Xiaoming asked me to be a guest on her blog as she explores her ancestry. Because her mother recently had a DNA test done, she asked me to talk about DNA and how it relates to family research.
DNA in many ways is marketed today as the fast shortcut to discovering your ancestry. What isn’t emphasized in the marketing is that it rarely gives you complete answers, especially if you haven’t done traditional research to correlate with the DNA results. It will give you genetic information, but may not tell you about your entire
Say that, like Xiaoming, you were told that you had a
great-great-grandfather on your mother’s side who was Jewish. Then your mother has a DNA test, and it shows half Chinese and half Japanese ancestry. Oh, well, it looks like the family story was wrong — no Jewish ancestry here. I guess there’s no reason to continue researching that, right?
Now let’s hypothesize (and this is purely for illustration; I have no
idea if this was the situation in Xiaoming’s family) that a Jewish man
had married a Chinese woman, and her sister had a son and died soon
afterward. The Jewish man and his wife take the baby and raise him as
their own child. Eventually this child grows up to become the
great-grandfather of Xiaoming. That would make the Jewish man her
great-great-grandfather, but not genetically, so no Jewish ancestry
shows up in the DNA testing. But is he any less part of the family?
Obviously, DNA is a valuable tool in researching family history. But
it is only one tool among many, and test results should be looked at
in conjunction with other information to gain a more complete picture
of the family.
Janice M. Sellers