The following article was written by Scott Norton and is republished here with his permission.
Using DNA tests to break through brick walls in family history is pretty easy. It's like Bingo: you match the numbers and you win. Your goal is to match the numbers of your DNA test with others and compare pedigrees. Most of the people I've helped have opened new doors, and some have made a real breakthrough. Here are step-by-step instructions to make DNA work for you. (If you need advice or direction about DNA and Family History, there is information at the end of this article.)
Here's how we do it.
Step 1: Before you get a DNA test, check out how many others with your surname have already taken tests. If your test matches a number of these tests, you can compare your history with theirs. They might have more information than you or come from a different branch. The least you get is a confirmation of your paper research, and you just might break that brick wall.
The two best data bases for DNA family research are Family Tree DNA (FTdna) and Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF). They each have their strengths and weaknesses. FTdna has the largest data base with 165,013 Y-DNA records and 5547 surname projects. SMGF has 33,000 Y-DNA records with pedigrees. This is a good place to mention that the DNA tests we are looking at only follow the male line. We are looking at your father, father's father, etc. If your name is Peterson and you have an ancestor 10 generations back, all of his male descendants will have matching DNA. This doesn't work so well for female lines.
Let's see how FTdna works.
- Follow this link to FTdna's surname search function. You'll find the search function on the right hand side of the screen – and be sure to select "sounds like" with the drop down menu.
- Key in your surname, and you'll see how many tests they have on file that relate to your name. This tells you how many chances you have to match. Below the top list are the surname projects that contain the listed names. I put in surname-Peterson and got a gazillion name matches, but only 43 Petersen and 125 Peterson. In the surname projects, the Peterson project has 85 tests.
Click on the surname project that best fits your surname. Now you have to do some detective work. You need to find the DNA results of the surname study, and these are posted differently for each surname. FTdna should have standardized this, but they didn't. What you are looking for is a list of DNA tests with links to a pedigree. Every surname project does it differently, so you have to search around.
You want to know how many tests they have on file and where the links are to pedigrees. Keep looking: pedigrees are sometimes filed under patriarchs. What you are looking for is a pedigree that links to your own. This tells you what your chances are of getting a match. It also tells you how much the others know about your family line.
Here's the important facts about FTdna. They have the most DNA tests by far. Most of the tests are from people in the US. This is a big help for finding your family links in the US. But FTdna is not the best for outside the US. They have done specialized tests of various groups, and they are doing the National Geographic Genographic study of 100,000 people worldwide; however, most of these don't have pedigrees and so are of limited use for genealogy. FTdna is also great for helping you link up with people who match you.
Now let's look at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF). If your family research leads you outside of the US or England, you should look at SMGF because they have taken the effort to travel the world to sample almost each genetic group and bring home pedigrees. This is great stuff.
- Follow this link to SMGF. You will have to register with SMGF to search their database. It's safe and allows you to save your searches. This is really nice.
- Next find the link that says "Search the Y-Chromosome Database". If you already have a DNA test, you can compare your DNA against the Sorenson data base. They even let you arrange the order of markers to match the protocol for the company that did your test. This is very nice, too.
If you don't already have a test you can search by surname. Leave the default markers in place when you make the search. I searched on Peterson and came up with about 80 useful matches.
Most of the SMGF DNA tests have a useful pedigree linked to them. You should be able to quickly find a pedigree that links with yours.
If you find a DNA test that links with yours, you probably won't be able to access the marker values because SMGF only displays what doesn't match and not the values for each test. So, if you know your DYS marker values, you can compare directly. But if you don't, you can still evaluate the number and value of tests in your surname group.
Step 2: You can't play DNA Bingo without a DNA test. You should order a test with at least 25 markers and hopefully 37 to 67 markers. The reason for this is the resolution of the test. At 12 markers, you might match 50 people and not be related to any of them. At 25 markers, you will know if you are related or not. At 37 and 67 markers, you have a test that will determine if you are related to someone, even if they have a different surname. Lets look at your options.
- If your research turns up a link with someone in your pedigree that has already taken a test, you may not need to get a test yourself – if you can can link up with him and help him relate his test numbers to others and you get the same result. If you have any doubts about the paper research that links you, you should still get a test and make sure you match.
- If you find you need a DNA test, I suggest FTdna because they have the biggest data base to link with, and they have an extensive set of tools to help make that connection. I really don't have a second option for a test. There is no other data base that is particularly useful. But your biggest help will be the coordinator for your surname project. This is the person you need to know. He can help you link up with the families that match your DNA test so that you can compare pedigrees. Every surname project has a different way of presenting the DNA results, so your best bet is to contact the coordinator to get the most out of his information.
Consider buying a DNA test for someone else. Let's say you have a pedigree that you suspect connects to yours. Locate a person from that pedigree, and buy a test for them. The results you get will either prove or disprove the connection. Let's say you suspect that you link with a certain family in England. Track down a male from that family and buy them a DNA test. If you match, you just confirmed your hunch, and now you can focus your research.
Let's take a look at some examples.
- The Hullinger/Hollinger DNA study has 5 matching tests with pedigrees. The pedigree I did this work for had no confirmed link with Hollinger beyond their third generation. Their DNA test confirmed the link between Hullinger and Hollinger and provided a paper trail that had been lost. I combined the pedigrees to produce a super-pedigree, showing how they all connect. Click here for the Hullinger/Hollinger DNA research page. Some of the lines didn't know how they connected until we compared them. An interesting bit of information was that their DNA type or Haplogroup was J2. This is often associated with Jewish DNA. While this line of Hollingers originated in Switzerland, we turned up Hollinger family members who died in Nazi death camps, mostly from Romania and Poland. All of this gives the researcher hints on where to look next. All of the Hollinger tests match 12 out of 12 markers, and two match 37 out of 37. I call the pattern of markers a “Family DNA Signature.” When we see this pattern, we know we have a match. The Hollingers match perfectly with no mutations or shifts in the markers. I call this a "Hard" DNA Signature. Some DNA Signatures are "Soft," meaning they have some mutations. There is no known reason why some families' DNA markers shift and some don't; there seems to be no discernible difference.Click here for the Hullinger/Hollinger DNA research page.
- The Fancher DNA study is an example of a "Soft" DNA Signature. Each of the Fancher DNA tests has at least one shifted marker. Click here for a link to the Fancher DNA research page. The Fanchers confirmed all their paper research and confirmed a link to John Fancher at the top of their pedigree. The next step with the Fanchers is to find a DNA link to the next earliest group going back to the early 1600's. They will do this by finding a living male descendant from this line and getting a DNA test. Fanchers also match Johnstone DNA at 37 markers, strongly suggesting that these families share a common ancestor. Historically, the Fanchers would like to match the Fanshawe family of England, but so far the DNA tests do not match with Fanshawe. In this case, we'll be waiting for more tests. The magic of DNA tests is that new information comes in each month as more people test. You never know what you'll find.Click here for a link to the Fancher DNA research page.
If you have questions regarding your family history and DNA, you can go to my DNA Help page on Genealogy Wise and start a new discussion. That way, I can keep track of your DNA Family Signature. You can visit Genealogy Wise at http://www.genealogywise.com/group/dnaandfamilyresearch.