08 January 2009

NOW is the Time to Test Your DNA

As genealogists, we have missed gathering photos and papers from family members along with the wonderful stories of their lives. We have all had regrets about not asking our relatives for more information on the family, and now those relatives are gone. By not having your lines test their DNA now, you may have the same regrets in years to come.

Why would it be important to have a DNA test done for yourself or for your family member?

Actually, there are several.

1. Interest is Growing and so are Matches
Genetic Genealogy, the use of DNA testing for genealogy, is becoming more popular and, as a result, more useful. The more people who test the greater the number of matches a person can have. These matches in the DNA signature can help break through our genealogy brick walls by showing you who does and who does not belong to your line. For this reason, it is a waste of time and resources to continue hunting the paper trail when DNA testing can help eliminate some of the data you find and help you concentrate on records which are connected to your lines.

My ancestor, Peter Ogan resided with his wife Euphemia in Frederick County Virginia in the middle 1700s. Just before moving to Belmont County Ohio in the very early 1800s, a Samuel Ogan appeared on the tax rolls. (I have only found one other Ogan in this county, a Moses Ogan.) As Samuel also arrived in Belmont County about the same time, and as some of his grandchildren were named Peter and Euphemia, I fell it was very possible that Samuel was a son of my Peter. Circumstantial evidence pointed this way, and we all know that sometimes that is all you get from your research.

Since I am writing a book on my Ogan line, I wanted to bring the family closer to the present. Therefore, I hired a researcher to scour the libraries, archives and newspapers for information on Samuel and his descendants in both Ohio and Indiana where his descendants landed. My Peter’s descendants also went to other counties in Indiana. She found wonderful records and even a CD of one of Samuel’s descendant’s photo album.

A year or so later, I became interested in genetic genealogy and tested a descendant of Samuel. The man did not even come close to being related! Now, out of fear that I may have tested a man whose family line had an adoption or unreported illegitimate birth, I am seeking a second candidate from another son of Samuel. Regardless of the outcome of this second test, I would have never spent that much money tracking paper when I could have researched just enough to find a living DNA donor. I could have paid for four tests for the money wasted in tracing the paper trail! Never again. I will test the line first to see if they do relate to my line.

In the future, wise genealogists will begin with DNA testing before they spend hundreds of dollars tracking lines they “believe” to be theirs.

2. Accurate Research…Maybe
Most genealogists feel they have done an excellent job researching and are convinced their paper trail is correct. At present DNA testing has shown that from 2-5% of the people tested are not of the line they believe themselves to be. One never knows if their ancestor took in the orphaned neighborhood children, if the wife had a son previously which was given the new father’s surname, or if some family member moved away and changed their surname.

Just as genealogy without documentation is mythology, genealogy without DNA testing is not irrefutable proof of a lineage. Granted we cannot test every line for several reasons, but to have solid proof of those we can is proof of accuracy on those lines.

3. DNA Cousins
DNA testing also allows you to find genealogical cousins with whom you can research to find the common ancestor. I have found many cousins throughout the forty plus years I have researched my family. However, in this day of DNA testing, I have found even more, and we definitely know we have a common ancestor. Together we can work on the lines to find that person.

Back to the Ogan family. I found several major groups of Ogans over those forty years. With DNA testing so far two of the known seven large families did not prove to be related, although both of them shared the given names of Peter and Euphemia. Oddly, only one other family besides my Peter had the name Euphemia, but it is good to know to whom you belong and to whom you do not.

4. Lowered Prices
DNA testing has been and will probably continue to go down in price to some degree, or you will get more for the price as all this progresses. However, waiting until the price becomes cheaper does not allow you to break through your brick walls now. No one can predict the length of our lives and our mental capacity. Acting now can help us avoid regrets later. Your descendants will be pleased you did.

5. Missed Chances
There is also the chance that the person you need to test may die unexpectedly. There are many, many cases which emphasis this point. I have had countless stories from people that their last male died just a few months or a few years ago, and they were not tested. Most of them were unexpected deaths or they just did not investigate Genetic Genealogy to see how it could help.

These researchers are saddened to learn their only other possibility is to track down a living person from an all male line that begins much farther back in their lineage. It can be difficult to do this and to convince the person to test. Unfortunately, some genealogists who have tried found the line daughtered-out on other lines or all the males were dead now. Often, a person cannot trace their line back very far, thus limiting the number of people they could locate for testing.

6. Tested After Death
I had a woman contact me about a year ago regarding a DNA sample taken from her father after he died. She requested the funeral home take the sample, but it was misplaced by the funeral home for nearly a year. Her father was the last male in her family. Luckily, the sample was found, and she called me. Upon questioning her I learned that the sample was taken with a tongue depressor, those large Popsicle sticks doctors use, put in a baggie, and stuck in the refrigerator. Well, thank goodness, it landed in the frig all this time!

I contacted the president of Family Tree DNA who suggested she send it right away and that she order only a 12 marker test so she would not be out too much money if the swab did not reveal anything useful. She was very fortunate in that it was a good sample. She later upgraded to add more markers which assisted her in researching her family history.

For this reason, it is important to consider taking a DNA sample from a deceased relative at their death, if you did not do so when they are living. Most funeral homes do not know much about DNA testing and would not have a kit available. In that case, you can order one and keep it in the refrigerator (or, at least, away from heat) to have on hand when needed. I have wanted to encourage funeral homes to offer this service to their client, but it will take the public requesting tests for it to happen, no doubt. Call your funeral home and ask them about this. Give them the name of a genetic genealogist in your area. Email me if you do not know of a genetic genealogist since I have access to a list.

7. Tested, but Gone
I have four testers in two surname projects who have died since testing. I am most thankful and grateful to have the results. I still have two men who have tested, but are “missing.” There is no reply to their emails and at their age, they could be gone.

Although these men did test, the problem is that no one has the control to upgrade their test as needed now or in the future. Please remember to designate at lest two people who can control your sample. Do so in writing and have it notarized. One of these people could be the administrator of the project while another relative who has interest in genealogy. Share this paper with your family and your DNA Project Administrator. Please let the administrator(s) know who will be responsible for your test results and do not forget to give them the codes to access the kit, as well.

Remember: You never know what new discoveries will be made in the future or near future in genetic genealogy. The field is moving rapidly. For this reason, test now and continue following the progress of Genetic Genealogy so you can better use the result in solving your brick wall.

To order a test, click on the Family Tree DNA Logo to the right. Search for your surname or other existing project for the lower prices. If you have any questions, before you order, email me directly at: aulicino@hevanet.com

©Aulicino, 8 Jan 2009


Kathleen Billingsley said...

How do you approach living male relatives to ask for a sample without it seeming too intrusive? My brothers have no interest in genealogy and there are so many myths, fears about dna testing in the general population. It sounds as though you've been pretty successful in approaching others and receiving cooperation from them!

Genealem said...

Thank you for your comment. Please refer to my articles in the archives dated 20 Sept 2008 and 1 Oct 2008. There are probably others around that same time which will help you, so browse.

To find the archives, look on the right side and find the triangles. Click on them to see the years and months.

Also realize that convincing some stranger to test isn't always successful, so plan on contacting more than one person, paying for the test and taking time to get to know them, their lines, and whether there is a family genealogist. These points are in my article.

Let me know of your success!

Best wishes,

Kathleen Billingsley said...

Hi Emily,

Those articles were very helpful.

Thanks a lot,