“Genetics explains why you look like your father, and if you don’t, why you should.”– Anonymous
You might have heard about genetic projects, such as mapping the human genome or tracing the origins of Kennewick Man, Cheddar Man, Ice Man or Ice Maiden. In addition to these famous projects, genealogists are beginning to use genetic testing to solve some of the mysteries not answered by paper records. One type of analysis uses the y chromosome (yDNA), which passes only through the male line. Another type of analysis uses mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which passes only through the female line. Geneticists can’t yet resolve other lines (for example, a mother’s father’s line or father’s mother’s line), but those lines can often be traced using genetic tests on a relative for whom the line is strictly paternal or strictly maternal.
Paternal DNA (yDNA)
All modern humans descend in the male line from a particular man, nicknamed “Genetic Adam,” who lived about 60,000 years ago. All living men have inherited his y chromosome (yDNA), along with the mutations that have accumulated in our individual family lines.
Maternal DNA (mtDNA)
All modern humans descend in the female line from a particular woman, nicknamed “Mitochondrial Eve,” who lived about 100 to 250 thousand years ago, probably in East Africa. Each of us has inherited her mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), along with the mutations that have accumulated in our individual family lines.
- Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) an overview
- Testing mtDNA my results
- mtDNA Haplogroups
- Haplogroup V history of our line
- Frame mtDNA Project looking for relatives
- Seven Daughters of Eve my certificate from Oxford Ancestors
- World Clans my certificate from Oxford Ancestors
- Margie Wylie, Genealogists Turn to DNA in Tracing Family Trees, Newhouse News Service (Jan. 28, 2001). Syndicated in the Wall Street Journal (June 15, 2001) and the Denver Post (June 16, 2001).
- Megan Smolenyak, What’s Next in the World of DNA Testing?, in Family Chronicle, (Jan.-Feb. 2003).
- Sarah Brown, Family History: Going Way Back with DNA, Columbia News Service (Feb. 27, 2007).
- Ancient DNA. Information about ancient DNA.
- Bradshaw Foundation. Nicely packaged information about human origins.
- DNA Portal. Chris Pomeroy explains how DNA testing can be used to supplement genealogical research, with information about other families who are doing or have done yDNA tests.
- Family Tree DNA. Genetic testing for both maternal and paternal lines.
- Famous DNA. Information about famous DNA tests.
- Genealogical DNA Test at Wikipedia.org. A nice introduction to genetic genealogy.
- Honoring Our Ancestors. Megan Smolenyak has written extensively on genetic genealogy. This website showcases her work.
- Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi, and Alberto Piazza, The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994, abridged paperback edition). “The first genetic atlas of the world.”
- Steve Olson, Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins (2002). Traces the origins of modern humans and the migrations of our ancestors throughout the world over the past 150,000 years.
- Megan Smolenyak, Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree (2004). How new and groundbreaking genetic testing can help you research your ancestry. This book contains excerpts from her interviews with me.
- Bryan Sykes, The Human Inheritance: Genes, Language, and Evolution (1999). A highly readable book about evolution and human origins.
- Brian Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve (2001). The national bestseller that reveals how we are descended from seven prehistoric women.
- Brian Sykes, Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland (2006). A decade-long study of several thousand volunteers from Britain, Ireland, and the U.S.
- Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Motifs. A table of the characteristics that allow geneticists to classify an mtDNA sample as a particular haplogroup.
- YSTR Database. Searchable databases of yDNA test results.
Update September 14, 2021
The original of this page was drafted before 2000. Reviewing it in September 2021 I see many ways it is out of date. One thing that strikes me on a casual read is how much of the introductory info is now available elsewhere on the Internet, and in a much more accessible format. When I first drafted this page there was very little info available, and what it was presented in ways that were impenetrable to the beginner.
I’ve been gathering links to re-work this page but frankly, a real update is in the distant future. With that in mind I’ve decided to link some resources now, gather more from my notes, then re-work this page in small increments, as time permits.
- General Info: Roberta Estes, “DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy?,” DNA Explained, Apr. 9, 2019.
- Ethnicity: Rebekah Canada, “PCA Based Ethnic Origins — Part 1,” Haplogroup, retrieved Sept. 14, 2021.
- Ethnicity: Kitty Cooper, “Can ethnicity help with unknown parentage?,” Kitty Cooper’s Blog, Dec. 5, 2019.
- Ethnicity: Kitty Cooper, “Making Sense of Ethnicity Updates,” Kitty Cooper’s Blog, Nov. 20, 2019.
- Ethnicity: Genevieve Rajewski, “Pulling Back the Curtain on DNA Ancestry Tests,” Tufts Now, Jan. 26, 2018.
- Ethnicity: Erik Schaefer, “Guest Post: Comparing Admixtures Using Visuals,” The DNA Geek, Feb. 23, 2019.
- GEDMatch: Kitty Cooper, “Make a combined DNA kit for yourself,” Kitty Cooper’s Blog, Apr. 7, 2019.
- GEDMatch: Kitty Cooper, “Time to Move to GENESIS!,” Kitty Cooper’s Blog, Dec. 20, 2018.
In addition to these links, I also have a playlist at Youtube:
- DNA and Genetics, YouTube.
Revised Oct. 20, 2019 to repair broken links; Oct. 29, 2019 to add links; June 7, 2020 to remove link to a dead site; July 8, 2020 to repair broken links; Sept. 14, 2021 to add section.