Piero Gherardi, a genetic cousin from Waiheke Island, New Zealand, may have a better grasp on the answer than the rest of us. As a male participant in the Genographic Project, his results were derived from testing his Y chromosome, which is passed along the paternal line. Females don't carry the Y chromosome, so we're tested via mitochondrial DNA passed to offspring from our mothers. But Piero, a psychologist who has been interested in genealogy for the last six or seven years, wanted to know more. So he had his mitochondrial DNA tested as well. That's where the connection to me popped up. Through his own research, Piero already knew that his mother's line descends from a Maori woman named Puihi Ruawahine, who married an Englishman in 1842. Her ancestry stretches back to 1100 when the Maori of the Polynesian group, who genetically go back to Taiwan, first arrived in New Zealand. His DNA report confirms this. Somewhere in our history, perhaps thousands of years back, we share a common ancestor.
That's also the case with Valérie Chazottes-Louvat, a college-level Plastic Arts teacher from the east coast of Tahiti in French Polynesia. Valérie's father is French, and her mother is Chinese-Tahitian. (Again, that Polynesian connection.) She's most curious about how our ancestors came to be in Polynesia. What we know is that early human migrants made it into Southeast Asia a very long time ago, perhaps even 50,000 years ago, about the same time Aborigines arrived in Australia. Archaeological findings in Indonesia have been dated to around 40,000 years ago. Humans were certainly in that region by then, and many Polynesian histories tell of how—using innovative sailing techniques—they set out from a home base of Fiji on successive sea voyages to eventually inhabit the rest of Polynesia. In fact, they were so adept at open-sea travel that they made it as far as Easter Island and the Hawaiian archipelago.
That should answer some questions for Peggy Manner, whose husband, Wilfred, is another of my genetic cousins. Wilfred wasn't very interested in learning more about his Hawaiian heritage, so Peggy took the lead and had his mitochondrial DNA analyzed. The results were just as she expected: a migration route through New Zealand and Tahiti. Sadly, Wilfred passed away from Alzheimer's last December. He was 83. But Peggy will continue researching his origins, finding the history of Hawaii in his genetic background.
Unlike Wilfred, Lisa Ekberg Hopgood, my DNA cousin from Los Angeles who calls herself a "science and history geek," has embraced the Genographic Project. She talks about her results so much, she says, that her family and friends are getting tired of hearing about it. Still, she's got some of them excited enough to submit their own samples for analysis. "I bought kits for my father and his sister, my Aunt Rosemary, for Christmas," she says. "Their results will help put pieces together for me."
Lisa's maternal origins are Chinese-Hawaiian and possibly Tahitian, which shows in her face. But her red hair comes from her father's Norwegian roots. "I love how visually on the opposite sides of the spectrum we are," she says of me. "And yet we carry the exact same mitochondrial DNA."