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Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree Kindle Edition
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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.
Some people make a life's work of tracing their family roots. I'm not one of those people. But a few years ago, my sister researched our family's immigration on the paternal side and found the account we'd been told our whole lives simply wasn't true. So when I saw this book, I thought it might be interesting. That's exactly what it turned out to be--in spades.
The authors took care to make the book readable to both novices and experienced genealogical researchers. As I have no experience in genealogy, I very much appreciated Part I. It gave me a good background, so I could understand and enjoy the rest of the book. Folks who already knew the basics could skip over Part I, without missing out on something of value to them.
This modular organization of Trace Your Roots is something I want to explain a bit more, by looking for a moment at a different genre. One of my pet peeves with computer books is most of them are either extremely basic throughout so you get bogged down in boring detail, or they are so advanced you just can't move forward. The correct approach is to include a primer on the basics for those who need it, and then write the book as though everyone knows the basics. I was pleased that Trace Your Roots took this approach.
Moving beyond the primer (which addresses genealogy and then genetics), the book takes one subject at a time and explains it in a clear and interesting way with examples and anecdotes.
In Part II, we start with tracing roots along the paternal path. There are two basic reasons for taking this path. The first is biological--the Y chromosome. The second is cultural--many cultures, especially in the West--preserve the paternal surname.
There are some twists in this approach, though, and the book explains what they are and how researchers handle them.
The next topic is, as you might expect, tracing roots along the maternal path. The main reason for taking this path is biological--the mitochondrial DNA. I was fascinated by the explanation and implications of this. And here's a tidbit. The father's contribution (Y chromosome) contains nothing essential, which makes sense when you realize that female offspring don't have Y chromosomes (and so don't pass along the paternal line).
The mitochondrial DNA, however, is very different in that respect and in other ways as well.
Part II also explains where various genetic groups seem to originate and why. Chapter 5 contains a fascinating account of a man who had made his African American heritage a major part of his life and identity. But through genetic testing, he discovered he had no African American heritage--what he "knew" was based on faulty family lore.
Where Part II delves into tracing next of kin relationships, the implications cover a wide area of interests. This kind of research affects everything from paternity suits to family reunions to identifying natural parents. Consider one anecdote the book revealed. An adopted child of unmarried parents finds her natural father, and they develop a close relationship. But, she struggles for years to find her natural mother. She uses the tracing techniques in Part II and finds her mother. But, the mother denies the man is the woman's father--and genetic testing proves he's not. You'll read other accounts where truth seems stranger than fiction, as well.
Part III puts the paddle in the water. It's here where you see how to apply the knowledge gained in the previous pages. This part explains how to join or run a research project, how to contact research participants, how to persuade people to donate genetic material and information, how to interpret test results, how to share results, and how to obtain the shared results of other research. If you want to research your roots, this part of the book will save you hours of frustration.
The final chapter of the book explains current trends and extrapolates them into some interesting predictions. The appendices are valuable to those engaged in genetic or genealogical research. There, you'll find a comprehensive guide to resources (magazines, books, societies, forms, Websites, software), a directory of DNA testing companies and DNA testing products, and a comprehensive glossary. The book is also well-indexed, making it a good reference tool for your bookshelf.
If you are involved in any research into your lineage, Trace Your Roots with DNA is a "must have" book.
Professor Bryan Sykes' book The Seven Daughters of Eve was a seminal work. This book focuses on mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) that is passed down the maternal line. This book is written in an easy to read style that creates the tone and tenor of a mystery novel. The punch line of this book is that all maternal lines can be traced back to seven theoretic women who lived at different places in the worlds at different times. This book is very light reading and similar to picking up a pop culture magazine. This book is not recommended other than as the most basic introduction to genetic genealogy. It also suffers from it's minimal discussion of paternal DNA testing (Y-chromosome) which is the most popular form of DNA testing today.
Sykes second book "Adam's Curse" discusses the long term de-evolution of the male chromosome. It's a shame that Sykes has stooped to pandering to sensationalistic popular culture instead in more serious genetic research. Sykes made a name for himself in this space, but it seems that this segment of science has passed him by.
Two excellent introductory books were published in 2004 -- "Trace Your Roots with DNA : Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree" by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner and "DNA and Family History: How Genetic Testing Can Advance Your Genealogical Research" by Chris Pomery.
In Trace your Roots, Smolenyak, who makes her living as a professional genealogist, branches out into genetics and DNA testing. She hooks up with Ann Turner, the past administrator of a key DNA message list, to create a good introductory book on genetic genealogy. This book covers all the basics for someone who is considering having a DNA test done. I was disappointed that almost half the book (90 out of 235 pages) was dedicated to starting and running a DNA project. I view this material as fluffy filler since most readers aren't likely to need this information.
A similar book is Chris Pomery's "DNA and Family History". This book also covers all the basics in a straightforward and informative way. This book focuses primary on the most popular form of DNA Testing -- testing of the paternal Y-chromosome line. The book includes numerous references to the book's online site ([...] This site is supposed to contain supplementary information but many links don't seem to have been activated.
Pomery does a nice job contrasting genetic families that might be derived from a single ancestor with those that might be derived from multiple ancestors. He also discusses the origins of various classes of surnames which is important in understand this issue. Pomery also uses many examples from surname projects that can be found on the web.
One knock on both books is their minimal discussion of what DNA testing can't do. Neither book elaborates on the limitations of DNA testing for genealogists such as testing inability to definitively identify parents and brother and the small and biased sample sizes that home geneticists are using to make sweeping conclusions. Neither book describes in more than a paragraph or two the lasting thinking about haplogroups -- i.e., the origin of R, E, J, etc. Y-DNA clusters. In addition, neither book will aid the experienced DNA researcher.
If you looking for one day's worth of beach reading, try Seven Daughters of Eve or Spencer Wells, Journey of Man. Also consider getting these books at the library as these seminal works are quick reads that you don't need cluttering up your shelves.
If you are a serious genealogist or are considering DNA testing or joining the National Geographic Genographics Project, then stick to Smolenyak or Pomery. After reading both, I find them both excellent and roughly equivalent. However, I clearly prefer DNA and Family History by Chris Pomery. The book simply contains more information which is presented in a more straightforward fashion.
Campbell DNA Project Administrator
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