04 September 2008

Understanding the Benefits of DNA Testing for Genealogy - Part 2: Setting DNA Testing Goals

Steps to Determining a Goal

Without understanding how DNA helps genealogy well, it may be difficult to pick the goal and proper test to help you solve your genealogy problem, so it is very important to read as much as you can on the subject and consult people who do understand it.

There are many books listed on this site and you also have the option of contacting me.

Although the learning curve is steep in the beginning, you can learn enough about testing to benefit from it. It does get easier over time and with repeated doses.

1. Narrow down a question you are trying to answer.

There is a large variety of problems you might solve with DNA testing. Those listed below are only a few possibilities:
..........Which line do you wish to test?
..........Are you interested in results that tell you about your most ancient ancestry or something within genealogical time?
..........Are you looking for a biological father?
..........Do you wish to know which other persons with your surname are related?
..........Do you wish to find cousins to help research the lineage?
..........Are you trying to prove or disprove a connection to a famous or infamous person?
..........What is my ethnic heritage?

Just having a question does not help you choose a test unless you understand what DNA testing can tell you specifically for your question. The above questions can be answered with DNA testing, but perhaps not in the way you might assume. For this reason, if you are anxious to test before you clearly understand and before you finish reading all the messages I will be posting on the subject, do write me directly before you order any test. My email: Aulicino@hevanet.com

2. Finding the person you need for the test.

In genealogy we always start with ourselves and work methodically backwards for each generation, gleaning all we can before proceeding backward to the next set of grandparents.

In Genetic Genealogy we do the opposite. The term is “reverse genealogy.” We start with the person whose DNA we wish to target. For example, your great, great, grandfather. In this case we can only test his all male line so we locate the records we need to bring each male line to the present. Work on all the males at the same time as some may “daughter out.” That is, there are only daughters born in one generation so the surname doesn’t continue with that branch of the family.

Bring as many males to the present on an all male line from the targeted great, great, grandfather. To check this work, put the living male as number one on a pedigree chart and see if the top line of the chart goes back to the targeted person…that great, great, grandfather.

Once you have found a living male on the line you need, then check the online phone books or other resources to find a phone number or address and contact that person.

Of course, if that person will not test or is no longer living you then have the other males you researched. Also, you can ask about sons of your possible tester or nephews or cousins on the all male line.

The same strategy is used for the all female line, the bottom line of a pedigree chart.

3. Select the people to test based on the question.

For example, you may wish to know if the Tennessee Talley families are related to the North Carolina Talley families. To answer this question with DNA testing, you would then need to select several male Talley descendants from each of the lines and compare the results of their DNA tests.

A match would prove that the two lines descend from a common ancestor, though would not be able to determine which ancestor. The common ancestor could be their father, or it could be a male from over a thousand years ago. This common ancestor can be further narrowed down by testing additional people and/or additional markers.

4. Convince the person you need to take a DNA test.

This can some times be very easy to do, but not always. The rule to follow comes from a comment made by a good ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) friend, Georgia Kenney Bopp when she said: “Never ask for DNA on the first date.”

This is a good mantra. Much of the public is still very skeptical about their DNA being in the public eye….some times, they seem more concerned about that than their credit card information! I will speak to this in more depth later, but for now, just get to know the person on a genealogical level. Ask if they know whether or not your lines are related and if there is a family genealogist. Although genealogists have a varying degree of comfort on the idea of DNA testing, they may tend to understand more easily than just a man off the street. Take nothing for granted, however. Anyone who doesn’t really understand the difference between testing for genealogy, testing for your medical doctor or testing for the criminal justice system isn’t a person likely to test. You may have to first educate yourself; then educate your tester.

After you know what questions DNA Testing will answer and what answer you seek, the next step is Part 3: Choosing a DNA Test

©Aulicino, 31 Aug 2008

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