Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

So, Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me? (Part II)

Continuation from Part I: So, Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me?

In Part I of my series on the progress of my DNA testing, I may have sounding a bit discouraged. In a way, I am, and I think that reflects the experience of many of those who have ventured into the testing. What holds me engaged and determined to continue is my passion for genealogy together with the idea of supporting a relatively young, rapidly expanding field.

As I explain in Part I, my first goal, uncovering Sephardic roots, is now on the back burner, as I let project manager, proceed in their work. My next goal, breaking brick walls is front center. I realize, brick walls are not easy to bringdown, and this one may take time. So far, I have not made much of a dent.

What I have learned through the Autosomal DNA test, which FamilyTreeDNA calls FamilyFinder, is that I'm genetically linked to LOTS of people. Based exclusively on this test, there is no way to determine which branch of the family these DNA connections come from. They come from both maternal and paternal branches. Let me explain: According to my family tree—the one I have painstakingly constructed—I have 1,312 blood relatives, 1,050 are alive and most are distant cousin (third cousins and beyond). The FamilyFinder connected me to 1,070 people, all of whom are most likely distantly related and none of whom are on my family tree. Cross checking manually all one thousand possible connections will take a while. I began with the "closer" connections, 3rd-5th cousins, with no success. On the other hand, I have one cousin and two uncles who have done the y-DNA test (not the Family Finder test) and there is no way to link them to me. Why? Because, they don't appear on my list of possible relatives and I don't appear on theirs (the Y-DNA test, is only for men). Despite the fact that I know they are close relations of mine, I won't be able to mark them as relatives until they purchase more tests. The program can only link according to scientifically proven DNA connections. When people test different markers, essentially comparing apples to oranges, they are creating huge gaps. Not being able to bridge the gap between the different tests, by cross-linking with known relatives doesn't help. At the moment the system only allows to link suspected or known relatives if they preformed the same type of DNA test. It's a programming glitch, but one that if fixed could assit tremendously in this huge maze.

To remove a brick or two, I now understand that it will requires a lot of time, extensive detective work and additional funds to figure out how I'm related to those I share DNA. For me, it's worth the investment of both time and money. I believe prices will need to go down further and the system needs to be more user friendly before the general population will submit to the extensive amount of testing needed to make this all work. The consumer should understand upfront that the more comprehensive teting they do, the better. Go for the most extensive testing you can afford! 

I remain bullish on genealogy DNA testing. For Genetic Genealogy to work, we need as many people to test as much of their DNA as possible. I also believe the testing is pricey, and I'm not sure we are getting our money's worth in the short term. I think consumers should be warned upfront, that even with the most extensive testing, they should think about this as a long term investment. Getting an incomplete set of markers is almost useless. To workout, complicated relationships with potential distant relatives, the more members of your known family are tested, the more likely you will be able to decipher the relationship maze. As a group you will spend thousands of dollars. Budget about six hundred dollars a person for a fairly complete test, or it won't be very useful. Rather than sleek marketing promises, companies should offer deeper discount as incentives for the full sequence studies as well as volume discounts for family groups.

Do you have a DNA testing success story? Do share!

Also see My Mitochondria and Me

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