Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DNA Testing for Family History

Photo from Scientific India - short article about Russia's plans for a DNA bank
sort of like a "Noah's Ark" holding genetic material of every creature we know.

For some time now I have been planning to write a blog post about DNA testing as a tool for genealogy research.   This is something I personally have a lot of ambivalence about.  So, I was going to do a bit of research to see what claims were out there (both pro and con) about whether to pursue DNA testing, then give some details about the various companies that offer home test kits.

However, once I started doing my research, I quickly discovered there was no point in my trying to cover this topic at all.  It had been addressed in multiple places from just about every point of view you can imagine.

So rather than re-hash a much discussed subject,  I have gleaned a few resources on the topic that I think do a fairly good job. I am listing them here in alphabetical order by title, followed by the source, author and date.  (No more APA citations for me, thank you very much - my days of academia nit picking are DONE!)

Following each listing I give brief comments on what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of the resource.

I've hot linked to the original articles and their sources for anyone who wants a closer look.


Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart 
entry on wiki published by 
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), compiled by Tim Janzen  
Last Updated 18 June 2015

What's great about this:  

This is a living document that is regularly reviewed and updated.  It offers detailed side-by-side comparison of the features of DNA test currently offered by several different companies (Ancestry.com, FamilyTree, National Geographic, 23andMe, and Chromotest)

What turned me off:        

Lots of dense data without narrative or graphics.  Very informative,but not particularly engaging.

Deep Roots
University of Texas at Austin
Jennifer McAndrew

2 July - 16 July 2007

What's great about this:

This is a great essay about the ethics of DNA testing which points out some of the drawbacks about the conclusions we think we can make from their results.  It brought up some great points about our perceptions about race, identity and what we believe about science.

What turned me off:   

It did not compare pros/cons of specific tests or companies at all.   So if that is what you are looking for, this article won't help you in that regard.  However, that was actually fine by me, because it was not the point of the article.   It's fairly short and an easy read - I think very worthwhile for anyone who is considering getting tested to read before ordering their kit.     Also, this was the oldest of all the sources I chose to include in this list.  Again, however, that was not a negative to me since I believe the issues raised in the essay are every bit as pertinent today as they were when this was written.

Lesson 2: Which DNA Test?
Wheaton Surname Resources: Beginner's Guide to Genetic Genealogy
Copyright 2013, Updated 5/2015

What's great about this:  

This specific post is well done, but is part of a larger context that REALLY impressed me.  While this blog and the research project it refers to are surname specific, there is plenty of top notch information here about using DNA as a research tool that can help anyone interested in the topic become more informed.

What turned me off:        

Honestly, there was so much good stuff here that I can't whine about a thing.  I will go back to this source again and again to learn more.

More bang for DNA test bucks 
blog post at The Legal Genealogist (written by a genealogist with a law degree)
Judy G. Russell
Published 28 July 2013

What's great about this:

I really liked the way the author's voice in writing style drew me in.  It explains complicated scientific information to the lay person in simple terms without talking down to me as if I were dumb.  Even if some of the details of what's out there may change over time, this was a good primer to help me understand what the different kinds of DNA tests are and how they work.

What turned me off:        

The article is dated.  This is an emerging field that undoubtedly will have shifts over time.  I want to know what is true NOW, not back in 2013.  This post was actually an update of a similar post that Russel had offered up 14 months earlier.   Still, time marches on and things are still changing.  

Tenth Annual Family Tree DNA Wrap Up
DNA eXplained - Genetic Genealogy
Roberta Estes
15  October 2014

What's great about this

 I almost skipped over this one - it was my least favorite.  But I decided it was worthy of listing here because of all the many links and rich information throughout.  If you can get past the "what I did on my summer vacation" tone of the piece, there are some real gems here.

What turned me off:        

I didn't care about the difficulties the author had getting out of Texas due to storms and some of the descriptions of the conference.  Even when the article was on topic, I was not keen on the writer's style.  It was getting late by the time I got to this one, perhaps I was just too tired to read one more website about this stuff.   This one definitely made me say "put a fork in me, I am DONE".  I was more than ready to turn off the machine by the time I got to the end of it.   Still, as noted above, it was more than worth wading through for the value of the information and the links.

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