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DNA Takes Over Where Paper Leaves Off

Paper documentation only goes back so far but the genealogy bug knows no bounds. If we traced our family tree back fifty generations, we would always be curious about the fifty first. Knowing that the paper trail has to end somewhere, the only real alternative we have is our DNA. Each person carries a map inside of their cells, a map that shows where your family came from on Earth. Through a series of markers, geneticists can tell the path your family has taken over time. Although the information is somewhat vague, DNA is an excellent way to prove your ethnicity.

DNA testing is somewhat expensive, around $100 for a simple test, but it can pinpoint a few key items. Men can determine where their male ancestors were from through a marker passed from father to son. Men can also determine where their female ancestors came from through a marker passed from a mother to her children. However, women do not have this marker from their father. This is one of the main confusions with DNA testing for genealogy purposes. A man's markers can tell where the Jones family came from because each father and son was a Jones. Women have the disadvantage of losing their last name when they get married. Mrs. Jones' mother was a Smith and her mother was a Williams, etc. We cannot say that any of these last names came from a specific area because they keep changing through marriage. It is therefore necessary that a man take a DNA test to prove the origin of the family's last name.

Genetic testing can help solidify family ties when no paper documentation exists. For example, there are lots of Lett families around the country and we did not know how they all fit together, at least not until DNA testing came around. After having one Lett male from each line tested, we could see whose DNA matched and whose did not. We were able to see migratory patterns in the family where paper did not exist. It also helped us to separate out various spellings. There used to be confusion over which families in old documents were Letts and which were Lotts, an unrelated group. Now we have a better idea of where those families lived and who were their members. We have a much lower risk now of confusing Letts and Lotts.

Submitted by:

Kevin T. Lett

Kevin Lett is owner of Find Great Help LLC at http://www.findgreathelp.com He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia with a degree in the field of History and a minor degree in Art and Art History. Kevin is the primary genealogist for Virginia Family Tree at http://www.virginiafamilytree.com and webmaster for the USA Family Tree Network at http://www.usafamilytree.com He has conducted genealogy research for the past fifteen years, eight years professionally.


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