Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Can DNA Testing Help Your Family History?

There is a definite trend today to promote DNA testing as a way to help your family history. A recent post on the blog was entitled, "How DNA Testing Can Help Your Family History." The article focused on a presentation by Jim Brewster, Group Project Liaison at FamilyTree DNA at RootsTech 2016. There were 15 classes at RootsTech 2016 on DNA and I suppose they were all well attended. The name of the presentation by Jim Brewster was "Understanding DNA Testing for Genealogy." Here is the description of the class:
DNA testing has become a popular tool for genealogists over the last few years, and almost every conference has at least one speaker on the topic. Yet for many people, even the basic classes are so difficult to understand they don't even know what questions to ask. Industry pioneer Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA has years of experience explaining genetic genealogy to people who have no scientific background. In this class, he'll explain in simple terms why testing is important, what the different tests do, who should test, and how to get the best out of your results. If you don't know a thing about DNA or DNA testing, this is the class for you.
Car dealers sell cars. Insurance companies sell insurance and DNA companies sell DNA testing. I cannot comment on the presentation because I did not attend it. But the fact that FamilySearch has focused on the subject and made the following statement, it is something I think should be discussed more frequently and in more depth. Here is the quote from the post:
All three types of DNA test results can help your family history efforts by confirming things you already know as well as connecting you with others. Many people are able to break through the all too common brick walls with the help of a second- or third-cousin whom they have never met. 
DNA testing is available from FamilyTree DNA and several other companies. If you’ve already had your DNA tested, consider uploading your results to additional DNA databases to learn even more and to find additional cousins. One such DNA database that is relatively new, yet growing rapidly is — is both the name of the project and its URL web address. accepts DNA file uploads from FamilyTree DNA, and 23andme. The consent agreement is both short and simple enough to understand in a few minutes. 90% of users have one or more cousin matches — and this will grow as more people upload their autosomal DNA test results.
In addition, is now running a weekly reality TV show entitled, Relative Race, that is focused on a group of people "discovering" their relatives across the country as found and sponsored by  The TV show plays on revealing "shocking" discoveries.

My comments are on the shocking part of DNA testing. Do you really want to be shocked? Well, the truth is DNA testing may not tell you anything you didn't already know about your ancestry or it may tell you something you really did not want to know. I was recently in a conversation with a friend who explained how DNA testing has helped his wife, who was adopted, to find her birth mother. On the other hand, I have also heard stories about friends who have found out that they weren't related to the person they thought was their biological father. I currently have one "family history mystery" in my line that could probably be solved with DNA testing. But as shown by my friends comments about his wife's experience in finding her birth mother, DNA testing by itself does not answer any of these questions. If anything, DNA testing without additional genealogical research only raises more questions.

One argument in favor of DNA testing goes like this: It won't hurt anyone to get a DNA test and it might get that person interested in family history. My response is if you want a DNA test go for it. Get the most complete test you can afford, but be aware that there are some consequences. What is not usually mentioned in the genealogy related discussions about DNA testing is that there have been and continue to be serious and controversial issues involving legal issues, forensics, social work and medicine.

DNA testing is used to determine paternity in disputed cases. It is also used in law enforcement investigations and as scientific evidence in court cases. In quoting from one short legal article on the subject entitled, "Learn About the Pros and Cons of DNA Testing." is says:
Familial relations often present complex affairs that cannot be solved with genetic testing. DNA paternity determinations may uncover lies told to children or relatives long ago and thus disrupt an otherwise harmonious family.
The other factors to consider concern improper use of the data and privacy issues. You may or may not want to know the identity of some of your "cousins." Before you jump into the DNA testing pool, you might want to consider the consequences. Here are a few articles to give you some insight into both the pros and cons of DNA testing. You may want to listen to someone or some organization that is not selling the product.

“DTC Genetics: Pros and Cons.” Genetics Generation. Accessed March 14, 2016.
“LocalOrg: Consumer DNA Tests - 5 Pros & Cons.” LocalOrg. Accessed March 14, 2016.
“Seeking Your Genetic Information: Pros and Cons.” Accessed March 14, 2016. I"C
“The FDA and Personalized Genetic Testing « Science-Based Medicine.” Accessed March 14, 2016.
“The FDA and Personalized Genetic Testing « Science-Based Medicine.” Accessed March 14, 2016.
“The Pros and Cons of Genetic Data: Debating Personal DNA Testing - The New York Times.” Accessed March 14, 2016.
“The Pros and Cons of Genetic Data: Debating Personal DNA Testing - The New York Times.” Accessed March 14, 2016.
“What Are the Drawbacks of Genetic Testing?” Accessed March 14, 2016.
“What Are the Drawbacks of Genetic Testing?” Accessed March 14, 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment