Why DNA test?
The question came up yesterday afternoon, as it so often does, when genetic genealogists try to caution against thinking that DNA testing is the be-all and end-all of research.
The Legal Genealogist was sitting in on a panel discussion on DNA testing at the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s North Star Conference, and joined the panelists in talking about the need to consider DNA results as just one more data source, to think about the possibility that some results in the speculative category could be false positives and not real genetic relatives at all.
That’s a problem especially at AncestryDNA where there aren’t any good analytical tools to see just exactly where in our DNA we and a match may have an overlap and where the default setting is to include a great many possible matches in the speculative category: people who may very well be false positives.
So, an attendee asked, if he didn’t have a specific question he wanted to answer, and there were all those speculative cases to wade through, and nothing he really thought DNA might particularly help with, why should he do DNA testing?
I can’t answer for him.
But I sure can answer for me.
And this graphic, right here, is enough of an answer for me, even at AncestryDNA where the tools don’t rise to the level of the other DNA testing companies:
I tested at AncestryDNA, and for the record at every other major genetic genealogy testing company I could test with including Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and even the National Geographic Genographic 2.0 project.
I had no specific issue I wanted answered by testing at AncestryDNA, no theory I was trying to test, no second kit I was sending in for a possible cousin to see if our lines really were from the same family.
I tested with AncestryDNA mostly to see how their system worked, to be able to answer reader questions about it, to satisfy my own curiosity.
And, one morning, I logged into my AncestryDNA account and the graphic you see above is what greeted me.
You can see that this is a fairly close cousin and — assuming that the paper trail research is correct (and, in this case, it is) — we both descend from Gustavus and Isabella Robertson.
What makes this result so welcome and so extraordinary is that this third cousin’s ancestor William, oldest of the Robertson sons, had disappeared from my research radar with records that abruptly ended in the 1880s. He, his wife, his one daughter from the 1880 census might all have been captured by aliens. We simply couldn’t find any trace of them.
It was wonderful to be able to reconnect with this branch of the family. This cousin hadn’t known anything about his William’s grandparents, so I was able to take him back beyond Gustavus and Isabella. And what did I get from this connection?
Well, we can start with the sheer pleasure of reuniting two branches of this family. Of being able to add data about William’s line to the overall family tree.
But there was so much more than I gained.
You see, when I found out where William had gone after he disappeared from the counties where the rest of the family was, I checked the records in the places where — I thought — only William had gone.
And found that, in the years between the censuses, my own great grandfather — William’s baby brother Jasper — and their father Gustavus had also gotten land grants together in a part of Texas where I would never have thought to look.
Jasper and Gustavus didn’t stay there; both of them ended up giving up their land — to William in one case, to the husband of a sister in another case.
It’s a chapter of Jasper’s life I might never have known about if it hadn’t been for this DNA test. I wouldn’t have even known to look for it if I hadn’t gone ahead and done FAN club research (friends, associates and neighbors) after reuniting with William’s line.
And that, my friends, is why we do DNA testing.
Because we never, ever know what might be waiting for us if we do.
And that leap into the darkness of the unknown can end up shedding so much light on our own family history.