Wendy Wilson Spooner ~ Genetic Genealogist, Lic. G., LCoT
THE RELEVANCE OF GENETIC KNOWLEDGE TO GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH
-By Wendy Wilson Spooner
(Article adapted from a paper written March 2014 for the American School of Genealogy, Heraldry, and Documentary Sciences, a subsidiary of the International College of Interdisciplinary Sciences)
The number of individuals researching their ancestors is increasing every year. The number of individuals sharing their research is growing as well. Through the myriad of online networking opportunities numerous individuals are connecting with prospective relatives and exchanging information. A label now exists for the longing many people shared before the arrival of DNA testing, which is namely - genetic curiosity. This curiosity ranges from a shallow interest in one’s forbearers, to a deep interest in possible future medical conditions based on the health histories of one’s ancestors, to finding biological roots and unknown family. These interests lead to the notion that genetic profiles will likely become widely available in the near future (Evans 2012).
DNA testing is a molecular genealogy tool used for disentangling ancestral and contemporary family roots. Modern technology now allows the genealogist to add a genome, or records of patrilineal and matrilineal ancestry by DNA to a family history archive. Most DNA tests can be as simple as swabbing the cheek and sending the sample in for laboratory testing. In addition to photographs, biographies, oral histories, and diaries, DNA testing offers a valuable biological tool for family history research (Hart, 2002).
Initially, the commercial use of genetic testing for genealogy was a somewhat disconcerting concept for both molecular biologists, and genealogists. However, the attitude quickly changed as genealogists realized that the available genetic tools were harmonious with traditional research methods. At the very least, DNA tests can address modest goals - such as investigating a family history story involving a presumed ethnicity or ancestry (Genetic Genealogy Goes Global, 2006).
One example of genetic testing serving genealogical efforts is the study relating to the Woodson family. The research was set in motion to test whether or not Thomas Jefferson was the father of any of Sally Hemings’ children. Hemings was one of the Jefferson family’s slaves, and DNA tests showed that the Jefferson Y chromosome haplotype matchedthat of a descendant of Hemings’ youngest child. The tests also showed that the Y chromosome of Jefferson did NOT match that of Hemings’ oldest child - of which the Woodson family was descended. The family was devastated when the oral tradition of their family history did not match that of the DNA testing results. One of the lessons to be learned from this outcome is that DNA testing may produce surprises in relation to one’s family history (Williams, 2012).
Further information that may be revealed through DNA testing and genealogy is medical predisposition, which can assist in planning personalized medicine. This type of research is called Phenomics. Knowledge of genes carried from a specific ethnic group (which carries diseases high in a particular population), can allow customization of medical care. “Phenomics is the science of customizing, tailoring, and individualizing medicines and other health treatments to the total human genome of one person (Hart, 2002, p. 24).
In conclusion, a fairly new test, the autosomal DNA test, is believed by many to provide major advancements for genealogical research through the analysis of over 700,000 DNA markers. Autosomal tests add extra dimensions to DNA testing by uncovering relatives in any branch of a family tree. When a person finds matches however; efforts should be made to confirm results with genealogical documentation (Szabados, 2013). Most importantly, DNA testing is providing new avenues of research and an additional valuable family finding tool.
European Molecular Biology Organization. “Genetic Genealogy Goes Global.” EMBOReports 7, no. 11 (November 1, 2006): 1072-4. Accessed March 19, 2014.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1679782/. Evans, Donald.
“Whakapapa, Genealogy and Genetics.” Bioethics 26, no. 4 (May 26, 2012): 183. Accessed March 19,2014. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/10.1111/j.1467-8519.2010.01850.x.
Hart, Anne. How to Interpret Your DNA Test Results for Family History. New York Lincoln Shanghai: Writers Club Press, 2002.
Szabados, Stephen M. “DNA and Your Genealogy.” Polish American Journal 102, no. 12(12/01/2013): 23. Accessed March 23, 2014.http://phoenix.summon.serialssolutions.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/search?s.q=dna+and+genealogy.
Williams, Sloan R. “Genetic Genealogy: The Woodson Family's Experience.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 29, no. 2 (May 26, 2012): 225-52. Accessed March 19, 2014.http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/docview/229999198.