Traditional genealogy has been documentary genealogy, relying on a paper trail to trace our ancestry. This included the analysis of documents of various sorts: birth certificates, death certificates, wills, etc., to prove or disprove family relationships. This approach invariably leads to those ever-present brick walls, putting a dead end to our research with no hints as to where to turn. Genetic Genealogy may be the boost we need to get over our brick walls. This type of genealogy is based on DNA analysis, and is going full steam ahead.
I won't try to explain the science of DNA studies to you, since others have done it much better than I. See references to other sites below. But briefly, Genetic Genealogy uses the Y-chromosome to compare individuals to each other to see if they are related. The Y chromosome is what makes a male a male; females don't have one! Fathers pass their Y chromosome to their sons, who pass it on to their sons, and so on and on and on. This being the case, we can see if two males with the same surname are related by taking a DNA sample.
Oh no, you say, nobody is going to put MY DNA on file! To help calm this common fear about DNA testing, I would like to share some words by another participant:
"The Y-Chromosome DNA, which is what is being tested, is a minute bit of your DNA spectrum, and one of the least exclusive bits.
"Barring mutations of any of the different markers making up this bit, my Y-DNA is EXACTLY the same as my sons', my father's, my uncles', my male cousins', ALL my male ancestors' and ALL their male descendants', however far removed. As you might imagine this will comprise a whole heap of people, both living and dead. That's what makes it so good for genealogical research and so poor for paternity or forensic DNA purposes.
"No one has ever even suggested to me any credible nefarious purpose that my Y-DNA marker numbers could be used for and I've been able to imagine none."
Just know that the Y-chromosome "markers" used in genetic genealogy are not connected to any diseases or other hereditary characteristics. They are "junk" genes, and cannot be used to discriminate in hiring or insurance cases. It would appear that the genealogy gods had them put there just for us genealogists!
Another objection some have to participating in DNA studies is that they think they will have to give blood. Actually, the DNA test consists of two buccal swabs, and the kit is delivered to you through the mail. No travel, no blood! See DNA Collection Method for a tour of the procedure.
Here are some DNA surname projects:
- Winder Wonderland Surname project. This project collects information for all variations of Winder, including Winder, Winter, Winters, etc.
- Harmon / Harman / Herrman / Herrmann and Variations Surname Project.
- Whitmore / Whitmer / Witmer Wittemore and Variations Surname Project
- Sifford / Siefert / Siffert and Variations Surname Project
Other surname projects could be found by using your search engine to find DNA + (your surname).
If there is no existing project, and you would like to start your own surname project, I suggest you join ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. There is no membership fee, the mailing list is lively and informative, and the various tools and charts on their website are marvelous. There you will find all the information necessary to find your surname project, or to start one if it doesn't exist already. Take it from me, the earlier you start on this the better! You cannot imagine how hard it is to find living male descendants of any given surname line.
A particularly good explanation is found in the book "Trace Your Roots with DNA" by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner.
For further information about genetic genealogy: