Thursday, November 13, 2014

DNA search for relatives yields little; patience and more volunteers needed

Map indicates heaviest populations of J-M172 haplogroup.
Earlier this year, I posted a blog How are the Spadoni families spread across the world related? explaining that DNA testing could answer the interesting question of whether various Spadoni families throughout the world are related. I am still hoping to find someone else with enough interest in this question to help me coordinate a formal family name project, but in the meantime, there is nothing stopping any male with the Spadoni name to apply for DNA testing. We can still compare results on an informal basis to see if our families are related.

Thus far, only one person from another branch of the family has responded and been tested. Florian Spadoni, descended from the Spadoni family of Bigliolio, Italy, also took a Y-DNA test at Family TreeDNA this year. Unfortunately, a comparison of the results indicates that we are not related. However, we can’t make a firm conclusion based on the results of only two family members. We need more male members of the Ponte Buggianese and Bigliolo families to step forward and be tested. In fact, I welcome any Spadoni from anywhere in the world to join in this endeavor. A Y-DNA test that measures the recommended 37 genetic markers normally costs $169 (but it sometimes goes on sale).

At this point, little can be known until more people are tested, so I can’t really say much about my own test results. I can say that my haplogroup is J-M172, sometimes also referred to as J2. Family TreeDNA notes: “Haplogroup J-M172 is found at highest frequencies in the northern Middle East, west of the Zagros Mountains in Iran, to the Mediterrean Sea. It later spread throughout central Asia and south into India. J-M172 is tightly associated with the expansion of agriculture, which began about 10,000 years ago. As with other populations with Mediterranean ancestry, this lineage is found at substantial frequencies within Jewish populations.” Other sources state that people with this genetic footprint have ancient origins in the area between the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia and the region just north of Arabia known as the Levant. According to Wikipedia, “J-M172 is linked to the earliest indigenous populations of Anatolia and the Aegean. The present-day ethnicities who have the strongest amounts of J2 include pre-Arabised Mesopotamians and Levantine peoples, Mediterranean/Aegean peoples, Greco-Anatolians, and/or Caucasians.” Today, it is found in 9 to 36 percent of the Italian population, depending on which region is being considered. It appears to be particularly high in the Central Marche region, but I couldn’t find any statistics that spoke of its frequency in Tuscany.

Outside of Italy, the countries with the highest percentage of people in this haplogroup appear to be Chechens, Iraqis and Georgians. Interestingly, Lela—my son Randall’s wife—is from Georgia, so there is a decent chance Randall and Lela share the same haplogroup. Thus, they could be, in the most liberal use of the term, related.

Florian Spadoni, on the other hand, is from haplogroup L-M20, which is not found in Italy as often. Strong concentrations of this genetic group are found in southern Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Syria as well as some tribal regions of Turkey. On the 37 areas (or markers) of our genomes that were tested, Florian and I had 11 identical sequences, which is a very low correspondence.

I did have two other people who were identical matches, although these people did not have as many markers to compare. Currently, genetic genealogists recommend that anyone undergoing Y-DNA testing ask for results from 37 markers, because it will result in more accurate comparisons. However, many people who were tested in earlier years only had 12 markers tested, including the two people who had results identical to mine. They would need to pay an extra fee to get the results for 37 markers. Probability charts show there is about a 90 percent likelihood that people with 12 identical markers have a common ancestor within the last 24 generations. If either of these two people would upgrade to 37-marker testing, we could state more positively whether we are or are not related.

Neither of my matches is named Spadoni (to protect their privacy, I will not print their actual names). The first identical match is from someone in Izmir, Turkey. Unfortunately, this person did not include any contact information, so all I can do is know his surname and hope that maybe someday he will contact me. The second person did include his first name and his e-mail address, and I wrote him April of 2014 but didn’t receive a reply. Since his name was rather unusual, I decided that I would try to find him on and and found that he lived in California, is 77 years old and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1979. I will refer to him by the name “Jacques.”

I contacted Jacques by phone last week, and we had a short and interesting conversion. His family came from “the Florence area,” he said, but he would not go into more detail. His father immigrated to France in the 1800s, and Jacques was born there; thus he has a French first name and an Italian surname. I would have loved to ask him more questions, but he seemed hesitant to provide more details.

Jacques said he had hired a company some 15 years ago to learn about his family origins, and they charged him a lot of money and didn’t find out anything. He felt the company had cheated him, which probably had something to do with his reluctance to extend our conversation. Another reason may be that we had different surnames, which indicates what genetic genealogists refer to as a “non-paternal event”—most commonly an adoption or out-of-wedlock birth.

This is something I was warned about when I first read about DNA testing—that it is possible that one may be unpleasantly surprised with the results. Since Y testing faithfully follows the male DNA trail, either Jacques or I may have an unexplained event in our ancestry. I accept the possibility that it could be in my family line, but I think it more likely is in his. I have traced my family through church baptismal records to the 1400s. This does not preclude the possibility of an extra-marital affair, but one has to wonder why the professional genealogist Jacques hired couldn’t find anything out about his family history. Of course, there is also that 10 percent possibility that we are not related, that our perfect match at 12 genetic markers is just a coincidence.

This is also a lesson in patience when it comes to DNA testing. Just as pre-natal testing to determine the gender of one’s child before birth was once rare and is now almost standard practice, so too will DNA testing gain more acceptance and become commonplace in the future. When Jacques had his DNA tested, he was one of the very first to do so; thus it should have come as no surprise that nobody matched his results—and then it must have come as quite a shock when he received my phone call 13 years later (the testing company says it launched DNA tests in 2001). Jacques had not received my e-mail, so it is possible that the address he used has changed or my message went unnoticed or did not make it through his spam filter.

Both Florian Spadoni and I were disappointed to see that we didn’t have more matches to our DNA tests, but we will just have to wait until more people volunteer for testing. Genetic experts say that trying to interpret one’s DNA test results can be like the sound of one hand clapping until more people join the trend. Obviously not everyone shares our strong interest in genealogy and family history, but hopefully we will eventually see a few people in each Spadoni branch who care about this enough to be tested.


Note: Since posting this blog, I have been contacted by the person with roots in Izmir. We are both puzzled by the genetic connection, since he has no knowledge of his ancestors having traveled to Italy, and vice-versa on my part. We hope to continue our research on this mystery.

Also, I have since had autosomal DNA tests at both and Family Tree DNA. This type of test reveals relatives on both maternal and paternal sides, and I’ve made contact with many previously unknown relatives. However, these tests can only predict relations back about 10 generations at best, so they are not adequate to determine if the Spadoni families of La Marche are related to our extended Spadoni family of the Valdinievole.

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