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Schematic representation of the double helix (spiral staircase) in DNA.

Written sources from before 1500 are scarce. Dutch people with an immigrant background usually have to make do with written sources that go back even less in time. As a result, the search for ancestors comes to a halt at a certain point. DNA research can then offer a solution.

Based on DNA research it is possible to trace early ancestors based. DNA research can also provide clarity about the kind of relationship that living persons have with each other. DNA testing can also offer a solution in situations where a written source is not considered to be sufficiently reliable.

This webpage explains the various methods of genealogical DNA research. The results obtained by webmaster Peter van Boheemen serve as an illustration. First of all, it is described who the ancestors of the European population are.

Our primeval ancestors

The ancestors of modern humans split off 7 million years ago from the line from which our closest relatives, the Chimpanzees, also originate. The new line also has all kinds of divisions. Almost all humanoid populations arising from this process subsequently become extinct.

About 2 million years ago, the lineage of upright Homo erectus emerged, spreading throughout Africa and large parts of Euro-Asia. Homo erectus is therefore the first ancient parent to leave Africa. Other populations later originate in Africa, including Homo heidelbergenis, which is seen as the common ancestor of the Denisova (Homo denisova), the Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) and Homo sapiens (Modern Man).

The Dinosova is a offshoot of the Homo heidelbergenis that takes place about 700,000 years ago. and spreads across Asia. In turn, the Neanderthal splits off from the Denisova about 400,00 years ago. They move into Europe and settle in a narrow strip running from France to the Near East. This happens at a time when large parts of Europe are periodically covered with ice caps.

Then Homo sapiens appears in the Sub-Sahara and spreads from here across Africa. Including to Morocco, where remains of approximately 300,000 years old are found in 2017. Africa will then have a completely different climate than what Neanderthals in Europe have to deal with at that time.

Early Homo sapiens soon migrate to Europe, where they mix with Neanderthals. This explains why late Neanderthals have traces of Homo sapiens in their DNA. There is no question of admixture with the Denisovans. However, the early-migrated Homo sapiens do not persist in Europe.

About 60,000 years ago, Homo sapiens migrate again from Africa to Europe and Asia and then to America and Australia. This leads to the creation of the current world population. In the initial phase, some mixing takes place with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Today’s inhabitants of the world still bear traces of this in their DNA.

About 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens move via the Danube Delta to Central Europe, where a cold climate still prevails. The Neanderthals die out shortly afterwards, leaving Homo sapiens supremacy in Europe. Homo sapiens live there as a hunter-gatherer. They also manifest theirselves as an artist by making jewelry, statuettes and cave paintings.

Between 24,000-18,000 years, Homo sapiens experience extreme cold. They then withdraw to SW Europe (Spain and Portugal). When the climate warms, a return to Central Europe takes place. People also come there from the Balkan. This creates a homogeneous population of technically highly developed hunter-gatherers with blue eyes and dark skin. About 13,000 years ago a stadial (cold period) follows, but this is not extreme.

From 12,000 years ago, the climate is getting friendlier. In the Near East, the first forms of agriculture (arable farming and livestock farming) then arise. This led to a migration of farmers from Anatolia to Europe 8,000 years ago. The hunter-gatherers with their considerably darker skin then retreat further and further in the direction of England and Scandinavia.

About 5,000 years ago, a third and final migration to Western Europe occurs This time from the Pontic Steppe (region north of the Black and Caspian Sea). They are nomadic herders who are very mobile due to the use of horses and wagons and are already able to work bronze. At the time of their arrival, it is suspected that Central Europe is sparesely populated due to plague outbreaks.

The foregoing explains that three dominant genetic components can be distinguished in the DNA of today’s Europeans. These come from the hunter-gatherers, the farmers from Anatolia and the herders of the Pontic Steppe.

The following nuance fits here. The DNA of the people who differ most from each other worldwide, is 99.8% identical. Hence, within the group of Europeans, differences in genetic origin can only be determined with the help of very advanced techniques.

Source: Johannes Krause and Thomas Trappe. The journey of our genes, A story about us and our ancestors (in Dutch; also available in German). ISBN 978-90-468-2681-2, p. 285 (Nieuw Amsterdam 2020).

Types of DNA

There are two types of DNA. The most important is the DNA found in the nucleus of every body cell. This DNA consists of 23 pairs of chromosome. One of these is the so-called sex chromosome pair. In case of a man this consists of a Y and an X chromosome and in case of a woman of two X chromosomes. The DNA in the sex chromosomes is referred to for convenience as  Y- and X-DNA.

The remaining 22 pairs of chromosomes together are called autosomes (non-sexual chromosomes). The DNA in the autosomes is called atDNA for brevity.

There is not only DNA in the cell nucleus, but also in the mitochondria, albeit to a much lesser extent. Mitochondria are organelles that are present in the plasma of a cell and provide the energy supply to a cell. For brevity, the DNA in the mitochondria is called mtDNA.

Migration route of Peter van Boheemen’s ancestors based on Y-DNA

During the production of a sperm cell, a small change in the Y-DNA can occur due to a ‘copying error’. A resulting son will carry this mutation in his Y-DNA and will also pass it on to his male offspring(s). The Y-DNA of a man therefore contains all mutations that have previously occurred in the direct paternal line and therefore differs from the Y-DNA of men from other paternal lines.

Based on worldwide DNA research on skeletal remains from archaeological finds, it is now known where and when many mutations occurred. This makes it possible to trace the migration route taken by someone’s ancestors (insofar as they belong to the direct paternal line). Unfortunately, current knowledge of the mutations in the Y-DNA does not make it possible to go back further than the so-called Y-chromosomal Adam who lived in Africa about 232,000 years BCE. As for its ancestors, we are dealing with a black hole as we know it in astrophysics.

In 2023, Peter van Boheemen has his Y-DNA examined by the company FTDNA (FamilyTreeDNA) to determine whether or not certain mutations are present. FTDNA then linsd the results of this so-called BIG Y-700 test to the results of DNA research on skeletal remains from archaeological finds. We know the age and location of these bone remains. This has allowed FTDNA to estimate the route along which the ancestors of Peter van Boheemen (insofar as they belong to the direct paternal line) migrates from Africa to the Netherlands. As can be seen from the following image, this takes a large detour.

Migration route of ancestors of Peter van Boheemen (FTDNA, 2023).

The following overview contains further information about the migration. On the left side you can see the numbers of generations that first belong to the haplogroup mentioned next to it. A haplogroup should be seen as a group of people who have the same mutations in their Y-DNA.

At the top is the haplogroup of the so-called Y-chromosomal Adam who lives in Nigeria 234,000 years ago. The generation number 1 is linked to him. At the bottom is the generation number of Peter van Boheemen. This number is based on the assumption that in average three male generations occur in a century. Because of the time frame of 234,000 years minus the age of webmaster Peter van Boheemen, he is called generation number 7018.

Migration dates of ancestors of Peter van Boheemen (to FTDNA, 2023).

Map with frequencies of hapolgroep R1b-L48 (E. Altena, The Dutch Y-chromosomal landscape, European Journal of Human Genetics, 2019).

The ancestor with generation number 6888 manifests mutation R1b-L48. This takes place 4,400 years ago. The adjacent map illustrates that this mutation is widespread among the male population of the Netherlands. In North Holland and Friesland, one in 5 men has this mutation in the Y-DNA.

It is remarkable that about 450 years later an ancestor of Peter of Bohemen would reside in England, perhaps as a result of a repression in Germany. Then there is a return to Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia). New skeletal finds will further substantiate (or weaken) the trip to England. The route from North Rhine-Westphalia to the former amt of Monster is still obscure (covers a period of approximately 2,400 years and 71 ancestors).

Kinship research based on Y-DNA

In 2008, a first step was taken by participating in the national project ‘Zonen van Adam in Nederland’ (see Publications). Thereby 17 places (markers) in the Y-DNA were examined. As a result of advancing insights, the project is now seen as insufficiently in-depth.

Five generations back in time
A second step follows in 2017 by participating as five distant cousins of the Van Bohe(e)men family in a kinship study by the Catholic University of Leuven. This involves a common ancestor who was born in 1781 (ancestor with generation number 7008).
Now 37 locations (markers) in the Y-DNA were analyzed, and no significant differences were found. This means that the five distant cousins are not only related in a legal sense, but also in a biological sense. This outcome strengthened the reliability of the established family tree (and also the family feeling among the cousins).

One generation back in time
In 2020, FTDNA compared Peter van Boheemen’s Y-DNA at 37 markers with that of a brother. This resulted in an Exact Match.

Ten generations back in time
Untill now, it has not been possible to prove, on the basis of archival material, that the so-called The Hague Soldiers’ Branch joins the other branches of the Van Bohe(e)men family within the period 1650-1800. There are various indications of a connection in the form of names and places of residence. These indications indicate that Dirk van Boheemen, the oldest ancestor of The Hague Soldies’ Branch, is a grandson of Jan Cornelisz. to Eikenduinen who was born around 1555 (ancestor with generation number 7008).
In 2023, a descendant of The Hague Soldiers’ Branch is willing to have his Y-DNA analyzed at 37 markers by FTDNA. Compared to the Y-DNA of Peter van Boheemen, there is a genetic distance of ‘2 steps’. This result points to a common ancestor 10 generations ago and a time difference of 387 years. This is very similar to what was hypothesized in advance and may therefore be regarded as evidence for a connection. It therefore remains useful to continue searching for additional evidence in archives.

Participation of more male relatives based on Y-DNA can further strengthen the accuracy of the family tree. If there is any interest in this, please let us know. This can be done using the Contact form.


Migration route of Peter van Boheemen’s foremothers

With mtDNA, just like with Y-DNA, mutations also occasionally occur. What is special about mtDNA is that brothers and sisters have the same DNA in their mitochondria as their mother. A father’s mtDNA is not passed on.  This makes it possible to trace the migration route of a person’s foremothers based on mtDNA. In addition, mtDNA can also be used to determine whether a female lineage based on written archival sources is biologically correct.

In 2019, a National Genographic project determines that Peter van Bohemen belongs to mt haplogroup H1c13. The different haplogroups of his foremothers are arranged in the following overview by time and place. This makes it broadly clear along which route webmaster Peter’s foremothers migrated from Africa to his birthplace Voorburg.

At the top is the so-called mitochondrial Eve who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. At the bottom you will find Peter van Bohemen with generation number 8000. This number is based on the premise that in average four female generations occur in a century.

Migration dates of foremothers of Peter van Boheemen (to National Geographic, 2019).

It is remarkable that the migration of the foremothers van Peter van Boheemen does not take such a detour as his forefathers.


Research based on atDNA

In autosomal research, the DNA is analyzed in all chromosomes, except in sex chromosomes X and Y. For each person, this yields a unique combination of DNA characteristics.

For people related very closely to each other, there is a great similarity in the atDNA profile. However, the farther the relationship, the less similar. This dilution is happening quickly. As a result, research based on atDNA is not well suited for proving a distant relationship.

In a child, half of the atDNA comes from the father and the other half from the mother. This rule does not apply to earlier generations. For example, a child does not receive exactly 25% of the atDNA from every grandparent and not exactly 12.5% ​​from every great-grandparent. This is a consequence of the exchange of DNA pieces (crossing pver) between the two chromosomes of the same chromosome pair. This happens during the production of egg and sperm cells. The exchange is called recombination.

Recombination explains that a person barely has atDNA from some ancestors and foremothers born six generations earlier. As a result, only half of the ancestors and  foremothers of ten generations ago is present in the atDNA. In general, atDNA is only useful for searching for ancestors born after 1700. It is therefore recommended to have several family members participate, so that a relationship can be approached from different sides.

The extent to which atDNA is common between two persons, is the number of equal pieces of atDNA and its total length, measured in centimorgan (cM). There are tables indicating how many centimorgan of corresponding atDNA may be expected in a certain family relationship, such as a cousin or great-uncle.

Peter van Boheemen has no experience yet with checking, for example, the relationships emerging from his pedigree chart, and tracing members of the Van Bohe(e)men family which are still unknown to him.


Research based on X-DNA

As mentioned earlier, a woman has two X chromosomes. One comes from her mother and the other from her father. A man has one X chromosome from his mother, besides the Y chromosome from his father

When a father passes on his X chromosome to an descendant, he gets a daughter. All his daughters will receive therefore the same X chromosome from him. DNA research based on X-DNA can therefore be used to determine whether two women descend from the same father.

A mother does not pass on one of her two X sex chromosomes to a child, but a mix of both X chromosomes(due to the phenomenon of recombination discussed above. Two children of the same mother therefore do not receive an identical X chromosome (unless they are identical twins). A way out of this is that two children of the same mother have the same mtDNA.


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