of Trace Your Roots with DNA, a genealogy and genetics book by
Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner |
This book explores the convergence of genetic
research and genealogy, and provides its own convergence of the academic
with the practical.
Some people make a life's work of
tracing their family roots. I'm not one of those people. But a few years
ago, my sister researched our family's immigration on the paternal side
and found the account we'd been told our whole lives simply wasn't true.
So when I saw this book, I thought it might be interesting. That's
exactly what it turned out to be--in spades.
The authors took care to make the book readable to
both novices and experienced genealogical researchers. As I have no experience in genealogy, I very much
appreciated Part I. It gave me a good background, so I could understand
and enjoy the rest of the book. Folks who already knew the basics could skip over Part I, without missing out on something of value to them.
This modular organization of Trace Your Roots is
something I want to explain a bit more, by looking for a moment at a
different genre. One of my pet peeves with computer books is most of
them are either extremely basic throughout so you get bogged down
in boring detail, or they are so advanced you just can't move forward.
The correct approach is to include a primer on the basics for
those who need it, and then write the book as though everyone knows the
basics. I was pleased that Trace Your Roots took this approach.
Moving beyond the primer (which addresses
genealogy and then genetics), the book takes one subject at a time and
explains it in a clear and interesting way with examples and anecdotes.
In Part II, we start with tracing roots along the
paternal path. There are two basic reasons for taking this path. The
first is biological--the Y chromosome. The second is cultural--many
cultures, especially in the West--preserve the paternal surname. There
are some twists in this approach, though, and the book explains what
they are and how researchers handle them.
The next topic is, as you might expect, tracing
roots along the maternal path. The main reason for taking this path is
biological--the mitochondrial DNA. I was fascinated by the explanation
and implications of this. And here's a tidbit. The father's contribution
(Y chromosome) contains nothing essential, which makes sense when you
realize that female offspring don't have Y chromosomes (and so don't
pass along the paternal line). The mitochondrial DNA, however, is very
different in that respect and in other ways as well.
Part II also explains where various genetic groups
seem to originate and why. Chapter 5 contains a fascinating account of a
man who had made his African American heritage a major part of his life
and identity. But through genetic testing, he discovered he had no
African American heritage--what he "knew" was based on faulty
Where Part II delves into tracing next of kin
relationships, the implications cover a wide area of interests. This
kind of research affects everything from paternity suits to family
reunions to identifying natural parents. Consider one anecdote the book
revealed. An adopted child of unmarried parents finds her natural
father, and they develop a close relationship. But, she struggles for
years to find her natural mother. She uses the tracing techniques in
Part II and finds her mother. But, the mother denies the man is the
woman's father--and genetic testing proves he's not. You'll read other
accounts where truth seems stranger than fiction, as well.
Part III puts the paddle in the water. It's here
where you see how to apply the knowledge gained in the previous pages.
This part explains how to join or run a research project, how to contact
research participants, how to persuade people to donate genetic material
and information, how to interpret test results, how to share results,
and how to obtain the shared results of other research. If you want to
research your roots, this part of the book will save you hours of
The final chapter of the book explains current
trends and extrapolates them into some interesting predictions. The
appendices are valuable to those engaged in genetic or
genealogical research. There, you'll find a comprehensive guide to
resources (magazines, books, societies, forms, Websites, software), a
directory of DNA testing companies and DNA testing products, and a
comprehensive glossary. The book is also well-indexed, making it a good
reference tool for your bookshelf.
If you are involved in any research into your
Your Roots with DNA is a "must have" book.