Genetic Genealogy


by Terry Hogan


Science has helped serious family history buffs to take the next step.  It doesn't provide instant family history, but it can provide support or "bad news" about the family link that you have tons of circumstantial evidence but no definitive proof.  It also doesn't provide insurance companies or others with medical information that you might prefer to keep confidential.  But you have to be willing to take a little risk.


First thing to know- its "a guy thing".  If you're female and want to find out about DNA associations, you'll need to convince a brother, a father, or another known close male relative to provide the sample.  The tests are based on the Y-chromosome, which only males have.  Females are female because of having two X-chromosomes.  Males are males because of having one X and one Y- chromosome.  Because the Y-chromosome is contributed from father to son, and the mother doesn't have a Y-chromosome, the Y-chromosome is passed down through the male line, relatively unaltered, except for the infrequent mutation. 


Second, the test doesn't hurt, except for the cost.   The cost of the test will vary, depending upon the number of "markers" selected.  The greater the number of markers, the greater the cost.  Generally, the greater the number of markers selected, the statistically stronger the test.  In short, the greater number of points of comparison, the greater the ability to match your results to others whom you may expect to be relatives.  


There are family home pages starting on the Internet where surname genetic results are being posted and where your results can be compared with others.  For example, there is a Hogan home page where chromosome testing results are posted and  clumped into family groups based upon their statistical association with one other.  For this family group, it is recommended that a 37 marker test be used. Although smaller markers can be chosen, at less cost, it is more difficult to evaluate family relationships with as much certainty.  In short, statistical analysis is stronger with a greater number of data points.  The cost for the 37 marker test is about $200.


For this cost, you get a lab kit mailed to your home, with easy to read instructions.  Swabs are taken of the inside lining of your cheek.  The samples are placed in vials that are provided in the kit and the samples are mailed back to a lab in a mailer that is provided by the lab.  For the 37-marker test, the lab indicates that it takes about 6 weeks to receive the results.


I have opted for the test as the Hogan Internet home page has a fair number of test results posted, including several that belong to the Hogan family group that I believe my ancestors belonged to. The test results will either provide strong evidence that I'm correct, or it will set my research back a number of years.


Thus, you can see that there is a risk associated with providing a little DNA.  You may get an answer you don't like.  It is also possible that you may stumble across other surprises.  Adoptions and infidelity are two possibilities that could rear their ugly heads. 


Now there is also a risk of mixing good genetic data with bad family research.  And this is the importance of a careful Internet family coordinator. Your name, or my name, will not appear on the Internet  as the sample provider.  Instead, an ancestor's name will be provided.  This helps maintain confidentiality, but it also raises the opportunity for error, if  the ancestor name selected is not really an ancestor.  For example, I know that Jasper Newton Hogan is my great grandfather.  I am 95% sure I know who his father is, but cannot provide conclusive support.  Rather it is based on lots of circumstantial information, which could lead me astray.   The responsibility falls to me and to the Internet family history home page coordinator to make sure that I don't "over-reach" my level of knowledge and provide good DNA test results, but attribute the DNA to a ancestor who really isn't one.    It is a lot like computers:  "Garbage in, garbage out."


No, I don't have the results back yet.  It is a gamble, but after all these years of mind-numbing effort, it is time to step up and see if  I'm tracking the right Hogan or not. 


If you are interested in this next step option, I suggest you get on the Internet and do a "Goggle" search, or the equivalent, using the surname and "DNA testing".  This should help you find a surname home page, if there is one.  If you don't find one, change the search key words and/or try a different search engine.  At this point, unless there is a significant data base for your surname of interest to compare your test results with, it may not be worth your time and money at this point.  "Somebody has to be first", as they say, but you may not want it to be you.


Happy hunting.