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DNA Champion November 24, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

The full monty: The Ziona family in its entirety with all 181 members

Our DNA is the damnedest stuff, it gets everywhere: not only forensically but also historically. Just the other day, Beach reviewed the evidence (2010) that one medieval Amerindian woman in Iceland passed on her DNA to eighty modern Icelanders. Then there are plenty of other dramatic examples of DNA spreading through history, especially now that we have labs to help out. A 2006 study claimed that about half of Ashkenazi Jews can be traced to one of four women, a thousand plus years ago. Staying among European Jewry, Schindler saved 1100 Jews whose blood is to be found in 7000 individuals today: an extraordinary expansion over little more than two generations. And then, of course, there is the great mother: Mitochondrial Eve. Every human being on the planet today ultimately came out of her womb about 200,000 years ago, probably in Africa.

Funny to think that Beachcombing writing this blog, and his friends, the Chinese, trying to hack into the same are united by a common experience on the prehistoric Savannah.

However, if you want the truly strange what about those who have managed to spread the most DNA in their own life time? Just to set the scene Beachcombing quotes from one of his favourite books on Wales. We are in the mid eighteenth century:

Not long ago, there died there an honest Welch [sic] farmer, who was an hundred and five years of age: by his first wife he had thirty children, ten by his second, and four by his third: his youngest son was eighty-one years younger than his eldest; and eight hundred persons descended from his body, attended his funeral.

Over the years Beachcombing has stumbled across a couple of examples of this mushrooming of genes. A modern champion is Hans Schaffer, who is only now in his early eighties. He and his wife, Josie, residents in the UK, had, in 2008, 11 children,  56 great grandchildren and 43 great grandchildren!

Beach unfairly calls Hans the champion rather than his spouse because usually it is only men who can pull off feats like this: typically by marrying several times or having many different wives and lovers simultaneously. Take, for example, the Indian Ziona Chang (pictured above in company) with, in 2011, 39 wives, 94 children and, to date, a mere 33 grandchildren. ZionA will rapidly overtake Hans in the next ten years. Beachcombing’s source doesn’t give Ziona’s age, but he looks in his late sixties with plenty of pep in him yet.

Historical champions are proving more difficult to track down: can anyone help? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Surely there was an Eastern Emperor with a large harem who peopled a small town or two? In recent times Beach finds himself wondering about Mussolini who used to organise daily bouts of sex with complete strangers. 365 multiplied by 15 or 20 years = genetic spread? Then Beachcombing also has a vague memory of an enormous Roman family. Is it Pliny that talks of this 100 plus clan? Was it based in Roman Fiesole?  The internet has turned nothing up and Beach doesn’t feel like going to his Latin shelves.

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25 Nov 2011: Rhys, Heather and Adrian all write in to suggest Genghis Khan signalling two different write ups: one from discovermagazine and the other from national geographic. Heather noted ‘though he wasn’t hot on mutual consent’!! Then Tim gives a more recent case: Was surprised in your blog about DNA Champion that you missed Yitta Schwartz, who had a New York Times article dedicated to her last year after she passed away. ‘WHEN Yitta Schwartz died last month at 93, she left behind 15 children, more than 200 grandchildren and so many great- and great-great-grandchildren that, by her family’s count, she could claim perhaps 2,000 living descendants.’ Thanks Rhy, Heather, Adrian and Tim!