My blog has been changed to make it more appealing for those who have New England ancestors and want to see the area through photos. Things I’ll include are typical white New England churches, libraries showing their genealogical collection, historical societies, cemeteries, war memorials, in general, anything to do with history.

For four years I’ve blogged mostly about my personal genealogy in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire), New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. I still will, can’t forget my own roots.

Please check out the labels on the right side for articles. The header tabs at the top are a work in progress.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Katharine Hepburn and my DNA

Back in September 2009, the New England Historic and Genealogical Society (NEHGS) send out a notice in their weekly email newsletter with a request asking readers if they would like to participate in a genetics research study,  provided you met the criteria. The screening and research was to be done by Bryan Sykes MA PhD DSc, a Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford, England.  Professor Sykes

The email message stated that Professor Sykes was interested in identifying documented descendants of early (pre-1700) immigrants to New England – and the more lines of descent from early New Englanders the participant has, the better. When I read that, I was thought I might qualify.

First, he wanted our name, town and email address. And, a brief summary of my New England ancestry including the patrilineal and matrilineal elements. Hum, elements, I wondered about that. He wanted an estimate of the percentage of my pre-1700 ancestors who lived in New England. If I met his criteria, I was to email the information to Dr. Sykes in England, and let him know that I would be available to meet him in Boston during the week of September 14–18.

Since I have a lot of old New England Ancestry, and wanted to participate in his study, I dashed off a quick email. I told him that I had 2064 direct ancestors, and that my parents both had New England pre-1700 roots, surnames BISHOP and POOLE. I wasn't able to give him the percentage though, but gave him an attachment of 52 pages with all the names. I guess I thought he would be able to figure it out.

He quickly wrote back saying, "Dear Barbara, Thank you very much indeed for volunteering to participate in my New England DNA study through NEHGS. I would love to talk with you at the Society on Tuesday and perhaps take a DNA sample. Please let me know if that is still convenient. Kind regards, Bryan Sykes"

So on Tuesday, September 15th at 11:30 I met him and his assistant (his charming collage age son), in the Board room. After I gave him additional information, group sheets and such, he said he was going to tape the conversation. Hum, well ok. But I wondered what was I going to talk about? I knew nothing about DNA. He wanted to know about my genealogy research. Oh heaven, now I was happy. Turns out I managed to ramble for a good 45 minutes all about genealogy and how I got started in it. After my talking, I realized that the saddest thing was, I hadn't even googled his name prior to the meeting. I had no idea how well-known he was. But if I had, I might have been a little bit intimidated. So ignorance was bliss in this situation, and I told him. I felt very foolish because I hadn't done any research on him first, and surely didn't ask a single intelligent question. I learned an important lesson that day.

Once my chattering was done, I answered more questions, and filled out a release form, he brought out two DNA test kits. I was glad I passed the oral part. One test was the simple swab swipe. As for the other, he told me it cost close to $300 and that he was giving me the name of Katharine Hepburn for my identity on the DNA kit. He asked what my favorite movie of hers was, and I couldn’t think of one! And I am a true movie lover. After the testing, he gave me a copy of his book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve" and autographed it. When all was said and done, I had my picture taken.

After the appointment, I spent the day in the library, and while there, I googled his name. Maybe he didn't care that I was so ignorant, he was looking for somebody with my kind of roots for DNA analysis. I sure hope my samples helped in some way. It wasn't until later, that I heard about 200 people replied to him. I am indeed very fortunate to have met him, to have the experience, and to have the autographed book. And now, I know a lot more.


Heather Rojo said...

Wow! I read his book a few years ago after seeing a special on PBS, and when I got that same email from NEHGS I hestiatated for a few days because I was nervous. I guess he already had a few "test subjects" by the time I wrote because my response was
"Dear Heather
Thank you very much for volunteering for my New England DNA study through the NEHGS.
The response was literally overwhelming and I have only been able to enrol a tiny fraction of the volunteers. I hope you have seen a message to this effect from the Society, and I must apologise for the delay in writing to you personally. I have been travelling across America since I left Boston and only now, in San Francisco, is there a break which gives me time to do that.
Once again, thank you very much for your offer of help and the trouble you have been to in order to respond.
With kind regards
Bryan Sykes"
I heard that he later had a dinner at NEHGS, and it would have been fun to meet him. I done my DNA through and last Christmas gave DNA kits to my husband and several male cousins. It was fun to see the results all mapped out on the ancestry website. Good luck with your results!

Barbara Poole said...

Hi Heather,
So nice that you can were nervous, what about me? I never heard of him, maybe that is what saved me.
Regarding the dinner/talk, it was $75 per person, so I didn't go.

He told me he was going directly to DC after Boston, and of course, I had to tell him about the DAR.

I never asked if I was going to get my
results, it wasn't my purpose. So I know no more about myself than before.

I loved hearing your comment. Thank you.
(Heather, I am going to write about Lexington, will I beat you to it, I am not sure.)

Elizabeth said...

How exciting for you, Barbara! I would have been so nervous to meet Dr. Sykes. I'm so glad that this SAHM gets to live vicariously through you! ;-)

Little Bytes of Life

Barbara Poole said...

Hi Elizabeth, I loved your comment, once I found out what SAHM meant, I had to ask Cheryl! And look what people learn from you as well, you've got some great posts. Thank you.

Janeen said...

Wow! that is awesome! I have his book, the seven daughters of Eve, my ancestress is Ursula. I just read his book Saxons, Vikings and Celts, the genetic roots of Britain and Ireland and it was very interesting.

Barbara Poole said...

Thanks Janeen. I thought you would be interested. Since I'm hoping to meet him again next month, I'd better brush up on his book. At least you and I are related as proven by our DNA.