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Proposal for tracking X trajectories in an endogamous context

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Corato, Apulia, Italymap
Surnames/tags: X chromosome endogamy
Profile manager: James Smith private message [send private message]
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I was encouraged to get in touch with Wikitree by Kitty Cooper because I’m basically looking for a way to use an automatic X-tracking algorithm.

For the last 4 years I have been searching for my friend Francine Canepa’s birth parents, which I suppose means that I am what is called a ‘search angel’. She was born in Marseille, France, in 1936, and adopted 5 years later. Francine took tests with Ancestry and 23andMe in September 2015, and has uploaded her raw DNA data to FTDNA, Gedmatch, MyHeritage and LivingDNA. We discovered that both Francine’s parents were from an endogamous village in Apulia, southern Italy, called Corato. During the last 4 years I have built a genealogical tree in which Francine does not feature, but which is composed of over 16,000 individuals, 90% of which have a connection with Corato.

I’ve had a lot of help from the DNAAdoption group and have done 2 online courses. However, unless I’m mistaken, with present genetic genealogy tools, endogamy is a problem. Barbara Rae-Venter introduced me to pedigree triangulation at a brief meeting in San Francisco, but Francine has too many cousins with similar patronyms. In other words, in an endogamous society, a single couple can be the common ancestor of a large number of DNA matches. WATO also comes up against the kind of inter-marriage that you find in an endogamous village.

Another impediment is that the sale of DNA tests is still not authorized in France, and even less so in Italy. This is surely consistent with the thinking of the Catholic Church. A new bioethics law may well be passed soon in France, allowing DNA testing ‘for recreative purposes’, but I doubt whether it will happen in Italy. This means that most of Francine’s matches (essentially 4th, with a handful of 3rd cousins) are emigrants to the US, and it is unlikely that closer matches will follow in the near future. Of course, it may well be that Francine’s parents were US citizens, in which case we might have a good surprise.

Anyway, Francine and I decided this year (2019) that it was time to make her large tree available to the inhabitants of Corato and to the descendants of the many people who emigrated, many to the US, but mostly to France.

So I decided to try out an alternative approach, in the hope that it will be better adapted to research in an endogamous society such as Corato  :

1. Go public, rather than stay ‘private and unsearchable’ : I still have the latter type of tree, but it seemed logical to hope that someone might come forward with information that would help to find Francine’s birth parents. After all, her mother could have died in the 1980’s and there might be people still alive who know her story.

2. Find an X-tracking algorithm that would enable us to find others who share the 2 good X matches that Francine has : - One is with 5 descendants of D’Oria-52 : X match range is 18cM-21.2cM - The other is with a mother and son (both DNA tested), and 2 other not closely related people : the range here is from 20.3cM to 44.3cM. I won’t go into more detail about this at this stage, but just say that a large tree in an endogamous context ought to be a good basis for tracking multiple X trajectories, whereas Francine’s large tree may seem too unwieldy for genetic genealogy (see below).

3. Use facial recognition. Italian cemeteries have the particularity that a large number of graves have photos of the deceased on them. If we can identify some possible families through X-tracking, we could then search the cemetery in Corato to see if the people bore any resemblance to Francine. We could then approach descendants to ask them to take a DNA test.

This approach has led us to develop a full-blown project entitled : “A tale of two twinned cities : Corato and Grenoble”. At present, this is in French and Italian versions. I’ll have to translate it into English, I guess, but if anyone wants either of the existing versions, I’d be glad to send it. The essential points are in this email anyway.

This project has encountered considerable interest in Corato itself. In fact, I’m going there on September 26th to speak at a public meeting organized to present it. I think the interest comes from the fact that it concerns the aftermath of emigration : there is more than just curiosity in finding personal and family origins, perhaps even linking up again. There is also another ongoing project in Corato that aims to safeguard the Church’s archives that go back to the 16th century : we hope that some synergy will be possible with this other project.

The project is in several parts : 1. The translation (with Francine) and publication of a book on emigration from Corato between 1902 and 1959. The title of the book, originally a school project conducted in 2010 under the direction of a nationally-known historian called Pasquale Tandoi, who was born and still lives in Corato, is ‘Quando i clandestini eravamo noi’ (When we were the illegal immigrants). But it had to be translated into French to benefit the French-speaking descendants of the earliest immigrants (post 1922). I obtained subsidies in order to have printed in June 2019 500 copies of an Italian/French bilingual version of the book. I think it’s quite a unique book : I’ve found no other that gives an historical and statistical account of the emigration, even mentioning the pioneers in some destinations (including the US).

2. The setting up of week-end residential Italian language courses at which participants commit to speaking only Italian throughout the whole week-end (including amongst themselves). The courses take place at the Domaine du Trouillet in the Ardèche, a kind of agriturismo and cultural center set up by an Italian woman called Roberta Petrini ; they are run by an Italian teacher called Silvia and the cooking is by an Italian cook called Simona. We have called these week-end courses “Italia in Ardèche” : The first one took place from 29-31 March 2019 and was a success.

We hope to attract descendants of immigrants from Corato to these week-end courses, because the interest in rediscovering one’s origins often includes learning the language that was lost (even if it was a dialect that their ancestors spoke, not present-day Italian). The search for prospective participants goes hand in hand with organizing the most pertinent distribution possible of the book on emigration. I’m targeting language schools (especially in the Grenoble area), and have made an inventory of the main family trees on Geneanet (largest French genealogical company) that include Corato as a birth-place.

3. Presentation of the genealogical side of the project. The main focus of the project, however, is on access to genealogical information. As well as a 16,000+ tree, I have collected and referenced about 14,000 photos of civil state records. I’ve also created a file of Corato emigrants who became French by naturalization from 1922-1979, working from a monumental work done by a French civil servant, Maurice Loisel. For genealogists who find parts of their family within the family tree, it will be great time-saver to access the original records easily.

4. Promoting access to the Corato Church archives. Part of these archives (baptisms and marriages) were digitized in 2008 by a French descendant of a 1925 immigrant from Corato, Pierre Marzocca. He left copies of his work in Corato, but they were subsequently lost ! So our objective is both to ensure that a copy of the work already done is returned to Corato ; and to promote completion of the digitization.

Among the registers which remain to be digitized is one that testifies to the Church’s concern that marriages in the endogamous society of Corato should not show too great an element of consanguinity. This register (which Pierre Marzocca has seen) therefore testifies to the fact that the Church conducted its own genealogical research.

This is not the only asset of the Church’s archives for research in an endogamous society. There are so many occasions when several homonyms are living at the same time. Consequently, the Church archives (which go back to the late 16th century) are essential for distinguishing between the families. One regularly has to go back to 1700 or earlier to do so.

This brings me to the reason why I feel maybe tracking the X chromosome may be an answer to research in such an endogamous society. The X chromosome is more specific, I think. Of course, I realize recombination may thwart the logic of X chromosome tracking. But I think it’s worth a try : otherwise, what would be the use of an X-tracking algorithm ?

For instance, on Wikitree, the 6.25% of X inherited by D’Oria-52 from Pasquale Mangione may be only theoretical, but the potential is there. It’s this potential that is interesting in the X-tracking exercise, but the tracking needs to be done in a large tree to have any chance of producing the desired result : finding other people who have the same 2 X-maches as Francine. In other words, one should be able to use the endogamy to advantage : if the people living in an endogamous village are nearly all related to each other (if only by marriage), then the X-tracking can follow multiple paths that would soon be lost or broken in a non-endogamous society.

The search for Francine’s birth parents is still foremost in my mind…and I’m hoping that Wikitree can help. In a nutshell, I would like to be able to use the X-tracking algorithm developed by Wikitree, but without having to enter all 16,000 people into the Wikitree. My proposal, if you agree, is to enter into the Wikitree only the people present in the X-match trajectories that seem most promising. This would enable me to share the results of the research with Wikitree members. This is why I have already started entering the direct ancestors of Francine’s X matches.

Kitty Cooper put me in touch with Peter Roberts, who contacted the inventor of the algorithm, whose name I don’t know. I think he was still on vacation when Peter contacted him. This is what he said : “I’m on vacation now so I can’t spend time on this. I looked briefly at it yesterday. I don’t see how our code would help him much, unless maybe he codes in PHP. Otherwise it’s just the logic of the X connections that he needs. Maybe you could explain that logic?”

I have a basic knowledge of the logic of the X connections, but would welcome any insights. As I said, I’m interested in tracking potential X connections, such as one finds via various charts…as well as via the Wikitree algorithm. Tackling the problem of endogamy is an essential issue, that’s for sure.

I would welcome any comments you may have, and look forward to exchanges with other Wikitreers on the issues I have raised.

Best regards, James


Marseille, 29th August 2019


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