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Welcoming DAR to the 21st century!

So… the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution has decided to stick its toes — again — into the 21st century.

DARIts President General announced yesterday that, starting the first of next year, folks will be able to use DNA — a little bit — to help prove their eligibility for membership.1

Now it’s really not very much, mind you. And it’s particularly not very much that’s all that helpful to the very women DAR wants to attract who may be trying to prove descent from a Revolutionary patriot — but at least a little bit.

Here’s what the DAR had to say:

… I’m pleased to announce that a ruling was passed today by the National Board of Management to allow the submission of Y-DNA test results as part of a genealogical analysis of evidence under guidelines set forth by the Genealogy Department effective January 1, 2014.

So what that means is that beginning January 1, 2014, NSDAR will accept Y-DNA evidence in support of new member applications and supplemental applications. DNA evidence submitted along with other documentation will be considered along with all of the other source documentation provided to prove heritage. Y-DNA will not be considered as stand-alone proof of linage (sic) because while it can be used as a tool point to a family, it cannot be used as absolute proof for an individual. …

Over the past few months I have learned a lot about DNA from the Genealogy staff, however, it is still very new to me. The Office of the Registrar General was kind enough to provide me with this explanation of Y-DNA and how DAR came to this decision to update the policy:

The Genealogy staff of the Office of the Registrar General routinely studies trends in all aspects of genealogical research. These may involve advances in methodology or the availability of records. One noted trend is the use of DNA evidence in genealogy. Over the last ten years, the use of DNA evidence for genealogical purposes has increased. Similarly a growing group of Genealogy staff members at the NSDAR have studied the potential use of DNA in support of DAR applications and supplemental applications. Although no single DNA test can point to a specific ancestor, advances in the science and interpretation of DNA testing have placed the NSDAR in a position to begin accepting DNA evidence in a limited manner within the context of traditional genealogical evidence.

Of the three types of DNA widely available through a number of Genetic Genealogy Testing companies – Mitochondrial DNA, Y-DNA, and Chromosomal or Autosomal DNA – at this time, only the Y-DNA is applicable to the NSDAR verification process. However, since women do not have Y-DNA, applicants will need to find appropriate male surrogates for whom test results can be used to link the applicant to an ancestor and lineage already completely verified by the NSDAR. Identifying the specific types of situations in which DNA can be accepted by the NSDAR, as well as the testing and reporting methods for the surrogate Y-DNA test subjects, will be a portion of the Background, Training and Procedures document that will be published by the NSDAR on or before the official starting date of January 1, 2014.

The Genealogy staff’s DNA study group will continue to use all types of DNA evidence in their own research as well as monitor developments in the science of genetic testing. As with any new endeavor the initial procedures and expectations may be changed at a future time. These changes might be in response to new science, new interpretations of existing data, or the workload of the Genealogy staff.2

This isn’t the DAR’s first flirtation with DNA. In 2004 it had advised local chapters that it did “allow use of DNA verification as a proof document in the chain of lineal descent.”3 It changed its mind afterwards and by 2009 had included an article in its American Spirit magazine explaining why it didn’t accept such evidence.4

Clearly, yesterday’s announcement represents a real improvement, an official change-of-heart by its DNA study group, and at least part of the credit goes to folks from the International Society of Genetic Genealogy who have worked tirelessly to educate the lineage society about DNA testing. ISOGG Director (and DAR member) Katherine Borges was involved in the effort, giving a presentation to the DNA study group in 2008 to show how DNA could be used for lineage proof.5

So why isn’t The Legal Genealogist jumping up and down with enthusiasm?

Read one of those sentences again: “Of the three types of DNA widely available through a number of Genetic Genealogy Testing companies – Mitochondrial DNA, Y-DNA, and Chromosomal or Autosomal DNA – at this time, only the Y-DNA is applicable to the NSDAR verification process.

In other words, the women who would like to join the DAR can only use the one kind of DNA that they, themselves, don’t have. (YDNA, remember, is the kind of DNA passed from father to son; daughters don’t ever inherit YDNA.6) It doesn’t allow mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) — the kind passed from a mother to all of her children but that only female children then pass on to their children to establish a direct female line.7 And it doesn’t allow autosomal DNA — the kind inherited from both parents so testing works across genders and helps identify cousins in recent generations.8

Noted genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills spotted that limit immediately yesterday: “It’s actually mildly amusing irony: the DAUGHTERS of the American Revolution accept Y-line MALE-line DNA, but not mtDNA that follows their FEMALE lines back to the patriot or soldier,” she wrote. “Now I’m wondering what the policy is at SONS of the AmRev.”9

The answer is: a whole lot better than the Daughters.

As a matter of fact, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution turns out to have the broadest and most DNA-friendly attitude of any major lineage society. Its application manual and its policies make it clear that both YDNA and autosomal DNA results may be considered as part of a proof argument, and, while it doesn’t specifically allow the use of mtDNA, it doesn’t specifically rule it out in an appropriate case either.

Here’s what the SAR Application Preparation Manual says:

DNA evidence can only be used as part of a proof argument that includes additional conventional proof of the lineage. Even when an applicant shares a high number, or even a perfect match of DNA markers with a relative who has proven with conventional documentation that he is a descendant of a particular patriot, that doesn’t mean that the applicant descends from the same patriot. He may descend for the patriot’s brother or close cousin who would likely share the same DNA. DNA analysis of the male chromosome (Y-DNA) means only that the male line is examined; in other words, it helps to prove the applicant is descended from a surnamed family group in which the patriot is just one member. Autosomal DNA tests indicate probable relationships based on the amount of common DNA in the chromosomes other than the Y-chromosome. They don’t indicate which family line/surname is involved but can help if a large number of likely cousin matches appear to come from the same ancestral line. Neither the Y-DNA or autosomal tests prove a descent from a specific individual.10

And the NSSAR Genealogical Policies simply say: “Neither the autosomal or the Y-DNA tests prove a descent from a specific individual and can only be used as one element of a proof argument that includes additional conventional proof of the lineage.”11

The NSSAR policy makes perfect sense: DNA isn’t determinative in the vast majority of cases (it can exclude someone pretty definitively, but including someone takes more proof), which makes it exactly like any other kind of evidence we use day in and day out to construct genealogical proofs. And while one type of DNA may be better in proving descent from a particular male, it isn’t the only type that can help.

So, welcome to the 21st century, Daughters of the American Revolution. We in the genetic genealogy community are glad you’re sticking your toes in the water.

But hey… come on in with all kinds of DNA.

The water’s fine.


SOURCES

  1. Lynn Young, “DNA Evidence for DAR Applications and Supplementals,” Today’s DAR, posted 5 Oct 2013 (http://youngblog.dar.org/ : accessed 5 Oct 2013).
  2. Ibid.
  3. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Timeline:Genetic genealogy 2004,” rev. 31 Jan 2012.
  4. See Whit Athey, “DAR versus DNA,” Journal of Genetic Genealogy, Spring, 2009 (http://www.jogg.info/51/ : accessed 5 Oct 2013).
  5. Katherine Borges, “Daughters of the American Revolution now accepting DNA as a lineage proof!,” ISOGG DNA Project Administrators Forum list, posted 5 Oct 2013 (http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ISOGG/ : accessed 5 Oct 2013).
  6. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 31 Aug 2013.
  7. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA test,” rev. 5 Oct 2013.
  8. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  9. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Facebook comment, posted 5 Oct 2013 (https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.shownmills : accessed 5 Oct 2013).
  10. Application Preparation Manual, NSSAR, PDF at 16 (http://www.sar.org/ : accessed 5 Oct 2013).
  11. Policy Number 2006-01, Use of DNA in SAR Applications,” NSSAR (http://www.sar.org/ : accessed 5 Oct 2013).
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