Over the last few years, I’d been pondering the place of DNA within the genealogy world. I can appreciate why many people are fascinated with examining their ethnicity, but it’s never really interested me much. However, I kept hearing more and more about DNA being used to assist family history research.
Two years ago I thought I’d dip my toe in – have a look at what all the fuss was about – then I wished I hadn’t! Terminology such as centimorgans, clustering, triangulation and chromosome browsers terrified me, so I shied away from it.
During the first UK lockdown, when curiosity in ancestry boomed, I had several people contact me asking for help in deciphering their results. I did the ethical thing and recommended experts in the field of genetic genealogy, who were experienced in this type of work. Then, a couple of my closest friends asked if I would take a look at their DNA. I explained that I really didn’t know what I was doing, but they were happy for me to play with their cousin matches to familiarise myself.
After a while, the DNA jargon seemed less scary, but I still felt like I was going round in circles. So, a couple of months ago, I decided to do something about it. I signed up for a DNA Bootcamp, hosted by Family Tree Magazine, and taught by one of the best in the field – Michelle Leonard. I needed to get a grip, and understand the differences between such things as Mitochondrial and Autosomal. It can be quite daunting learning something new, but I was determined to increase my knowledge of this unknown world.
After the first week I already felt more confident, and armed with this new sense of comprehension I suggested that my friends upload their test data to other sites (obviously after they had read and agreed to each site’s terms). By week 2, I was clustering matches, and then the obsession was in full-force.
Recently, DNA helped me break a brick wall in a case where someone had used an alias. Traditional methods had repeatedly led to dead-ends because the name we had, simply didn’t exist. There’s no way documents such as birth/death certificates could ever have been found (and used to connect other facts), if it was not for DNA.
I now strongly believe that DNA is an asset to any genealogist. Just like we combine different traditional sources to corroborate details in our research, DNA can be used to confirm relationships and highlight potential paths of investigation.
So if you haven’t delved into DNA yet, I urge you to try it. You’re never too old to learn new tricks – If I can do it, anyone can!