Posts Tagged ‘genealogy’

The subject of today’s talk was “DNA testing for Family History” and the speaker was Fiona Brooker, founder and director of Memories in Time.

There are four main companies offering DNA testing for genealogy, and Ancestry DNA has the largest database of 20 million. I had my DNA tested by them a couple of years ago, mainly because I was interested to find my ethnicity. This changes slightly as the database is updated, and Ancestry sends me an update at least once a year.

My DNA test kit

I learned to day that it’s possible to transfer your Ancestry DNA results to other databases, e.g. My Heritage DNA or Family Tree DNA, and upload results from other people’s tests. These databases each have different reference panels which may give different results. Interestingly siblings may have different ethnicities because they have inherited different genes.

Once your DNA is registered you will be advised of matches, and the closeness of these depends on how many centimorgans (cM) are shared. If you want to know more about centimorgans and the relationships they indicate there is information at the Shared cM Project, facilitated by Blaine Bettinger. When you get a match and there is a family tree available it’s good to seek the most recent common ancestor. To see this information you may need to pay a subscription to Ancestry, although some aspects are available through membership of Christchurch City Libraries.

New matches can solve family tree mysteries, but beware there’s always the possibility of NPE – Not the Parent Expected. On Facebook there are groups of people who have discovered through DNA that their father is not their father which can obviously be distressing. Sperm donation, which in the past was supposed to be anonymous, may be revealed through DNA.

I was pleased when my DNA matches alerted me to the fact I had a half-brother I hadn’t known about, but not everyone may welcome such news. It’s good to arrange to have close relations tested, especially those who are one generation back, but you need to consider the ethics of this, and ensure you have informed consent. DNA can be used to identify criminals, but Ancestry does not allow requests for information from law enforcement agencies. Sharing of medical information is problematic because the data could be used by insurance companies.

For keen genealogists DNA adds to the toolbox, but it is only one tool among many. Fiona, who is an enthusiastic advocate for genealogy, stressed that if you’ve had your DNA done you should leave the results to someone in your will, passing on the ability to login and access information.

There’s lots of scope with DNA
but it may take you just part-way

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Delving in to DNA

An Ancestry DNA Kit was an exciting present to receive.  Faithfully following the instructions I activated my kit, and agreed to having my information anonymously used for various kinds of research.  There was a warning that doing so might possibly lead to my being refused insurance in the future – not a concern for me.

The required process for supplying the saliva sample was clear, with instructions to not eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum for thirty minutes beforehand.  You spit into a small tube with a funnel (it took me several spits to produce the required amount).  Then you remove the funnel and replace it with a cap.  When this is screwed down tightly a stabilizing fluid is released.  You then shake the tube to mix the fluid with the saliva, place the tube in a collection bag, and seal that inside the prepaid mailing box provided.  I was dubious as to whether the prepaid postage would work in Aotearoa, but the people at the Post Shop said they’d seen these samples before and a code on the box enables NZ Post to recover the cost of postage.

I had previously read (in crime novels) of DNA samples being collected by a swab inside the cheek.  Ancestry’s procedure seems more thorough, and I now eagerly await the results which will reveal details of my ethnicity and maybe connect me with new relatives.  This will take up to eight weeks, and in the meantime they will send me email updates about the progress of my test.  Have you done a DNA test, and did the results surprise you?

My DNA is on its way
to be checked out in U.S.A.

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Have you had your DNA tested?  I haven’t, but I’m tempted.  I considered doing it in the past, but balked at the cost.  A friend had hers done ten years ago, and she never managed to access the website that would give her detailed information.  I’ve read that different companies can give different results about your ethnic heritage, and that rather put me off.

One of my readers is thrilled that her DNA test led to the discovery of a previously unknown half-sister, but I don’t expect any such revelations.  Recent contact with a remote cousin has renewed my interest in genealogy and DNA tests.  I know these can be done through Ancestry.com.

I thought I could access Ancestry,com for free through Christchurch City Libraries, but when I checked I found they have a special library version which can be accessed only at a library, not through your home computer, and it doesn’t offer the full range of Ancestry.com facilities.  Sadly DNA kits and results are one of the exclusions.  My genealogical research has been dormant in recent years, but I had always thought that when I finished paid work I would transfer my Brother’s Keeper database with its 4,000 names on to Ancestry.com.  I’m now considering whether I might do at least some of that at the library.  I’m reluctant to pay for an Ancestry.com subscription, and I’m uncertain whether I want to get hooked on genealogy again.  It can be addictive and expensive!

Jane Tolerton has written an excellent book about my war hero relation, and an Australian history professor has written a book about my grandfather.  Those stories I know about my ancestors I’ve  recorded in the Family Stories category of my blog, mainly between 2007 and 2009.  A friend researched her family and wrote an excellent novel about them, but I’ve no ambition to do that.  However, I would be pleased to make contact with new relations, and to know which of the seven daughters of Eve are my foremothers.

I wonder if my DNA
would lead me on new paths today?

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What’s the oldest item you have in your possession?  I have two different items that are relics of my Rout family.  Both were given to me by distant relatives the first time I met them, rather than being handed down through my parents.

William’s New Testament

The first is a New Testament presented to my Great-Great-Uncle William Rout when he left Tasmania for New Zealand in 1884, by the “boys of the Bible and 1st Classes attending Princes Square Congregational Sunday School”.  It was given to me by two elderly women cousins in whose home he’d lived up to his death in 1932.  William is a special uncle because he is the father of Ettie Rout.  These cousins also gave me a letter he wrote in which he mentioned Ettie.  When I first met them they immediately recognised me as family because, they said, I have the Rout nose.

The second item is a pair of Bodley teacups and saucers which once belonged to my Great Grandmother Susan Tunnecliffe Rout.  These were given to me by Joyce Tolerton, my first cousin once removed, when I visited her in Russell in 1985.

Susan’s cups and saucers

They may well have been a hundred years old then, and they are hand painted with handles attached by hand.  Joyce also gave me several postcards written to her 1907-14, by my Grandmother Mabel Rout.  In one of these she mentions Georgie aged three (my father).

All of these are important family mementoes.  With the recent wildfires near Nelson I pondered what possessions I might take if I had to evacuate hastily in an emergency, but none of these family items were immediately on my list.  While I’m fond of them I’m not sure my daughters would consider them as important as I do, or even remember they exist.

They have significance to me
these relics of my family

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I found this book profoundly moving.  Diana’s story of her long search for her lost father is enthralling and at times heart-breaking.  Her Jewish father survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Holocaust, and more.  The loving care with which she researches and writes his story makes a book which anyone would find gripping, especially those who’ve done some family history research.

I lost my father at an earlier age than Diana, and can relate to the need to find out more details about his background and life.  My family story is a common one.  Diana’s is incredibly complex.

Many passages moved me to tears.  Reading of the memorial plaques Diana saw in Berlin reminded me of poignant plaques I saw on Paris schools commemorating the number of children who were deported and killed by Nazis because they were Jewish.

Paris, 2007

This memoir is beautifully written, and highly recommended.

“Historic horrors haunt this tale
as she unearths her father’s trail.”


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