Friday, 20 April 2012

Genealogy and DNA

Y-DNA, mtDNA, autosomal-DNA, SNPs, STRs, Haplogroups, Clades.... Is there no end to this, and what on earth are they! Join me on the search for elucidation.

The Journey

As a newcomer to this aspect of genealogy, my aim is to take you on my "warts and all" journey from first considering DNA testing to wherever it may lead. I am writing in real time, I have had one test, and am awaiting the results of another, and will never be more than one step ahead of my reports.

Hopefully during this process you will learn as I do, and avoid making some of the mistakes which I shall undoubtedly make during the process - So here we go!


Like most of us, I have been aware of the possibility of  DNA testing for a number of years, but did not consider I had a need to undergo testing. I had no known living direct line family from another branch of my tree to prove an ancestral connection, and to determine where in the world my genes originated was not a major concern. However, last year I found my 5th Great Grandfather, Samual Furgison (sic) who married in Pardshaw, Cumberland, England in 1756; where he was from, and when he was born are two big unknowns.

Our family gossip has it that we came from Scotland, in particular Dumfries, but, for me, 250 years and 5 generations seems to be too long a time for much reliance to be placed on this 'Source'. So how did Sam get to Pardshaw? Time to think of DNA! Just where did my Fergusons come from?

As my name correctly indicates, I am male, and was already aware that men have Y and X chromosomes whilst women have two Xs, so clearly for the male line the Y chromosome needs to be analysed. If my sisters wished to have their paternal line tested then they would have to get me to test mine, or if they didn't have a brother, then a male 1st cousin, or other male descendant from the grandfather's line, to test their's.

The Test

The selection of the testing company was the easy bit. FamilyTreeDNA has the largest number of  published individual results and, therefore, the widest number of comparisons which one can make. The next question is how many markers to have tested.  These are Short Tandem Repeats (STR) variations in which can help determine whether or not there may be a relationship between individuals. Historically 12 markers were tested, but this is now considered too small, 37 is the most common, 67 rapidly growing in selection, and 111 the latest. I selected the 37 marker, although I would now select the 67, and am awaiting the results of the upgrade.

Collectively the markers are used to specify, or imply, the Haplogroup. So, what did my 37 marker test show, am I really of Scots descent, or Irish where many Fergies originate. My results show that my haplogroup is R1a1a, I'm a 100% Norse, a what?? a Viking!!!

Disclaimer: Other than paying them hard cash, I have no connection with FamilyTreeDNA!

© Ron Ferguson 2012