Genetic Genealogy Defined

Genetic Genealogy Defined

Alastair Greenshields (Principal) gives expert video advice on: What is gentic genealogy?; How does DNA help when trying to trace your family history?; Who invented it? and more...

What is gentic genealogy?

Genetic genealogy is the use of the DNA that most people have in their bodies and we use it to trace up, usually the paternal line. So from male to male, to his father, to his father, many generations back. So we can trace up the direct paternal line. And quite often we are trying to trace ancestors and see if a putative cousin is really part of that family. So we need, usually a male cousin to get tested. We use their Y chromosome, we can use to trace up their direct line up to a common ancestor who should match the DNA. So all the descendants will share the same DNA or very, very similar. That's essentially that's what genetic genealogy is. We're trying to use DNA to match cousins up, to match lineages up, families generally across the world as well where they've migrated to, and be it the States, Canada, South Africa, Oceana. Essentially, they carry their Y chromosomes with them and we're trying to use the DNA in tandem with the paper trail to see if they're related.

How does DNA help when trying to trace your family history?

DNA helps because it's a very good record kept by the body, whereas papers can get lost, burned or simply not copied accurately. The DNA is a very good recorder of which family line you're part of, so that's why we look at DNA. We focus on a type of DNA that's very precisely passed down a known line, so we know where it's come from, and because of that, we can accurately trace those lineages.

Who invented it?

The tests themselves started in academic laboratories, probably in 1995. It wasn't until about 2000 that commercial laboratories took it on and developed it and opened it up to the market. When the public could obviously buy the test, then it really went from there. Therefore, it has its origins in the academic lab and then proceeded to the commercial lab and out into the public.

Why do you think we need it?

I think we need DNA in genealogy, because genealogy is such a big hobby now, for many people, and the records weren't always as accurate as they could be. Plus, there have been adoptions or illegitimate events, essentially what we call non-paternity events, which always skews the records. You know, they're never quite as accurate as you would like them. Often, people have been tracing their genealogy and they go down the wrong track for many years. And genealogy was and has it's foibles, and DNA can come in to try and work out exactly what went wrong or workout which person is related to who. So as genealogy grows the hobby kind of takes off. DNA or genetic genealogy can help to firm up those lineages and to verify those paper records or, in fact, to say they weren't wrong or they weren't right in the first place. It provides a very good link.

What are its specific uses?

It's specific uses are that you can trace a family history, so you can tell if people are related or not. Also, you can use it to look further back, and go deep into family history. So you can look at the direct paternal line and also the direct maternal line. From me to my mother to her mother. So, there are ultimately three uses: Family history, looking at your direct paternal line from a long way back and, do the same with the maternal line by going a long way back as well.

What is the most common use of genetic Genealogy?

The most common use of genetic Genealogy is to trace your genetic paternal line back, and to see if you're related to other people, to individuals and direct lineages, or to see if the family history research you've been doing is correct. It's a good way of confirming the hard work that Genealogists have put in.

What does the future hold for genetic Genealogy?

The future of genetic Genealogy is quite bright; as more and more people get tested, the results and the branches get better defined. So if somebody, even if they haven't been retracing their family history for a long time, they can get tested and compare with others who have already been tested. So those databases start to fill up with results, and people who, even if they haven't been tracing their family history at all can link up with these.