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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.

Washington State genealogy and historical societies

August 12, 2012 Genealogy Comments
Washington State

We’ve compiled a list of Washington State historical societies and genealogy societies. If you see things that are missing please forward the information to doanefamilyassociation@gmail.comWashington State Historical Society. Explore the museum’s Hall of Washington History and discover a new view of the past, from frontier towns to modern technology. Includes events, programs … 1911 Pacific Avenue Tacoma, WA 98402.

Adams County Historical Society was organized in May 1956 to gather and preserve the history of Adams County. Today the Society’s endeavors are the same with a strong emphasis on archiving and gathering our history for generations to come.

Benton County Historical Society is located in Prosser Washington.

Des Moines Historical Society maintains three museums in Burlington: the Heritage Center (501 North Fourth, Burlington), the Phelps House … 501 North 4th Street, Burlington, IA 52601

Douglas County Historical Society located in Waterville, Washington Items used by Native Americans & pioneers of the late 1800s. Functional tools & articles that added music & culture. Outstanding mineral …

East Benton County Historical Society Operated by the East Benton County Historical Society … use of natural lighting, this museum has won renown with museum professionals as “the best small museum building in the state”. 205 Keewaydin Dr, Kennewick, WA 99336.

Ferry County Historical Society, Ferry Co. Historical Society 15-2 N. Kean Street P.O. Box 287. Republic, WA 99166 … The Ferry County Historical Society is a nonprofit organization (501(3)(c )) …

Franklin County Historical Society and Museum captures the spirit and history of Franklin County. The Museum was originally constructed in 1910 as part of …

Garfield County Historical Society. Garfield became a county on November 1881 and was carved out of Columbia county. The county seat is Pomeroy. Please feel free to add books…

Jefferson County Historical Society. History of Port Townsend and Jefferson County in Washington State, museum, museum shop, archives, research, historic structures, national historic Victorian … 540 Water Street Port Townsend, WA 98368, (360) 385-1003.

Okanogan County Historical Society (OCHS) was formed in 1963 to preserve … the colorful heritage of Okanogan County in North Central Washington State. 1410 2nd Ave Okanogan, WA 98840, (509) 422-4272.

Pacific County Historical Society and Museum is a private, not-for-profit, charitable … The Society was incorporated with the State of Washington and registered with the … 1008 W Robert Bush Dr South Bend, WA 98586, (360) 875-5224.

Pend Oreille County Historical Society Museum 402 S. Washington Ave. Newport , Washington 509-447-5388 10 AM to 4 PM Seven Days a Week May 1 through …

Whitman County Historical SocietyA cabin on the grounds built in 1870 is the oldest standing building in Whitman County. The house was the center of Colfax society between 1886 and 1920.

Washington State genealogy and historical society by specialty

Belfair Genealogical Society, a chapter of Puget Sound Genealogical Society. Gail Reynolds – News of Belfair members published in PSGS Backtracker. For monthly meeting information see Puget Sound Genealogical Society …

Fiske Genealogical Library. Search 10,215 titles, including 8594 books, 837 serials, and 671 articles held by the Fiske Library and Pioneer Hall Collections, 1644 43rd Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98112.

Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington has guidance for researchers, articles, and library catalog. “We are a non-profit organization that collects, preserves,and disseminates knowledge and information with reference to Jewish family history.”

Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society (PSMHS), located in Seattle, WA, is committed to enhancing lives by preserving and sharing the engaging … 901 Fairview Ave N # C160, Seattle, WA 98109.

Swedish-Finn Historical Society is a genealogical association in Seattle, Washington, USA. Persons sharing an interest in Swedish-Finn culture, tradition …

Washington State genealogy society by location

Bainbridge Island Genealogical Society, a group of amateur genealogists researching their ancestries from the Pacific Northwest across the U.S. and the entire world.
Benton and Franklin Counties, Tri-City Genealogical Society

Chelan Valley Genealogical Society. Cheryl Webber is the Chelan County Coordinator. … In 1994 the Chelan Valley Genealogical Society published a 161-page …

Clallam County Genealogy Society is located at 931 W. 9th St. Port Angeles, WA 98363-5748.

Clark County Genealogical Society is located in Vancouver, Washington USA. Our members have compiled many books on our area …

Columbia County Genealogical Society. Personal Biographies for Columbia County · Old Dayton High … Columbia County Washington Genealogy · City Of Dayton … Dayton Historical Depot Society …

Columbia Gorge Genealogical Society. Wasco Cultural Trust encourage projects and activities in the arts, heritage and humanities within Wasco County, Oregon.

Franklin and Benton Counties, Tri-City Genealogical Society

Grays Harbor Genealogy Society, has been promoting genealogy and family history for over 20 years. Although our ancestors come from all over the …

Jefferson County Genealogy Society (JCGS) was established in 1983 in Port Townsend, Washington, when a small group of people interested in …

Kittitas County Genealogy Society, library Location: 413 No. Main, Suites L & M Ellensburg, Washington 98926-3183.

Lewis County Genealogy Society Lewis County was created on December 19, 1845, by the provisional government of Oregon Territory, named after the pioneer explorer, Meriwether Lewis.

Lower Columbia Genealogy Society. The Genealogy Room contains over 1800 volumes of genealogical research books.The collection contains both local county records and …P.O. Box 103, Shelton, Washington 98584.

Mason County Genealogical Society P.O. Box 103, Shelton, Washington 98584. Sawamish County was created on March 13, 1854. On January 3, 1864 the …

Olympia Genealogy Society, OGS is a non-profit society based in Olympia, the State Capital of Washington. We are located in Thurston County, at the southern end of Puget Sound, …

Puget Sound Genealogical Society, located in Kitsap County, Washington, provides research, educational, and genealogical information through instruction … 2501 SE Mile Hill Dr # A102, Port Orchard, WA 98366

South King County Genealogical Society in Kent, Washington. Serving the communities of Algona, Auburn, Black Diamond, Burien, Covington, Des Moines, … 11420 Southeast 248th Street, Kent, WA 98030.

Seattle Genealogical Society, founded in 1923, is an educational organization … The Seattle Genealogical Society’s mission is to serve as a community … Sand Point Way NE # 100, Seattle, WA 98115

Skagit Valley Genealogical Society P.O. Box 715 Conway, WA. 98238-0715. Visitors always welcome to attend.

Sno-Isle Genealogical Society Humble House at Heritage Park, Lynnwood, Washington. Let us, before we die, gather up our heritage and …

Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society and Library was founded in 1985 and a … We have gathered historical information pertaining to the northern part of … to support other genealogical libraries throughout Washington; and to keep …Arlington, WA.

South Whidbey Island Genealogical Society, Welcome! We hope you find this site helpful, interesting and inspiring. We offer fellowship and support to anyone …

Tri-City Genealogical Society, Benton and Franklin Counties

Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society TPCGS publishes a genealogical quarterly, The Researcher, and numerous indexes and other publications for research in Pierce County. Each year TPCGS …

Wentachee Valley Genealogical Society (WAGS) promotes genealogy to further the understanding of our families and community through education, and the …

Whitman County Genealogy Society

Yakima Valley Genealogy Society was founded in 1967. We have a large library collection of over 18000 books which continues to grow.

To have your organization added to this list, email doanefamilyassociation@gmail.com


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