MY OWN JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF DNA, by Linda Heron
I am certainly no expert in the field of DNA testing, but I have learned a little since I decided to test my own mt-DNA about 14 years ago. I am still on the sharp side of the learning curve, but I have found the best way to learn is to jump right in with both feet, and that's what I've done. I consider my journey into the world of DNA to have been very worthwhile, as I have connected with previously unknown relations that have helped to expand our family tree.
I will give you my own personal opinions which do not represent any authority on the subject, by any stretch of the imagination, so please do your own research to draw your own conclusions. There is a lot of information out there and I am only going to tell you about my own experience, and to briefly cover a few basics. If you would like to learn more I highly recommend you check out the links below.
I have been researching my family history for over 23 years now, and I first heard a few snippets and comments about DNA on one of the genealogy newsgroup message boards a few years ago. It sighted DNA as a new and powerful tool for Genealogy Research. I didn't need any convincing -- right from the beginning I could see the potential in DNA testing to help me push back the barriers in my genealogy research, to go beyond the paper trail that usually only begins in the late 1700's to early 1800's -- if we're lucky. The field of DNA intrigued me and I wanted to explore it further.
In August of 2006 I decided to go for it, and ordered my mt-DNA Plus test kit from FTDNA. Within about a week my kit arrived. I immediately followed the directions and mailed my kit back to impatiently await the results. About four weeks later FTDNA sent me a notice by email to inform me my results were now posted on the personal web page provided for my use. From this website I can compare my test results against thousands of others in the database to look for matches, join or start projects, and enter my data into a multitude of other databases and search engines.
You can immerse yourself into the DNA world to whatever degree you desire. I have joined a DNA newsgroup (listed below), and whenever I have a question I put it out there for an answer. There are always lots of very knowledgeable people offering their interpretations, advice and help.
HOW CAN DNA TESTING HELP IN GENEALOGY RESEARCH
DNA research is an amazing tool to help you connect with living relations. It cuts straight to the chase -- you are matching your individual unique markers against others in the database to find someone with the same or similar markers -- it might not be who you expect. These matches or mismatches can send your genealogy research off into a whole new direction.
Y-DNA can help you determine whether two different families with the same surname are closely related, and how far back you might find a common ancestor. DNA can also show relationships where none were expected.
As you know, with the Clan system, oftentimes names went under a Sept or Clan, and were interchangeable, using the Clan name when it suited them, or not. Names were also written down by Census takers when they didn't speak or understand the language -- so names and spellings of names were often changed. The patronymic naming system only really became popular in the mid-1500s, so often we will find DNA matches outside of our surname. For this reason we still need our paper trail because that is what shows us how we are related -- it is our history -- our Ancestors' story and journey. A close match with someone outside your paper documentation can show you are related, and perhaps give you more clues of where you might look -- and approximately how far back.
I started my genealogy research on my Campbell, MacNab and MacCuaig branches over twenty five years ago, and it has proven to be very frustrating for many reasons. Not only does the paper trail end at a certain point, but my ancestors made it even more of a challenge for me by changing their names from MacCuaig to McLeod when they arrived in Canada. When I started my research I was looking for McLeod, not MacCuaig, and I had no idea where in Scotland to even start looking. Eventually I sorted it all out, but am limited to how far back I can go because so few paper records even exist past the late 1700s.
The DNA we carry can show us not only our recent ancestry, but also our deep, deep ancestry, back thousands of years. Every so many generations our DNA will mutate, and it is those mutations that set us apart from others and helps us determine to which Haplogroup we belong.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
Mt-DNA testing is not helpful in surname projects, because, as you know, the females do not carry the surname. We can however determine our ancestor's migration patterns, and sometimes establish relationships through a complete match. Often we will discover which particular culture our ancestors likely belonged to, whether it be the Celts, Viking, Germanic, Native American, etc..
It was my curiosity about my 2 x Great Grandmother, Mary MacCuaig, that first started me on my genealogy search to find my roots and to know as much as I could about her. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was starting my research with my direct mt-DNA maternal line, and my test results were to reveal our deep ancestry going back further than I could ever have hoped.
My mt-DNA Haplogroup is U4d. The U stands for Ulrike (reconstructed drawing right), meaning Mistress of All in German. My mt-DNA has been passed down to me from my Mother; and to her from her mother, going all the way back thousands of years to Ulrike. She lived during the ice ages about 25,000 years ago in the cold refuges of the Ukraine at the northern limits of habitation. Just under 2% of today's living Europeans are descendants of Ulrike, in a straight maternal (mother-to-child only) line. My Haplogroup has shown up in high concentrations in the Khanti Mansi, Nganasans, and the Kets, in Northwestern Siberia. Ulrike is my, well, who knows how many times, Great Grandmother. Many of your ancestors also came from the Isles, and I am very interested to see how many matches we can find within our pool of Isles of the Hebrides DNA Project members.
ISLES OF THE HEBRIDES DNA PROJECT
This Isles of the Hebrides DNA Project is a geographical project which includes Y-DNA and mt-DNA participants who have either a paper trail or an oral history of a direct maternal or paternal line, having lived on one of the Isles.
FTDNA offers the option of joining several surname and geographical projects, and if there isn't one which interests you, you can start one that will. In the interests of furthering my own genealogy research, and of helping others do the same, I decided to create a database of Islay people to compare both Y-DNA and mt-DNA -- and so began the Isle of Islay DNA Project.
Shortly after starting this Project I was approached by several people asking me to open and expand it to include some of the other Isles. Their reasoning was that many families were spread out and moved amongst several of the Isles in the Hebrides. It made sense, and so I followed their advice and the project morphed into the Isles of the Hebrides DNA Project. As many of us have discovered through their genealogy research, these Isles were often very densely populated, and it has been interesting to see how we are all related.
The Isles of the Hebrides include Arran, Barra, Benbecucla, Bernera, Berneray, Bute, Canna, Coll, Colonsay, Cumbrae, Eigg, Eriskay, Gigha, Grimsay, Iona, Islay, Jura, Kerrera, Kilda, Lismore, Muck, Mull, North Uist, Raasay, Rum, Scalpay, Skyre, Slate, South Uist, Staffa, Taransay, Tiree, Vatersay, Luing, Scarba, etc. In order to qualify for this Project you must have a paper trail or oral history back to one of the Isles of the Hebrides.
1. Show any common DNA ancestry between surnames, Clans or Isles;
2. Connect our families beyond any available records or archives;
3. Show migration patterns;
4. Discover our Ancestor's ancient cultural heritage and history; and
5. Combine DNA and genealogical evidence to help the Isles descendants find a more complete answer to a multitude of questions about their ancestry.
HOW TO JOIN THE PROJECT
Our Isles of the Hebrides DNA Project is growing, but the more people in our database the better chance we have of making those connections we all strive for. This is an FTDNA Project, so in order to join you must:
1. Have or arrange to have a Y-DNA or mtDNA test through FTDNA, (It is also possible to arrange with FTDNA to have your test results transferred over from another DNA test provider),
2. Have an ancestor in either your direct paternal or maternal line who originated on one of the Isles of the Hebrides in a straight line back, that corresponds with your test, or
3. Currently live on one of the Isles of the Hebrides.
Participants must be able to indicate from which Isle their ancestor originated. This will help track where our Isles ancestors migrated to and from. This information can be entered on your Personal Webpage in the Preferences section.
AVAILABLE RELATED TESTS
You can check out the Isles Project here! If you decide to join, just click on JOIN on the right side of the page and you will be taken to a sign-up page. Complete the form and I will be notified.
If you have already tested with FTDNA and would like to join this Project, just go to your Personal Web Page and click on the JOIN button on the left side of your page. This will take you to the Project selection page, and you should scroll down to the Geographical DNA Projectsarea -- click on the Isles of the Hebrides, and just follow the instructions.
I extend my deepest apologies to those who would like to join this Project but can't because they are not descended in a straight paternal or maternal line back to one of the Isles. It is vital to the integrity of this Project that we adhere to these specifications. If we don't remain vigilant to this rule we will lose the integrity and value of the Project.
For those who do not qualify for this Project but would like to have their DNA tested, you will find a large selection of other surname and geographical projects to choose from at FTDNA. It is best to test through a Project so you can receive a discounted price.
I am not affiliated with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) in any way; other than my husband and I chose FTDNA for our DNA testing. I chose FTDNA because they have been around the longest and have an excellent reputation. There are many other testing companies, and I encourage you to check them out before joining the thousands who have taken the leap into the world of DNA.
This is by no means a complete and full description or explanation of all terms and lingo -- for that I would need to write a book -- and I think I'll leave that up to the experts. FTDNA has already prepared an excellent tutorial on DNA that I suggest you explore it all here. In the meantime, I will share some of the basics in my own words:
A Haplogroup consists of a group of haplotypes. A haplotype consists of a series of alleles (or markers), at specific locations on the chromosome. Certain markers mutate slowly and some mutate much more frequently, and these differences in markers and mutations give us a base to compare our own results with. If we go back in history far enough, you would find that we are all related. For the purpose of human genetics the haplogroups studied are the Y-DNA and mt-DNA, both of which help to define different genetic populations and their migration patterns. Y-DNA is passed on solely through the patrilineal line; and mt-DNA is passed on solely through the matrilineal line.
For a full and current selection of available tests, as well as their descriptions, you can check them out here.
A female carries mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA). She inherits her mt-DNA from her mother. A mother passes her mt-DNA on to her male and female offspring. A female only carries mt-DNA and therefore can only test for mt-DNA.
My 2, 3 & 4 X Great Grandmothers on my mother's side all originated in the Oa of Islay, and their mt-DNA has been passed down, from mother to daughter, generation after generation for thousands of years, all the way down the line to me.
Mt Full Sequence (Mega) - This is a comprehensive mtDNA test that charts 16,500+ mitochondria. If you are looking at your maternal lineage, it is probably the only test you will need to take. It is for the very inquisitive and puts you in position for applying the more advanced scientific papers published now and in the future. It may show genetic markers which carry certain diseases. This is not for the faint of heart.
A male carries both Y-DNA and mt-DNA, and can be tested for both. He inherits his Y-DNA from his father and his mt-DNA from his mother. He can only pass on his Y-DNA to his male offspring. He cannot pass on his mt-DNA.
My MacCuaig 2, 3 and 4 X Great Grandfathers on my mother's side also all lived on Islay; however, only the males who have passed down their Y-DNA unbroken from father to son will carry their Y-DNA. I am actively looking for a male cousin -- an off-spring of my MacCuaig/McLeod family, to encourage him to test his Y-DNA. We already have one McQuagge in the Isles Project, and I'm hoping more will join.
I suggest you order at least the Y-DNA 111 Marker - this is a comprehensive test that will provide greater certainty on any matches.
Unfortunately the Family Finder results cannot be displayed in the Project Results Charts, and therefore does not qualify for the Isles Project. However, it is an excellent test that allows you to view, sort and compare your shared parental autosomal DNA in a large database that helps you find familiar matches within 5 generations.
For genealogy researchers who are interested in finding genetic matches I recommend purchasing the DNA test covering the most markers you can afford. There are several mt-DNA and Y-DNA testing options listed below. Y-DNA testing gives you options of a 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker test. When you compare your test results against someone else's, you will ultimately look for a match on as many markers as possible. The higher number of markers you have tested, the more you can compare against others and the greater the degree of accuracy in determining a common ancestor.
PURCHASE A TEST
HOW IS THE SAMPLE TAKEN?
FTDNA provides you with a kit that consists of a cotton swab, a small plastic tube, and a box to return the sample. Take the cotton swab out of the plastic container, rub the swab on the inside of your mouth in the cheek area, put the swab back into the plastic tube, place it in the box provided, and mail it all back to FTDNA. You will get your results within five to six weeks usually.
DNA for NEWBIES
A Newbie is anyone new to the field of genetic DNA research -- I still consider myself a Newbie. If you are interested in testing, I highly recommend you join the newsgroup below as it is for Newbies who want to learn but don't even know what to ask yet. It is great to sit back and read answers to some of the basic questions -- there are no dumb questions in this newsgroup. You will also hear first-hand about the different testing companies and the success or lack of success others have had. Just ask that question and you will get lots of different opinions.
Linda Heron: Linda@TheHerons.ca
Administrator of the Isles of the Hebrides DNA Project