I am lucky in the sense that I wasn't looking for ancestors before computers so never had to spend days or even weeks trolling through microfiche at county record offices all over the country. Everything was at my fingertips and I just had to learn which search engines and websites I should visit to get the most accurate results for whatever journey I was on. Having accumulated names and dates it was just a question of researching ancillary footprints the ancestor may have left behind them e.g. service records, wills, newspaper articles. Up until a few years ago the genealogist would have been happy to get to that stage and wouldn't have expected much more. However, we now have DNA as an additional tool to assist with our search for family, both living and dead.
If you want a scientific answer, I'm afraid I am not the person to ask. We all know that when we plug in our computer it will use electricity but we don't need to know anything more than that - it really doesn't matter where it comes from or how it gets there, it just is. The same is the case for DNA. Accept that all living things have it and every living thing has a different DNA to any other living thing and you're pretty much an expert.
There is Y chromosome DNA which a father passes down the male line and mitochondrial DNA which passes down through the mother.
Five years ago, while at a previous WDYTYA show, I got Family Tree DNA to do what is called a 25 and 37 marker Y chromosome DNA test - yes I know, doesn't mean anything to me either - which ended up with me receiving a certificate with a series of what looked like random numbers (photo left). Apparently having 25/25 or 37/37 match would mean there is a perfect relationship and you would be genetically related. Genealogists accept that, because they are looking further back in time, the number of markers will almost certainly be less than perfect so 23/25 or 35/37 would be cause for optimism that a match may exist, especially if the surname matched as well.
I got my results and initially thought, "Wow .... that's good". I joined an ANDERSON group and waited for the matches ....... and waited, and waited ....... Despite having no doubts that my DNA could hold many secrets, I am afraid due to the complexity of it all and the lack of any positive matches, my interest waned. That is, until recently .........
What a genealogist wants is a way in which to identify living people who they may be related to and then determine, by using old fashioned methods, if and how they are related.
Ancestry Ethnicity DNA Test
I don't favour throwing out the baby with the bath water or reinventing the wheel but, in this case, I decided to regroup and start again from scratch. I had read about a new test Ancestry, the huge genealogy database, was offering. This uses both the father and mothers DNA and traces your roots back a thousand years to give an indication of where your DNA originated.
I bought a kit, spitted into the receptical and sent it off for analysis. A few weeks later I received the results (see table above) and, although at first I am not sure I appreciated what they meant, at least the results were in a simple form I could understand.
I can tell you what I think it means. My birth tree gives the following indication of my recent ethnicity just by going back to both my birth great grandparents place of birth :
- Scottish 50%
- London 25%
- Northerner 12.5%
- Irish 12.5%
The Ancestry DNA ethnicity test suggests that my Scottish ancestors almost certainly ALL originally came over from Ireland and that my English ancestors were probably from Norway, perhaps Vikings. Now, that is interesting ....... not a series of random looking numbers but a tangible fact. On its own this was exciting enough but .......
Why will Ancestry be the new VHS / Microsoft ?
......... the BIG thing about Ancestry is that they have over two million subscribers all of whom could potentially provide them with their DNA (they claim that 400,000 currently have). After somebody has provided their spit for analysis, Ancestry will link the DNA results to the persons tree. If your DNA is a close match to someone else on Ancestry, they will provide you with list of those people (obviously with safeguards) and you can then contact them through Ancestry.
It is early days with UK testings so consider my surprise and exhilaration when I discovered there was such a match - I actually knew this person existed as she had already contacted me back in 2011 when she found names on my tree which matched hers. We are both descended from my 2 x great grandfather, William Musgrove (1836 - 1895).
As well as learning about my ethnicity, to get a DNA match was icing on the cake and proof, if any was needed, that DNA testing is the future for serious genealogists.