Have you ever wondered if your family is linked to royalty? Perhaps you’ve imagined you’re related to a Founding Father.
That might sound far-fetched if you haven’t been keeping up to date on the latest genealogical technologies; but the truth is that with a little bit of research, you’ll find out a lot more than you ever imagined. That’s because DNA testing has combined with sophisticated technological advances to create some of the most powerful and precise genealogical tools imaginable.
With a simple (and relatively inexpensive) test, distant cousins can be identified not only over the past 100 years, but for the past thousand or more. Not convinced? Elizabeth Alexander, a Yale poet whose Jamaican family settled in New York, found that she could trace her lineage back 37 generations.
Among her more notable kin are her 23rd great-grandmother Joan, princess of England and her 24th great-grandparent, King John I of England. She’s even related to Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
If you’re curious about your family’s history, you’ll find it could be a very interesting journey.
Where to start
Begin with what you know. Collect all your family records, including photographs. These will make your genealogy a rich story that can be archived and passed to your children.
Talk to elderly relatives and get information from them. If you have a family Bible, take it out and look for information in the frontispiece. If you haven’t already looked at how to preserve these treasures properly, now’s the time to do a bit of online research.
After you’ve collected some general information about your family, you can get serious and consider the next step: DNA.
The test is not difficult or expensive. You simply have to swab the inside of your mouth. After collection, the sample is mailed to a lab for testing.
You’ll want to talk to a professional about which test exactly to order. If you’re a male, you might want a Y-DNA test, because that will explore your patriarchal line. Women interested in their maternal line might choose a mtDNA test.
Once you have the results, you’re ready for next frontier in genealogical technology.
The Geographic Population Structure (GPS) tool
In the past, scientists working with DNA were previously only able to identify a family’s roots to a radius of about a four hundred miles. This could place your family in a total one or perhaps two countries.
So if your family immigrated, a researcher might be able to trace a move from one or two countries. The Geographic Population Structure tool has changed all that. It can locate your ancestral roots from more than 1,000 years ago.
How is this possible? As data has accumulated, scientists have developed more complete and accurate information about where DNA was “mixed” or altered. An “admixture” is when one population begins to settle and have children with another group.
An example of an admixture occurred when the Vikings invaded Britain and Europe in the 11th Century. Mny Vikings married and had children with local Anglo-Saxons, which changed the gene pool. With the GPS tool, genealogists can trace your DNA to specific eras in history when an admixture occurred.
Your greatest gift
One of the greatest presents you can leave to your children and relatives is the legacy of your family history. We all have a special place in the historical record. Most of us don’t yet realize how special our families are.
So if you’re interested in exploring the past, keep in mind that technology has opened many interesting doors. All you have to do is knock.