We have all heard of DNA and perhaps many of us have seen the connecting pair of squiggly lines which have been used to graphically illustrate DNA in our cells, but perhaps you haven't explored the use of DNA in your family history research.
DNA is limited and will never be a cure all to remove barriers from family history trees, but it has certain advantages that can be very valuable with results that can be surprising. The greatest benefit of DNA testing to administration or paper trail research is verification of questionable lines, proving or disproving family verbal accounts, and to sort out if a group of researchers of the same surname of various family lines are actually related.
I recently participated in a joint project sponsored by the Owen Association, which can be found on the web at: www.geocities.com/~owenfamily. The Owen Association is made up of over 160 members and represents about 60 different Owen family lines. The Association utilized a DNA testing company by the name of Family Tree DNA, which can be found at www.familytreedna.com.
Twenty-five Owen Association members participated in the experiment, eighteen of which found matches. I was matched with two different Owen lines, which was exciting, but somewhat disappointing because there was no paper trail or research between the three of us which could make a connection. All we knew was that there was a 99.9% chance that our lines had a mutual ancestor with in 14.5 generations. Technically, our "Y' chromosomes, which are given down from father to son, matched perfectly on 12 markers. The 14.5-generation estimate was in relationship to the last mutation that was found in our family DNA. Since I had researched about six generations, I was reasonably sure that our common ancestor would be back further than 6 generations. This, of course, means that our common ancestor could be in America or in Wales•something that might be hard to prove.
DNA testing has helped to disqualify certain genealogical connections and narrow the field of possible relations in the Owen family. One geographical location where many unidentified Owen families resided was in the county of Halifax of southern Virginia. I have researched my mother's particular line back to Edward Owen in Person County, NC, which was right across the state line from Halifax County. There was a good possibility that my GGG-Grandfather, Edward came over the border some time in the late 1700's. I participated in the test partly because I knew of only two of Edward's ten children. Era Owen, who lived in Roxboro, NC, believed her husband's line which descended from Isaac Owen, was in fact one of the remaining four sons and a brother of my GGG-Grandfather Joseph Branch Owen. Her husband's first cousin recently took the test, and it should prove or disprove this notion.
Another advantage to DNA genealogy is the tracking of family lines across the sea. My father's line is made up of German Primitive Baptists who came over some time in the 1770's. I really have little hope in connecting my GGGGG-Grandfather Adam Smith Sr. with his family in Germany without both DNA testing in Europe and America progressing toward a large database where the chances of matches increase.
For $171.00, the testing company provides you with a kit, which is very easy to use. You scrape for one minute the inside of one's mouth and place the sample into small tubes, which you seal and mail back to the company. In about three to four weeks they e-mail you with the results. The price is reasonable if you calculate the amount of money a researcher can spend on procuring documents or genealogical books covering areas where your ancestors lived. I highly recommend that if you are interested and have a family reunion in the near future, to order Family Tree DNA's free 30-minute video that describes the process.
In the case of the Owen families, perhaps the disqualifying of certain lines was as much as a benefit as finding matches. Knowing that a family with the same surname, which resided near your family, is not a DNA match would help in not pursuing a wild goose chase. DNA testing is an exciting new tool. Time is our foe when it comes to finding our past. The further we go back in time the less paper work remains. With continued DNA testing in the future, we can close the gaps and discover our ancestors over time.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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