Part 1: When there is no drama…Introduction

DNA Eames[EDIT: in an earlier version of this post I incorrectly interpreted the press release by saying that the standards would go into effect for all as soon as published, estimated to be in March. This was a wrong interpretation. It is instead anticipated that they will go into effect for a portfolio applicant consistent with past practices. The rules that will apply will be the rules in effect when you submit. I apologize for the confusion.]

We hear about all the stories of how DNA analysis is helping adoptees find their parents, or hearing of someone who had to “lop off 25% of their tree” because their grandfather wasn’t their grandfather, etc. What we don’t hear about is if there is no drama, no ‘big problem.” We also need to know how to use DNA to show that the genetic tree supports the findings of the genealogical tree. It’s kind of the same, but kind of different.

Blaine Bettinger, in his blog post of 10 November 2009, explained the concept of two trees, one using qualitative documentary evidence to prove relationships (which we are finding can be wrong) and a genetic family tree which uses DNA to provide quantitative  evidence as to a relationship.[1] It is still possible that the amount of shared centimorgens could lead us astray if we do not do an adequate job of addressing any gaps, tree completeness and accuracy of information that might exist in our line as well as that of our match.

For those working on their portfolios to apply for the credential of Certified Genealogist®, it becomes more important. The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) has recently passed new rubrics and insertions into the Genealogy Standardsto assist in the usage of DNA in the work we do and in the portfolios we submit. These new insertions were vetted with the public and passed by the Board in their mid-October meeting.

This post and the next seven address the issue of how I would handle DNA in your writing/portfolio when there is no drama in the relationship and how to use shared DNA matches to illustrate that the genealogical tree is in alignment with the evidence (direct and indirect) that is offered by DNA.

There are certainly times when DNA analysis will not be appropriate. I blogged about some of these in the blog post “DNA & Your Portfolio”. The easiest example to illustrate when DNA would have been inappropriate is my Case Study, an investigation into conflicting direct evidence set in 18th century Sweden. This Case Study and the relationship (parental) was 7 generations out, the chances of any DNA being inherited by me and also to match with someone else on this same line was small. it was unnecessary to link the subject of the article to me and the generations were too far out to confirm my subject’s relationship to his parents. I included a statement to that effect in the Case Study.

But what about the KDP? That’s where my original submission might have been informed by a genetic tree approach. The three generations were linked together with documentary evidence that was found to meet standards. What did I do about DNA?—I ignored it. I copped out.

Today, I know a few more things. I dedicated 2017 to learning about DNA. I know that BCG has adopted new DNA standards and I know that there will be an expectation of knowledge of DNA for those who submit in the future. It is no different than we need to understand the probate process to utilize probate records appropriately.

A spirited discussion took place in the Genealogy Tips & Techniques Facebook page, which illustrated to me how people were seeing the use of DNA as a way to solve BIG genealogical problems. But, I wanted to illustrate how to verify a tree that has no drama, recognizing that we really don’t know if there is a dramatic element to our tree until we do look at our DNA matches.

The series of posts will look at how I would incorporate DNA into my portfolio “if I had to do it over again,” including identification of the pertinent matches, how the fact would be entered into my database and cited, and how it would look in my KDP. Please comment if this makes any sense and what you might do differently.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since my last post: Since that was so long ago, I thought I would just tell you what I was working on right now since about April or May. I am writing articles. I had two articles  published this summer/fall: Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly and the NGS Magazine. Yet to be published, but accepted for publication, includes an article for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly(applying DNA to a “big” problem) and in the Swedish American Genealogy Journal. I am also working on my Swedes and Danes to see if I can extend the lines one or two more generations. Based on my new proficiency with Swedish tax records and Danish records in general I am finding that I can. My tree is now 100% complete seven generations out and I am working on generation 8 (60% complete.) A laminated fan chart shows where I need to work and also marks my progress. I think that I can improve the percentage but I will not get to 100% (those pesky Germans!). This is doubly amazing because historically our family only has three generations in 100 years!

[1] Blaine Bettinger, “Q&A: Everyone has Two Family Trees–A Genealogical Tree and a Genetic Tree,” The Genetic Genealogist, blog, 10 November 2009, reposted on or before 29 October 2018.

5 comments on “Part 1: When there is no drama…Introduction

  1. Jill–
    First, I agree that DNA can be a valuable genealogical tool and that there are times when DNA testing definitely is part of reasonably exhaustive research. And I agree that DNA sometimes can also be useful in supporting documentary evidence. However, I disagree with some assumptions that seem to underly the first couple of paragraphs in this blog entry.
    In your first paragraph you offer the illustration of “someone who had to ‘lop off 25% of their tree’ because their grandfather wasn’t their grandfather.” In your second paragraph you mention Bettinger’s two-tree concept, but note that “one using qualitative documentary evidence to prove relationships (which we are finding can be wrong).” Both these statements imply that a genetic relationship proven through DNA is the only true relationship and that a DNA test might prove a relationship proven through documents to be false.
    I contend that genealogists today need to specify whether they are speaking of genetic relationships or (for lack of a better term) familial relationships. The first type may be demonstrated through DNA evidence; the second may be demonstrated through documentary evidence. In many cases, the two types blend together. However, even if DNA were to show that an ancestor was not genetically related to me, documents still might legitimately tie us together as familialy related.
    For example, both of my sons are adopted. We do not share DNA. However, they are still familialy by sons and I am their father.
    That being said, I shall read the rest of your blogs in this series with interest. It looks like there is much that will useful when DNA research is appropriate. Thanks for publishing them online!

  2. christeen schoepf says:

    Thanks Jill … that was fabulous and I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs.

  3. catvonhd says:

    Thanks Jill for these posts! Very interesting and extremely informative! Also congrats on your publications!!!!

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