Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The next geneological frontier: DNA

Yep, I'm jumping on the bandwagon. With all the increase in interest in genealogy, it was only a matter of time before DNA entered the picture. Not only can it, in some cases, pinpoint your relation to someone in Australia (or fill-in-the-blank random spot here) in terms of how many generations back you could have a common ancestor, but it can rule out people you think you might be related to, and for those of us who are constantly trying to see the bigger picture, who are always in pursuit of information to fill in the never ending gaps in our trees and our trees in history, DNA can paint you a somewhat interesting picture (using broad strokes, for sure, but the pictures still there) of your ancient ancestors' journey over the years - out of Africa, through the Fertile Crescent, and to wherever your ancestors might have traveled beyond that.

I've been keen to hop on board this train for awhile, but the limitations for me in my genealogical pursuit are always the same: lack of information and lack of money. In this case, it was the money issue. DNA tests are expensive! (That's why it's good to make sure you know who the father of your children is. That, and it's makes it easier to trace his side of their family tree for them!)

Anyway, Ancestry.com, which now has a DNA section up to explain your results to you, put you in touch with people with similar DNA backgrounds, and provide a place to chat and share information, is having a sale on DNA testing - 50 percent off until September 30. It's still not inexpensive, but it's half as expensive as it normally is, which is perfect for me, as why in the world would I be content to buy just one DNA kit?

Here's the deal - y-chromosome DNA traces the paternal line: son to father to father to father to father and so on. Mitochondrial, or MtDNA testing traces the maternal line: son/daughter to mother to mother to mother and so on. As you can see, males can get both tests done. Females are stuck with just the MtDNA option, in which case you have to recruit a brother or father to trace your paternal lineage.

So, wanting to get as much information as possible (there's a reason that everything I do - genealogy, reading, being a journalist - revolves around gathering information...I'm just going to pretend that you didn't just say, "Yeah, it's because she's crazy!"), I ordered one y-chromosome and 2 MtDNA tests. I will be taking one of the MtDNA tests - all that's involved is swabbing the inside of your cheek (pretty hard, though, I might add) and mailing it back to the lab, after which it takes a few weeks to get results. As far back as I can go maternally (seven generations, about the year 1800) I am Irish.

I am asking either my brother or my father to get me my paternal DNA results with the y-chromosome test. That line is also Irish. Then, I'm asking my father to take an MtDNA test, which would follow my paternal grandmother's line, which goes seven or eight generations back that I know of, and is a German line. When I get my next paycheck, I'm considering ordering another y-chromosome test and asking one of my maternal uncles or cousins to take it, which would follow my English Raynor line.

I ordered the tests yesterday and they were shipped today. I already feel impatient, because I know these things can take forever (not to get to me, but to be tested in the lab) and I just want to know already, but it's fun getting that genealogical itch again and knowing that to some extent, even if it's in a couple of weeks, I'm going to get to scratch it. In a field that I know (and dread) has to ultimately end on all branches with an impassable dead end, DNA genealogy gives us a tool to go beyond those dead ends - you won't get names, you won't get pictures, you won't get occupations, but something is better than nothing.

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