instead of recently crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a boat as I had predicted, my mtDNA had traveled in the opposite direction across the entire globe. Genetic genealogy allowed me to explore the ancient roots of my mtDNA, the time capsule that resides in every one of our cells.