Last week we talked about how family history and stories are frequently lost from one generation to the next and how DNA, along with good old-fashioned sleuthing, can help to reconstruct our family origins. In today’s blog, I’ll be interviewing professional genealogist Patricia Divjak on how DNA is being used to help reconstruct missing family history.
Don: When did you first get involved with using DNA in ancestry research and why?
Patricia: I became interested in Y-DNA several years ago while documenting my father’s surname line. I had clues that his family was from Colonial Virginia. I was working with a County Archivist at the time and they found the documentation that I needed to confirm father/son relationship for my 2nd and 3rd great grandfathers. When my nephew had his Y-DNA tested through Family Tree DNA, we found our genetic cousins all originally came from Mecklenburg County, VA. It’s a great benefit for all when cousins can collaborate and share information.
Don: How has ancestry DNA research changed since you started with it?
Patricia: Y-DNA (male line) has been around for years and our knowledge of how to interpret the results has increased as more people become involved in the testing process. As a result, the interest in autosomal testing (DNA inherited from mother and father, grandmother’s and grandfather’s etc.) has increased significantly. We have the ability to reconnect with our genetic cousins, long since separated, because of migrations for jobs, adventure and other reasons. There are new “tools” and “apps” to assist the genetic genealogist in comparing the information on 22 chromosomes and the 23rd sex (X chromosome). Some examples of these comparison tools are DNA Match and Gedmatch.com.
Don: What can DNA tell us about ancestry?
Patricia: DNA is the unique genetic blueprint that every person has, and it is inherited from our parents and their parents before them. We all have tiny bits of DNA from our ancestors who lived many generations ago. It can also give us information about our genetic make-up by world region.
Don: What is Y-DNA and what does it tell us?
Patricia: Y-DNA is passed from a father to his son, and to his son’s son, and on down through the male side of the family. It is one type of DNA that can remain much the same and stable for many generations. It’s reach at the present time, along with documented lineage, can give us information about ancestors born in the 1700s. Presently, men looking for or wanting to verify their ancestral surname can join surname study groups.
Don: How far back can you link ancestry, connect with cousins etc.?
Patricia: Our autosomal DNA is the DNA we inherit from both our parents. Each of us has DNA that will match most closely with our immediate family members such as our mother, father, sister, or brother. We inherit half of our DNA from each parent and about one-fourth of our DNA is inherited from each of our four grandparents. It follows that the more distant the cousin relationship or grandparent relationship, the less DNA will be shared in common. Projections by the major testing sites indicate that you may have DNA matches that reach back in time for 6 to 7 generations but experience has shown us that it indeed may reach beyond 9 to 10 generations
Don: What sort of surprises have you found in your research?
Patricia: My genetic cousins are as curious about me as I am about them. We all bring our set of experiences, family stories, and documentation to the table to share. This combined knowledge can open doors and break down genealogy “log jams” or “brick walls.” DNA genetic genealogy requires patience and determination.
If you have a well-researched family tree, Y-DNA and autosomal DNA testing may well confirm your paper trail through the DNA segments (technical name is centimorgans) that you share with members of the DNA testing community. The higher the number of centimorgans that you share, the closer the relationship. It is an interesting journey as you meet new cousins and add their stories to the collective family tree! It is fulfilling and exciting as you meet long lost cousins and realize that we are, after all, one BIG family!
In our next blog we’ll continue with Part 3 of The Family Story where Patricia discusses ways that parents and grandparents can begin sharing their family stories with their children.
About Patricia Divjak
Patricia Divjak has been active in genealogy research for 20 years and is the author of two family history books. She is an expert lineage researcher, assisting over 75 women in joining the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. She was a successful Past Regent and Registrar for the San Diego Chapter, NSDAR. She is also a member of the Jamestowne Society and the Colonial Dames of the Seventeenth Century as well as the National Society Daughters of the War of 1812. She is a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogists. Her current project is a compilation of stories of her female ancestors and how they inspired generations of their descendants to follow their dreams.