Archive for October, 2013

When John Augustus Pollock Grisdale was baptized in 1878 in St John the Baptist Church in Halton Gill, Arncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales, his father, the Reverend John Grisdale, who was the incumbent of the church, obviously had great plans for his third child and first son. He named his son John after himself and Pollock after his own mother’s maiden name. Augustus seems simply to signify his great expectations, although it might have come from another family member. Little would the Rev. Grisdale have imagined what his son would accomplish. He didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps into the church or go into any of the supposedly respectable professions in England. No, at the age of just 16 or 17 John Augustus Pollock Grisdale took ship alone for America, there to carve out a successful and very American career. When John died in 1948 in Canton in Lincoln County, South Dakota he was simply called ‘Gus’ Grisdale. This is his story and that of his brother Reg.

Halton Gill Church, Arncliffe

Halton Gill Church, Arncliffe

The Rev. John Grisdale was born in 1830 in Dacre, Cumberland. His father was a relatively well-to-do yeoman farmer called Joseph Grisdale. His mother Esther Pollock was the daughter of a similar family. As we might expect this Grisdale family also originated in the next door parish of Matterdale. John had three sisters but he was the only son. He grew up on the family’s farm but obviously he was a bright boy because even when he was 21 and still living in Dacre with his parents he was listed as a ‘scholar’. Where he was studying I do not know. It seems he didn’t go to university but nonetheless was eventually able to take holy orders. By 1863 he was probably already a ‘clerk’ when he married Annie Hardcastle in  Knaresborough in Yorkshire. He was curate of Saint Wilfrid’s Church in Burnsall where his two daughters Catherine Josepha and Henrietta Elizabeth were born in 1864 and 1866. He then became the curate of Saint John the Baptist Halton Gill in Arncliffe in September 1866. This is where John Augustus was born in 1868, to be followed by brother Reginald Dacre in 1870 and another sister Esther Sarah Annette in 1873.

Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, York

Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, York

The Rev. John Grisdale clearly hoped for great things from his first son because he sent him to be a pupil at the prestigious Archbishop Holgate Grammar School in the City of York.

Archbishop Holgate’s School was founded by one of the leading statesmen of the reign of King Henry VIII.  Robert Holgate held absolute political power in the North, running the King’s Council in the North from the King’s Manor, raising armies to subdue the Scots, and operating with the authority of the King himself.  In 1545, Henry VIII made him Archbishop of York, thereby complementing Holgate’s political authority with the authority of one of the two leading roles in the Church of England, and cementing his position of absolute supremacy (second only to the King himself) in matters spiritual and temporal north of the Trent.  Very soon after he was enthroned as Archbishop of York, Holgate founded a number of schools.  Holgate took a close personal interest in the organisation of each school; his own signature lies at the bottom of each of the twenty-four pages of each of the three surviving copies of our school’s Foundation Deed.  Holgate fell from grace politically, but remained Archbishop of York, a role he fulfilled vigorously until 1554.

At what age John Augustus entered the school is unknown, but in 1881, aged 12, he was a student there under the 73 year-old headmaster Robert Daniel, who as might be expected was also a clergyman. Unfortunately only a few weeks before the census was taken in 1881 the Rev. John Grisdale died in Penrith in Cumberland, probably while visiting his Cumbrian relatives.  I don’t know what John Grisdale died of or the circumstances, but his death was probably unexpected as he was just 51 and left no will. It seems that his wife Annie and the other children had moved to Bedford either immediately before or after his death. But for now I won’t follow them, although two of them will reappear later on in our story.

Suddenly John Augustus Pollock Grisdale had lost his father. This might have meant that he couldn’t continue at his prestigious York school. Later when he was in the United States John would say that he had completed four years of ‘high school’, which in an English context probably means he left school at around 15, but it might have been earlier. Whatever the case, John decided not to stay with his family in England and in either 1884 or 1885 he emigrated to America. He would have been only 16 or 17! I can’t find any record of his passage and thus it is possible that he stowed away on a ship bound for North America. Given his age at the time this guess doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

Railway Depot in McIntire. Iowa in 1892

Railway Depot in McIntire. Iowa in 1892

The next time we catch sight of John is in 1895 when he was living in McIntire, Iowa. He must have arrived in McIntire pretty soon after his landfall in America because in an early history of the town we read that among the ‘men influential in the early days of McIntire was … J A Grisdale’. What the young man had done to justify this accolade would be fascinating to know. John stayed in McIntire for some years because in 1899, when he was 31 and had been in the United States for about 14 years, he married a local girl called Lillian.

La Crosse, Iowa in 1910

La Crosse, Iowa in 1910

But whatever John had so far achieved in McIntire, he and his new wife Lillian soon set off for pastures new. They moved to La Crosse in Wisconsin. Here it seems he started to work for the company of W. W. Cargill:

Cargill was founded in 1865 by William W. Cargill when he bought a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa.  A year later William was joined by his brother, Sam, forming W.W. Cargill and Brother. Together, they built grain flat houses and opened a lumberyard. In 1875, Cargill moved to La Crosse. Wisconsin, and brother, James, joined the family business. The city of La Crosse was strategically located at the junction of the Milwaukee Road railroad and the Southern Minnesota Division.

Sam Cargill left La Crosse in 1887 and moved to Minneapolis to manage the office there, which was identified as an important emerging grain center. Three years later, the Minneapolis operation incorporated under Cargill Elevator Co., years after that the La Crosse operation was incorporated under W.W. Cargill Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

W W Cargill

W W Cargill


Starting at the close of the American Civil War in 1865 with one grain storage warehouse in Conover, Iowa, Will Cargill followed the expansion of the railroad system throughout the newly settled prairie to gather and process grain. Soon, his two brothers, Sam and James, joined his business venture and established the company’s headquarters in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

As grain and the railroads moved west, Cargill followed with new country elevators, as well as major terminals in the Minnesota towns of Minneapolis, Buffalo and Duluth. Besides the growing number of elevators, the Cargills were involved in insurance, flour milling, coal, farming, real estate, lumber, and a railroad. The success of the business required reliable financing, innovation in moving and storing grain, and a solid business reputation.

In 1900 John Grisdale was working for the Cargill company in La Crosse as a ‘travelling salesman’. In 1901 he was a ‘travelling auditor’. In 1905 he was ‘travelling’. An ‘auditor’ probably meant checking and accounting for the grain collected by Cargill’s grain elevators throughout the Prairie states.

John was clearly a coming man in the small but growing Wisconsin town of La Crosse. Other businesses were also being established. One such was the La Crosse Wool and Fur Company established in 1903:

La Crosse Wool and Fur Company – M. Rosestein, Manager, 100 – 102 S. Front St.

Mention could not be made of the growth and prominence of La Crosse, without giving particular mention to the above mentioned firm, which was organised one year ago, and deals extensively in wool and raw furs. The officers of the firm are R. S. Hype, President, C. G. Bennett, Vice President and Fred Goddard, Secretary, but the management of the concern devolves upon Mr. M. Rosestein, who has twenty years experience in this kind of work and is thoroughly able to handle its affairs. Eight employees and two travelling buyers are necessary and two million pounds of wool and $100,000 to $200,000 worth of fur is handled by this enormous concern in one year.  They export fur and ship wool to all the eastern markets. Mr. Rosestein is one of the stockholders of this company, and the pronounced success of the enterprise is largely due to his remarkable energy and ability in managing its affairs.

La Crosse Wisconsin, the Gateway City (Spicer & Buschman 1904)

Actually the company’s President and main shareholder was W W Cargill himself. Gus Grisdale in some way either came to the notice of Mr. Rosestein or was assigned by W W Cargill to become company’s Secretary (1906), no doubt taking over from Fred Goddard.

By 1909 he was back in the grain industry, being appointed Vice President of the La Crosse Grain Company.

Farming in Spring Valley today

Farming in Spring Valley today

By 1910 John, or Gus as I will now usually refer to him, had been in the United States 25 years. Having arrived in Iowa as a teenager he was now at the age of 42 a successful business manager. Gus and his wife Lillian had had a daughter in 1902, they called her Grace. But in 1910 the family moved again, this time to Spring Valley in Fillmore County Minnesota. Gus became the ‘manager’ of a grain company there. The History of Fillmore County, Minnesota, by Franklin Curtiss-Wedge and H. C. Cooper (Chicago 1912) gives us an idea of the town at that time:

Spring Valley, a city of nearly 2,000 inhabitants, is located in the western part of Fillmore county, on the southern Minnesota division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, and also on the Chicago & Great Western Road. Since the city was founded its growth has been slow, but substantial, and with unfaltering progress along the line of permanent development, until today it has a commercial, social and artistic standing excelled by none of its neighbors, and equalled by few of them. And the important factors of this development are the unexcelled advantages of location, natural resources, pure water, good health and the productiveness of the farms tributary to Spring Valley. With its two lines of transportation and easy accessibility to market, this city has long held the record as the banner stock shipping point in southern Minnesota, it being no unusual sight to see a solid train load of hogs shipped from this city to the Chicago market at one time, while eggs and poultry are shipped East by the carload. The Spring Valley Creamery, one of the largest and best co-operative creameries in this famous dairy section, has long held its supremacy, while the Spring Valley Flour Mills are known far and wide from the excellence of their product. A line of elevators operated by independent buyers and also by the large grain companies, keeps the grain and cereal market at the top notch, while the Farmers’ Co-operative Buyers and Shippers’ Association, a strong organization of farmers, is a potent factor in giving the farmer the largest possible returns for the products of the soil, the dairy, the flocks and herds. Two substantial banking houses, with deposits aggregating nearly a million dollars and each with a surplus which equals their capital stock, makes this city a financial center for a large territory. Three fine school houses, with all the modern and up to date methods, including an agricultural school, affords the best of instruction for the youth of city and country. A fine public library, with thousands of volumes, adds its potent influence to the intellectual uplift of the community, while seven churches minister to the moral welfare of large congregations…. The business men of Spring Valley who have their hands on the pulse of commercial life are a wide awake, progressive and liberal body. Yet with their progression and liberality is blended a conservatism which insures success.

Sometime over the course of the next few years Lillian and daughter Grace moved back to Lillian’s home town of McIntire, Iowa. She was working as a bookkeeper, but during 1914 had been unemployed for 10 months. Lillian is still listed as married but whether she was still living with Gus we don’t know. There is evidence he might have stayed in Minnesota. What we do know is that around this time Gus started to buy plots of land in Ward County, North Dakota. He kept buying land from 1913 until 1924, always under his full name of John A P Grisdale and always giving his address as McIntire, Iowa. Yet at some time Gus and Lillian divorced. By 1930 at the latest Lillian and her now married daughter Grace (who had married John Eugene Shannon) were living together in Detroit.

What had happened to Gus? Mentions of him owning farm land in North Dakota continue until 1933 but it seems that he certainly tried other things as well as managing grain companies or farming because in 1920 he was an independent ‘oil operator’ in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was working on his own account and was being helped by his younger brother Reginald Dacre Grisdale.

Melville in 1909

Melville in 1909

After the death of the Rev. John Grisdale in 1881, the rest of Gus’s family had moved together back to Yorkshire. Widow Annie had enough money to live on her own means. Reginald Dacre, or Reg as he was known, was two years younger than Gus, but he too seems to have had a good education because until 1907, when he was 47 and still unmarried, he had worked in Yorkshire for years both as a surveyor and civil engineer. But in 1907 Reg too decided to emigrate. He boarded the steamer S. S. Empress of Ireland in Liverpool and arrived in the port of Quebec on the 7th of June. He gave his occupation as ‘surveyor’ and his destination as Quebec. In seems however that he soon headed west to Melville in Saskatchewan, a town only founded in 1907. In a booklet published by the town in 1910 titled Melville, the West’s wonder town we read:

Where today stands a prosperous and progressive town of 2,000 people there was in October 1907 not even a settler’s shack or a turned furrow. It was a in that month that J. W. Redgwick built the pioneer store… A year after the first nail had been driven Melville had a population of 1,500.

Perhaps Reg was able to make use of his surveying and engineering skills in this booming agricultural town? He took a trip back to England in 1911 to visit his family and returned in April on the S.S. Mauretania. Arriving in New York he gave his occupation as ‘engineer’ and both his last residence and final destination as Melville.

Athabasca Landing 1912

Athabasca Landing 1912

Reg moved on, this time to even remoter Athabasca Landing in northern Alberta. It seems he married because in 1914 his unmarried eldest sister Catherine Josepha Grisdale came to Canada to be his housekeeper. When she arrived in Quebec she said she was going to be the housekeeper of her ‘married brother’, having previously been a church worker.

If Aladdin came to Athabasca, he would throw his lamp away as unnecessary and get to work for himself and thus increase his self respect. There is no town which offers so many opportunities to the man who is willing to work as this good old town of Athabasca…In the lobbies of Athabasca hotels you will see trappers and hunters fresh from the wilderness, oil men from California and Pennsylvania, merchants from the north, west, east and south here to purchase stock from the wholesale houses…freighters, chauffers…and to add color to this, the uniforms of the fine looking officers and men of the famous North West Mounted Police.

And so while the First World War raged in Europe, Reg and his wife were living in Athabasca, looked after by Reg’s sister Catherine. It seems that now Reg was working as a farmer. What happened to Reg’s wife I don’t know but his sister died in 1919 aged just 54.

Texas Oil Donkey

Texas Oil Donkey

Having probably been in contact with his brother Gus, Reg now decided to join him in the United States. In September 1920 he crossed the US border giving his occupation as a farmer and his last residence as Athabasca, Alberta. He said his destination was Rochester, Minnesota. This is very near to Spring Valley and thus it might be that he was joining his brother there. It’s possible that John (Gus) might have already started business as an independent oil operator in Wichita Falls, Texas because in the 1920 Wichita Falls town directory he is listed there and his recently arrived brother Reginald D. Grisdale is working with him as a ‘clerk’. The brothers clearly felt they could make some real money in the rough and tumble of the Texas oil business. Whether they did or not I don’t know – I guess not. But sometime before 1925 the brothers had moved again, for a final time. They settled in Canton, Lincoln County in South Dakota. Reg returned to England once more, leaving from Montreal in November 1925, a ‘US Citizen’ and ‘Merchant’, and returning in May 1927 via Quebec bound for Canton, South Dakota, his last US residence. Actually Reg was never naturalised as a US Citizen, unlike his brother.

The next year, 1928, Reg was undoubtedly at the wedding of his 60 year-old divorced brother Gus. Gus married 28 year-old divorcee Ruby Adams on the 26th of October in Parker, Turner County, South Dakota, but both bride and groom gave their residence as Canton. Although by now 60, Gus lopped ten years off his age saying he was 50.

Canton South Dakota in the 1940s

Canton South Dakota in the 1940s

In 1930 we find that John (Gus) was an independent farmer in Canton, South Dakota living with his young wife Ruby and his stepdaughter Nila. His brother Reg was living with them working as a ‘laborer’ on John’s farm. John still owned various plots of land in North Dakota which brought in some extra money. By now not only was Gus still knocking ten years off his age but so was his brother Reg.

Unfortunately young Ruby died in 1933, aged just 33. She was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Canton.

The brothers were still in Canton in 1940 living in adjacent houses and both owning farms. No longer lying about their ages, Gus was now a ‘car dealer’ and he brother Reg a farmer.

Grisdale family grave in Canton SD

Grisdale family grave in Canton SD

And this is the last we hear of these two Yorkshire brothers until their deaths. Reg died in May 1941 and Gus in 1948, aged 80. They were both buried alongside Gus’s wife Ruby in Forest Hill Cemetery. Under a large headstone that simply reads ‘Grisdale’ there are three separate stones which say only: ‘Ruby 1933’, ‘Reg 1941’ and ‘Gus 1948’. It’s a far cry from John Augustus Pollock Grisdale and Reginald Dacre Grisdale, but very American indeed.

A slightly modified version of this article appeared in Family Tree magazine in June 2013 (See after the text)

Testing our ties – Genealogical and genetic ancestry – What’s the difference?

Economist and historian Stephen Lewis puts our roots under the microscope to discover a little more about how we inherit some genes and not others.

Identity is a multi-faceted thing. We humans tend to construct our own view of who we are and pick those aspects of ourselves which we regard as most telling. These identities might be any mixture of sex, place of birth, job, friends, philosophical or political beliefs or character traits. Parents and sibling usually get a look in too. Many readers of this magazine will probably be of the opinion that their family tree – their genealogical ancestry – is not only fascinating in itself but can also provide meaningful information about ‘who we are’. Some will want to go further and delve, as far as science and pockets will allow, into their genetic ancestry. But what is the relationship between genealogical and genetic inheritance?

Genealogical identity

As I explained in a recent article in Family Tree, once you are conceived genealogical ancestry is a completely deterministic thing. In genealogical terms you are without any doubt descended from or related to your ancestors in a definite way.  I explained why the number of your direct ancestors (parents, grandparents etc) doesn’t simply double in each generation: it’s because of inbreeding and the resultant ‘Pedigree Collapse’. But if we put this to one side here, you are descended one half from each of your parents and one quarter from each of your grandparents and so on. If you could accurately identify all your ancestors you could calculate the precise mathematical genealogical relationship between you and any one of them. One measure of relationship is called the Coefficient of Relationship. This would be 50 per cent between parents and children, 25 percent between half siblings and only 3.13 per cent between second cousins. However this measure can be unrealistic because it assumes zero relatedness on other lineages, which, as I discussed in my previous article, is not the case.

In terms of identity, if you had four Scottish great grandparents, two Russian great grandparents, one French great grandparent and one Japanese great grandparent, then you could perfectly validly say you were genealogically, and maybe culturally and linguistically too, one half Scottish, one quarter Russian, one eight French and one eighth Japanese. But does the same hold true for your genetic inheritance? The answer is ‘not quite’. To understand why we need to understand a little about human reproduction and how genes are passed from generation to generation.

Genes and reproduction

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, making 46 in total. These contain all our genetic information. Two chromosomes determine sex – you get and X or a Y from your father and an X from your mother. That leaves 22 other pairs of non-sex (‘autosomal’) homologous chromosomes. Homologous simply means that while each half of the pair has the same length, basically the same functions and indeed the same genes, the pairs of genes can appear in different versions – called alleles. A well known example of this is found on chromosome 15, where one gene (allele) can either code for the expression of brown or blue eyes. (Note: non-sex chromosomes are simply numbered from 1 to 22: 1 being the longest, 2 the second longest and so on.) Having 46 chromosomes (or 23 pairs of homologous chromosomes if you prefer) is one of the defining characteristics of being human. Chimps have 48 and dogs 78. If by chance you get more or less than 46, severe health problems can arise. An extra number 21 chromosome for example, i.e. a triple rather than a pair, gives 47 chromosomes and results in Down’s syndrome.

I hope it’s clear that if each parent has 46 chromosomes any child must also have 46. Thus during the process of reproduction the combined number must be halved – and indeed it is.

Let us consider any one of the 22 non-sex chromosomes, for example number 15, which as I mentioned codes for eye colour among other things. See the image which represents the pairs of ‘number 15’ homologous chromosomes for one individual and his/her parents and his/her grandparents. I’ve given each part of the chromosome pairs a different colour and just for illustrative purposes assume that they are passed down unchanged (which they aren’t). In this example the individual is red & blue. He/she has inherited the red part of his/her paired chromosome 15 from the father and the blue part from the mother: 50 per cent from each of the parents as we might expect and with the required reduction. The father has, here, the red plus green combination and there was an independent 50/50 chance of the child getting either red or green from him. The same applies to the mother with blue and yellow. Thus the red & blue combination is only one out of four possible combinations which could be inherited from the parents. And so it is with all the other 21 non-sex chromosomes, although graphically we’d want different colours for each to differentiate them all. Thus in total we’d get 50 per cent of our total genetic inheritance from each parent.

genetics dia 2

But consider just the paternal line for a moment. You can see that the father could equally as easily have inherited any one of four different colour combinations from his parents: green & red, green & orange, pink & red and pink & orange. There are also four combinations on the maternal side. This means that given the number 15 chromosome combinations the grandparents had there was only a 1/16th chance of this individual having got the red & blue combination – 1/4×1/4 – and a 15/16ths chance of any other combination. It might also be of interest to note that taking all the chromosomes into account there are over 8 million possible combinations of chromosomes (2 to the power 23) from either your father or your mother!

If humans reproduced in this way (they don’t) you can see that you would have inherited genes on chromosome 15 from only one of your two paternal grandparents and only one of your two maternal grandparents, and none whatsoever from the others. Perhaps surprisingly you would also have inherited genes on this chromosome, once again, from only two of your eight great grandparents. In fact you would have chromosome 15 genes from only 2 ancestors in any generation. Of course, because there are 22 non-sex chromosomes, the particular pair of ancestors you might have inherited genes from, on each chromosome in each generation, will likely be different. An interesting thought is that if humans reproduced like this we would all have a maximum of 46 distinct genetic ancestors however far you go back (2×23). The vast bulk of your genealogical ancestors wouldn’t be genetic ancestors at all!

Shuffling the pack

Luckily for biological diversity, natural selection and human health, something else happens when we reproduce. Not only are chromosomes independently assorted and their number reduced by half, as in the hypothetical example above, but, in addition, before your mother and father each pass on half of a chromosome pair to their sex-cells – called gametes: eggs in females and sperm in males – some genes on each chromosome are shuffled. Individual genes (alleles) on ‘opposite sides’ of the chromosome cross-over or recombine. This occurs when sex cells are being formed in a complicated multi-stage process. The homologous chromosome pairs first double and then, in a two-step process known as meiosis, chromosomes join, some genes then ‘cross over’ or ‘recombine’, then the chromosomes segregate again. See the second illustration. In males we end up with four separate sperm cells each containing 22 different ‘haploid daughter chromatids’ – this just means one half of a pair – plus the sex chromosome. For females it’s a little different. They end up with just one fertilizable egg, again containing 22 haploid daughter chromatids plus the sex chromosome. Three other potential eggs, called polar bodies, become redundant. One sperm will fertilise one egg to create a new person and we’re back to 46 chromosomes again, but very different ones.

genetics dia 1

How likely two genes are to cross-over is a probabilistic process and depends in large part on how far apart they are on the chromosome; the nearer they are (the more ‘linked’) the lower the probability of crossing over. Actually in humans the amount of gene shuffling is minimal, quite often being as low as one gene cross-over per chromosome; other times only two or three. Even with such genetic shuffling, it still means that any individual will still get exactly 50 per cent of their genes from each of their parents (both on each chromosome and in total), but they need not, and probably will not, inherit 25 per cent of their genes from each of their four grandparents – again on each chromosome or in total. While our best guess will be 25 per cent, 25 per cent, 25 per cent, 25 per cent, like all averages based on probability there is a wide range of possible results. Imagine tossing a coin four times. Before you start the best guess would be that you will get two heads and two tails. But you could also quite conceivably get three or even four heads. If you have a few goes it won’t be too long before you actually witness this. What is more, if after three tosses you have got three heads, while the probability of getting a fourth head is still 50 per cent – because it’s independent of anything that went before – having got three heads first, after the fourth toss the only two possible final results are 3 heads and a tail or four heads! The cumulative outcome is dependent on what went before – as it is in genetics.

What’s the answer?

To put the outcome in a nutshell: while in any large population the average percentage of genes inherited from each and every grandparental generation will likely be very close indeed to 25 per cent (or 12.5 per cent for great grandparents), for any single individual the probability of them having exactly 25 per cent from each of their own four grandparents is far less than them not having 25 per cent – i.e. having any other proportion at all that is more or less than 25 per cent. On any particular chromosome, which might contain genetic ‘codes’ for  particular physical or behavioural traits, I hope you can see that it is quite possible, even quite frequent, that you have inherited very, very little genetic information, maybe even none, from a grandparent or great grandparent. On the other hand it’s highly unlikely, though still remotely possible, that in total you will get almost or exactly no genes from any one of these relatively recent ancestors. But as you go further back in your ancestry the likelihood of having inherited no genes from a remote genealogical ancestor becomes more significant.

Finding your genetic ancestry

Moving away from theory and towards what we find in the real world. Some companies now offer genetic inheritance tests. There is a whole new industry called ‘Genetic Genealogy’. Most well known are tests using mitochondrial DNA. This is DNA situated outside the nucleus of a woman’s egg and is passed unchanged from mother to daughter except for random mutations. Males also get mitochondrial DNA but can’t pass it on. Another popular test follows the male Y chromosome, passed more or less unchanged, except for mutations, from father to son. The results of such tests are interesting but they only tell us something about two single genetic lines out of our hundreds of such lines: those of our mother’s mother’s mother etc and our father’s father’s father etc. More recently tests of our non-sex genetic inheritance have become available. These are more complicated than with the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA because these genes are constantly being shuffled. As genetic science progresses such ‘autosomal’ DNA tests are becoming more and more informative. Remember, with the exception of some non-sex inheritance on the X chromosome (like colour blindness), everything else, according to conventional biology and genetics – ignoring ‘epigenetics’ – comes from these non-sex chromosomes: physical, mental and behavioural characteristics for example.

There are various studies of such autosomal genetic tests and, although the numbers differ, they all clearly show that there is a significant range in terms of genetic inheritance. One example being what percentage of our genes we get from each of our grandparents or great grandparents. The highest percentage of genes received by a person from a grandparent that I’ve so far seen reported is 31.5 per cent, which of course means the other grandparent contributed only 18.5 per cent.

Genetic and genealogical ancestries are not the same. You or I will most likely have at least some genes from most of our ancestors, but how much will vary quite a lot, as will which mix of genes and traits we inherited. Returning to the example of Scottish, Russian, French and Japanese ancestry I started with. It is in fact highly unlikely that the genetic ancestry ratios will match the genealogical ones. Some of the proportions or percentages could be significantly higher and some much lower – as long as they add up to 100% of course. You might genealogically be one eighth Japanese but genetically you’ll most probably not be. And, what is more, whether you did or didn’t get any particular genetically carried trait, or even talent, from your Japanese ancestor is basically just pot luck.

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