Genealogists spend many of their days (and much of their money!) tracking the history of their ancestors. They hunt through ancient records to elucidate even the smallest clue as to some facet of their ancestors’ lives. Since the majority of genetic genealogists started their journey as traditional genealogists, it is only natural that they enjoy record-keeping and tracking as well.
The DNA Genealogy Timeline is a free public resource maintained by Georgia K. Bopp and hosted by rootsweb.com. The timeline attempts to track the significant developments associated with genetic genealogy. It begins with “Before 1980″ and was updated most recently as of October 2007.
What immediately stands out is that genetic genealogy has been around much longer than people realize, especially given the recent media attention. I began my exploration of genetic genealogy in 2003, but by 2000 there were already as many as 4 surname projects begun by hobbyists! As of September 2007, one company (Family Tree DNA) had over 4,200 surname projects that contained more than 66,000 surnames. There are even more surname projects hosted by other companies, including Heritage DNA.
Welcome to the November 4, 2007 edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.The topic for this edition was actually more of a questionâ€¦ Do you have a family mystery that might be solved by DNA?I offered to analyze a submitted post for questions or family mysteries that might be solved using genetic genealogy.There were a number of interesting and challenging articles, and everyone kept me very busy!If youâ€™ve ever considered using DNA to analyze your ancestry, youâ€™ll want to read all the way through this Carnival!
I wanted to start off with a post from the footnoteMaven entitled â€œAsk The Genetic Genealogist.â€In the post, she refers to me as â€œDr. DNAâ€ â€“ I could really get used to that!The footnoteMaven has a cousin on her fatherâ€™s side who was recently diagnosed as having sickle cell trait.Sickle cell is caused by any one of a number of identified mutations of the hemoglobin gene on chromosome 11.Sickle cell trait means that the cousin has one good copy of the hemoglobin gene and one bad copy â€“ one from each parent.Since this is autosomal DNA, the traditional tool of genetic genealogy, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, wonâ€™t be of much help.There are a number of DNA testing companies that will sequence the hemoglobin gene to check for mutations, but testing your cousinâ€™s siblings wonâ€™t reveal which parent had the mutated gene.It would be best to test the parents, but they have passed away.Unfortunately, answering your mystery would most likely be very expensive and time-consuming, at least at the current stage of technology.In 5 to 10 years, as whole genome sequencing becomes cheaper, it might be a much easier project.There are some autosomal genealogy tests which purport to reveal ancestral origins (such as Africa, Europe, Asia, etc..), but this would not reveal any information about the source of the mutated hemoglobin gene.
1.Genetic genealogy is only for hardcore genealogists.
Wrong!If youâ€™ve ever wondered about the origins of your DNA, or about your direct paternal or maternal ancestral line, then genetic genealogy might be an interesting way to learn more.Although DNA testing of a single line, such as through an mtDNA test, will only examine one ancestor out of 1024 potential ancestors at 10 generations ago, this is a 100% improvement over 0 ancestors out of 1024.If you add your fatherâ€™s Y-DNA, this is a 200% improvement.Now add your motherâ€™s mtDNA, and so on.However, with this in mind, please note the next myth:
2.Iâ€™m going to send in my DNA sample and get back my entire family tree.
A lot of people write me to ask me questions about genetic genealogy, and a few have asked if there are any books on the subject that might help them learn more about it.Â I thought I should provide a list of great reading material to help someone who might not have time to ask (but keep the questions coming!).
Great beginner books which are specifically about genealogy and DNA:
Trace Your Roots with DNA: Use Your DNA to Complete Your Family Tree by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner (Published October 7, 2004):
The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes (Published July 9, 2001):
How to Interpret Your DNA Test Results for Family History & Ancestry: Scientists Speak Out on Genealogy Joining Genetics by Anne Hart (Published December 2002):
1.You got those big blue eyes from your grandmother, but chances are you inherited less desirable genes as well.We inherit our DNA from our parents, who inherited it from their parents.Since we all possess genes that can cause or contribute to disease, knowing oneâ€™s DNA and family medical history can be a great resource for someone who learns they have a genetic disorder.
2.Full genome sequencing is right around the corner!The X-prize quest for the $1000 genome will lead to efficient and affordable whole-genome sequencing.As commercial companies crop up and compete for customerâ€™s business, leading to even lower prices.
3.Your grandmotherâ€™s DNA contains clues to her ancestry.X-chromosome, mtDNA, and autosomal genealogy tests contain clues to a personâ€™s ancestry, both recent and ancient.
23andMe has been the subject of much discussion in the biotech and personalized medicine circles of the blogosphere (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for plenty of information/speculation/discussion).
In August, 23andMe announced (â€œ23andMe and Illumina Forge Consumer Genomics Goliathâ€) that they have partnered together to offer â€œconsumer genotypingâ€ – more about that in a minute.Illumina produces â€œSNP chipsâ€, chips that can test a genome for thousands of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) at a time.For example, the company has one chip that tests one million SNPs for as little as $600, and another chip that tests 550,000 SNPs (the HumanHap550) for only $300-$450.Interestingly, Illumina is also able to custom build chips to add specific SNPs if the customer so desires.Additionally, as the announcement touted, Illumina is also exploring the world of inexpensive whole-genome sequencing, suggesting that this partnership with 23andMe could transition from cheap SNP testing to cheap whole-genome sequencing at some point in the future.
Yesterday we saw that many funeral directors offer DNA retrieval and storage as one of their services.Today, weâ€™ll look into the WHY of DNA storage, and bring up some of the ethical questions it raises.
Why store DNA from the recently deceased?
Undoubtedly, someone who has never heard of DNA retrieval and storage will probably ask WHY we should store a dead relativeâ€™s DNA.
The reason most commonly quoted is that the DNA can be used in the future to identify inherited traits such as genetic disorders and other phenotypic characteristics.In 2006, the New England Historic Genealogical Society published an article by Edwin M. Knights, M.D. entitled â€œDNA Banking for Medical Information.â€In the article, Dr. Knights gives a number of reasons for banking DNA from both living and deceased individuals, many of which he gleaned from the Human Genetic Society of Australasia.He states:
The field of genomics is exploding.Every day, the mysteries of our genome are revealed and we learn more and more about the power of DNA.Soon, with affordable whole-genome sequencing, we will be able to analyze our own personal genome for clues about our ancestry, our propensity for disease, and insight into our body and our personality.In fact, this is already well underway.
Undoubtedly, each of us will be faced with a decision in our lifetime – do we want to learn the secrets of our genome, or do we want to live without that knowledge, as all of our ancestors have done for millions of years.This decision is a personal one, and at this point I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any right or wrong answer.
But what about those who are unable to make that decision?For example, an infant is unable to give consent for genetic testing, but many states in the USroutinely test newborns for genetic disorders.Today and tomorrow we will be examining another group of individuals who are not able to consent to genetic testing â€“ the recently deceased.
Last Thursday, Michael Neill, a noted genealogist and author of rootdig.com, posted an article entitled â€œIs DNA That Big of a Deal?â€
Mr. Neill, who states that he is â€œtired of all they hypeâ€ writes:
â€œWhile I admit there are times where DNA analysis can be helpful, in the vast majority of cases DNA does not provide the type of relationship precision we need. Knowing that two people are related “somehow” “somewhere” “an unknown number of generations back” is typically not the kind of information genealogists need.â€
He also believes that instead of spending money and effort on genetic genealogy, researchers should be digitizing and preserving records.
I agree with much of what Mr. Neill says â€“ DNA doesnâ€™t always work, DNA isnâ€™t for all genealogists, and genealogists MUST help preserve endangered records.But, unfortunately, paper records donâ€™t hold all the answers.Iâ€™ve always believed that genetic genealogy works best when it is combined with traditional genealogical research.Inside each one of my three trillion cells are a few strands of DNA that serve as records of their own â€“ why shouldnâ€™t genealogists get excited when exploring the most personal record theyâ€™ll ever find?
I have a very lonely surname according to estimates, there are only about 1000 to 2000 Bettingers in the United States. In the 1930 census, the most recent census which is indexed and available to genealogists, there were just 1,300 Bettingers. Therefore, not surprisingly, I was the first Bettinger to experiment with genetic genealogy and had the opportunity to start a Bettinger surname project, which I did. Sadly, however, my project still has just one member. I originally tried to email some potential relatives, but only a few seemed interested, and none decided to take the plunge.
My particular Y-DNA has an interesting story (I think that everyone’s Y-DNA has an interesting story, it’s just that I’ve decided to share mine!). My most distant paternal ancestor came to America in the late 1700’s and had six sons (and 1 daughter who didn’t live long), only 5 of whom passed on their Y-DNA. I am descended from the third son, and I call our line “Branch #3.” For the next three generations of Branch #3, each of my ancestors had two boys, one who passed on Y-DNA to the present, and one that has not. In my grandfather’s generation, he was the only male. He returned to the tradition of having two boys, but only one of those boys (my father) has passed on his Y-DNA. My father, however, decided to buck the trend and have three boys, while I’ve passed on my Y-DNA to my son.