As an anthropological geneticist, my comfort zone very much involves being in a laboratory. There, in the quiet, I extract, amplify, and sequence DNA samples to look at kinship and ancestry in populations. The work could be seen as monotonous looking in from the outside, but in the repetition of my research I find both a simultaneous excitement and peace. This was my experience last year, extracting DNA from 17th century skeletal samples at the University of Tennessee’s ancient DNA lab. Yet, this summer I found myself in a much different situation. I moved out from the laboratory, taking steps outside my comfort zone to meet with some amazing folks at the St. Mary’s Historical Society to talk to them about my DNA study.
Finding out about this database was only one of many fascinating things I learned at St. Mary’s Historical Society. I met with a few of the archaeologists, historians, and archivists who do research on St. Mary’s in colonial Maryland. I explained to them my research project, and it was met with great excitement. They have a large membership base that has genealogical descendants to the 17th century, who would be interested in participating in this genetic study. We discussed what DNA sample collection would look like, and what individuals would expect by participating in this study. In order to give enough time for the word to spread, we decided on a date in January 2018 for actual DNA sampling to take place. A later date, we agreed, would allow more people to participate in the study.
Now, I am busy contacting other historical societies and applying for funding to expand this DNA research study, while waiting for January to roll around the corner. We expect that we will hear many stories from people about their genealogical research, and, in turn, can give them more information about their heritage using genetic ancestry testing. For myself, I greatly appreciated getting out of the lab, and meeting with future study participants. I look forward to expanding this study out of its pilot phase, and meeting other individuals at different historical societies in Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.
If you, or anyone else you know, can trace their ancestry back to the 17th century colonies of Maryland, Virginia, or Delaware and would be interested participating in this study and having their DNA tested – please contact Raquel Fleskes at firstname.lastname@example.org!
All photos by the author.