The way we do genealogy research changed immensely once it was discovered that DNA could help in tracing your roots. It is amazing to think that just a swab on the inside of your cheek will help you learn some very interesting and even life changing things about yourself and your family. You might learn that you are descended from royalty or that your great great grandmother was Irish and Hungarian!
So what is DNA?
In simple terms, DNA is a molecule that carries genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses.
How does it work?
We know that almost all of our genetic material we inherit from both our parents. In this genetic material there are two interesting elements that form the whole basis of genetic genealogy.
One is called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is passed on to us from our mother. All women have this. The other is called Y-Chromosome, which is passed on to us from our father. All men have this.
Most human being have 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. 22 of these pairs, are called autosomes, they look the same in both males and females. These chromosomes determine a person’s inherits traits, such as the color of your eyes, your height, the shape of your nose etc. In all but two of these 23 pairs of chromosomes, the DNA from both parents are blended together to form something completely new. The 23rd pair of chromosomes works differently. That pair’s sole function is to determine your sex. The chromosome the mother contributes a pair of X chromosomes, while the father contributes either an X or a Y chromosome. If it’s an X the child will be female and if it’s a Y, then they will be a male. The Y chromosome’s route is very easy to follow: it goes from father to son, to son, and so on. The mother’s genetic contribution is the mtDNA. While it is not a chromosome (it is actually something of an energy source for cells), it is passed from her to all her children regardless if they are a male or female. So all children of one mother have the same mtDNA. This is the same for her daughters, but not her sons because males can’t pass on mtDNA. Because these two genetic elements remain virtually unchanged from generation to generation, they create 2 very clear paths that you can follow back through time. If you are a woman, you can follow only your mtDNA path or if you have a brother or a cousin who is the son of your father’s brother then you can find the Y chromosome path in your family.
What are Haplogroups?
Haplogroups are mainly used for doing anthropological research of time frames long before the adoption of surnames. Haplogroups are simply pointers to a large geographic area of the world where that Haplogroup is found in high frequency.
What are some the types of DNA testing?
Autosomal DNA testing is a term used in genetic genealogy to describe the DNA that is inherited from the autosomal chromosomes. DNA that you inherit from both parents is called autosomal DNA. Since you inherit approximately half of this type of DNA from each parent, it reflects recent ancestry from both sides of your family tree. Y-Chromosome DNA testing, which only men can do looks at the direct paternal line and Mitochondrial DNA testing looks at the direct maternal lines. A comparison chart on Autosomal DNA testing explaining what features the companies do and don’t have is available in the Wiki for International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)
What Company should I go with?
There are several companies out there that offer genetic DNA testing. Here are three of the most popular services at this time:
Family Tree DNA was founded in 1999, by Bennett Greenspan who is a life-long genealogy enthusiast. They are a commercial genetic testing company. They have the most comprehensive Y chromosome, autosomal, and mitochondrial ancestry DNA database for genetic genealogists. They offer a variety of testing that ranges from $89 up $556. They offer analysis of autosomal DNA, Y-Chromosome DNA, and mitochondrial DNA to individuals for genealogical purposes. They have formed partnerships with iGenea, African DNA, DNA Ancestry & Family Origin and MyHeritage, beside their testing partnership for National Geographic Genographic Project, who seeks to trace the genetic odyssey of mankind.
Ancestry.com was founded in 1983 in Lehi, Utah. It is a privately held internet company that offers a variety of genealogical and historical information. They do have the world’s largest online family history resource, which includes millions of family trees and over 20 billion historical records. AncestryDNA is one of their many services. They use DNA sequences to infer family relationships with other ancestry DNA users and to provide what it calls an ethnicity estimate. As of 2014, they discontinued offering Y-chromosome DNA and maternal mitochondrial DNA testing. Their database is over 5 million people and is considered to be one of the leaders in DNA testing for family history. They offer a $99 test. Ancestry.com uses micro-array based autosomal DNA testing, which surveys a person’s entire genome at over 700,000 locations, all with a simple saliva sample. If you are looking to link your DNA results to your family tree, the only company right now that offers to link your DNA results to your family tree is AncestryDNA.
23andMe Is a personal genomics and biotechnology company based in Mountain View, CA. The company is named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a normal human cell. The company was founded in 2006 to provide genetic testing. Has more than 2 million genotyped customers worldwide. They base their results on your DNA from both of your parents (chromosomes 1-22), Y chromosomes DNA and mitochondrial DNA. They have 5 ancestry reports: Ancestry Composition, Maternal & paternal Haplogroups, Neanderthal Ancestry and Your DNA family. They also have a DNA relative finder you can opt into for finding and connecting with relatives in the 23andMe database who can share DNA with you. They offer an Ancestry service for $99 and a Health +Ancestry Services for $199.
Each year more people are doing DNA testing, so more information is becoming available in the genetic genealogy pool. Genetic Genealogy DNA testing is an amazing resource that can help anyone looking to find out more about their family tree. If you are at a point in your genealogy research where you feel your suck, or you’ve been told by some of your relatives that you are from a location, but you haven’t been able to make connection, or you are just curious where your ancestors really came from, then DNA testing may be your answer.
Wishing you all the best in your search.