Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A leading geneticist has developed a DNA test for Scottish ancestry

Karin Goodwin:

Dr Jim Wilson, of Edinburgh University’s public health sciences department, claims his test can tell whether people are descended from the Picts, who inhabited Scotland until the 10th century.

The test, which is based on the DNA pattern of Scotland’s ancient inhabitants, is due to be launched this week and is expected to cost about £130.

It involves checking a saliva sample against 27 genetic markers and is expected to be particularly popular among Americans searching for conclusive proof of Scottish ancestry. In addition to his scientific work, Wilson also runs Ethnoancestry, a firm with branches in Edinburgh and California that offers tests for Norse and Anglo-Saxon descent.

“We started this work a few years ago, looking at the Norse component, and we proved that a large proportion of people on Orkney are descended from Vikings,” he said.

“Now the markers have moved on massively and we have discovered that we can trace back the component of the indigenous Picts by looking at the unique grouping of their Y-chromosome. We believe that this would have been found only in Scotland.

“The test will appeal to the US and Australian markets, who want to confirm their Scottish roots, but also to people in Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles to see whether they have Pictish, British, Anglo-Saxon or Viking roots.”

James Fraser, a lecturer in early Scottish history at Edinburgh University, said he believed that many people in Scotland have Pictish ancestors. “This is potentially very significant,” he said.

“I’d expect it would be found in anyone whose ancestry is from the northeast but I’m sure it will be traced right up and down the east coast too.”

The first written record of the Picts was made in AD297 by the Roman orator Eumenius, who implied that they had been troubling their southern neighbours for some time.

Duncan MacNiven, registrar general for Scotland, said he expected the DNA test to be popular. “People have always been curious about their ancestors but the growing availability of information has really driven the growth,” he said.

“Almost everything has been recorded since 1855, but before that it was the responsibility of the church and that was done diligently in some places and not so carefully in others.

“It can be frustrating to find that you can only go back so far so I think people will find this genetic test interesting. Being able to trace your roots back to the Picts or the Vikings is sure to capture the imagination.”

More than 60% of those searching for their ancestors in the Scottish records are from the UK and about 20% are from the United States and Canada.

Interest in genealogy has been fuelled by television programmes such as BBC2’s Who Do You Think You Are, where celebrities including Moira Stuart and Jeremy Paxman have discovered surprising details about their ancestors’ lives.

VisitScotland estimates that genealogy tourism is worth more than £150m a year to the Scottish economy, with 97% of visitors making repeat trips.

Ewan Colville, international marketing manager of VisitScotland, said: “This test gives a new perspective to genealogy. Picts are the original people of Scotland and this would take the traditional search to its ultimate conclusion. It provides a novel way of tracing your genetic make-up to the indigenous people of Scotland.”

The blood of the vikings - Orkney's genetic heritage

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