A New Partnership – DNA Research and Traditional Genealogy

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In the September 2014 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, editors Melinde Lutz Bryneand Thomas W. Jones conceded that while traditional genealogists have worked withsources and documents that have been available for decades, a new resource forresearch has been evolving in the past decade – DNA. 

Over the past few years, NGSQ has been steadily publishingarticles that use DNA AND traditional genealogy methods toshow relationships. They even withheld publication of an article earlier thisyear that indicated DNA evidence was needed to support the author’sconclusion.[1] 

Inaddition this year, the Board of Certified Genealogists revamped theirGenealogy Standards with a 50th Anniversary Edition. Severalstandards were rewritten to include DNA and genetic evidence as viable methodsof meeting the Genealogical Proof Standard. DNA research and genetic genealogyare ready to shake up the field of traditional genealogy in the twenty-firstcentury.

So how does DNA research work with traditionalgenealogy? Generally, they work side by side and help fill in the gaps when theother is lacking. Currently there are three major types of DNA tests available,and each provides a different kind of information for genealogists. All threetypes can be used with traditional genealogy to solve brick walls or to confirmprobable relationships when the paper trail is weak.

Three MajorTypes of DNA

  1. Y-DNA is usedto trace the paternal line – the father’s father’s father’s family. Agenealogist might have an excellent paper trail that follows this line forseveral generations and then…nothing. Migrations of families can cause havocwith paper trails, especially with common surnames. Using Y-DNA can helpseparate one family of Joneses from another. This type of DNA typically has fewmutations and can be used to trace many generations back in time.
  2. Autosomal DNAis used to test all 22 chromosome pairs, as well as the X chromosome (in somecases). When trying to find a closer relationship, within 5-7 generations,autosomal DNA is the best choice. This type of DNA test has been usedeffectively to solve adoption puzzles or to confirm closer familyrelationships. However, after 5-7 generations, cousins tend to fall off thegenetic family tree. This is due to the process of gene recombination.

  3. Mitochondrial DNAis used to trace the maternal line – the mother’s mother’s mother’s family. Inresearch where a women’s maiden name is unknown, mitochondrial DNA can be aneffective tool. In 2013, the body of Richard III, found under a car park inLeicester, was identified using this type of DNA. Like Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNAhas few mutations, and in the case of Richard III, can be used to tracelineages hundreds of years.

Knowing which type of DNA to use to solve a traditionalgenealogical puzzle can be daunting process, and an expensive mistake if thewrong test is taken. Analyzing test results and making the most out of theinformation in combination with traditional genealogy methods can be confusingor completely overwhelming at times. The professional genealogists atGenealogists.com work together with industry-leading DNA experts to test andanalyze DNA while applying traditional research methods to break down thoseproverbial bricks walls or jump start stalled research.

by Deborah Sweeney © 2014, Genealogists.com. All rights reserved

[1] Melinde Lutz Byrne and ThomasW. Jones, “Genealogical Scholarship and DNA Test Results,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (September 2014):Editors’ Corner.










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Written by


November 20, 2014
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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