I Got It From My Momma?

What’s Your Her­itage? Ever heard the song Turns out the lyrics ring truer than you might think

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - REPORT - COM­PILED BY BUSANG SENNE

T he bond we have with our mom, which we iden­tify in our per­son­al­ity and char­ac­ter­is­tics, isn’t an ac­ci­dent – it’s writ­ten in our DNA. Each woman car­ries a unique code that she in­her­ited from her mother.

Ge­net­i­cally, you carry more of your mother’s genes than your fa­ther’s. One part of your DNA is in­her­ited from your mother only – it’s called mi­to­chon­drial DNA. Males have mi­to­chon­drial DNA and a Y chro­mo­some, so they can trace both their ma­ter­nal and pa­ter­nal an­ces­try. Fe­males, who have mi­to­chon­drial DNA but no Y chro­mo­some, can only trace their ma­ter­nal an­ces­try.

Bi­ol­ogy 101: DNA can help tell your story

Half of our hered­i­tary ma­te­rial is passed on to us from our mother, the other half from our fa­ther. Most peo­ple have 23 pairs of chro­mo­somes, which con­tain ge­netic in­for­ma­tion. Twenty-two of these pairs (one chro­mo­some per pair from the mother and the fa­ther) are known as ‘au­to­somes’; the re­main­ing pair de­ter­mines your sex, and is made up of the fe­male XX and male XY chro­mo­somes.

Only women pass down mi­to­chon­drial DNA (mtDNA) to the next gen­er­a­tion. The mi­to­chon­dria are known as ‘the pow­er­house’ of the cell, con­vert­ing food into en­ergy for other cells to use. Why do only women pass it down? When a sperm cell fuses with an egg dur­ing fer­til­i­sa­tion, the sperm’s mi­to­chon­drial sheath falls away and dies – so the em­bryo will only con­tain the sur­viv­ing mi­to­chon­dria from the mother’s egg. The idea that the mi­to­chon­dria con­tain the only in­for­ma­tion in our genes that can be used to de­ter­mine where we come from is cen­tral to ge­nealog­i­cal DNA test­ing.

Trac­ing your story through DNA test­ing

Many stud­ies hold that pa­ter­nal mtDNA is never trans­mit­ted to off­spring – so the mi­to­chon­drial cells in your eggs have been passed down via gen­er­a­tions of women to your mom, and then to you. Mi­to­chon­dria are not the only thing you in­herit: there are mark­ers and dif­fer­ences in these genes that get passed down, too.

Through DNA test­ing, the mark­ers are compared against a huge data­base of ex­ist­ing DNA. If your mark­ers are also found in a group of peo­ple con­cen­trated some­where on Earth, then that’s where your ma­ter­nal an­ces­tors are likely from. The ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion where you share com­mon DNA with an­ces­tors is called a ‘ hap­logroup’.

Three COSMO team mem­bers took the Na­tional Health Lab­o­ra­tory Service DNA test (of­fered by the Di­vi­sion of Hu­man Ge­net­ics) to find out their ma­ter­nal an­ces­try this Her­itage Month.

Ash­leigh En­gel, 24 So­cial me­dia man­ager mtDNA hap­logroup: L0d1 (L0d1b2b) – Africa MOST RE­CENT MA­TER­NAL AN­CES­TORS FOUND IN Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and An­gola, Khoisan pop­u­la­tions

‘From a young age, I have been taught about my fa­ther’s her­itage. My fam­ily has done ex­ten­sive re­search on the sur­name “En­gel”; as a re­sult, I know all 11 of my grand­fa­ther’s sib­lings, where they come from and their her­itage. I was never re­ally told about my mother’s lin­eage. The only de­tail I re­mem­ber is once vis­it­ing a farm called Kers­gat in the Strand­veld re­gion of the Western Cape, which is where my grand­mother Ja­coba was born – the daugh­ter of a woman with the maiden name Tail­lard, which I learnt is of French de­scent. Her fa­ther was an Oc­to­ber, an il­le­git­i­mate child of a Co­hen (a Jew from Cape Town). The Tail­lards were one of the more well-o˜ fam­i­lies in the Strand­veld area – through gen­er­a­tions, the fam­i­lies hired out the land to other farm­ers (and still do so). The Tail­lards came to Africa from France in the 1600s when they were promised land, and set­tled in the Strand­veld area.

‘My mother was born in Elim, a small town in the Strand­veld. Her mother came from Span­jaard­skloof (farm­land in the Strand­veld) and met my grand­fa­ther in Elim. They got mar­ried and raised their fam­ily there. Both my par­ents spent a large part of their life there and, as a child, I also spent many hol­i­days with my

‘Her­itage af­fects my re­la­tion­ship with my mom – be­ing Greek to us means fam­ily and food!’

grand­par­ents in Elim. Be­ing in the town al­ways brings me a sense of peace – and nos­tal­gia, be­cause all my grand­par­ents have since passed away. It ills me with pride be­cause the town is rich in her­itage. It has the old­est work­ing wheat mill in South Africa, and is an area cov­ered with fyn­bos, host­ing its own an­nual fes­ti­val. It also has the only slave mon­u­ment in South Africa. My fam­ily is ded­i­cated to vis­it­ing Elim on spe­cial dates such as Easter, Her­itage Day and Christ­mas. It’s when we get to con­nect with more peo­ple who are also fam­ily, and who “trek” back to Elim to pay their re­spects to those who have passed and to cel­e­brate those still here.

‘Her­itage de initely plays a large part in the re­la­tion­ship I have with my mom. Our fam­ily is deeply in­vested in shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about where we come from, and we of­ten rem­i­nisce about shared mem­o­ries. My grand­mother worked as a do­mes­tic in Cape Town when she was young; when she started her own fam­ily, she taught my mother and her sib­lings that they need to work hard and grab the op­por­tu­ni­ties she did not have. Like my grand­mother, my mother con­stantly re­minds my sis­ters and me that we need to work and be in­de­pen­dent.

‘Even though none of us wants to ad­mit it, as we age we ind our­selves be­com­ing more like our mother. I ab­so­lutely see my mom in me, de­spite our di†er­ent per­son­al­i­ties. My two el­der sis­ters seem to have adopted my fa­ther’s ex­tro­verted per­son­al­ity – but while my mother is more in­tro­verted, I have taken on some of her softer man­ner­isms with a touch of my dad’s “fun guy” vibes. I’m calm like her, and I don’t get fazed eas­ily – un­like my dad, who can get riled up and very “pas­sion­ate” about cer­tain top­ics. (I see this in my sis­ters too.)

‘Hav­ing my ma­ter­nal DNA tested has been very valu­able be­cause I have only ever known about my fa­ther and his fa­ther’s her­itage. It’s mostly what’s been cel­e­brated, high­lighted and ap­pre­ci­ated in our fam­ily through the years. But the dis­cus­sion of my ma­ter­nal her­itage opened up a new con­ver­sa­tion be­tween my mother and me. I had no idea her ma­ter­nal grand­mother had French her­itage, and that her pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther had Khoi her­itage.’

Christy Chilim­i­gras, 25 Sex writer mtDNA hap­logroup: HV (HV21) – Asia/Europe MOST RE­CENT MA­TER­NAL AN­CES­TORS FOUND IN Cal­abria, Si­cily, Tus­cany, Sar­dinia, Bulgaria, south­ern Be­larus, Croa­tia, Ukraine, Ice­land, Greece, Cyprus and Ro­ma­nia

‘I grew up be­ing told that my great-grand­par­ents on my mom’s side came to South Africa from Greece. My mom identi ies as South African, and so do we (her kids). As much as we iden­tify as South African, be­ing Greek is a part of our iden­tity in terms of fam­ily dy­nam­ics. Cul­tur­ally it has im­pli­ca­tions for how we en­gage with one an­other as a fam­ily.

‘Her­itage a†ects my re­la­tion­ship with my mom – be­ing Greek to us means fam­ily and food! It’s a huge part of my iden­tity: I have tra­di­tions I share with my mom, my aunt, my grand­mother and all the women in my fam­ily. Be­ing able to cook to­gether and have con­ver­sa­tions about our cul­ture and our her­itage is im­por­tant to us. It’s a big part of all our lives. In a way, my re­la­tion­ship with my mom is de ined by be­ing Greek, much as it is with many of the women in my fam­ily.

‘I in­her­ited my favourite parts of my­self from my mother: re­silience, gen­tle­ness, fragility. My mom taught me that there’s beauty in fragility – a lovely thing to learn. We know we have to be ierce and we have to be tough. This can be hard – and har­den­ing – but my mom taught me that it’s okay to have soft edges with the right peo­ple.

‘See­ing these re­sults was re­ally amaz­ing. I shared them in the “Girls Fam­ily” What­sApp group with my mom, my aunt and my sis­ter, and it was a re­ally spe­cial mo­ment. My grand­fa­ther on my mom’s side al­ways joked that we had Asian her­itage and we never took him se­ri­ously – but it turns out he was right! It was al­most like a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and it made me think so much of all the gen­er­a­tions of women who came be­fore me.’

Busang Senne, 24 Con­tent pro­ducer mtDNA hap­logroup: L0d1 (L0d1b2b) – Africa MOST RE­CENT MA­TER­NAL AN­CES­TORS FOUND IN Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and An­gola, Khoisan pop­u­la­tions

‘To be black is to have a mul­ti­tude of sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences and time­lines that don’t al­ways look like a straight line. My lin­eage is a ected by im­mi­gra­tion, forced removals and the vi­o­lence of apartheid that sep­a­rated en­tire com­mu­ni­ties. I am Tswana on my dad’s side and Zulu on my mom’s; the ex­act his­tory of where we all came from is largely un­recorded. For me, my lin­eage is archived in other ways: I can see it in my mother, aunt, grand­mother and sis­ter. I have a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with iden­tity, her­itage and cul­ture – but just be­cause my fam­ily tree is frac­tured doesn’t mean I don’t know ex­actly where home is. For me, home is the women in my fam­ily.

‘We have al­ways been a fam­ily of strong ma­tri­archs. That inˆlu­ence is why I am the way I am: un­apolo­getic and unashamed of what I want and who I am. My mother is more com­pro­mis­ing and my sis­ter is more mea­sured than I could ever hope to be, but as much as we are mir­rors of one an­other, there is a bal­ance too. We share many sub­tle sim­i­lar­i­ties and nu­ances. My favourite shared trait is that we all have the same dis­tinct wrists with a slightly pro­trud­ing bone on each side – it’s said to be a com­mon trait of Zulu women.

‘The bond I have with my mom is kind of like the tra­di­tion of oral sto­ry­telling of the south­east­ern Ban­tus­peak­ing com­mu­ni­ties, where nar­ra­tives, lessons and ideas are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. I come from a fam­ily of sto­ry­tellers; it’s a huge part of our her­itage. My mom and the women be­fore her gave me courage, strength and com­pas­sion. I also got my whim­si­cal side from my mom – we share an al­mostchild­like curiosity and mis­chievous­ness. I got a lot of my per­sonal ec­cen­tric­i­ties and quirks from her. We may all be di er­ent but ec­cen­tric­i­ties are pretty much in­grained in our DNA. There’s a story in our eyes and the unique curve of our wrists, and it was em­pow­er­ing to imag­ine those threads be­ing tied to my story in the re­sults of the DNA test.

‘I also think we carve out our own tra­di­tions, and pass those on to our daugh­ters. Her­itage is ˆluid; it de­pends on the per­son. So much of your be­lief sys­tems and rit­u­als can change. Your an­ces­tors car­ried a story that’s been passed down to you but there’s al­ways space for new nar­ra­tives. You have roots – which means you can grow! If I have a daugh­ter one day, I hope she has our wrists and our courage; but I also hope to im­part a new chap­ter to our HER­story.’

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