Millions of Americans have become hooked on genealogy, the science or study of family descent. The popularity of pursuing one's ancestors through tracing one's roots backward generation by generation has soared since the advent of the Internet, which made it possible to rapidly search the world for even remote family members and set up family websites, and the creation of special computer software which enables anyone to use the power of the computer to trace his or her domestic roots. Now it is possible to go to the next level of searching one's family tree through the availability of DNA testing. And that is what this book, "Trace Your Roots with DNA," is all about.
Co-author Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (no, that's not a typo!) has been an eager genealogist for more than thirty years, is an authority on family history research, and was the lead researcher for the Ancestors series on PBS. She is also a contributing editor for "Heritage Quest" and the author of a number of books related to genealogy and ancestor historiography. The other co-author, Ann Turner, became interested in genealogy when she learned that her parents' ancestors had arrived in the United States on the same ship, yet went their separate ways until her parents met 300 years later. That sort of coincidence would also have piqued my interest in my family history if I knew something like that about my parents. Sometimes facts are really stranger than fiction.
"Trace Your Roots with DNA" is not really for leisure reading, but it does contain very valuable information for those who want to use the new DNA tests for help in tracing their family ancestry. It contains a lot of technical material (although I hope that point does not scare anyone away), but the authors explain everything in terms which any ordinary person of average intelligence can understand and there are ample illustrations provided to help clarify what is being described. I suggest the reader do a rapid once-through-reading of the book and then consider it a sourcebook, guidebook, or resource to be consulted often. The authors provide a brief introduction to the fundamentals of genealogy and genetics, including a brief overview of classical genetics, blood types, phenotypes, genotypes, molecular genetics, the principles of DNA, and even a short section about mutations.
I found their discussion of the Y chromosome and its ramifications to be especially interesting. The Y chromosome is inherited from fathers and occurs only in males. This was of particular interest to me, not merely because I am of the male gender, but because of the following statement made by the authors: "If we had a time machine, we could trace the Y chromosome of every man living today back to one man." Furthermore, say the authors, this "Most Recent Common Ancestor" of all men was a real person, not an abstraction, and is sometimes called "Y-Adam," almost certainly born in Africa less than 100,000 years ago. That to me means that in one important sense all of us males are really related to one another and the differences between us are mainly cosmetic. Talk about male bonding! And that, by the way, is what they called the chapter about this topic: "Male Bonding."
Now, don't think that the female of the species is left out of the picture. There is an entire chapter devoted to the "Maternal Legacy" and the importance of mitochondrial DNA. Since the paternal lineage of all men living today focuses on one man, Y-Adam, can everyone today trace their straight maternal lineage back to one woman? "The answer is yes," say the authors, "and she is dubbed mitochondrial Eve." Furthermore, similar to Y-Adam, "mitochondrial Eve was born somewhere in Africa." But, interestingly enough, "she did not live at the same time as him" and, "while her date of birth is uncertain...most estimates fall within a range of 120,000 to 200,000 years ago, long before Y-Adam." The conclusion? According to the authors, "Adam never met Eve!" You'll have to read the book yourself for the rest of this story.
The discussion surrounding Y-chromosomes, mitochondrial DNA, geographical origins, and kin relationships includes information about the types of available DNA testing, what kind of information the tests can provide, how to interpret the results, and how the tests work. These test are becoming increasingly inexpensive and reliable and they are as effortless as swabbing the inside of your cheek and mailing a sample to a testing facility. The authors also provide information about joining an ongoing genealogy project or starting and running your own project, as well as information about finding prospects for your project, contacting and courting participants, and interpreting and sharing results.
If you are interested in your family ancestry and want to use the latest tools available in your genealogical research, then this book is one you should have in your personal reference library. The very helpful appendix includes a list of genealogical resources, including special forms which can be downloaded on the Internet, a list of genealogical computer software (some for free!) and websites, both free and commercial, devoted to genealogy and tracing your roots, plus there is a list of DNA testing companies and products, and a glossary to help readers understand the technical terms involved in this subject. The standard index of topics is also provided at the back of the book. All in all, this book is a highly recommended work for those who are participating in or want to participate in this fascinating avocation.