and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November #1

This Halloween had equal measure of tricks and treats
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween was wonderful this year, with its almost-full moon, its windblown rustling leaves, and its warm air allowing costumes without coats. Two special things happened to me on that holiday that I must share.

First, a "gotcha" event.

As I carved my pumpkin, I noticed that it was beginning to rot on the bottom, so I didn't scoop out all the way down, just made room for the thick red candle. Lit the jack-o'-lantern on the porch railing at dusk, then sat near the front door so I could quickly respond to knocks from neighborhood kids collecting candy.

Around 8 p.m. Chip came over and saw that my pumpkin was missing! He found it on the edge of the yard, lying on its side, unharmed except for the big hole in the bottom.

It was easy to imagine what happened: Some young trickster stole it, grabbing it round its fat middle, with plans to smash it on the road, and while running away, tried to get a firmer grip by sliding his hand to the bottom. His hand went through the rotten part up into the warmed, slimy pumpkin guts. If I hadn't been playing "Thriller" at top volume, I might have heard the little thief screaming all the way down the hill after he dropped it.

We lit the candle again and the jack-o'-lantern glowed red until after midnight. Good job, Jack.

The second wonderful thing was I found out where I came from; not just that, like all of us, I'm African-American, but that my ancestors didn't migrate directly from eastern Africa to central Europe, but arrived there by way of the Middle East and what is now northwest Russia. So I am the great-granddaughter of a German immigrant woman whose ancestors traveled to Bavaria the long way; I am an African-Asian-Russian-German-American! And that's just on my mother's side! I have no way of knowing how my father's ancestors got to Croatia.

Over a month ago, I sent my DNA to the National Geographic-IBM Genographic Project, which has been mapping the human family tree. As a woman, I could not participate in the Y chromosome part of the project: Only men can give their DNA to cover either or both parents. The male ancestry can be traced back to "Adam," the hominid (homo sapiens) genetic father of all mankind, who lived in east Africa approximately 60,000 years ago.

However, the female ancestry, through mitochondrial DNA, can be traced back roughly 150,000 years, to "Eve," the earlier hominid mother of us all.

No, "Adam" and "Eve" were not married to each other, which if we were to carry the Adam-Eve analogy too far, could make our family dysfunctional, which we know from studying history and reading today's newspapers, it is not. Ha-ha.

As our ancestors, both Y and mitochondrial, left Africa, some of them like mine wandered through the Sinai and Israel to the Mesopotamia (today's Iraq) region, where the Biblical Adam and Eve appeared, at exactly the same time, allowing them to have a traditional family, at least until one son killed the other. (Honestly, it's a wonder their descendants can function at all!)

One sends one's DNA anonymously using a kit with a tracking code, which can be used on the National Geographic Web site to find one personal family journey; mine appeared on Saturday and I've been studying the project and playing with maps every free minute.

The reason this project can be done is that every now and then, there are mutations that show up as DNA "markers," through which another branch of the family is created. My branch is called "W" no George Bush jokes please and it appeared around 30,000 years ago as its descendants left the Caucasus between the Black and Caspian seas and headed north. Why they were heading north in the middle of the last Ice Age I can't imagine; the branch ends near the Arctic Ocean, though of course my existence proves that it survived, prospered and eventually turned around.

The project is still adding data and may show my ancestors following the game south to better European pastures, perhaps during the "abrupt warming" period 11,600 years ago. Maybe there's some genetic memory that caused my 8-year-old grandson, Aidan, upon hearing a discussion of modern "global warming," to state emphatically that "it's better than global cold!"

You may want to watch PBS or the National Geographic Channel genetic project documentaries to learn more about this amazing story of how the Earth was populated. Anyone can order a DNA kit. I was given mine by a friend, but they normally cost $99.95, which includes the "Journey of Man" DVD.

The results can be a nice gift for family members who share the history. My son the liberal, who dressed for Halloween as Barack Obama, will be delighted to see hard data proving that he is African-American, too.

Perhaps someday my grandkids will look at the journey of their ancestors and ask themselves, as those ancestors themselves apparently did occasionally: Is it time for a change?

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.