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1: Tracing your English ancestors, WEA Centre Adelaide 6:30pm
2:Accessing the primary research stream—the family, State Library for Flinders University 9:30am
16: Accessing the secondary research stream—the paper trail, State Library for Flinders University 9:30am
24: Coming to grips with FamilySearch, WEA Centre Adelaide 10:00am
27: Historical snapshots of Marion, Park Holme Library 10:30am
30: Interpreting the record, State Library for Flinders University 9:30am
See the seminar program for more details.
DNA as a genealogical tool
Recently it was reported by The Advertiser that the remains of former SA premier, Charles Cameron Kingston, were exhumed under licence from the Attorney-General from the West Terrace Cemetery earlier this year along with two other bodies thought to be some of his illegitimate children—Genevieve Grey nee McCreanor and Albert Edwards. Teeth and bone samples were taken from the three bodies for DNA testing. A subsequent request to exhume Kevin Kingston formerly Edwards (adopted by his father) was approved and then withdrawn by the Attorney-General for reasons not known to this writer.
Adelaide businessman, Malcolm Simpson and his sister Sandra are employing DNA technology to determine if Grey, their grandmother, was one of Kingston's illegitimate offspring.
On the Adelaide Proformat web site is an article on the subject of DNA and genealogy called The DNA dilemma.
In this issue:
DNA as a genealogical tool
This article points out some of the problems faced when using this technology. However in this case we are not approaching the case as normally expected in family history. In this case we have the DNA of a suspected ancestor and the DNA of the suspected current generation and therefore a simple match as used by forensic scientists is all that is required. This means a 10 point match on the two samples will conclusively determine a relationship whereas any point not matching will conclusively disprove a relationship in exactly the same way the police use a hair from an unnamed body to match against a hair from the suspected deceased's hairbrush .Essentially the article on the web site argues that, since family historians cannot easily exhume the bodies of their ancestors, even if they could locate them, and conduct DNA tests to confirm their relationship, what use is DNA testing? In the case of Kingston, those involved have actually gone through the process of exhumation!
DNA is a good tool for identifying close relationships or individuals but unfortunately in family history it is our remote relatives we seek. Most authorities on the subject dismiss the 10 point matching used in forensic DNA identification as of no use for family historians embarking on the search for distant relatives. Current thinking is that the 24 point matching process known as a medium resolution test is probably inadequate and that 37 to 43 marker (high resolution) tests which are extremely expensive, are far more reliable.
Essentially the best chance we have of extending our family history lies with finding distant living relatives. Finding such people greatly improves our chances of gaining knowledge on our ancestry simply because these distant cousins made be holders of knowledge passed down through other family branches. This is where the immediate future of genealogy using genetics lies.
Currently there are nearly 1500 surname DNA projects worldwide. Their goal is to locate and identify extended family often using Soundex to overcome surname variants and then link the families with these related surnames on a DNA map. For this to work to succeed, large numbers of candidates have to be tested and herein lies the problem as the cost is prohibitive for many people interested in this approach.
Of the 1500 or so surname DNA projects, the Graves family (a maternal aunt of mine married a Graves) is one of a handful of these projects that have already tested more than a hundred men and developed a workable DNA signature. Others known to the author include, Bassett, Bolling, Donald, Hill, Rose, Walker and Wells. Becoming involved in such a project often means a discount price for the testing. All such work requires the use of the Y-chromosome test (Y-test) which is only effective for researching male lines. The only time women can be party to such a test is if they are the daughter of the male concerned as is the case outlined above with Charles Cameron Kingston.
Coincidentally, the program 60 Minutes last May covered a related aspect when presenter, Liz Hayes went looking for her ancestors. In this case her ancestors turned out the be Bushmen living in South Africa. In this case the test focussed on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which reveals details about the distant origins of maternal ancestors. The program was pointing out that we all have a common ancestor who came from Africa. For most of us this is not news but the lesson of the program is that we as human kind are all related. We all share much of our DNA with everyone else. The question is a matter of degree. Our particular immediate ancestors have, through tiny mutations built up over 100s of generations, constructed a sub set of the overall DNA map that singles us and our immediate ancestors from the multitudes.
To develop a greater understanding of DNA it is recommended you read the material presented by the web site, DNA Heritage.
Any work using DNA is reliant on surname match as much as matching DNA pointers. This is because, like DNA, our surname is now hereditary and many non-related people share our DNA landscape. Although our surnames have the potential to suffer from spelling mutations, related surnames can usually be identified using phonetic algorithms like Soundex. The problem we face is that for many of us, we have no unbroken surname line back to when our own family adopted the practice of using a hereditary name. There are a number of reasons for a break in continuity of surname and the most common include:
• an illegitimate male child passed off as mother’s brother.
• an illegitimate male child within a marriage.
• a husband adopting his wife’s surname.
• stepchildren adopting their stepfather's surname.
• an adopted male child who takes the surname.
• a foreign name altered to resemble an existing local surname.
• a male purchaser of property adopting the seller’s surname.
• a mis-spelling at some point that switches to a new surname entirely.
Any of these scenarios will explain a break in the male to male transmission of a DNA signature within a family.
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