Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chasing my Family Tree or What You Can’t Learn from DNA

Image from Pintrest
My grandparents all passed before I became interested in genealogy.  Since I never got to speak to them about our past, maybe that’s why I’ve searching all these years.  Now my French-Canadian side was a no-brainer.  Within a few hours I was able to trace my line back to the 17th century.  Those French knew how to keep records.  That’s how I found our 7th great-grandparents murdered their son-in-law.  (But that’s another blog entry.) My Celtic side is a whole other story.

My father’s parents were both born in Glasgow, Scotland.  His father, Duncan Rankin McKean, was a proud Scotsman.  I recall him telling me, “Never let anyone know you’re part Irish.”  My dad’s mother was Jenny Sweeney.  Though born in Glasgow, her parents were born in Ireland, but emigrated to Scotland during the Great Famine.  A number of years ago I paid a research group in Scotland to research the two lines.  What I found was that Scotland did not require birth certificates or a census until the mid-nineteenth century.  That left little to find out about the McKean line.  The Sweeney line did not do much better.  There was such a massive migration of Irish into Scotland during this period churches and the government could not keep up with the numbers.  So after spending a few pounds I ended up knowing little more than I had before.

Then those awesome commercials started appearing on television.  You know the ones where people send a swab of their DNA and they find out everything they wanted to know about their lineage.  I thought this was the Holy Grail.  This is what I’ve been waiting for.  Before I forked over a couple of hundred more dollars, I checked in with Walter.  Walter worked for decades with the National Archives, and he and wife Karen are top of the line genealogists.  When I asked Walter about DNA testing he said to hold off.  The whole thing is based on how much data each company has.  Though hundreds of thousands might have swabbed their cheeks, how many of those share your DNA?  His advice was to hold off until hundreds of thousands more add their data.  Only then will the results show what I was  looking for.  Needless to say I ignored his advice. 

Just before Christmas I got the results by email.  Because I have the Y chromosome, the advertisement said my results would be deeper.  I chose the Y-37 test, not the cheapest and not the most expensive, smack in the middle.  I was really excited. The first page was a map of the world. It reminded me of something I drew for Sr. Agnes Mary, my 7th grade social studies teacher.   My line starts tens of thousands of years ago in Africa.  Wait, I’m African?  Not really.  The line moves into Asia.  Wait, I’m Asian?  No, the line moves to Europe and then Western Europe.  I’m European!  Eureka!  Wait, I knew that.  The next page was another map.  It was of Western Europe with a large circle over Great Britain and Ireland.  That was it.  So I’m part Scot and part Irish.  Whew!  The code had been cracked.  Not!  There was one more page.  It was a list of thousands of potential relatives that shared my DNA profile.  According to the document each name shared a part of my genetic code.  Each one was a potential cousin, or cousin of a cousin, twice, three, or even four times removed.

Each week since then I have received an email encouraging me to continue testing to find more results.  I joined every forum I could to ask advice.  Each response has encouraged me to continue testing to find more results.  “Try the Y-64.  If that doesn’t help go to the ultimate, Y-111.  It’ll bring you right back to Cro-Magnon man.”  Okay, that’s another exaggeration, but not too far from the truth. 

So my search continues.  Maybe one of my potential 10,000 cousins will hold the key.  Or maybe I’ll take Walter’s advice and wait a few decades and try again.