A special program on DNA testing will be given at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville on Monday at 7 p.m. The program, called DNA Testing: Beyond the Basics, will be hosted by Robert Lockett, a past president of the Wythe County Genealogical and Historical Association.
Monday’s program will provide information on the various DNA testing companies such as Ancestry, 23andMe, and others and discuss what one can hope to learn from a DNA test.
I have a friend who has worked on his paternal family line for more than 50 years. He thought he had discovered pretty much all that could be learned about his family. He had researched census, will, Bible, marriage, death, birth, estate, tax and military records. He had meticulously gone through thousands of pages of newspapers and books and became so enthralled with the research that he wrote several books abstracting cemetery and newspaper articles. He even traveled to Pennsylvania to follow his ancestor’s arrival at the port in Philadelphia and down the Great Wagon Road through Virginia and into North Carolina.
He thought he knew it all.
Then he took a DNA test and the results left him stunned. According to his DNA test result, he wasn’t related to any of the people he was supposed to be related to who bore the same last name. The DNA of what was supposed to be his ancestors didn’t match his. Here he had spent more than a century becoming the authority on his family line and it wasn’t even his family. I asked him if he was going to try and research the families he did match to try and determine his actually linage, but he just shook his head and said, “I don’t know who the heck I am and at my age I am not going to worry about it any more.”
According to a February article by Antonio Regalado in the “MIT Technology Review”, more than 26 million people have taken an at-home DNA ancestry test. The same article predicts the number will increase to more than 100 million in two years. I first became aware of the value of DNA testing in 1990 when DNA from a skeleton in Brazil proved that Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele had escaped from Germany as the war ended. DNA testing later identified the bodies of Russian Tsar Nicholas II and the rest of the Romanov family including daughter Anastasiav disproving forever the stories of her escape.
DNA tests are now used regularly by law enforcement to solve crimes. The first person to be convicted of murder by DNA evidence was Colin Pitchfork in Leicestershire, England on Jan. 22, 1988. He was also the first to be caught as a result of a mass DNA screening as 5,511 men from the local community voluntarily gave blood samples to help capture the killer. Pitchfork was caught after it was learned he had a friend impersonate him and give the DNA sample in his place. DNA evidence has also exonerated 17 death row inmates in the United States.
The DNA tests you see advertised on TV are taken by having you swab the inside of a cheek in your mouth or gather a sample of saliva. Both are placed in a small tube and mailed back to the company where they are tested. The four largest DNA testing companies in order of size are Ancestry.com, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage. All of these companies will provide you with a geographical breakdown of where your ancestors came from as well as the contact information of people that you match with. There are even companies like Embark, Wisdom Panel Health, and DNA My Dog that will give you a DNA test result for your dog.
There are three different types of DNA tests used in genealogy and there are differences between the companies offering these tests that should be considered in making your selection. FamilyTreeDNA is the best overall for serious genealogists as it is the only company to offer all three tests individually. 23andMe offers health-related DNA testing. MyHeritage is an Israeli based company that focuses on testing in Europe. Ancestry is the best for matching with cousins and as the most popular company it has the largest DNA database for your test to be compared with. A company called Living DNA is the best if your roots are in the British Isles.
Monday’s program is free and sponsored by the Friends of the Iredell County Public Library. For more information contact Joel Reese at 704-878-3093.
Joel Reese is the Local History Librarian at the Iredell County Public Library.