Why do genealogists eagerly embrace DNA testing in a family history search?
The general answer, I think, is because we are all seeking truth. We invest a lot of hours in genealogy and we don’t want to waste our time chasing someone else’s ancestors.
Conventional genealogy is not a science. Memories can be fuzzy. Documents can be missing or inaccurate. Relationships can be real or imagined.
But DNA never lies.
Certainly, DNA cannot fill all the holes in a family history search. But it is an objective and independent form of evidence. It can confirm or refute relationships. It can validate or discredit assumptions. And it can open whole new channels to explore.
In effect, DNA can answer questions about the past that we never imagined we could answer.
Personally, I have found it to be a wonderful complement to traditional genealogical research.
Here are just ten of the many ways you can use DNA testing in genealogy:
When our ancestors emigrated from one country to another, they tried to blend in. Many of them shortened or changed their surname to something that didn’t seem so foreign. And many variations in spelling crept in. DNA can substantiate a suspected name change or uncover some previously unknown names in our biological families.
Many of us have heard rumors of hidden adoptions or illegitimate births among our ancestors. Even if we never suspected it, there's a 1-2% chance of a non-paternity event in each generation. And the odds accumulate the farther back you go.
The Y-DNA test can confirm the direct paternal line through your father, your father’s father, etc. If there’s a break in biological fatherhood, you’ll find out. Years of uncertainly can quickly be put to rest.
We all reach places where the paper trail in our family history search disappears. By comparing your DNA with others through surname projects and DNA databases, you may discover a common ancestor that lies beyond your personal brick wall. By searching forward in time from this previously unknown ancestor, you may be able to break through that wall from the other side.
You probably know your first cousins. But do you know all the descendants of your grandfather’s siblings? What about your great grandfather’s siblings? One of the wonderful side effects of DNA testing is the discovery of distant cousins. Your close genetic matches descended through different branches of your family tree. It’s likely that you’re all researching many of the same ancestors. So introduce yourself, compare your findings, and form a family history search team.
Many people doing DNA research have matched with other people from their country of origin. You may even find genetic matches whose ancestors lived in the same village as yours. Since DNA testing is international, you could even match up with people who are still living in that region today.
Unless you have a very rare surname, you probably see your name a lot. Some of these people are probably closely related to you. But you can’t tell which. DNA testing can identity related branches and save you time by eliminating many others.
Perhaps your family history search points to two men you think were brothers. If a DNA database includes a direct male descendant from each one, you can settle that question once and for all.
If you have a very rare surname and everyone with that name seems to come from the same part of the world, you probably assume you’re all related. By recruiting people from different branches into a DNA surname study, you can finally see if your assumption is really true.
Does your family lore include a presumed connection to some famous historical figure? Many people have been able to prove or refute such connections through DNA testing.
Many genealogists have already researched and documented their family tree through traditional sources. If you’re one of them, DNA can provide an independent, scientific validation of your work. It’s the perfect capstone to an ambitious genealogical study.
Genealogical DNA can help adoptees learn their biological surname. That’s because close genetic matches on a Y-DNA test share the same paternal line as your birth father. This is another example of seeing around the brick wall. From a starting point on the other side you can trace the family line toward the place and time of your birth.
After a successful adoption reunion,you can use autosomal DNA testing to prove your exact place in your new found family. Adoption search is how I got involved in this subject. To learn more about adoption issues and my particular story, see the Adoption Search section.
Some of the most fruitful tests are Y-DNA tests of the paternal line. And only men have the necessary Y chromosome.
If you’re a woman, you will need to recruit an appropriate male relative to do Y-DNA testing.
Both men and women can provide DNA samples for mitochondrial DNA testing of the maternal line and for autosomal testing.