The Human Family Tree

January 24th, 2011

Lately I’ve been fascinated with the story of ancient human migration. I came upon the book Mapping Human History by Steve Olson at my local book store and was about half way through it when my best friend Netflix recommended the National Geographic documentary The Human Family Tree to me.  Sometimes I think that Netflix is not only my best friend, but also God.  There are some striking similarities…

God – Knows everything about me.

Netflix – Also knows everything about me.

God – Is my best friend.

Netflix – Also is my best friend.


And since I wholly trust in my bestfriend/God/Netflix and lean not on my own understanding, I watched The Human Family Tree and then I made my four sons watch it.  Yes, I made them watch it.  I also make them wear their seat belts, eat their veggies and brush their teeth.  I know – so controlling!

I cried at the end of this film.  I found it to be very emotional.  My sons did not cry.  They were only relieved and anxious to get back to their demanding regimen of video games, followed by facebook, followed by texting and then back to video games.  But hopefully they learned something anyway.

Basically the film explains how we can trace our ancestry back to one woman who lived in Africa.  She is known as Mitochondrial Eve.  She is not a hypothesis.  She is a mathematical certainty.  Mitochondrial Eve was not ‘the first woman’.  There were plenty of other women around when she existed and there would have been an entirely different Mitochondrial Eve when ‘our Mitochondrial Eve’ existed, but the female progeny of the other Mitochondrial Eves have all died out. It’s a bit hard to grasp if you have a mind punctured with four holes (where the babies came out). For a somewhat clearer explanation - click here.

The above map shows the migration routes that various groups of humans took on their way out of Africa. The film follows several individuals as they discover the route that their ancestors took.  A simple cheek swab collects the necessary DNA and places a person in a ‘haplo group’ based on the mutations that occur in their mitochondria.

I would love to get my own DNA tested and find out the migration to which I belong. Test kits are available. They are not cheap, but it would be interesting to know how my ancestors made their way out of Africa.

It’s a good film.  Gather some kids around and make them watch it.


  • Erp:

    Actually the progeny of the other women have not died out; however, they have left no matrilineal only descendants (some would be mothers of the mEve’s daughters’ spouses, some grandmothers of mEve’s matrilineal granddaughters’ spouses, and so on).

    • Rechelle:

      I stuck in an extra ‘female’ to a sentence to make it read a bit differently. Perhaps it is now right? I still don’t really get the whole mitochondria eve thing. My brain… it is mostly gelatinous.

  • JudyB:

    Last winter we were at an exhibit at National Geographic in DC, and while going through the gift shop saw a display about the DNA testing. Four of us were ready to buy it…but they were sold out! I had forgotten about it. May have to splurge and order a kit. My husband and I would both love to know what our ancestors journey has been.

  • annmarie:

    I bought that mapping human history book for my kids a few months ago. Really I bought it for myself as I am enthralled with this topic and always have been. Thank you for the recommendation on the video, although I admit I still don’t have netfilx so I don’t know how else to get the video.

  • theresa:

    Netflix= aims to please you
    God= not so much

  • Shelly:

    For annmarie: Go to the public library for the video. If your local library doesn’t own it, they can borrow it from another library. Back to topic: I’ve added this book to my list of books to read.

  • Lynn, here in Minnesota, does this kind of testing and then makes art based on the results….

  • susan:

    I saw that documentary about a year ago and it is fascinating. Those idiots who are bigoted should see it but I have lived long enough to know their tiny minds remain closed.