DNA family history is a relatively new part of family history. The science of DNA I don’t really understand but the idea that you can track down to a common ancestor with another person I do understand. I like the concept; that your family history lies within you. It’s like looking at photos of relatives and seeing their resemblance in yourself or your children. There are definite restrictions on what you can get out of it, for example if you get tested by a lab that doesn’t have a lot of people tested you may not find links or good quality links to others. But it’s an exciting bit of a family history puzzle that can lead to some good breakthroughs if you hit a frustrating brick wall.
There are three types of tests. You can test through your Y chromosome which passes from father to son (but not to daughters) this chromosome is like a digital signature that remains unchanged and follows the paternal surname. This means if you are female you need a male member of the line you want to trace to track your paternal line. The result matches your markers with others that have been tested and when you compare your family trees you should reach a point where you have a common ancestor.
The MTDNA test does the maternal line, this traces your mother to mother line and is open to both sons and daughters. The limitation in this is that a lot of family history doesn’t really track maternal lines. This is generally because maternal information was not really made a priority is some records, so it can be a lot harder to do. Therefore there is more generations available to match to; there may be around 2 to 3 generations for MTDNA but around 9 generations for the paternal.
While an Autosomal test will give you ethnic and area origins and is quite general and covering time before surnames in history (before around 1066). This test results generally gives a general course for the direction of ancestors movement around and to other countries and it is referred to as your haplogroup. For example British deep ancestry relates to a Celtic population that come in waves from Scandinavian countries.
DNA testing is a tool in helping to verify or look for clues in your family history. It can’t replace the records that you still need to search for your family. But it can help give clues through where other people that have the same digital signature are and hints if their family trees match up. Obviously where it can break down is due to adoptions, fostering or illegitimacy in the family tree. It can also get to a point where you find variants in your surname. If you have strong matches to the Robyson family and your surname is Robinson, there may be a common ancestor and your name changed at some point in time. It’s also being used as a tool by many people that have been adopted and have no records available to them.
The price of testing can range from $90 to $500, which makes it an expensive undertaking. Many people have complained that the results given are not really explained well by some of the companies. This can leave people feeling out of pocket. Also the closest of relatives found are generally second to third cousins, making it an exhaustive search to find that common ancestor. One of the top US companies has reported that they have around 350 000 samples, this is increasing, making it more likely in the future to find closer relative matches. Another problem is that DNA companies don’t pool their samples, so this can mean that you may want to get tested by a number of companies if you want to get further matches. Testing companies offer discounts at certain times and there can be discounts if you enter a surname project, this can make things cheaper. Family Tree DNA are American based but hold Australian and UK samples. They reportedly have the largest database and they are used by genealogists the most.
Tests are generally done through a cheek swab that is sent out and then returned to the company. Most companies have a policy to destroy the sample after testing but you need to look further into the company to check. Another area to look at is whether the testing will tell you if you are pre disposed to any health issues. This could become a problem if you are trying to get insurance later, as if you don’t disclose information that you are given it could void your policy. Insurance companies don’t ask for you to do genetic tests, but if you do one you have to let them know the results.
This blog has gotten a bit long this week. But DNA testing is a large subject, as it can have such amazing pros and lots of cons. I haven’t opted for any DNA testing myself yet but I think in the future it may become a very tempting way to try and solve some brick walls. I hope this gives you a short overview of how it all works. Enjoy and if you have any DNA testing stories to tell let me know.