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While a surname itself may give us incomplete or misleading or, at best, only general information about the origin of a family, DNA-testing can give us concrete evidence for identifying and separating family lines. Y-chromosome DNA testing is especially helpful because the male Y-chromosome is handed down, father to son, unchanged through the generations, except for rare mutations which, in themselves, can be helpful indicators of branching.

This is a vital point that is often missed by people, in their enthusiasm to find relatives through DNA testing.  And the TV programs do not make this clear, as they do not go into the details about the different kinds of DNA testing.  There are basically three different kinds of tests, and the markers selected for each test are selected because they are inherited only in certain ways.  We are the results of all of our genetic heritage, but these tests are different.

Y-DNA testing markers are chosen because they are inherited only through the male biological line.  A man could be the "spittin' image" of his Dick maternal grandfather, but he won't have any of that grandfather's Y-DNA.  A female does not inherit Y-DNA from her father, or else she would not be female.  It's the old "X-Y" or "X-X" sex chromosome lesson you learned in high school biology.  A man who has a Dick/Dicks/Dix family in his maternal side will not have Y-DNA results reflecting that family group, because of the intervening female generation.

Mt-DNA testing markers are chosen because they are inherited only through the female biological line.  Men do inherit their mother's mt-DNA, but they do not pass it to their own children in turn.  Children inherit mt-DNA only from their mother.  So, while a man can be tested for both his father's Y-DNA and his mother's mt-DNA, a woman can be tested only for her mother's mt-DNA.  That's why I had my brother take the Y-DNA test to get my father's Dick DNA.  Women have to get creative to get the relevant Y-DNA we want to test.

What we call "non-paternity events" can break the genetic trail, even if they are heretofore undiscovered or unknown.  Events such as undocumented adoptions, illegitimacy, and infidelity are the main causes of those events, which sometimes turn up unexpectedly in DNA testing.  If the results you receive do not match others in your extended family tree, the explanation probably lies in a non-paternity event or faulty research.  Mistakes are made in research, as we are all human.  That has happened once already in this particular surname project.

Mt-DNA is the testing that is done on human remains to show kinship to another -- for example, the testing of the then-probable remains of the Russian tsarina Alexandra (Alix of Hesse and by Rhine) and her children, along with the independent mt-DNA test of Prince Philip, who cooperated and who has the same mt-DNA that the Russian tsarina had, as they were both straight-female-line descendants from Princess Alice of England, a daughter of Queen Victoria.  Prince Philip had his mother's mt-DNA, which fit the profile needed.  The testing of those remains were conclusive.  This is the testing that is used in forensics, even in Egyptian mummies, as it remains in the body for centuries and even millenia.  Y-DNA is stored differently in the body, and so cannot be used in the same way in forensics.

The autosomal DNA or atDNA test -- FTDNA's version is called Family Finder -- can be done by either a male or a female, as it samples markers "across the board" and not just the ones inherited exclusively by a male or female line.  It is not applicable to a surname project.

What if you are curious about a Dick/Dicks/Dix line in your heritage, but you or a close family member is not an appropriate candidate?  The way to test a line that is in the interior of your pedigree chart -- with the direct paternal line running up the top edge of the chart, and the direct maternal line running down the bottom edge -- is to find a qualifying unbroken male or female line descendant of that family group.  I've done this to get the Y-DNA for some of my own ancestors, such as my maternal grandmother's father.  I had his son's son's son take the Y-DNA test, and he is a member of that surname's Y-DNA project.  You may have to offer to sponsor (pay for) the test, but it may be worth the money to you.

Katherine Dick Benbow
benbow.family (at) gmail.com