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21 April 2011

GENES AND GENEALOGY--OY! MY HEAD HURTS FROM IT ALL!

     I finally decided to have my DNA analyzed. For years, I have been reading about DNA testing for genealogy purposes. I have also been waiting for the prices to drop. Prices are still a bit steep for me, but every so often a sale comes along to tempt me. A few weeks ago, Family Tree DNA ran a one-day half-price sale on its Facebook page (the other company is 23andme), . With twenty minutes left in the sale, I jumped in and ordered my kit.
     I will update my trials and tribulations with DNA testing over the next few months. Since scraping my mouth with a tiny plastic comb and sending in my cell samples, I have been trying to educate myself about using genetic testing for genealogical purposes. It has been a tough education--my last science class was in 1972!
     As a female, my testing choices are limited. The only line that can be tested with females for genealogical purposes is a mother's maternal line. The test for this specific genetic line is called the mtDNA test. This tests the mitochondrial DNA that a mother passes on to both female and male children. The one big problem, in family history hunting terms, about this test is that the ancestry revealed by this test is rather ancient. As a genealogical tool, it has limited application, since the results reveal broad genetic groupings from eons ago, and very little from more recent ancestors. Interesting, yes, but of very limited use to genealogists.
     Males, on the other hand, receive both the X and the Y chromosomes from their parents, plus the mitochondrial DNA from their mothers. The test for the Y chromosome is limited to the father's paternal line. But at least a man can obtain a genealogical snapshot of both his father's paternal line and his mother's maternal line. The Y test can be used to match ancestry with others to a finer and more recent degree than the mtDNA test.
     Men with Irish ancestry take note--there is a "warrior" gene that has been passed down through Celtic ancestry. Those men having this "Niall" gene have deep Celtic roots back to the first Celtic warriors in Ireland.
     What about all those lines in the middle? Your mother's father's lines and your father's mother's lines and so on? The chromosomes from all these other ancestral lines are passed down in a rather haphazard fashion and are not easy to trace. Just a few years ago, there was no way to match relatives through testing this jumble of genetic material.
     But a new test has been developed, and it is in the "beta," or testing, stage, but it has become available to genealogists. Called Family Finder by Family Tree DNA and Relative Finder by 23andme, this test is what is known as an "autosomal" test. In my view, this test has the promise of becoming a huge genealogical tool. Currently, these tests can match cousins up to about 5 generations, and both males and females can be matched. This test compares your jumble of chromosomes with that of others who have taken the test.
     The successful use of these autosomal tests for genealogy is dependent on two factors: 1) the size of the database (i.e., the amount of people tested), and 2) the system of notification of matches. As more people are tested, the greater the possibility of finding a cousin. Plus, the test subjects must be willing to enter a notification system that releases their contact information to those people who match chromosomes with them. Currently, Family Finder (Family Tree DNA) has a free notification system, and Relative Finder (23andme) runs theirs on a subscription basis.
     Join me on my journey through the exciting land of genetic genealogy in the coming weeks as I explore the possibilities of finding cousins through my DNA!
LINKS
    PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOT ENDORSING ANY COMPANY OR PRODUCT. I AM PRESENTING BELOW THE LINKS TO THE COMPANIES, THAT I HAVE FOUND THROUGH MY RESEARCH, THAT CONDUCT DNA TESTING FOR GENEALOGICAL PURPOSES. IF ANY READERS KNOW OF OTHER RESOURCES, PLEASE LET ME KNOW.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GENETIC GENEALOGY: