Yesterday I received my results from The Genographic Project public participation kit that I sent in in May. The goal of the project is to create a genetic map of humanity’s “journey through the ages.” The research goal of the project is to collect genetic samples from intact indigenous populations, but anyone can buy order a Participation Kit and submit their DNA to the Project. This public participation kit is mainly a funding and publicity device, but participants receive the results of a basic genealogy test that can reveal a little bit about their deep ancestry and a very little bit about other participants that might be related to them.

Males receive the DYS# and Allele value for 12 DNA loci. These DNA loci are used for genealogical testing for two reasons: 1) they are fast mutating, so they have high resolution; and 2) they are in the “junk” DNA (they have no evolutionary value). These DNA loci are all located on the Y-chromosome, which only men have, and are passed directly from father to son. So Y-DNA testing of this sort is designed to reveal relationships among direct male descendants of a common ancestor.

So, if my 12 allele values were exactly the same as someone else with the Vizzaccaro surname then it is likely that we share a common ancestor. A perfect match on 12 markers puts the odds at 50% that we have a common ancestor within the past 14 generations (approximately 500 years) and a 95% chance that we have a common ancestor within the past 62 generations (approximately 2,000 years). Higher resolution tests, using 25 or 37 markers, are available and a perfect match on one of these tests would shorten the time horizon significantly. For instance, two males with a perfect match on a 37 marker test would have a 50% likelihood of having a common ancestor within 5 generations (175 years) and a 90% likelihood of having a common ancestor within 16 generations (560 years). These 25 and 37 marker tests are very useful for testing genealogical relationships, since the likely time to the common ancestor is within the researchable past.

The 12 market test, though, is less useful for genealogical purposes than for anthropological purposes. These 12 markers can be used to predict a person’s haplogroup. A haplogroup is a group of people that that share a single genetic identity. For instance, members of Haplogroup O3 are thought to descend from the first Chinese rice farmers who appeared in East Asia nearly 10,000 years ago.

It turns out that I am likely a member of Haplogroup I1a, which is common among northern European populations but is diffused throughout all of Europe. It is relatively uncommon in Italy, which is where my paternal ancestors lived but this DNA could have arrived in Italy in a number of ways: Viking’s plundering the Mediterranean, the Romans bringing slaves back from Belgium, Sweden, or Holland, etc. Remember, we are talking about deep ancestry not recent ethnicity. Typically, for genealogical purposes, several tests of cousins are needed to zero in on the DNA profile of an ancestor because of the possibility of random mutations, non-paternity events, and the like.

So, why is this all interesting to me? One, I think it is just plain cool. Two, even this low-resolution test opens up some interesting possibilities about the deep ancestry of the Vizzaccaro family. For instance, Haplogroup I1a is somewhat common among Basque populations which I think might possibly be the source of our surname (there is a Basque province called Vizcaya). Three, when I find some other Vizzaccaro folks to test with me we can updgrade to the 25 or 37 marker tests and begin to establish which other Vizzaccaro branches (if any) we are related to. This, in fact, is my primary motivation. I’d love to have other Vizzaccaro families test their DNA and share the results so we can start patching together the complete Vizzaccaro family tree. Email me at if you are interested. We can start our own Vizzaccaro DNA research project or just all join Jim Denning’s Frosinone, Italy Project.