07 August 2013

DNA Testing for Genealogy 101 - What Can It Do For You?? Part 3

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We at Upfront with NGS are very excited to bring you this four part series on DNA testing and its genealogical uses ...

If you missed part 1, click here.
If you missed part 2, click here.

Article courtesy of Roberta Estes, www.dnaexplain.com,
e-mail Roberta at [email protected] or [email protected]
Graphics courtesy of Roberta, Family Tree DNA, www.familytreedna.com and the ISOGG wiki at http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Wiki_Welcome_Page.

What Else Can We Tell?

The results of your tests not only tell you about your genealogy, they can also tell you about your deep ancestry and identify your deep ancestral clan. 

Have you ever wondered where your ancestors came from before contemporary times?  We know that for the most part surnames did not exist before 1066, and in some places did not exist until much later.  The likelihood of us ever knowing where our ancestors were prior to 1066, unless we are extremely lucky, is very remote using conventional genealogical research methods.

However, now with the results of our DNA, we can peer through that keyhole and unlock that door.  Based on the results of our tests, and the relative rarity of the combined numbers, humans are grouped together in clans called haplogroups.  We know who was a member of which clan by both the tests shown above and a different kind of test, called a SNP (pronounced snip) test

Population geneticists use this type of information to determine how groups of people migrated, and when.  We may well be able to tell if our clan is Celtic, or Viking, African, Native American or related to Genghis Khan, for example.  Based on our clan type, we may be able to tell where our group resided during the last ice age, and then trace their path from there to England or America over hundreds or thousands of years.  While this sounds farfetched, it certainly isn’t and many people are discovering their deep ancestry.  For example, we know that the Estes clan wintered the last ice age in Anatolia, and we know this because that is where other people who have this very rare combination of marker values are found in greater numbers than anyplace else on earth.

How Can I Test My Family?

It’s easy to get started.  For Y-line testing, you only need one male volunteer that carries your surname who is descended from your oldest progenitor by the same surname.  To order a test kit, be sure to join a surname project for the best pricing.  You can check on various surname projects by going to www.familytreedna.com and entering the surname in the search box on the right hand side of the page where it says “Search Your Last Name.”

I searched for Estes and the information returned tells me how many people, both male and female, have tested with that surname, if an Estes project exists, and the link, and any other projects where the administrator has specifically entered the Estes surname.  So join the surname project and be sure to check out any others shown.

Anyone, males or females can test their mitochondrial DNA.  To test your own mitochondrial DNA, just order a test kit, and then follow the branch on your pedigree chart directly up your maternal line of the tree (your mother, her mother, her mother, etc.) to see whose mitochondrial DNA you carry.

Autosomal, the Third Kind of DNA Testing

In the past two or three years, autosomal DNA testing has really come into its own.  This type of testing does not focus on one line, like the Y-line focuses only on the direct paternal surname line and the mitochondrial focuses only on the direct maternal line.  The Y-line and mtDNA are wonderful tests and provide you with huge amounts of information, but they can’t tell you anything about your other lines…not unless you can find a cousin from that other surname line and beg to have his or her DNA tested.  This process (the testing, not the begging) is called building your DNA pedigree chart.

You can see an example of my DNA pedigree chart below.  Being a female, I obviously can’t test for any Y-lines, so I had to find cousins to test for those lines.  I can test for the direct mitochondrial line, but that still leaves most of the 14 great-great-grandparents with no information at all.  By mining surname projects and begging cousins to test, I have filled in a number of these slots, but certainly not all.

But the time comes that you can’t complete the chart, or you have other genealogy questions to answer, and you’ll need to move to the third type of DNA testing, autosomal.

Autosomal testing provides you with two primary features. 

First, autosomal testing provides you with percentages of ethnicity.  This may or may not excite you.  Understand that when you’re looking for that elusive Native American great-great-great-grandmother, that you may or may not carry enough or a large enough piece of her DNA to be identified.  But you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Second, you receive a list of cousin matches.  These are people who match you on your autosomal results.  This means that they are related to you on one line or another.  It’s up to you to figure out which line, but there are tools and techniques to utilize.  You probably won’t recognize the names of most of your matches, and you may or may not recognize a common ancestor.  In some cases, the genealogy isn’t far enough back or there are other challenges in identifying a common ancestor.  However, some huge brick walls have fallen for people and continue to fall daily by using autosomal tools to identify common ancestral families.

I wrote a series on “The Autosomal Me” which describes in detail how to utilize your Autosomal results.

Ok, now you’re convinced.  You want to see who you match and meet those new cousins just waiting. 

Check back tomorrow for Part 4 (the end of the series)!

Roberta Estes

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