Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Road Trip: DNA

On Monday, I traveled to Mount Laurel, New Jersey for a seminar on nursing malpractice for my continuing legal education requirement that New Jersey decided is required of its attorneys. (Since I am both, the seminar suited me just fine.) Mount Laurel is outside of Philadelphia and required a two and a half hour drive. Such trips distress me because I pass so many other places of interest to my genealogical pursuits. I drove through Griggstown. I wanted to stop and explore if the town has anything to do with Helen Grigg (1873-1951), the second wife of Solomon S. Middleton (1846-1924). I had to keep driving. I have things to see in Philadelphia- should I have seen if any libraries were open that evening, after the seminar? I passed cemeteries. Some looked very old. Could they be undocumented and contain a relative that I could find serendipitously? I kept driving.

I had to make some use of the trip. I ended up visiting my father’s sister for her DNA for submission to She is in south Jersey, but on the other side of the state, near the shore. It’s a small state, but with traffic, it took over an hour.

I think of DNA for genealogical purposes as a math problem, where you get the answer first, and figure out the computation later.

When started offering DNA testing, I ordered the kit. A male relative had to submit his DNA, so I used my father’s DNA. The result: the five closest relatives in the database are within 25-30 generations. Nothing closer. So far, the farthest I can document his paternal line is to his great grandfather, Herman Lutter, born around 1860. The drawback to this testing is that it tests only the direct paternal line. A person’s lines double with each generation: two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great great grandparents, and so on to the start of the human race (or whatever you think started this). So if I have this correct, my father’s test shows a tiny little fraction of my heritage.

After thought and correspondence, I ordered the female DNA test kit for myself. If I have this figured out correctly, it will show only my matriarchal line by looking at the mitochondria in the cells. I have such a line documented through my great great grandmother, Bridget A. Sheehey, born in Ireland around 1857.

I also ordered a test kit for my father’s sister. Her test should reveal her maternal line, which I have traced through to her great great great grandmother, Catherine Eckler, born about 1835.

So am I supposed to track down a bunch of relatives to document different lines through DNA? Or can I just pay a small fortune to have one of those crime lab DNA tests?

I will let you know what these maternal mitochondrial DNA tests reveal.

1 comment:

  1. You can take the new autosomal tests Family Finder at FTDNA or Relative Finder at 23andMe, rather than tracking down all of your different relatives for DNA testing. These types of test cover all of your autosomal DNA, so you theoretically can find matches to ANY of your ancestral lines in the database. It is new and a lot more work than the tests that focus on just one line like the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. There really is a place in our research for both kinds: one wide-focused, but unlimited and one narrow-focused on a specific line (that as you correctly noted is only a small percentage of your DNA).