My All-Mother

Image of the Mud Maid from Heligan in Cornwall lovingly borrowed.

As I’ve become estranged from my mother as an adult and have become removed from my maternal family in the process, researching my mitochondrial DNA links is a somewhat painful process. Even now, while I write this, inside I’m concerned about what the implications are in acknowledging this part of me. Since I am the one who is abandoning part of his family (arguably to keep another, more vulnerable part of the family safe) I have to wonder what chain of events this may set off?

I’ve been on the wrong side of painful family dynamics several times when it comes to genealogy and research so I want to be open and mark down the progress on my mother’s family too. In the scale of deep genealogical time that MTDNA works with, my current situation is the blink of an eye.

Mitochondrial DNA T2A1A

My original test at 23 and me has me as T2a, which they describe this way:

Your maternal line stems from a branch of T called T2a. Haplogroup T2a traces back to a woman who lived nearly 17,000 years ago in the Middle East. Her descendants form a branch of haplogroup T2, which has spread over the millennia from its birthplace in the Middle East to northeastern Africa and throughout Europe, riding waves of migration that followed the end of the Ice Age and the origin of agriculture. At the tail end of the Ice Age about 13,000 years ago, one migration appears to have carried the T2 haplogroup, including members of T2a, from the Middle East into northern Africa, especially Ethiopia and Egypt.

“Today, members of haplogroup T2a can be found at low levels in Egypt and the western part of the Arabian Peninsula. Although extremely rare outside the Middle East, T2a has also been found sporadically in Iberia, France and Norway.”

I recently had the Full MTDNA sequence done at Family Tree DNA and have been placed in T2a1a. It’s “closer” than 13000 years ago, but not exactly “close”.

The first thing I found when looking at MTDNA is that it doesn’t seem as granular as the Y has become. I’ve been spoiled by big Y and the layering that is possible there, but MTDNA looks like a step back to the bigger picture.

Ancient Remains

According to this paper at the NCBI, T2a1a pops up about 6000 years ago. So I suspect that the totality of my broader haplogroup matches could be up to 6000 years old, so roughly 4000BC. Entering Europe from the Near East in the Neolithic period when farming began to be adopted in Europe.

Although some of my autosomal match contacts have been North African and I have some small amount of West African DNA and many of my early maternal autosomal match contacts were Roma who have suggested that my Price family may be related to the Price tribe, my straight maternal line is most likely European. That had me searching for T2a1a in ancient European samples and I ran into two groups, both of which are familiar because of the Y Haplogroup R migration. The Yamnaya (who may have helped spread Y haplogroup R from the steppes into Europe) and the Beaker culture.

Around 2700 to 2100 BC, T2a1a is found in a man from a Yamnaya kurgan burial, RISE547 and another man RISE552, in a separate burial. Both not too far from the town of Elista in Russia, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, part of the Pontic Steppe.

From roughly 2500BC to 1800BC T2a1a shows up in Amesbury Down, England, not far from Stonehenge. Amesbury is where the Beaker grave of the Amesbury Archer was found. As it turns out he was from the continent (based on isotope analysis, he was from the Alps) but lived in Britain and was buried near a male relative who had spent his childhood in Britain. The T2a1a people (labeled I2459 and I2460) were part of a migration that replaced roughly 90% of Britain’s gene pool with Steppe related ancestry within a few hundred years.

Later, between 1400BC and 1200BC RISE210, a male with T2a1a is buried in Angamollan Sweden.

Amtdb.org lists only these 5 bronze age T2a1a people. At least one T2a1a person is found among the Goths between the 2nd and 4th centuries. It’s definitely out there, but mentions of it do seem pretty rare. It seems like 23 and Me wasn’t too far off base. It came from the middle east and probably migrated westward in low levels along with the Steppe people.

Closer to Home?

I have a Full MTDNA test from Family Tree DNA. According to Isogg: “ If two people have an exact FMS match they will generally share a common ancestor within the last 22 generations (about 550 years)

22 Generations is daunting for a person who can only feel confident about 8 or 9 generations back…11 if I push a lot of boundaries. Many of my matches do not seem able to get back that far, if they list an ancestor at all.

My Y DNA paternal all father is currently Ed Elmer born around 1610 about 360 years separate our births…and Men in this country are much easier to follow than women. I would likely have to push back past any colonial ancestors to stumble on a match.

I have 61 exact matches. Of those only 28 could give a country of origin and they are from 13 different countries. I can get it down to 11 countries if we remove the U.S. and Canada, assuming they’re likely immigrants from some other country or would fall in with the two Native American matches on my list.

My exact matches are from continental Europe (Bohemia, Germany, Netherlands, France and Spain), the British Isles (England, Ireland, Wales) and Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway). Nowhere does it reach more than 0.2% of the population from those countries. My MTDNA seems to spread all over Western Europe, appears more closely related than it probably is and also (without a lot to compare to) seems like a small percentage of the population.

My close matches are about as distant geographically as the ancient T2a1a samples.

Bridging A Gap of Centuries

If you take just my known/suspected colonial ancestors from my family tree, England, Wales, Norway, Netherlands and Germany are all represented in the colonies. They all seem equally as likely countries of origin for my Mito line that runs back to Anna Odell from Fairfield, Connecticut in 1758. Her mother seems to be largely accepted to be Hannah Jackson born in 1741 in Stratford Connecticut, who married John Odell. I’m uncertain about Hannah Jackson’s parents. Everyone eventually ended up in Ohio, part of a contingent of pioneers from Connecticut, which has helped to tie them together, but I don’t yet have anything solid going back from Hannah. There are multiple Jackson families in Fairfield Connecticut. I’m not certain if or how they are all related.

map showing fairfield connecticut

I now have a lot more information than I did when I got my results from 23 and me, but I didn’t win the jackpot of matching up with another person who has the same known ancestor or even a close possibility.

I suppose that I would pursue it the way I would pursue Y candidates. I would look at family trees and find other people who have a straight maternal line connecting to my ancestors and test them methodically, attempting to triangulate back as far as possible.

…and wait for more matches to show up.

Other posts that include T2a

21 Comments

    • Hi Elizabeth. I have not found the kind of depth available in Y DNA testing, where I can see specific mutations shared with men fairly recently in time (within the last few hundred years). I’m uncertain how to categorize all my matches at FTDNA. They seem to be a pretty diverse group and no one has yet shown up with one of my known ancestors. It seems like a perfect match can still be pretty ancient.

  1. Hello!

    I am T2a1a maternally. I was born in Stratford, CT but surprisingly my mother wasn’t. She was born in Rochester, NY. All of my regionally ancestry is identical to what you’ve listed above in Europe. I have done a lot of genealogy research regarding Stratford and who I ended up being related to.

  2. Hello. Interesting article. I’m also T2a1a. My direct maternal line is a mystery just a few generations back per lack of paper trail and such. Furthest back I traced it was North Carolina. There’s also Native American mixed into that line. I understand the haplogroup is Middle East oriented with sparse distribution throughout Eurasia and America. I would love to know more about it, but there doesn’t seem to be much info about it.

    • I agree. It would be nice if there were more testing and differentiation that could be done with MTDNA to help tell a better story or to get closer in time (nearer the genealogical timeframe).

  3. Hello,
    My name is Lana Handal and my father’s maternal DNA is T2a1a. We are original and largest Christian family from Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. My father’s Ydna is J-m267. My maternal from my mother’s came out to be a mix of European, mostly from the UK, which I believe is crusaders’ DNA mixed with some Jewish DNA. (Jews who followed Jesus)

    Regarding my father’s maternal line (t2a1a), Family Tree Dna says it’s Eastern European origins. My grandmother did look Russian, with strong square features. Her family was very small and new in Bethlehem, Israel compared to the Jewish YDNA line but we didn’t know where they were originally from.

    I found these burial DNA test results linked below on an excel sheet from google search where there are 5 vikings with t2a1a in their maternal line.

    (link redacted)

    Could it be that there’s little about this DNA line because they buried each other in the ocean on burning boats? This would make their DNA hard to find and track if they were constantly moving and burying the dead in the ocean. Maybe they were vikings?
    What do you think Mike Thompson?

    • Hi Lana,

      I removed the link because it looked like it would open a spreadsheet and sometimes those can contain harmful code. I think I may have grabbed some of the people you found for this post that you might find interesting: https://wanderingtrees.com/2021/02/17/t2a1a-in-ancient-dna/

      I think MTDNA has a lot of challenges and that you’re right about burial practices being one of those challenges. In various historical burial sites, there are often cremated remains that cannot be analyzed. Depending on the time and culture there may not be much at all that can be gathered about the genetics of the people involved. It is hopeful though that genetic testing is becoming more common at archaeological sites, so we have more information than we did in the past.

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