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Family tree project helps trace deep history

Ambitious five year program by National Geographic and IBM charts genetic lineage by linking DNA. NBC News correspondent Michael Okwu reports.
/ Source: NBC News correspondent

The search for our ancestors is a national pastime — the second most popular hobby after gardening.

"Now you have an opportunity to confirm whether those old grandmother tales were accurate," says Bennett Greenspan, CEO of Family Tree DNA, one of the leading DNA firms in the United States.

In, perhaps, the largest experiment of its kind, National Geographic and IBM have teamed up to collect DNA samples from around the world to learn more about your ancestors, where they came from and when. 

"By unlocking DNA, you can find out very interesting information about your personal migration pattern over the last tens-of-thousands of years," says Greenspan.

It’s called "The Genographic Project," and the theory behind the DNA testing is that we all share a common ancestor who lived in Africa 120,000 years ago.

Sixty thousand years ago, our ancestors began migrating to the Middle East, India, Asia and Northern Europe. With each move, mutations occurred in the DNA and each mutation is associated with a place and time in history.  

That's the crucial link scientists need to be able to tell where you came from.

So far, 60,000 people have submitted DNA samples.

This is how it works. You send away for a kit in the mail that contains a couple of swabs inside.  Take one of the swabs out and rub the inside of your cheek for 90 seconds.  Put the swab inside a tube.  Wait about 8 hours and repeat the process.  It's that simple.

Once the rubbing is done, put the samples in the mail.

The genographic group is trying to collect at least 100,000 DNA samples from indigenous and traditional peoples as well as DNA samples from the public, to hopefully help unlock the secrets of our past.