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Sometimes we just have to

The Legal Genealogist‘s light reading just before setting off for this trip to Oregon for the Genealogical Forum of Oregon’s fall seminar was the current issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ).

DNAIt’s one of the best ways to see how the Genealogical Proof Standard (the GPS, for short) is actually applied to solve some of our most complex genealogical problems.

You know, the kind of genealogical problems you and I have all over our family trees?

The ones we grapple with each and every day?

The ones we often refer to as brick walls?

Yeah, those.

The first and most essential step of the GPS is this:

Reasonably exhaustive research—emphasizing original records providing participants’ information—for all evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about an identity, relationship, event, or situation.1

We apply the GPS to our research “to measure the credibility of conclusions about ancestral identities, relationships, and life events.”2 And each part of the standard “contributes to a proved conclusion’s credibility.”3

And, in particular, “Reasonably exhaustive research ensures examination of all potentially relevant sources. It minimizes the risk that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion.”4

So… what does this have to do with DNA?


More and more, we are all running into cases where DNA is an obvious candidate to be included among those “potentially relevant sources” and where it clearly can provide “evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about an identity, relationship, event, or situation.”

Whether we can reliably place this man into that man’s family can often be proved or disproved using YDNA — the kind of DNA that only men have and that passes down the generations from father to son to son with very few changes over time.5

Whether we can reliably say that this child should be assigned to that mother can similarly often be proved or disproved using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) — the kind of DNA we all have and all receive from our mothers, who received it from their mothers, who received it from their mothers, again passing through the generations with very few changes over time.6

And whether we can reliably put this man together with that woman as brother and sister or cousins or relatives of any stripe may depend, in part, on whether the two people we want to tie together are close enough in time for DNA testing of available candidates to help shed light on their relationship. For that, we’d use autosomal DNA testing — looking at the kind of DNA we all inherit from both of our parents and that can help support a proof argument that two people do belong on the same branch of the family tree.7

So… what does this have to do with DNA and the NGSQ?

In this current issue, the NGSQ editors devoted their editorial to DNA testing. You’ll have to read the whole thing for yourself. (You are a member of the National Genealogical Society, right? If not, you should be, and you can read more about joining here. It may be the best $65 you ever spend in genealogy.)

But here’s the bottom line.

While recognizing that “Not every case requires genetic results” in order for the GPS to be met, editors Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones noted the increasing utility of DNA testing, its extraordinary value in some of the complex cases reported in the NGSQ and said that “in 2014 the Quarterly for the first time deferred accepting a paper because the author’s conclusion seemed to need DNA-test support.”8

In other words, to meet the standards of genealogy’s best practices, to conduct reasonably exhaustive research, to resolve complex genealogical problems, to break down our personal brick walls — to do what we all want to do for our own families –sometimes DNA is something we just have to do.


  1. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn. : Ancestry, 2014), 1.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., at 2.
  4. Ibid.
  5. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 5 March 2014.
  6. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 9 July 2014.
  7. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 26 July 2014. See also Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  8. Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones, “Editor’s Corner,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 102, No. 3 (Sep. 2014).
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