Ahh Women!

4generations
My grandmother – the baby!

Have you ever heard of Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or the ‘Eve Gene’? This is a tiny piece of DNA which is passed down from mothers only and is traceable back through the generations along the female line. Men are unable to pass it on to their children as it resides in the sperm and dies out on conception, mtDNA is a form of energy bank which powers the cells; and sperm, apparently, has it’s own to enable it to survive it’s brief but very important journey. If you are a woman, the mtDNA you possess can be traced back in an unbroken line through your female ancestors, in a feminist version of a family tree, to the first Eve who is purported to have lived around 200,000 years ago (this is as far as researchers have got). mtDNA does mutate once every 1000 years or so and that’s why women living today display multiple variations of the primary mtDNA that we are all supposedly linked to.

A few years ago I read a fascinating book called The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes who is a professor of human genetics. It was an easy to read explanation of how Europeans seem to share a common ancestry linked back to seven ancient clan ‘mothers’ that have been traced through studies of mtDNA. People were having their DNA tested and discovering the Ice Man buried under the Alps or the chap discovered in Cheddar was their great great great etc. ganddaddy and it was all very moving. However, I was intrigued. This was the first time I had heard of mtDNA and the idea of creating a female family tree was an interesting one. In our western world, families are usually connected by the man’s surname which is obviously only continued if your son has a son. It has struck me that on my paternal grandfather’s side there is only one male child left, and the continuance of my maiden name rests solely on the shoulders of my young nephew. Ironically there could have been lots of male offspring as my grandfather was one of brothers which should have guaranteed an army of male Grant descendants but there weren’t, only a multitude of aunts and an uncle (more correctly, cousins of my father) who chose a gay lifestyle. My father was the only son to have a son and my brother has only one son.

On the other hand, my mother’s mother was an only child but she had ten grand daughters (I am the eldest – irrelevant fact) and three grandsons. Now there are 18 great grandchildren (I think!) but only four of those will pass on my grandmother’s mtDNA, three of those are my daughters. Only one of my many female cousins has a daughter who shares the unbroken female connection to my grandmother as my aunt had one daughter whereas my uncle had five and they don’t count in my grandmother’s mtDNA scheme of things (sorry ladies!)

I have a son which means that if he has a son our surname will continue on to the next generation. But the idea that my daughters share something unique that has been passed down from my grandmother and which only they and my cousin’s little girl can pass on to the next generation is a little known secret. It’s invisible and nobody in our paternalistic society seems to care anyway!

The thing that I find beautiful though is that the photograph above is a part visual representation of my female family tree. Would you believe, the baby in that group is my grandmother!? That photo is nearly 100 years old. What’s sad is I don’t know anything about the grandmother on the top right or the great-grandmother on the bottom right, not even sure of their names, and yet we share a very physical connection – what lived in them lives in me still. My daughter through me, my mother and right up to the woman in the white cap are Russian Dolls of connectivity but we are just a tiny snapshot on the female continuum of human history. It all makes me feel so small and yet so linked with all the women who have come before me and are hopefully still to come. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if I had taken the opportunity to recreate that photo with my first daughter as the baby and my grandmother sitting on the right hand side so that seven generations of women in two photos could have been documented side by side? Sadly it’s too late as my grandmother passed away just a few years ago and I only found that picture after she died when asking my mother for a picture of my grandmother.

The truth is though that the legacy I pass on is so much more than pure DNA or photographs. In part I have no control over what the next generation inherits from me but I know I can make the choice to leave something of great value. It’s too late for me to take that photograph but it’s never too early to instil in my children a desire to seek for the types of treasure that will outlast the inevitable ravages of time and death.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 19-21

6 thoughts on “Ahh Women!”

  1. another very interesting and well written read Liberty…… 🙂
    I didn’t know my grandparents on either side, but my mother has actually been working on her family tree for a few years now….
    her family were scattered all over the world and she is the youngest of a family of 14
    I love reading your random bits of information….

    1. Thanks Joan! It’s funny how as we get older, we want to find out more about our past and sadly by then it’s often too late with the older generations having passed on. I wish I had had some more sense when I was younger!

  2. Did not know that! I have three daughters also, and LOVE that photo; yet another reason to go through all the pix you can get your hands on and write names on the back, better yet to store them on a flash drive with info. You might think of photoshopping your pictures into that photo and make it all look like one.

  3. wow, that’s interesting Liberty and I find it amazing to see family physical traits several generations down… I can see a resemblance between you and the lady in the white cap – she’s obviously older but it’s clear. Pete has a photo of his aunt as a young girl (she died very young) and three female generations before her (his granny, great-granny and great-great-granny) and one of them looks so like Pete’s nephew (his sister’s son). Your picture reminded me of his and the store of history and connection it represents. Well done.

Reading your comments makes my day, so go ahead and tell me: