I am hoping to teach Big History as a NSW Board of Studies Endorsed Course to Year 10 and Year 11 in 2015 at our school. My plans, at this stage, are to find ways of funding the use of Geno 2.0 kits for students and ensuring parents are on board for a genuinely personalised learning adventure.

Since National Geographic returned my DNA analysis, as a participant in the Genographic Project,  I have discovered information about my ancestry that has remained hidden from my view for the last 45 years. The Big Picture of our human diaspora and a somewhat smaller personal one, have blended, firing my imagination. I now understand how data from our DNA is useful to those researching family history and as a tool to understand the deeper migratory patterns of humanity. It is also evident that our collective past is increasingly accessible online as an incredible number of databases and archives have been digitised. It has been very intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding journey over the last few weeks, burning the midnight oil, in an attempt to complete this jigsaw.

The journey

When I become interested in a topic, reading books almost always complements online research. On the subject of genealogy (and deep ancestry as revealed by DNA analysis) there are a wealth of possibilities online but these books have greatly assisted. Numerous are the websites for the family historian but ancestry.com.aufindmypast.com.au and myheritage.com.au have been most useful. These sites are social in that they allow one to see the research of others, including the evidence used to document each family tree. They have impressive access to archives and databases in many countries as an important part of their inclusive subscription service. My research led me many other places online too and as always, my Diigo account tags these explorations.

The kindness and generous assistance of others online is still a source of deep pleasure. I have communicated with genealogists, people working professionally as archivists, librarians, DNA haplogroup project admins and enthusiasts with all kinds of skills. I joined the oldest genealogical society in the world (Danish est. 1879) and found publications pertaining to ancestors in Denmark that covered 20 generations of family history.  I discovered that one ancestor was knighted in 1455 and there are the coolest, hobbit-like, heraldic representation pertaining to this, “Barfod” or “Barefoot” name (it still makes me smile thinking about it) sourced from Danmarks Adels Aarbog.

Barfod Coat of Arms


I uncovered an ancestor named ‘Malachi’ born in Gibraltar. His Irish father, a captain in the 23rd Foot Regiment , named this son after himself. They both died in Australia. A number of other trails lead to the area around Westminster in London and I have spent pleasant hours putting stories into timelines from disparate documents. Hopefully, some authors who detailed their excavations will share even more information in coming weeks about one ancestor interred in the vaults below St George’s, in Bloomsbury.

I hesitate to type this but maybe, just maybe, I will be able to document connections back prior to 1000 AD, including some very interesting historical figures along the way. I will hold this close for now as it seems too unbelievable and I wish to further verify the information I have recorded privately using Family Tree Maker software and have currently in private mode online at ancestry.com.au.  They synch beautifully.

Genealogy and DNA

There are three kinds of DNA testing used by genealogists. Firstly, you need to know that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down from mother to mother all the way back from an individual known as ‘Mitochondrial Eve’. She was not the first human female nor the only one who was alive at the time but simply put all people living today have her as an ancestor. On the paternal side, Y-chromosome DNA has been passed down from a male known as ‘Y-chromosomal Adam’. It is estimated that ‘Eve’ lived 180 000 years and ‘Adam’, perhaps 140 000. Autosomal DNA is used by the Geno 2.0 to ascertain ethnic percentages (read this post to see mine) and by Family Tree DNA to assist with locating relatives going back approximately 210 years. The following 13 minute video explains autosomal DNA and this chart compares what is on offer from the different companies.

One of the most interesting aspects of modern genealogical research is the opportunities afforded to work with other people who share the same haplogroup. The projects are numerous online but I have been using familytreedna.com who do all of National Geographic’s testing of DNA samples for the Genographic Project.  I am in projects for my paternal (I2a1b) and maternal (U4a1b) haplogroups (with subclades), as well as for people who have ancestry in England and Denmark. I am also in a group for adoptees. I am currently awaiting more precise DNA analysis and will post about what is uncovered when these results are analysed. I have documented my maternal line back over 200 years to Ann Chambers (unknown dates but married in Westminster at St Martin in the Fields in 1802) the mother of Jane Guillod (1804-1879).

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 3.07.55 pm

Personalising Big History

This experience of researching, learning about DNA and genealogy in recent weeks has led me to think about how schools could incorporate Big History with personal genealogical research to really engage students in deep and significant learning. I believe this would be an exciting area of study that most students would find incredibly rewarding. There would be opportunities to do traditional research into a family tree using online sources as well as incorporating an understanding of deep ancestry, especially the genetic markers which help chart our journey out of Africa, as identified by the Geno 2.0 DNA  cheek swab analysis. Yes, I do understand there will be challenges (I remember doing family tree work as a child and finding it very painful). The ideal, that students would become genuine ‘citizen scientists’ and historians of their own genealogy, as well as cognisant how they fit into the jigsaw that is the human story, is just marvellous to consider and most will love it!

Firstly, you need to know that schools are already using the Geno 2.0 kit. A discount is available to educators purchasing these for class use and there’s an application form for the principal to signwhen appropriate parental permissions has been provided. There are lesson plans and useful resources. It is expensive but even if only a few members of the class were able to personalise their learning in this way the benefits to the group would be massive. The excitement of such detective work and the research skills needed would engage most and opportunities for collaborative problem solving would be extensive.

I opened this post by mentioning that I am hoping to teach Big History in 2015 at our school. My plans, at this stage, are to find ways of funding the use of Geno 2.0 kits for students and ensuring parents are on board for the adventure. I’d love your feedback.

What are your thoughts about this idea of personalising learning in this way? Have you tried it out already?

Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Fran Simó ( I dreamed about…: http://flickr.com/photos/93211492@N06/11448696526/



    • Andrew FitzSimons

    • 10 years ago

    I can imagine a class at Dapto High School becoming deeply engaged in this approach. Lots of questions asked/lots of questions answered.

    • Debbie Hunter

    • 10 years ago

    Darcy I love this project! Selling it to my Qld buddies here.. with huge interest for the Migration unit we do here in Year 10.
    I hope you’ll be speaking about it at the History conference up here at end of the year??

  1. […] past as my web of researchers, biological relatives, academics and online connections grows. You may have read this post and will understand why the following excerpt excites me, whetting my appetite for an even earlier […]

  2. […] which was often about establishing authority via lineage but ever since discovering that a biological ancestor had the ‘bare foot’ sigil I have been fascinated to learn more about the connections the ‘Three Feet of Mann’. […]

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