Roots & Branches is an award-winning, weekly newspaper column begun in 1998 that currently is published in the Altoona Mirror. It’s the only syndicated column on genealogy in Pennsylvania!

Posted March 21, 2017 by  |  2 Comments

In courtrooms across the country, they call it the “CSI effect,” after the popular “Crime Scene Investigation” franchise of TV shows that create the impression that for every crime there is scads of forensic evidence waiting to be analyzed by cutting-edge scientific tools.

In the family history world, it’s the “DNA effect” and it shows up in discussions amongst professionals and hobbyists alike. The idea becoming common in these discussions is that DNA tests are a necessary part of any sound genealogical conclusion.

First a very quick review of DNA testing as it applies to genealogy.

For more than a decade, there’s been Y chromosome testing that can show whether two men are related in an unbroken male line and mitochrondrial DNA that comes from an unbroken maternal line.

In the last five years or so, autosomal DNA tests that give suggestions on how close two individuals might be related (and which therefore can be terrific “brick wall” removers when used with traditional paper documents) have come into vogue.

The autosomal tests have, in turn, led to powerful tools to ferret out missing cousins.

My opinion – as someone who knows only enough about DNA and genealogy to be very dangerous! – is that a time will come in the not too distant future when DNA testing will be inexpensive enough that cost will not be a barrier and that relatively few people will have qualms about testing.

That time, however, it not quite now. Testing each individual in a project usually still requires an investment of $100 or so.

And there are still a significant number of people who do not wish to share their DNA – especially those with concerns for their privacy (can you believe some people just don’t want to be bothered by “nutty” genealogists?) or related fears that they could be exposed to law enforcement problems or medical discrimination.

However, prices have already declined substantially and I believe they will get even cheaper.

While some people will continue to fight giving up a swab of DNA because of privacy or discrimination concerns, I think most people will eventually take the view that I do – that any sense of privacy in the 21st century world is mostly illusion and that the less you let it worry you, the better.

And nearly every client of a professional genealogist, however, will likely be game to have their DNA compared against a commercial database or two.

Although it strikes me that there always will be a place for the sheer beauty of documents relating to pedigrees from bygone days, the changes made by DNA showing the correct biological descent will give us all a more complete sense of our family history.

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