My love affair with DNA


Image by Zephyris at the English Language Wikipedia

Last spring, I finally broke down and entered the world of genetic genealogy. When I starting writing my blog, one of the things I also started to do was to read genealogy blogs. Soon I found blogs like Judy G. Russell’s Legal Genealogist and Roberta Estes’ DNA Explained. Before I tested, most of what they wrote about did not make sense. I did not have a frame of reference for the foreign languages they were speaking. But I kept reading Judy’s posts in which she compared and evaluated the three main companies’ tests (FTDNA, Ancestry, and 23andme) hoping that meaning would finally dawn upon me. Eventually I reached the point when I decided I would test. I asked my Dad if he would be interested in testing with me.  He agreed and I ordered two tests from 23andme. I completed my test first and then brought my Dad’s test with me when I went to visit him last summer.

As my results came in and then my Dad’s, I made some good solid connections with some of our 3rd and 4th cousins from the Lawhead side of the family. After 20 years of research, I already knew who these cousins were, even though we had never met. I connected with a cousin on the Schwartz tree, a descent of a sibling of W. B. Schwartz and Elizabeth (Schwartz) Yegerlehner. There are some 3rd cousins from the Yegerlehner tree as well, descendants of Christian’s brother John. In the beginning, the best part for me was the validation. All those years chasing documents and creating paper trails has been confirmed by DNA evidence. Through this blog, I have made some wonderful  connections with the descendants of my great grandmother’s half sister. A few cousins from that branch had already tested and another cousin is waiting for her results. I still have some matches that I can’t explain, but the more people who test, the better our chances are for solving those mysteries. I often think of DNA as an endless logic puzzle. Eventually we will get the pieces to fit together.

By Thanksgiving, I was feeling limited in what I could do with just the DNA from my dad and me. I had asked my brother to test over the summer but he hadn’t completed his kit. I bought two more kits for my mother and my husband. And then 23andme had trouble with the FDA! Needless to say, everyone completed their tests promptly, and then we sat back and waited. By mid January, the results started to come in. I now have five kits that I manage. A few weeks ago, a new program called Genome Mate was introduced at Rootstech. I had previously tried to build a spreadsheet to keep track of all the matches and shared segments. With five samples, the spreadsheets were not working. It was too confusing to keep track of everyone and everything. Genome Mate is currently my favorite tool for keeping track of all my matches.

At this point, I can’t imagine doing genealogy research without DNA. It is an amazing tool. This week I made a connection with someone who appears to match one of my brick wall lines from Gladys’ family. Most of Gladys’ ancestors settled in the United States before the Revolutionary War. Due to the migration patterns of the late 18th and early 19th century, many of the records from their lives are lost or never existed. It has been an uphill battle to chip away at her ancestry. I have long theorized who the parents of Sarah Ann Jewell were without direct evidence. Sarah is the last known female ancestor on Gladys’ female line (her mother’s mother’s mother). I think I may have figured it out, and DNA has helped me to do it.

I recommend DNA testing to anyone who wants to know more about their heritage. I urge people to ask older family members to be tested before it is too late. Just like the advice seasoned genealogists give to the newcomers “Get the oldest family members to tell their stories before they are gone!” Ask if they are willing to submit a DNA sample before they are gone.  The DNA tests we currently have for genealogy are geared towards testing relatives in a six generation range. You can find some matches further back, but it gets harder with every generation.

There are some great genetic genealogists out there with lots of tips and advice. Some of my favorites are:

Roberta Estes DNA Explained
Judy G. Russell The Legal Genealogist
CeCeMoore Your Genetic Genealogist
Blaine Bettinger The Genetic Genealogist

I am currently reading Emily D. Aulicino’s book Genetic Genealogy: Basics and Beyond.

If you are interested in pursuing genetic genealogy and testing your DNA, educate yourself. DNA is only a tool (albeit an awesome one!). It is not a magic wand for discovering your family’s genealogy. Doing the research and collecting the documents and stories are still an integral part of the process.

©2014 copyright owned and written by Deborah Sweeney

16 thoughts on “My love affair with DNA

  1. davidmadison1942

    WOW, Deb, you have a much more scientific mind than I do. I love to read about the history of science….but you’re into doing it.

  2. Dave Robison

    Interesting blog! I’m familiar with and read Judy, Roberta and some CeCe. I don’t know if I want to tackle any others!! I think my head would shut down from overload! But what I especially like about Judy and Roberta is that the speak ENGLISH…well, most of the time!

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      I agree. I have a hard time with CeCe sometimes, especially when I first started. And now that I have been “doing” DNA and manage 5 kits, I really can understand what they are talking about.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Hi Jana,
      Thank you again for including my post in your Fab Finds. I really appreciate it.

      I think I learn something new everyday when it comes to DNA. I was just listening to Science Friday and they were talking about mtDNA and the native peoples who crossed over the land bridge from Asia to Alaska. I love that I know what they are talking about. 🙂


  3. thegenealogygirl

    I was so happy to read this! I have been considering using DNA testing to help with my great grandfather who is a brick wall. He has two living sons and they each have living sons. I have been reading various things trying to decide which company to test with and so on. I need to learn more. I’m headed to visit this branch of my family in a few weeks and I need to be ready to ask them to test.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      One of the most surprising things I find about a small percentage of people who test is that they haven’t taken the time to educate themselves. They spent the money to test and then they don’t do anything with the information. There are also a lot of people who are adopted that are searching. I always try to help as much as I can when someone says they are adopted.

    2. Genealogy Lady Post author

      I also really recommend Emily’s book. She has a chapter on the dos and don’ts about asking people to test. She explains how DNA testing for genealogy isn’t accessible to the health insurance companies or the same type of DNA used in forensic police investigations (two of the main reasons people won’t test).

      1. Genealogy Lady Post author

        And Blaine just shared a link that he is doing a webinar in a couple weeks on “Using DNA to Solve Family Mysteries”. It looks like it is $50 via the Family Tree Magazine website.

  4. marthabernie

    I recently did my DNA through AncestryDNA. Totally debunked the family belief that my great grandmother was half Cherokee Indian (she was an adopted orphan), and also that a 3rd great grandfather had married a Choctaw woman. However, it did confirm that the 3rd great grandfather was closely related (probably the son) of an ancestor whom I suspected was my 4th great grandfather but could never prove. It was surprising on a couple of fronts but fun to do and I will probably do another one in a few years to compare and also look for more relatives!

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      Good for you! Debunking the Native American myth seems to be a popular use of DNA testing. So many people have stories in their family about being descended from Native Americans.

      One of the things I didn’t mention in my essay was that most genetic genealogists recommend that you test with all three companies. That way your results are in more “pools” and you can find more matches. I believe you can also download your raw data from Ancestry at this point and upload it to free sites like Gedmatch. I have tested with 2 out 3 at this point and I also submitted my data to Gedmatch. 🙂


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