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.

NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection by David Dowell

NextGen GenealogyOne of the questions I receive regularly is about available books on Genetic Genealogy including the basics, what results mean and how to use the various types of tools.  This past year has seen three new books.  I’m excited that the genetic genealogy community is writing these books, because after all, we’re the ones who are doing this work, utilizing these tools and pushing this frontier.

David Dowell, a long time genealogist has just introduced his new book, NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection.


Dave was kind enough to provide the following information about why he wrote his book, and what you will find within the pages.

This book was written for those of you who have little or no background in genetics, it is assumed that you have a basic knowledge of the principles of traditional genealogical principles.

The primary audience for this book is not the academic community. I have deliberately chosen to communicate in the same breezy style employed in blogs. I have decided to ignore the advice of Mary Jane Frances Smith: “The style used to write on a blog, in an e-mail, or in other forums on the Internet is not the style a writer should use in a letter of reference, print magazine, professional journal, or book.” If that decision bothers you, you are probably not the intended audience whom I had in mind for this book. There is a time and place for every style. This is a book intended for novices in this exciting new field. It is not a book intended to advance the frontiers of discovery for seasoned experts.

(Roberta’s note – Dave’s book is very readable and understandable for the normal air-breathing genealogist and I like his writing style!)

NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection is intended to help you appreciate the four separate patterns by which men inherit the four discrete groupings of their DNA. The use of the term “men” in the previous sentence was done deliberately: women inherit through only three of these processes.

Being able to differentiate between these patterns of how DNA is passed from parents to child is essential to understanding which test(s) to take for genealogical purposes and how to interpret the results. Used properly they help us find connections with direct line ancestors and the cousins who are their descendants.

The family history research of most of readers will benefit if you learn to incorporate the information from within your cells with the information you collect from traditional research.

Some of you will be disappointed – at least at first. This is likely to result from one or more of the following issues:

  1. Your pedigree chart is not robust enough. Build it. If you are waiting for DNA test results, use the interval to apply documentary research and try to extend all your direct lines back as far as possible but at least eight generations. You may never quite complete this task, but it is a realistic goal. (After decades of research my own tree still breaks down on a couple of lines after only five generations.) Continue to build your tree as you analyze your DNA test results. You cannot understand where to fit DNA matches into your family unless you have the context provided by a reasonably well developed family tree.
  2. Extended family/cousins haven’t tested. Recruit them. Lots of people have taken DNA tests, but they still make up a miniscule percentage of the earth’s inhabitants. Test takers are not evenly distributed throughout all groups. Be proactive in expanding DNA databases to include those who have a high probability of matching you.
  3. You don’t know how to fish the information out. Read on. This book will not provide you with all the techniques you will ever need to know, but it should give you enough to get you started.

Chapter 1 will provide you with most of the basic genetic concepts and terms you will need to start practicing genetic genealogy. If you do not retain all of its content on first reading, come back later when you have a specific need for a review.

Chapters 2 through 5 will introduce you in turn to yDNA, mtDNA, atDNA and xDNA — the four types of human DNA that can be useful to us as genetic genealogists. Each of these chapters will help you understand the unique inheritance pattern of one of these types of DNA and appreciate how you can begin to apply test results in your own family research.

Chapter 6 extends your voyage of family history discovery into even earlier eras of your deep ancestry.

Chapter 7 raises questions about whether we should test our DNA and how each of us may arrive at different conclusions when ethical issues arise.

Chapter 8 discusses what is coming next and gives suggestions for additional learning experiences as you continue your journey into this fast evolving field.

At the end of the book, you will  recommended reading for further learning, a glossary for terms you may encounter, and a comprehensive index to help you single out specific concepts or terms of interest.

You can order Dave’s book for the Kindle here or in regular book form here.

Guide to DNA Testing by Richard Hill

guide to dna testing

Richard Hill, author of “Finding Family; My Search for Roots and the Secrets in my DNA,” just released his second book, “Guide to DNA Testing; How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm Relationships and Measure Ethnicity through DNA Testing” in Kindle format for just 99 cents through Amazon.

While Richard’s first book was the story of his personal search for his biological parents, this second book is an introductory primer for those who are just getting their feet wet in genetic genealogy, or thinking about getting their feet wet.  It’s relatively short, just 23 pages, so it’s not overwhelming.

guide to dna testing toc

Guide to DNA Testing isn’t a “how to” book in terms of utilizing DNA results, but a basic introduction to the field of genetic genealogy, the major players, meaning Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and, who sells what and how those tests work at a basic level.

Richard approaches the topic in terms of developing a testing strategy to obtain the answers for whatever it is that you are seeking through DNA testing.

My favorite part of the book is a table at the end that provides commentary in columns about the 3 test types, autosomal, Y and mitochondrial, and what each provides:

  • What is checked
  • Principal uses
  • Strengths
  • Limitations
  • Recommended tests

Useful, accurate, unbiased, Guide to DNA Testing and would be perfect for a new person seeking general information.  For the rest of us, it gives us a great “go to” resource for new people instead of trying to explain from scratch.  Great job Richard!!!

Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond by Emily Aulicino

emily bookI am extremely pleased to announce that genetic genealogist, Emily Aulicino has authored a new book, “Genetic Genealogy, the Basics and Beyond.”  I’m sure you all know Emily as a long time member of the genetic genealogy community and the author of the blog, dna-genealem’s genetic genealogy.

We have so desperately needed a new up-to-date book that includes not only information about Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, but  autosomal DNA as well, how to use the various tools and how to get the most out of your DNA testing experience.  After all, no one embarks on this journey to become a geneticist.  Instead, from Emily’s book, the experience starts something like this:

“There is an underlying desire in most men and women to know their history; not the history of their culture alone, but their personal background — their ancestors. We often ask ourselves: who are we; from where did we come.”

And from there a genealogist and then a genetic genealogist is born.  This book is the birthing guide and is destined to be the Genetic Genealogy Bible.

Press Release:

Finally, in the rapidly evolving field of genetic genealogy an up-to-date resource is here! A Genetic Genealogy Handbook: The Basics and Beyond provides genealogists with the knowledge and confidence to use DNA testing for family research. The book guides genealogists in understanding various tests and determining what DNA segments came from which ancestor. The book explains how DNA testing helps when written records stop and discusses how testing proves or disprove oral family history. Learn which tests help adoptees; understand why you resemble your relatives and how testing can connect you with cousins you never knew. Discover how to encourage potential cousins to test and learn guidelines for becoming a project administrator, genetic genealogy speaker or facilitator for your genealogical society’s DNA interest group. A Genetic Genealogy Handbook: The Basics and Beyond helps experienced and fledgling researchers become genetic genealogists able to use DNA testing to resolve genealogical roadblocks.

You can purchase your copy (paperback or electronically for the Nook or Kindle) at:

AuthorHouse:  Genetic Genealogy
Amazon:  Genetic Genealogy
Barnes & Noble:  Genetic Genealogy

Congratulations Emily!!!

It’s Dick Hill’s Fault…

Yes indeed – it’s Dick’s fault.  What’s Dick’s fault, you ask?  The fact that I haven’t had enough sleep for the past three days.  That’s what’s Dick’s fault, him and his book, Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA.

What a book it is!  I know Dick Hill, and I thought I knew his story, but I didn’t.  I knew pieces of his story.  Just snippets.  I was missing the best parts.

Dick spent his life, after college, writing for a living in a variety of professional positions, and you can tell.  His writing is precise and skillful,  and it draws you into the story from the first page, even if you do think you know the story line.

In my case, I had commitments during the day, so I took the book to bed intending to read to go to sleep.  Sometime around 3AM, I made myself stop reading so that I could get at least a few hours sleep.  Thankfully, the third night, I finished the book.

Dick’s story begins with a slip up at the doctor’s office where he discovered he was adopted.  He was 18 and on his way off to college, so even though he was quite surprised, he was relatively unconcerned at that time.  However, over the years, and finally with a virtual deathbed confession of his father, his interest grew.  It took his father’s revelation that he had a brother to really light that spark.

As these things go, his brother was relatively easy to find.  His biological father was not.  In fact, he didn’t know who his father was.  He knew that his father was not his mother’s husband.  Are you confused yet?  Well, don’t be….it’s just part of this wonderfully elusive and slippery plot.  Just when you think you have it figured out, I guarantee you, you don’t!

Dick’s story is particularly close to my heart. Dick knew who his brother on his mother’s side was, but he hunted for his father for decades.  I knew who my father was, or I thought I did, and I hunted for my brother for decades.  Dick and I used many of the same early DNA siblingship tools to prove and disprove relationships, and eventually, the newer wide spectrum autosomal chip testing available at both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA, with very similar results.  I’m not going to tell you what those results were or are….you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Let’s just suffice it to say that there were a total of about 13 different candidates to be Richard’s father, all of which Richard had to unweave from the web of intentional deception and state-sanctioned “untruths” one by one.  One by one he would identify candidates and be hopeful.  One by one, he would eliminate them as possibilities.  More than once, he thought sure he had the answer.  More than once, he was wrong.  Some candidates got rejected, reconsidered, rejected, reconsidered…..does this sound repetitive?  You should be on Dick’s roller coaster ride!

I was so relieved to finally reach the end of the book.  Richard found his father, in an unbelievable and ironic twist of fate, and finally, I could go to sleep!  This book is what we used to refer to as a barn-burner!  Gets ahold of you and just won’t let you go!

Congratulations Dick on a wonderfully executed masterpiece.

Whether you are interested in genetic genealogy, adoption searches or just like a good heart-warming mystery, you’ll love this book!  But consider yourself warned…..don’t think you’re going to read it to go to sleep…..