Tracing Your Roots and Discovering Your Hair DNA

Have you ever wondered where your curly hair or other unique traits came from? Do you have curly hair just like one or both of your parents, or one of your grandparents, like Curlee Girlee? Some traits may be easier to trace than others while some may have seemingly come from no one in your family, but all of our characteristics and traits can be found through our ancestry. The way we look compared to our relatives may seem random, but there is actually a complex and fascinating science at work behind every single one of each of our features. Of course, this goes for hair too. If you have ever wanted to trace the roots of your hair and see why you have the color and texture that you do, researching your ancestry is the way to do it.

In current times, tracing your roots is easier than ever before, and now more than ever in the history of mankind, we can understand how we each ended up where we are and why we look the way we do. Presently, we also see a heightened interest in people who want to know more about their family’s history. This has led to the creation of some truly brilliant companies such as ancestry.com or 23andme.com. These companies will test your DNA and allow you to see actual percentages of what regions your family comes from. From there you can also connect with others to begin to build your family tree. There is a show currently broadcasting on PBS called Finding Your Roots that has been gaining popularity due to everyone’s fascination with learning more about our families and histories. For the past ten seasons, Harvard professor and host Henry Louis Gates walks viewers through the fascinating ancestries of influential and diverse game-changers from around the world, hoping to teach people more about the science of genetics and how we are all connected. This enlightening show has brought intrigue into ancestry to the forefront and has caused millions of people to begin researching into their own families to find out more about themselves and the world we all live in.

Learning about one’s ancestors is so important. Not only is it incredibly interesting to see how you ended up where you are and who you are, but it helps you connect to family you have never even met and gives you a new appreciation and feeling of connection to your ancestors. You can also learn a lot about yourself by researching your family’s history and genetics. Everything we are is impacted by those who came before us. While genetics certainly determine how we look, they can also be what determines our health. For instance, genetics is the reason behind why a person has straight or curly hair, but it is also the reason someone may develop baldness or a condition such as alopecia later in life. Genetics don’t just affect physical characteristics like hair, however, and so, it can be important to understand your genetics and trace back your family tree to see what health conditions may run in your family. Learning about your family’s ancestry is not only fun but can actually help you understand how to better take care of your own health and wellbeing and know what conditions to look out for and try to prevent.

genetics

While genetics can be very complex and need plenty of research to fully understand, there is a way to break down genetics into simple terms to help you figure out how you ended up with the traits that you did. In simplest terms, it begins with our chromosomes. Humans are meant to have 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent, that determine our body’s make-up. Each chromosome holds a different blueprint to some of our genes. Within chromosomes is something called an allele, which determines the variation of each gene.

Back in the early 1900s, geneticist Reginald Punnett created the Punnett square, an essential for helping to track genetic features through determining your parents’ alleles. The Punnett square is a square that has been divided into four smaller sections; one axis belonging to your mother and one to your father. You write down each allele for your parents, and from there you can determine the likeliness of where your trait came from. It is not an exact science, however, through studying dominant and recessive features, patterns will emerge and begin to make sense. All genes are either dominant, meaning they are more likely to show up in offspring, or recessive, meaning they are less likely. By studying your parents and grandparents and so on, you can begin to see a pattern. For example, curly hair is dominant while straight hair is recessive. So if a child’s maternal grandmother has curly hair and the maternal grandfather has straight hair, the child’s mother will most likely have wavy hair—a mix between the two. If the child’s paternal grandparents then both have straight hair, then the child’s father will more than likely have straight hair. Because both parents carry the straight hair gene, there is a higher percentage that their child could have straight hair, however, the mother still carries a curly hair gene even though she herself doesn’t have curly hair, so she is still able to pass it on to one of her children. This pattern becomes easier to predict the more you research your family, and the more you are able to see the patterns emerge.

punnett square for curly hair genetics

Punnett Square for the above example showing the probabilities of the curliness of the child’s hair

Genetics don’t just determine your hair type; they will also determine the texture, thickness of strands, the pigment, and how it will change during old age. Additionally, genetics change from region to region; the gene for straight hair found in Asian countries is different than the straight hair gene found in European countries, and the curly hair gene is different between African and European regions, and so on.

Because there are so many variations between genes and so many possibilities within each as well, characteristics may still take people by surprise. We are able to carry the traits of our ancestors with us, even if we do not show them, and we can still pass them down to the next generation. It truly shows just how unique every individual is. It also shows how important understanding our ancestors is, and that even though they are no longer here, we are still very much connected to their lives and they still have an impact on us all today. Between studying techniques such as Punnett squares and by learning more about your family’s history, you will begin to understand how you have come to be the person you are!

Begin tracing your roots with Curlee Girlee’s Downloadable Famliy Tree. 

Atara Twersky, Author of Curlee Girlee is a TODAY Show Style Icon. Her mission is to teach girls to embrace the beautiful curls they have with power and confidence. Join us as together we change the “coarse” of curly hair. Don’t forget to check out our recent article on What to Do or Say if Your Daughter is Showing Signs of Hating Her Curly Hair.

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