Not an outlier any more
In case you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon in recent years, DNA isn’t the new kid on the block any more.
It’s not an outlier in the genealogical community.
It’s part and parcel of what every genealogist should be doing, whenever it can provide relevant evidence in resolving a genealogical question.
And you don’t have to take The Legal Genealogist‘s word for it at all.
Over the past few days, we have had powerful evidence of how much genetic genealogy is at the forefront of our community.
As one example, in the popularity voting by genealogists around the world at John D. Reid’s blog Anglo-Celtic Connections in his annual review of what he calls genealogy rockstars, the gold winner in three major categories (International, USA and Genetic Genealogy) was genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, author of the Your Genetic Genealogist blog and a DNA consultant to the PBS genealogy program Finding Your Roots, featuring Henry Louis Gates. And, I suspect, it’s my own interest in genetic genealogy that put me in the silver position in the International and USA categories and the bronze in Genetic Genealogy.
But that’s hardly the only evidence we have.
Friday afternoon, at the New York State Family History Conference in Syracuse, co-sponsored by the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society and the Central New York Genealogical Society, Thomas W. Jones challenged attendees to answer the question, “Will Your Family History Have Lasting Value?”
Tom is uniquely qualified to ask that question: he is co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, a former president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the list of credentials just goes on and on. He is a genuine heavyweight as a genealogical scholar.
And what he said to that standing-room-only crowd of genealogists is a powerful testament to what DNA has become as part of good genealogical practice.
Because he began by outlining the first steps every genealogist should take to ensure that what we do in our research is the very best we can do. We must, he said, gather the oral history of our families from the living people whose voices can be heard today but will be silenced by time. We must gather our family artifacts: the photos, the letters, the diaries, the items that tell so much of our family stories. And we must, he said, as one of these very first steps gather our family DNA by testing our family members as broadly and as deeply as our pocketbooks will bear.
He urged the crowd to test the YDNA of the men of the family, to capture the evidence of their fathers’ fathers’ father’s line. To test the mitochondrial DNA of the men and women of the family, for their mothers’ mothers’ mother’s line. And to test as many of the oldest members of the family as we can for autosomal DNA evidence of all of our ancestral lines.
Not as an afterthought.
Not as an outlier.
But as part and parcel of all of our genealogical research.
So that, in the end, our work will have lasting value.
The conference went on to cement that notion in the minds of the attendees by presenting a full-day of genealogical education yesterday: Blaine Bettinger, author of The Genetic Genealogist blog, and I alternated in presenting an overview of DNA (Blaine), the law and ethics of testing (me), YDNA and mtDNA testing (Blaine), autosomal DNA (Blaine) and a case study in using all DNA types to reconstruct a family in a county where the courthouse burned — twice (me).
So if you’ve been sitting on the fence, and thinking about whether DNA testing is right for you, the answer by now really is a no-brainer.
Test. Test as broadly and deeply in your family as you can afford to test. Because we do want our research to have lasting value. Because DNA isn’t an outlier any more.
Come on in.
The DNA testing water is just fine.
The problem is that in the Netherlands, people are very wary of their privacy. With the exception of my mom and one other family member (a carrier of the Hoitink Y-chromosome, thank you!), I haven’t found any family members willing to test. They value their privacy and don’t want their DNA in US databases. This lack of people willing to test severely limits our options of DNA research, and also mean that most of us with Dutch ancestors will have few matches in DNA databases. I wonder if and how that will change over the next couple of years.
The other problem for those not aware, is that DNA reveals family secrets that some family members may not want revealed. Infidelity, adoptions or even switches at birth give rise to an NPE (Not the Parent Expected) and could cause irreparable harm to family relationships.
Your genetic grandparents may not be who you think they are.
So no, it’s not for everyone.
Informed consent for testing requires an understanding of those risks. But let’s face it: a birth certificate, a baptismal record, even a census record can also disclose that someone other than who we expect is the parent or grandparent. Anyone who’s really worried about skeletons in the closet shouldn’t be doing family history.
For adoptees who live in states which do not have equal access to original birth certificates, DNA is the FIRST step towards identifying their genetic heritage. Adoption has been an arena of myths, lies and secrecy for decades… and when you know better, you do better. Now, openness and honesty are valued so that people know the truth of their origins.
My husbands last name is KESSLER and we have done DNA (autosomal and YDNA) on he and his father. There was a name change from MEYER (sp?) and so we have a brick wall as soon as we get back to Germany.
So, I find it amusing to see a post by a KESSLER who is admonishing people not to get their DNA done when our KESSLER line is testing everyone we find!
Since I value truth and want to have accuracy in documenting ancestors, I have done my DNA in all 3 databases and I encourage others to do the same. If you want a family tree which may be built on lies and falsehoods, then it is best to just keep following the paper trails and suppress the science.
I’m proud to be a Search Angel and to also be a part of the political movement to restore access to original birth certificates for ADULT adoptees.
I agree with the notion of truth here, and of access to information. But Louis is absolutely right that disclosure when unexpected and unprepared for can do irreparable harm. Our ethical obligations as genealogists include making sure that no-one who tests at our request ever does DNA testing without being informed of the potential for such disclosures. As I put it recently to my brothers, “if you didn’t keep it zipped…”
That’s a great warning! 🙂
And, I also like to point out that avoiding a test won’t necessarily shield you from those surprises. You can’t control which of your first and second cousins tests, and those are close enough relationships that family mysteries can often be solved with just the right testers on key branches.
Which is why families — all families — should remember that the truth will out. Sooner or later. No matter what.
As the term “genetic ancestry” is used more frequently, is the lens examining why we do genealogy showing us a clearer picture? Does our genetic ancestry trump our familial one? Do we preferentially document our “blood line” and put our “relationship line” in the notes section of our databases?
The answers, I believe, may be dependent on which flavor of “truth” you prefer.
It shouldn’t be an “it depends” answer. Because both nature and nurture contribute to who we are: our biological lines contributed to our makeup in some ways; the people who raised us (or our forebears) contributed in others. It’s not an either-or. I agree that personal preference will dictate how some people document their families, but the reality is that all those who contributed to making us who we are should be documented whenever possible.
Judy, That is such a great answer, and I have met many people online that are documenting both biological ancestors once discovered through dna testing and continue to document their forebears. Another thing to consider is was the unexpected result from a NPE or was there a different surname adopted for whatever reason and in whichever generation. While reading another blog today by Kitty Cooper she commented that she had heard a speaker use “NPE” as “Not the Person Expected” which I think is a better description. So glad to see that seven of the “top ten” shares so much information on genetic genealogy because “it is coming on strong.” Thanks for all you do!
I believe the “not the parent expected” phrase for NJPE originated with Emily Aulicino!
Your posts ALWAYS make me smile.