Recently my dad emailed, telling me that “DNA [was] the best thing since sliced bread.” Then he shared a recent message he received through Ancestry.com from one of our cousins—‘cousins,’ as in, we’ve never met, but we share DNA.
In referencing the match made, the cousin’s message began, “Fantastic!!! We know so little about the Franks side of the family and I’m desperately trying to find answers…”
These kinds of connections are made possible through genetic DNA testing. While family history research links us with our ancestral past, DNA connects us with actual living relatives that can, in turn, help us figure out more of our past.
Unfortunately, human error is rampant in genealogy. Civil records have always been only as accurate as the individual providing or writing the information. But with DNA testing, relationships can be defined, theories of where people came from confirmed, and brick walls in research broken through.
Genetic DNA can be a starting point or a way to dig deeper into one’s family tree, all done with a combination of statistics, computer science, and history.
According to AncestryDNA, one of about 40 companies in the genetic genealogy business, “your results include information about your ethnicity across 26 regions or ethnicities, and identifies potential relatives through DNA matching to others who have taken the AncestryDNA test.”
The test looks at an individual’s genome at specific locations, and reveals ancestry by comparing the results to current and historic ethnic groups. Online subscription-based sites, like Ancestry.com, combine DNA results with their vast database of family pedigrees to make cousin connections, giving you matches that you can reach out to immediately.
Technology has made DNA collection and submission quick and easy. All it takes is a saliva sample sent in for analysis, and results are forthcoming in about six to eight weeks.
Do your research before purchasing a kit. AncestryDNA is among the most well-known, but there are other options such as FamilyTree DNA and MyHeritage DNA.
Both women and men can use a basic DNA test, but there are also tests specific to one sex or the other. For example, a test analyzing the Y-chromosome is for males looking for paternal lineage and mitochondrial DNA testing is for both males and females, but only looks at maternal lineage. The test results are not meant for medical use, but only to give genealogical information.
Because DNA testing confirms relationships, it has become a means of finding biological relatives of those that were adopted. A patron of Ancestry.com received a ‘first-or-second cousin’ match after receiving his DNA results. The relative turned out to be a young woman looking for her biological mother, and he was able to determine she was likely the daughter of a cousin who had placed a baby for adoption years ago. With permission he shared the information with his cousin, who ultimately chose to make contact.
Technology has forever changed how we do genealogy, and now with the advent of DNA testing we have an exciting new technological tool to add to the family history tool belt.