Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The History of the Development of Genealogical DNA: Part Three: Early Views

By Margaret A. McIntyre - "The cave boy of the age of stone"[1], Public Domain,
Almost everything you think you know and everything you may have seen depicted in movies, books, or other media about "cavemen" is totally wrong. Quoting from the following book:

Reich, David. 2019. Who we are and how we got here: ancient DNA and the new science of the human past, (ebook).
The study of the human past-- as of art, music, literature, or cosmology -- is vital because it makes us aware of aspects of our common condition that are profoundly important and that we heretofore never imagined.
I think another quote from David Reich in the same book talks about our ancestry that is also important for us, as genealogists, to understand.  Here is the quote:
The problem is not just that people have mixed with their neighbors, blurring the genetic signatures of past events. It is actually far more difficult, in that we now know, from ancient DNA, that the people who live in a particular place today almost never exclusively descend from the people who lived in the same place far in the past. Under the circumstances, the power of any study that attempts to reconstruct past population movements from present-day populations is limited.
The past is far more complex than any of the simplistic, unfounded conclusions that we may draw from our limited knowledge of the initial conditions of our human existence. Whatever we know now about human genetics will undoubtedly be looked upon by our descendants as just as foolish and misguided as our views of medicine and genetics dating back to Aristotle and as continued to be practiced and believed well into the 20th Century and even into the 21st Century.

One more quote from David Reich:
Today, many people assume that humans can be grouped biologically into "primeval" groups, corresponding to our notion of "races," whose origins are populations that separated tens of thousands of years ago. But this long-held view about "race" has just in the last few years been proven wrong -- and the critique of concepts of race that the new data provided is very different from the classic one that has been developed by anthropologists over the last hundred years. 
It is quite common among those that I frequently come in contact with to hear stories from those who are taking DNA tests about the "racial" surprises they are encountering. These discoveries, including the ones alluded to by the quote above, challenge all of our concepts of race and dismiss out of hand any claims to "racial superiority."

Up until the mid-1800s, the concepts associated with inheritance relied heavily on environmental factors as the cause of genetic changes. Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859. although clearly relying on the idea of inherited traits is devoid of any mention, other than external forces, of the terms "gene" or "genetics" The mechanism for the changes noted by Darwin began to be explored by Gegor Mendel between 1856 and 1863. His paper, "Versuche über Pflanzenhybriden" ("Experiments on Plant Hybridization"), was first presented at two meetings of the Natural History Society of Brno in Moravia on 8 February and 8 March 1865 and then after publication in 1866 in the Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines in Brünn was ignored and forgotten. See Wikipedia: Gegor Mendel.

Chromosomes were not discovered until 1882 by the German biologist, Walther Flemming. Here is a quote from the DNA Learning Center: Walther Flemming about him and his discovery:
Walther Flemming was born in Sachsenberg, Mecklenburg, now in Germany. He was a military physician during the Franco-Prussian War. Flemming held positions at the University of Prague (1873-76), and at the University of Kiel (1876-1901). 
Flemming was one of the first to devote his time to cytology, the study of chromosomes. Cell division had been described as early as 1842 by Carl Nageli, who thought it was an anomalous event. Flemming was the first to detail the chromosomal movements in the process of mitosis. In 1879, Flemming used aniline dyes, a by-product of coal tar, to stain cells of salamander embryos. He was able to visualize the threadlike material as the cells divide. He described the whole process in his book Zell-substanz, Kern und Zelltheilung (Cell-Substance, Nucleus, and Cell-Division), which was published in 1882. 
Here is the citation to his book.

Flemming, Walther. 1882. Zellsubstanz, Kern und Zelltheilung mit 24 Textbildern und 8 Tafeln. Leipzig: Vogel.

The word "gene" was not coined until 1905 by the Danish scientist Wilhelm Ludvig Johannsen (1857-1927).  See

Is it any wonder that what we presently know about the subject of genetics and particularly DNA testing should be considered to be only the barest of beginnings about the complexity of these subjects?

In about 1900, Mendel's forgotten work was "rediscovered. Here is a quote from the National Human Genome Research Institute, 1900: Rediscovery of Mendel's Work.
Three botanists - Hugo DeVries, Carl Correns and Erich von Tschermak - independently rediscovered Mendel's work in the same year, a generation after Mendel published his papers. They helped expand awareness of the Mendelian laws of inheritance in the scientific world. 
The three Europeans, unknown to each other, were working on different plant hybrids when they each worked out the laws of inheritance. When they reviewed the literature before publishing their own results, they were startled to find Mendel's old papers spelling out those laws in detail. Each man announced Mendel's discoveries and his own work as confirmation of them. 
By 1900, cells and chromosomes were sufficiently understood to give Mendel's abstract ideas a physical context.
Two years later, in 1902, Archibald Garrod observed that the disease alkaptonuria was inherited according to the rules set forth by Mendel. See the following:

Garrod, A. E. The incidence of alkaptonuria: a study in chemical individuality. Lancet, II:1616-1620. 1902.

One of the main limitations on the rapid advancement of understanding genetics was the physical limitations of the test equipment available at the time and the lack of computers to tabulate and help explain the processes involved. Rapid advances did not begin until the advent of computers and highly sophisticated testing procedures and equipment in the 1990s.

To be continued, of course.

See these previous posts:

Part One:
Part Two:


  1. The History of the Development of Genealogical DNA does not begin with the handed down Jewish Torah (Biblical) documents, but with statements contained within the Pearl of Great Price. . . . The Pearl of Great Price, by itself, overthrows the simplistic assertions concerning the time frames alleged for the prehistorical creation of humans, as well as their genetic intermixed body distortions. . . . The Book of Abraham begins with mention of records had "In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers", which means that Abraham was familiar with the landed gentry of his fathers, going back for many generations, even back to the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me (Abraham). Additionally, mention is made that this record included "the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time", which excludes prehistory; it, "prehistory", a self-contradictory word, being the figment of childish imagination, or a state of simple fantasy. . . . Abraham states most clearly: "But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me." This record declares that the comprehensive and exacting Science of Astronomy was a given knowledge, within the framework, or time period of Adam and Eve.. . . From the Book of Moses, "An extract from the translation of the Bible", an additional record contained within the Pearl of Great Price, (another historical personage found in secular and Biblical History), is the following concerning Adam and Eve, as they bring forth children. "And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth. And from that time forth, the sons and daughters of Adam began to divide two and two in the land, and to till the land, and to tend flocks, and they also begat sons and daughters." Here then, here in fact, is the true beginning, the true documented History of the Development of Genealogical DNA. The race of man was pure in the beginning, having no significant genetic deformities. Indeed, in the beginning, it was not considered an evil thing for a brother to marry his sister. Thus, there was no need for civil or ecclesiastical intervention, as their biological bodies were supremely healthy and medically fit. It was no big deal, in the beginning of time, for a brother to marry his sister, I repeat, because there were no genetic defects to prevent the biological relationship; no physical deformity. This is further validated, from a faith based source, wherein: "Because he (Seth) was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father, insomuch that he seemed to be like unto his father in all things, and could be distinguished from him only by his age." . . . the Torah validation, that on a global scale, one of Noah's scientific journal entries (study in the biological preservation of animals and the human species), affirms that the flood purged the earth of biological deformities. Indeed, the Biblical Text begins with the human devolution of Eve, and then Adam, and all of records in both secular and religious history, further attest to the devolutionary nature of natural man, now descending into a possible nuclear holocaust, led robustly by scientific atheistic opinions, such as those noted in Scientific American . . .