Genes and genealogy
If the evidence in my X-chromosome DNA is accurate, and if I understand it correctly, I am descended from a line of men and women who were established in Europe at the time of the Cro Magnon culture, the culture of the people who painted the caves at Lascaux.
We were there at the height of the last Ice Age, 27,000 years ago, when everything north of France was either influenced by, or actually underneath, a mile-thick sheet of ice.
Archaeologists say there were as few as 130,000 of us humans living in western Europe at the peak of the glacial maximum, mostly in what is now Spain and southern France. We were still there 19,000 years ago, when the ice sheets stopped advancing and began to retreat, and we were there, hunting and gathering, when the first middle-eastern farmers showed up as immigrants, about 8,000 years ago, and changed our world forever.
Now, as the shriveled remnants of those ice sheets beat their final retreat into the last corners of the highest valleys of the alps, we're still there, in the valleys of the Rhine and the Moselle and the Nahe and the Glan, in bilingual Alsace-Lorraine and the foothills of the Swiss alps.
I know this because one day, probably somewhere in what is now the north of France, probably between 3000 and 4000 years ago, a woman gave birth to a son whose Y chromosome had a minor mutation: one of its nucleotides had a different chemical sequence than normal. This mutation didn't make any obvious difference, as is the case with most of these so-called single-nucleotide polymorphisms. As an adult, her son passed that mutation on to his sons, and they passed it on to their sons. Their descendants are now numerous in northern Europe and in the paleo-Germanic diaspora, particularly in Scandinavia, and I am one of them.
My genetic and genealogical roots are in the area where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet. There was a Lutheran pastor in Lauterecken, Germany, who recorded the births, marriages, and burials of his parishioners, and one of those parishioners was my direct ancestor, a man named Hector Feÿ. The pastor noted that Hector Feÿ had arrived in Lauterecken from a place called Hasen Puttelingen, which is now known as Puttelange aux Lacs, and it's in France, about a twenty-mile drive south from the German city of Saarbrücken. Hector's marriage to Margurete Bender is recorded; if he married at the typical age for men at that time, about 23 years of age, then he was born some time around 1588. I have not been able to locate written records of my earlier ancestors, but my DNA argues for the idea that they had been living in that area for thousands of years.
Geneticists refer to us as a "clade," and to our mutation as a DNA "haplogroup." This particular haplogroup is identified as I-Y3153 at the moment, a subgroup of a much older mutation called I-M253, but things are changing fast in the world of molecular genetics, so it could be called something else by the time you are reading this. I try to understand, and keep up, and it's anything but easy.