01 September 2008

Understanding the Benefits of DNA Testing for Genealogy - Part 1: Why Should You Test Your DNA?


Understanding the Benefits of DNA Testing for Genealogy is a series of three articles designed to help the genealogist use DNA testing to their benefit.

The following articles are:
Part 1: Why Should You Test Your DNA?
Part 2: Setting DNA Testing Goals
Part 3: Choosing a DNA Test

Part 1: Why Should You Test Your DNA?

Many genealogists feel that they have excellent documentation for their lineage and no doubt many do and it is possibly very accurate. However, one never knows until you test your lines using DNA. DNA is the most accurate tool a genealogist has and unlike paper sources it does not lead you down the wrong path with inadvertent errors.

I often tell the story of my Ogan line from Frederick County, Virginia in the mid 1700s. My Peter and Euphemia Ogan were the only family by that surname in the county until one day just before moving to Belmont County, Ohio just after the turn of the century there appeared in the tax records a Samuel Ogan. Now, Samuel was Euphemia’s step-father’s name, and it is common knowledge that when a person becomes of age they are listed on the tax rolls…so this was my assumption: Samuel was very possibly a son of Peter and Euphemia. I began tracing his line in Ohio and found that he had grandchildren named Peter and Euphemia, as did my Peter and Euphemia. Descendants of both families landed in Indiana in later years, although not the same county. I hired a good researcher to glean what she could from areas in both Ohio and Indiana. Hundreds of dollars later I had acquired news articles on the family, deeds, and even a digitalized photo album of descendants. I was in the process of writing a book on all my Ogans, bringing their lines down to at least the 1900s. Elizabeth Shown Mill’s book Evidence! assured me that I could be confident in my work, although circumstantial…it was strong circumstantial evidence. BUT, that was before DNA testing.

After DNA testing arrived on the scene a few years later, I found a male candidate for both my line and Samuel’s. The test results were very far from matching. Hundreds of dollars and many, many hours were wasted. Samuel was not related! I have since learned my lesson…DNA test first where possible!

However, I hold out some hope as I am searching for another descendant of Samuel that would be a distant cousin to the first tester. My line has been repeatedly tested so I am confident in the test results for Peter, but it is still possible that the person who tested for Samuel had what is called an NPE (Non-Parental Event) in his line. That is to say, there was a known or unknown adoption or illegitimate son along the line. This would explain the vast difference in the testing result if a new tester matches the results of my Peter. I have several months before my book will be near completion, so there is time to find another tester so I can safely include or exclude this line and distribute my boxes and boxes of data for Samuel to some worthy descendant.

SO, why should every genealogist DNA test their lines? Because…

Paper sources are inaccurate or missing. Living in a census household with the same surname is not proof of a relationship. Letters or deeds calling someone a brother is not proof of a relationship.

Adoptions and illegitimate children are not always recorded in written or oral history and have happened for thousands of years. Since the days of the caveman, families have taken in orphaned children and it is still done in modern times without being recorded.

Name changes are not recorded. Ancestor had to leave the country/state to escape from the law or ancestor wished to distinguish himself and his descendants with a variation of his surname.

Spelling errors become the norm. The following is a list of some of the spellings for my Ogan surname:

Gaelic name: O’h-Ogain.
Wogan, Agen, Agin, Agun, Augan, Ogan, Ogans, Oogan, O’ogan, O’ogain, O’Hogan, Hogan, Ogen, Ogin, Ogun, Ogyn, Ougan, Owgan, Dugan, U’gan (pronounced Oogawn)

I have personal stories and the DNA to back up everyone of these categories.

In summary, DNA tests can be used by genealogists to...

1. Link specific individuals - e.g. test to see whether you and a person you think may be a cousin descend from a common ancestor.

2. Prove or disprove the ancestry of people sharing the same last name - e.g. test to see if males carrying the surname are related to each other.

3. Prove or disprove oral history of descending from a famous or infamous person.

4. Break through genealogical brick walls. (See a previous Blog)

5. Prove or disprove you paper trail.

6. Map the genetic origins of large population groups - e.g. test to see whether you have European or African American ancestry.

Once you understand how genetic testing can help you with your genealogy, you can formulate your goals for testing and determine which test will help you reach that goal. These topics will continue this series with Part 2: Setting DNA Testing Goals.

Questions or Comments? Email: aulicino@hevanet.com

©Aulicino, 31 Aug 2008

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