DNA Testing in Genealogy
Genealogy appeals to one of the more basic needs that we as human beings have. The need to belong is identified as one of those needs which touch all humanity in Maslow’s hierarchy for those of you who have some training in medicine.
Genealogy permits you to find out where you belong. At one time genealogy was considered to be a hobby that only unmarried old aunts engaged in,or elderly widowers with no real life. Fortunately that’s no longer the case and some of the brightest minds in the world work to unravel the mystery of our heritages. Likewise, some of the most brilliant geneticists have also entered the fray, to lend us their expertise in the medical field.
In recent decades, with the advent of mass means and lowered cost in travel, or in cross country moves, but particularly in the pioneer and gold rush era, Americans have in many cases, lost their roots and now are seeking to find them again. In some cases only medical research can make that possible, once we’ve hit a dead end so far as paper trails are concerned.
This is where genetics, and DNA testing come into play. The first major DNA testing became available in the mid 80’s and was primarily used for things other than human, however within a short time enter mitochondrial DNA testing. This takes a section of bases that are gathered from one of the non-coding areas of the mitochondria that can be found within the cell of every living entity from a plant, to an animal to a man or woman.
This type of DNA is passed on to the offspring literally unchanged by the female of the species to her offspring. ( There are some random mutations that may take place). Both men and women can be tested to see where their own mitochondrial DNA will compare with the CRS, or the Cambridge Reference Sequence, which is the first DNA of this type tested and is now used as the baseline comparison for all others.
By comparison to this DNA, you will perhaps come to know more about your mother, grandmother or great grandmother, including what nationality she was, and from where she originated.
A great deal of the early works in DNA tested were the result of the work of Dr. Brian Sykes a fellow from Oxford University who learned to take the data and unravel what it meant, including finding that the various types were lying in clusters which he termed the Seven Daughters of Eve, and based on their alphabetical code, he gave each cluster a name T, H, X, U, V, J and K + Tara, Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Jasmine and Katrine.
Now, at this time, many years later, more and more “daughters” have entered the playing field, and been identified as more testing took place. Science can now rebuild a family tree from the methods these groups branch away from the original mother, ( scientists say lived in Africa sometime between 70,000 and 150,000 years ago). One of the things which have benefited us all greatly in the study of DNA as well as genealogy is the Human Genome Project which gave us the ability to do DNA studies faster and better.
Essentially how DNA research works for us is that your Y Chromosome is passed from father to son and will remain literally unchanged for several hundred years in the pasting. The minute mutations that do take place are called markers, which help the geneticist to regrow our family tree. They can do so remarkably accurately and with far greater speed than could be done even ten years ago. This can be an incredible help to the genealogist or the family member who truly wants to know more but seems to have hit a brick wall in their research.
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Companies such as one in Houston Texas, called Family Tree DNA offer this service, however in some cases, the companies are not as entirely accurate as you might wish them to be and some will ask that you sign a statement that you have no recourse if the information you receive is not to your liking or not what you might have expected.
Genealogist have a hot new tool in their arsenal to assist them with finding the family tree and those who are curious, or think they may know, but have no way to confirm where their family came from, or what nationality they are can, for a fee, find out the answers to their questions.
In some cases, the hype that DNA companies toss out is more than is necessarily delivered, however DNA is new, cutting edge technology that is going to be quite important in the genealogists tool chest.
However, says a professional genealogist Tony Burroughs, from Chicago, “ You’re not going to discover your entire family tree from a little spit on a cotton swab.” Burroughs, who is himself the author of the book, “Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree” just states for the record that although it may be very helpful, that DNA will never be able to replace old fashioned work.
That being said, the science itself according to everyone who has an opinion, is sound and will be helpful to those of us who find outself without the wherewithal to find any more answers.
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