Simple minded. That's me when it comes to DNA. I don't understand this stuff much at all, yet I've used it with some success.
I have scraped the inside cheeks of my husband, father, uncle, cousins and even talked several strange men into doing it, and sending a sample in for me.
So far, I have joined six surname projects on my family surnames. If I can do it, maybe I can explain it enough for some of you to get involved and find help.
Chances are you have seen the intriguing news stories involving DNA studies in genealogy.
Someone has his DNA tested, and just like magic, he has found a Zulu warrior in his lineage, or a very interesting cousin living right next door. It would be wonderful if it were that easy, but of course, it isn't.
If a simple scrape of our inner cheek could give us our whole pedigree chart, it would make everything so much easier, but look at all the fun we would miss.
The subject of DNA research in genealogy can be kept very simple or as complex as you want to get. I am going to give you the super simple version, since that is all I know, or really have an interest in, at the moment.
Our DNA contains X and Y chromosomes, which determine our gender. The Y chromosome comes from the male, and the X chromosome from the female. If the father passes on his Y chromosome, the fetus will be a male. If the Y chromosome is not passed on, the fetus will have two X chromosomes, and will be female. This, in itself, is important in DNA testing in genealogy, because males can only be tested for that Y chromosome. Maternal DNA testing (mtDNA) testing is another column.
The Y-DNA chromosome is carried by the male and passed only to their male offspring. Therefore, this exact Y chromosome is passed from father to son. The male that is tested will have the exact set of markers as his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, for as far back as you can go.
The purpose for testing this Y-DNA chromosome is the process of elimination. You will eliminate researchers looking for your surname that aren't DNA matches. If you find a match, this tells you that the two donors of the DNA have a common ancestor somewhere down the line.
Now you know which researchers you need to network with, and which ones are tracing other families. It narrows the field and can save a tremendous amount of time and energy.
So, how do you start? First, you need to find a willing male to give you a pain-free scrape of his inner cheek. This sample is used to test such a tiny piece of our DNA, it can only be used for genealogical purposes, and confidentiality is explained by each company.
Next, you find a surname project for the surname you are interested in. You can do an Internet search for the many companies that do genealogy DNA testing. FamilyTreeDNA.com, DNA.Ancestry.com and other companies have a variety of tests and prices.
When choosing your test, you want a company with a very large database. Also, choose a Y-DNA test with as many markers as you can afford.
For instance, Family Tree DNA has the largest database and tests for 12 to 67 markers. Anything less than a 25-35 marker test is probably not worth your time and money. The more markers tested, the closer the connection you will have with any match you get.
Your results will come back in a string of numbers, depending on how many markers you had tested. This will make no sense to you. With a little luck, your project administrator will eventually take your string of numbers and line them up with the other members of the project.
This is where you may possibly find your Y-DNA matches and researchers you can compare records with. This may point you to the right area of the country, or even a specific family group.
Of my six projects, how did I do? The mission of the first project was to determine if everyone researching the surname Thrower in the U.S., descend from the same family, or is there more than one bloodline? Of the five Thrower descendants, all five from across the country have identical Y-DNA chromosomes. This proves we all descend from one family living in Virginia in the 1600s. Now we work together connecting this family.
Another project has some very promising matches, but we've found no common ancestor yet.
Two of my surnames have been complete dead ends, and I suspected we were searching the wrong surnames. In each case, I tracked down distant cousins and asked for their cooperation. In each case, the Y-DNA came back a match to entirely different surnames than were used by our family. In one case, it is probably due to being tied into the Irish clans, where names were frequently changed.
Where do I go from here? Well, at least I know I'm dealing with a name change.
The other two projects are common names with many participants in the projects. I have absolutely no close matches. You win some and lose some. So don't jump into a project expecting miracles, just pray for a small clue, and be prepared to wait for it.
If you need any help, just send me a message. You will make a new friend, plant a seed and maybe reap some reward.
For more information, contact BrendaKSmith@prodigy.net.
The Treasure Coast Genealogical Society meets every third Tuesday at the Fort Pierce Main Library on Melody Lane from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Volunteers are at the library every Tuesday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. to help with research.