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DNA quirk could reveal mysteries of Newfoundland’s first settlers

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A Newfoundland genealogist has stumbled onto a rare and mysterious DNA quirk that he says could tell the untold story of the island’s first European settlers.

David Pike, a mathematics professor and genealogist, said the rare mitochondrial DNA profile caught his attention over a decade ago when it began popping up frequently in test results for a Newfoundland and Labrador genealogy project.

The profile — called H5a5, plus another unnamed mutation — is likely European in origin.

It has appeared in about 10 per cent of the 264 people across the province who have supplied mitochondrial DNA for the online project.

Compared to thousands of results from other countries, however, it’s extremely rare.

Only a handful of people from Europe — fewer than 10 — have been found to test positive for the specific profile, and almost all those have roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Pike said the results point to a possible “founder effect,” where a biological trait becomes commonplace when passed down from a small group of colonizing ancestors.

Genealogy is often pursued as a way to trace one’s own family roots, but Pike said this particular mystery could speak to the heritage of much of the province.

Even if individuals don’t carry the profile themselves, they could still descend from it.

“You talk to individual people, they have their individual genealogical mysteries,” Pike said. “This is one that’s broader, it’s at the level of population genetics.”

Canada’s youngest province was home to some of North America’s earliest European exploration, but it took a long time for Europeans to settle permanently on what was then a very isolated island.

The Norse established a temporary settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows in the late 10th century, and John Cabot arrived in 1497, followed by Portuguese and French explorers.

The first British colonies were founded in the early 1600s, followed by the French, but Newfoundland had no sizable permanent settler population until after 1760, with an influx of English and Irish migrants whose descendants make up a large majority of the population today.

The island’s original inhabitants, the Beothuk, are widely believed to have become extinct in 1829, but the island has a continuing Mi’kmaq presence.

Pike says the mitochondrial DNA that has caught his attention is matrilineal, and he suspects it came from a woman who travelled to Newfoundland around the early 1600s and had daughters, who then passed the mitochondrial DNA down to their daughters, and so on.

The first woman’s identity and country of origin could reveal a previously unknown settler population, or at the very least shed light on the story of an unwittingly influential ancestor, Pike said.

“I think if we could pinpoint the arrival, the time in Newfoundland and Labrador and maybe the place and time of departure, I think it would give us brand new insight into the peopling of Newfoundland,” he said.

Tracing any one person through centuries is a difficult task, but it becomes even more challenging when that ancestor is a woman.

Genealogists often study church records and other such documents to get a sense of who lived where and when, but Pike said many of these in Newfoundland and Labrador don’t date back much earlier than the 1800s.

Records of early settlements are scant, and documents that do mention a woman often refer to her only by her husband’s name.

Surnames make the hunt for a source of a mitochondrial DNA profile even trickier, given historically, European and early immigrant women to Newfoundland took their husband’s names.

Pike said the mystery could be solved with time, luck and a wider pool of curious participants.

If someone matching the profile could trace their roots back to an older region outside of Newfoundland, that could lead to more research into their family history, possibly pointing to the missing puzzle piece.

“Maybe there will be a parish record entry from … 1610 or something saying Jane Doe, whoever she was, left this parish for Newfoundland,” Pike said.

“It’s going to take luck for that entry even to exist. Finding it, if it exists, is another piece of luck.”

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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National

Amber Alert issued for baby boy believed abducted by father in Alberta

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FAIRVIEW, Alta. — Police in northwestern Alberta have issued an Amber Albert for a seven-month-old boy believed to have been abducted by this father.

RCMP say Jameson Sundby was taken about 9:45 a.m. from his home in Fairview, about 550 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

Police say he has blond hair and blue eyes, and was wearing a blue T-shirt with a star on it and grey sweat pants with cars on them.

His father, John Sundby, is five-foot-11 and 230 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

They were last seen travelling in a 2012 black Dodge Ram 3500 with Alberta licence plate CBF 3313.

Police say the truck was last seen leaving Fairview in an unknown direction.

They are urging the public not to approach the suspect.

The Canadian Press

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Environment

Tax credits, penalizing big polluters, key to Conservative climate plan

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OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wants to give corporate tax breaks to companies that develop and patent green technology in Canada and introduce another federal tax credit for residential energy-efficiency projects.

Scheer is unveiling his long-awaited climate plan later today in a speech in Gatineau, Que.

It is the last of five big policy pronouncements he is making this spring in the lead-up to the fall election campaign.

A party official says the Conservatives intend to scrap the federal carbon tax but keep a price on pollution for heavy industrial emitters.

However their plan won’t tax emissions from major polluters, but will require them to invest in clean technology as a penalty for exceeding emissions limits.

Scheer intends to use his plan to reduce emissions in line with Canada’s targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change, but the Conservatives have been hinting that their plan will include taking credit when Canadian products reduce emissions overseas.

The Canadian Press

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