DNA traces roots back to Stone Age

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The Independent Online

Are you a Viking, Saxon, Pict, Celt, or descendant of an ancient African tribe? New DNA testing methods will enable us to trace our family tree right back to the Stone Age.

Until recently, researching your ancestry meant hours of painstaking digging through fusty old files in public record offices or asking older relatives about their family memories. When the 1901 census was released online, demand was so great that the system crashed.

The new scientific technique for tracing relatives allows individuals to submit a DNA sample to a laboratory, to be matched with other, historic samples.

Genealogists Oxford Ancestors launched their "Viking" service this week. For £160 they will test your DNA sample. "We will be able to tell you if your ancestors were Norsemen who arrived here more than 1,000 years ago in a longboat," said chief executive David Ashworth.

The service follows the popularity of the BBC history series Blood of the Vikings. By matching their DNA with samples taken from modern day Danish descendents of the Vikings, a number of Britons were found to have Viking blood, especially in areas where Viking communities settled during the Dark Ages.

Discovering whether you are a Pict or Saxon will be more difficult. "But it will probably be possible in due course," said Mr Ashworth. "In some cases you can get your family tree back as far as 1400 or, exceptionally, 1200. But that is only really if you are related to a king or very prominent family."

Genetic fingerprinting promises to solve this problem, taking researchers as far back as 45,000 years, although it does not identify individual ancestors.

Oxford Ancestors has two other DNA tests for avid genealogists. One has traced the maternal ancestry of almost all Europeans to just seven women who lived in different parts of the continent between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The other enabled Oxford Ancestors' founder Professor Bryan Sykes to prove that he and 250 other men named Sykes shared a 14th-century founding father.