Understanding genealogy through DNA analysis by John Thompson

September 25, 2012 Blog, Genealogy Comments

By John Thompson

The good news is that your entire family history is stored securely and unambiguously in your DNA.

The bad news?

It’s not so easy to decipher, and DNA covers only the identities of your ancestors, omitting all other details on their lives. In the near future, genealogists can expect in depth information from DNA, but to understand this, a little knowledge of genetics is required (but not much).

Of the three billion positions in human DNA, any pair of unrelated people has exactly the same DNA sequence at about 99.8% of those three billion positions. Related individuals have an even higher level of identity. Close family relations can be confirmed by comparing the DNA sequence at positions that tend to vary more often than average. The differences can be either in the sequence of DNA present or its length.

It is relatively easy to determine identity — such as in forensics, or very close relationships such as those determining paternity. However, it becomes progressively more difficult to analyze more distant relationships.

Embedded in nearly all the cells in the body each person has 23 pairs of chromosomes with one of each pair contributed by the mother and one pair by the father. Of these 23 pairs, 22 are virtually identical. One of the pairs is the sex chromosome. Each individual gets one X from their mother and either an X or a Y from their father. Thus, the sex chromosome in the individual is either XX (female) or XY (male). In addition, most cells have hundreds of copies of mitochondrial DNA that is much shorter than the chromosomal DNA and comes only from the mother.

If the DNA behaved itself and tracked nicely from one generation to the next, molecular genealogy would be easy. There are changes in the DNA, however, in every generation. (If you think transcribing census records is touchy, try getting 3,000,000,000 base pairs of DNA right every time.)

The individual chromosomes in the pairs also recombine with each other, mixing up the parents’ contributions in each generation. Thus, each of your great-grandparents supplied one-eighth of your DNA, but their contributions are scattered throughout all of your chromosomes and not so easy to track, especially since each of your great-grandparents was 99.8% identical to the others to begin with!

There are a couple of special cases that are easier to deal with. The simplest DNA to look at is the mitochondrial DNA (from only the mother) and the Y specific DNA (from only the father). More has been done with mitochondrial DNA because it is easier to work with. It is much shorter and there are many more copies of it, but it can only be used to trace maternal lineages. If you and the person of interest share the same mitochondrial DNA sequence, you must have the same maternal ancestor some generations back.

Not enough has been done to know how much identity is needed to prove common ancestry because, as mentioned earlier, DNA sequence changes slowly as you travers generations. A very detailed account of how this type of information was used to identity century-old bones is presented in The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, by Robert Massie.

Y-specific DNA can be used to trace paternal lineages. Since the mother does not have a Y chromosome, the father’s contribution remains “pure.” One good example of using Y DNA was confirmation of a relation between Thomas Jefferson and the offspring of Sally Hemings (see the scientific journal NATURE, Volume 396, p. 27).

It is important to note that in both the Romanovs and Jefferson/Hemings examples, DNA alone was not used to prove a genealogical relationship. A lot of research went into documenting historical data and providing a specific hypothesis that was then put ot the DNA test. It is likely that this will remain the predominant use of the technology for the foreseeable future.

The use of DNA to establish broader ethnic/national heritage relationshiops is more doable in the near future, but the quality of the connections is highly dependent on well documented populations that are needed as a reference.

For more information about DNA, the human genome project, and related topcis, visit these sites:

The Guide to Understanding Genetics by the National Institute of Health

Basic and Applied Genetic Research from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

To contact John Thompson (email).

Originally printed in the DFA…. Edited by Carol Doane.

Beth Doane featured on TedX and Mother Nature Network

September 18, 2012 Celebrities, Media, Video Comments
Beth Doane's story is told by Mother Nature Network.

Beth Doane, speaker, author, activist, fashion designer and writer fights for the places and people who can’t fight for themselves according to the article on Mother Nature Network. She founded RainTees, which currently works in over thirty countries. She also launched a pen-pal program connecting fans with at-risk youth around the world in need of support.

Read the article about Beth Doane:

Get inspired: Passionate rain forest activist Beth Doane


Beth Doane also made a TedX talk on creating a sustainable future:

Our consumer culture often exploits impoverished countries while perpetuating mass destruction of our natural resources. In this powerful and incredibly informative speech Beth shares the life changing challenges she faced creating an ethical product and her time working on the largest environmental court case in history occurring in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Northwest writer Melanie Sherman meets a hog riding Doane

September 11, 2012 Blog Comments
Bike travel

It is surprising how very little I know.

With every page written in my current manuscript, more research is necessary. And it is a contemporary romance, so what is there not to know? I mean, really, I didn’t get to be my age — with a daughter — without learning the mechanics of romance, right? But every moment of one’s life is not necessarily involved with romance, in real life or within a novel. It is those pesky little interludes of non-romance that are forcing me to research.

Now that I’ve learned about the “I’m a writer…” opening line, I’m getting better at snagging the little details I may, or may not, include in the book.

For instance, I walked into the local Harley Davidson store recently and cornered a salesman.

“I’m a writer,” I said, and paused to let the enormity of those three stunning words sink into the consciousness of the salesman. He sprouted an orange name tag bearing the name Chris Doane. “And my character is 71 years old, rich, and he wants a Harley Davidson. So, think of me as being that man. I want to buy a Harley. What will be your response?”

Chris Doane, a young man in his thirties, with short brown hair and no noticeable tattoos, hesitated a moment before jumping into the land of ‘what if.’ “Do you have a motorcycle endorsement?” he asked.


“Do you ride motorcycles?”


“Then I suggest you take this motorcycle safety class.” He pointed to an advertisement on the counter for Southwest Washington Motorcycle Safety. “Once you pass that, you don’t have to take the driver’s test for the endorsement. You just hand your ‘pass’ slip from the class over to the DMV.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “I don’t want to do that. I just want to buy the motorcycle.”

Chris Doane, a young man in his thirties, hesitated a moment before jumping into the land of “what if.”

Chris lowered his voice, and cocked an eyebrow. “How do you plan to get it home? Did you want someone here to drive it?”

I jutted my chin. “I can’t ride it home?”

He ignored the question. “Would you like me to put it in my trailer and drive it to your house?”

I smiled. “Yes, that would be very nice. Thank you.” I walked over to a row of smaller machines. “Which one of these would you recommend, and money is no object.”

Now both eyebrows shot up. “Money is no object?” he asked.

I narrowed my eyes. “It is fiction.”

“Oh, that’s right. Okay, well, how tall are you?”

“Does it matter?” I figured if I could touch the ground while astride the bike, everything would be gravy.

“Yes. You have to reach the pegs for your feet.”

“Oh,” I said. I ran my gaze up and down the salesman. “How tall are you?”

He shot me a grin. “I’m 5’11” but I’d tell you six feet.”

I nodded. If asked my weight, I’d shave off twenty-five pounds — if I were female, but right now I was a male. “Yeah, okay, I’m six feet. Really.”

“Okay, then.” Chris patted the handle bar of one of the motorcycles. “This one here…” He squinted at me. “Are you planning to ride this on the road, or off-road?”

How would I know what the character in my book planned? I hadn’t written it yet. But not wanting to limit the potential, I hauled in a breath and gave the salesman a smirk. “Maybe I’ll want to do both.”

“Then get a Kawasaki.”

My mouth dropped open. “I want a Harley,” I demanded.

“You don’t know how to ride, you don’t want to take the safety course, and you might ride off-road. You need to get an entry level Kawasaki, or some small bike, about 250cc, and ride it for six months. If you still want a Harley after that, come back.”

I couldn’t believe how rude he was being to my character. How would my character handle this? “But I want a Harley, and I want it now, and I’ll pay cash.”

He placed his hands on his hips. “Look, you lay a Kawasaki down and you can pick it up and keep going. You lay one of these bikes down and it’ll be fifteen hundred to three thousand bucks to repair it. These are not dirt bikes. They are Harleys,” he said, as if this explained everything. He pointed to a shiny chromed plate on the side. “This right here is going to cost bucks if you lay it down.”

I thought about telling him I had the money to repair it, but then I realized it wasn’t about the money. It was about the horror of someone being callus enough to allow a Hog to get injured. “Look,” my character stood his ground, “I want to get a bike today. I’ll worry about driving it later. What one are you going to sell me?”

He sighed, and scrutinized me. “Are you pretty buff?”

Dear Lord. “Um…no.” I could feel the heat wash over my face. “I’m seventy-one, and have spent my life running a very large company.”

He snorted. “Fine. I’d recommend this little bike here. It is about 500 pounds. Probably be okay for you.” He pointed to a Sportster.

A huge man, whose sleeveless t-shirt exposed multiple tattoos down both arms, shook his head and sent his long hair flying. “Center of gravity is too high on that bike. You want the Road King,” he interjected.

Chris showed me the Road King, but it was 800 pounds and my character worried he might not be able to pick it up if he put it down. I pointed to the Sportster. “Okay, I’ll take it. What about helmets and jackets and stuff.”

He led me over to some helmets and expounded upon all the safety features. I decided on a full, wrap-around helmet. After all, my character is obnoxious, but not stupid. Then he lead me over to the women’s’ jackets. He pulled out a pink leather one.

“Now, this jacket is cute, but it shouldn’t be worn for riding. There is no protection.” He pulled out another jacket with some colorful leather trim. “This one is still cute, but has protection–”

“Why are you showing me women’s jackets?”

He laughed. “Oh yeah. Forgot.” We strolled over to the men’s section and I picked out a top-of-the-line jacket before he turned to the boots section. “If you do end up going to the safety class, which I really recommend, then you can’t wear shoes like this.” He held up his foot sporting a gray running shoe. “You have to have a boot that covers at least the ankle.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know. I don’t want those big ones that go to the knee. I wear expensive Italian leather loafers.”

Melanie Sherman is an award winning writer from Vancouver, WA. She is not a Doane, but claims to have met one.

“Follow me. I’ll show you what I wear.”

I had to jog to keep up with his “six foot” frame as we rushed through the store, and down a hall past an “Employees only” sign. He unlocked a door and we stepped inside an office. He showed me his gear, all very nice, but my character wasn’t really interested in boots with a metal strip on the side for scraping on the pavement when leaning into a curve. My character didn’t think he’d be going that fast.

Chris also showed me a few antique Harleys in the back of the store. In all, I was there over an hour. How much of the info he gave me will end up in my book? I don’t know. Maybe only a line or two, but at least I know something about the subject now.

They say you should write what you know, after all.

Editors note: Melanie Sherman is an award winning writer. This article is republished with permission and was originally published on her blog, Meanderings of Melanie, under the title Things a writer learns at a hog farm.

Carol Doane featured in Innovator documentary

September 4, 2012 Celebrities, Local, Media, Video Comments

The program Innovators of Vancouver is an online documentary video series capturing and honoring leaders of vision, passion and action living and working in the Vancouver, WA area.

Based on her dynamic role in the community, Regional Vice-President Carol Doane was chosen in 2011 as an Innovator of Vancouver. Her career has been spent in management and media sales and she has held leadership positions in two of the media companies where she has worked. Doane’s additional expertise lies in social media marketing, public relations and outreach.

Carol Doane is a sought after small business consultant and regular speaker on social media, marketing, and writing for digital media. Her public service includes volunteering on the boards of several non-profits related to education and community events including the Doane Family Association of America, Inc.

Currently, Carol Doane is an Interactive Account Executive for KGW Media Group, in Portland, OR.

About this video series, film maker Chris Martin says,

Whether serving local communities in Southwest Washington, or running global corporations or non-profit organizations, the Innovators of Vancouver are using their creativity, energy and ambition to make the world a better place.

Innovators of Vancouver episodes air for five to ten minutes and are delivered exclusively in an online format. Martin strives for a handful of videos per years, but as his project develops there may be the possibility for more.

Chris Martin.

In 2006, Chris Martin founded Chris Martin Studios as a way to tell compelling stories of people doing interesting things in Vancouver, WA. The company combines his love of documentary video with the immediacy of online video distribution.

If you would like to learn more about Chris Martin or the Innovators of Vancouver series, email chris@chrismartinstudios.com.

Carol Doane also serves as the Doane Family Association Chapter President for the Oregon, Washington, Idaho region.


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