Genetic Genealogy in Practice


The book, Genetic Genealogy in Practice, recently published by the National Genealogical Society and authored by Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne is a practical guide for the genetic genealogist.

This book is not to be confused with Blaine’s second new book, also released in 2016, titled The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. I knew Blaine had a book underway, but I had no idea he was simultaneously working on two! While I have not read the second book, I have read Genetic Genealogy in Practice (finally), which I’m reviewing here.

One of the best features of Genetic Genealogy in Practice is that it includes exercises at the end of each chapter. Oh, and for good measure, the answers are provided in an appendix too, so you don’t have to guess whether your answer was right! Additionally, the appendices provide a glossary and other resources for the genetic genealogist.

The book begins with an introductory chapter about genetics and each chapter includes specific educational information about the topic at hand – for example, how Y, autosomal and mtDNA differ from each other and how they “work” for genetic genealogy..

With the increasing popularity of autosomal DNA testing, I’ve noticed a trend to neglect both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing. In fact, many new testers don’t even know that type of DNA testing exists, let alone who can and should test, and what it can do for their genealogy research.

Therefore, I was VERY glad to see chapters titled “Genealogical Applications for Y-DNA” and a similarly named chapter for mitochondrial DNA.

Of course, the use of autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy has the largest chapter. It’s the most complex type of genetic genealogy testing and is often represented by media advertisements as deceptively simple. It isn’t simple, or maybe better stated, unraveling the meaning of autosomal results can be complex.  Regardless, autosomal DNA is always extremely interesting and is often an exceptionally powerful tool.

While the Y and mitochondrial DNA provide very specific targeted information about one individual genealogical line each, direct paternal and matrilineal, respectively, autosomal DNA provides information about all of our ancestral lines. However, unlike Y and mitochondrial DNA – we have no idea which autosomal information is connected to which ancestral line – at least not without additional information – like Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA or additional relatives testing. The key to unraveling the autosomal puzzle is genealogical collaboration with other testers, and convincing as many close relatives to test as possible.

Utilizing combinations of different types of DNA testing, together, leads to the following chapter. “Incorporating DNA Testing in a Family Study.” Genealogy and genetic genealogy are no longer two different things. They have married and morphed into one

You can’t really do justice to the topic of genetic genealogy without discussing privacy, how to write about DNA results and the Genealogical Proof Standard, known as the GPS. To me, this paragraph from page 12 is critically important to genealogists.

The first element of the GPS calls for thorough research; “Reasonably exhaustive research ensures examination of all potentially relevant sources. It minimizes the risk that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion.”

Blaine and Debbie go on to discuss this topic, but I will simply say that genealogy without DNA testing is no longer a reasonably exhaustive search. If DNA evidence can be utilized in any way, meaning directly through testing of relatives, or indirectly as a result of someone else testing (or having tested) your line(s), it should be.  A reasonably exhaustive search should include identifying individuals to provide Y, mtDNA or autosomal DNA results for each of your ancestral lines.

DNA testing is no longer an option for any serious genealogist, it’s one of the primary tools of the trade to gather additional information about each ancestor. This book helps ensure that the genealogist understands the genetic tools available and how to apply them correctly.

Genetic Genealogy in Practice is available through the NGS Store.



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14 thoughts on “Genetic Genealogy in Practice

  1. Just got my copy of Blaine and Debbie’s book. Blaine’s other new book is on order.

    FYI – There is a webinar that Blaine did on the North Carolina Genealogical Society website, It is free to everyone beginning at noon today (12/2) through, I think, 12/5. I just finished watching it. It was very good, as are all his lectures.

  2. S,When you can, go to the bottom of this, the indented part 3 paragraphs from the bottom and read there to the end.  I  believe that will very soon be true if not now.  Bottom line, it will be like having Certificates for first 3 generations, we will all need to have autosomal on everyone and Y for males and Mitro. for females at some point.  It will happen in Kathy’s lifetime I’m sure.   It’s not at all absolutely correct on country of origin way back.   But very accurate when it says you ARE related to someone then you really are no matter what any documents say.   J

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

  3. Ps  I’ve ordered the book and start classes in it on the 13th?

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

  4. Both of his books are available at Amazon. The price of the Kindle editions is about 1/3 of the print cost.

  5. I’ve read this book. A fantastic resource for newcomers into this wonderful field, and an excellent resource even for intermediate genetic genealogists.

  6. I just watched the webinar that Blaine did on the North Carolina Genealogical Society website that Nancy Crane mentioned above. Very informative. I learned a little about a new technique I had never heard of before… building mirror trees at Ancestry in order to try to snag DNA matches. Fascinating – but even Blaine admitted it’s a heavy subject.

    Question for you, Roberta… would you consider doing an article about creating mirror trees in the future? I plan to buy Blaine’s book, but frankly, Roberta, you explain genetic genealogy better than anyone I know! 😉

    • First, thank you for the compliment. I am going to publish an article soon about the theory of mirror trees and the differences between adoption search and traditional genetic genealogy. However, I won’t be writing a “how to” for mirrored trees. I don’t do adoption search, so I don’t do mirrored trees. Perhaps Blaine or someone else who works in this field will write that article.

      • Roberta, you said: “I don’t do adoption search, so I don’t do mirrored trees.”

        But I got the impression from Blaine’s talk that mirror trees can also be very helpful to us “non-adopted” folks too in our research… or am I misunderstanding the concept?

    • I think Blaine’s webinar will be free through tomorrow, if anyone else is interested. I watched it on Friday and thought it was very good. Yes, he does say that non-adoption search folks can benefit from building them. I tried one the other day. It wasn’t particularly successful, but interesting enough that I will try more.

  7. Pingback: 2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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