The Dangers of DNA Testing

All my life I’ve been told I have Cherokee ancestry through my Knighten forebears. There are even a few interesting legends about how John L. Knighten escaped the Removal (a decade before he was born) and of family members visiting from the Cherokee “reservation”. I’ve even comments on them some (here). I’ve even commented on a possible connection to President Obama, who is purported to have descended from the first African slave in America though his mother’s line (here). I’m a natural skeptic, and though I wanted to believe my family stories, I wanted to substantiate the claims. Enter’s AncestryDNA test. I spit in the cup, mailed it in, and impatiently awaited the results. And today, I received them.

Sadly, based on this DNA test, I can’t substantiate a claim to be anything other than a plain old white guy. I always thought I was a distantly-multiracial mutt, but I’m just a vanilla cracker. Here is what I learned from my results, based on’s categorizations:

  • Europe West – 53%
  • Scandinavia – 13%
  • Ireland – 12%
  • Great Brittain – 11%
  • Iberian Peninsula – 7%
  • European Jewish –  <1%
  • Finland/ Northwest Russia – <1%
  • Caucasus – 2%

So based on my rank amateur genealogical research, I would have expected the Irish and British results, and I’ve even seen some information that is consistent with the Scandinavian blood. Having a couple of Scottish lines in my family could explain that, and possibly the Iberian markers, given the ancient migration of the Scots (and Irish) from the Iberian Peninsula. But over half of the genetic markers coming from continental Europe? That surprised me more than having trace European Jewish and Rus markers!

So my whole family legendarium is crushed. Not even trace amounts of Native American nor African genetics. I don’t even know how to broach the topic with my family now. I’ll stand as a heretic in their eyes. That Cherokee legend is so ingrained. I’ve had my suspicions over the past couple years, but like Santa Claus, I wanted the stories to be true. Maybe I’ll buy DNA tests for some of my aunts and uncles to see if they get different results. Is this the trap that hoped to ensnare me in?

Wo die Büffel röhren

I’m by no means an environmentalist, but I applaud excellent conservation efforts wherever they are to be found:

‘Straight Out of a Western Film’: European Bison Return to Wild in Germany: For the first time since the 18th century, the European bison is returning to Germany to live in the wild. The wisent, as it is also known, has been brought to the country by a famous prince. Although the creatures’ survival is uncertain, the project has already attracted considerable attention.

One of the trivial things I do whenever we are going to see the inlaws is to point out a small herd of American Bison that is maintained in a pasture. The kids still seem to get excited to see them, but I’m sure the novelty will wear off sooner or later. It’s much nicer to see these majestic animals living more or less free than in the limited confines of a zoological environment.

My connection to Clan Douglas

Some time back I became interested in my Scottish roots and discovered that my maternal ancestors, the Blackwoods, were historically associated with Clan Douglas. I understand that normally, Scottish clan association is paternal, but given that my paternal ancestry is Welsh, I was curious if I could actually claim clanship through my mother’s line, so I contacted the Court of the Lord Lyon to enquire.

Armed with this affirmation, I continue down the rabbit hole that is genealogy. 
I have to admit though, that the Blackwood line appears to be a little easier to trace than the Blevins line has proven to be. I have a fairly unbroken line from me to the Blackwoods who settled in North Carolina. The first Blackwood that I have found reference to in American was a William Blackwood who came over with a group of Presbyterians, first to Pennsylvania, and then on to North Carolina.  Here is my line to this gentleman:
Me > Donna Kay Puckett (Blackwood) > Wes Chester (1931-1997) > James Wesley(1884-1939) > James Monroe (1853-1924) > Joseph (1833-1863) > Isaac (1775-1855) > James (1732-1810) > William (1706-1774)
This William Blackwood was the son of Charles Blackwood (b.1680) and Agnes Hunter and was born in Glencarin, Dunfries, Scotland, and christened on 11 August 1706. He married Elizabeth “Betsy” Craige after he had moved to Londonderry, Northern Ireland. They are purported to have immigrated to  Philadelphia 1740 aboard a ship named “Mary William”, but I’ve found no ship of such name, though there were ships named Mary, Mary Ann, and William destined from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia about that time.
To be continued…


The Trojan connection?

Posted on Slashdot today is the article below that I intend to shanghai for a slightly different purpose:

Birthplace of Indoeuropean Languages Found: phantomfive writes “Language geeks might be interested in a recent study that suggests Turkey as the birthplace of the Indo-European language family. The Indo-European family is the largest, and includes languages as diverse as English, Russian, and Hindi. The New York Times made a pretty graph showing the spread.”

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Drilling into their article gets to link to the New York Times article being discussed. There  one will find a pretty family tree of the Indoeurpoean languages. Our friend and uncredentialed resource, Wikipedia, provides us an alternate view of the branches of the Proto-Indoeuropean (PIE) language. To use a software term, here is where I fork the discussion to take it in a slightly different direction.

There is a hypothetical Italo-Celtic clave of PIE that could have descended from a proto-Italo-Celtic language. This theory lends itself well to the legend that both Brutus,  (as described in The History of the Kings of Britain), and Julius Cæsar descend from Æneas, a Trojan noble. The legend of Æneas has been passed down to us by Homer in the Iliad and Virgil in the Æneid. This hypothesis provides an explanation of how we have two linguistically similar groups that are so geographically separated. [1]

(NB: Most scholars discount the texts I have referenced as mythology and fiction, but I believe that there are nuggets of truth to be found when you remove the chaff of embellishment. Remember: I am a rogue amateur playing in a scholar’s sandbox, using contrived evidence to support a shaky, myth-based hypothesis. I’ll approach the topic from that angle.)

The line of Brutus is illustrated in the upper-left corner of the William Blethyn pedigree roll [2]:

Copyright Glamorgan Archives (Reference CL/PED/1)

Brutus > Silvius >  [Julus] AscaniusÆneas

Allowing for a millennia of generations, compare the lineage of Gaius Julius Cæsar:

Gaius Julius Cæsar [IV] > Gaius Julius Cæsar the Elder [III] > Gaius Julius Cæsar II > Gaius Julius Cæsar I Sextus Julius Cæsar I > Lucius Julius Cæsar I > Numerius Julius Cæsar > Lucius Julius Libo II > Lucius Julius Libo > … > Romulus > Rhea Silvia (f.) > Numitor > Procas > Aventinus > Romulus Silvius > Agrippa > Tiberinus Silvius > Capetus > Capys > Atys > Alba > Latinus Sylvius > Æneas Silvius > Silvius > Æneas

These genealogies demonstrate a common link to ancestors who survived the fall of Troy, which could to have occurred around 3500 years ago.

Looking back to the map from the NYT article, one might notice that the western coast of modern Turkey (to include the site of ancient Troy) is outside the boundaries of the Anatolian languages. Some have speculated that Luwian might have been the language of Troy due to the influence of the Hittite Empire. I would side with the opposition with a view that Luwian may have been the lingua franca for the region, but that it was not the native tongue.

It is interesting to speculate that the Gauls that Brutus and his soldiers battled with before settling in Britain would have spoken a linguistically similar (if not the same) language, and scholars of antiquity traced their origin back to Galatia, thus providing a geographic connection to the vicinity of Troy.

So the question one has to ask is: Are these two genealogies just nationalist propaganda and the linguistic link contrived at best? Or are there nuggets of truth in them and a Trojan connection that explains the Italo-Celtic clave?


[1] I don’t want to put this in the main body of this post, but I’ll toss in another group for your consideration: the Irish/ Scots. Both Irish and Scots Gaelic descend from the Goidelic branch of Insular Celtic. We are told in the Lebor gabála Érenn that the Gaelic people descend from Míl Espáine (his proper name is said to be Golem), who in turn was a descendent of Goídel Glas, a Scytian whose myth claims him to have been present at the fall of the tower of Babel and the founder of the Goidelic language. His wife was purported to have been named Scota and the daughter of an unidentified Pharaoh. (My 2¢: would that make Scota a couple generations removed from Mizraim?) It is claimed that the Milesians, in their wanderings about the Mediterranean,  settled in Miletus and other locales before landing in Iberia. There Breogán, brother of Míl Espáine, is said to have built a tower and seen Ireland afar. The Milesians went on to conquer the inhabitants of Ireland and claim if for themselves. Alas, I am not skilled enough in the bardic ways to spin this yarn into a beautiful tapestry, but I will ask you one quick question: Is it coincidence that both the Spanish and the Scots “trill” their Rs?

[2] The pedigree roll takes the genealogy a step further and traces an unbroken line of descent to the Creation:

Æneas > Anchises > Capys > Assaracus > Tros > Erichthonius > Dardanus > Jupiter/Zeus [3] > Saturn/Cronus > Jltus?(Cælus)/Uranus > Cretis(Cres) > Sepruis? > Kytthym(Kittim) > Javan > Japheth > Noah > Lamech > Methuselah > Enoch > Jared > Mahalalel > Kenan > Enos > Seth > Adam

[3] Other Greek sources provide two alternatives for the father of Dardanus

Dardanus > Illyrius > Cadmus > Agenor > Poseidon > …

Dardanus > Illyrius > Polyphemus > Poseidon > …

How and why do myths arise?

Thoughts on myths from a true academian:

How and why do myths arise?:

Myth: A Very Short Introduction
By Robert A. Segal

It is trite to say that one’s pet subject is interdisciplinary. These days what subject isn’t? The prostate? But myth really is interdisciplinary. For there is no study of myth as myth, the way, by contrast, there is said to be the study of literature as literature or of religion as religion. Myth is studied by other disciplines, above all by sociology, anthropology, psychology, politics, philosophy, literature, and religious studies. Each discipline applies itself to myth. For example, sociologists see myth as something belonging to a group.

Within each discipline are theories. A discipline can harbor only a few theories or scores of them.  What makes theories theories is that they are generalizations. They presume to know the answers to one or more of the three main questions about myth:  the origin, the function, or the subject matter.

The question of origin asks why, if not also how, myth arises. The answer is a need, which can be of any kind and on the part of an individual, such as the need to eat or to explain, or on the part of the group, such as the need to stay together. The need exists before myth, which arises to fulfill the need. Myth may be the initial or even the sole means of fulfilling the need. Or there may be other means, which compete with myth and may best it. For example, myth may be said to explain the physical world and to do so exceedingly well — until science arises and does it better. So claims the theorist E. B. Tylor, the pioneering English anthropologist.

Function is the flip side of origin. The need that causes myth to arise is the need that keeps it going. Myth functions as long as both the need continues to exist and myth continues to fulfill it at least as well as any competitor. The need for myth is always a need so basic that it itself never ceases. The need to eat, to explain the world, to express the unconscious, to give meaningfulness to life – these needs are panhuman. But the need for myth to fulfill these needs may not last forever. The need to eat can be fulfilled through hunting or farming without the involvement of myth. The need to express the unconscious can be fulfilled through therapy, which for both Sigmund Freud and his rival C. G. Jung is superior to myth. The need to find or to forge meaningfulness in life can be fulfilled without religion and therefore without myth for secular existentialists such as Albert Camus.

For some theorists, myth has always existed and will always continue to exist. For others, myth has not always existed and will not always continue to exist. For Mircea Eliade, a celebrated Romanian-born scholar of religion, religion has always existed and will always continue to exist. Because Eliade ties myth to religion, myth is safe. For not only Tylor but also J. G. Frazer, author of The Golden Bough, myth is doomed exactly because myth is tied to religion. For them science has replaced religion and as a consequence has replaced myth. “Modern myth” is a contradiction in terms.
The third main question about myth is that of subject matter. What is myth really about? There are two main answers: myth is about what it is literally about, or myth symbolizes something else. Taken literally, myth is usually about gods or heroes or physical events like rain. Tylor, Eliade, and the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski all read myth literally. Myth taken literally may also mean myth taken historically, especially in myths about heroes.

The subject matter of myth taken symbolically is open-ended. A myth about the Greek god Zeus can be said to symbolize one’s father (so Freud), one’s father archetype (so Jung), or the sky (so nature mythologists).  The religious existentialists Rudolf Bultmann and Hans Jonas would contend that the myth of the biblical flood is to be read not as a explanation of a supposedly global event from long ago but as a description of what it is like for anyone anywhere to live in a world in which, it is believed, God exists and treats humans fairly.

To call the flood story a myth is not to spurn it. I am happy to consider any theory of myth, but not the crude dismissal of a story or a belief as a “mere myth.” True or false, myth is never “mere.” For to call even a conspicuously false story or belief a mere myth is to miss the power that that story or belief holds for those who accept it. The difficulty in persuading anyone to give up an obviously false myth attests to its allure.
Robert A. Segal is Sixth Century Chair in Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen.  He is the author of Myth: A Very Short Introduction and of Theorizing about Myth. He is presently at work editing the Oxford Handbook of Myth Theory. He directs the Centre for the Study of Myth at Aberdeen.

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Image credit: Thetis and Zeus by Anton Losenko, 1769. Copy of artwork used for the purposes of illustration in a critical commentary on the work. Source: Wikimedia Commons. 

Re-Minting the San Francisco Mint

A great article on undoing some of the architectural “progress” inflicted on the old San Francisco Mint building:

Steampunking An Old Building To Make It More Efficient:

Steampunk, a genre of literature that takes place in a steam-engine powered world often containing futuristic VIctorian innovations, has inspired movies, music, and an entire lifestyle (need some clothes? Check out the Steampunk Emporium).
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It’s nice to see that others are starting to realize that our forebears may have actually known a little about what they were doing. 

A look back on the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible

A look back on the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible:
By Gordon Campbell

The celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible were in one respect a surprise. As the Archbishop of Canterbury commented at the end of the year, the KJB had not been treated “simply as a possession of religious believers,” much less as a “preserve of the Church,” but rather as part of a wider cultural legacy throughout the English-speaking world. This did not reflect, in the Archbishop’s tolerant view, a diminution of the Bible’s standing as a sacred text, but rather extended its significance beyond the spiritual to the cultural sphere.

No one would mount the same argument for modern translations. Bibles such as the New Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, and the New International Version are associated with religious believers, sometimes of a particular religious persuasion, and seem not to be of particular interest beyond the world of the churches.

The origins of this distinction lie in the Bible as Literature movement, which first emerged at Harvard with the publication of the lectures of John Hays Gardiner as The Bible as English Literature (1906). Gardiner argued that the King James Bible is literature, whereas the Revised Version is a sacred text. This did not mean that he treated the KJB as a secular text. Gardiner explains that he has “assumed the fact of inspiration, but without attempting to define it or to distinguish between religious and literary inspiration.” The consequence of this conflation is that literary study of the Bible should be ‘reverent in tone’.

A century later, Gardiner’s observations still have force. Christianity has its enemies, but even the most vociferous of the New Atheists has a soft spot for the King James Bible. Richard Dawkins, for example, has said that “not to know the King James Bible is to be, in some small way, barbarian,” and the late Christopher Hitchens chimed in with an affirmation of the timelessness of the KJB, which “resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening.”

This secular reverence for a religious text was one of the features of the anniversary year. I gave some sixty lectures in the course of the year, and although the venues included a clutch of cathedrals and a healthy sprinkling of churches of various denominations, they also included golf clubs and gentlemen’s clubs, pensioners’ groups and literary festivals. In the United States, I lectured at a university club in New York, at an Episcopalian church, at the splendid exhibitions mounted by the Green Foundation, and at a few Christian colleges, but I mostly lectured at secular universities. It became clear not only that the KJB maintained its place in a variety of faith communities, but that it also has a respectful following among people who are interested both in its literary qualities, and in its historical and cultural impact.

Large numbers of people have emerged from the anniversary year knowing more about the King James Bible than they knew at the beginning of the year. Thousands have attended lectures, and many more have bought one of the histories of the KJB. My own book on the subject has sold in gratifying numbers, and many people have written to me expressing gratitude for what they have learned (and occasionally offering corrections, now incorporated into the paperback). Perhaps the most startling realisation for many people was that the KJB on their shelves is not the text of 1611, but a modernised text of 1769 which differs in some 16,000 instances from the original. To give but one example, ‘For in this we grone earnestly, desiring’ (1611) is changed in 1769 to ‘For in this we groan, earnestly desiring’ (2 Corinthians 5.2); the repositioning of the comma changes the meaning.

Curiosity about the original text has led to large numbers of sales of the 400th anniversary edition of the KJB published by Oxford University Press. There are signs that this text is being adopted by the scholarly community, as this is the only old-spelling text now on the market. In all, the anniversary year has been a jolly good thing, and I am not alone in having learned a lot from the conversations and debates that emerged in the course of the year.

Gordon Campbell is Professor of Renaissance Studies at University of Leicester. His recent books for OUP include Bible: The Story of the King James Version (2010), The Holy Bible: Quatercentenary Edition (2010), The Grove Encyclopedia of Northern Renaissance Art (3 vols, 2009), John Milton: Life, Work and Thought (2008), Milton and the manuscript of ‘De Doctrina Christiana’ (2007), The Grove Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture (2 vols, 2007), The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts (2 vols, 2006), Renaissance Art and Architecture (2004), and The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance (2003). His next book, to be published by OUP in Spring 2013, will be entitled The English Ornamental Hermit.

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