In April, the National Geographic Society and IBM launched the Genographic Project. This is a fascinating research initiative to map how the Earth was populated and trace the migratory history of the human species using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people.
Everyone is invited to participate by purchasing a kit which you use to to get a DNA sample by swabbing your cheek and returning it for analysis in the enclosed transport tubes. You later get back the personalized genetic analysis, telling you when and where your particular group originated and how they likely journeyed through time. Since this is all based on statistical analysis, the more people participate, the better the results of the project.
A few of us at IBM were early participants in the study and gave permission (the entire process is anonymous otherwise) to have the results appear in a story on ibm.com. It is only when you read about your own family's journey, as well as those of your friends and colleagues, that the Genographic project moves from the scientific initiative that it is, to something much more personal.
My own DNA results revealed few surprises. I belong to Haplogroup J, along with about 50% of people with my Eastern European Jewish background. The results confirmed what I already knew about my parents background. My father, Julius Wladawsky was born in a small town in Eastern Poland called Drohiczyn. My mother, Rachel Berger, was also born in a small town, originally called Pruzana in Poland, now part of Belarus and called Pruzhany. They came to Cuba in the 1920's and 1930's respectively, where I was born and grew up until the whole family moved to Chicago in 1960.
I had not thought about where my parents came from in a very long time, and receiving the results of my analysis made me curious. Having the Internet now as a research tool, I quickly looked up Drohiczyn and Pruzhany, found out that they still existed, and even located them using an online maps site.
But I found out much more. I was able to read for the first time about the history of the Holocaust in Drohiczyn and Pruzana, where most of the Jewish population, including my parents families, perished.
The Genographic project, by showing us where we came from, makes us reflect on our past, our family history and the course of the human journey. That may very well be its most important contribution.