My new work in progress, Footprints Through Time: A White Mother’s Search for Common Roots With Her Black Daughter is an attempt to trace the genetic links between myself, an American-born woman of East European Jewish ancestry, and my adopted daughter, born in Mali of unknown parents. The aim is to find our most recent common mother, a woman who lived somewhere Africa more than 100,000 years ago.
Like the first modern humans who ventured out of Africa, I didn’t know where I was going as I began this search, but now, as I move from research to writing, I have a clearer idea where the search may lead.
The story begins with me and Djeneba, my daughter – how we came together, and my decision as she grew older to explore our deep ancestry. It takes the reader through the science of evolutionary genetics, goes back to the beginnings of Homo sapiens as a species, and then moves forward from our human origins in East Africa to the paths of migration that have taken humanity across and out of Africa to populate the world.
Using the DNA tests we took to find our lineages, the story traces the paths of our predecessors over tens of thousands of years as they made their way westward to Mali and eastward to the Levant. The journey of Djeneba’s people covers territory from the formerly verdant Sahara to the ancient city of Timbuktu, while my ancestors left footprints along the Arabian coast, in Mesopotamia and, later, in Venice and the Jewish villages of Eastern Europe.
It is quite a voyage, and along the way we pause to consider: How do scientists analyze DNA to read it as a historical document? Who was African Eve? When did we begin communicating through language? How did the races evolve? And most of all, how did the women who preceded us – women whose hands we hold in a genetic continuum back through time – live their daily lives, feed their families, love, grieve and create?
As the writing of Footprints Through Time progresses, I am tracking advances in human evolutionary genetics, anthropology and paleoanthropology that feed into the story and add to our knowledge about the human family. My posts can by viewed on a Facebook page devoted to the subject.
Coming soon: an excerpt from the manuscript of Footprints Through Time.