Y-DNA of Basque diaspora in Western USA

27 Nov
Hat tip to Jean for this finding.
As the authors wisely assess the most important inference we can get from this study is how a colonial population diverges from that of the homeland. The Basque colony in North America is not too large (58,000 in all the USA), albeit significant specially in Idaho, Nevada and to lesser extent California (larger numbers but smaller apportion), and the origin is biased towards a single region: the Northern Basque Country (under French rule).
However the results show that they represent very well the ancestral homeland’s haplotypes, only tested in the Southern Basque Country, diverging only somewhat:

Fig. 1 Median-joining haplotype tree: white European Basque (West), black American Basque

This is a good example of how a normal colonial population, even if reduced in founders and numbers, behaves in relation to the ancestral one: it retains most of the lineages. No marked founder effects are apparent anywhere.

Our results demonstrate a very high-level of conservation of the Y chromosome haplotypes characteristic of the European autochthonous Basque population among individuals of the Basque diaspora in the Western USA. No signs of founder haplotypes have been found…

Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Basque culture, USA, Y-DNA


23 responses to “Y-DNA of Basque diaspora in Western USA

  1. Andrew Oh-Willeke

    November 29, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I was familiar with the community (my inlaws summer in Idaho and winter in Nevada), but hadn't realized it was so old. There is also a certain irony that American Basque communities overlap so closely with the American Mormon communities that brought us the CEU benchmark population, the most Yankee (i.e. New England) population in the United States outside of New England itself – with many tracing their roots to the Mayflower, although the Mormon migrations to the West roughly coincided in time with the Basque ones.Do you know if there are many Mormon converts in the community? The Latter Day Saints are quite persistent when it comes to evangelization and would likely send missionaries back to the Old Country if they could get much of a hook into a diasporan one.

  2. Maju

    November 29, 2011 at 12:59 am

    "Do you know if there are many Mormon converts in the community?"Not as far as I know. Probably there is the occasional exception but in general not. Wikipedia reports dominance of Catholicism "with secular exceptions" (agnostics, atheists, I guess).There is no significant Basque community in Utah, if you notice. Nevada and Idaho have always been somewhat hostile to the influence of Mormonism from Utah. Nevada in fact demanded independence from Utah, prior to statehood, for that reason. As for Idaho I can't say: my idea of that country is built on "The Man who fell in Love with the Moon", a pan-sexual bordello western with strong anti-Mormon content (but also the last "great American novel" probably). In addition I've watched My Private Idaho (cant remember much but River Phoenix stranded on a straight road) and know that a former senator from that state was of Basque ancestry and an outspoken supporter of Basque freedoms in the diaspora. How is it in reality?

  3. Clay

    November 29, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Are you referring to former Senator Laxalt from Nevada?

  4. Maju

    November 29, 2011 at 2:04 am

    I was actually thinking of Pete Cenarrusa, who was not senator at all but just state-level politician. There's a foundation with his name and he did make political initiatives which had some resonance here (although probably much less in the USA). You will have to excuse my ignorance on Diaspora matters. A great reference site is Buber's Basque Page, a decades-old English-language reference on Basque matters, notably the diaspora.

  5. Clay

    November 29, 2011 at 3:20 am

    I live in Washington State and am a little familiar with the Basque diaspora as a result. I have to tell you, though, that makes me unique among my co-workers. I have a hobby of knowing the ethnic origin of family names and have run into educated people here who don't know what Basque even refers to. They see names like Yrizarry and Orzabal and think they are Russian! It is an unfortunate aspect of American culture to devalue our roots. By the way, Wikipedia says that Paul's brother Robert Laxalt wrote a book entitled "Sweet Promised Land" about their father's return to Basque country and this book was critically acclaimed.

  6. Maju

    November 29, 2011 at 4:04 am

    "They see names like Yrizarry and Orzabal and think they are Russian!"Hahaha! One one side it's funny (I can understand why they may think that way: they have a Tatar or maybe Turkic vibe in sound for the ignorant ear, rather than truly Russian, yet no relation), on the other it's indeed a pity. But well, there are so many communities over there and so many people knows so little about geography and ethnography (not just in the USA) that I guess it's understandable. Years ago I met online someone from California who claimed that she had a "mystic experience" the first (and only?) time she ate at a Basque restaurant. Some say that Basque cuisine has displaced the French one (although it may be a bit of an exaggeration) as number one. It may be a great way to enter in contact with Basque culture and identity: savoring it for diner. 😉

  7. Va_Highlander

    November 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I think you will find that there are a substantial number of Mormons in Nevada, Maju, including a sitting US Senator: Majority Leader Harry Reid.Idaho is, as I recall, rather famous for its Mormon communities, especially those of the breakaway, polygamous kind.And I'm quite certain that the US literary community will continue to produce major works of equal or greater merit in spite of Spanhauer's success.

  8. Maju

    November 29, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I did not mean that Mormons are restricted to the polygonal geography of Utah, just that Nevada and Idaho don't seem so strongly influenced by that extremely peculiar cult. I remember from the US History classes I had to take when I was 17 that Nevada separated from Utah (territory) because of fear of a Mormon hegemony, being Nevada a much more liberal (European sense, 'progressive' maybe in the USA terminology?) country than Utah. Wikipedia describes the 'divorce' between Utah and Nevada in terms of increased hostility between Mormons and "Gentiles" (Christians mostly I guess), leading to the formation of Nevada as a distinct territory in 1861 (followed by statehood in 1864).

  9. Andrew Oh-Willeke

    November 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Idaho may have once been hostile to Mormons, but not anymore. Mormon is the most common religious affiliation in Idaho and it is almost as Mormon as Utah and the second most Mormon state in the United States. This has a profound influence on local culture in Idaho. A large share of graduating high school students are Mormons who go to their high school prom married or engaged.Outside of Reno and Las Vegas, rural Nevada is pretty similar in religious make up to Idaho – heaviliy Mormon. The second most common religion in almost all of the American West (outside of Utah and Idaho were it is the most common) is Mormon, second to Roman Catholicism in some states and Lutherans in others. I'm not familiar with Reno, but visit Las Vegas at least every other year and Mormons are probably the second most common religious affiliation there (not county non-religious as an affiliation).Percentage wise there are probably more Mormons in Nevada than California (where there are more Mormons that you would expect). Eastern Washington State and Eastern Oregon also have large Mormon populations.

  10. Maju

    November 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Interesting and somewhat disturbing considering the peculiar irrationality of Mormon beliefs. Do you think that there is any chance that Mormons take over the USA the same that Christians did with the Roman Empire, eventually imposing their faith as the only one? It'd be quite sad but I can really imagine a Mormon USA easily, for all the many people who are quite blind believers in Christian (or similar) ideology, it'd be a small change in fact.

  11. Andrew Oh-Willeke

    November 30, 2011 at 12:15 am

    "Do you think that there is any chance that Mormons take over the USA the same that Christians did with the Roman Empire?"Not really. Mormons are common in the Great Basin because they were basically a founding population there in places that remain sparsely populated for the most part (except Las Vegas and Reno) and the number of Mormon adherents is not growing nearly as rapidly as the number of people who identify as non-religious.Also, while the LDS metaphysics and religious doctrine are a bit non-standard (but honestly, which religion doesn't have some unusual beliefs on that score) and have more than their share of funny names and odd cultural habits, its social model is probably the most functional alternative to the mainstream social model in the U.S. The weirdness and bad fashion sense that comes with the package is as much geeky and nerdy as it is ominous.Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffine, encouraging thrift and modesty in consumption, strong commitments to charitable giving, a commitment to building social capital and devoting time to family, a commitment to formal etiquette in public, an active awareness of the well being of one's neighbors, a strong commitment to trying to keep marriages in tact, an expectation of substantial community service for young adult men, a strong commitment to foreign language learning, and a willingness to impose taxes to strengthen elementary education, for example, can really be quite functional way for members of a community to live, whatever justification they may have.Less functional aspects of its heritage like expressly racist ideologies and polygamy have been jettisoned from Mormon doctrine, indicating that the faith has the capacity to adapt to social realities.It isn't the way that I have personally chosen to live, but their social model is really considerably more functional as applied in daily life than, for example, that of Evangelical Christians in the American South, such as Southern Baptists. The commitment to natalism, to relatively early but adult marriage, and to not divorcing are certainly counter to popular American culture, but Roman Catholic culture in most of the world for most of history, for example, really isn't that different.

  12. Va_Highlander

    November 30, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Thankfully, no, I don't see a snowball's chance in Hell of Mormons seizing control of the US government. I see them continuing to try to force their superstitious nonsense on us but I don't see them succeeding. Despite the fact that they share much in common with other irrational Christian or pseudo-Christian cults, they are generally looked upon with suspicion by other fundamentalists.Culturally, the US is moving away from fundamentalist religion in general. This is a major part of why the fundamentalists, despite being a minority nationally, are doing everything in their power to force their regressive and oppressive cultural norms on secular society while they still have a chance.And if you really believe that a Mormon US would be only a "small change", this may explain many of your strange beliefs about us.

  13. Maju

    November 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    "And if you really believe that a Mormon US would be only a "small change", this may explain many of your strange beliefs about us".Small change is a way of saying… but I know first hand that the USA is a strangely religious place. My uncle, who lived three periods of his life in the USA (California, Florida and Connecticut) used to say that the USA is built on three pillars: the constitution, the dollar and the bible. And God is in two of them. That you'd find a bible in every hotel room was kind of spooky for his secular mind. When I lived in Virginia as exchange student I also noticed that religion was strangely prominent and that I seemed to be the first atheist they had ever seen. That was not at all within my Basque all-life-long experience, where religion was collapsing as I grew up and most kids my age were openly agnostic and anti-religious. You see it also in a lot of other things: in Europe if a politician talks about "God", he's losing votes as he speaks, in the USA it is the other way around: if he doesn't say the word "God" or "prayer" in every other sentence he's doomed. Am I too wrong? Are my notions about religion in the USA so out of touch with reality? I do not doubt that in 23 years things must have changed… but how much?

  14. Andrew Oh-Willeke

    November 30, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    The role of religion in U.S. culture is quite geography specific, and indeed, the political divide among white Americans is quite closely aligned with the intensity and nature of one's religious beliefs. Virginia and Florida, as well as parts of California (e.g. San Diego and Oakland County) are very religious and have an evangelical Christian leaning. Vermont, by comparison is quite secular.In Colorado, where I live, there are stark differences in the role of religion in public life and daily life even at the level of its five dozen individual counties. In an hour an a half drive along I-25 one can go from Pueblo (deeply Roman Catholic from the 1600s on), to Colorado Springs (a key center of Evangelical Christianity in the U.S.), to Denver which isn't that much different in attitude towards religion than New York City or Boston (and like those cities has many immigrant religionists who are Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc.). Take a right on I-70 at Denver to the rural front range and you'll see a very religious population but with a very different flavor than Colorado Springs or Pueblo, while if you take a left on I-70 into Boulder and you'll find one of the only Buddhist affilated colleges in the nation (Naropa), and then you will reach the resort towns of Vail or Aspen where apathy and very private takes on religion are the order of the day. Further past Vail and Aspen, you'll find many strongly religious people who aren't nearly so interested in what their neighbors are up to on the Western Slope in live and let live piety, and as one nears the Utah border, more Mormons.

  15. Maju

    November 30, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I reckon that there is more than just religious freaks but they seem to be all important in most country-wide expressions. For example. It's like the secular USA could not really escape from the more real religious fanatic Bible-belt-plus.

  16. Clay

    December 4, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    The discussion of religion in American life is very interesting. It is also something worth discussing in more depth since this is an election cycle in the US (which of course we make last over a year). I think in the coming year there will be a lot of opportunities to say more. What do you say, Maju, to posting some comments on the other blog on this topic?However, there was a question I wanted to ask about the genetic make-up of the Basque Diaspora. The closing comments to the post point out that the close match to the parent population is typical of migrations which happen quickly. There is a founder effect, and the effect is that the new population looks like the whole parent population. Nothing we would call genetic drift.Is this something that could be considered a standard principle, something we would see repeated? And if so, does it shed any light on the question of how quickly and how recently R1(b) came to Iberia and France? It seems to me that a recent, relatively quick migration from the near east should result in an R1(b) graph that also overlaps a similar graph from the Caucasus or Anatolia. Am I oversimplifying here?

  17. Maju

    December 5, 2011 at 2:58 am

    "What do you say, Maju, to posting some comments on the other blog on this topic?"In truth I do not know where to begin or end with but if it is so interesting for you guys I sure not mind opening a discussion thread on the matter in "For what we are…""There is a founder effect, and the effect is that the new population looks like the whole parent population. Nothing we would call genetic drift".Actually there is not a "founder effect" because the founders were many and all contributed in similar amounts. A founder effect is something described (somewhat wrongly) as a "bottleneck" and their effects are similar: the number of founders is markedly restricted in relation to the ancestral population (pre-migration in a founder effect and pre-near-extinction in a true bottleneck). I observe no meaningful founder effect nor drift. Meaningful drift would only happen if the population: (1) is small (the smaller the more accentuated), (2) is stagnant or declining and (3) a long time passes (depending accumulatively on the other factors). The Basque colony in North America is somewhat small for modern standards but a lot larger than typical extreme drift scenarios in any case (a few thousands or tens of thousands maybe), has been little time there (usually millennia are needed for drift to make a notable impact) and has been successful and growing (unlike the usual prehistoric episodes of population contraction like the LGM, which enhanced the sharpness of drift). So forget about drift but also forget about founder effect (not apparent). What we see (and is probably also the case in all or most other colonial populations like, say, Italo-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc.) is a broad spectrum of founders (no founder effect) and as result a colonial population that is almost identical in the genetics that matter to the ancestral one. Of course, after "melting in the pot" these characteristics are and will be diluted but that would not be the case in a colony with only one founder population (and there are probably modern examples of that too: New Zealand whites, for example?)Sorry for the digression.(Continues)

  18. Maju

    December 5, 2011 at 2:58 am

    …"Is this something that could be considered a standard principle, something we would see repeated?"In similar conditions, yes. I think it is repeated in all or most modern colonial populations, as mentioned above and I think it must have happened also in Prehistory, specially where a population replacement is proposed. Why specially when a population replacement is proposed? Because a small founder population (with a marked founder effect, i.e. not representative of their ancestral group) would hardly be able to displace and replace the natives, much less quickly, even if with a technological advantage. Even if, because of this initial advantage, their impact is larger than expected under neutrality conditions (they have more children who have more children… than the natives) this advantage will naturally tend to be neutralized soon (natives can't be that dumb and will learn in some centuries for sure) and hence population replacement can't progress beyond a small initial takeover. Surely it can happen in a small island but not anywhere large enough, provided that there were natives when colonization began. The only option for the replacement is that the newcomers keep arriving in ever increasing, or at least sustained, numbers for a long time. And that means no significant founder effect, because the founders were necessarily many and representing more or less the homeland diversity."And if so, does it shed any light on the question of how quickly and how recently R1(b) came to Iberia and France? It seems to me that a recent, relatively quick migration from the near east should result in an R1(b) graph that also overlaps a similar graph from the Caucasus or Anatolia. Am I oversimplifying here?"Not at all: it is exactly what I suggest, with differences of detail. Instead what we see in Western (and largely also Central and North) Europe is one (L51) and then another (L11) and finally two very marked founder effects north (M405/S21/U106) and south (P312/S116), what does not fit with any likely replacement. Drift should also be discarded for Neolithic times because populations were generally much larger than in the Paleolithic and with a marked trend to growth. So we would need a mechanism for such founder effects to have taken place and that would be an expansion, starting with small numbers, in an empty land or equivalent. And that is not a model we can easily project on Neolithic Europe.

  19. Clay

    December 5, 2011 at 4:55 am

    That was my thought: that the various distinct subgroups of R1(b) in Western Europe did not match any obvious parent population in the Near East. And this is not consistent with a relatively recent migration to the west.

  20. boinky

    December 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Idaho is many cultural regions. The movies about it are not exactly accurate, to say the least.There is the north, with irrigation near Spokane. There are the northern survival types.The central area is empty, but has a long history of mining and grazing. Unless you are a rich yuppie with a ski lodge in Sun Valley, it isn't especially a rich area.The Snake river valley was irrigated after WWI and settled by midwesterners.Lots of ex Californians in the Boise area now too.The LDS have long lived in Southern Idaho, especially in the mountains where dry farming of winter wheat etc. is done. They also now run many of the Snake River area farms.And don't forget the large but often overlooked Hispanics, who came to work the farms and now are integrating into the culture.The Basques immigration was one of the earlier immigrations: in the 1880's… they were imported to take care of the sheep. They would take the sheep into the high valleys of central Idaho in the summer, and bring them back to the Snake River Valley in the winter. Many of them are Catholic but not especially pious, and most are now mixed with later immigrants. Some have probably converted to be LDS but most of my patients in the Snake River Valley came to herd sheep, not to find Zion.

  21. Maju

    December 9, 2011 at 12:21 am

    "They would take the sheep into the high valleys of central Idaho in the summer, and bring them back to the Snake River Valley in the winter".Sure: exactly as they did, with all likelihood in the Pyrenees, Aralar or Gorbea, before emigrating. "… most of my patients in the Snake River Valley came to herd sheep, not to find Zion".They went to work and maybe make some money: they are the "Amerikanuak" (Americans) or "Indianoak" (people of the Indies, Creoles). A few returned filthy rich (more likely from Latin America or the Philippines) and built huge mansions to show off their wealth, characterized by having two palm trees before their doors instead of the classical yews.There are even operas (zarzuelas) on their ambition and pain.

  22. martin

    December 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    because all Western European people, basques of mountains are better adapted to those it for the wolves, the bears and they are often already in this function to lead herds in the Basque country.

  23. Maju

    December 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm



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