I read a lot of nonfiction related in one way or another to genealogy and my personal family research. And I watch just about anything on television that connects to genealogy or my ancestral roots. Over the years, though, one book and one TV documentary have impacted me more than all the rest combined: The Seven Daughters of Eve by geneticist Bryan Sykes (2001) and Journey of Man, featuring geneticist Spencer Wells (PBS/National Geographic, 2003). Sykes and Wells are leading world authorities on DNA research.
I am not going to go into detail here about the substance of either Seven Daughters or Journey. Much has been written about both of them. When I Googled the titles earlier today, I noticed, for instance, that Journey of Man is available for viewing (in 13 segments) on YouTube.
There is a plethora of material available now about DNA research and its significance for genealogy. I've read a number of the popular books, and I've attended numerous workshops on this topic. I am not by nature scientifically inclined, so much of the material seems dry and does little to increase my understanding. The Seven Daughters of Eve and Journey of Man, though, captivated me.
There is a mythic quality about The Seven Daughters of Eve that engages me. Sykes's research (later expanded upon) led him to conclude that people of native European descent trace their ancestry back to one or another of seven women whose mtDNA mutated from their mother's. These seven mutations occurred thousands of years apart, between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago. Each was a turning point that created a new haplogroup of mitochondrial DNA.
Sykes envisions these seven women as "clan mothers." He christens them each with names—Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine—and describes their probable lives and times in their respective regions of Europe and the Middle East. This is science as Susan Seddon Boulet might have painted it. I can imagine the Seven Daughters' stories being told during ceremonies deep in the caves of Lascaux with flute music echoing from yet-deeper caverns. But that's just me and, as I have to emphasize, I'm no scientist.