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Lucky bastard! if i had a few hundred bucks lying around — Brooklynian

Lucky bastard! if i had a few hundred bucks lying around

I wanna see if i'm related to Genghis khan too. he is like the coolest guy that ever lived!!!

Ideas & Trends
Who's Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy?

GENE POOL Genghis Khan, Marie Antoinette and Robert E. Lee are objects of genetic genealogists' desire.

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Published: June 11, 2006

NO sooner had news surfaced last week of the genetic link between Tom Robinson, an accounting professor in Florida, and Genghis Khan than the celebrity ancestor one-upmanship began.
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Famous Footsteps

Amy Harmon will be taking questions about genetic ancestry testing Sunday and Monday at Answers will be posted on Tuesday:
In the Body of an Accounting Professor, a Little Bit of the Mongol Hordes (June 6, 2006)

That connection was speculative at best, sniffed some among the swelling ranks of amateur genetic genealogists. One, Georgia Bopp, 65, of Kailua, Hawaii, said there was much harder evidence for the shared ancestry of her husband and Marie Antoinette.

Tom Bopp discovered the match when he entered the string of numbers that represent his own genetic signature — derived from mitochondrial DNA, which passes unchanged from mothers to their children — into a search engine a couple of years ago. The guillotined French queen's mitochondrial DNA had previously been extracted from a lock of hair clipped when she was a child, and the analysis published in a genetics journal.

Just who Mr. Bopp's and the monarch's shared ancestor might be is unknown. But that doesn't stop Ms. Bopp from telling her husband to "eat cake" when, for instance, he expresses premature concern about what's for dinner.

Genetic genealogy in its commercial form is barely five years old, but the hunt for famous ancestors is in full swing. In England, a favorite is William the Conqueror, or, barring that, one of his barons. In the South, it's Robert E. Lee.

The case of Mr. Robinson, who was fielding news media calls from around the world last week, epitomized the dream. One day he sent in a cheek swab to Oxford Ancestors, a DNA genealogy company, and presto: Genghis Khan Jr.

For a few hundred dollars, genetic ancestry tests can penetrate the fog of history in a way that traditional genealogical tools often cannot. And perhaps more important, the DNA link imbues genealogy with an authority it has never had.

Learning you are the scion of kings from mildewed marriage records is one thing. Carrying around a dollop of royal DNA in every cell is something else. Suddenly, the fantasy that ancestral fame can rub off on descendants seems almost like scientific fact.

"People feel they can ascribe greatness to themselves because it's inscribed in their genes," said Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, an anthropologist specializing in bioethics at Stanford University. "Even though their actual lives may not reflect that."

Even the exceedingly unassuming Mr. Robinson, who said he had been taken aback by the fuss over his DNA, allowed for a certain affinity with his progenitor: "I do have administrative skills," he said, noting that Genghis Khan had built roads and managed a corps of ambassadors after conquering most of the known world.

Whether the preoccupation with the power of genes to confer distinction is entirely healthy is unclear; whether it is rational, even less so. Genghis Khan, for one, who reportedly adopted orphans from conquered tribes into his own clan, might not have approved. "They weren't as hung up on blood as we are," said Jack Weatherford, author of "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World."

The small fraction of an individual's DNA that can be used to trace a maternal or paternal lineage, scientists say, has little tangible impact on an individual descendant's physical characteristics or susceptibility to disease. But for many amateur genealogists, the psychological effect of knowing that they carry a physical artifact, no matter how tiny, of a noteworthy historical figure, can be significant. At any rate, the collision of two pet preoccupations — celebrity and one's own genes — seems to be fueling sales of genetic ancestry tests.

Jews with variations of the surname Cohen, historically associated with the priesthood, seek genetic confirmation that they are descended from the line said to have begun with Moses' brother, Aaron. Oprah Winfrey's claim to Zulu DNA last year was disputed, but many African-Americans aspire to the same. Others would prefer a genetic match to Ms. Winfrey herself.

"People come up and ask me all the time, 'How can I find out if I'm related to Oprah?' " said Peggy Hayes, director of sales and marketing for Relative Genetics, a Salt Lake City company specializing in DNA genealogy tests. Ms. Winfrey's genetic profile, Ms. Hayes added, is confidential.

Famous criminals are also prime ancestor material, as long as they lived far enough in the past. Roberta Estes spent years trying to determine whether the Youngers she is related to in Halifax County, Va., share ancestry with the Youngers who rode with Jesse James. DNA testing recently showed they do not.

"People were disappointed," said Ms. Estes, 50, of Brighton, Mich.

That's the downside to DNA tests: just as they can offer a shortcut to ancestrally derived prominence, they can also filter out the pretenders. Of the 74 Lees who have had their DNA tested with Relative Genetics in hopes of finding a link to Robert E., for instance, none matched the signature of the known descendants of the general.

"One lady who sponsored a male cousin of hers asked if he did the test incorrectly," said M. Clint Lee, the project coordinator, who counts himself among the disappointed. "She didn't want to believe the results."

The ability to trace an ancestral lineage through DNA is the result of a quirk of human biology. The Y chromosome, which determines maleness, is passed unchanged from father to son. Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on intact from mothers to their children, can be used similarly to trace maternal ancestry.

In the case of Ghengis Khan, scientists inferred that a distinctive signature in the Y chromosome of men living within the borders of the former Mongol empire must have been his, because only he and his sons would have been prolific enough to spread it so far.

Only a handful of historical figures — all, obviously, men — have had a similarly recognizable opportunity to propagate their genes so widely. But the DNA of others has been analyzed through the efforts of interested historians, scientists or descendants, so that individuals can check their DNA signatures against it.

Thomas Jefferson and the Romanovs are among those on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy's Famous DNA page ( Billy the Kid, Christopher Columbus and Joan of Arc, the site says, are "coming soon."

"People want to connect," said Katherine Borges, the society's director. "And they don't just want to connect to their fourth cousins or sixth cousins."