Enhancing Your Research with DNA


Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

I am sure that almost everyone has heard of using DNA to enhance their research. It has become a great part of the conversation in Genealogical Research. I will confess up front that my working knowledge of DNA would easily fit in a Thimble. Having said that, I am able to give you a few basics and direct you to the many resources that are available for you to use in developing your knowledge base of this subject.

There are four types of DNA: Mitochondrial (mtDNA), Y Chromosomal (Y-DNA), Autosomal (at-DNA), and X Chromosomal (X-DNA). Let’s look at what each one of those mean. Mitochondrial DNA allows you to discover female maternal ancestors. It is passed from the mothers to their children. Only their daughters can pass it along to their children. Y-Chromosomal DNA allows you to find your paternal ancestors. It is passed from father to son. If a man has only daughters, his Y-DNA is not passed on to the next generation. Autosomal DNA allows you to explore your entire genetic family. You inherit it equally from both parents. X-Chromosomal DNA helps you to narrow your search for genetic ancestors. There, my thimble overfloweth. That is a very brief introduction to DNA.

Many people have had their DNA done for various reasons. It seems that the most popular is to discover our ethnic background. The reliability of this is dependent on many things, one of which is the size of the participant pool. There are many other reasons to test and many questions to be resolved depending on the results that you receive. The three most popular companies are Ancestry, 23 and Me, and Family Tree. You will want to read about each test prior to making a choice.

My DNA results allowed me to connect with a half first cousin one time removed. She knew virtually nothing about her maternal family. I was able to put that together for her including photos. We have since met. There have been other less dramatic findings for me. I treasure each one of them because it helps to fill out the story of my family.

For those of you who have tested and would like to better understand the results, there are a myriad of places to locate information. Of course, there is the internet. There you will find stand alone articles as well as being able to search out sites such as Ancestry or Family Tree. There are also many books on the subject. The one that I am now reading for the second time is The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger. Online webinars can be very helpful and are available, Family Search and Ancestry Academy have a couple. All of the Genealogy magazines regularly have articles on DNA. In addition, many Genealogy conferences have at least one track on DNA. I will be attending one in Amherst later this year. Cyndi’s List has an extensive list of resources. Again, using the internet to explore these resources should be very helpful.

Locally the Genealogy Support Group at the Hall house will be presenting a series of workshops on DNA. The first one will be offered on September 22nd. The cost will only be $20 for the public and $10 for Fenton members.