Tracing Our Ancestors

In Tracing Our Ancestors, Rick Kittles, a professor in the Department of Medicine in the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed how finding our ancestry challenges how an individual identifies themselves and different ways to find our ancestry.

Kittles stated that in US society it is common to identify people’s race based on the color of their skin.  He also commented that it is common for us to identify our race based on geographic origin on applications that give us options: White, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, etc.  He explained this concept by saying that at first glance he may look purely African but in reality he also has European and Native American ancestors.  Although I knew it is very rare for anyone to be purely one race, I realized that he was right that it is common to identify someone’s race based on their skin color.  However, what interested me the most was how he traced his ancestors.

One of the ways which he discussed on how it is possible to trace back our ancestors are through our lineage history by looking at our mitochondrial DNA and if male, then by examining our Y chromosome.  I knew from AP Biology that the mitochondria were inherited only from the mother and the Y chromosome from the father.  Since they are each inherited by only one parent, there is less chance for mutations to occur since no sexual recombination will occur for the genes of the mitochondria and Y chromosome.  Knowing this allowed me to understand why using the mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome can help us find who our ancestors were.

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