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Why I Have Not Done a DNA Test

Everyone seems interested in testing their DNA these days. Genealogists in particular flock to companies offering these tests. Why do they want DNA tests, and why have I not joined the throng?

This week our local Computer Interest Group met to hear genealogist Ric Morgan speak about DNA testing. He described the three types of tests available: Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA. Over the past decade, the cost of these tests has come down even as the scientific potential of them has grown. Still, I cannot bring myself to mail in that cheek swab.

Here’s why:

  • Y DNA testing is for men only, so I obviously cannot do this one. This test can identify those men among us who are related to one another and who descend from common male ancestors. In my own family, my father’s first cousin Leslie Reed submitted a sample several years ago. This tied us in to the family of Thomas Reed of colonial Morris County, New Jersey. The puzzle now is to sort out all the Reeds in New Jersey at that time and document the families. At this point, we need no further Y DNA testing.
  • Mitochondrial DNA traces the direct female line. Mine goes back to Finland. We have had substantial success documenting my Finnish lines without resorting to DNA testing. Because mine is a small family, I have been in touch with most of my American relatives of Finnish descent. I do not know any current family members in Finland, but I also do not think the current DNA databases contain many native Finns who would be possible matches for me. Submitting a mitochondrial DNA test would not tell me more than I already know, especially about my direct lineage.
  • Autosomal DNA offers the new frontier in DNA testing according to Ric Morgan. It also poses the greatest privacy threat. Autosomal DNA contains the complete genetic record for an individual. Wouldn’t insurance companies or the government love to get their hands on that! I go to great lengths to protect my privacy, so this test poses no temptation for me. I will keep looking for another way to identify the man who fathered my paternal grandmother in rural Nebraska sometime in 1895.

So there you have it. I plan to keep my DNA untested because the sex-linked tests would be of no immediate value to me. I am unwilling to open the autosomal test door. I will keep doing genealogy the old-fashioned way, one document at a time.

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