National Geographic’s Genographic Project

Having just gotten the results of my ancestor’s genetic journey from the National Geographic Genographic project I can’t say that I’m all that surprised about my findings. However, before I dive right into the details of what my own DNA sampling revealed perhaps I should start by revealing how I came to find out about this incredible project and what it is all about.

It was at the bazaar in Khorog, Tajikistan while I was waiting on the packed marshutka to take me and the rest of the passengers on a 16 hour drive down from and thru the Pamir mountain region back into the country’s capital city, Dushanbe when I noticed an individual walking, snapping shot after shot of the Tajik people in their everyday life. I shot a smile as to say “you’re not from here either,” which earned me some conversation and a more comfortable ride to the city with the photographer that minutes later I found out a was a part of a team from National Geographic working on the Genographic project. Their team which included some Russian scientists, Geneticist, Spencer Wells and video/photography crew had just wrapped up a few days worth of sampling some of the indigenous people of the Pamirs and Tajikistan’s Wakhan Corridor. Their work here was complete and it was time to take the samples to the lab, but not without the long, bumpy ride back down in a marshutka. They kindly allowed me to swap out of the super-cramped vehicle I was supposed to ride in for a little more space in their two marshutka caravan. This is where my journey into the project began.

According to what the team told me on the ride down and the official Genographic website, “DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who – about 60,000 years ago – began a remarkable journey.” The footprints of their journey can be found in your genes. The more I thought about the project, the more my curiosity got a hold of me and finally I went out to the Nat Geo Explorer’s Hall in D.C. and picked up my own participation kit. This is part two of my journey.

It wasn’t as if I were expecting my swab test/DNA results to tell me my ancestors had started in East Africa, worked their way into Estonia before hitting up Tibet, cruised over to Hawaii and finally decided to settle on into Mississippi, but at the same time I was. I wanted the results to show me a dynamic journey from point A to point B that with the right amount of savings I could relive one day on my own. Considering I’m African-American and my DNA identifies me as belonging to a specific branch called the haplogroup L3 group on the human family tree, my maternal ancestor’s journey is depicted in the map above and as you can see stops in Africa. Ditching science and going with what I know from history I’m guessing my people later went on an excursion against their will across the Atlantic Ocean. And even though my tests didn’t tell me anything mind-shattering I did gain a better a understanding of genetics, my personal sequence of letters and the name of the markers found inside of myself.

In the long run I’m still planning on reliving a good portion of the journey as a “trip of a lifetime” sort of deal. This will be part three of my journey. Right now, I’m encouraging all those with the slightest interest in science, DNA and genetics or perhaps just themselves to see where out of Africa their own ancestors took off from and where they journeyed before deciding to rest in one place. If you’re Asian, Caucasian, or Hispanic I imagine the results could be earth-shattering, though there could be a few African-Americans with some surprising genetics as well.

Scope out the Genographic project here and learn how to participate. They’ll explain all the particulars much better on the site.