DNA and Your Family History

I was thrilled to attend the American Ancestors/ New England Historical Genealogical Society event in Arizona on Saturday May 17th

As you know, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is America’s founding genealogical organization and the most respected name in family history.

Their main headquarters are located in Boston, and you can find them online at AmericanAncestors.

The topic for this gathering was, “Leveraging DNA in Your Family History Research”. 

I wanted to learn more about the tools available online that help analyze raw data and connect the four different databases.

I also love case studies and methodology that combine DNA with historical documents to find true connections. At the moment, DNA testing and storage is a controversial topic because of the law enforcement access issue.

This event was held at the beautiful Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

The 101 participants set a record for the highest attended event for this local Scottsdale chapter of the society. DNA enthusiasts traveled from neighboring states to gain insight from the two well respected presenters, Christopher C. Child and Pam Guye Holland.  

I was met warmly by the chapter director Diana M. Smith. Her grace, welcoming smile, and breakfast spread quickly made me feel like family. Her husband was pretty cute too!

Pam Guye Holland

The first presentation was given by Pam Guye Holland, a researcher who holds a certificate from the Boston University Genealogical Research Program.  

She serves on the board of the New England chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Irish Ancestral Research Association.

Holland lectures nationally and regularly attends the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. Her specialties include, Irish and Genetic Genealogy, as well as research in New England, New York (both city and state), Germany and Social History. 

Pam first taught us about “DNA Basics and the Big Four”.

The four main companies that test DNA and provide personal results and online tools that help make family connections are:

  1. Family Tree DNA
  2. Ancestry DNA
  3. My Heritage
  4. 23&Me

All 4 companies offer the most popular test- the autosomal, however, Family Tree DNA is the only company at the moment that also offers the Y-DNA and the mtDNA tests.  23&Me had been the only company that offered the health results, but this week MyHeritage now offers the  health service at the same price as 23&Me ($199 – see: MyHeritage).

Pam suggested three things that must be done to ensure best results. First, test close relatives and different branches of your family tree – the older the better. Second, provide a well-researched and documented tree to the testing company. Third, test at multiple companies to find the most matches.[1]

Pam explained that there are three different types of tests an individual can take. Each provides different information.

  1. Autosomal (atDNA) – most popular, this test examines the 22 non-sex chromosome pairs and the X chromosome on chromosome 23. It is the random recombination of DNA inherited from all of your ancestors.[2]
  2. Y DNA – only found in males since the Y chromosome is not present in females. It is used to trace paternal ancestry and in one name studies.[3]
  3. Mitochondrial (mtDNA) -This is not part of the chromosomes and is passed down relatively unchanged from a mother to her children. Only her daughters (not her sons) can continue to pass the mitochondrial down to future generations. It is used to trace your maternal ancestry and confirm if two people share a maternal ancestor.[4]

A very important point Pam made in this presentation were the facts about exactly what the test can and can’t do.[5]

What DNA Can Do:

  • Find relatives and cousins that have been tested
  • Test a hypothesis
  • Confirm a matrilineal or patrilineal origin
  • Provide evidence of recent non-paternity events
  • Deliver unexpected results.

What DNA Can’t Do

  • Solve a brick wall ancestor without any genealogic research
  • Determine a Native American Tribe
  • Be positive proof of a suspected distant ancestor

Submitting My Own DNA

I purchased a DNA kit from Ancestry.com.  

It has taken me quite a while to finally spit in the tube and send it in. The kit had been sitting on my desk for about six months. I had a few apprehensions.

Security, future use, and storage or sale of my personal information were all reasons for my hesitation. After realizing the best security is my DNA, I determined that waiting any longer was foolish.

I mailed off my kit three weeks ago. Pam’s first “Can Do” fact hit me right in the gut! A relative can only be found if they have been tested. I have a granddaughter that does not know who I am or that I even exist. I felt deeply right then that I needed to be in that database, if only for my granddaughter to have a chance to find me when the time comes. For me, family outweighs fear. 

Christopher C. Childs

You know you have attended a superior genealogy event when your head is mush at the end of the day. This was true of this event.

Christopher C. Childs educated and thrashed our analytical processes to the max as he presented DNA case histories. 

Mr. Child, a Senior Genealogist of the Newbury Street Press and Editor at The Mayflower Descendant, has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in 2003.

He has been a member since the age of 11. Chris holds a BA in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. 

I particularly appreciated the step by step method  Christopher Childs taught us as he progressed through each case study and demonstrated how to analyze our personal DNA results.   

New Tools

I was so happy to learn about a new tool available now at the American Ancestors cite.

It is called AncesTREES.

Until now, you only really had two options for discovering DNA matches in databases, other than your testing company, once you have your test results; GEDMatch.com and DNA Painter.

Now American Ancestors offers a new tool that will help you analyze your raw data and find new matches. This new service costs $34 a year, and it is well worth the price.

I love that it has a feature that will allow you to upload a tree from Family Search to compare your DNA to. The charts and graphs are easy to read, understand, and analyze.

Steven L. Solomon

This event could not have happened without the support of one incredible individual, Steven L. Solomon.

He is the Senior Philanthropy Officer for American Ancestors.

He is a life long Bostonian who traveled to this event to show his dedication and support.

I enjoyed meeting him and wanted to offer him one more “Thank you” for attending and supporting this day of learning and growth at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Your Next Steps

If you have any questions about how to analyze your own DNA results, let me know. I would love to meet with you and help you with any technical needs like kit sharing or just analyzing your results. Contact me here.


Citations

[1]Holland, Pam, “DNA Basics and the Big Four”, notes from presentation in Phoenix, Arizona May 17, 2019, p.3, American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society,

[2]Holland, Pam, “DNA Basics and the Big Four”, notes from presentation in Phoenix, Arizona May 17, 2019, p.1, American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

[3]Holland, Pam, “DNA Basics and the Big Four”, notes from presentation in Phoenix, Arizona May 17, 2019, p.1, American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

[4]Holland, Pam, “DNA Basics and the Big Four”, notes from presentation in Phoenix, Arizona May 17, 2019, p.1, American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

[5]Holland, Pam, “DNA Basics and the Big Four”, notes from presentation in Phoenix, Arizona May 17, 2019, p.2, American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

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