Friday, April 03, 2009

Getting started with genetic genealogy, how and why?

One of the most helpful genealogical advances is the widening availability of DNA testing. In a nut shell, you swab the inside of your mouth and mail those cheek cells to the testing company. They extract your DNA, run a test on the sample, and provide you with a set of numbers in return. Those numbers correlate to certain traits passed along by family lines over the centuries. The more of these numbers match between two people, the more closely they are related.

The main goal of genealogical DNA testing is to find where a male line came from in the world. Take my case for example, I now know that the Lett family almost certainly came from Scandinavia. I would never have figured that out on my own. Now my research on the Letts always leans toward connecting my line back to that area of the globe.

One major point to keep in mind is that this type of DNA test only helps if you are male. The genes in question are passed from father to son, just like their last name. Therefore my genes and my last name came from my father and are both the same.

In the case of women, the test looks for genes passed from mother to daughter. Mothers and daughters generally do not share the same last name after marriage. You could therefore find out where your "maternal line" came from but that is much less helpful since the last name is not constant. If a woman wanted to find out where her paternal family was from, she would need to get her brother or father to take the test.

I am absolutely watering down all that genetic genealogy involves and can offer. If you are interested, I would suggest reading up on the websites of the various testing companies. Family Tee DNA is probably the largest, best-known and most respected testing company. Ancestry also offers testing that is among the most affordable on the market.

I strongly suggest that you consider performing one of these tests, sooner rather than later in your research project, for two major reasons.
  1. It takes several weeks/months for the results to come back. The sooner you send your sample, the sooner you get results.
  2. The answers that you receive can lead your future research in the right direction.
Most testing companies will ask if you want to make your results public. That basically means that, if anyone else matches your DNA, they will put the two of you in contact. You might be introduced to someone that has an abundance of information on your family. That could save you countless hours of research down the road.

You will also have a good idea of where in the world your family is from. Everyone wants to say that "I am German" or "I am Scandinavian." If you take one of these DNA tests, at least you can say where your paternal family was from. And, as was the case with myself, I now know which direction on the compass my research should travel. I know the starting and end points of my family history. The fun part becomes filling in the middle.

No comments: