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As much as I can feel like I was born in the wrong era and find myself drawn to earlier times of cobblestone streets or ancient temples, I am extremely grateful for technology right now.

Let me explain.

Not only is modern technology connecting us in this very moment through underground cables and wireless routers and efficiently powered smartphones…

Not only is modern technology making it possible for you to google something on the web and go down a rabbit hole to eventually find that life changing blog post or informative article or long lost friend you thought you’d never see again…

Modern technology has made it so I have been able to connect with Helena – the original mother of my lineage – who walked this earth a mere 20,000 years ago.

Cue tears-in-my-eyes-jaw-on-the-floor when I found that out.

Here’s how it happened…

I began this year with a desire to connect more deeply with my own ancestry.

As someone who has always been drawn to ancient cultures and yearned for a deeper connection to spiritual traditions, I started to become aware of many women who were like me (of European descent) that were teetering on the edge of appropriating other cultural traditions. I believe this comes from a desire to feel connected to something deeper and bigger than ourselves, but can result in further perpetuating the marginalization of minority groups in this world.

I recognized times in my own life when I was unknowingly appropriating other cultures, and wanted to make a shift. I wanted to honor these cultural traditions as sacred and also come to more deeply understand my own.

Throughout my life, I’ve had little stirrings of knowing around certain cultures.

When I watched Outlander for the first time, I openly wept. The hilly Scottish countryside, the songs, the historical context all felt so deeply real to me.

When Tim and I visited Iceland several years ago, I also couldn’t help but feel so at home wherever we traveled to (which is strange since the conditions are so harsh in that part of the world).

I also felt this sense of familiarity when I traveled to India during my junior year of college and it comes back up whenever I read about the indigenous tribes of the Northeastern states. It perplexes my rational mind, but I believe this to be a connection to my soul lineage – the line of ancestry that I resonate with from the deepest core of my essence. These are the life ways that I can remember, that I already know, without logical explanation for it.

Through all this realization and exploration, I decided I needed deeper clarity on who my people are and were.

So for the winter holidays, Tim and I gifted each other the ancestry test from 23andMe. We surprised ourselves with how excited we both were to spit in a tube and finally find out what our actual global ancestry was. It took 8 anxious weeks to get our results back.

It turns out, I’m 99.7% European, concentrated mostly in the northwestern regions. Here’s a screenshot of my results:

My results pretty much confirmed what I knew to be true (with a few unexpected data points – like the fact that I am 0.3% Native American and 1.6% Ashkenazi Jewish), but then something very magical happened.

I was sharing my results on Instagram stories and my friend messaged me, asking if I knew who my Clan Mother was. My response was, “No, but tell what that is because my whole body is tingling with intense curiosity!”

She explained that, for people who are primarily of European descent, the DNA they inherit from their mothers can be traced back many thousands of years back to just one woman – the common maternal ancestor for her clan.*

The idea of finding out who my ancestral grandmother was got me googling like crazy, learning about this world of Mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA).

Here’s a cool fact: Your mtDNA assists your cells in using oxygen. So every time you breathe, you are using the mtDNA of your your clan mother.

The moment I read this, the feeling I felt was indescribably palpable. Thanks to modern genetic science, I had the opportunity to connect with my 20,000 year old Grandmother.

Using my ancestry report from 23andMe, I was able to easily find my maternal DNA Haplogroup which is a long chain of letters and numbers. What’s important, however, is the letter it begins with as there are only seven of them. For me, that letter is H.

Armed with my letter H, I found my way to the work of Oxford genetics professor Bryan Sykes who wrote a book called The Seven Daughters of Eve. In his book, Bryan has taken each of these seven letters (representing each Clan Mother) and given each of them a name and a story.

My clan mother is Helena (Greek for light).

According to Sykes, Helena lived 20,000 years ago at a time when the last Ice Age was at its most severe. In the winter, the Atlantic Ocean froze and pack ice could be found as far south as Bordeaux in France. Britain was still joined to continental Europe by dry land, and what are now the English midlands, central Wales, and southern Ireland were all buried under ice.

Helena spent her childhood on the shoreline and in the woodlands south of the ice sheets. She would help her mother comb the woods for wild mushrooms and toadstools, or wade into the brackish lagoons searching for oysters. Her father patrolled the woods alone, on the lookout for small deer and other mammals to hunt with handmade spears.

Knowing I am a descendent of Helena brings me a sense of grounded connection – like a tree whose roots go deep into earth for miles and miles – rooting me into a lineage of women that go back thousands of years. It gives me a deeper feeling of purpose – that I am Helena’s legacy.

That she hand-stitched clothes with sinew and pelts to survive through those ice cold winters and birthed her babies in a cave by the river during the annual reindeer migration to 20,000 years later pass on her DNA through the very breath that moves through my lungs brings me to my knees in awe.

So, even though I still wonder what it would have been like to be a medicine woman in ancient Ireland or a parfumier in 18th century France or Nordic warrioress in old Scandinavia, I’m also eternally grateful to be alive here in this moment. To have the ability to connect to Helena and all of her that is within me.

Curious about the other clan mothers? Here they are below:

{image via The Seven Daughters of Eve}

The clan of Ursula (Latin for she-bear)

The clan of Xenia (Greek for hospitable)

The clan of Helena (Greek for light)

The clan of Velda (Scandinavian for ruler)

The clan of Tara (Gaelic for rocky hill)

The clan of Katrine (Greek for pure)

The clan of Jasmine (Persian for flower)

*This is true for all major cultural clusters around the world. Among Native Americans, there were four clan mothers, among Japanese people, there were nine clan mothers, etc. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on my own European ancestry but I encourage you to research your own.

Now I want to hear from you!

Do you know who your clan mother is? Have you researched your ancestral heritage? What did you find out?

Share in the comments below.

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How my genetic ancestry report helped me find my 20,000 year old Grandmother. Read the post to learn how you can find your own!

20 Comments

20 Responses to Finding my 20,000 year old Grandmother

  1. Gina darling Santangelo says:

    Becca,
    Just wanted to reach out and say never have I felt so connected to someone that I have never met. Every single time to write or post something your words not only resonate with me but it is as if you are the manifestation of every deep thought my soul has ever whispered. I not o my find my self nodding feverishly as I read your words but most days, especially your IG posts I get chills and the little hairs on the back of my neck rise because I feel like you know me on a spiritual level unlike anyother person in my life….and we have never met!! ( although if we had, I feel like we’d be fast friends…twin flames as they say). I found myself laughing while listening to a recent lunar lab podcast the other day when you said you like to go deep fast while talking to other people. Only days before I listened I told my husband “I am tired of talking about the weather with the other moms at school pick up, I am longing for deep conversations like who were you in a past life or let’s share our favorite ways on being our true authentic selves”…. see…soul sisters. Anyway, before this post starts sounding creepy (is it too late?????😉) I just wanted to thank you for being my visual tribe and for always speaking your truth and sharing your wisdom. It helps me feel not so “weird” ( my trigger word as well) and not as alone.
    blessings always,
    Gina darling Santangelo 🙏

    • Becca says:

      Gina! Sister love, not creepy at all – REAL, and I love it ever so much. I really appreciate your words. Being in the virtual world can feel so strange, at times. Like…”is this thing on?” Ha! So I guess what I’m saying is thank you for affirming me and sharing how connected you feel. I already love you wildly! Cheers to being weird and deep and witchy! xo

  2. Heidi says:

    As soon as I read the list of clan mothers, I was drawn to Tara. I just ordered my 23andme test (on sale for Mother’s Day!). It will be interesting to see who my genetics say is my clan mother. I also did an Ancestry.com test a year or two ago, it will cool is see if the lineage results are the same. This is so interesting to me, thanks for sharing!!

    • Becca says:

      I was totally drawn to Tara too. So much that I was really surprised to find I was a Helena. Isn’t it endlessly fascinating?

  3. Katie says:

    I have done all the major DNA tests as I am adopted. All of them come out with different answers in terms of percentages bc this science has a very long way to go. Anything below 4% or so is what genealogists call “noise” and unless there is a paper trail in your ancestry it most likely is not part of your genetic makeup – unless numerous DNA tests show that same small bit. My DNA is super crazy. At first look, it seems I am mostly Italian and Western Europe/British (And through DNA I have identified at least two great great grandparents who came from Switzerland, and two others that came from Romania/Hungary) but all the tests show significant Middle Eastern (almost 20%) (that likely comes from the Southern Italian), a tiny bit North African, 10-15% Balkan/Eastern Euro. The north African part is interesting since my Haplogroup doesn’t come from Europe, it does come from North Africa and is also heavily associated with Sephardic Jews who ended up in Spain (and then Italy after the inquisition). Unfortunately, he doesn’t cover those haplogroups, but since I found this out (23andme is the only one that includes haplogroups in their normal test) I have been trying to figure out how my maternal ancestors have been moving through this world. It is not easy, but it sure is fascinating! Also, the thing about DNA is that you may in fact have say, a Japanese ancestors as a great great great grandparent, but do not have that DNA in you. When you are born, you get a random mix of your parents DNA, nothing is split equally, so that further compounds the issue!

    • Becca says:

      Ah, thank you for sharing this Katie. I do know that these tests aren’t 100% reliable and really depend on the whole of the testing group to form their outcomes. I can see how it would be frustrating for you as an adoptee. What’s really hit me is the realization that borders are only a recent phenomenon in human history. Humans are traditionally migratory, so being attached to one culture or heritage is irrelevant in overall time. We were moving to where the food and water was. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, sister.

  4. Julie Wind Dancer says:

    This is amazing!!!! THANK YOU so much for sharing this. I have been wanting to do my DNA ancestry, which I know is primarily European (Eastern). Now I can’t wait to get my results and find my clan mother!

  5. Anna says:

    Haplogroup U2e1a, my clan mother is Ursula. I have to read Syke’s book, there’s not much info online. As an adult adoptee, dna testing has been my link to a past I can’t know.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Magda says:

    When people who complain about cultural appropriation move back to their country of origin, quit speaking English, and don’t use anything that has arisen from the culture of Western Civilization in general and American in particular they will earn my respect. (I am not talking about you specifically here!)

    My Granny was Jasmine, who they think came from what is now Syria, and whose clan brought agriculture and domesticated animals to Europe. She arrived after the Ice Age.

    • Becca says:

      You are a Jasmine descendent, how amazing Magda.

      And the cultural appropriation conversation is complicated, I agree. But what matters most to me is that all are heard in this space. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, sister.

  7. Maria Kurylo says:

    Amazing Becca – I love it. I too feel those stirrings. And Outlander – I keep rewatching and rereading it. It is so powerful for me. That and Clan of the Cave Bear. My paternal grandmother’s family is in Poland and my maternal line comes from Scotland. Without knowing for sure, Xenia Clan energy tested strong for me. So much wisdom has come down through us to be awakened and remembered in this life time. xo

  8. Nadia Munla says:

    THIS. IS. AMAZING.

  9. Lumi says:

    Wow, this is amazing! I have often felt similar issues around the appropriation, though I think so many of our ancient cultural traditions/reverence for nature overlap with what we consider things specific to a certain cultural group, such as Native Americans. So as far as that goes, I try to stick to what feels appropriate to me, but knowing it is all ultimately the wisdom of humanity and we are all the same regardless of our DNA.

    And ditto with Outlander! Feeling so deeply connected and wanting more connection and watching it over and over. That scene in the episode Rent where Claire is woolworking with the women, ALL THE FEELS!!! I would love to get an ancestral DNA test to discover this info to know more about my clan mother and those ancient connections I long for.

    Brava!

    • Becca says:

      Lumi babe! Yes yes the cultural appropriation thing is deeply complex and non-linear. I agree with you that so many ancient cultures all over the world come together on the themes of honoring nature, her seasons, the moon and sun.

      Outlander, gahhh! It’s inspired me to plan retreats to Ireland, Scotland, and beyond.

      Let me know who your clan mother is when you find out? xo

  10. Becca, your timing is impeccable. My husband and I recently joyfully received our 23andMe information. I have ordered a copy of The 7 Daughters of Eve am delighted to know there is a way to connect with our original grandmothers!

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