Friday, December 01, 2006

The Blood Whisper -- heard

DNA is history we all carry within us through the millennia, an ancient blood-whisper story of life from the dawn of time to the next generation after today. It is also the topic of the past two weeks.

Last week you were left with a challenge: Explain a German name which can be translated as a conjunction of “to frighten” (Shekn) and “cold sweat” (angst ) or “guest” (geste).

In the late 16th century, Will Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name”. He was writing at a time when surnames were rare, and chose to tell a story set in 1303, a time when surnames pertained only to nobility.

What is in a name? In 1639, when the Shekn name first appeared, surnames conveyed information unique to the person. A surname might reflect a parental given name; it might be the town you were from or place you lived; it could be your occupation “Joseph the carpenter” became Joseph Carpenter. The surname could also be a personal trait or characteristic – Little John might become John Little.

Our Shekn was registered as an infant, with no notation to identify his parents – and was surnamed “Frightened guest”; or, to be dramatic, “Scared to a cold sweat.” The latter sounding like a description of PTSD – what was called Battle Fatigue, or Shell-shock.

“Scared to a cold sweat” – sounds like a description of PTSD – what was called Battle Fatigue or Shell-shock, like a child, or child of, people who suffered severe trauma.

The location of the naming was the Wingeshausen Lutheran Church in Germany. The time, 1639, was the middle of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) between the Catholics and newly established Protestants.

It was a time of struggles for religious freedoms which contributed to colonization of America. It was also a time of plague, when German populations were literally decimated. As mentioned, it was a time of war – the first war involving wide scale usage of artillery and wholesale bombardment of civilian populations.

Now think of a frightened guest, someone scared into a cold sweat, an infant without parents. Put those elements together and let’s see what story the Y-DNA has to tell – what does the blood whisper?

There are several points (loci) in the analysis results which , together, are called a modal. The modal indicates your probable area of origin – the geographic region where a tribe or clan was formed. For our infant, and his male line, that modal is designated as R1a1 – Eastern European, and more specifically to this blood, Sorb.

The Sorb are a Slavic people of the Bohemian/German border region of East Germany – Wingeshausen is in the West. The Sorb territory was also the primary battleground of the war. Our blood now can be heard to scream “refugee”.

Our infant was of Sorb origin and thus we have a possible explanation for his name; maybe an indication of a history for his immediate family, and the reason there were no parent’s names recorded.

It is a reasonable to assume he was an orphan whose mother may have died in childbirth, or of hunger, or even plague. Regardless, the Y-DNA whispered something else, baby Shekn’s father was Ashkenazi, a Sorb-Levite, of the same people credited with melding Germany and Hebrew letters to create the Yiddish language. A whispered tale told.

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