Genealogy movies

Genetic genealogy has fueled the rise of DNA testing

By Colin McCandless, Contributing author

“I think DNA is a wonderful tool, but you discover the good with the bad,” says Melanie McComb, professional genealogist at American Ancestors – New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston.

REGION – DNA testing as a way to find out more about your ancestry and family origins has increased in recent years. Curious people wanting to learn more about their roots turn to genetic genealogy and sites such as Ancestry, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA to help fill in the blanks on these branches.

What can be attributed to this rise in popularity of DNA testing and what are the pros and cons of using a genetic genealogy approach to family tracing?

Melanie McComb, a professional genealogist at the American Ancestors & New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, explained that there are three types of DNA tests used in genetic genealogy: autosomal, Y-DNA and mitochondrial.

Autosomal is the main DNA testing method and the one commonly seen in the advertisements of the companies listed above. It allows a person to learn more about their mother and father. The Y-DNA test, as the name suggests, only looks for the Y chromosome or the male line. A mitochondrial test explores a mother’s direct lineage and can go back thousands of years, according to McComb.

Why genetic genealogy is all the rage

“I think it’s always been part of genealogy where people want to know each other,” says Michael Brophy, a professional genealogy researcher and specialist in tracing heirs.

Affordability is one of the major factors driving the upward trend in genetic genealogy. “The cost is significantly lower than the first offer,” McComb said. What was once worth thousands of dollars can now be purchased for between $60 and $75.

Michael Brophy, a professional genealogy researcher, heir tracing specialist and lecturer based in Abington, echoed those sentiments, saying that because testing is considerably cheaper now, it has increased interest and accessibility. of genealogy.

“You can get a pretty good quality DNA test for less than a hundred dollars,” he said.

Brophy noted that another big driver contributing to the rise of DNA testing has been advances in technology and improved accuracy in science.

But it is above all this burning curiosity that motivates us to delve into our past. “I think it’s always been part of the genealogy where people want to get to know each other,” Brophy remarked. “He’s the overall driver, I think. It strengthens the sense of self-identity and also helps to bond with other people. It creates family bonds, which is very meaningful for people.

Genetic genealogy has also become more pervasive in our society, McComb added, and is frequently used or referenced in TV shows and movies. She cited examples such as “Long Lost Family” and “The Genetic Detective” which brought DNA testing into our popular culture.

It is perhaps in part this general appeal that has influenced people’s tendency to buy DNA tests as a holiday gift for family and friends. Additionally, more and more people are using genetic genealogy to determine their immigrant origins and trace their ethnicity, McComb noted.

Advantages and disadvantages of DNA testing

According to Brophy and McComb, there is some overlap between the pros and cons of using genetic genealogy to research your family line.

Once you’ve exhausted other sources such as print archives and online collections, genetic genealogy can be a great tool to use, McComb said. “It helps you go beyond the paper trail. It helps people to accept family mysteries.

Brophy commented, “It can help you make new discoveries,” adding with a laugh, “Some of which you might not want to discover.”

For example, DNA testing can be an asset for adoptees to find out their biological parents. But unlocking family secrets can have its downsides depending on what is exposed in the process.

“That’s when the skeletons come out of the closet,” McComb warned. “Don’t expect anything to come out.”

You might find out that the father who raised you isn’t your biological father, or learn that you have half-siblings — a “non-paternal event” as it’s called, Brophy says, where you identify brothers and sisters you didn’t know. had.

Affairs and adoptions that were previously hidden could suddenly come to light, he claimed.

“Somebody doesn’t know they were adopted or something, then they look up a genealogy database and find out they’re related to people they didn’t think they were related to.”

McComb said DNA testing can also be beneficial in learning more about your family’s medical history. However, she clarified that it is important not to misinterpret the results. If you discover that you have a family history of a disease such as diabetes or cancer, you should consult medical professionals before taking drastic measures. It might just require a simple lifestyle adjustment through diet and exercise.

One of the drawbacks of genetic genealogy is the concern over potential loss of privacy. “Some people think that’s a huge disadvantage,” Brophy said. “Because you are essentially giving your genetic material to a commercial company. Which could have consequences for you later.

Use in forensic medicine

Genetic genealogy can also be used as a forensic tool. Brophy cited the famous case of the Golden State Killer, in which preserved DNA was used to solve an unsolved cold case in California. A former police officer named Joseph James DeAngelo had committed more than 50 rapes and 12 murders between 1974 and 1986 and had evaded capture for decades before the advent of genetic genealogy.

As technological advances in genetic genealogy improved, investigators eventually used DNA found at an old crime scene to track down the likely suspect via an online DNA database called GEDmatch which performs genealogical research. In 2020, DeAngelo was convicted of 11 counts of murder and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison.

Prior to DNA testing and online collections, researching her family history involved a much more laborious and hands-on approach, including examining documents and letters in courthouses, depots and corporations. archives and the digitization of microfilm in libraries, said McComb. The proliferation of genetic genealogy sites and innovative breakthroughs that have lowered costs make it easier to learn about our ancestry – just be careful not to approach it with rose-colored glasses.

“I think DNA is a wonderful tool,” she reflected. “But you discover the good with the bad.”


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