My first foray into genealogy and family history occurred when I was a nine-year old fourth grader at John Enders Elementary School in Garden Grove, California.. As a family, we often had our 1960s suburban Orange County version of the mythical campfire centered over dinner around the dining room table. It was at this table, perhaps over pork chops, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and mixed vegetables (the frozen kind with lima beans) that we discussed the heritage curricula in my Social Studies class and I proudly informed my parents that I was Korean. Perhaps it was the blond hair or the big blue eyes in the child they had produced that caused the confusion, but they were not exactly impressed with my proclamation and vowed to get to the bottom of whatever it was they were teaching in the schools these days.
Turns out I was wrong about my Korean lineage, never mind that my dad had served overseas during the Korean War before I was born and I had the photos to prove it (many years later, my son did two tours there, but apparently that doesn’t count, and for a short while, I even served as co-pastor of a Korean church in Berkeley, but, apparently, that doesn’t count, either). In any event, my lack of Korean heritage was confirmed by DNA testing I had done with 23 and Me in 2019. [Full disclosure note to reader: as a Parkinson’s patient, I was offered free DNA testing from 23 and Me for research purposes, which I gladly accepted. I later followed up with further analysis through ancestry.com and with FTDNA.com, all of which I paid for out-of-pocket.]
Now let me make it perfectly clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being Korean. It’s just that I don’t happen to be one.
There are a number of companies out there who conduct DNA testing for those interested in personal genealogy. Until recently, there were three general reasons for seeking out DNA services:: building a family tree for personal enrichment, the identification of potentially-inherited health risks and concerns, and searches for specific individuals for a specific purpose. A rapidly-emerging fourth general reason is the use of genetic genealogy by law enforcement to identify suspects in criminal investigations and proceedings.
Building a family tree for personal enrichment does not need much explanation beyond what is described on this site. There is, we believe, an intrinsic and basic human drive to know one’s origins and history. Who we are, how did we get to where we are, and who has come along with us, are questions we all have, and DNA testing offers a way to both discover and confirm relationships when used in conjunction with all of the other tools available to genealogists and family historians.
In a similar vein, the use of DNA to identify potentially-inherited health risks and concerns is a major factor in seeking out DNA testing. In fact, as noted above, it was an unsolicited offer of complimentary DNA testing (and participation in various tests) for Parkinson’s patients that first got be involved in DNA analysis. Another common area of search lies with identifying the presence of genetic predispositions for breast cancer, which allows those affected to make certain decisions in advance of actually getting cancer.
DNA testing is also used with regard to identifying specific individuals, for example, to establish paternity, by adoptees seeking to identify birth parents, or to identify missing persons. Lately, there has been an ever-increasing use of DNA by law enforcement to identify suspects in criminal investigations and proceedings to such an extent that it has created the cottage industry of genetic genealogy, led by such luminaries in the field as CeCe Moore and Parabon Labs. Among the most notable examples of the new field was the identification and capture of Joseph James DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer in California.
There are also several different types of DNA. For our purposes, and speaking in the most general terms, there are four: autosomnal (au), consisting of DNA inherited from both parents randomly out of the 22 numbered chromosomes, mitochondrial (mT), derived from the DNA located in the mitochondria and passed down only by females, y-DNA, passed down only by males, and x-chromosome matching. from the sex chromosomes. These will be the subject of further posts but each type plays a different role