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Reunited Through Science

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

April 25th is National DNA Day. DNA Day is an annual celebration of the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. The day is meant to raise awareness about the importance of genetics and genomics research, as well as to celebrate the advancements made in these fields.


It is therefore appropriate that the writing prompt for Week 17 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing prompt is "DNA."

Genetic genealogy has become a popular tool for exploring personal identity and heritage, as well as helping individuals connect with biological family members. By comparing DNA samples, genetic genealogists can identify shared genetic markers and determine the likelihood of a common ancestor. This approach has revolutionized traditional genealogy research by providing new insights into family history, uncovering previously unknown relatives, and breaking down long-standing genealogical brick walls.


I have a lot of generous family, friends, and clients. A lot! I own or manage a current total of 41 DNA test kits on Ancestry.com. I have access to several more test kits on websites such as 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and Gedmatch. Some have shared their kits with me in hope that I can solve a long standing mystery, or answer a question about parentage for either themselves or someone in their pedigree. Others have shared their kits with no particular agenda other than mild curiosity and to aid my ongoing research projects. I'm going to share with you one of my earlier DNA solves using several different DNA kits.


Almost exactly four years ago I noticed a new DNA Match on one of my personal test kits. DNA Matches are genetic relatives (people you share DNA with) who have also taken the same DNA test through the same testing company. Based on the amount of shared DNA, each of these testing sites attempts to estimate what your relationship is. (Let me emphasize this. Relationships, as stated by these DNA testing companies, are estimates only, and almost always require further research and analysis.) The estimated relationship between myself and this new DNA Match was "2nd-3rd cousin."


A feature of many of these DNA testing companies is the ability to view "Shared Matches." Shared matches are other test takers who appear both on your list of matches and on someone else's, in other words, they share DNA with both you and another test taker. Reviewing the shared matches between myself and this new cousin it became obvious that we were related on my paternal lineage.


Remember I mentioned all those DNA test kits I manage? I've shamelessly solicited extended family members to take these tests for years. I've promoted and shared often when a popular testing company has offered a sale. I have begged and pleaded, and my family responded in droves. In this particular instance, that support and participation was absolutely invaluable.


Here is a diagram representing the nuclear family of one of my paternal great grandparents:

I manage DNA kits for: a great grandchild of Child 1; two grandchildren of Child 3; and a grandchild of Child 5. I examined the shared DNA and estimated relationships between each of these extended family members and the new cousin. It appeared that the most recent common ancestor between each and every one of these family members and the new cousin was my great grandparents. This also clearly indicated that the new cousin was not a descendant of Child 1, Child 3, or Child 5.


Child 2 was never known to have any biological children of his own. However, it shouldn't be discounted that the new cousin was a descendant from a previously unknown biological child. That being said, the path of least resistance led me to Child 4.


Child 4 had three daughters. I examined each of the three daughters to determine where they were, how old they were, and what their circumstances were in the year my new cousin was born.


The eldest daughter was already married with three children by the year the new cousin was born, making her an unlikely candidate. The youngest daughter was young. Not too young, biologically, but young. She remained a contender, but it didn't "feel" right. The middle daughter, however, was unmarried but of reasonable age to have given birth to a child. She also happened to be someone I was in contact with.


In less than twenty-four hours I discovered a previously unknown cousin and put him in contact with his biological mother! It was a happy ending.


This story is a bit of an anomaly. We don't always have the DNA samples from all the necessary people in order to narrow down and answer these questions as quickly as I did. DNA is a tool, a fabulous tool, that can answer many previously unanswerable genealogical questions. DNA, however, is not usually a magic wand that can provide immediate and direct answers.


Hiring a professional genetic genealogist can help interpret and analyze complex DNA test results to identify biological relatives and break through genealogical "brick walls" in your family research. Hiring a genetic genealogist can save time, provide valuable insights, and help individuals make new connections to their family history.


What questions can DNA answer for you?



 

Disclaimer: Each blog post is created and presented for marketing and entertainment purposes only but are based on larger research which adheres to the standards of The Board of Certification of Genealogists® as set forth in Genealogical Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).

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