February 8, 2017
The Search for our Ancestry (XXXIII)
Family Trees VS. DNA Testing
By Angelo Coniglio
I usually encourage genealogy researchers to share their family trees on-line, in order to make connections with others who may be researching similar information. Some are hestitant to do so, often because of privacy issues, but even more often because it strikes a sour note for them to have worked hard and long to develop and verify all the records, collect images of documents, photos, family stories, etc, and then to post all that on-line, for others to simply copy and use.
I argue that most folks develop a family tree not only to find ancestors, but where possible to identify living relatives who have some of the same ancestors; to broaden their own and others’ knowledge of blood relations. Posting a tree on-line can attract others who are researching the same surnames and towns, and correspondence between you and them may benefit both parties.
To those who complain that others may take ‘your tree’ and incorrectly use it to show spurious or unsourced information, I say “You can keep your tree accurate and documented. If someone else uses your information and mistakenly adds something to their tree, that’s their problem, and does not reflect on you.” Such concerns, I believe, are minor when compared to the great gains that can be made when you find a distant cousin who has dozens of well-documented folks in his tree, who are your previously unknown relatives, and you have ‘connected’ because he or she saw your family tree on-line.
That being said, why, then, did I hestiate to upload my tree to a DNA testing site? Simple skepticism. I already had a family tree on-line, at www.rootsweb.com, not connected to any DNA testing site. And after contacting someone identified as a relative by 23andMe, GEDmatch, or AncestryDNA I had no problem exchanging my off-line genealogical database or my on-line rootsweb information with that person. That let us compare names and sometimes identify relatives or common ancestors we didn’t already know about.
But I resisted allowing the information that I found to be merged on a DNA site, concerned that it would go into some ‘world tree’ that could contain errors, or unsourced and uncorroborated information. Added to that was my concern that the software which analyzed my genome could, by ‘circular reasoning’, access my ‘tree’ and then report results ‘confirming’ the information in the tree, when really, it was information that I myself entered. I may have been too much of a ‘doubter’, who wanted to separate the DNA analyses from the ‘paper genealogy’, and infer connections only after I had considered each separately. I have since set aside my concerns and find that having my tree available through a DNA venue, and viewing others’ trees there can help establish ‘paper’ connections with my ‘DNA relatives’.
To summarize my opinion of DNA testing, I feel that the $100 I paid to have my genetic material (saliva) tested by 23andMe (and later by AncestryDNA) was money well spent, even though it has not yet allowed me to identify a relative who has more information about my ancestry than I’ve already accumulated. It has introduced me to several ‘2nd to 6th cousins’ who share with me ‘significant’ portions of their genome (biological ‘blueprint’), as well as a newly-identified grandniece and a grand-nephew whose many DNA matches with mine confirm our relationship. We all are making strides to connect our ‘paper genealogies’, a feat that will hopefully identify common ancestors and enlarge that group of souls, living and deceased, that make up our combined families.
I recommend genealogical DNA testing for anyone who has more than a passing interest in genealogy and ‘personal ancestry’. With the proper approach to it (recognizing its capabilities and limitations) you can expand both broad and detailed knowledge of your roots. Combined with conventional research, it can even put leaves on the branches of your ‘tree’, introducing you to previously unknown living relatives.
Coniglio is the author of the book The Lady of the Wheel, inspired by his Sicilian research. Order the paperback or the Kindle version at http://bit.ly/SicilianStory.