Rendezvous With History: Seeking Family Through DNA Testing
by Sheila Burt
“The 101st Airborne Division, which was activated on 16 August 1942, at Camp Clairborne, Louisiana, has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.”
-Major General William C. Lee
On June 10, 1944 paratrooper Nicholas “Bud” Neises of the 101st Airborne Division was killed in action following a heroic jump on D-Day, leaving behind a wife and infant son he never had a chance to meet. Seventy-two years later, Bud’s ancestors use DNA Analysis testing for the first time to find clues about family they never knew. Here’s a story that asks the question, ‘How much can modern science aid genealogical research?’
Further Supporting Text to Follow the Radio Clip and Slideshow:
Was using a take-home DNA Analysis a worthwhile experience? Yes and no. For this story, I ordered a kit from Ancestry.com because my sister already had an account with them. It set me back $100.
It’s important to keep in mind your expectations — DNA Analysis, after all, can’t replicate a person’s smile or laugh. But it can provide you with a more detailed picture of where your ancestors came from. Our family had a general sense of our ancestry. My siblings and I grew up learning we were roughly 50% Irish, 25% German, and 25% Czech.
Our DNA Analysis revealed a much more detailed and nuanced picture. According to the Ancestry.com results, my sister (and for all intensive purposes my siblings too, though there can be some percentage variations among siblings), is: 46% Irish, 41% Eastern European, and 5% Western European. Initially, we were surprised at the high Eastern European percentage, though the test explained that the area is one of the most admixed regions. It also revealed some trace regions, areas where our ancestors may have migrated from — 3% Finland/Northwest Russia; 2% Italy/Greece; <1% Iberian Peninsula; <1% Scandinavia; <1% Great Britain; <1% Middle East.
While our results weren’t exactly revelatory, they also showed Brigid possible third cousin matches, which led us to more connections about the Neises family. With a little more digging, we could gain a stronger sense of the Neises family roots, as well as migration patterns stretching back centuries ago.
Choosing a Test
Currently there are 3 main companies individuals interested in DNA Analysis for ancestry research can order from — Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA.
Which DNA Test is best for you? I asked Forensic Genealogist & Lecturer Marsha Peterson-Maass to weigh in on choosing the best test to fit your needs. Peterson-Maass has been teaching classes on genealogy, and more recently, DNA Analysis at the Newberry Library in Chicago for 15 years.
She describes the advent of the Internet — and DNA testing — as a boom for amateur and professional genealogists, and the birth of DNA Analysis is a large part of a surge in online companies specialized in genealogical research.
“Most people who are not genealogists are interested in ethnicity results. I hear all different reasons, but the one I hear the most, is that they want to visit their homeland,” Peterson-Maass says. “They want to connect with a specific geographic location that their ancestors came from.”
In her experience, Peterson-Maass recommends either Family Tree DNA for their analysis tools, which allow you to see how you are related to cousins through a ‘chromosome browser’ (showing you where on the 22-paired chromosomes (called “autosomal chromosomes”) and the X- and/or Y-chromosomes you are related), or 23andMe. 23andMe is the only one of these services that can reveal genetic predispositions (through their Carrier test) to medical issues such as Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, and even the type of ear wax you are prone to have. In contrast, Ancestry.com only looks at the autosomal chromosomes. However, my family was pleased with the results and service of Ancestry.com, so choosing which DNA test to use is a matter of personal preference.