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Genetic Genealogy and Family Tree Research, Part 2

While genetic genealogy (DNA testing) is not a replacement for traditional genealogy research methods, it is a useful new tool that can sometimes bridge gaps where paper trails have dried up. Part 2 of this two-part article presents an overview of the National Geographic five-year worldwide Genographic DNA Project and some DNA success stories.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 623 (approx.)
Labels: DNA Study 
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In Part 1 of this article, some basic questions on using genetic genealogy and DNA testing for family tree research were discussed in non-scientific terms. Part 2 of this two-part article continues with an overview of the National Geographic five-year worldwide Genographic DNA Project and examples of genetic genealogy success stories.

Brief Recap from Part 1

  1. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)— Passed only from mother to child. Both males and females have mitochondrial DNA.
  2. 2. Y-DNA — Passed only from father to son. Only males have Y-DNA. Y-DNA is used in surname projects.

My first venture into genetic genealogy and DNA testing came about two years ago after reading a National Geographic article about the magazine's impending worldwide five-year DNA study. Dubbed "A Landmark Study of the Human Journey," this Genographic Project is designed to try and find answers to some of the world's oldest mysteries about human origin and migration patterns.

Although the study was not designed to give specific or individual genealogical information, I felt a basic, intrinsic urge to participate and thereby connect with other participants all over the world. Talk about being part of something larger than yourself! Since I am female and could contribute only mitochondrial DNA (passed only from mother to child), I also talked my brother into participating, speculating that his Y-DNA (passed only from father to son) might later prove useful in a possible surname project. Subsequent DNA test results confirmed that our ancient ancestors had migrated from northern Europe — something I have always suspected but not yet been able to verify with a paper trail. The results included migratory maps and information on our ancient foremothers (from my mitochondrial DNA) and our forefathers (from my brother's Y-DNA).

This positive experience spurred me to later contribute my mitochondrial DNA and my brother to submit his Y-DNA to the same DNA company that i>National Geographic used for its project. In addition, with my brother's Y-DNA test results, we began our own surname project.

While we have not yet had a DNA match in our surname project, we have observed genetic breakthroughs in other branches of our family. One recent breakthrough was with my paternal grandmother's DNA surname group. While family stories passed down through the generations related tales of our Dutch heritage, paper documentation had been elusive. Through DNA, my family line (through a cousin with my grandmother's surname) matched the lines of several others who had documented their Dutch ancestry. So, even though my family line does not have a documented paper trail back to Holland, we do, through those DNA matches, have genetic evidence of our shared Dutch ancestor. Having genetic proof makes me work even harder to try and find a paper trail.

While the preceding was an example of a Y-DNA surname study match that had successful results, in addition, my mitochondrial DNA recently matched a male relative on my mother's side. This new cousin (who lives in another state) and I exchanged several e-mails and were pleased to find each other, exchange information, and fill in some blanks on our respective family tree branches. If a DNA match had not brought us together, more than likely we would never have met.

While genetic genealogy is not meant to replace more traditional genealogy research methods, it is a useful new tool that can sometimes bridge gaps where paper trails have fizzled out. Another plus for genetic genealogy is that after participating in DNA testing, even if a match does not happen right away, there is always the possibility that it could happen at some point in the future. As new people participate, that DNA match you have been waiting for could happen today, tomorrow or a year from now . . . But it could happen. I know I have my fingers crossed.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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