When Dr. Thomas Roderick wanted to trace the origins of his family name, he turned to the tool he knows best - genetics. Roderick, a retired geneticist at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, is also a genealogy enthusiast who, with several others, is about to launch a new online journal called the Journal of Genetic Genealogy.
Genetics is one of the hottest topics in genealogy today. When information is skimpy, or family records are filled with gaps, a simple swab of DNA could be just the ticket to prove that you descend from, say, the New York line of your family and not the Massachusetts one.
Delving into DNA can bring both surprises and disappointments.
Suppose, for example, two men with the same surname are proud of their heritage from a famous Dutch New York family. Their family histories are the same on paper, but when they have their DNA tested, their Y-lines don't match. That means that, somewhere along the line, there was what genealogists call a "non-paternal event." One of the supposed fathers in the ancestral line was not a biological father.
Non-paternal events occurred for many reasons, Roderick said, not just because of adultery. "Adoptions could have taken place where a boy was adopted and never told that he was," Roderick said. "Things like that happened. Out in the West, when parents died the neighbors might take kids in and just raise them without them ever knowing."
Roderick, a former president of the Maine Genealogical Society, has used DNA to fill in gaps in his own family tree. He knows his name was derived from Rhydderch, a rare Welsh name, and suspects there may be 10 to 20 Roderick families out there who are all connected to the same ancestor. So his family formed a "Y-chromosome group" and began to get tested. "We now have very good evidence for about five different families so far," Roderick said.
You can read a lot more about Dr. Thomas Roderick in an article in the MaineToday.com web site. As soon as his Journal of Genetic Genealogy becomes available I hope to review it here.