sitemap | help
Click here to access to our stories featuring images from our collections and related materials ranging from Unusual takes, voices to biographies and more. Click here to find a feature debate and other debates related to some of our subjects and topics found with the READ section, please note, you need to be a registered user to participate in debates Click here to browse or search for images and related materials.  Alternatively use the advanced search for more detailed queries. Click here to create your own web galleries using our image collections or to personalise your experience within Ingenious.  Please note that you need to be a registered user to work with the CREATE tools.  Go to the 'Register' link to utilise Ingenious Create Tools Menu Log in Menu Search
Spacer image
Spacer image
save to my links [ + ]read caption
Topic section: One big family
One big family
Picture: 10319200s4.jpg
Our varied appearances are partly due to the genes we inherit from our parents.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Our family forms a large part of our identity. We are linked with our family in various ways. We look, unscientifically, for inherited traits – perhaps we will emulate one of our more successful ancestors. We like to think we have our father’s eyes or our mother’s hair. Nicholas Christenfeld and Emily Hill of the University of California at San Diego have claimed that babies look like their fathers, but other researchers have disputed their findings.

One of the most compelling attractions of both traditional and genetic genealogy is the surprise factor – the discovery of unexpected ancestral links. Our reaction to this historical and scientific fact is conditioned by our cultural background. A snob would be disappointed to find that they are descended from serfs rather than du
A member of the BNP might be disconcerted to discover that their ancestor was African
kes, but someone who is proud of their working-class links would be happy to be the great-grandson of a factory worker. A member of the British National Party might be disconcerted to discover that their ancestor was African. A Scottish person might prefer to have a Viking ancestor rather than an English one (although one hardly excludes the other). Rather than obtaining our identity from our genetic ancestry, we use it to reinforce the ethnic or social identity we have created for ourselves, based on our family background and childhood experiences. As genetic genealogy becomes more widely available and better understood, it is possible that we will create new forms of identity based on our genetic heritage. Perhaps websites and societies will be based on a common ancestor such as Jasmine or Helena (two of Brian Sykes’s ‘Eves’) instead of surnames.

Picture: 10315677s4.jpg
A miner and his family, Rhondda. Our family and its class background forms a large part of our identity.
Credit: NMPFT/Daily Herald Archive
Genealogy can be seen as divisive, emphasising how we (as individuals) are different from other people, focussing on us rather than others. Yet most family history shows how we are connected with each other. Genetics shows these interconnections even more strongly, illustrating how different groups of people have mingled throughout history. In the end, we are all mongrels – and surprisingly close relatives as well. The famous geneticist Richard Lewontin argued in 1972 that the genetic variation between different populations is much less than between, say, the great apes. Subsequent research has supported this thesis: the DNA sequences of one person and another are 99.9 per cent identical. It is possible that this homogeneity arose as a result of a near extinction of the human race around 71,000 years ago. If this hypothesis is correct, all six billion of us today are descended from the 15,000 survivors of the Toba volcanic eruption. It would seem that we are all related to each other, one way or another.
Spacer image

Spacer image
Topic section: Tracing your ancestors could save your life
Spacer image
Some medical conditions are caused by changes in our genetic material. They can be passed from one generation to the next. Genealogy allows researchers to trace back some of these conditions to their human origins.  > more

Spacer image
Topic section: To find an ancestor, get a DNA test
Spacer image
Using genealogy, we can sometimes track our ancestors over a couple of centuries. Genetics can do much more: it can link people who died thousands of years ago to their modern-day descendants.  > more

Spacer image
Topic section: DNA and ethnic identity
Spacer image
When we combine genetics with archaeology, linguistics and history, we can go even further back, to the very origins of human civilisation.  > more
Click here to print this page in a printer friendly format  > Printer friendly version > Back to top
© NMSI. All rights reserved. | terms of use | sitemap | contact us | accessibility | privacy | who we are
Spacer image
Spacer image
Read More
Please click here to explore this topic further and to access our our stories featuring images from our collections and related materials ranging from Unusual takes, voices to biographies and more.
If your browser is not javascript enabled then click here to Read More. To learn how to javascript enable your browser click here.
  right arrow Voices - of people involved
  right arrow Unusual Takes - the unexpected angle

See caption
Click below to see images related to this section
Related to: