When DNA Confirms the Paper Trail

by Finding Your Roots Genetic Genealogy Consultant, CeCe Moore

Deepak Chopra's male clan line

Researchers uncovered Deepak Chopra’s unbroken male clan line from handwritten scrolls in Haridwar, India

Sometimes no matter how hard I try, with so little time to research, I just can’t come up with a good DNA-related story angle for certain guests. That is pretty much the case for last week’s episode. This typically happens when the DNA supports the genealogical research well and there are no real surprises or mysteries to explore.

This isn’t entirely unexpected for people who have primarily British and/or Colonial roots like Sting and Sally Field where there is a very good genealogical paper trail to follow. Sometimes, with people like Deepak Chopra, whose ancestral origins come from regions that are not as well represented in the databases, it can also be a challenge because we just don’t have as much information about the genetics from those regions and there are generally less DNA cousins with whom to compare family histories. Testing additional family members can sometimes help to reveal interesting information, but we don’t always have that opportunity, which was the case for the three guests from last week.

When that happens, I fall back on the traditional Finding Your Roots “formula”. In the script, I lay out their admixture – first at the global level, looking at the broad overview, meaning how much of their DNA traces back to major population groups like Africans, Europeans, Asians and Native Americans. Then we break it down into the sub-regional categories for each guest, detailing the more specific areas or populations groups from which the testing companies predict their ancestors originated over the last 500-1000 years. If there is some diversity there, we will often show it to the guest mapped out across their chromosomes like we did with Sally in this episode.

For the next portion of the script, I review the guest’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup and, if available, the Y-DNA haplogroup. These reflect an individual’s deep ancestry and are not typically informative of our recent family history, although there are certainly exceptions to this. For people of Western European heritage, haplogroups are often not especially revealing in a genealogical sense though they can uncover meaningful historical migration patterns like Sting’s did.

The more genealogical relevant Y-STR DNA test will often reveal surname continuity, meaning that the guest will match other males with the same surname. I find this noteworthy because it supports the paper trail research, but since it is not an unexpected result, that information often won’t survive the final script cuts since we have to keep it to about 30 pages and three hours of interview time.

Although it didn’t make it into the final episode, Deepak Chopra’s Y-STR DNA results were an exception to this in that they were discussed in the script and the interview. It was fascinating to see that his Y-DNA haplogroup subclade was not only quite unique, but that other Chopras in the databases carried the same Y-DNA signature. Since I am somewhat naive about the history of surname adoption and inheritance in India, I didn’t necessarily expect to see this.

Deepak’s Y-DNA haplogroup subclade Q1b–L275 is primarily found in Russia, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, corresponding well with the documented origin of his most distantly known direct paternal ancestor who was born in about 1712 in Hafizabad, which is now Pakistan. The fact that his Y-DNA signature is shared by other men with the surname Chopra supports the genealogy of his Gotra, his unbroken male clan line, that our research team recovered from the handwritten scrolls in the holy city of Haridwar, India. Perhaps an even more interesting aspect to Deepak’s Y-DNA results is that he carries a similar Y-DNA signature to that of several living Russian Princes, Tatars with ancestors from the ancient city of Kadom, Russia. I’ll bet he never would have imagined that!

After reviewing the DNA inherited from the direct lines, I will usually note if our guest has any relatively close matches in the autosomal DNA databases. Lastly, I always check if the guest shares DNA with any of the other guests from Dr. Gates current and/or previous shows. If they do, we reveal that near the end of the interview just prior to the final wrap-up.

So you can see that Dr. Gates provides each guest a thorough overview of his or her DNA results during the interview, even if the television audience isn’t always privy to this. Without fail, even when I am not able to find anything in the genetic genealogy research that is considered particularly TV-worthy, the guests themselves are always fascinated by their own DNA results. This is, undoubtedly, because we all yearn for answers about who we are and where we came from and our DNA can always provide insight into that!

Don’t miss tonight’s Greek episode and remember that next week is the final episode – and it is chock-full of DNA research!