Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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27 August 2005

Resource for understanding DNA testing

Kerchner's DNA Testing & Genetic Genealogy Info and Resources Page

Charles F. Kerchner Jr. offers links to information about understanding DNA and DNA testing, including his recommended reading list of books.

Secret Jews

Many people of Spanish ancestry now living in the Americas are Jews who have hidden their Jewishness since the time of the Spanish Inquisition in order to avoid persecution. DNA can sometimes provide a clue to Jewish origins but in most cases cited in this newspaper article, the secret has been handed down secretly from generation to generation.

DNA Sheds Light on North American Migration

Dental DNA reveals our ancient roots
By Leigh Fenly
August 24, 2005

/ University of Colorado, Boulder
A cast of the human jaw found in On Your Knees Cave on Prince of Wales Island in southeastern Alaska. UC Davis researchers have sequenced DNA from two of the teeth - - the oldest ever extracted from ancient American remains [Photo]

Politics plagued bones of Kennewick Man

ASHLAND, Ore. – Paleontologist Timothy Heaton was used to finding 35,000-year-old remains of brown bear, black bear, hoary marmot and antelope in On Your Knees Cave, a tight opening tucked in the dense hemlocks of Alaska's vast Tongass National Forest. But on the last day of excavation in 1996, as Heaton was filling a final bag of sediment, he came upon something quite different.

A lower jaw. A pelvic bone. Obsidian worked into a spear point.

Unmistakable evidence of an ancient human.

Since, the effort to tease clues from the 10,300-year-old remains – the oldest ever found in Alaska or Canada – has involved myriad research laboratories, most recently the Molecular Anthropology Lab at UC Davis.

A tooth from On Your Knees Cave Man – wrapped in cotton and shipped via Federal Express – arrived there in 2003. Brian Kemp, a Ph.D. candidate, removed the tooth's crown and hammered out a quarter-gram portion of root. He subjected it to bleach, a decalcifying chemical and a protein-devouring enzyme. With a silica extraction, he got the tooth's DNA to jump out of the solution.

With the same process forensic scientists use to link DNA to criminals, Kemp tricked the purified DNA into copying itself millions of times. The resulting sequences – the oldest DNA ever extracted from human remains in the Americas – revealed some of the old man's secrets.

Graphic: Kinship with On Your Knees Cave Man

Kemp's analysis, which he will submit to Nature, confirmed the Ice Age remains as male and established his maternal ancestry as Asian.

From differences in the genetic sequences, Kemp is now able to argue that the cave man's DNA represents a new ancient lineage in North America. Comparing that DNA to modern-day sequences, he also is suggesting changes to some scientists' estimates of the time of the first migrations to the New World.

In the months to come, the results will likely be strenuously argued. Less debatable is the fact that Kemp's work gets us closer to understanding who first peopled North America and offers a glimpse at the tantalizing future of genetic anthropology.

The human genome stores vast amounts of information on the movements, relationships and adaptations of past populations. In the last decade, after some embarrassing missteps and exaggerated claims, DNA technology has begun to reveal some of that dormant information.

The promise is huge, says Nina Jablonski, an anthropologist at the California Academy of Sciences. "As the early problems get solved, we're going to have the framework to learn about relationships among ancient people. DNA is going to answer all our questions about who is related to whom."

DNA's promise

At the moment, Kemp is relating to a cup of coffee. He's joined by his peers: his adviser, David Glenn Smith, the respected director of Davis' Molecular Anthropology lab; Ripan Malhi and Jason Eshleman, former students of Smith's and partners in science and business; and John McDonough, Smith's jovial lab manager.

They are earnest, confident, energized. Smith alone – who brought them all here, literally and figuratively – has a quiet air.

Earlier this morning, each had muscled through PowerPoint presentations describing their work at an American Association for the Advancement of Science seminar at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Now, in the sleek new, brick library on campus, they are warming to shop talk. Teeth, for instance, and contamination.

/ University of Colorado, Boulder
The entrance to On Your Knees Cave in southeastern Alaska. A lower jaw, some pelvic bones, ribs and backbones of a 10,300-year-old skeleton were excavated from the cave in 1996. [Photo]

The field is so new, it's only now becoming clear that teeth are more likely than bone to give up their DNA. The difficulties recovering any DNA from ancient material are vast, since DNA begins to degrade immediately after death, as water, oxygen and microbes attack it. But teeth, encased in enamel and partly protected by the jaw bone, are turning out to be better harborers of DNA. They have become the prizes in the DNA lab.

"In my 200 samples, I didn't have a single tooth," laments Eshleman, drawing a face.

Malhi ribs him. "Oh, it's OK, Jason."

Eshleman's DNA studies – using bones – are helping make sense of California's huge number of Native American languages. He's also found new evidence of a very early coastal migration down the West Coast.

Similarly, Malhi is using DNA data to measure the impact of European contact on the genetic diversity of Native Americans who populated the Columbia Plateau.

The two have also founded Trace Genetics Inc., in Richmond, a private company that has helped 1,000 people determine their Native American ancestry. For one woman, adopted as a child, this was the first time she'd known for sure: She is Native

In all such work, the single biggest hurdle is defeating contamination. The PCR process, used to create millions of copies of DNA, has been compared to a Xerox machine, although Malhi prefers to call it a "contamination factory." "Lots of times I've done a sampling and gotten my own DNA sequence," he says wryly.

That's because DNA is lying about everywhere. "What is it – we each shed millions of skin cells every day?" wonders McDonough. Each DNA-rich cell – lying on a lab bench, tucked into a glove – is waiting to hook onto an ancient, degraded sample.

In the 1990s, it was contaminated samples that led to false claims for DNA sequences of dinosaurs and million-year-old plants and insects. Smith's lab at Davis, one of the largest in the country, is a model for containment and sterilization processes. Access to the lab is strictly limited. Equipment is bleached and decontaminated on a regular basis. On file are the DNA records of every employee, past and present, to compare to new results.

Whenever possible, Smith recommends duplicating the work. Kemp sequenced a second tooth from On Your Knees Cave Man (OYKCM) in the lab of Malhi and Eshleman. "When it came up the same," he says, "I knew the results were true."

Mother lode

To follow this conversation for long you need a vocabulary word: mitochondrial DNA.

Most people are familiar with nuclear DNA – our genes that come to us courtesy of our mother and father, when the sperm fertilizes the egg and both sets of genes mix.

As a tool for genetic anthropologists, nuclear DNA is troublesome because all that reshuffling of genes makes it tough to trace a direct genetic line from individual to individual.

But the mitochondria, the cell's energy-producing bodies, also have tiny genomes, and these are inherited only from our mothers. Because there is no mixing with male genes, Smith explains, mitochondrial DNA stays the same from generation to generation, except when random mutations occur.

And mitochondrial DNA is abundant in cells compared to nuclear DNA and therefore more likely to be extracted. It will never be enough to clone an early cave man, but for Kemp, Smith and other genetic anthropologists, mitochondrial DNA is the mother lode.

"This is what's allowing us to construct a history where there is no written record," Smith says.

The reason they can do this is because the rate of mutation in mitochondrial DNA remains constant over time – in each individual, from prehistory to modern-day, changes occur at the same rate. That rate of change is used as a measuring stick for time known as the molecular clock.

To make sense of all the mutations, scientists group individuals with similar sets of mutations into families known as haplogroups. Haplogroups are further divided into smaller groups called haplotypes. OYKCM belongs to haplotype D, one of five founding lineages that appear in North America. But his haplotype is rare.

"When I first saw it, I wasn't sure what I was looking at," Kemp says. "He was D-something else."

The D-something-else genetic sequence is like a fingerprint of inherited mutations. Kemp wanted to find out if anyone living today had anything similar. From a genetic database of 3,500 Native Americans, he found 47 individuals living in North and South America who belong to the same haplotype. These are the cave man's relatives, inheritors of his same fingerprint of mutations.

The 47 are widely spread, from California to Tierra del Fuego. Some belong to California's Chumash tribe, Ecuador's Cayapa tribe and the Tarahumara in Mexico. This wide dispersal is an important clue to the geographic reach of the cave man's family and the migratory routes they might have taken.

Beyond migration questions, haplogroup studies can indicate conquest, assimilation and language development – filling in a broad canvas with small strokes. "It's easy to get seduced by the big questions," says Smith, "but what we're interested in are the smaller questions of what happened after the peopling of the New World. We're interested in the intricacies."

One example is Eshleman's studies showing haplotype A occurring primarily in British Columbia and the Channel Islands – suggesting an early southerly migration along the West Coast.

Mitochondrial DNA creates a partial record, to be sure, because it only traces female populations. (The male trademark Y chromosome is notoriously difficult to sequence in ancient samples, although Kemp was lucky to identify it in OYKCM.)

Even so, DNA data may clarify the contentious debate surrounding the timing of the first migrations to the New World.

Parallel dates

Here Kemp has tread, too.

In the late 1990s, scientists used DNA studies to propose that people first advanced upon the continent from Asia as much as 40,000 years ago. But data from numerous archaeological sites across the Americas have placed the migration at closer to 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Kemp has used OYKCM as a measuring stick to come up with dates much closer to the archaeological record. "Because we know that this guy represents the oldest known example of this lineage, that places a minimum date on the emergence of the lineage," he explains.

In other words, OYKCM represents one end of the measuring stick. At the other end are the 47 people who belong to his haplotype. According to the rules of the molecular clock, this makes it possible to measure the genetic changes between OYKCM and the modern samples and calculate the time it would have required for those changes to occur.

"My calibration shows that the changes were occurring two to four times faster than previously thought," Kemp says. "It means some people have overestimated the time. It wasn't so long ago."

That makes some of his colleagues wrong – and previous DNA data flawed – but Kemp is satisfied. "I hope the impact of my paper will be to bring the molecular timing more in line with the archaeological record," he says. "This is what you want your work to do."
{The orginal article has a great map showing probably migration patterns based on DNA matches]

25 August 2005

Mitochondrial Eve

This is the discussion page about the Mitochondrial Eve entry on Wikipedia, addressing some of the issues in constructing an accurate entry.

Kinship Studies

Much of my work is based on kinship theory, mostly from the field of anthropology.

A site by Tim Roufs -- "Cultural Anthropology" (University of Minnesota at Duluth) -- has good basic definitions for kinship terms and groups. It has an index to Marriage, Kinship, and Descent. There are no doubt many others with this type of information, but this is the first one I came across when I was looking for good general information. I'll add more as I find them.

24 August 2005

Went to attorney

Went to visit an attorney in Benton this afternoon, about suing the pool contractors. I'm quite stressed out now.

But at least I have electricity.

Billingsley Lane didn't get power back until 4:30 this morning. Sarah said there were four big trucks and lots of loud men outside her house in the middle of the night, so she and Carrie gave up on sleeping (it was too hot anyway) and went and sat on the front porch to watch the show. When they replaced the fuse on the pole, it made a big explosion, with a shower of sparks. So they had to send another crew out to replace the transformer. Blew out her computer, her garage door openers, her fax, and her AC. J fixed her AC this morning though, so at least she stayed cool today.

My grandson Jeff found the missing cow after school today, and got into plenty of brambles in his search. She was well hidden. But she had her calf OK. Four of the five cows have calved and all four have been bulls. Shoots the law of averages to bits (yeah, yeah, I know all the reasons statistics don't work that way; and maybe next year we'll have five heifers). We'll definitely be eating home-grown, organically raised beef this time next year. (In case you don't know, you castrate the bull calves and either sell them or feed them out for beef; you raise the heifers to increase your herd. Unless you don't think they have the makings of a good cow, in which case you sell them too. End of cow lesson.)

I got a call in the middle of the night (yes, I was still up) that my Dad had activated his Life Alert button. Turns out he had chest pains and irregular heartbeat, so the paramedics took him to the ER, but once they got his heart beating right, he refused to stay and went home. Says he's OK today. But he was talking about re-making his will. (My brother told my father not to leave anything to him because he didn't need it and I did.) So that's probably not a good sign. I wonder how I'll feel when my father dies. I don't even LIKE the man, but people tell me it'll still affect me. Curious.

Nothing else new. (Actually, me being stressed isn't new either.)

Fucking Rotten Day

Fucking rotten day. Had to go check on a cow who's about to have a calf, but couldn't find her after 45 minutes of searching (they go off and hide to give birth). I knew she was somewhere deep in the woods where it's swampy and I wasn't about to put on my hip boots in this heat and go tromping around amongst the chiggers and ticks to track her down. I hope she had her damn calf safely. Should've shut her up in the lot by the barn but I knew she'd be unhappy about it.

Then a big storm blew in, for which I was initially grateful, but we only got .25" of rain in the deal, all in less than 30 minutes, while the lightning struck all around (made my phones ring every time one hit close by, which was about 10 times), blew a big limb across the road to my house, washed out part of the road to my house (again). That amount of rain only delays the worsening of the drought. Settled the dust for about an hour and that's all.

And then the power went off. And it stayed off until 10 PM. I was cut off from the WWW. It was awful. The power was off only at our end of the road. I went up about five houses down the road and THEY had power. The farm is the end of the line. The people to the north and west of us had power because they're on Benton electricity instead of Little Rock. The people up on the highway had power. Just this little patch of folks out in the hinterlands were powerless. I put in underground utilities all over the farm but it doesn't save my from the exposed power lines further up the road.

The sky stayed black for the rest of the day even after it quit raining and I couldn't even see to read. Had to go sit in the car and read a book, until J made me get out and go to Home Depot and Wal-Mart, so at least I got those chores done.

But then it was really dark. I was trying to read the newspaper by candlelight and it's a wonder I didn't catch myself on fire. Finally I gave up on that and went swimming. At least there I could light a couple of torches and have a little light, although I had to use a flashlight to change into my bathing suit in the pool house.Finally I saw the gate lights come on across the pasture, so I knew I could go home.

Funny thing is, everybody got power back except Billingsley Lane, which is just J and my daughter Sarah. He was pissed -- still didn't have power at 11 PM. I wonder if they'll send somebody back out on overtime for just two customers?

So I pretty much lost the whole day. Except for getting my grocery shopping done at Wal-Mart and buying some new light fixtures for my house at Home Depot.

23 August 2005

Why Do Men Have Nipples?

"Why Do Men Have Nipples?: Hundreds of Questions You?d Only Ask A Doctor After Your Third Martini," published by Three Rivers Press. Funny interview with one of the authors.

11 August 2005

Putative Paternity/Non-Paternity Events

As many as one in twenty-five men are not the fathers of the children they think are theirs.

Could be that dad is not real father, report shows (Thursday August 11, 2005)
Paternity Study Finds Daddy Discrepancies (Thursday, August 11, 2005), By Miranda Hitti.
SOURCE: Bellis, M. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Sept. 2005; vol 59: pp 749-754. News release, BMJ.

Even if a man proves he's a child's biological father, it doesn't necessarily trump the rights of the legal or social father. Here's one example from The Waukesha Freeman written by BRIAN HUBER
"Supreme Court denies paternity to biological father; Child born of adultery remains with her marital dad." April 8, 2004, Waukesha, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

10 August 2005

Eating Wiener Schnitzel in Graz, Austria, 1996

Biographical Sketch

Biographical Sketch: Carolyn Earle Billingsley
18 February 2004

In 1948, Carolyn Earle Billingsley was born in Texas, into a military family with roots in Arkansas. She married James L. Billingsley in 1967 and had four children by the time she was twenty-three. Since 1973, she and her family have lived in Saline County, Arkansas, the same county to which one of her paternal 5-greatgrandfathers, Thomas Sr., migrated in 1836, and to which her maternal 3-greatgrandfather, Martin Gantt, and 2-greatgrandfather, John Wittenburg Sr., migrated in the 1870s.

Shortly before she was thirty, her great-uncle’s family papers were bequeathed to her, beginning a lifetime fascination with family history. Billingsley became a professional genealogist and, in 1986 was one of the three founders of the Saline County (Arkansas) History and Heritage Society, also serving as treasurer and editor of the quarterly for this organization for its first five years. Other activities during the 1980s and -90s include serving as board member, vice-president, program chair, and president of the Arkansas Genealogical Society; lecturing and speaking state-wide on genealogical methodology; co-founding (with Desmond Walls Allen) the Professional Genealogists of Arkansas organization and serving as co-editor of the newsletter; and authoring a number of genealogical publications, some in partnership with Allen.

After spending the 70s and 80s playing the role of suburban mom to the hilt, she enrolled as a forty-one-year-old freshman at University of Arkansas at Little Rock in January of 1990, when her therapist suggested Billingsley had procrastinated long enough in attending college, especially now that her children were essentially grown.

Before she completed her first semester at UALR, she was on scholarship, and by the second semester, she was accepted into the Donaghey Scholars Program (UALR’s honors program). At the time of her graduation, summa cum laude, with a BA in history and minors in German and Arkansas Studies in May of 1994, Billingsley had been the recipient of two UALR Phi Alpha Theta Research Paper first place awards, the Powell History Scholarship, the award for Best Family History in a Local or County Journal (Arkansas Historical Association), the Booker Worthen Memorial Award, the Stolthz Plaque for Outstanding Senior, a Phi Kappa Phi National Fellowship, and a Fulbright Scholarship for study at Karl-Franzens Universit├Ąt, Graz, Austria. Billingsley was also listed in Who's Who in Genealogy and Heraldry (1990), Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and College (1993), and The National Dean's List, 1992-93.

After spending two years studying German translation, old German handwriting, and Austrian history at Karl-Franzens Universit├Ąt in Graz, Austria, Billingsley moved to Houston, Texas, where she attended graduate school on a fellowship from Rice University. During her five years at Rice, Billingsley was an editorial intern at the Journal of Southern History and at the Jefferson Davis Papers. She received her MA in 1998 and her Ph.D. in Southern History in 2001.

Over the years, Billingsley has presented papers or served as moderator for the Arkansas Historical Society Annual Meeting (Hot Springs, 1990, and Benton, 2001); Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference (Memphis, Tennessee, 1992); Galveston Historical Foundation Symposium (1998); East Texas Historical Association Fall Meeting, (Nacogdoches, Texas, 1999); and Houston Area Southern Historians ( 2000).

She has also published papers and/or book reviews in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Journal of Southern History, The Alabama Review: A Quarterly Journal of Alabama History, Arkansas Family Historian, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, East Texas Historical Quarterly, Arkansas Biography, Pulaski County Historical Review, Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, The Jefferson County Historical Quarterly, Professional Genealogists of Arkansas Newsletter, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, and The Saline.

Billingsley is also a graduate of Samford University's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research, Course V–Genealogy as a Profession (1989) and over the years has attended five NGS National Conferences.

Billingsley is the author of a book based on her dissertation, published in 2004 by the University of Georgia Press. Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier is a study based on over seven thousand individuals connected by kinship to the author’s Keesee family, which argues for the incorporation of genealogical methodology into historical research on migration, settlement patterns, political and economic power, and religion, and for the acceptance of kinship as a category of analysis in the study of antebellum southern society. The book won the 2005 Booker Worthen Litery Prize.

Billingsley now lives in Alexander, Arkansas, and works as an independent historian, professional genealogist, and manager of her family’s land. She is the Course Coordinator for Course 3: Research in the South, at Samford University's Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. She currently serves on the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies Advisory Board, and is a life member of the Arkansas Genealogical Society, the National Genealogy Society, the Southern Historical Association, and the Arkansas Historical Association. Seven wonderful grandchildren, ranging from 8 months to 12 years grace her life.

She walked into the water

She walked into the water, deeper and deeper, feeling gravity falling away with each step. Finally she floated free in the water. Unmoving she waited for the water to still.

She sank downward until only her nose and her eyes were above the water. The last of the dying wavelets reflected the flickering firelight of the torch like liquid gold lightly blended into the water, soothingly illuminating the darkness of the night. The underwater lights created waving stria of blues and greens, bringing a shimmering florescence to the water in which she floated.

Alone under the night sky, with only the fireflies and stars to keep her company, she waited for her body and mind to mesh with the tranquility of her watery haven. Finally, when all was still, she gathered a bit of air into her lungs and sank down into the water.

Coolness and diffusion enveloped and embraced her. All sound muffled, all senses muted. Her thoughts floated free of logic and reality and only knew the calm serenity of the sensuous liquid to which she gave herself. Her long red hair fanned around her, gently undulating in what seemed like the rhythm of her slowing heartbeat.

She could only imagine dwelling endlessly in this suspension—the harshness of the world above and beyond her, outside of her liquid cocoon. All sounds distant and far away, the gentle resonance of her body’s inner cadences overriding all other aural intrusions, she drifted in a reverie of peace and calm, tinged with longing.

Opening her eyes beneath the water, she glimpsed the outside world as if through a wavering mirage. All so distant, when seen from this side of the surface, as if she were only a friendly but unseen observer of the shadowy affairs of humankind.

Regret rose in her awakening senses as she was forced to reenter that other, harsher world for wont of air to breathe.

9 August 2005