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Geoffrey is VP of Sales for SpatialTEQ Inc. He joined the geospatial industry in 1998 working first for DeLorme Publishing Inc. and then SpatialTEQ Inc. focusing on developing and selling geospatial tools that support business work flows like Geoffrey graduated from Colby … More »

Can GPS Help Determine Your Ancestral Background?

May 6th, 2014 by geoffives

The answer is it can when GPS stands for Geographic Population Structure tool. Scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences and the University of Southern California have developed a DNA analysis system that can trace your origins geographically, back one thousand years. Apparently, the test results are accurate to the nearest town or village, as the case may be. See article in Nature Communications.

Over the last five years or so, saliva swab genetic tests that analyze human DNA have become commercially available. See My wife and her sisters took this test. People pay for these genetic tests in part to expose the genetic risks associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other maladies that have hereditary links. Armed with the information that Alzheimer’s disease is a likely scenario for them, a person could make some major lifestyle adjustments to accommodate possible future developments. For instance, based on test results a person might not move to a new state in their sixties (as might have been planned) which could introduce unfamiliar spatial patterns, confusion, increased anxiety, and accident risk. These are real concerns for families with a history of Alzheimer’s.

Genetic swab testing also happens to be how I learned my wife is 7% Neanderthal. At first I thought this explained a lot, but I’ve since learned that most of us have a good chunk of Neanderthal tattooed into our DNA strands. A Neander-stamp, if you will? Does this explain our USA family obligation to go camping, usually on rainy bug infested summer weekends? The test did indeed confirm my wife’s general ancestral geography as Western Europe which, though not very accurate, does roughly describe where the Neanderthals spent their quality hunting time. This also roughly corresponds with my wife’s family’s European vacation itinerary in the mid 1970’s. No further comment.

Evidently tracing your ancestry is one of today’s most popular pastimes. It’s a sort of time travel geocache, finding you ancestral stomping grounds through GPS. Years ago, my Dad was able to trace our ‘Ives’ ancestry back to a dude in Tinchebray, Normandy in France. This early Ives served under William the Duke of Normandy during the 1066 invasion of England, as a royal cup-bearer. See The Driver Family: A Genealogical Memoir. Later the family fell out of favor having backed Robert, the Duke of Normandy in a losing ordeal.

Clearly we Ives are of Norman descent, so taking my genes even further back should lead geographically to Norway or Denmark. This may explain why Maine is a comfortable living place for me, and why I went to a high school where the sports teams where all called The Vikings. You just can’t shake that Norman thing. I probably test well for Seasonal Affect Disorder too.

Still, I find the Geographic Population Structure tool to be fascinating. Perhaps it will spawn its own array of PND’s – Progenitor Navigation Devices? We could get inside the device and travel back in time to the very places where our ancestors dwelled. Just key in the year, swab your saliva and bam! You’re at 30 times great-grandpa’s old homestead during the dark ages. Added features could include traffic and road conditions along the many dirt roads you’ll travel; “A” listed peasant homes you could couch surf at (probably more like “pile-of-hay in-the-middle-of-the-hut surfing”); and popular vermin to avoid.

Of course, there would be those naïve and technically challenged (notice I didn’t say older) PND time travelers who would just let the device think for them, “They didn’t notice the year was set to a way-back pre-historic age. It took them all the way back to the dinosaurs. You should have heard the screaming. We had to have “Big” Tim from IT go bring them back. He gets overtime for that!”

I’ll be careful with my settings. The Neanderthals might not be so welcoming either. Maybe I’ll have my wife go first? Or just stick with the more common GPS and PND devices for a while longer, until they get the time-travel bugs worked out.

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